Railing for #Trains (@alderac, 2012)

Here in the RockyMountainNavy house, deck building games are not a preferred format. However, in the case of Trains (Alderac Entertainment Group – AEG, 2012) we make the exception. Trains stays in the game collection because Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy still likes trains. So on the basis of theme it stays. After tonight’s game, I too am happy to keep it in the collection as it plays better than I remember.

h2a5y5jrrho2wjxyegtfraOur Saturday Game Night was a classic three-way affair. We used the Northeastern USA maps so we were playing close to home. I took Blue and started off in Toronto. Middle RMN Boy was Yellow and started in the Buffalo while Youngest RMN as Green started all by himself in Washington DC.

The game took a bit longer than the rated time partially because we started off playing slowly. It took a while to build our decks and get our game engines going. Once we became more comfortable with the game it clicked right along. In the end, Youngest RMN Boy won with 61 points. Middle RMN was second and I a further behind third.

Playing Trains satisfies one entry in my new 2019 RockyMountainNavy Origins Challenge. Like my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The Charles S. Roberts Award and my 2019 Golden Geek Challenge, I combed my collection looking for Origins Awards winners and committed to playing each at least once this year. Trains was the 2014 Origins Awards Best Board Game winner. With Trains now played, I have completed 1 of 16 games in my Origins Challenge. 

And it was better than I expected.

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Going South with #1775Rebellion (@Academy_Games, 2013)

The first RockyMountainNavy Saturday Game Night of 2019 saw an old friend land on the table. 1775: Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013) was the first multi-player lite-wargame I introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to when we started family game nights back in 2017. Although it is the simplest of the Birth of America series (in terms of rules) the strategic choices and narrative the game builds is historically accurate and very enjoyable. Tonight, the greatest pleasure in the game came from the discussion around the table.

No, I’m not talking about the “trash talk” during the game (there always is some of that) but the discussion of how our game was similar to, then different, from the real history of the American Revolution. We talked about:

  • How early in the game (Revolution) the Americans focused on the Northern Colonies.
  • How a British invasion of Newport established a strong point.
  • How the Americans adopted a “Southern Strategy” and started rolling up the colonies from south to north, eventually controlling Georgia to Maryland and Delaware.
  • How the the Continental Army (with some Militia) was holed up in Boston while the British surrounded it; history mirrored backwards.
  • How British Loyalist units always seemed to Flee.
  • How the Americans used the Declaration of Independence to turn those fleeing Loyalists into Patriot Militia.
  • How in the end a late demonstration of British seapower enabled two amphibious assaults that contested control of North and South Carolina facilitating a British victory just as the Treaty of Paris was signed.

The Birth of America series prides itself on being historically accurate (“Learn the unique tactics and logistics used by each historical faction”) as well as challenging (“Realistic military tactics are required to win”). Our game tonight demonstrated that historical accuracy is not necessarily a duplication of history, but a plausible condition that could of faced the people at that time. Tonight’s American Revolution did not end the way it historically did, but through this easy-to-learn, fun-to-play lite-wargame called 1775: Rebellion we learned a bit more about our history and had great fun doing it.

That’s the best kind of gaming in the world.

Feature image: Battle of Cowpens courtesy pintrest.com.

Never tell me the odds – except in AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018)

Saturday Game Night at Casa RockyMountainNavy saw designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) on the table. This was a three-player game with myself and the two younger RockyMountainNavy Boys. If there is one thing tonight’s game proved to me it’s that AuZtralia is best described as a schizophrenic game; it starts as a Eurogame but ends as a wargame.

Set up and teaching the game took about 30 minutes. Usually I set up the game while the RockyMountainNavy Boys are taking care of after-dinner chores but in AuZtralia the set up is an important part of understanding the game so this time we did it together.

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At start – That’s alot of Level 2 Old Ones sitting there….

In no particular order here are some thoughts:

  • I started out closest to many unrevealed Old Ones (see the Blue Port above). I built a few railroads and farms but then started arming. as I was worried about the horde of Old Ones ready to descend upon me. In hindsight I might of armed a turn or more too early and lost a chance for a few more farms. With just two more farms and if Middle RockyMountainNavy won his last battle (see below) I could of been victorious with a two point margin of victory.
  • Pay attention to the combat effectiveness chart. At least one time I threw away a combat by bringing along a combat unit that cost me time but was ineffective against that particular Old One. If I had not thrown away that attack and built a farm instead (as above) it might of made all the difference.
  • Gold is definitely the most precious commodity. Not only do you purchase Military Units but it is what enables you to repeat an already taken action on your tableau. I ran out of gold in the endgame and was unable to make an attack that (once again) could of swung the victory to me.
  • Final score was Old Ones – 28 / RockyMountainNavy – 22 / Middle RockyMountainNavy – 18 / Youngest RockyMountainNavy – 18.
  • Victory in the game can really come down to one battle. Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy played the odds with an attack at the endgame – and lost. If he has scored one last hit he would have won the whole game with 24 points and the Old Ones would have tied for second at 22 points.
  • Total game time was about 2 hours. This was on top of the 30 minute setup/teaching. With a bit of some familiarity the game can probably get down to the 30 minutes/player range of play time with 10 minutes to set up.
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Cthulhu himself – courtesy Stronghold Games

AuZtralia will land on the table again, but it is competing in a crowded part of the RockyMountainNavy game collection. AuZtralia is in the sweet spot for game length and players for Game Night. Given its schizophrenic nature, the RockyMountainNavy Boys are a bit unsure what to make of the game. Generally, they lean towards wargaming although with three or four players we tend towards the “waro” style of wargame. At the endgame, AuZtralia fits this category. It’s the beginning Eurogame (build railroads, farms, and claim resources) that we are hesitant to dive into. The Boys are also not well-versed in the Cthulhu Mythos so the theme of the game is not a factor.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

 

(Very) Initial Reactions to Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018)

Designer Matt Leacock’s Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008) is a popular game in the RockyMountainNavy house. This is a bit surprising because we really are more wargamers than Eurogamers. Over the years, we have played a few epic Pandemic games and we love playing the title because every game is a narrative adventure. The RockyMountainNavy Boys also like Ancient Rome; indeed Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) is the most-played wargame in the house this year. So when I saw the match of the Pandemic-mechanics with the Rome theme, Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018) was an autobuy.

zgLVeSk8Tn+CXkchMq7sMwHaving arrived this week, Pandemic: Fall of Rome had to land on the table for an early Game Night. Early because the oldest RMN Boy wanted to play and he usually works Saturday nights. Our first-ever game of Pandemic: Fall of Rome was a four-player adventure with Middle RMN as Consul, Youngest RMN as Mercator, Oldest RMN as Praefectus Fabrum, and myself as Magister Militum.

The base game comes with seven different Roles. There is not easy direct translation from the classic Pandemic Roles to Fall of Rome so it takes a bit more to figure out (and remember) what all special abilities each Role has. A real starting challenge that will surely get easier as more plays build familiarity.

There are now eight different Actions to chose from. March, Sail, Plot, and Forge Alliance are easily translated from Pandemic but Fortify, Recruit Army, Battle(!) and Enlist Barbarians are much different. When taken in combination with the two or three special ability Actions each Role has this means new players must figure out how to select from a menu of 10-11 Actions each turn. Add into that each Role’s special effect in Battle. I know that at least once I could of used my special ability if I had remembered to look at it.

Another layer of complexity are the Event Cards. When played, Event Cards do not count against the player’s 4 Action limit each turn (they do count against the Hand Limit though). Each Event Card has a standard option and a corrupt option which, when used, is powerful but progresses the Decline Marker another step towards defeat. I personally liked this choice; do the standard for OK effect or risk defeat for a more powerful effect.

The rules for Revolts and Invade Cities in Fall of Rome are not difficult but the spread of the barbarians is much different than the spread of infection in classic Pandemic. Different enough that this section requires a much closer reading than I gave it.

Being a wargaming family we really were looking forward to the Battle Action in Fall of Rome. The Action turned out to not quite be what we expected. When battling, you have to be ready to lose Legions. There are several ways to build Legions (Recruit Army or Enlist Barbarians) and using these Actions will be needed to raise forces to stem the advancing hordes.

Thematically, all the game elements come together and do a good job of creating the feel of a declining Rome. Although I am a historian by education, I was pleased to see the designers making a point that Fall of Rome is not a historical game.  Amusingly, they make that point in the Historical Notes on p. 11:

Pandemic: Fall of Rome is inspired by the historical events surrounding the fall of the western Roman Empire….

Although a strong attempt has been made to pair game mechanics with some level of historical backing, the game is not attempting to be considered as a historical simulation….When a design choice was required between simulation and gameplay, gameplay received preference.

We lost our first game of Pandemic: Fall of Rome. Like really lost. Rome was sacked when we only had two of the five needed alliances. We will play again, but next time we will be much smarter because we now clearly see that although Fall of Rome is a Pandemicstyle game, it is not a Pandemic clone. Fall of Rome is a much different strategic challenge than Pandemic. Thematically, Fall of Rome also delivers on the title; there are times when one feels helpless against the never-ending invading hordes. Few boardgames really deliver on theme (Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) is the best exception) and Pandemic: Fall of Rome is one of them. For that reason alone the game will land on the table again – only next time we will all be smarter and more prepared to face the tough challenge.

Featured image courtesy thehistorynetwork.org

Tough Game Night Moments – thoughts on rules, factions, and “take that”

After missing the RockyMountainNavy Game Night for two weeks the boardgame Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) landed on the table. Although there are other games unplayed waiting for a slot at the table, like AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) we pulled Enemies of Rome out at the request of the youngest RMN Boy as it matches what he is studying in history at school.

It did not go so well.

I have said before that Enemies of Rome is not the game it appears to be. What looks like an area control game is actually a Battle Royale. Glory Points are scored by winning battles which means one must think very offensively. Although the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have played Enemies of Rome ten times now, and even discussed the victory demands, it has yet to fully sink in to the Middle RMN Boy. In tonights game, like the last one, he “turtled” early and fell far behind in points as he built up his forces without attacking any of the enemies of Rome. Unfortunately, the enemies of Rome also were building up their forces right in his neighborhood. It also did not help that the Youngest RMN Boy chose to lash out at his brothers outposts and seized several provinces. As a result, Middle RMN fell far behind in points and was very sullen and not fully into the game.

It would be very easy for me to blame this on his Autism Spectrum condition but that’s too easy. Tonight was a good reminder that, no matter how familiar one is with a game, it behooves players to review some of the basic rules and mechanics of a game. In this case, a gentle reminder to all that Glory Points are earned by attacking is only part of it. A review of the die odds is also helpful. If one waits for overwhelming odds in their favor they will fall behind. I know that I often gamble with 2:1 or 3:2 attacks because I recognize the need to generate Glory Points. I save the 3:1 or 4:1 attacks for battles against other Legions because the penalty for losing those battles is loss of Glory Points.

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Courtesy Z-Man Games

I think Enemies of Rome will sit on the shelf for a bit and cool off. This doesn’t mean we will be hurting for games; indeed, it clears the way (and maybe even creates a demand) to get the semi-cooperative AuZtralia to the table. All the RMN Boys are also excited that the cooperative Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018) has been shipped. As a family, we really enjoy Pandemic and the Middle RMN Boy has proven to be a bit of a whiz at playing. I hope that these games in particular bring joy to the gaming table.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn the same vein, this weekends events have forced me to reconsider introducing Root (Leder Games, 2018) to the RMN Boys. The asymmetric nature of the different player factions in Root demands that each player play a bit differently. For the Middle RMN Boy this may be challenging. I remember the first time we played with the Invaders from Afar Expansion to Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) and the Middle RMN Boy got a whole new faction. He struggled mightily to figure out how the faction worked. When he tried to watch his brother and I play our factions it was of little help because every faction plays differently. Root may work if I can convince him to play the first time the using the Marquis de Cat as I think that faction is mechanically the most straight forward.

As a wargamer, a game with a “take that” mechanic doesn’t offend me. However, events like this weekend’s game reminds me that not all players are like me. I don’t think I will ever fully turn into a Eurogamer with their “let’s just all get along and make a farm” attitude but bringing out more games with less “take that” for the Family Game Night probably won’t hurt.

Featured image courtesy Worthington Publishing.

The Fall of Empire – Terraforming Mars: Colonies (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2018)

Terraforming Mars (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2016) is probably the RockyMountainNavy family’s favorite Eurogame. That said, I had shied away from larger expansions like Terraforming Mars: Venus Next (2017) because of time issues. We liked the 2018 Prelude expansion as it solved a (minor) issue we had with the game; game length. After the real success of Prelude, I ordered the most recent expansion, Colonies (2018), in a hope that it could find a sweet spot between Venus Next and Prelude. Our weekly Game Night found Terraforming Mars using the Corporate Era variant and Prelude and Colonies expansions on the table this week…

…and it was dissatisfying.

One of the reasons the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself like Terraforming Mars is the narrative it builds during play. The game shows how different Corporations, each with a different way to build their empire (game engine), use them to bring a lifeless planet to life. The added bonus for us is the ability to play out this drama in less than three hours.

Our game this weekend took 3 hours 15 minutes to play (setup/breakdown was extra) – by far the longest Terraforming Mars game we have ever played. I see two major factors in this slow down; a bit of Analysis Paralysis as new Project Cards were encountered and a very slow engine build for all of us, even with the Prelude “jumpstart.”

Some people like “heavy” games with their longer playtimes. Games like Twilight Imperium (4th Edition) with a playtime rated up to 8 hours! Heck, even one of my favorite wargames, Fifth Frontier War (GDW, 1981), is rated at 6 hours. But for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night we prefer to keep game time in the 90-150 minute range so that with setup/breakdown we go no longer than 3 hours.

The second disappointment was the lack of game narrative. I just don’t feel that the Colonies expansion with its combination of new Corporations, Colony Tiles, and Project Cards, added meaningful dramatic narrative to the game. In other games I feel like my Corporation is my own littel empire I can build; in our game this weekend my Project Cards really felt more like “luck of the draw” rather than “building my empire.” The Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy pointed out that the many Project Cards actually seems overwhelming – too many cards leading to too many choices which actually threatens the gaming narrative.

Now, it is very possible that we simply got a bad draw of random Colony Tiles and Project Cards and failed to make the best of what we got. I personally was trying to maximize my Actions and was running away on the Terraforming Rating as I tried to terraform. Maybe my problem is I actually “played” Terraforming Mars for the first time rather than “experience” the game.

By far the largest change Colonies brings to the RockyMountainNavy Gaming Family is a change in how we think about Terraforming Mars. I feel like Colonies may be the last expansion we buy for the game. If the game is played in the future, I think it may be the Corporate Era variant with the Prelude expansion; what we think about as the best fit in narrative and time.

Empires rise and fall. Terraforming Mars has a solid, respected reputation in the RockyMountainNavy household and has deservedly earned a lofty spot our pantheon of games. Unfortunately, Colonies highlighted one of the major reasons some games don’t fully earn our greatest accolades.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

Why Panic? Game Night revisit of Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009)

Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009) was one of the family board games I bought when the RockyMountainNavy Kids were much younger and was trying to start a family gaming renaissance. My copy has the GAMES 2011 Traditional Games 100 seal on it. I know I played it a few times with the kids although I only recorded two plays from 2012 in my BoardGameGeek logged plays (back then I was not very diligent at logging plays). I always thought of it as a cardboard video game; a paper version of the classic collapsing tower defense game with evil trolls and orcs and goblins descending on your castle.

What I failed to realize until this weekend was just how much the RockyMountainBoys had played the game without me. So much the board tore apart! I discovered this when LittleRockyMountainNavy brought the game to me Saturday afternoon as a nominee for our weekly Game Night. When I opened the box to look at the rules he (nonchalantly) warned me about the busted board. All the other components were in there (including sleeved cards) so we went ahead and played it later that evening.

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Evidence of an often-played game….

Between my “manual video game” attitude and a perception that Castle Panic was more of a kid’s game, I didn’t have much hope for a deep game experience. The game is rated for ages 10+ and only one hour of playtime. Unexpectedly, after playing the game I was pleasantly surprised at how the cooperative play and simple strategy decisions deliver a tense play experience.

I had forgotten altogether that Castle Panic is a cooperative game. Sure, one mode can determine a winner, but at it’s heart the cooperative play mechanic makes this a game of teamwork. I really like the Order of Play which has you draw up your hand, then decide to discard and draw, then trade, then play cards. Each step involves all players as everyone watches for a card that is needed, agonizes over whether to discard and draw, and then jockey for the right trade. Even playing cards in the right order can be important. None of these strategic decisions are hard, but the tension of the collapsing tower and visibly descending hoards makes even these “simple” decisions being made under pressure and fraught with danger.

In our game we started off strong but the midgame turned bleak as too many smaller monsters descended through our defenses. It didn’t help that a few Plagued cards – forced discards – hit us at inopportune moments. We also started worrying because the real Boss Monsters – the strongest and most powerful ones – didn’t come out until literally the last set of draws. Even that one was bad as the final Draw Monsters step had a “Draw 3 Monsters” come out, which in turn brought out the final three Boss Monsters at the same time! Fortunately for us, we seemed to have hit our stride and made smart discards and trades that not only strengthened our hand but also set up the next player to be stronger too. My final Draw Cards was so thematically appropriate as I drew the awesome Barbarian – a one kill wonder – to eliminate the final Boss Monster as it was knocking down the walls of our tower.

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Courtesy firesidegames.com

Fireside Games offers several expansions for Castle Panic. We own the first expansion, Castle Panic: The Wizard’s Tower, though we didn’t add it to our game this weekend. The RockyMountainNavy Boys say it makes the game much harder. It looks to add about 30 minutes of playtime to the game, which actually makes it a better fit for a Game Night where we look for games from 90 minutes to 3 hours. I see there are two other expansions available too. I don’t think either of these are in the future for the RockyMountainNavy family; we like the game but more as a family filler than a Game Night centerpiece.

Castle Panic delivers a great, tense game of meaningful decisions in a very simple set of rules. Although the game is certainly kid-friendly, it is far from a simple kid’s game. Castle Panic will remain in the RockyMountainNavy collection and likely will be played more as a weeknight lite game when a hour of filler is needed.

Featured image courtesy Fireside Games.