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

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.

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