I have created a monster. Well, two monsters actually.
We played Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! (second edition) for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night. Used Firefight Generator to make the scenario. The RMN Boys took the Germans with myself as the Soviets (again). It really was a near-hopeless battle as the Germans started out with a control hex that they occupied/protected with forces deployed to the board at game start. The Soviets may have had a chance but the Boys played Expanded Battlefield and added a second board, making it necessary for the Soviet player to have to quickly cross lots of ground to get to the control hex. I was ready to play Partisans and get some forces behind the German lines but the Boys played a card that stole my Partisans and allowed them to use it themselves.
Not all was lost at first. I had Divisional Artillery as part of my forces and was looking for this to be a great equalizer. The Expanded Battlefield added a board with a nice hill that the Soviets were going to place anti-tank guns on. Unfortunately, they first had to eject a pre-deployed German anti-tank gun that started the battle there. Good job for the divisional artillery, right?
What Divisional Artillery has in firepower it lacks in flexibility. The artillery pre-plots at the beginning of a Firefight Round and impacts in the next round. This forced the Soviet player to avoid the gun the first round and delayed the deployment of the guns. By the time the gun was destroyed the waiting Soviet weapons were attacked by German “Partisans” and further delayed. Adding to these issues is the lack of flexibility of Soviet tanks, some of which are ponderous and don’t get the Tracked Bonus movement making them advance much slower than their German counterparts. Then there is the slower rate of fire issues where Soviet tanks often get only one shot versus two (or three) German chances to fire. The results were ugly.
Although I was soundly thrashed by the RockyMountainNavy Boys the game was very fun. There was much trash-talk at the table from the Boys but they really earned that right through great planning and tactical execution.
With the long holiday weekend here in the States, the RockyMountainNavy Boys asked for another game night. The Middle RMN Boy was the first to nominate a game so we went with his proposal: Nexus Ops.We had played Nexus Ops just a few weeks back and I wrote about my reservations. Tonight, I think the Middle RMN Boy made the right choice of game; we wanted a shorter game with easier rules – in ways a sorta “middle-length filler” experience.
We played the three-player version again. Little RMN got lucky and got many mines near his home base while I ended up with many fewer. Seeing my disadvantage, I jumped out early and grabbed the Monolith and started collecting Energizer Cards. Meanwhile, Middle RMN slowly built up an impressive force. Little RMN and I sparred over the Monolith, and I held on for awhile but at the cost of several Energizer Cards. Eventually, attrition took its toll and I lost the Monolith, forcing me to go totally defensive.
Little RMN was ahead of me, 7 VP to 3VP with Middle RMN at 0 VP. The Red Horde of Middle RM started its inexorable trek towards the Monolith and assured victory.
And then something incredible happened.
Litle RMN had a Rubium Dragon on the Monolith. Just as the Red Horde was going to attack the Dragon jumped…into the Middle RMN home base. Winning the battle, Little RMN laid down two Secret Mission cards for 5 VP…and the win.
I can’t be mad at his victory for he used the Dragon’s asymmetrical capability at exactly the right time and in exactly the right manner. Middle RMN was stunned. I was worried that he might explode, but after a few moments he “got it” that Little RMN had taken a high-risk chance – that worked – and got the victory.
This is the second game of Nexus Ops where the Middle RMN Boy ended up in last place. I was a bit worried that he might be getting turned off to the game. But I needn’t worry for after he accepted the loss to his brother he showed us all the Secret Mission cards he had ready. Suffice it to say that given one or no more than two more turns he probably would of swept us both away and easily secured the victory.
This game has raised my personal respect for Nexus Ops a bit for tonight we found some narrative in the gameplay. I don’t think its going to change my BGG Rating (6.0 or solidly in my average) but it will make it more likely to land on the table again given the right conditions.
I picked up Risk Europe (Hasbro, 2015) for an inexpensive $14.99 at Tuesday Morning a few weeks back. I personally steer away from too many “mainstream” game publishers as I find the games generally unimaginative. When I saw Risk Europe, I consulted BoardGameGeek.com and saw that it rated a respectable 7.7 (Good…almost Very Good) so I bought it and rolled it out for our family #gamenight.
Risk Europe is not your usual Risk fare. The game is both a resource builder (ala Classic Risk) but using card driven mechanics. Each faction has eight King’s Orders cards; each round the player picks two cards and places them facedown in front of them. The round is played out in two turns where the cards are turned over in the order placed. Battles take place at the the end of the round (two turns). Each round, each faction has two-less cards; the deck is reshuffled every fifth round. Cities are worth variable value and each has a special characteristic.
Visually, the game is very attractive; the map is nice, and the colorful DoaM (Dudes on a Map) factor is fun. But something missed for us in this game.
Risk Europe is actually four different games. The standard is the four-player version and there are 2- or 3-player versions using Mercenaries. There is also a Kingdom Missions variant. We played the 3-player version using a Mercenary fourth faction. This faction is basically “for hire” each round (a set of 2 turns).
Little RMN took Constantinople and Rome as his beginning cities. This gave him an immediate advantage because Rome is worth two crowns (8 needed to win). Middle RMN had Stockholm and Berlin. The Mercenaries were set up (randomly!) in Madrid and Paris. For myself, I was split between Kiev and London.
For two and half hours we battled fruitlessly back and forth across the board. The Mercenary army traded hands many times. When the RMN Boys controlled it they used it to batter (and eventually conquer) England while I used the Mercenaries to grab cites in front of the other kingdoms. With the eventual loss of England, my treasury was reduced and I could not pay enough for the Mercenaries. Middle RMN hired them for several rounds and backed them out of several cities allowing him to take them.
At the end of 2.5 hours Little RMN was ahead 5 banners to 4 for Middle RMN and the Mercenaries. I was behind at 3 banners. We called the game due to a late start and little end in sight.
One rule we didn’t use was Crown Cards. With only 15 cities on the board, and eight needed to win, one must literally conquer half the board! Crown Cards are the second most expensive item available to purchase and count as a crown for victory. Maybe it was the first play but all of use focused on purchasing units rather than Crown Cards in their spend actions. There was also admittedly a bit of Analysis Paralysis as we all learned what the limits of the King’s Orders cards were.
Am I being unfair to Risk Europe and panning the game after one flawed play? Maybe, but these days I have discovered that the games that attract me the most are games that evoke a narrative. In Risk Europe, I want to imagine being a King in the Middle Ages, building my Empire across the continent. I didn’t get that feeling. Maybe its the 3-player variant with a Mercenary Army that seems overpowered; maybe we need to really play with Crown Cards or use the secret missions in the Kingdom Builder variant. I think we will get Risk Europe to the table again – eventually – but only when we know we have a 3+ hour block of time and all players understand all the rules.
The scenario I set up was the Battle of Bemis Heights, October 7, 1777. I chose this battle partially because it was the first scenario in the rulebook – with lower unit density – and partially because it was (nearly) the anniversary of the battle! I took the Americans while Little RMN took the British. The British start with light artillery supporting a line anchored at one end by heights. The Continental Regulars are forward in a line passing thru/behind trees. There is also a detachment of Light Infantry (Col Morgan) on the left flank. A strong group of American Militia are further back and can be brought forward as reserves.
The battle began with an Opening Cannonade from the British guns. Fortunately, many of the Continental Regulars were just out of range or behind trees and safe. The British pushed out a unit of elite Grenadiers on their own left flank, and in the initial engagement routed an American Militia unit and pushed back the American right flank. Morgan’s light infantry on the American left pushed out independently and threatened the heights, but the terrain advantage helped the British defenders. The British also used some line volleys as the Americans pushed forward into the tree line.
At this point, Little RMN was feeling quite confident; he was leading 3-2 and had watched the American Militia run away after a single volley. With his elite Grenadiers and terrain advantage he felt that he was on a path to victory.
But fortune was to favor the Americans. The Command Card “Steal the March” allowed the main American line to rapidly advance across the open field and enter Melee Range. Little RMN triumphantly played another “Line Volley” fully expecting to devastate the pesky Americans.
Then the Americans played the Battle Card “The Whites of Their Eyes.” This card lets the Americans fire FIRST in Melee combat. In the exchange of fire, not one British unit was able to stand and Battle Back. Indeed, three units ROUTED and ran off.
The Americans now held the advantage with the score 5-3 after the close fire exchange. Little RMN tried to reorganize his line and pick off ANY American unit. But while he was doing so, Morgan’s light infantry on the right got a clear shot an an unattached Leader – and got the kill. Americans win 6-3.
Little RMN has played plenty of Memoir ’44 and a few games of Command & Colors: Ancients so he was not totally unfamiliar with the game system. The real difference in Tricorne is the morale rules and the potential of routing units. This bit of historical chrome becomes an essential part of the Tricorne experience and makes Tricorne thematically appropriate without a huge rules overhead.
Little RMN wants to play Tricorne again. Worrying to me, this game we had the Middle RMN Boy as an observer. He quietly watched and learned. So quiet was he I fear playing him in the future because I could see the whites of his eyes as he studied the battle and considered what he would do differently.
1775 – Rebellion is a light, strategic wargame. Like many Academy Games products, the game is a mix of “traditional” wargame mechanics with a strong Eurogames influence. Using simple gameplay, wooden cubes, cards and custom dice this area-control game recreates the American War of Independence. The RMN Boys really enjoyed the game. The random drawing of turn order keeps the tension going even when it is not a players turn and the hand management of Movement or Event Cards allows a wide variety of strategies to be attempted.
Our game played out very close to historical. The Rebellion was strong in the New England colonies, but the British swept down from Canada and threatened to roll down the coast. Rebellion resistance stiffened (thanks to French intervention) and the British were stopped. Changing strategy, the British used large Loyalist forces in a Southern Strategy to attempt to roll-up the coast from the other direction. However, the wily American Militia along the colonial frontier used many Indian allies to successfully contest complete control of colonies. By the time the Treaty of Paris arrived, the British were behind on colonies and lost the war.
During play, there were two events that highlighted how thematic the game is. At one point during the evening, the youngest RMN Boy (playing the American Militia faction) complained that it was difficult coordinating – or always agreeing – with his brother playing the Continental Army. I pointed out to him that historically Regular and Militia officers often quarreled and sometimes misunderstood each other. They even sometimes worked against each other too! The youngest RMN Boy thought about that a moment, and sheepishly looking at his brother said, “Oh, I guess this game is real.” At another time during the game, the youngest RMN Boy (again) grumbled that is was “unfair” that the British Regulars and Loyalists had more Warship Movement cards than the Americans did. I pointed out to him the British had the Royal Navy, whereas the Militia had boats (like those used by Washington to cross the Delaware) or relied upon the less numerous French fleet. Realizing that the cards were not just there to make his life difficult, I could see the realization in his eyes as he started understanding the maneuver advantage naval superiority gave the British in the war.
Such is the teaching power of 1775 – Rebellion. Before we played I looked through the Teaching booklet and consciously tried to mix in a few learning points. The book lays out a five-lesson plan that uses the game for two of the lessons. I appreciate that each lesson has readings and writing assignments that focus the discussion and learning objective. I will be using this book in a more formal fashion later this winter, maybe during a break week to have fun/education. The lessons are aimed squarely at the middle school student; making the youngest RMN Boy a prime candidate.
The truth to the matter is that I don’t have to rely on the book; the game teaches by itself. From the custom battle result dice that often have units flee or retreat as much as (if not more than) they destroy a unit, to the Event Cards that invoke historic events (you should have seen the boy’s faces when I played Benedict Arnold in a major battle and turned their last Continental Army unit and ensured my battle win) the game just feels right. I am not saying this is a replacement for Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection(GMT, 2016) which is still my favorite strategic game of the AWI, but 1775 – Rebellion is a perfect “lighter” game that oozes so much theme with very little rules overhead.
The RMN Boys have really taken to the Birth of America series and want both 1754 – Conquest: The French and Indian War as well as 1812 – The Invasion of Canada. Mrs. RMN saw the boys engagement with the game (and the long conversations the boys and I had after the game and on Sunday talking about the history of America in the the late 18th and early 19th centuries) that she has “approved” a future purchase. I can’t blame her; 1775 – Rebellion has spurred their desire to learn more about American history. There is no better praise of a game than to say, “it makes one want to learn more.”
I am Prisoner 46001628. Until last night I was a Major in the Red Army. I was leading a small ad-hoc unit that was trying to stop they German juggernaut. I failed. For that I will pay the penalty the State has imposed.
The Generals say they gave me enough force. I was given two platoons of infantry with mortars and five tanks, including a lumbering T-35, a new T-34b, and even a ZiS-30 tank hunter. Our mission was to recover a valuable cache of documents that had been left behind in a command post that another unit had failed to destroy properly. The command post was in an entrenched position near a village. The documents were considered so valuable that we were ordered to attack in a cold winter night. But the orders were also confusing for was told to preserve as many units as possible.
From the start the mission was difficult. We had been told the Germans were not around, but upon our arrival we found a small armored detachment already occupying the command post.
Using the Firefight Generator the scenario was set. As the Soviet player, a series of entrenchments was placed around the Control Point, but before units could occupy the trenches the German players took it. Whoever removed the Control Point (the documents) also immediately gained 5 VP. In an effort to salvage the situation, the Soviets played Rear Guard which awards 2 VP for every unit that escapes after Round 3 of the five-round firefight.
My units advanced slowly in the dark, led by the slow T-35. Visibility was greatly reduced, but we soon figured out the Germans had the documents and were escaping. My units took defensive positions as we tried to determine the German disposition and searched for a weak point. Very quickly, we took fire on our right flank and we quickly lost a T-26. In the center of our force, the Germans charged the ZiS-30 and destroyed it.
The German players started out very aggressive, closing the range and immediately targeting the dangerous ZiS-30 tank hunter. The Soviet defenses on the right and center collapsed under the constant attacks.
At this point I was in a knife-fight with the Germans. After losing the T-26 and ZiS-30, we quickly also lost a submachine gun squad, a BT-7 tank, and even the T-35. Seeing my position hopeless and rapidly dissolving, I ordered a retreat. Two squads of soldiers valiantly defended the escaping force and gave their lives so that at least some of us may live.
I make no apologies; the Germans brought superior firepower to bear on my forces that lacked proper anti-tank weaponry.
I gladly give my life for the Motherland.
The German players pushed their force forward very aggressively and were not afraid to engage in Close Combat using tanks against infantry squads. The Night Condition and the inability to conduct indirect fire meant the two Soviet mortar squads were unable to fire against German troops, and the Soviet tanks proved to have too slow a rate of fire in the armored engagements. Conflict of Heroes uses Action Points and Command Action Points to allow a unit to move or fire. Each unit gets 7 AP when activated. The Soviet tanks too from 5 to 6 AP to shoot, whereas the Germans took only 2 or 3 AP – meaning the Germans had double (even triple) the shot opportunities. In the end, the Germans not only were able to exit the documents (5 VP) but destroyed seven other squads/tanks for a total of 12 Victory Points. The Soviets were able to exit four units for a measly 8 VP.
This scenario shows the narrative power of the Firefight Generator. Built randomly, both sides built their force, altered the weather and visibility, and modified victory conditions. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are getting much more familiar with the CoH system and event his involved battle was completed in a fast-paced and tense 2 hours.
The following handwritten note was found scrawled on the bottom of Prisoner 46001628’s letter:
Unexcusable! This coward could not even kill one German squad! He took a force that should have been sufficient to at least kill one German squad or tank and did NOTHING with it! SHOOT HIM NOW!
The RMN Saturday Gaming Adventures (SaGA) continued this past weekend with Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games, 2012). This time, we also pulled out the Firefight Generator to help us create the firefight. The Firefight Generatoruses two decks of cards (one for the German player, the other for the Soviet) to build the firefight/scenario. Each card has a top section with either a Victory Point condition or Special Event (rules) and a bottom section with units. Depending on the scenario desired, players draw a variable number of cards and alternate playing the cards until the combatants are selected, special rules introduced, and additional victory conditions defined.
For our game, we played the three-player variant with the RMN Boys acting as the two German players and myself as the lone Soviet commander. Each side was dealt eight cards. It quickly became obvious that the Germans wanted to “go heavy” as they selected many armored units. As the Soviet player, my initial unit selection was a bit more “combined arms” meaning I ended up with several infantry and supporting mortar units that, in the long run, were of little value in the armored battle that was coming. I did however, take a modified victory condition which awarded extra VP for destroying a German vehicle or crewed unit.
The game itself was five rounds long. The Soviets had a control point near their (east) edge that they quickly surrounded in a defensive array using a trio of BT-7 tanks. During the firefight generation, the RMN Boys had taken an option to add a second mapboard to the firefight and chose to enter on that board (the “west board”) away from the Soviet control point (the German second commander could have entered anywhere along the “north” edge of the east or west board – but chose to stay nearer his brother-unit and enter on the west board).
The slugfest that followed illustrates the awesome simulation power of the Conflict of Heroes system. Both sides were relatively evenly matched, with Command Action Points (CAP) roughly equal (Soviet 12, German 10). However, the superior tactical training of the Germans quickly shined through. There was no better example than in the tank-vs-tank fight. The Soviet BT-7 needs 5 Action Points (AP) to fire and given the standard 7 AP per unit activation means a tank gets one shot unless CAP is used. The Soviet tank destroyer I had, the ZiS-30, was more likely to get a hit but takes 6 AP to fire! The net impact of the high AP needed to fire meant that each tank could, at best, get ONE HIT in a round, therefore in turn meaning to get a KILL requires multiple hits over multiple rounds (all while hoping the German player does not successfully rally the hit unit, and therefore resetting the hit count). On the other hand, the German Panzer III and IV take only 2 or 3 AP to fire, meaning an “average” unit will get at least two, possibly three fire opportunities per activation. In terms of hit chances, both sides had under-gunned tanks for the opponent they were facing, but with numerous more opportunities to fire (often before the Soviets could rally and remove a hit) it was only a matter of time before the Germans wore down the Soviet behemoths.
The RMN Boys did themselves proud. Given the trio of BT-7 surrounding the control point, they (correctly) focused on destroying the major threat (the ZiS-30 tank destroyer) using, interestingly, a mortar team to suppress the ZiS and later a PzIII to destroy it. They also used the mortar team (employing indirect fire) to destroy the Soviet’s lone anti-tank gun. At that point the Germans used their forces’ superior maneuverability to go around the flank of the BT-7 defenders and get to the control point “through the backdoor.” At the end of the fifth round, the Germans were ahead on units destroyed (seven Soviet versus three German) but given the Soviet player had occupied the Control Point four of five rounds it looked close (German advantage 8-7 VP). However, with the modified VP card played during the firefight setup, the Soviet player got four extra VP to give them a 11-8 VP win.
As the Soviet commander, I am lucky the German second commander did not enter the north edge of the east board as I had little defense in depth there and may not have had time to get the BT-7s in place to defend the control point. If the Germans had occupied the control point just one extra round the VP would have been 10-9…assuming I did not lose any other units!
Does all that sound too gamey? In play it doesn’t feel that way, as the modified VP conditions drive tactics and the special rules throw wrenches into the best-laid plans. The Action Point mechanic of Conflict of Heroes also brilliantly captures so many factors (such as training, discipline, leadership) without cumbersome extra rules. The RMN Boys are neophytes at tactical armored combat although they have lots of Memoir ’44 experience which gives them a good foundation to build upon. The Conflict of Heroes system is easy to learn but a tough teacher. I will certainly have to step up my game in future battles as they both learn more and get more aggressive.