Family game night Pandemic boardgame. First time on Standard difficulty. Medic, Dispatcher, and Operations Specialist. We lost.
I have said before that 2017 was the year of the wargame for me as I rediscovered by wargaming roots. But that is not to say I have forgotten the roleplaying game part of my gaming expereince. In 2017, I still managed to get some make a few RPG purchases and get in a few plays.
In March of this year, I listed out my Top 10 RPG games/systems. Looking back, my top 3 (Classic Traveller, Diaspora, and Cepheus Engine) have not changed. In 2017, of the over 50 game products I purchased, about 30% are RPG-related. I definitely focused my RPG purchases on Cepheus Engine with around 90% of the products in that one system.
Gypsy Knights Games continues to support their awesome The Clement Sector setting. In addition to their great Wendy’s Naval-series which lays out the fleet of various subsectors, this year also focused on pirates and uplifts or alterants. All three introduce true grey-areas into the setting morality and can be used to play anything from a campy to dark setting. I like this; GKG has given me many tools to make the setting I want.
Stellagama Publishing also caught my attention with the These Stars Are Ours! setting. I really enjoyed SOLO for Cepheus Engine by Zozer Games. Zozer Games’ Orbital setting remains my favorite, probably because it fits right into and feels like it can support The Expanse.
This year, I pledged to support the Cortex Prime Kickstarter campaign. I am not sure why. I like the Cortex Plus system (especially in Firefly) but I have turned towards smaller rules sets (like Cepheus Engine) and settings that are more controlled by me. This is why I passed on purchasing the new Genesys rules from Fantasy Flight Games.
In early December, Zozer Games released their new rules/setting called Hostile for Cepheus Engine. This “Gritty Sci-Fi RPG” draws heavily from popular franchises like Alien or movies like Outland. The setting is right in my wheelhouse and it certainly deserves its own deeper dive in the near future (no pun intended).
To put in another way, in 2017 I found my own version of the Old School Renaissance. My “OSR” game in this case is Cepheus Engine. This year I turned my back on settings with voluminous new rules and a well defined IP-based setting like Star Trek Adventures.
I know my RPG tastes are not mainstream; I am not a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition fan nor have I dug deeper into the Star Wars Roleplaying Game. In 2017, as wargames and family boardgames grew in popularity in the RockyMountainNavy house, something else in my gaming world had to give. I have given up a lot of RPG experiences, but by keeping to a simple rules system with wonderful setting support I still find a way to keep my RPG gaming going.
The Battle of Wakefield, the insert game in C3i Magazine Nr. 31 (published by RBM Studios) recreates the War of the Roses battle of 30 December 1460 battle. Although this time period is not my preference for gaming, this Richard Berg-design is the near-perfect magazine wargame being easy to learn, fun to play, and interesting me further in the GMT Games Men of Iron-series.
My preferred time period for wargames is World War II, especially naval and tactical armored combat. Recently, I dipped into 18th century combat with the American Revolution Tri-Pack, again from GMT Games. The Battle of Wakefield is a step further back in time to the age of mounted knights and longbows. The complimentary articles in C3i Nr31 provide excellent commentary and educated me just enough to make we want to get the game to the table right away.
For a magazine wargame, The Battle of Wakefield hits all the items I feel are important. The map easily fits on my 3’x3′ sitting table with room to spare for the various tracking card and player aids. The counter-density is low (116 counters total) making the battle easy to solo and playtime a very manageable 2 hours for my learning game. The rulebook, all 12 pages of it, obviously traces its lineage to an established set of rules (i.e. the most egregious errata has already been corrected).
As a longtime grognard, I am interested in how wargames model battle. The Battle of Wakefield uses very interesting Activation & Continuity rules. A player can have multiple Battles (an organizational unit of a medieval army) and can activate one at a time. Once a Battle has been activated, if the player wants to “continue his ‘turn'” another Battle must roll for Continuity. There are mechanisms for Seizing Continuity using Seizure Opportunity or Seizure Negation. I enjoyed these rules that helped me to imagine the ever changing flow of battle without imposing an iconoclastic (and unimaginative) I-GO-U-GO or similar initiative mechanic.
The game is not perfect. I had (have?) a hard time wrapping my head around the difference between 12.0 Shock and 13.0 Charging & Counter-Charging. The note at the end of para 13.0 that states, “It helps to remember that Charge is just another form of shock that uses a different Combat Results Table” seems insufficient to explain why Shock and Charging & Counter-Charging both have 4-5 columns of rules! My rules confusion should not be seen as a showstopper to any potential buyers; I worked my way through the rules and after my first play I “think” I understand it. Again, I credit this to the roots of the game coming from an established rules system.
After my first play of The Battle of Wakefield, I want to try more scenarios in this era using these rules. When the game arrived I was not really interested in medieval combat but after playing this enjoyable game with it’s Activation & Continuity mechanics I want to try more. In this way, The Battle of Wakefield has succeeded; not only is it an entertaining game it has also driven me to search out more games in the Men of Iron-series.
In many ways my year of “rediscovered” board gaming with the family has been a trip into the past. For Family Game Night, we have played new games like Scythe or The Expanse Boardgame as well as older games like Nexus Ops. With the many holiday sales in the States, I used a discount offer at Barnes & Noble to score a copy of Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2013 English Edition). Pandemic was originally published in 2008 and in the past near-decade we somehow missed it. That error has now been corrected!
Since the RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night usually has myself and two of the RMN Boys, finding a 3-player family game is a bit challenging. The RMN Boys were a bit doubtful when I brought out Pandemic; the last “throwback game” we played, Nexus Ops, was enjoyable if a bit pedestrian. I think the Boys expected Pandemic to be the same.
It was snowy day so we actually pulled Pandemic out the first time in the afternoon. We lost our first game, set at Introductory difficulty, as we had only three cures when the Player Card deck ran out. The Boys and myself struggled to understand the different Roles. In our first game, we had a Medic, Dispatcher, and Quarantine Specialist. But the game was still very enjoyable, and Youngest RMN Boy suggested a replay after dinner for our usual Game Night.
In the evening game we played in a highly cooperative manner. Our Roles were the Medic, Quarantine Specialist, and Operations Specialist. As we started understanding the rules better we also started using a bit more strategy. The game ended on the last possible turn (the Player Deck was empty) as Youngest RMN raced to a Research Station with our last cure and gave us the win. We jumped and cheered and gave each other high-fives.
It was at this point I realized that all three of us were standing for the last turn. Pandemic had delivered a very intense game experience. If I had really paid attention to the reviews and rankings this should not surprise me, but all of us (even RMN Mom listening from the other room) were positively overjoyed with the game experience. Pandemic gave us an intense game the demanded we pay attention to our unique abilities and employ strategic thinking in a time-pressure environment. So intense was the game I forgot to take the usual gaming action photo! Winning the game is very satisfying; there is a real feeling that we “saved humanity.”
I am glad we added Pandemic to our game collection. Youngest RMN has pulled the box out several times in the day since the game and is studying it deeply. This game will definitely land on the RMN gaming table again. Youngest RMN has even asked if they can take it to Korea to introduce the cousins to next trip.
After losing out on a few weekend game night chances in November the RockyMountainNavy house jumped into a Overlord-version of Memoir ’44: The Battles of Khalkin-Gol. The Overlord version uses a large six-section map and a different Command Deck. It is well suited for multiple players.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys took the Soviets and I was the Imperial Japanese. We played the first Overlord scenario, the Encirclement at Khalkin-Gol.
I did not realize until we started that the Boys, though huge Memoir ’44 players, had never played an Overlord scenario before. So we started out a bit slow as we learned the system.
The Boys were playing a (slightly) bastardized-version of the Command-in-Chief rules with only the two of them. They both jointly acted as C-in-C and each was also a Field General with half of the game board. There was a bit of analysis paralysis as the Boys dealt with the Soviet Commissar rule that forces the Soviet player to select Command Cards for the next turn.
The battle itself developed slowly, especially since the Boys tried to balance their Orders between the two sides of the battlefield. Eventually, the battle focused on the Japanese right flank and center.
We called the game after 2 1/2 hours. The Soviets were ahead 12 Medals to 11 Medals. Actual units destroyed were fairly even, and of the three Temporary Victory Medals (hilltops) the Soviets had taken one, another was unoccupied but contested, and the third remained in Japanese hands. Though the battle was seemingly even to this point, I am confident that it was not going to end well for the Japanese (i.e., me). I had pretty much lost my artillery to barrages and counter-battery fire and there were many Soviet tanks still coming. After using my Anti-tank Guns to good effect, the Boys had gotten smart and killed them off using artillery before bringing their tanks into lethal range.
Playing the Overlord-version of Memoir ’44 for the first time was enjoyable. The scope and breadth of the battles feel more sweeping and less myopically-focused like a regular Memoir ’44 scenario. It certainly takes longer to play, if for no other reason than the number of units and the Victory Conditions. Not to mention the Command rules.
Tom Russell of Hollandspiele is quickly becoming a favorite game designer of mine. I absolutely love his Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 with it’s look at the logistics of the American Revolution. I had seen some buzz about his solo game, Agricola: Master of Britain, so when it came on sale I ordered it.
At its core, A:MoB is an area control game. As Agricola, the player must try to pacify the unruly people of Brittania. Military conquest in only one option; Romanization and bribery and diplomacy are also useful.
To represent the unknown and constantly shifting allegiances of various tribes, a three-cup system (Friendly – Unfriendly – Hostile) is used to pull chits that are blindly moved between cups by the game engine. These blind moves really make the solo game experience intense. The other part of the game I like is a Tom Russell design nugget: you can lose the game before the end of the campaign. In A:MoB this is represented by several sudden death conditions like losing ANY battle or not gaining enough Victory Points in a turn.
In my first game this is exactly what happened to me. In the second turn I was one VP short of the necessary amount but I purchased the extra point and was able to continue. Unfortunately, this strategy did not work by the end of the fourth turn where I had fallen too far behind and was sacked by Rome!
Usually, my gaming interests skew away from pure solo designs because I tend to find them formulamatic and uninteresting. I have to say that Agricola: Master of Britain is different and I feel it is because of those sudden death conditions. Having these in-game makes every turn feel important and the experience becomes one of not just getting to the end, but assuring you get to the end of the campaign.
Hollandspiele rates Agricola: Master of Britain as a Medium-weight game. I am not sure why this is as the game engine is actually very straight-forward and easy to learn. The rulebook and charts could use a little bit better organizing and cross-referencing. Oh, all the information is there; it can just be confusing as the chart on the back of the book has not rules numbers to reference, or the Agricola’s Actions, Legion Actions, and Housekeeping Phase lists are arranged on the page in an order not related to the sequence of play (i.e. I would have liked to see them reversed). These are minor quibbles; the game is excellent and can still be played easily (albeit with a bit of attention).
Of note, as I write this post Hollandspiele is having a special offer for a mounted boards for Agricola: Master of Britain. Although the printed paper boards are perfectly serviceable, being able to pick up a mounted board for the same cost is a real bargain and will only make this game a more enjoyable experience in play.
Another challenge Agricola: Master of Britain delivers is in the next game, Charlemagne: Master of Europe. This looks to be similar to A:MoB but in addition to tribes there are “intriguers.” As the publisher’s blurb states:
Like its spiritual predecessor Agricola, Master of Britain, this game models the consent of the governed (or lack thereof) with a series of three opaque containers, the contents of which secretly change in reaction to the actions you take. Do something that people like, and the populace leans friendly. Do something they don’t, and they lean in the other direction, inviting rebellions from within and invasions from without. Over the course of your long reign, these subtle adjustments will pile up, resulting in a game state that reacts to you and reflects the character and effectiveness of your rule. This makes it a solitaire gaming experience in which your decisions matter. You’re not fighting against the vagaries of an event deck, trying to outsmart a braindead AI, or finding loopholes in a flowchart. Your job is to govern a vast and fractious empire with a savvy combination of wisdom and ruthlessness.
Tom Russell is boasting here about how his solo game design is different. The reality is he can because Agricola: Master of Britain shows it is true.
November proved to be a weird gaming month. Due to family visiting I actually lost out on two (2!) weekends worth of gaming!
The obvious hit game of the month was Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game which we played with our visitors. We still have not beaten this game, though we came close in a full-up four player session. I personally played a pick-up game of Bananagramsagainst the niece. Not shown her are the several Ticket to Ride games the RockyMountainNavy Boys played with the niece and her friend. As usual, TtR served as a excellent gateway game to introduce tabletop boardgaming to a new player.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself got in good games of The Expanse Board Game and Terraforming Mars. We have seen online where some players have substituted small painted miniature ships for the token in The Expanse Board Game. We might look into that as a small winter project. I also pulled out Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and think this may make a good Game Night event in the near-future, even with just three players.
I didn’t get nearly enough wargaming in during the month, but did get the American Revolution Tri-Pack to the table and am waiting for a chance to bring it out on Game Night.
Looking ahead to December, I have a sneaky feeling that after Christmas Day there may just be a few new games to play.