Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Back to the past

I was fortunate enough to find a solid, enjoyable group of historical game aficionados where I went to college. We played probably at least once a week, on average, frequently running semester-long campaigns, first at a local alum's house, later at the room we were able to swing in one of the student society buildings by the simple expedient of registering as an organized student special interest group.

One of my all-time favourites was the SPI boardgame Empires of the Middle Ages (EOMA). I was introduced to it, as I recall, by the aforementioned alum, one of the eternal corps of Ephs who can't quite bear to leave the Purple Valley and find work as graduate assistants, or researchers, or small-business entrepreneurs, or NGO start-up organizers. He lived in a tiny (but cozy) house off campus, and he and I and several others would meet there to play boardgames or roleplaying games (his long-running D&D campaign is still a thing of legend for those of us who played in it).

But equal in enjoyment were the many games of EOMA we played. Only several years later was I able to acquire a copy of my own (originally published in 1980 by the now-defunct SPI game company of New York, it became a cult collectors' item).

And, to my delight, it looks as if I have persuaded some of my local gaming friends to give it a try! I'm hoping that they enjoy it as much as I do, so that this becomes a regular part of our game stable, as it did for me and Jeff, and Bryan, and Dean, and Phil, and Scott, lo those many years ago. (Bryan may remember if I've got all the right names.)

I played through the "Charlemagne" starter solitaire scenario this evening, to be sure that I still remembered the rules (I do, but there are nuances I need to be sure to point out to new players tomorrow). I took notes, so I'll post up a turn by turn replay later. For now, I will just confess that I ended up with a sad "Mediocre" score, as Charles held everything together right until the end, then dropped the basket of eggs going down the stairs (as it were...)

Friday, December 6, 2013

boardgaming recents

While I prep more sets of photos, just a brief mention of a few boardgames I've enjoyed in the past couple of weeks.

I was on (an all too short) vacation last week with friends. We brought plenty of games to entertain us, but we ended up playing only two: MacRobber (now known as Highland Clans) and Alhambra. My friends enjoy Alhambra particularly as they have been to the real one; I just enjoy it for the geometry.

Alhambra consists of accumulating money of different colours (good for all you DOD budget geeks!) and using it to "buy" garden tiles (of yet different colours), hoping to have the most of as many kinds as possible at the end of three scoring rounds (the last being the end of the game). You also get points for linking up the walls that surround these tiles, but the walls constrain how you can place the tiles. You have a reserve space (the planning board, as it were) for tiles that don't fit in your planned garden yet, but you only score the tiles that are fully played. I pulled off several swaps to and from my reserve space during the game. This was neat, as I had never done it before, and it allowed me to fine-tune my garden-building. But it also took up valuable time I could have been building new gardens, so I think it hurt me in the end. Mel, of course, ended up winning.

We also had a go at MacRobber, which has been reissued as Highland Clans, a game I bought sheerly on the strength of its notional theme (building up Highland clan estates and raiding other clans) and have played several times but not regularly. I had misplaced the English translation of the rules, so we had the English cheat sheet and the (original) German rules only. Luckily, Melissa is fluent in German (mostly), so we had no troubles playing. Each turn, each clan gets some resources, which it has to allocate to building (herds, monasteries, castles), recruiting (warriors, pipers, monks), or what the modern military would call information operations (having a bard weaken your opponent's clan). Then you can raid, trying to steal or destroy other clan's cattle or buildings. Each player gets a go, then you score (# of cattle and bonus for most, most monks, total castles and pipers minus how rich in kine someone else is). Then you go again, until you run out of resources or one player wins a sudden-death victory. In a surprising twist, Mel won this handily.

I played this again with the guys this Wednesday. Mel not being present, and me having played the game recently, I managed to thrash my friends mercilessly. (The spirituous liquors I had plied them with helped.) We wondered, as I have before, why one would build castles, as they are both the most complicated to score and seem to give almost no return on investment. I've checked the BGG forums, but no discussion of this. Not much discussion at all, as this seems to be not a popular game; odd, as I quite enjoy it.

Another game I enjoy, though I have a little trouble keeping some of the rules straight, is Jungle Speed. The guys and I had several rounds of this, which I seem to recall Bryan and I won. Again, Hendrick's Gin was my friend in this, as it's a game of speed in pattern recognition. Players flip over cards, looking for a match between their card and another that is already face up. A couple of odd cards upset the applecart by both looking similar to other special cards and having very specific and different rules. Once you spark a match, if you grab the "totem" (a small dumbbell, originally made of wood but now of rubber for decreasing injuries :-), the opponent whose card matches yours takes all your discards and adds them to his unplayed pile (disposing of which is the objective of the game. But if you knock over the totem or grab it when you're not supposed to, you get *everyone* else's discards to add into your stack.

Well, enough boardgaming for now. I have a couple of DBA games slated with Jeff this Sunday, and my friend Mr Invisible is talking about getting together for a boardgame (perhaps Labyrinth, finally, or perhaps PQ-17. Maybe sometime this month I will be able to get some painting in, but between making up shutdown hours, holiday stuff, and a pleasant distraction that's entered my life, I think painting may have to wait until the new year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Baueda painting project

So, after over two weeks, I finally got my Baueda package away from the Post Office. Here it is, along with another notice they left today, after I had collected it, warning that they would send it back to origin if I didn't come collect it.

I opened it up

And here were the contents:

The new Baueda Norse-Irish DBA army, along with a Lombard "Kingdom of Italy" army, a Carolingian army, and a pack of Charlemagne figures (mounted, dismounted, and mounted and dismounted guards). Claudio and the nice people at Baueda even threw in a packet of extras, spares, and some nice bits for a camp (boxes and baskets &c.)

So I'm going to try and chronicle the assembly of these three armies (clean up, painting, basing, camps, and their first battles). A wee project for my blog.

Many thanks, again, to Baueda. These figures look great, and I'm looking forward to getting them ready for combat.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The classic Classical match-up

My previous game against Jeff, Macedonians and Persians. I survived some very foolish and dangerous chances with my mounted wing, nearly securing a victory, and then lost it in a seemingly safe engagement, trying to draw his mounted troops into Bad Going with my lights. The phalanx sat on its arse the whole time, as did the kardakes.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

DBA battles on 10 November

I've been trying to find the time to upload and annotate all my recent games. Here's a start.

Look here for an account of a day of gaming I had at Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie, where my opponent Jeff and I played five (5) games of DBA in an afternoon.

This was the second encounter Jeff and I have had recently; we connected up through the Fanaticus forum.

Jeff is a sharp gamer; we had one introductory game the previous weekend as he was getting settled into how the rules work, but this time out he walloped me, four games to one as we tried out several of the armies in my collection.

I'm looking forward to our next match-up!

Friday, November 1, 2013

recent boardgaming shenanigans

I've been very fortunate in getting to do a fair amount of gaming of late. I'll start off the catalog by mentioning some of the boardgames involved, then move to miniature gaming.

At the Gates of Loyang is a favourite option when I go to game with my ex Chris and her wife Mel. Though we've played Troyes a good deal too in the recent past, and we've also included Glory to Rome and Alhambra (especially appealing to them since they've had the opportunity to explore the original), Loyang has been our most common go-to option of late, eclipsing even Agricola.

Interestingly, though, Loyang has started presenting a bit of a dilemma. The grrlz tend rather to frown on overly defensive play ("I'll just consume all these resources, even though I don't need them, so they won't be available to other players"). But after repeated playings of Loyang, they're feeling that maybe it doesn't have enough player interaction. Given that one does compete for cards in the marketplace at the beginning of the turn, and that various helpers allow you to use other players' assets during play, this suggests that someone is looking for a bit more defensive play, whether they want to think of it that way or not/

Offensive-defensive play is key to Lost Cities, which Mel and I had two games of the other day after we all had Sunday brunch and Chris then had to go off to work. A good part of the play of the game is deciding which cards to hold onto, even if you can't use them, because you don't want to give the other player the opportunity to play them as part of one of their expeditions. It's one of two major dilemmas of the game, the other being "when do you decide that you have enough cards of an expedition to risk starting it?" DO you wait until you're sure you will break even? By that time it may be too late...

My Wednesday nights are generally spent with my friends Bryan and Peter. Bryan has been known to describe our get-togethers as "We have some beers and talk and Jan tries to get us to play a game." That's a fair description. :-) They've been fairly obliging lately; we've added three games to our repertoire: Cuba Libre, Downfall of Pompeii, and Byzantium.

Cuba Libre is one of the growing stable of COIN (counterinsurgency) wargames masterminded by Volko Ruhnke and published by GMT Games. Smaller in size and scope then the first title in the series (Andean Abyss, centered on the insurgency and drug war in Colombia), CL is described admiringly by one reviewer as "a knife fight in a phonebooth". Four factions (the standard model for the COIN series) fight over the Cuba of 1957-58. The government player attempts to maintain the stranglehold of the island's corrupt oligarchs, while two rebel movements, the Revolutionary Directorate and the 26th July Movement attempt to overthrow the regime. The fourth player, the Syndicate, nominally supports the government but seeks primarily to make money through the growth of its casino chain and the corrupt control of the island's primary economic resources.

Bryan, ever the staunch supporter of law and order, took the Government side; red revolutionary that I am, I took the 26 July; and Peter, showing an unexpected mercenary, chose the Syndicate. We played most of the way through the deck, with the Government and the Syndicate running neck and neck for the latter portion of the game. I made a sad mess of the revolution, my pitch partly queered by a powerful Directory performance (the game includes a very effective text-based AI for each of the four players, allowing it to be anything from a four-player match to a solitaire game). I'll consult my notes, but my memory is that Peter pipped Bryan at the post. I'm hoping we get another chance to play this again soon, maybe with a fourth human player to round it out. I also have Andean Abyss and A Distant Plain, the third COIN game, which covers the US war in Afghanistan, and I hope I can get the guys to give those a try too.

But the next week we had a go at a new game I had picked up, Downfall of Pompeii. This had gotten fairly good reviews on BoardgameGeek, so I hazarded purchasing it and was not disappointed. The Boyyz and I played it three times in an evening, and I later played it twice in an evening with the Grrlz. It plays in two stages: in the first, players fill the city with their meeples (and their families who, oddly, come flocking into the city once there's news that the volcano might explode). Then in the second phase players try to save their meeples by rushing as many of them as possible back out of the city again, as the pyroclastic flows engulf whole neighbourhoods, burying unlucky meeples or cutting them off from the city gates.

We enjoyed this quite a bit on both occasions. It can be tricky trying to place your people so as to give them the best chance of escape but, at the same time, clustering them as much as possible (since this increases the number of their country cousins who are added in the "relatives" round).

Then, just this week, the Boyyz and I tried out Byzantium. I've had this game for years, but only played it once before, some time ago. It's a curious game in that, while its focus is the struggle between the Byzantine Empire and the rising Islamic caliphate, the players don't take sides between the two. Each player controls an Arab army and a Byzantine one and tries as best as possible to balance the victory points s/he earns for each. Each turn, the players alternate taking actions (move and attack, tax, reinforce armies, or a list of more specialized actions) until all have exhausted their supply of action markers (or choose to stop). Income is then collected and armies paid for, then a new turn is started. After three turns, the game ends and the player with the highest combined score for both Arabs and Byzantines is the winner. A player can play one side (Byzantine or Arab) all out, but if one VP total is less than half the other, one only gets whichever one is larger.

We played this through once, and the scores were very close. One gets VP for claiming Byzantine or Arab cities at the beginning of the game, for capturing them from other players during the game, for spending money building mosques or churches, and for cities that you control at the end of the game. Battles between armies are bloody but sieges are relatively painless, so there's a definite advantage to getting one of your armies where opposing ones are not and snapping up lots of their cities. Of course, if your army is off doing that, the other players' armies might be doing the same...

In addition to all of these multiplayer games, I've had the opportunity to solo-play two other games. I'll cover those in my next post. Then I should have a shout about recent miniatures gaming. And I'll try to provide some photos of all of these endeavours once I have my camera photos downloaded, uploaded, and organized.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The government shutdown and thus my enforced holiday couldn't have come at a better time. Not one, not two, but three big boxes from GMT sitting waiting to be opened: Cuba Libre, A Distant Plain, and the first expansion module (reprint) for Commands and Colors.

Plus all the existing unplayed titles in my library, and any number of DBA armies that need to be finished (or even started).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

An Opening Salvo

I've shared a wargaming blog with my friend Frank for a good many years, but our gaming connection has attenuated as we have played less and less together and our hobby interests have gone in different directions. So I've turned over the helm of our old blog to him (you can find it here), and I am starting up a new ledger of my gaming activities.

I have a backlog of events to post about, but I'll start off with that staple of wargamers' fantasy life, the project list.

Recently Completed (Almost)

my Sassanid Persian DBA army: I built this a few years ago for the first running of the Two Davids "Falls a Titan" Campaign. I had never quite gotten around to finishing the basing (all the figures were *on* bases, but the bases weren't landscaped). With the theme being offered again at Historicon this summer, I thought I should finish the lads up, so I did; they are now fully based, as is the little frontier fortress tower that serves as their camp. Problem is, there are three optional Cavalry elements for the army that I need to finish painting...and then base...

On the Front Burner

Having reminded myself how much of a doddle basing is, I have several other DBA armies that are "finished" but still require proper landscaping: my Sea Peoples, Dog People, Trapezuntine Byzantines, and Early Bedouin. The Sea Peoples also need their chariot completed.

My friends Phil and Eric and I have also been talking about reviving our 1870 project, so I have many small Frenchmen who shall be getting new coats &c. painted on them soon(ish).

And I have a slew of new figures from the Perry brothers that are itching to get ready for battle. Having grown up in the Virginia Tidewater, I had to acquire some of their handsome new Ethiopian Regiment figures and will be trying to knock together a scenario to play out the early Revolutionary War battle of Great Bridge, one of only two engagements that the regiment fought in (or, rather, might have fought in--details are unclear) before it was disbanded and its men dispersed to other units.

I also owe Mr Eric a World War One Battle of the Baltic between his Imperial German and my Imperial Russian squadrons, which will require some final touches.

And I haven't forgotten my fine Doughboys, waiting patiently on the painting table for me to get back to the land actions of the Great War (which are generally covered in my blog The Hissing Fuse).

On the Back Burner

Many projects are languishing here, including 15mm and 28mm Napoleonics, 15mm Rev War, 15mm Great War (Austrian, Russian, Turkish, and ANZAC forces), enough DBA armies to sink a small rowing boat, 15mm World War Two (my Nomonhan experiment has been sadly slighted lately; my Late War NWE collection is gathering dust instead of paint; and there a re still some KNIL v. IJA battles to chronicle), 15mm Irish War of Independence, 15mm Indian Rebellion of 185728mm War of the Roses, 1/2400 Age of Sail, 28mm Irish rebellion of 1798, 28mm Scottish border reivers, 15mm War of 1812, 15mm Seven Years War... the list is almost endless.