September Schooling

bg-stats-icon-small-e1454598933841I am trying out Board Game Stats this month. Nothing fancy; just the basic module with no Cloud Sync or Deep Stats or the like. I am, after all, mostly a solo or family gamer. After using it for a month I am convinced I don’t need more because it pretty much proves I am a tame boardgamer.

IMG_0057In September, I played 20 different games 25 times. I surprised myself that five games got two plays apiece. Three of them are wargames (Cataclysm: A Second World War, Rockets Red Glare, and Operation Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign, 1942). Two of those games were a “grogpiphany” – an older wargame that is joyfully rediscovered. I also got a rare 4-player game of Enemies of Rome to the table. Finally, there were two games of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, a very fun Four Solo play and a 3-player game night.

The other stats are mildly interesting to me and, like all stats, some are a bit misleading. I see that I played 43% of the time with “Mr. Solo” who, honestly, is not a person but my second-player gaming alter ego. Twenty percent (20%) of the games were with both the RockyMountainNavy Boys and the rest were with various solo personalities or bots (as in the Mechanical Marquis from Root: The Riverfolk Expansion). Unsurprisingly, Saturday is the day when most games are played (Saturday Game Night is surely a factor) and all my games were at the RockyMountainNavy Home. On another screen (not included above) the app tells me I had a 57% win percentage this month.

There is one stat here that makes me sad, and that one is the fact I only got to play six  games this whole month with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Outside of our once-a-week dedicated Game Night this is only two other random plays. The small number is a real (sad) testimony to just how busy our schedules are with work and school. For the good of all of us I probably need to work on getting more short family games to the table.

New Games this Month

Upcoming Kickstarter or Other Expected (or Overdue) Deliveries

  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 Second Third Edition (Academy Games – Late 2017 release>OVERDUE) – Printing?
  • Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games – Kickstarter August/September delivery) – Per 14 September update now looking to ship in November.
  • Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing – Kickstarter August/September delivery?) – Per 12 September update caught in Essen printer backlog; to print and ship soon after.
  • Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks/ Magic Vacuum – Kickstarter April 2018>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…promised before Dec 2018)
  • Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games – Kickstarter July 2016>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…last update 31 May)
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It’s a Co-op with a Traitor Mechanic – A RockyMountainNavy play of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008)

pic354500Something awesome happened this gaming weekend. The RockyMountainNavy house got Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) to the gaming table in a 3-player event. I played Tom Zarek (Political Leader, President) while MiddleRockyMountainNavy Boy played Helo (Military Leader, Admiral) and LittleRockyMountainNavy was Apollo (Pilot).

There were many Cylon ships on the board before the first jump and both Helo & Apollo ended up in lots of space combat. Galactica herself was in a poor way with four hits (six needed to destroy – and lose) as well as a Boarding Party aboard. We were eventually able to jump, clearing the board of threats and made repairs. The time up to the second jump proceeded without any real trouble and it looked like we were going to do fine.

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Courtesy Dynamite.com

As it turned out, none of us was a Cylon though the Sleeper Phase because I drew the “You Are a Cylon” card at that time! Before the Sleeper Phase, I had made the statement that I thought Middle RMN/Helo was a Cylon so I kept pushing that thought even as he protested his innocence. Little RMN/Apollo was not sure. Using the power of the President, I stripped the Admiral title from Helo. Eventually, the Boys grew suspicious at my actions and I had to reveal myself as the Cylon before they could Brig me.

The game then switched from a 3-player co-op to a competitive race to human victory or death. As the Cylon player I almost made it but the Boys were able to face down several Super Crisis Cards and (barely) survived a final jump. They won the game with Fuel 3 / Food 1 / Morale 6 / Population 1.

Overall, the RMN Boys found the game fun. If we have one complaint it is that the game takes time to play. Including rules explanation our game took nearly three hours – putting it at the long end of our usual gaming nights. Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is not a heavy game as the rules are actually quite easy to learn and execute. In our game the slow play was a combination of first time and the paranoid-induced analysis paralysis that is part of the experience.

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game will land on the table again, I am just not sure when. As the winter months approach, there are several new game due to arrive and other longer games (like Scythe) need to get back out too. At least we all know that this”shelf queen” is worth the space.

Featured Image: Ralph McQuarrie concept art for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978) via @HumanoidHistory on Twitter

Playing ‘Four Solo’ wherein the President is a Cylon, the Admiral gets brigged, & Starbuck declares Martial Law – Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (@FFGames, 2008)

To me, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) is a near-perfect example of theming in a boardgame. This cooperative, hidden traitor game captures the tension of the reimagined series pitch-perfectly. Unfortunately for me, it entered my collection at a time the RockyMountainNavy Kids were a bit too young to learn the game. As a result it has sat on my shelf, underplayed, for way too long. I have thought about introducing it to the RMN Boys now that they are older and more experienced gamers but I hesitate because I remember it most for having a long playtime. Sometime in the past few months, I downloaded the ‘Four Solo’ variant from the BoardGameGeek files. This rainy weekend while the Boys were watching their football game I pulled the game box out and gave the rules a try.

It was glorious…

…and I lost.

Characters in play were Admiral Adama, President Roslin, Boomer and Starbuck. In retrospect, I should have taken the Chief for Support but, oh well.

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Early game…that’s alot of raiders….

The first two Crisis Cards were Cylon Swarm and Ambush. The Fleet eventually jumped, but not before losing too much Population and Food. Not helping, the Jump Distance was only +1.

Trying to take advantage of the clear space around Galactica and advancing the Jump Track didn’t work out too well as a Crisis Card revealed President Roslin to be a Cylon! Several more crisis’ followed; a Crisis Card Event landed Adama in the Brig and Starbuck, now Admiral, declared Marital Law. Though Starbuck and Boomer valiantly fought back the Raider swarms, in the end too many Cylons showed up while the Jump Track mostly worked in reverse. The Fleet eventually ran out of Food and perished.

The ‘Four Solo’ variant is generally easy to execute and preserves the core essence of the game. The rules are written in a very clipped, bulleted (very abbreviated) fashion and can be difficult to interpret at times. Most importantly, the solo mechanisms don’t totally replace or even disrupt the most important game mechanics. This makes the ‘Four Solo’ useful for learning the rules. Playtime is maybe a bit quicker than a normal game once you learn the “system routine” and understand the rules exceptions.

After rereading the rules and playing Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game using the ‘Four Solo’ variant I think I can teach this game to the RMN Boys. More importantly, I think they are mature enough to handle the game too. The Boys are not huge fans of cooperative games though we all love the occasional play of Pandemic*. They also can play ‘take-that’ games like Survive: Escape from Atlantis so the hidden traitor mechanic could work. The playtime actually doesn’t look as bad as I remember; BGG rates it at 120-300 minutes (my ‘Four Solo’ game clocked in right around 120 minutes…but I died early). A game this rich in theme supported by a game system that reinforces that theme so well deserves to land on game table…and soon!

* We are impatiently awaiting the release of Pandemic: Fall of Rome which mixes the cooperative game mechanic with an Ancient Rome theme which is a very popular theme in the RMN house.

Featured image courtesy BoardGameGeek.

Rules Rush – Noticing the obvious in Enemies of Rome (@worth24, 2017)

Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) is not a complex game. Personally, I rate it a 2 out of 5 in terms of Weight on BoardGameGeek. This lite wargame gets played a fair bit in the RockyMountainNavy home in part because the RMN Boys enjoy it. I myself have mixed feelings about the game, but I do rate it a 7.0 (Good, Usually willing to play) on BGG. After last nights game, I may have to reappraise the rating because I discovered, after all this time, I missed a simple (but subtle) rules difference that, when played right, makes the game a better expereince!

Movement in Enemies of Rome comes in four types. It should be obvious, the rules sections is even titled, “4 Types of Movement.” Legion and Enemies of Rome both have Land and Naval Movement. The subtle difference I missed before last night is that Legion and Enemies of Rome Land Movement is NOT the same. Specifically, Legion Land Movement comes in two flavors (again, obvious in the rules…if I paid attention):

LEGION LAND MOVEMENT

A. Movement from an area you control to an adjacent area that contains another color cube in which case you must stop, even if you have movement remaining. A battle will occur after all movement is completed for the card play.

B. Move from an are you control through adjacent land areas you control ending in an area you control. A cube that moves more than one area may not enter an area with opposing cubes.

On the other hand, the Enemies of Rome Land Movement specifies:

ENEMY OF ROME LAND MOVEMENT

Enemies of Rome units may enter an adjacent area with enemy of Rome units in it. This does not cause a battle.

Enemy of Rome units may enter an adjacent area with legions. This does cause a battle.

The subtle difference between Legion and Enemy movement actually has a major impact on the game. The difference is mobility; Legions have it (move across multiple friendly adjacent areas) while the Enemies of Rome can’t (move to an adjacent area only).

Another rules subtlety I missed before is in the first part of the Movement rule. It states, “When an area has 2 different color cubes present no units may move from or into that area.” This prevents “multi-axis” attacks.

Now, it would be easy to say that the rule book is poorly written and blame the designers Grant and Mike Wylie. It is written in a more conversational style that can trip up gamers (Root, I’m looking at you!). In this case, I think the cause of the confusion is more my own grognard hubris. I have been playing wargames, some very complex, for nearly 40 years and a lite wargame like Enemies of Rome appears easy. In turn, I tend to skim the rules catching concepts over details. Looks like I have to slow down and pay more attention, even to “simple” games. The end result will likely be a more fun game – and that’s worth alot!

Featured image courtesy Worthington Publishing.

 

An august August – @Mountain_Navy games played in August 2018

August was a very good month for gaming in the RockyMountainNavy household. I managed to play 45 games this month (actually 40 games with five expansion plays thrown in). A bit incredible considering the school year has restarted and the my gaming cohort, the RockyMountainNavy Boys, are theoretically less available.

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45 total games for the month (40 w/o expansions)

There are two major reasons so many games were played this month. First, we played many smaller, lighter games like Ticket to Ride: New York, Tiny Epic Galaxies, or Villainous. Secondly, I set up a game table in the loft and got larger games like Root or other wargames to the table more often.

These days, we keep a strategically-located collection of smaller games in the family room. This makes it easier to bring these games out and play. This is how Ticket to Ride: New York got played so often. Occasionally it served as a filler game before dinner. Once it even was a filler while waiting for the school bus!

Having a “dedicated” game table in the loft also allowed me to get my wargames out more often. Thus, I was able to explore Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right more thoroughly as well as get in multiple plays of Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942. I also was able to explore South China Sea along with new Pentagon reports.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys took a particular liking to Tiny Epic Galaxies. We also played the new Disney Villainous, with mixed reactions.

We also tried something new – a game night at the local The Games Tavern (@thegamestavern on Twitter) where we played Enemies of Rome. We may make this a more regular family event given they host Board Game and Hobby Nights (for plastic model-building) throughout the month too.

I do expect September to slow down as the RockyMountainNavy Boys get deeper into school and they have less free time. For myself I may try to restart my Game of the Week where I focus on one game each week and try to explore it more deeply with a thorough rules review and multiple plays.

New Games this Month

Upcoming Kickstarter or Other Expected (or Overdue) Deliveries

  • Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games – Kickstarter August/September delivery?)
  • Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing – Kickstarter August/September delivery?)
  • Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games – Kickstarter July 2016>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…last update 31 May…need lawyer)
  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 Second Edition (Academy Games – Late 2017 release>OVERDUE…new rules v4.5 sent to Command Post members August 22)
  • Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks/ Magic Vacuum – Kickstarter April 2018>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…promised before Dec 2018)

There’s a good game in here…somewhere. Thoughts on Yarmuk (Command Magazine / XTR Corp., 1997)

Yarmuk (XTR Corp., 1997) was the second game in Command Magazine Issue #45 (Oct 1997). The game recreates an epic battle in 636AD between Byzantine and Moslem armies. Yarmuk is a relatively simple game that decently captures its theme but suffers from unclear rules and lack of a “gimmick” mechanic to make it truly unique and memorable.

Spelling errors litter the rules of Yarmuk. Thankfully, the rules are short and fairly simple. In some ways Yarmuk is an early Command & Colors-style game with alternating formation activations, a very simple combat resolution system, and several possible special “events” playable each turn. After going through the rules and playing the game, these are the ones that stand out to me:

5.2.A.2. Parley Check. One in six chance of skipping a full day in the game (the battle is six days long). In my play through I rolled Parley on Day 1.

5.2.A.3. Sandstorm Check. One in six chance of a sandstorm for the day. Reduces combat effectiveness.

5.2.A.4. Duel of Champions. First day only. Good chrome that makes the game “feel” more thematic with little rules overhead.

5.3 The Sword of Allah. One of two “unique” game rules that reinforce theme. Twice each day, the Moslem player gets an extra Action Phase using Moslem cavalry. This is the only time Moslem cavalry can charge (9.8).

6.0 Zones of Control. Units must stop when entering an enemy ZoC. To leave an enemy ZoC is a morale check. Units starting the Combat Phase in an enemy ZoC MUST attack. Units retreating though the attacking units ZoC must make a morale check.

7.0 Stacking. What should be a simple rule is actually confused by the rules layout. Rule 7.1 Stacking Generally specifies that at the end of each phase only two units can be in a hex. However, in the second half of rule 7.2 Stacking Specifics (which is unfortunately found on the next page from the rule header) states that, “only the top units in a single hex may attack or be attacked in a single combat. The stacking order in a hex may be changed only by shifting an activated units during its movement phase….” I missed this part of the stacking rule in the first few days of my game and it totally changed the complexion of combat.

9.1 Combat Generally. Combat is a simple affair. The difference of attacking units to defending units yields a column used on the Combat Results Table (CRT). Or it should be, but again the rules as written get in the way:

  • “…undisrupted units…may attack. Any such unit starting its combat phase in an enemy ZOC must attack.” (Units in enemy ZOC must attack, or may they?)
  • “A single unit may attack up to six adjacent defending units.” (One unit, six attacks?)
  • “Up to six units may attack a single hex.” (Surrounded unit)
  • “Each attacking unit may participate in only one combat per combat phase.” (So one unit – one attack, not up to six attacks as above?)
  • “A single defending unit may be attacked only once per combat phase….” (What about a single defending unit with two enemy units in its ZoC? Attack by only one? Or both? Per above both must, or may?)

I think the intent of the rules is that each unit can only attack (or be attacked) once per combat phase. I think this is the rule, but as written it is difficult to determine what the rules actually say.

9.3 Retreat. Requires very careful reading. A retreating unit that is forced to retreat into a ZoC of a non-attacking unit is fine, but if it retreats into the ZoC of the attacking unit it must make a morale check and, if it fails, disrupts of routs and must continue to retreat until reaches a hex not within ANY enemy ZoC.

10.0 Supreme Effort. The second unique game mechanic. Each formation has a Supreme Effort (SE) chit that can be played for extra combat power. Well, each formation should have a chit except for a printing error on the counters which has the back side of one formations SE chit on a combat unit. To offset the power of SE, using SE can lead to backlash (10.3 SE Backlash) which is a negative combat effect and risks morale.

At first glance, Yarmuk appears to be a game with simple rules and just enough theme. The sad reality is that confusing rules get in the way of enjoying the thematic elements. Furthermore, Yarmuk has a very Command & Colors feel to it. I cannot find a Yarmuk scenario for C&C so maybe making one is worth it. Doing so is more likely to result in a positive game experience because trying to sort through the Command Magazine/XTR Corp. version of Yarmuk is probably more effort than it’s worth.

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com. By the way, the setup shown is wrong because, according to 3.0 Setup, “Each leader must be stacked with any unit under his command.”  None of the leaders visible are stacked with a unit but in a separate hex. Appears I’m not the only one confused by the rules….

 

A Grognard’s View of Root (@LederGames, 2018)

AS I SIT to write this post, the #1 Games Hotness on boardgamegeek is Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right (Leder Games, 2018). This Cole Wehrle (@colewehrle on Twitter) design is described by some as a combination of Twilight Struggle (GMT Games, 2005+) and COIN (the COIN-series from GMT Games). As an old wargaming Grognard (playing for 39 years now) this game seems to be right in my wheelhouse. Given it’s pedigree, I am frankly surprised that Root is so popular amongst non-wargamer’s. With Root, Cole Wehrle has done the boardgame hobby a great favor – he has created a “wargame” with broad appeal to general tabletop gaming audience.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Root represents the cutting edge of the “waros” movement. Waros are, according to BGG, “…games which can be described as a fusion of a Wargame and a Eurogame. Waro games thus include aspects of both types of games….” I fully believe that the reputation of Cole Wehrle and the buzz behind Root created expectations of the game.

One manifestation of this popularity can be seen by the forum activity on BGG. As I write this post, there are 605 threads on BGG for Root. Amazingly, 318 of these are in the last 30 days! Of the 605 total threads, 272 are tagged as Rules with around 150 of those in the last 30 days again. I have no scientific basis, but it generally appears to me that, compared to other games, that this is an extraordinary number of threads. Now, understand that I really like Root. I subscribe to the Root feed on BGG. For the last month I have been getting all these threads dumped to my BGG profile. This led to the following Twitter exchange with Tom and Mary Russell of Hollandspiele Games:

In a later response, Joe (@CardboardTON618) righty points that people learn at different rates and goes on to say, “Also, I get the impression that a good percentage (although not the heaviest in the world) haven’t played a game of this weight.” I think Joe is onto something here, but contend it’s not the weight, but the fact Root is a waros game.

As a cutting-edge crossover game, Root is plowing new ground in the hobby. In this case, it is a wargame with strong eurogamer appeal. In some ways, it is similar to Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Norther Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2017) which is – at heart – more a eurogame with wargamer appeal. In the case of Supply Lines, about 2/3 of the threads on BGG are rules-related. The lesson I hope designers and publishers see is that Waros require tight rules writing – and lots of patience. I believe this is because of the diversity of the audience. Tight writing should avoid much of the rules confusion, but patience is still required to listen to and answer the slew of questions from players who maybe have never played a Waros before.

Players who read – and play – the rules will find Root an extraordinary game. It is a wonderful design and a shining example of what a Waros can be. Just don’t read too much into the rules!

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Courtesy BGG