Friday, October 28, 2011

Three eras

Looks like my autumn is very active gaming-wise since this week I had the opportunity to play three games. Each of them represented a different era and a different style of wargame.

Fire & Fury

I went to see a friend of mine in the provincial town of Riistavesi and took with me the Port Republic game I made for last Warcon. Since I had only played it through once before, I was happy to get it on the table. So, 6mm ACW it was! Port Republic as a historical wargame is a bit of a lopsided battle. The Union troops on the board are initially strong, but are quickly outnumbered by Confederate reinforcements. It's a matter on how hard the Confederates jump up and down on the Union and to set victory conditions accordingly. This is why I designed an "equalizer variant" to the battle to make the opposing parties more evenly matched. This was quite easy and historically plausible as there were a couple of "Independent brigades" in the Shenandoah valley at the time accompanying another division. We signed the transfer papers and suddenly they were supporting Shields against Jackson. The scenario proved very even now, with both sides having difficulties gaining ground. In the end It was two victory points in favor of the confederates, but the situation was very much a draw. Stonewall Jackson himself was captured by a charging Union Brigade.

Julius Caesar

The next one was a block wargame. One of Columbia Games' newer offerings, it pits the armies of Julius Caesar against those of Pompey, so the Roman civil war was next. For those who've played Columbia's wargames, the game is instantly familiar. Movement on land and sea is familiar to War of 1812, and the game features a card driven system of activations, reinforcement and special events. Players have a hand of cards to activate their units each year. The card played determines initiative that turn, the number of locations (1-4) the player may activate and how many steps the player may repair and reinforce blocks (1-3). The special events range from getting a small bonus to combat to being able to steal a block from your opponent.

The scenario starts as Caesar crosses the Rubicon and progresses for a maximum of five years. Caesar has better troops and more of them, but he has the burden of attack and a temporary inferiority at sea, so it balances out. Although in our game lady Fortuna granted great victories and humiliating defeats, the game remained very close until the very last phase and battle. On the last turn there were lots of opportunities for the game to have ended differently, but in the end Caesar lost 6-7. It was very exciting and took us about 5 hours. Of Columbia's games, I think this one is the most forgiving to a player losing his blocks that I have played since players are allowed to reinforce a lot and returning an eliminated block into play costs the same as reinforcing another for one step. The only limitation is that some of the better legions can only come back into play in certain cities, and only if those cities are occupied by friendly troops. I warmly recommend this as a light block wargame, although it definitely takes more than the two hours printed on the box if the war drags on for the whole duration.
The game was decided in Greece and Pompey took a narrow win. The green stacks with the brown blocks have Julius' troops which have been hijacked using the special "Jupiter" event card.

Valor of the Guards

Last up, some more ASL! My game of choice for tactical Hex&Counter WW2 tactical action has gotten a lot of attention recently, and I'm quite happy with the situation. We played Scenario VotG9 "Eviction notice", which takes us back to the savage streets of Stalingrad. The Soviets are attacking a German position and have to assert control over the northern half of the field, which is no easy task. Both sides had a good number of elite troops, and the Germans were equipped with a 37mm gun. The Soviets had two T-40 tanks but it was the T-34 which gave the Germans trouble. The German gun wasn't able to scratch it and I won't mention anything about the antitank rifles they had. The T-34 could pretty much just waltz up and down the streets at will without fear as long as it wasn't tied into melee.

"Eviction notice" is one of the smaller scenarios in Valor of the Guards. The Soviets must take the right side half of the field in order to win.

The fighting in the buildings and rubble was pretty much what you would expect of Stalingrad. Lots of fire, lots of casualties in melee and little ground taken as a result. After some nasty casualties on the both sides, it was the Soviets who suffered most and were unable to claim the area they needed for a win.

So, Miniatures, Blocks and Hex&Counter games all in the same week, and it's only friday! A good cross section of the most popular ways to play wargames. I really cannot name a favourite type. With miniature games, I love the visual grandeur and the hobby aspect of building terrain and painting miniatures. Block wargames are without peer to present fog of war, bluffing and uncertainty the armies faced. Hex&Counter games represent a vast variety of different levels of command, scale and realism on a fairly inexpensive medium. Each type of game has their pros and cons, and I'm happy to play almost anything in the light-medium scale. ASL is one of the few "hardcore wargames" I bother with though, and I definitely shy away from the monsters.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

ASL: s45 - Revenge at Kastelli

 I finished my first complete game of Advanced squad leader over VASL just recently. VASL is a derivative of VASSAL, a virtual boardgame application which allows you to play boardgames and wargames over the internet. The system enforces very little of the rules in the game. It just creates a virtual board you can move pieces on. The good thing about this system is that you can play against anybody around the world and can load and save large setups in the blink of an eye. You can always put the game away and continue later, no matter how big it is. Also, I really like it when VASL graphically transforms the map depending on season, special rules and so on. Something which is impossible with the boardgame. Having a bright green map and pretending its the middle of January in Finland is a bit difficult.

Anyway, I played the session with my regular ASL opponent in about 4 sessions I think. We played two hours here, and hour there. The game takes a bit longer to play on VASL as it takes time to vebally explain your actions where the same things would be easy to point out to your opponent if he was in the same room. In this scenario, Revenge at Kastelli, German paratroopers stick their nose where it doesn't belong in a Cretan village. The Greek forces, composed mostly of troops inferior to the Germans in quality, have an advantage in numbers.
I was playing the Germans, and my objective was to survive ten rounds against the Greek and prevent him from amassing 20 casualty victory points. I reckoned attack to be the best defence and worked to surround the village occupied by the Greek at the start. 
Everything is still looking good for the Germans at around the fifth turn.
Things were going just fine for half of the match with the Greek troops forced on the defensive in the village. At some point I think I forgot what I was supposed to be doing and tried too hard to take the village. The paratroopers ended up taking some nasty casualties and the Greeks got the initiative back. On the last two turns the Greek forces made a really aggressive, really effective counterattack and scattered the Germans. All I could do was watch the carnage and try to rout to safety. Still, my opponent had no trouble reaching his goals. Only a couple of small pockets of German resistance remained on the table when the greeks hit 20 victory points. I guess this teaches me to keep the objective bright in my mind. 

These two ASL games we've played recently really sparked my interest in the game back to life. We already agreed we'd play a scenario from Valor of the Guards next week so I guess there's some grim Stalingrad action coming up!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Musket & Pike: Fehrbellin 1675

A dose of Musket & Pike today and my second game with the series. The battle of Fehrbellin was fought between the Swedes and Brandenburg. The Swedish have mostly heavy infantry and cavalry, but the Brandenburgians field an all cavalry force.  The Swedes must hold off the attackers until the bridge to their rear is repaired.

The game started with Sweden trying to take the Brandenburg artillery position on some low hills behind thickets. They managed to capture one battery easy enough, but were then driven back by the Swedish dragoons. In the center, the Brandenburg cavalry force launched an all out charge on both the right and left flank of the Swedes, estimating the pikemen in the center to be too much to chew.

The Brandenburg cavalry force prepares to charge the Swedish line.
The assault proved a partial success, with the Swedish cavalry on the flanks out of the way, but the Brandenburg cuirassiers couldn't quite manage to swing past the flanks to surround the heavy infantry. They were left scattered on the field with their formation broken instead.

At this point it looked like the cavalry attack had done a lot of damage, but if the heavy Swedish infantry would counterattack, the disorganized cavalry would be as good as dead. At this point, the lines of communication apparently broke down on both sides. The Swedes couldn't change their orders from "receive charge" to "charge" and the Brandenburgians couldn't stop their own charge orders. This meant that the heavy infantry units could not touch the formation broken cavalry in front of their noses and the Brandenburgians couldn't retreat them as the orders were to charge. Instead. they were forced to charge the few organized forces they had left against the Swedish line of pikemen - a suicide.

Towards the end of the game, Brandenburg managed to get their act together and pull back, while the Swedes could not catch the cavalry even after finally getting their orders changed. The game ended with 31 VP in favor of Brandenburg, a draw. Neither army was routed, but casualties were high. It was a better than historical result for Sweden.

I'm still having difficulties getting to grips with cavalry tactics. They seem like such an one shot weapon. They charge in, and both the attacker and the defender melt away. The remaining units are scattered and in a very bad threat of being overrun by a counterattack. I suppose it's realistic, but I still have a lot to learn in how to use them.

The orders system is quite interesting. It reflects the difficulty and uncertainty of making a change in plans after the battle starts quite well, and rewards players who change the order level gradually instead of trying to turn a rally into a charge in one instant. If anything, my hunger for the series has only grown.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A week worth of games

Looks like its autumn here in Finland. You can tell when people suddenly regain interest in boardgaming. Considering it's a "normal" week with no preplanned games, I got quite a few games played.

First up, a game of Battle Cry with my wife. So far it's the only wargame she'll agree to play with me, but I think that is plenty when it gives me an opportunity to use my freshly painted 6mm ACW collection. Instead of the four infantry figures the game poses as a unit, I deploy four stands of ten figures. It gives even a Commands & Colors game that nice mass effect feel. I'm tempted to do the whole set with miniatures and miniatures terrain etc. but on the other hand I like the cardboard components of the 150th anniversary edition.
We played the Pea Ridge scenario and the game was decided with heavy fighting and daring cavalry charges on the union left/confederate right. I won this time, but lost the on we played before. After the game I suggested to the Mrs. that we play War of 1812 next time, and she didn't refuse. Everything is proceeding according to plan *diabolical laughter*.

Second, a Risk 2210 session made all better by some whisky with friends. Laphroig and later Vat69 if you must know. Of the risk games, I think I like this one best, and it is good fun in a Beer and Pretzels sort of way. Somehow nobody seemed to attack me even though I took Australia and Africa on the opening turn, and I won by consolidating my position and taking the sea areas around me. Afterwards, we played some Dominion and Monty Python Fluxx, but my memory is somehow hazy on how those went.

Last, but definitely not least, I ended my long dry spell of Advanced Squad Leader last night. It was the first match in maybe 6 months and me and my regular opponent were a bit rusty on the rules. The scenario was "Romanian Hammers" from a third party Rally-Point publication concentrating on the axis minors. In the scenario, Romanian infantry forces attack a village held by the Russians. Midway through the game, two German Stug IIIG's come into play from the Russian rear. The axis forces must scatter the defenders from the village in order to win.
The Russians had deployed an MMG into a building overlooking the lines of the Romanian advance. The only safe-ish approach was a narrow stretch of woods coming to the house which the Romanians could use as cover. As the troops in the woods advanced, the Russian machinegun, made much more deadly by the 9-2 leader directing fire, was cutting down the infantry in the open. The first turns were miserable to the Romanians and they failed to survive into melee with the MG. The German tanks arrived to the Russian rear and had success against the two Russian tanks but the failure of the Romanian infantry brought disaster. The MG was pushed back by point blank fire momentarily, but the Romanians ran out of steam and we could safely stop the game without finishing the last turn.