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

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

It was glorious…

…and I lost.

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

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Early game…that’s alot of raiders….

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image courtesy BoardGameGeek.

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#Wargame #Retroplay – Beachhead (Yaquinto Publishing, 1980)

My not-so-lazy Sunday was capped off by a solo play attempt of Beachhead: A Game of Island Invasions in the South Pacific 1942-1944 from Yaquinto Publishing in 1980. Beachhead came packaged in what Yaquinto called their “Album Game'” format; the game “box” was basically a dual LP record cover. Very thin – so thin you couldn’t store the counters in the sleeves of the “box” without warping the board! Beachhead was designed by Michael  S. Matheny with a gorgeous cover by Roger B. MacGowan (@RBMStudio1 on Twitter). As I replayed this game I discovered it is not the game I remember; in some ways it is better, in other ways not.

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Small footprint – a 3’x3′ table will do!

As I reread the rules before play, several items jumped out at me. The first concerns serious gaming. Production of Beachhead was led by J. Stephen Peek, formerly of Battleline and obviously a serious gamer. So serious he didn’t call Beachhead a wargame but a “simulation”:

 

002 – BEACHHEAD As a Simulation

BEACHHEAD is a small unit level simulation of combat on an island in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

I pulled Beachhead out because I wanted to play a solitaire game. However, I quickly discovered that there is actually a fairly large degree of hidden information making this game not-so-solo-friendly.

4. All Japanese units are placed on the game board and are turned upside down. (102 PREPARING TO PLAY THE GAME-D-4)

2. Flip over all units that will move this Turn. (202 Basic Game Sequence of Play, STEP B.2.)

4. Return the moved units to the Face up [sic] position. (SoP, STEP C.4)

The next rule that was different than I remember is Sighting. The mapboard has many jungle hexes so as I read the rules I expected to see a rule about jungle blocking line of sight. Instead, I got this:

3. Hexes containing trees do not individually block the line of sight. Though the trees may be up to 25-40 feet in height, there are very few of them in each hex and so so not present a problem in sighting. They will present obstacles to combat. However, if the line of sight passes through three Tree hexes the line of sight is blocked. (205 SIGHTING-B-1-3)

This “terrain as combat obstacles” theme is also applied to buildings:

4. Hexes containing buildings do not block line of sight. There are very few buildings per hex and so do not present a problem for sighting. They will still present obstacles to combat. (205-B-4)

I did remember what made Japanese machine guns so deadly – Fire Lanes:

  1. Only Japanese Machine Gun, Infiltration Machine Guns, and Emplacement units have a ‘Fire Lane’ and are called Fire Lane units.
  2. The base of the Fire Lane is the numbered edge of the playing piece.
  3. The Fire Lane extends ten hexes through the hexside to which the numbered edge of the playing piece is facing.
  4. ….
  5. ….
  6. Any American unit that attempts to cross this ten hex line is immediately fired on by the Fire Lane unit. (This means that the American player will be attacked during the movement portion of his Movement Phase…. (205-F)

Another rule I missed many years ago is Aircraft Spotters (207 COMBAT-C). This rule allows one to use Airstrike units as spotters. A simple way to give the American player a complex choice; bombard or spot?

One rule I did remember and still enjoy is how Preliminary Bombardment is implemented in the game. This is another challenging choice; delay the arrival of landing craft to bombard and risk running out of time or land against more defenders? While rereading the rules, I discovered a little wrinkle that I had missed years before and it comes from the fact the Japanese player’s units are face down (hidden) from the American player:

4. In a normal Firing procedure the Firing player consults the Combat Results Table to determine the effects of fire. In Preliminary Bombardment the Japanese player consuls the Combat Results Table. The American player still rolls the dice, but is not allowed to know the odds column being used. (207 COMBATJ. Preliminary Bombardment)

+VL5G3uHRRuvZp8VK9UhrAVictory Conditions (210 VICTORY CONDITIONS) are based on points differential. I really like the flavor text. It ties neatly back to the introduction where there is an emphasis placed on YOU. As the introduction states, “You are, in fact, on the BEACHHEAD.”

In the OPTIONAL RULES there are several items of “chrome” that I remember and really like such as:

  • Randomly rolling to see what size naval guns are bombarding (303 BOMBARDMENT TYPE)
  • Randomly determining what payload airstrike have (304 AIRSTRIKES)
  • The Duke arrives as SGT. Stryker! (308 SGT. STRYKER)

Near the end of the rules in the HINTS ON PLAY there is a section on GAME ABSTRACTIONS. It directly addresses concerns over the game’s realism. It is interesting to read the designer’s perspective that Beachhead is essentially a game of points with units representing those points. It is a useful perspective that conflict simulations/wargames sometime forget.

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They knew…all the way back in 1980

Given the hidden information needed to play, my solo Beachhead game sort fizzled out. These days, this game is ripe for an implementation using blocks instead of face down counters.

More importantly, the rules of Beachhead, in a mere 16 pages, show a great degree of design elegance and certainly capture – and communicate – the theme of the game. The game is a great reminder that good things sometime do arrive in small packages. For some reason, this game, with its mechanical elegance and smaller footprint reminds me of many Hollandspiele games. That’s a good thing because it means there is at least one publisher is delivering elegant, smaller games to this very niche hobby market.

Now, to get the RockyMountainNavy Boys to play….

 

 

#IndependenceDay 2018 #Wargame – Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017)

For the second year in a row I got Harold Buchanan’s (@HBuchanan2 on Twitter) Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2nd Edition, 2017) to the gaming table on the Fourth of July. I played the medium-length scenario “British Return to New York” that covers four years – 1776 thru 1779.

This year I committed to playing solo with Bots. I felt I was ready to tackle the automated opponents thanks to the great work of Ben Harsh and his Harsh Rules series of videos. Part 5 in his Liberty or Death-series covered the solo play system:

Like the historical situation, the war in 1776 focused on the New England colonies. Massachusetts was a hotbed of activity with the Patriots Rallying forces while the Indians led Scouting with British troops to Skirmish against the Rebels.

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The war in 1776

1777 was a short campaign season (Winter Quarters came out early) and as a result many British troops were not in cities. In order to stay in play the British would have to spend resources. As @HBuchanan2 pointed out on Twitter, it was going to be expensive to keep the British troops outside of cities. But stay they did (OK, I was not strictly following the Bot…still learning, alright!).

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The 1777 campaign season ends early – British troops winter outside cities…paid for in dear resources

Early in 1778 the French played the Treaty of Alliance and entered the war. With the arrival of Rochambeau the French fleet – and blockades – started. By the end of 1778 the Northern Colonies were firmly in Patriot control. Like history, the British were going to have to look South (the “Southern Strategy”) to try and put down this insurrection.

(I misplayed blockades a bit…should have paid attention to the Howe special leader abilities. Relearning, ugh!)

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End of 1778 – Patriots control New England colonies

Sure enough in 1779 the British shifted their effort to the South by landing in Savannah. Indian Raids, led by Cornplanter, struck the frontier of New York and Pennsylvania sapping away Patriot support. Luckily for the British, just as the French were preparing to land Spanish troops in Florida (Don Bernardo Takes Pensacola was the next card to play) the season ended when the final Winter Quarters came out.

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1779 scenario end

The end game scoring was very close, thanks in part to the Indian raids that reduced support in Pennsylvania and New York. Final rankings:

  1. French +4
  2. Patriots +3
  3. Indians -1
  4. British -4

I had a very fun time with this play of Liberty or Death. Mechanically it took me a little while to get back into the game but thanks to the Harsh Rules videos it was easier than before. I did not play flawlessly; I missed some of the nuances on the Non-Player Cards and misapplied (or outright missed) some rules. None of that detracts from the overall game experience. Liberty or Death teaches so much about the American War of Independence that I always have to make an effort NOT to look up every card during play and read the historical background!

Volko Runke (@Volko26 on Twitter), the master-designer of the COIN-series, says all games are models. Every time I play Liberty or Death this model teaches me more about the American Revolution. It helps me appreciate what our Founding Fathers went thru over 200 years ago.

God Bless America.

Featured image courtesy GMT Games, LLC.

#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.

Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

#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.