#FirstImpressions of Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2nd Printing, 2015)

I was fortunate to pick up Washington’s War by designer Mark Herman (@markherman54 on Twitter) during GMT Games 4th of July special sale. They had three games on sale at a deep discount; I already own Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection by Harold Buchanan and The American Revolution Tri-Pack so I rounded out my collection. I’m fortunate because GMT Games is now out-of-stock for Washington’s War.

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Guess we won’t see this for a while (Courtesy GMT Games via BGG.com)

I am ashamed to say I am late to the party, for Washington’s War has all the elements of a great game that meets many RockyMountainNavy Family Game Values; an awesome mix of mechanics and theme that teaches as much as it entertains and is playable in an evening.

Washington’s War (WW) is the GMT Games update of the Avalon Hill’s We the People (by…Mark Herman!). For many years I passed on We the People, and WW, because they are Card Driven Games (CDG) and CDG is just not my cuppa tea. I think this is because CDG’s are hard to play solo. However, my gaming tastes have changed over the past two years and the RockyMountainNavy Boys are my game group. As such, we don’t usually go for classic hex & counter wargames favoring instead more varied mechanics. So WW looks like it could be a good addition to the game collection.

Now, my first impressions are not the greatest because the RMN Boys are traveling this month and I have no built-in game group. So my impressions are based on several solo walkthrus of the rules and game mechanics.

Components

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Courtesy BGG.com

The game board is functional and thematic but not to the degree that Liberty or Death or Supply Lines of the American Revolution is. Artist Charles Kibler and a supporting cast delivered a very good game board that not only has the map of the area in question but also many game-related spaces for cards or counters or the like. The result is a good balance of theme and functionality. Of the counters, I really like the oversize, tall standees for the Generals. The gives WW a very “Kriegsspiel” look and feel.

The rules are in two books; a Rulebook and Playbook. The rules are not overly complex and contained in the nice 24-page rulebook. There are lots of nice color illustrations and examples of play and a handy index, meaning the rules themselves are actually quite short and succinct. I also think as this is the Second Reprint of a 2009 game based on a title first published in 1993 the rules have been criticized and torn apart and reworked and generally exist now in a very good state.

Game Play

Now, I said above that CDGs have not been my thing, but I see beauty in the mechanics of WW and this game could exist without CDG. The choice of Event Cards or Ops Cards (with different values) makes for a ton of choices. Developer Joel Toppen (@PastorJoelT on Twitter) also makes this important observation in the Player’s Notes:

Like the American Revolution that the game models, Washington’s War, is both a political conflict as well as a military conflict. In my opinion, the biggest challenge that the players will face in this game is balancing political initiatives with military action.

So, as I write this blog post, I am asking myself, “Do I dislike CDG because its not solo-friendly, or is it that I have been too in love with just hex & counter wargames?”

I am more than just a grognard!

Washington’s War has arrived at a time of gaming change for me, and I now see that as much as I love hex & counter, that very love has blinded me to some really great games. As my wargaming has evolved into boardgaming, and especially family boardgames. I am embracing games with a much broader set of mechanics than hexes and a CRT. Game mechanics that turned me off years ago (CDG!) I now recognize are actually wonderful, playable games/models that teach me (and the RMN Boys) more than a hex & counter military simulation can deliver.

So thank you Mark Herman, and GMT Games, and all the other game publishers out there that keep advancing the hobby and delivering quality gaming for not only die-hard grognards (guilty as charged) but also family strategy boardgamers.

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Courtesy nohighscores.com…but I’ve seen this many places around the interwebs

 

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#FirstImpressions – Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018)

Once again, I blame @PastorJoelT on Twitter for this purchase.

Kidding aside, I am very pleased with the game. Cataclysm: A Second World War challenges my perceptions of what a grand strategy game of  World War II by delivering a game where players control the narrative of the conflict. In Cataclysm, player decisions (political and military) really matter!

GMT Games describes Cataclysm: A Second World War as:

…a quick-playing game about politics and war in the 1930s and 40s, designed for two to five players. The three primary ideologies of the time contend to impose their vision of order on the world. The Fascists (Germany, Italy, and Japan) seek to overthrow the status quo, which favors the Democracies (France, the United Kingdom, and the United States), while the Communists (the Soviet Union) look for opportunities to storm the global stage.

The description goes on to say:

Not Your Father’s Panzer Pusher

Cataclysm is unapologetically a game of grand strategy. Military pieces have no factors or ratings. The capability of your forces increases as you shift the commitment of your economy from civilian to military production. Land, air, and naval forces all have their role in prosecuting war. There is no Combat Results Table; instead, battles are resolved by opposed die rolls with a limited number of modifiers capturing the most important operational effects. The area map emphasizes political boundaries, drawing attention to strategically critical territory, encouraging players to think in broad terms of resource acquisition, control of border states, and the perception of power as the arms race plays out.

Growing up, two wargame titles epitomized “grand strategy” to me and have since influenced my thinking and perceptions.

The first was Rise and Decline of the Third Reich by designers Don Greewood and John Prados (a current favorite author of mine). Published by Avalon Hill Game Co., my gaming friend owned the Second Edition (1981). We got the game to the table a few times, the one time I remember best being an epic overnight birthday party where we actually played the full campaign game. What I remember about Third Reich is that it was long and focused near-exclusively on combat with little political choice. It is a game about “fighting” the war, but not the “whys” of the war.

The “second” game that clouds my thinking is actually two linked games. World in Flames (Australian Design Group) is a MONSTER game that covers the fighting for the entire war. I have never played a full game (up to 6000 minutes according to BoardGameGeek). The second-second game is Days of Decision II again by ADG. DoDII is a complete game of global politics starting in 1936 but it can be combined with WiF. As the BGG entry states:

The game is very detailed in its political aspect, and is more a political game than a wargame. Each country affected by the war is represented on an “ideological” chart which tracks the movement of the powers into the different spheres of influence: Fascist, Communist and Democrat. Where each country lies on this chart is vital to which country controls their decisions and forces. Political decisions are chosen from a large array of IPOs (International Policy Options) and a number of Political Options available only to the country that you’re playing.

As with WiF, I have tinkered with DoDII but never played it. The 300 minute playtime is a overwhelming frightening. These days I cannot imagine actually playing a full WiF game with DoD layered on top.

Component-wise, Cataclysm is simple. One can easily set up the entire game on a 3’x6′ table with plenty of room to lay out all the materials. The introductory/learning scenario (C.2 Days of Decision) could be played on a 3’x3′ table if necessary. There are less than 500 counters and 160 cubes*.

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Scenario C.2 Days of Decision Set Up

Rules-wise, the mechanics of Cataclysm take some learning. It’s not that they are difficult (indeed, almost everything is resolved with a simple die roll) but there is much choice. Behind each choice is a decision that must be made and Cataclysm gives the players many choices. I strongly recommend that after reading the Rulebook new players set up Scenario C.2 and step thru the Example of Play in the Playbook. It won’t take long but physically moving the pieces and reading the reasons why enhance the learning. For me learning is best actively experienced not just passively read which s why I enjoy Playbooks so much these days. Once thru reset the game to the beginning at start over. This won’t take long; Cataclysm is quick-playing and I made it thru the Playbook example and my own session in about 4 hours.

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C.2 Days of Decision – end of 1940. Germany strikes west and Paris falls

My early plays of Cataclysm challenge my perceptions of how a grand strategy game of World War II can be shown on the gaming table. Cataclysm is so much more than Third Reich because it gives the players narrative control (to steal an RPG term) over the war. Cataclysm delivers this narrative control using political and combat concepts much simpler than Days of Decision and are part of the game not an adjunct add on. In a time when I am gaming more, but actually have less time for each game, the thought of being able to play an entire war (1933 to 1950?) in 5-6 hours means this one has a real chance of landing on the table.

To me, Cataclysm: A Second World War is the love-child of Third Reich and Days of Decision. That is, a much smarter and modern love-child in that the combat and political mechanics of Catayclsm are much more streamlined that either of the former. This makes Cataclysm a playable grand strategy game – filling a niche in my gaming collection that I didn’t realize I was missing.

*(Sigh) Lots is being said about the color of the “white” cubes. Just play with good lighting.

 

 

#FirstImpressions – Mrs. Thatchers War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017)

I freely admit that solo wargames are not my usual thing. I dislike games that devolve into a repetitive set of processes that the player repeats until some victory condition is triggered. So it was with some hesitation that I picked up Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 by designer R. Ben Madison and published by White Dog Games in 2017. In 1982, I was a young middle school lad with a great interest in military and wargaming. I watched the broadcast and cable TV stories about the Falklands War. Since then, the war has become a bit of a fascination of mine. Unfortunately, there are few games out there on the subject. So, after some hesitation, I let my love of the Falklands War conquer my fear of solo games and ordered.

I’m glad I did.

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Near end game conditions

Component-wise, the game is not very fancy. Printed by Blue Panther, the same company that provided POD for Hollandspiele, the two maps (8.5″x11″ Strategic Map and 11″x17″ East Falklands Map) and 88 counters (nice and thick that punch out neatly) make for a fairly small gaming footprint. If necessary, a small 3″x3″ card table could be used.

Rules-wise, the game is procedural, like I guess most every solo game is. the difference I found in Mrs. Thatcher’s War is that between the procedures there is enough player-choice to keep it interesting. My thoughts by phase include:

A. Appreciate the Situation – The weather is very important, making this first roll an item of major interest. Will you be able to fly? Or will the entire turn be skipped in Gales? Do you have an SAS Raid this turn? If yes, what target and when will they return for another raid?

B. Grupos Phase – Seemingly mechanical, until you realize that each Grupos will generate attacking aircraft in places you maybe don’t really want.

C. Task Force Phase – The British player only has a four ships; 2x Carrier and 2x Escort. With these few ships you have to fight off Grupos attacks, sink enemy ships, defend the carriers, supply the landings, and maybe even provide Naval Gunfire Support. Too few assets for too many missions means choices (risk) must be taken. Oh yeah, watch out for Exocet missiles too! Mess up and public opinion (BBC News) drops making the ground war more difficult.

D. Argentine Air Assets Phase – More mechanics, but his step gets the Argentinian aircraft in play. A simple placement mechanic makes the arrival of aircraft both random and sorta realistic.

E. British Air Assets PhaseHarriers arrive to fight battles in the sky.

F. Argentine Junta Plan Phase – More than any other phase, the Junta Phase takes all the set, easily recognizable mechanical procedures and introduces events that mess up all the plans. The Argentine aircraft, carefully placed in Phase D and defended against in Phase E now move around (realistically) into new areas that the British player may not be ready for! Again, too few resources (Harriers) against too many threats (Argentinian aircraft).

G. Air Battle Phase – At first I thought the single d6 resolution mechanic was way too simple. After play I realize it is a speedy way to get believable results of the battle without too much time or rules complexity.

H. Ground War Phase – The war may be on the ground but naval forces (like Escorts for supply) and aircraft (for Air Superiority) are important to the troops. Even the Ships Taken Up From Trade (STUFT) is important bemuse that is where your helicopters are – or not. This is also where the pressure in the game comes from; the Landing at San Carlos can be no earlier than Turn 7 and the game ends on Turn 19. You have to get the troops ashore and moved across East Falklands before the game ends. Helicopters help, but you must be ready to Yomp your way across the island if necessary.

I. Logistics/Invasion Phase – This is definitely an administrative phase with a reset of the game state for the next turn. The News Headlines Table is the random events action. If there was one part I disliked it was the repetitive nature of the News Headlines. Or maybe I just don’t roll random enough?

J. End of Turn – Lather, rinse, repeat.

Bias. I don’t think anyone will accuse Mr. Madison of being neutral in designing this game. My cover prominently carries the “Banned in Argentina” banner. This title unabashedly depicts a British view of the war with just a few good nods to the Argentinians. That said, even though Ben Madison repeatedly criticizes the Argentinians, he also points out the foibles of the British too. That is not to say the game is rigged for the British player; rather, the game places the player squarely in the role of the Task Force Commander who must use naval and air power to deliver troops to East Falkland and execute a land campaign – before the clock runs out.

Final Call. On July 4, 1982, as Task Force Commander Admiral Sandy Woodward lowered his flag, he signaled:

As I haul my South Atlantic flag down, I reflect sadly on the brave lives lost, and the good ships gone, in the short time our trial. I thank whole heartedly each and every one of you for your gallant support, tough determination and fierce perseverance under bloody conditions. Let us all be grateful that Argentina doesn’t breed bulldogs and, as we return severally to enjoy the blessings of our land, resolve that those left behind for ever shall not be forgotten. (Admiral Sandy Woodward, One Hundred Days: The Memoirs of the Falklands Battle Group Commander, ix.)

No wargame can recreate a war perfectly, but Mrs. Thatcher’s War does a better-than-average job of delivering the pressures of this short, little war to the game table. Like I stated at the beginning, I don’t usually like solo games but Mrs. Thatchers War has just enough player choice to keep it interesting in the midst of the mechanical actions. Most importantly, the mechanics of the game and choices create a narrative of events that seem both plausible and believable.

#FirstImpressions – Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy (@hollandspiele, 2018)

In 2017 I discovered a new wargame; a game that changed my perception of what a wargame could be. That title was Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 from Hollandspiele Games. I really like the game and it challenged me to reconsider the history of the American Revolution by thinking about logistics instead of only battles.

Designer Tom Russell has followed up on The Northern Theater with a new title, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy. Tom could of taken the easy way out and simply designed a “new” game using the same great mechanics in a different geographic area. Thankfully, and best for us gamers, he found a way to take an already awesome game and make it even better!

As Mr. Russell states in the Introduction:

The Southern Strategy shares many concepts and mechanisms with The Northern Theater: both games are about generating, storing, moving, capturing, protecting, and utilizing supply in order to achieve your military objectives. However, this is a standalone game, not an expansion, and folks who have played The Northern Theater should read these rules carefully before playing The Southern Strategy.

The Southern Strategy introduces an element of irregular warfare between loyalist collaborators to the Crown and bands of patriot Militia fighters. Again, in the words of Mr. Russell:

In The Southern Strategy, there are really two interrelated conflicts running in parallel: a partisan conflict fought by locals within a colony, and a more traditional military conflict fought between armies that need supplies to march and to give battle. The presence of an army within a territory strengthens the partisans, while the dominance of the partisans within a colony affects the movement and creation of supplies. (Introduction)

Gameplay

To players of The Northern Theater, the Extended Sequence of Play will superficially look familiar. Each turn, the players progress though a Supply Phase, an Initiative Phase, the Impulse Phase, and the Turn End Phase. The major difference in game mechanics is found within the Impulse Phase which now has two Impulses; a Limited Impulse (Militia/Loyalist activation only) and a Full Impulse with Militia/Loyalist, Army, or Navy activations.

The Limited Impulse (easily thought of as the “Partisan Impulse”) is where Militia or Loyalist partisans make a difference. Players can use these units to strengthen an Army, gather supplies, Raid an area (Militia only), or Hold an area (Loyalist only). Wise use of partisans during Limited Impulses will set Armies up for success, or defeat.

In addition to partisans, navies also make an appearance in The Southern Strategy. Abstracted into a single counter for each side as well as a modifier based on Political Will, the Royal or French Navy can help move supplies or armies, or prevent the same.

Another simple change to the game is Sieges. Under certain conditions, armies are besieged in an area. Once again, supply becomes a key factor in determining how long the besieged can hold out until they either surrender or the siege is lifted.

Theme

I must admit I am very taken with how well the game mechanics bring out the theme of the game. The partisan factor and the role of navies makes The Southern Strategy a much different beast than The Northern Theater. There are lessons learned that are applicable to both games but each is different enough and nuanced that each demands a great deal of different planning and strategy. This is ultimately why I like these games so much; both are simple in mechanics (being fairly light on rules) yet demand complex thinking and planning to be successful. As I put it, another Simply Complex game from Hollandspiele!

Components

0_1024x1024Hollandspiele has a unique production model that I characterize as “professional print-n-play.” This is a bit unfair as the components are far from home-made and quite good. That said, I do have a few thoughts on the various parts:

  • Box – I like the simple artwork. The box art is a wrap-around sticker that did have a few air bubbles along the edges, but nothing that a quick thumb-press could not work out. Opening the box releases a distinctive smell, or as I call it, “A whiff of Hollandspiele.” This smell is addressed in the Hollandspiele FAQ and doesn’t bother me; indeed, I feel it is part of the brand.
  • Rulebook – Sixteen pages that break down into about 12 pages of rules, three (3) pages of a sample game turn, and an Extended Sequence of Play on the back page that easily serves as a player aid. The rules are generally well-written although I have to admit that it took me several readings of 8.4 Hold (Loyalists Only) to really grasp how a Loyalist unit holding an area modifies the adjacency rules (5.3). Thank goodness the paragraph includes an example!
  • Counters – A half-sheet of counters (88) printed in muted pastels remind me a bit of the old SPI days of the 1970’s. I really like the thickness and they punch out cleanly. I do feel that a bit of an opportunity was missed with names. The lone Crown Leader counter is Cornwallis and, if captured, results in an immediate Patriot victory. It would of been nice to see Cornwallis named on the counter instead of the plain generic symbol. Similarly, the South Carolina Militia has a leader that represents “The Swamp Fox,” It even has its own rule (8.5 The Swamp Fox). Yet the counter is a head with the initials “SC” for South Carolina on it. Once again, naming the counter could of added just a bit more theme and furthered immersion into the both the game and theme.
  • Map – The map by Ania Ziolkowska is beautiful and very appropriate to the time period represented. It even has lines of latitude and longitude along the edges. One curiosity is the multiple gray dots that appear on the map. Each is unlabeled and I “think” they are towns but they are not used in any way nor do they directly relate to Cities, Forts, or Areas. Not a real negative but a bit of a distraction for me. Make sure you check out Ania’s YouTube page on how she makes maps for Hollandspiele.

Conclusion

As I have already stated, The Southern Strategy is another Simply Complex game that I am enjoying. Having played it once already, I can see that although I can easily comprehend the rules the strategy needed to win is yet to be discovered. I think I am going to enjoy trying various strategies and gambits with this game. I also look forward to playing this game in July as part of my “Month of Independence Gaming.”

Featured and in-line images courtesy Hollandspiele Games.

#FirstImpressions – #1754Conquest by @Academy_Games

On the table for this weekend’s RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night was a full 4-player game of 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War (Academy Games, 2017). I usually do a “first impressions” post after playing a game for the first time and I guess this posting is no real exception. Well, except that since 1754 Conquest is part of the Birth of America-series and we have previously played 1775 Rebellion and 878 Vikings, we actually have a great familiarity with the basic game system. So this is more of a “ongoing thoughts” after the first play of another game in the series. Bottom Line: 1754 Conquest is a great family wargame and beautiful on the table.

Like other games in the Birth of America/Europe-series, 1754 Conquest is team-play, strategic-level of conflict, lite-rules wargame. The core gameplay is the same; Reinforcements, Movement/Event Card play, Battles, and End Turn. 1754 Conquest introduces several advanced rules (that are changes from 1775 Rebellion and 1812 Invasion) including Strategic Forts, Muster Areas, and Harbors. The later two determine where reinforcements arrive (British and French Regulars enter at Harbors, British Colonials and French-Canadiens enter at Muster Points). The Fort Rule thematically captures the important roll of forts in this war.

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Courtesy AcademyGames.com

Beyond the familiar gameplay, another part of 1754 Conquest that captures my attention (literally) is the fantastic art. I recently listened to a podcast (can’t find it now) that talked to Steve Paschal, the artist who did the cover of 1754 Conquest. Mr. Paschal has done lots of work for Academy Games, and his work is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. The cover of 1754 Conquest is by far my favorite because I think it captures so much of the spirit of the game. Not only is the cover nice, but all the components nicely compliment each other and make the game extremely beautiful to lay out on the table and adds immensely to the joy of play.

Playing games, and especially wargames, has an important role in the education of the RockyMountainNavy Boys. When playing 878 Vikings, I discovered just how much the Oldest RMN Boy loved Viking history, and how much the Youngest RMN wants to learn. Personally, I have a love of early American colonial history and the French & Indian War and American Revolution are amongst my favorite periods of history to study. So this time we did something a bit different and I read aloud from the Historical Notes at the back of the rulebook. The Boys were fascinated learning about George Washington’s role in the war, and were awed when they realized that their mother’s favorite movie, The Last of the Mohicans, is on the board (Fort William Henry). When I got to the section labeled The French Plan, Youngest RMN Boy stopped me and suggested we not read further until after the game so they could explore the situation for themselves. To say I was proud is an understatement!

The game ended after Round 4 with the British having played both their Treaty Cards. The result was a very narrow victory for the British, 6-5. Total playtime was a very short 70 minutes, which is very fast for us in a first-play of a new game. Again, 1754 Conquest is not a truly “new” game to us, and the fact we have familiarity with the core game mechanics meant the introduction of the new rules did not slow down our learning of the game.

1754 Conquest is less complex than 878 Vikings due to the absence of Invasion and Leader rules. It is more complex than 1775 Rebellion given the different reinforcement rules and forts. But in no way can I say that 1754 Conquest is better than or lesser than either of those other games. 1754 Conquest is superior in what it delivers; an easy to learn, simple to play, team wargame that captures the feel of the French & Indian War period. Additionally, it is a beautiful game!

#FirstImpressions – 878 Vikings: Invasions of England (@AcademyGames, 2017)

This Christmas was a very merry Academy Games Christmas in the RockyMountainNavy household. Our Birth of America collection was completed with 1754 Conquest: The French & Indian War and 1812: The Invasion of Canada. The first of the Birth of Europe titles, 878 Vikings: Invasion of England also landed under the tree. This weekend, 878 Vikings found it way to the RMN Game Night in a full 4-player scenario. 878 Vikings delivers a fun family game that strikes a nice balance between playability and teaching.

Academy Games calls the Birth-series “light grand tactical play.” In reality, these games are light strategic play with little “tactical” elements. In 878 Vikings, two factions of Viking invaders are trying to conquer England which is defended by the Housecarl and Thegn. Each turn, a new Viking leader will invade and try to conquer shires while the English try to hold back the Viking hordes.

It is actually a bit rare for all three RMN Boys to play on a game night. This is usually because the oldest RMN Boy, a die-hard video gamer, often chooses to pass on boardgames. However, in this case it was he who wanted the game because he absolutely LOVES Vikings. Thus, the teams were Oldest RMN Boy – Viking Beserkers, Youngest RMN Boy – Viking Norsemen, Middle RMN Boy – Housecarl, and myself as Thegn.

As we were setting up the game it became very apparent that the game had struck a cord with the oldest RMN Boy. Without reference to any materials he was talking about the history of various Viking Leaders. Youngest RMN Boy had pulled out his Guts & Glory: The Vikings book and was trying to keep up with his older brother. You have to understand something about these two; the Youngest RMN considers himself the smartest and was not prepared for his older brother to be so far ahead of him in Viking knowledge.

This “conflict” between the two of them continued as play began. Youngest RMN considers himself a bit of a tactician and usually leads his middle brother in plan development when they play against me. This time, it was literally like watching two Viking factions arguing amongst themselves.

The initial Viking invasion went well but was stopped in the south. Aggressive Thegn play (by me) and a Reinforcement rather than another full invasion slowed the Viking advance and allowed the English to take advantage of Viking overreach. The first invasion was eventually defeated (the leader eliminated) but at the cost of many Thegn which weakened further defenses. A lucky Saxon Navy card play forced the next Viking invasion to land in a less-than-optimal location and gave time for the English defense to stabilize. When the next Viking invasion arrived, an absolutely heroic stand on the beach (with Middle RMN rolling 5 hits on 6 dice) gave the invaders pause and made them adopt a less aggressive strategy. One feature that (happily) surprised us was the many Event Cards that feature some sort of betrayal. Both Viking Treaty of Wedmore cards were out by the end of Round IV, meaning Round V would be decisive. This was also the turn of Alfred the Greats arrival and when Housecarl went first they took back two Viking controlled shires. At the end of Round V, the Vikings only controlled 8 shires, short of necessary victory.

All the RMN Boys have played 1775 Rebellion: The American Revolution which is the first of the Birth of America series featuring the least complicated rules. Although the basic game mechanics are similar in 878 Vikings, all agreed that the Leader rules and invasions makes 878 Vikings play very differently. In this case the difference is welcomed as 878 Vikings plays very thematically appropriate. The rules overhead is very light but delivers a powerful gaming experience. As an added bonus, the Viking knowledge that Oldest RMN Boy possesses has challenged Youngest RMN to go back and carefully reread his Viking book and dig into the historical notes in 878 Vikings. In this way, 878 Vikings has achieved a goal that Mrs. RMN and I both strive for in gaming; teach the Boys.

So as 2017 comes to a close I have to give a big shout-out to Academy Games for delivering not only a fun game, but one that makes my boys hungry to learn more. Such is the power of gaming. Here is looking forward to many more learning chances from gaming in 2018.

#FirstImpressions – #AgricolaMasterofBritain from @Hollandspiele

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.