Monday, 25 June 2018

AAR ECW (FK&P) 24Jun18

I managed to give the new ECW rules “For King and Parliament (FK&P)” (Simon Miller & Andrew Brentnall, 2018) a try in an opposed game. I prepared army lists for a Waller versus Hopton battle set in 1643. Ian randomly got the Parliamentarians, and I got the Royalists. We decided the terrain features and alternated in placing them on table, resulting in a fairly congested layout. Then cards were used to determine their final positions or removal, which de-cluttered the battlefield. The result was a fairly open table on one flank, whilst the other flank was obstructed by woods, enclosures and a church.
Royalist at bottom

Right from the start I realised that the dice-gods (or chit-gods) were not with me! My flashy cavalier ‘Swedish’ horse on the open flank failed to brush aside the outnumbered ‘Dutch’ style roundheads, and in the next couple of turns were eliminated. The Parliamentary pursuit was controlled by Ian successfully activating and making saving throws. The second brigade of Royalist horse were in a position to launch a devastating flank counter-attack, but it failed to materialise due to repeated drawing of ‘1’ chits by myself. The Parliament horse was able to recover and face down the now depleted Royalist threat.
Royalists at bottom (view from right flank)

On the other flank, my militia brigade moved very slowly forward and then was held for many turns by a single Parliament dragoon regiment behind some hedges. Only in the dying stages of the battle did I manage to eliminate these pesky dragoons, and this was to be my only success in the whole battle!
The Royalist centre starts to collapse

In the centre the match up looked evenly balanced but again the dice-gods intervened and I was not able to resist the roundhead onslaught. A couple of my Royalist regiments broke and a resounding victory was achieved by Ian’s Parliament forces.

In this game both sides had some artillery and this was largely ineffective. I found out that ‘Dutch’ horse were more resilient than I expected, and that ‘Swedish’ horse became brittle after their first charge. They could have been more effective if only I was able to roll reasonable (or even ‘average’) dice. I don’t know how or why I have transgressed against the dice/chit-gods, but on the evidence of this game, I must have done something very wrong! I think Ian enjoyed playing using these rules (not just because he easily won) and the game progressed at a good pace. After a few turns both of us were able to play without much recourse to either the rule book or my QRS sheets. I continue to be impressed by the simplicity of the rules, and I especially like the terrain generation mechanism which provides a varied battlefield. I still prefer Regt of Foote (1st edition, RFCM 2002) as my go to ECW rules, but as an interesting alternative, FK&P provide a fun game. The gridded tabletop makes movement etc. clear, and the activation mechanism stimulates thoughtful decision making.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Boardgame session: 17June18

We started by playing TransAtlantic, a game that could be considered a Concordia variant. Actually it is more than a simple re-skinning of Concordia; the area control and trading aspects have been largely removed, to be replaced by set collecting and transportation mechanisms, but the core card hand management system is retained. I really like the historic theme, the ship artwork etc., and I love the card hand management choices available.

The game has a few built-in variants available to change things around. The first is the option to play using East coast USA rather than global boards. I think this is weak and a cop-out: I believe this is included simply to appeal to the US market and I feel it is patronising to think American players are only interested in US-centric games. I like the idea of alternative boards but they should involve changes to game play which, sadly,  TransAtlantic does not do (a missed opportunity). The second variant is a different ship ‘market’: I like the ‘increased cost’ mode rather than the ‘limited coal’ option, but both are good. The final variant is to use the ‘President’ card rather than the standard ‘Director’ card. I have yet to try this variant but it does look interesting, and makes ship deployment a more significant choice in the game.

Our game took approximately 2 hours to complete, but this may have been due to our inexperience with the game. The points tally showed Chris to be the winner, closely followed by Val. Post-game analysis focussed on the need to keep track of what flag of ship you focus on and improving their relative value in the end-game scoring. All players saw the value of acquiring shipping houses early in the game to gain a steady flow of victory points. For some reason I struggled to keep my key ships coaled and this was probably due to my poor use of cards. Anyway, I think everyone enjoyed the game (once they started to understand the mechanics) and would happily play again. I think Concordia is possibly the slightly better game, but Chris already owns that game, so TransAtlantic does represent an interesting alternative.

Next we played Paperback, which has already become one of Elaine’s favourite games! We were slightly nervous about this because Val’s native tongue is French, so we hoped she would not feel too pressurised coming up with English words. We need not have worried because Val emerged as the winner! Playing with 4 players does slow the game a bit, but this does give you more time to ponder your own cards and word options. The ‘attack’ cards have more impact in the 4 player game compared to the 2 player game, and the letter stacks can become exhausted towards the end. I was pleased to be the only player to produce a ‘thematic’ word in the game; this bonus was often forgotten about in previous games. There were a few words ‘suggested’ by players to earn a cube bonus, and we struggled to find long words (8+ letters); in fact, we have yet to end a game via the 10-letter option. I can see Paperback remaining a go-to game for Elaine, especially at home playing the 2 player game, and as a final semi-filler game in multiplayer sessions. I really like Tim Fowers games, the ideas and mechanisms seem fresh and different to those from other designers.

Monday, 11 June 2018

AAR ACW Riverine (Hammerin' Iron) 10 June 2018

Ian and my diaries finally coincided and we managed to play a game at the club. This was the first opposed outing for my ‘new’ ACW Riverine fleets using the Hammerin’ Iron 2 rules from RFCM (2011).

We diced for sides and I got the Rebels. Next we diced to see who would be the attacker (the Union has more chance to be the aggressor) but it turned out to be a (rare) raid by the Confederates into Union territory! The Union fleet has to lose one random ship, and much to my relief Ian lost the formidable USS Benton. He deployed the USS Indianola on table and I started with 2 of my casement ironclads (CSS Arkansas and CSS Tuscalosa), aided by the weak CSS Planter. I planned to steam the CSS Planter down the flank to attack the Union transports, whilst my other ships would fight the USS Indianola.

Things started to go wrong for the Rebels early in the fight. A long range shot took out the forward gun on CSS Planter, meaning its attack on the transports would be ineffective. A Union torpedo boat also did major damage to CSS Tuscalosa. I had to divert a newly arrived CSS Manasas to aid the crippled CSS Planter, but another shell KO’d the only gun on the Manasas, rendering it useless as well! By now both fleets were fully on table and a major clash erupted in the main channel of the river. Both my casement ironclads were getting battered but they did manage to sink the huge USS Blackhawk. The USS Choctaw inflicted a hit which reduced CSS Tuscalosa to battered status, who then rolled ‘1’ and struck their colours. My tinclad CSS Gov Moore did manage to reduce the USS Indianola to battered status but they held on, and also destroyed a couple to Union depot buildings. At this point the game clock reached 8 and the action finished.

The Union fleet had lost 1 ship (USS Blackhawk) with another battered (USS Indianola). The Rebels had 1 ship captured (CSS Tuscalosa) and 2 battered (CSS Arkansas and CSS Planter). In the post game procedure it turned out that the CSS Arkansas sank before it could return to its base. The Rebels did little damage to the Union shore facilities, but both warehouses destroyed turned out to be valuable (max. points value possible). The final points score was +7 to the Union, giving them a ‘Narrow Victory’.

Overall I feel the game and rules played well, taking 3 hours to complete. I think I should have tasked a more powerful ship to attack the Union transports early in the game. A couple to key critical hits effectively nullified this threat and rendered 2 Rebels ships useless. We also found light guns, both on shore and aboard, to be largely ineffective. Ramming is potentially very dangerous (CSS Arkansas did significant damage to USS Blackhawk by this method). Ian’s torpedo boat worked well for him whilst I never managed to get my submarine on table. To conclude, I can see us getting these toys out of the box again fairly soon, and judging from comments from other gamers, I can see others joining us in future games.

On a side note, I would like to ‘pimp-up’ the battle mat a bit; adding some shore scenery and buying some mdf hex tiles to replace the islands and sandbars. Anyway, the next planned game will hopefully be ECW using For King and Parliament rules.

Monday, 4 June 2018

UKGE 2018 show report

It’s that time of year again when Elaine and I met our friends, Val and Chris, for UKGE at Birmingham NEC. We were a bit nervous due to last year’s fiasco: Snowy cut his paw and needed stitches; motorway snarl-up’s; torrential rain etc. This year everything was fine and we got to the site by 10:30am on Friday. We were staying at a hotel the other side of Birmingham International station, a few minutes walk from the venue. The show had basically the same feel as last year, with a huge array of traders, games, punters, cosplayers and events. There was a second hall this time which eased crowding and allowed a large open gaming section to be included on the NEC site, which meant we did not have to visit the Hilton hotel to play games in the evening. Overall, I think this expansion worked well and was a definite improvement. On the downside, the evening catering at the NEC was poor and, shockingly, there was no bar! Unbelievably, the Wetherspoons opposite the show was also closed in the evening; a missed opportunity because they could have made a fortune! The organisers could also have provided more re-cycling and litter facilities because the few small bins were soon overflowing.

We spent the next couple of days alternating between shopping, gaming, talking to traders and occasionally trying new kickstarter games. We did not visit the Bring and Buy; the queues were horrendous and I have previously found the prices to be too high (very few bargains available). We also did not attend any of the talks, which is surprising because we normally like to do this. My shopping haul is shown below:

We did not spend too much. Elaine was really taken with Parfum which she bought after playing at Thirsty Meeples. She also visited Ragnar Brothers, whose games we have enjoyed in the past, and purchased a hiking game set in the Lake District (where she originally comes from). We got a copy of Mind the Gap mainly because we wanted a game based on the London Underground network. I finally got a copy of Paperback, which I have wanted for some time, plus I bought some bits for miniature gaming; tokens, dice and book of laminated floor plans. Elaine also got some meeple earrings from Jennifer Ham, wife of Rahdo!

Much of our time at the show was spent gaming and a list of the games played (plus my personal rating for each game) is given below:

Lost Cities Boardgame
Pesky Gnomes
Ice Cool
Century Spice Road
Mind the Gap
Cottage Gardens

The best game played was easily Century Spice Road (which Val bought); excellent mechanics, fast playing, visually attractive and good components (I particularly liked the inclusion of spice cups to hold the cubes). Elaine especially liked Parfum, which strongly resembled Fresco with a different theme added. Cottage Gardens was basically a multi-player version of the 2-player game, Patchwork, and we liked this a lot. Another increased player count game was the Lost Cities Boardgame but unlike Cottage Gardens, I felt this multi-player version was not as good as the original. Minerals was a very nice kickstarter game (to be released at Essen), which is like “Hey, That’s My Fish” but with more depth: different theme, set collection, restricted moves, variable goals. The hex tiles are also more substantial and the player tokens are suckers that enable the hex’s to be removed easily from the board. Photosynthesis seemed to be one of the ‘hit’ games of the show with many people buying and playing it. Although I enjoyed playing the game, I was not as enthused as I hoped to be (possibly I just need to play more games before it grabs me). Pikoko was a strange game resembling the classic card game, Contract-Whist. You can see the other players hands (cards are held in a peacock standee) but not your own. You bet on the tricks the other players might take, and you play cards of the player to your left, not your own. The game works but it feels counter-intuitive and uncomfortable because you want to see and play your own hand of cards. Finally, Ice Cool is just a silly bit of fun which I can see working well with young children, and I was impressed with the way the box rooms fit together.

Elaine and I left UKGE late on Saturday afternoon feeling rather exhausted and not too overspent. We did not attend the final day but I think a full 3 days at the convention would prove too much. On the Sunday, Elaine and I unboxed and played Paperback. It is as good as I hoped. A nice combination of Scrabble and Dominion. It takes the best of both and is fun, certainly much more enjoyable than basic Scrabble. There is a co-op variant that we have yet to try.

Off the Painting Table (June 2018)

Looking at my Teutonic collection I realised that I had no non-order troop types. I therefore ordered 2 packs (12 figures) of Town Militia produced by Fireforge. I did not appreciate that the figures would be cast in resin rather than the usual hard plastic. I have only painted resin buildings, not figures, so this would be new to me. The resin is more flexible than plastic and felt rather ‘greasy’, so I washed the sprues in soapy water and allowed to dry. Assembly was a pain because the usual polystyrene glue would not work, so I had to use super-glue instead. However hard I try I always manage to get super-glue on extraneous surfaces (including my fingers), and the flexible nature of the resin meant the joins were not as firm as I would like (much swearing was involved!). Next I tried priming the figures black and immediately found the primer would not take; it just ‘puddled’ on the surfaces. After some head-scratching I decided to pre-prime the figures with thinned PVA glue, which I hoped would provide an adherent surface (and strengthen the glue joints). Once dry, I used primer again and there was still some ‘puddling’. I was now getting annoyed! So, I added some PVA to my primer and carried on. Finally I finished prepping the figures; most surfaces were reasonably covered but not to the standard I would normally aim for. Overall, I hated the process of getting these resin figures ready for painting, and I will strenuously avoid buying any more figures cast in resin (unless someone out there can provide a better way of working with such material).

The figures actually painted up OK. I used muted tones, with little decoration on the tunics etc. I felt this gave a better militia-look, and I left the shields as plain wood with no heraldic devises (although I could easily ‘pimp-up’ the shields at a future date).

In parallel to painting the militia figures, I painted a pack of metal Warlord Games farmyard animals to add to my collection. These models quickly add ‘feel’ to any terrain set up, and subtly make battlefields more visually appealing. I am also tempted to play some Border Reiver scenarios where the livestock will play a significant role.