#GamesPlayed October 2017

fullsizeoutput_4c3
BoardGameGeek My Played

October 2017 was actually a relatively game-filled month for me. Of my twelve games played, nine were “actual plays” while three are what I call “rules exploration” or “familiarization play.”

The Saturday Game Night was mostly boardgames (i.e. not wargames) with Terraforming  Mars getting to the table two weeks in a row. In a lucky turn of events, what should of been a “familiarization play” of Command & Colors: Tricorne became an actual play.

I got two good solo plays in, The Expanse Board Game and Pacific Fury. I really need to get more wargaming going. With the coming of winter (hard to tell with unseasonable upper 70’s outside) I hopefully will get more tabletop time to do so.

Looking forward to November, my niece will be visiting. Last time she was here she became obsessed with Ticket to Ride. This time the RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get Scythe to the table with her. We shall see.

 

Advertisements

Why Navies Fight – #PacificFuryGuadalcanal1942 (Revolution Games, 2016)

One of the smaller games I got last year was Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 from Revolution Games. After my first play thru I took issue with the historical accuracy of the game but generally liked it. This past weekend I pulled the game out again and ran thru the campaign again. This time I payed more attention to the rules. After this second play thru, I see a lot more depth in the game and like this particular design a lot more!

Pacific Fury simulates the naval battles off Guadalcanal in late 1942. Each turn is a month, and each player must allocate his forces to up to seven Operations each month. Once Operations are allocated, the forces can only enter in that order. But operations can be more than just a Sortie to enter the board; to move and fight also takes Operations. Every Operation is a choice – enter more forces or execute an action with a deployed force. This is one layer of depth that makes Pacific Fury an interesting game; the timing of forces entering and (usually combat) actions. How long do you allow for the carriers to clear the area? Will that bombardment mission disrupt Henderson Field and allow a follow-on landing? Do I have a strong enough force to hold Ironbottom Sound? what about the Tokyo Express?

Another layer of depth – and one I misplayed my first play thru – is Hits and Sunk ships. The combat system is very simple – for each “firing” unit roll d6; if the number is less than or equal to the Combat Factor THAT NUMBER OF HITS is scored. Hits are then apportioned by the attacker with the number of hits allocated to each target compared to the Defense Factor. There are two possible results: Sunk (removed from game) or Hit (moved to Turn Record Track to return later).

The practical impact of this game mechanic to strategy is very important – although sinking ships is good to simply “damage” the ships might be more effective. The Japanese player can return ships two turns later meaning a ship damaged in Turn 3 will not return before Turn 4. In contrast, American ships with better damage control and closer repair facilities return the next turn. Thus, like the real battle it portrays, Pacific Fury becomes a furious battle of attrition.

Another design decision in Pacific Fury that makes it very interesting is the victory conditions. There is only one way to win this game; control Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. This may seem like blasphemy to a naval gamer – many of whom only think in terms of sunk ships – but it actually reflects the reality of the battles fought from August to November 1942.

As I recognize how these game mechanics reflect aspects of the campaign often overlooked (or glossed over) in other games both my respect and enjoyment of Pacific Fury has increased. In my most recent campaign play the result was a draw. Actual losses on both sides were small; the Japanese lost Zuikaku, Shokaku, Ryujo, Nagato, and Nachi while the Americans lost Saratoga, Wasp, South Dakota, North Carolina, San Francisco, and Chicago.

IMG_0226
End of Game Condition

The Americans were actually a bit lucky that they were able to even get the draw. On Turn 3 (October 1942) the Japanese had retaken Henderson Field but at a cost a many damaged ships – ships now effectively “out of the game.” In the Event Phase of Turn 4, the Americans rolled IJN Overestimated which returned a “destroyed” carrier to the battle (incidentally, a carrier originally destroyed in the Event Phase of Turn 2 when the Japanese rolled three (!) Torpedo Hits and elected to sink that carrier). With the Hornet back, the Americans were able to use airpower to destroy the Japanese force patrolling Ironbottom Sound and get a bombardment force in to disrupt Henderson Field just in time for an amphibious force to land in the very last Operation of the game.

8575701
Courtesy  goodreads.com

Pacific Fury reminds me that it is not enough to just “learn the rules” but it is also important to step back and understand the “why” of a game mechanic or rule. Usually these are hinted at in Designer’s Notes but in Pacific Fury such notes are lacking probably because the original game was published in Japanese. So in this case I had do do a bit of (enjoyable) discovery on my own. I am glad I pulled this game out again as I have deepened my understanding of not just the game but of the entire naval campaign for Guadalcanal. Pacific Fury is actually great compliment to what has to be one of the best books on the subject, James D. Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno. Enough so that I need to stop typing away here and resume my reread of that book….

#WargameWednesday – Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal for iOS

I honestly don’t like wargames on my iPad. The very small form-factor makes it hard for me to play. I also really like having a nice map to look at and little bits to push around. Then there is the whole social factor of playing F2F….

994680_larger
Carrier Battles 4 Guadalcanal

I may have to make an exception for Carrier Battle 4 Guadalcanal available in the iTunes store for only $4.99 (base game). Designer Cyril Jarnot (Bladerunner69 on BGG) has implemented “a classic hex-and-counter wargame covering the naval-air battles in the South Pacific in 1942-43” in iOS. Think Flat Top for the iPad!

I could try to explain more, but The Chief at Bonding with Board Games has already done it.

Purchased…learning in progress….

#FirstImpressions #TheExpanseBoardGame (WizKids, 2017)

From the publisher’s blurb:

The Expanse, a board game based on the Syfy television series of the same name, focuses on politics, conquest and intrigue similar to the board game Twilight Struggle, although with a shorter playing time. The card-driven game uses key images from the show, along with action points and events that allow players to move and place “Fleets” and “Influence”. (BGG)

IMG_2055
Authors collection

It is not often that a publisher’s blurb captures a game so completely as WizKids has done for The Expanse Board Game (TEBG). After purchasing the game and playing it a bit, I am torn in my feelings for the game. To me, TEBG feels very much like a “classic” Eurogame – in a negative connotation of the definition; great mechanics with a pasted on theme.

The BoardGameGeek Wiki defines Eurogames as follows:

“Eurogames (or alternatively, Designer Board Games or German-Style Board Games) are a classification of board games that are very popular on Board Game Geek (BGG). Though not all eurogames are European and not all of them are board games, they share a set of similar characteristics. A game need not fit ALL the criteria to be considered a Eurogame.

Most Eurogames share the following elements:

  • Player conflict is indirect and usually involves competition over resources or points. Combat is extremely rare.
  • Players are never eliminated from the game (All players are still playing when the game ends.)
  • There is very little randomness or luck. Randomness that is there is mitigated by having the player decide what to do after a random event happens rather than before. Dice are rare, but not unheard of, in a Euro.
  • The Designer of the game is listed on the game’s box cover. Though this is not particular to Euros, the Eurogame movement seems to have started this trend. This is why some gamers and designers call this genre of games Designer Games.
  • Much attention is paid to the artwork and components. Plastic and metal are rare, more often pieces are made of wood.
  • Eurogames have a definite theme, however, the theme most often has very little to do with the gameplay. The focus instead is on the mechanics; for example, a game about space may play the same as a game about ancient Rome.”

TEBG hits all of these points, but with mixed results.

TEBG does a good job of capturing the feel (theme) of The Expanse TV series. Using Eurogame mechanics the players place influence (tracked using small wooden cubes) on various bases throughout the Solar System. To place influence usually requires a fleet in the orbital above the base. Although the game mechanics are simple, each player/faction has unique asymmetric abilities which allow them to “break the rules” in thematically appropriate ways. For instance, while is usually cost 1 Control Point (CP) to take the second action card, the United Nations (UN) player has Planning as their initial Technology which means the first two action card slots cost 0 CP. As the game progresses, more thematically-appropriate technologies are gained by each faction.

“Combat” in TEBG consists of removing influence or fleets (which can be rebuilt). This is not a cooperative game; ruthlessly building your influence while reducing your opponents is the real core mechanic.

TEBG uses much artwork from The Expanse TV Series. Although this makes the game appear like The Expanse, some of the artwork does not have a clear connection to gameplay. For instance, the action card Scopuli can be used for 2 Action Points or as an Event by the Martian Congressional Republic (MCR) or UN. The Event states, “Place 1 influence on each Saturn Base where you do not have influence.” I do not see how this is related to the Scopuli in the TV series which is [SPOILER ALERT]:

…a Martian light transport freighter from Eros that was in service to the OPA. One of its crew was Julie Mao and it was attacked by the Stealth Ship Anubis. It was later used as a lure in the ambush and destruction of the Canterbury.

To me this is a thematic disconnect. I think Scopuli should be used as an Event to the advantage of the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) or ProtoGen. Granted, most of the action cards have a picture that ties well to the event described, but I think to make the connection one must be a real fanboy. If a player is not knowledgeable of The Expanse the immersion into the game will not be served by the graphics.

The full impact of all these design and graphics decisions is an area control game that looks like The Expanse. The game comes across as very functional; simple game mechanics with some asymmetric differences in a kinda staid, plain package.

Finally, I have an issue with the component quality in TEBG. The board uses a non-glossy finish that, while good for pictures, has already shown rubs and scratches after just two plays. I also have a major problem with the Quick Start Rules which use white text on a semi-transparent background over a starscape page. The font, smaller than that used in the main rule book and the third layer of printing has lost all its edges and is nearly impossible to read.

It is going to be interesting when The Expanse Board Game lands on the Family Game Night table. All of the RockyMountainNavy Boys know a bit about The Expanse, but none are fanboys, Thus, the success of this game will stand not on theme alone (which appears to be much of the buzz around the game) but on its ability to blend graphics and gameplay into a enjoyable gaming experience.

 

#WargameWednesday – Battles in the Sky

In a previous posting, I discovered that three of my six least-liked wargames are air combat-related. This got me thinking – do I actually dislike air combat games? The answer I discovered is, “No, actually there are many air combat games I do like.” Here are my personal Top 10 Air Combat Wargames.

A comment on ratings: These games are ranked subjectively by me out of my personal collection. As such, this is my Top 10 Air Combat Wargames that I own.

#1 – Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942 [My Rating 8.75 / Geek Rating 5.985 / BGG Wargame Rank 140]

At first look I denigrated this game as a side-scroll video game wannabe. WAY WRONG! This unique look at operational air combat just works and clearly brings out the “why” of a dogfight rather than the usual “how.”

#2 – Wing Leader: Supremacy: 1943-1945 [My Rating 8.5 / Geek Rating 5.762 / BGG Wargame Rank 285]

Many people see this as the same as Victories but the late-war combat was different enough from the early war that, although the game system is the same, the play is way different.

#3 – Downtown: Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 [My Rating 8.5 / Geek Rating 6.099 / BGG Wargame Rank 105]

Operational-level campaigns of modern air warfare. As a former US Navy Squadron Intelligence Officer this is so much like real-life mission planning that I should dislike it as too realistic but I feel just the opposite.

#4 – RAF (West End Games, 1986) [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 6.133/ BGG Wargame Rank 156]

Solitaire, card-driven Battle of Britain. First design with many others to follow that may be more clean mechanically or graphically but unmatched in my collection.

#5 – Buffalo Wings [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.677 / BGG Wargame Rank 506]

Air war over Finland. Technically part of JD Webster’s Fighting Wings series, this one has a cleaner basic game that makes it worthy to be counted as a separate game in my thinking. Detailed air combat that takes a bit of dedication to learn, but once it “clicks” for you it is an easy, fast-paced game that seems realistic yet playable.

#6 – Whistling Death [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.859 / BGG Wargame Rank 200]

Fighting Wings goes to the Pacific. The last real iteration of the Fighting Wings series of games makes it the most refined of the lot and the topic of most interest to me. Maybe too complicated for many but I find it a playable level of realism.

#7 – The Speed of Heat [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.715 / BGG Wargame Rank 505]

JD Webster’s modern air combat game. Second generation of his earlier GDW Air Superiority and Air Strike games. Again, a playable level of realism.

#8 – The Burning Blue [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.979 / BGG Wargame Rank 172]

Another Lee Brimmecombe-Wood operational campaign (see Downtown above). Playing this gives one a whole new respect for the campaign fought out over England in 1940.

#9 – Bloody April, 1917: Air War Over Arras, France [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.740 / BGG Wargame Rank 487]

Another operational-level look at an air campaign. Makes one realize that the grunt work, like artillery spotting and photo-recce, are really important to air campaigns. Dogfights have a role but often in support of the others.

#10 – Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid [My Rating 8.0 / Geek Rating 5.578 / Unranked by BGG Wargames]

A solo wargame that plays out mechanically but, when looking back at what happened, tells a really dramatic story.

Honorable Mentions (all ranked by me at 7.75 or 7.5) but still ones I like:

It should be obvious that there are many air combat games I like, but just as obvious that tactical dogfighting is not my preference. Seven of my Top 10 Air Combat Games are not dogfight games but rather raids or operational-level simulation. Maybe that is the key; dogfighting games, which can be very technical (see Birds of Prey), tend to not catch my attention as much as sweeping campaign systems. This does not necessarily mean the games are bad. Rather, it probably reflects a change in my attitude towards gaming. When I first started in this hobby back in 1979, I think I was a simulationist. It is reflected in my favorite games of that time, Panzer and Star Fleet Battles. I thought that games needed to be technical (and full of chrome) to be “realistic.” These days, I think I seek more “design elegance” (however that is defined!) and desire playability with “just enough” realism.

Featured photo was taken this summer at the Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA. As a docent there says, “The Smithsonian’s might be prettier, but ours fly!”

#FirstImpressions #TerraformingMars (@StongholdGames, 2016)

This week’s Saturday #GameNight brought Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) to the RockyMountainNavy gaming table. This game, currently ranked #12 on the BoardGameGeek “Hotness,” has been out for a while. The game was strongly recommended by Uwe Eickert at @AcademyGames to me way back in August as a good engine-building, resource management game. I was a bit slow to acquire (hey, even I have a budget…as much as Mrs. RMN tells me I exceed it) and only this month got the game to the table.

As the publisher’s blurb for Terraforming Mars (TM) puts it:

In the 2400s, mankind begins to terraform the planet Mars. Giant corporations, sponsored by the World Government on Earth, initiate huge projects to raise the temperature, the oxygen level, and the ocean coverage until the environment is habitable. InTerraforming Mars, you play one of those corporations and work together in the terraforming process, but compete for getting victory points that are awarded not only for your contribution to the terraforming, but also for advancing human infrastructure throughout the solar system, and doing other commendable things.

Game Play

Our first game was 3-player with each using the Beginner Corporations. There were several rules mistakes made including a major faux pas of not counting budget right the first few Generations (turns). This is because the game arrived Thursday and I rushed it to the table after just reading the rulebook twice and only looking at one How-to-Play video. I also failed to adequately explain the various Milestones and Awards meaning that some were missed or scored differently than all players understood. That said, the game is not overly complex and the problems we had are the fault of me rushing and not a negative reflection of the rules. Once we got the budget right the game started to click right along; I think playing in the advertised 60-90 minutes may be possible.

Cards & Actions

The cards in TM are also incredibly thematic; more then a few times we had short halts in the game to discuss what the events on the cards were describing. RMN Mom really likes listening to this part of our game nights because it demonstrates the teaching power of games. The incredible variety of Actions (Standard or Cards) ensures that there is no “one way” to win and that no two games of TM will ever be alike.

Components

I had read some criticism about the component quality in TM. Suffice it to say that I generally agree with the critics. I will definitely be sleeving these cards. The RMN Boys and I are already looking at GamerTrayz to replace the Player Mats. We do like the footprint of the game; this game can be played on a 3’x3′ card table if necessary.

Component quality aside, Terraforming Mars is a spectacular game that has already earned a repeat slot in our family game night line-up. It is also another tangible piece of evidence of my evolution as a gamer. One year ago if you asked me if I was ever going to play an engine-building game (loosely) based on science about terraforming a planet I would of asked how many space battleships were involved. These days I cannot see our family game night without games like Terraforming Mars landing on the table because of their incredible game play and teaching potential.

#NegativePosting – Why I don’t like #Kickstarter courtesy @AdAstraGames #SquadronStrikeTraveller

Call me a sucker. Warning – I write this post in “simmering rant-mode.”

I am a long-time Traveller RPG fan. Part of why I like the universe is the various ship combat systems. From the small-ship Mayday (GDW, 1979) to fleet engagements using Power Projection: Fleet (BITS, 2003) I have tried out various systems – with just as many various  levels of satisfaction.

I was very happy in February 2016 when Ken Burnside kickstarted Squadron Strike: Traveller. Although I was a bit worried about game system complexity, I backed the project because I was hungry for Traveller space combat game. I also recognized Ken from Star Fleet Battles; another game I dearly loved.

It is now 21 October 2017…exactly 19 months after the project funded and I still do not have my game. Part of the delay is because Ken had to get the miniatures that are one of the stretch goals produced. Problem is I pledged for the boxed game only:

This is the Deluxe Edition of Squadron Strike Traveller, as a boxed game. It is the same as Squadron Strike 2nd Edition, only it replaces the Empire/Directorate War content with Squadron Strike Traveller. It also includes the PDFs of all the materials.

I didn’t buy the miniatures but an being held up because of them. FOUL!

Maybe I didn’t read the Risks and Challenges closely enough:

This is a project that uses techniques and components we use for the other Ad Astra boxed games. There is nothing in this that we have not successfully done before.

At the time we launched this Kickstarter, the setting-and-scenario booklet was edited, the tutorial booklet was in final edits, and the SSD booklet had been laid out. The countersheets have been laid out, and the folio cover and box wrap are laid out and ready to send to the printer.

On the first business day after this project reaches its funding goal, I’ll send the print job to the printers to minimize the delay in shipping games to backers.

The project funded Monday, 21 March 2016 making the “next business day” Tuesday, 22 March 2016. Yet today, October 2017, I don’t have my game.

In December 2016 things looked close. In a Backers-only update (#30) Ken provided insight into the print product:

  • Countersheets – “Done and in-house”
  • SSD Book – “needs some cleanup”
  • Tutorial Book – “needs a heavy edit” to get under 64-page count
  • Scenario and Setting Book – “something of a mess”
  • Master Weapons Charts – “done and ready to print”
  • Box Wrap – “Done and in-house.”
  • Maps – “Done and in-house”
  • Tilt Blocks/Stacking Tiles/AVID Cards/RALT Cards – All “Done and in-house”

Then in April 2017 (Update #33), Ken posted about the “RPG/Minis Integration Problem.” Yes Ken, it’s a problem that you knew about from the beginning and was even one of the FAQ Questions:

Will RPG-scale or Adventurer-scale ships be a stretch goal?

No. While we have those in development, they are nowhere near ready enough to be used as a stretch goal for this campaign. There will be a later Kickstarter covering RPG-scale ships.

If problems come up, creators are expected to post a project update explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial. Most backers support projects because they want to see something happen and they’d like to be a part of it. Creators who are honest and transparent will usually find backers to be understanding.

It’s not uncommon for things to take longer than expected. Sometimes the execution of the project proves more difficult than the creator had anticipated. If a creator is making a good faith effort to complete their project and is transparent about it, backers should do their best to be patient and understanding while demanding continued accountability from the creator.

If the problems are severe enough that the creator can’t fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps should include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers. For more information, see Section 4 of our Terms of Use.

There are some very squishy words here like “good faith” and “transparent.” I am trying to be “patient and understanding” but after 19 months it is getting really hard!

What is Section 4 of the Terms of Service? Section 4 explains the CONTRACT between creators and backers. I am going to quote it in full because it is has remedies for situations:

Kickstarter provides a funding platform for creative projects. When a creator posts a project on Kickstarter, they’re inviting other people to form a contract with them. Anyone who backs a project is accepting the creator’s offer, and forming that contract.

Kickstarter is not a part of this contract — the contract is a direct legal agreement between creators and their backers. Here are the terms that govern that agreement:

When a project is successfully funded, the creator must complete the project and fulfill each reward. Once a creator has done so, they’ve satisfied their obligation to their backers.

Throughout the process, creators owe their backers a high standard of effort, honest communication, and a dedication to bringing the project to life. At the same time, backers must understand that when they back a project, they’re helping to create something new — not ordering something that already exists. There may be changes or delays, and there’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised.

If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers. A creator in this position has only remedied the situation and met their obligations to backers if:

  • they post an update that explains what work has been done, how funds were used, and what prevents them from finishing the project as planned;
  • they work diligently and in good faith to bring the project to the best possible conclusion in a timeframe that’s communicated to backers;
  • they’re able to demonstrate that they’ve used funds appropriately and made every reasonable effort to complete the project as promised;
  • they’ve been honest, and have made no material misrepresentations in their communication to backers; and
  • they offer to return any remaining funds to backers who have not received their reward (in proportion to the amounts pledged), or else explain how those funds will be used to complete the project in some alternate form.

The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project. If they’re unable to satisfy the terms of this agreement, they may be subject to legal action by backers.

This is all good information that I really didn’t want to know. A real reminder that Kickstarter is the ultimate “buyer beware.” I really like the boardgame hobby and it makes me sick to my stomach to think that I may be joining a lawsuit in the future.

Truth told, I actually am not very anxious for this game to arrive. Two years ago I thought that I needed games like Squadron Strike: Traveller to satisfy my gaming urges. You see, back then I was a “simulationist” gamer – the more “real” the game the more I wanted it. A system like Squadron Strike with its 3D, vector movement and realistic firing arcs seemed just the thing to make spaceship combat gaming worth it. I wanted to play it now (i.e. back then). But I have “grown up”, and out, of simulationist gaming since then. The very complexity that makesSquadron Strike: Traveller “realistic” means it has a very low chance of ever landing my gaming table.

I honestly want Squadron Strike: Traveller not for the game, but simply because I PAID FOR IT!