Family root issues of a #boardgame #wargame – Root (@LederGames, 2018)

pic4608840Although I have owned Root (Leder Games, 2018) since I was a late backer, until this weekend I have only played the game solo or against my alter gaming ego, Mr. Solo. With a notice in my inbox announcing that my Kickstarter fulfillment of the latest expansion, Root: The Underworld Expansion, was shipping, I finally decided to bite the bullet and bring this game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. For our first full-up play it had some rough points but overall the game shined.

To help introduce the game we set up the walkthrough. We found it not very helpful. I think as moderately experienced gamers it actually slowed us down. I think that with moderately experienced or more gamers can be given an explanation of the rules with an emphasis on what is the same across all factions (movement, combat, Crafting) and then a walkthrough of each board (Birdsong, Daylight, Evening) is sufficient at the start of play. Being able to describe the different root game mechanics (no pun) of each faction (engine building, programed action, deck building) also helped us understand how faction plays differently within the shared game environment.

We played a three-player game with the Marquis de Cat (RockyMountainNavy T), the Woodland Alliance (RockyMountainNavy Jr), and the Eyrie (myself) seated around the game table in that order.

Early in the game, the Fox Dominance card came out. Both RockyMountainNavy Boys became fixated on the card and very curious about what it represented. At the time it appeared, both the Marquis and the Woodland Alliance each ruled two fox clearings. So tempting was the card that both RMN Boys lost focus on their basic VP generation path. More experienced players know that going for a Dominance win in Root is difficult; newbie players don’t have the benefit of that experience. It therefore came as little surprise that one of the Boys (Jr – Woodland Alliance) grabbed up the showing Fox Dominance card as soon as he could. Nor was it surprising that very soon after the Fox Dominance was picked up that RMN T (Marquis) played the Bird Dominance card he had in his hand.

Not only did the playing of the Dominance cards totally change the character of the game, but the subsequent play (fully legal) of RMN Jr. almost derailed the entire night. Our general inexperience with the game allowed the Woodland Alliance to spread much Sympathy and accumulate way too many Supporters. RMN Jr used brought the hammer down and staged multiple Revolts with, alas, the main target of most of the Revolts being the Marquis. Thus, RMN T saw several clearings get wiped out. This was a major “take that” moment of the game, much more powerful than any of us expected. Now, RMN T is my Autism Spectrum boy that has challenges dealing with major changes in his environment. The multiple Revolts, all aimed at him, and the major reduction of his position on the board almost unhinged him. He was very angry – almost to the point I was ready to end the game. The only thing that kept hi in was that he recognized that the Woodland Alliance was now very near their dominance win condition and he swore vengeance. The next few turns there was a major ‘catfight’ with clearings bouncing back and forth between the Alliance and Marquis. Both came very close to their win condition only to be knocked back at the last moment by the other.

Meanwhile, my Eyrie kept plodding along. I went through several leaders as I repeatedly fell into Turmoil as I was unable to fulfill my Decree. Gradually, the Marquis and Woodland Alliance recognized that they had left me alone for too long. They both then turned their attention to me – and it was brutal. Fortunately, I had just enough Roosts out and a useful Leader with a good Decree that even as they knocked me back I still was able to satisfy my Decree and generate enough VP to reach the victory.

My winning was probably the best outcome on several levels. First, if RMN Jr had won after what he did to his older brother, I don’t think the older one would ever play Root again. Likewise, if RMN T had won his younger brother would likely never play again because he would feel ‘punished’ by this brother after what he did to him. Next, the fact that both lost when playing a Dominance card showed them that maybe they need to stay focused on their basic win conditions like the Eyrie did. Additionally, we all learned the lesson that you have to keep an eye on the other and understand their way of play to keep them in check. This is perhaps the hardest element of playing Root for not only do you have to ‘know thyself’ but you have to ‘know thy enemy’ too. In Root the fact that every faction plays differently creates a learning challenge that can only really be overcome by multiple plays with multiple exposures to the different factions. As it is, this first game of Root was rough  and although I feel it will land on the gaming table again I will have to be careful about how the new factions are introduced.

On the very positive side, all of us agreed the art in Root is incredible. RMN Jr wants to explore the game and play different factions. RMN T is less positive, but will likely play again if done right. That’s my Root challenge.

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#Wargaming and #Autism – Why Hold the Line: The American Civil War (@worth2004, 2018) is in the right zone

MY MIDDLE BOY IS ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. As a gamer, this means that some games are harder for him to process and connect with than others. Through the years he has had success, and challenges, with different games. Recently, I introduced him to Hold the Line: The American Revolution (Worthington Publishing, 2018). The game immediately captured his attention, so much he asked for a different version of family game night where he played against his brother (first-time HtL player) while I “umpired” the game. The boys played the Battle of Champion Hill, part of the Vicksburg Campaign. After a hard fought battle taking all 20 of the allotted turns, Middle RMN Boy playing the Confederates took the win 7VP to 6VP. This was his third win in a row and he wants to play even more. So why is it that Hold the Line: The American Civil War has so totally captured his interest?

Hold the Line: The American Civil War captures his interest because of two factors: tactile components and extreme ease of play. It also uses very few Zones of Play.

Tactile Components: Middle RMN Boy loves the blocks in HtL: ACW. Not only are the blocks easy to distinguish, he can arrange, and rearrange, the blocks in many different ways. Sometimes he puts all the infantry in a column; other times he arranges them in a 2×2 formation. Sometimes he faces them towards a hexside in a manner that makes his opponent feel surrounded like they are turning a flank. But it’s not just the blocks on the map, the blocks used to track the Action Points (AP) on the Player Aid Card also give him that tactile interaction with the game.

Extreme Ease of Play: HtL: ACW is very rules-lite. More importantly, a player’s turn is a short, easy to understand (and remember) sequence of Roll Bonus AP, Spend AP, and Reset. Within each phase there are very few rules to remember and the most important information can be found on the Player Aid Card. Bonus AP? Roll 1d6 and get 1-3 AP. Actions? Movement comes in only three flavors. Combat is resolved using a set number of dice using a table on the Player Aid Card. The Morale Die can be tricky but it really is only used in two ways. All told there are something like 24 rules that must be remembered, and most actually can be found on the Player Aid Card so it’s not memory of details, but grasping of a process that must be mastered.

Given the short, easy to remember Sequence of Play and many rules found on the Player Aid Card means that Middle RMN can focus on playing the game, not executing the processes. With Hold the Line: The American Civil War he can feel like a General and fight a battle, not an administrator trying to follow a detailed methodology.

Now, the RMN Boys love the Commands & Colors-series of games, especially Memoir ’44 (Days of Wonder, 2006) which in many ways are very similar to Hold the Line. So why does HtL resonate with Middle RMN to an even greater degree? I think it may be that HtL uses only three of six Zones of Play. In Episode 209 of the Ludology Podcast, Scott Rogers talks about his concept of Zones of Play. He identifies six zones:

  1. Dominant Hand
  2. Non-Dominant Hand
  3. Tableau
  4. The Board/Shared Space
  5. Sideboard
  6. Rulebook

In HtL, Middle RMN only needs to use his Hands (Zone 1 or 2) to move items. The Player Aid Card with the the AP Track is his Tableau (Zone 3), which also doubles as an easy-to-reference rulebook virtually eliminating the need to search the Rule Book in Zone 6. The Board (Zone 4) is small enough to reach across and easy to understand. In a Memoir ’44 game, he uses many more zones; his Dominant Hand (Zone 1) to hold his cards, his Non-Dominant Hand (Zone 2) to move, his Tableau (Zone 3) to show played cards, the Board (Zone 4) to fight on, a Sideboard-extension (Zone 5) of his Tableau to hold Special Rules and Reference Cards, and the Rule Book (Zone 6) to reference often for the many items not on the Sideboard. Taken together, Commands & Colors occupies more Zones and is actually much more complex. HtL, on the other hand (no pun intended), occupies fewer Zones of Play and within each zone the rules are easy to understand and remember and the components attractive and tactilely fulfilling.

Getting HtL to the table with both boys may be a bit difficult. Younger RMN found the game easy to play but struggled to find the right tactical approach to fighting his brother. Middle RMN found the game exciting, especially since he won. I am sure that he and I will fight many more battles when his younger brother is unavailable. As an old grognard, a game like Hold the Line should be considered too easy and not detailed enough to play seriously. But looking at how much my middle boy enjoys the game makes replaying HtL not only inevitable, but something I look forward to because when he is “in the zone” the game is secondary to our enjoyment.


Feature image courtesy mr boss’ design lair

“Never tell me the odds!” – #FirstImpression of Star Wars: Outer Rim (@FFGames, 2019)

I FREELY ADMIT THAT I HAVE A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP with the Star Wars franchise. I love the first two movies and the Thrawn Trilogy, and I hate the newest trilogy and the dumbing-down of Star Wars over the years to a ‘tweener comedic farce. Oh yeah, and Han Shot first! So when Fantasy Flight Games published their newest Star Wars licensed game, Star Wars: Outer Rim – A Game of Bounty Hunters, Mercenaries, and Smugglers I was hesitant to buy. Unfortunately, I did not account for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who are both Star Wars fans, especially RMN Jr. I was also tempted by several commentators/reviewers/fans who claim Outer Rim is good for three players – our usual gaming gang composition. So Outer Rim made its way across the galaxy and landed on the RMN gaming table this weekend for our first introductory game. This Pick-up and Deliver* game is faithfully thematic to the Star Wars Universe and mechanically streamlined but the language-dependency of the many cards can dramatically slow down the game.

“Why, you stuck up, half -witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder!” – characters in Outer Rim

In Star Wars: Outer Rim each player is a character from the “official” Star Wars universe that is trying to be the first to earn 10 “fame.” Possible jobs are legitimate – or illegal – cargo, hunting bounties, or other jobs on behalf of four factions. One’s reputation with a faction goes a long way towards determining how they react to you.

I was surprised by the selection of a few of the characters in the base set of Outer Rim. I didn’t recognize at least one of them. The RMN Boys did, which goes to show you how out of touch I am with the Star Wars franchise after Disney took control. The character design decision that really surprised me is in the Contacts. Here, the designers really took to heart the sidekick concept, relegating even major Star Wars characters like Chewbacca to a minor role in the game with no real expectation of ever becoming a major character in an expansion.

“…a wretched hive of scum and VILLAINY.” – Components in Outer Rim

Like many Fantasy Flight Games products, the components in Outer Rim help make the game the deep thematic experience it is. It starts with the crescent-shaped board (literally the Outer Rim) and is carried through by the art on the cards and the text. Being an officially licensed product has its advantages and it shows. From Characters to Contacts to Ships to Jobs or Cargo this is Star Wars…at least Star Wars according to the Disney movie canon.

A major component complaint I have is the text used on the cards. I freely admit I am an old grognard who has to wear bifocal glasses but even with my strong prescription I was unable to easily read many of the cards. Being able to read the cards on the table is important for the speed of play (more on that later). One also needs to be really strong in the Force if they are seated on the “opposite” side of the game table and trying to read the small text upside-down!

“Don’t worry, she’ll hold together…You hear me, baby? Hold together!” – Game Mechanics in Outer Rim

Mechanically, Outer Rim is a very easy game. The rules can basically be taught from the Reference Card. I don’t mind the two rule books, the Learn to Play and the Rules Reference. The Plan-Action-Encounter sequence is easy to catch onto and where in a turn you can do things is pretty straight-forward…at first.

That said, the mechanics of the game, when combined with the components, can slow the game down. Outer Rim is heavily language dependent – the text on the cards really matter and there is alot of text! During your turn there is much reading required, be it a delivering a Cargo or completing a Bounty or Job or executing an Encounter or Databank Card. More importantly, there is much reading required when it is not your turn. If the game is to keep moving, a player needs to be constantly scanning the board state and choosing best routes as well as understanding all the impacts that Characters, Gear, or Mods have on play. They need to be looking at the Market Cards available before their turn starts. Here is where all those highly thematic components actually don’t help.

Understanding the text on the cards in Outer Rim can also be problematic. The iconography is small, and to really understand the cards one must really understand key concepts like Reputation and how the card fits into – or breaks – the Plan-Action-Encounter sequence. Although the rules recommend not reading ahead on a card too much, to make a decision about a card one needs to read it fully and carefully. All this takes time and slows the game down. Our 3-player intro game to the recommended 8-fame (instead of the standard 10) took almost three hours, or nearly 60 minutes per player. Maybe this is a trademark of designer Corey Konieczka and FFG. Another Konieczka design in my collection, Battle Galactica: The Board Game (FFG, 2008), is for 3-6 players and plays in 120-300 minutes, or 40-50 minutes per player once they are familiar with the game. I shudder at the thought of playing an “epic” game to 12 points of fame like mentioned in the rules. Outer Rim is an OK game…but I cannot see playing an epic 4-player game to 12-fame for over four hours!

All the text likely contributes to the fact that Outer Rim is recommended for ages 14+. This makes Outer Rim nearly an “adult” game. In the RMN house, Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and understanding all the text and the implications is right about what he can handle. We all understand that text slows him down; in Outer Rim that effect is multiplied by the sheer amount of text and sometimes subtle interactions the cards are describing.

“Rebellions are built on hope.” – Final Thoughts on Outer Rim

This has all been a very first impression reaction of Outer Rim, based on one solo play using the AI and one introductory learning game. It’s obvious that the game will play faster with more familiarity but the density of text employed means even that speed-up will have limits. Strategy-wise, I can also see that certain combinations are better and it plants seeds of doubt as to just how open-ended the game is. For instance, RMN Jr. started out with Han Solo and made it his goal to get the Millennium Falcon for his ship and Chewbacca as crew. This personal decision happened to meld well with in-game effects; that combination of Character, Ship, and Contact/Crew together that made for a powerful game engine. For myself, focusing more on teaching the game, I had Lando and and the Shadow Hawk, a ship more suitable to a bounty hunter whereas Lando is more a smuggler. Lando needs a ship with speed and cargo; he’s very weak in Ground Combat and really shouldn’t be fighting Contacts for Bounty. In retrospect, Lando’s strategy is “obvious;” that is, if one is really familiar with either the theme or the small text on the components.

Looking beyond the small RMN household universe, I sense that the need for thematic and mechanical familiarity will make Outer Rim less friendly for a pick-up game by newbies. Sitting down at the table cold with either little theme background or lack of rules knowledge can make Outer Rim challenging – dare I say less enjoyable – to play and potentially relegating it to a niche game within an already niche hobby.

Which brings me back to the beginning. Star Wars: Outer Rim truly is a mechanically streamlined game that is very rich thematically. However, the language-dependency and abundance of text on cards is also its own unshielded exhaust port-weakness. This game will get played by the RMN Boys and myself, I just hope that we get to the point it plays faster.


*According to BGG, in a Pick-up and Deliver game, “Players must pick up an item at one location on the playing board and bring it to another location on the playing board. Initial placement of the item can be either predetermined or random. The delivery of the item usually gives the player resources to do more actions with. In most cases, there is a game rule or another mechanic that determines where the item needs to go.

#Boardgame goodness with Villainous: The Worst Takes It All (@wonderforge, 2018)

I was very surprised to see that Villainous: The Worst Takes It All (Wonder Forge, 2018) took home the Toy Association 2019 Toy of the Year Award. Given last years winner I was shocked to see a hobby boardgame (though available in mass market channels) actually win.

What shocked me even more were comments from the Ravensburger CEO after the win (as reported by Dice Tower News):

“The positive response from Disney fans and strategy board game enthusiasts for the growing Disney Villainous franchise has been overwhelming. In the last quarter of 2018, Ravensburger sold more than a quarter of a million copies globally of Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes It All, and it rose to Top 5 of Amazon’s Most Wished for Board Games. Even before it hit shelves last summer, we knew we had a winner and had already begun working on the next in the franchise, Wicked to the Core.” -Filip Francke, CEO of Ravensburger North America

Did he really just say they sold 250,000 copies IN THE LAST QUARTER of 2018? This is an incredible number considering the very popular Ticket To Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004) claims to have sold six million copies…in 15 years. Even the venerable Settlers of Catan (now simply Catan) was credited with 22 million copies sold in 2015…20 years after it was released.

In some ways the sale of Villainous also show a disconnect in the hobby boardgame market segment. BoardGameGeek only shows a bit over 5000 copies “owned” and the game is ranked as the 237th most popular Family Game.

I think Ravensburger is really happy about the public reaction to Villainous: The Worst Takes It All. Having released the title under the Wonder Forge line with a pen-named designer has all the hallmarks of trying to reduce risk from exposure to a flop. I guess this fear is no more given press about a forthcoming new expansion, Villainous: Wicked to the Core.

[I wonder if Wonder Forge is going away. Contrary to the words of Mr. Francke, Wonder Forge has acted nothing like a company with a “winner.” The last Tweet on @wonderforge was in September 2018 and the website http://www.wonderforge.com looks like it was last updated Spring/Summer 2018. Even at Ravensburger USA it shows Villainous: The Worst Takes It All as “Coming Soon” with no further link provided. For a game that appears to be making bank for the company it sure ain’t getting much online love from them. Maybe that will change after the TOTY award.]

Here at the RockyMountainNavy house Villainous: The Worst Takes It All initially got a mixed reception. After hearing about the new expansion we decided to bring the first game out again and give it another shot.

I took Ursula while Youngest RMN Boy played the Queen of Hearts. I was surprised that Middle RMN Boy took Maleficent as he has played Captain Hook in every other game of Villainous. I thought for sure he was going to take Captain Hook because he usually shows less initiative in games given his Autism Spectrum and hesitation when trying something new.

Learning our lesson from before, we took time before the game started to study our Villain Guides and strategize before the first round. We went round and round slowly at first as we relearned the rules. Middle RMN Boy and myself constantly played Fate Cards on the Queen of Hearts but we didn’t seem to be able to find very powerful ones at the right time. For myself, Ursula had the Crown at Ursula’s Lair and I was ready to play a Binding Contract on King Triton and get the Trident. After that I figured it would be one more turn to get the Trident to my Lair. It was looking to be not a moment too soon as Maleficent had three Curses out and probably had a fourth ready. To our surprise, the Queen of Hearts played then immediately turned her last Card Guard into a Wicket and then Took the Shot…and made it!

We all agreed that this play of Villainous was much more satisfying then the first time. The key appears to be taking the time to study the Villain Guide ahead of starting play. After the first few less-than-satisfying plays Villainous: The Worst Takes It All had sat on the shelf of shame for several months. I think it is back now, for better not worse!


Feature image shot by self

 

When evil is good – great wargaming with Table Battles (@Hollandspiele, 2017)

uzYnpkZgTZOXhUpmAh6N2ASaturday morning is not the usual time a wargame hits the table in the RockyMountainNavy house. This past Saturday was a bit different as the Youngest RockyMountainNavy was studying for a math quiz and the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy was a bit bored waiting for his brother to finish. So I challenged him to a game of Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017).

This was Middle RMN Boy’s first time playing. We set up The Battle of White Mountain (Thirty Years War, 1620) and he took the Imperial & Catholic League. Game play proceeded a bit slowly as I had to be patient as he absorbed the game rules. My Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and he sometimes struggles with multi-step rules or too many choices. It’s not that he suffers from Analysis Paralysis (AP) while gaming, he just takes a bit longer to process his thoughts. Table Battles turned out to be a good game for him; simple enough rules and procedures with just enough depth of to create a challenging (but not insurmountable) array of choices.

In Table Battles, Special Formations are usually the most powerful, and therefore the hardest to “ready.” Middle RMN had The Twelve Apostles (historically the twelve biggest cannons) as his Special Formation and to “ready” it takes a “Straight 4;” rolling a sequence of four consecutive numbers on the dice. As the Special Formation card is harder to load, it also can be easy to miss when rolling.

Me – “OK, go ahead and roll.”

RMN Boy – [Rolls five dice as one formation already has a die placed]

Me – “Well, you could….”

RMN Boy – “I rolled a 2, 3, 4, 5. I can load this card, right?”

Me – “Uh, sure….”

RMN Boy  – [Smiling & laughing evilly as he adds a cube to the Special Formation]

That pretty much describes the battle. The end came down to two last formations, each almost reduced and ready to Rout. After I rolled and failed to get the needed Triplet to ready my formation I thought I would have another chance as his formation was totally unready with no dice placed.

Me – “OK, roll your dice.”

RMN Boy – “I really need a triple to load my card.” [Rolls dice – 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 6]

Me – [Deep sigh]

RMN Boy – “So I move these here. Dad, you sure you don’t want to surrender now?”

Even though I lost it was a great game. While the Youngest RMN Boy has proclaimed Table Battles as a “favorite game” I think it is Middle RMN Boy who will enjoy this game more. Kudos to designer Tom Russell (@tomandmary) for making a simple, yet deep wargame that I can enjoy with all my boys.

Featured image – Battle of White Mountain, oil on canvas by Pieter Snayers (courtesy wikipedia). You can practically see the Table Battles formation cards in the scene….

Tough Game Night Moments – thoughts on rules, factions, and “take that”

After missing the RockyMountainNavy Game Night for two weeks the boardgame Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) landed on the table. Although there are other games unplayed waiting for a slot at the table, like AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) we pulled Enemies of Rome out at the request of the youngest RMN Boy as it matches what he is studying in history at school.

It did not go so well.

I have said before that Enemies of Rome is not the game it appears to be. What looks like an area control game is actually a Battle Royale. Glory Points are scored by winning battles which means one must think very offensively. Although the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have played Enemies of Rome ten times now, and even discussed the victory demands, it has yet to fully sink in to the Middle RMN Boy. In tonights game, like the last one, he “turtled” early and fell far behind in points as he built up his forces without attacking any of the enemies of Rome. Unfortunately, the enemies of Rome also were building up their forces right in his neighborhood. It also did not help that the Youngest RMN Boy chose to lash out at his brothers outposts and seized several provinces. As a result, Middle RMN fell far behind in points and was very sullen and not fully into the game.

It would be very easy for me to blame this on his Autism Spectrum condition but that’s too easy. Tonight was a good reminder that, no matter how familiar one is with a game, it behooves players to review some of the basic rules and mechanics of a game. In this case, a gentle reminder to all that Glory Points are earned by attacking is only part of it. A review of the die odds is also helpful. If one waits for overwhelming odds in their favor they will fall behind. I know that I often gamble with 2:1 or 3:2 attacks because I recognize the need to generate Glory Points. I save the 3:1 or 4:1 attacks for battles against other Legions because the penalty for losing those battles is loss of Glory Points.

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Courtesy Z-Man Games

I think Enemies of Rome will sit on the shelf for a bit and cool off. This doesn’t mean we will be hurting for games; indeed, it clears the way (and maybe even creates a demand) to get the semi-cooperative AuZtralia to the table. All the RMN Boys are also excited that the cooperative Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games, 2018) has been shipped. As a family, we really enjoy Pandemic and the Middle RMN Boy has proven to be a bit of a whiz at playing. I hope that these games in particular bring joy to the gaming table.

Dk_yqCEWsAki4_HIn the same vein, this weekends events have forced me to reconsider introducing Root (Leder Games, 2018) to the RMN Boys. The asymmetric nature of the different player factions in Root demands that each player play a bit differently. For the Middle RMN Boy this may be challenging. I remember the first time we played with the Invaders from Afar Expansion to Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) and the Middle RMN Boy got a whole new faction. He struggled mightily to figure out how the faction worked. When he tried to watch his brother and I play our factions it was of little help because every faction plays differently. Root may work if I can convince him to play the first time the using the Marquis de Cat as I think that faction is mechanically the most straight forward.

As a wargamer, a game with a “take that” mechanic doesn’t offend me. However, events like this weekend’s game reminds me that not all players are like me. I don’t think I will ever fully turn into a Eurogamer with their “let’s just all get along and make a farm” attitude but bringing out more games with less “take that” for the Family Game Night probably won’t hurt.

Featured image courtesy Worthington Publishing.

Old Lore – #BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006)

The RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night game this week was BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006). This is the first edition of the game and not the more recent Fantasy Flight Games second edition. Our game this week was generally good although I made a few errors during the evening. Playing BattleLore has rekindled my interest in the game and it deserves more table time.

In the RMN family, we usually end up playing a 3-player event. This makes it harder than it should to find a good game because many games are either 2-player or a multiple thereof (i.e. 4-players, etc.).  The Birth of America-series from Academy Games (1754 -Conquest: The French & Indian War, 1775 – Rebellion: The American Revolution, 1812: The Invasion of America) work well because they are 4-player games that also work at 2-players or – best for us – 3-players.

I own BattleLore: Epic BattleLore (DoW, 2007) that I thought would give me a scenario using the multiple boards that is suitable for 3-players. Using the extra board, it is possible to make a layout that is six-sectors wide that allows multiple commanders to play one side. But when I looked for an adventure (scenario) that used this map configuration there was none in the booklet. As the RMN Boys were already at the table and itching to play, I went ahead and laid out an adventure from the booklet that used a single army and an epic-scale 3-sector map. I asked the Boys to share command and they (reluctantly) agreed.

Wrong choice on my part.

Asking the Boys to “share” command of a single army spread over three sectors did not work. I thought about using a variation of the 4-player Reluctant Allies in Epic BattleLore but decided it would be unfair in a 3-player set-up. The Boys ended up bickering a fair bit (more than their usual friendly banter) and I could see the frustration growing in Middle RMN as his younger brother outright refused at times to work together. The Boys ended up winning, 7 banners to 5, but it was not a really fun game.

I apologized to Middle RMN about my choices going into the game and he was a good sport. I think he and I are OK but I don’t want to be his brother on the other side of a future battle because I sense there will be no mercy given!

All that said, the game night was not a total disaster. Having not played BattleLore in a long time (my last previously recorded play was in 2010!) and putting aside the command issues we enjoyed it. The addition of Lore and Creatures and the Goblin or Dwarf units – each with advantages and disadvantages – makes for an interesting game. The game is not without its challenges; soft sculpts and lack of good player aids detract a bit, but should not be showstoppers to enjoyment. I also think that the Boys are much more able to handle all that BattleLore brings to the table now that they are more experienced gamers. The last time we played Youngest RMN was a wee 6-years old and Middle RMN, my Austism Spectrum hero, was 12.

In addition to the core set and the previously mentioned Epic BattleLore expansion, I also own Call to Arms, the Dwarven Battalion Specialist Pack, and the Goblin Skirmishers Specialist Pack. Between all these expansions I “should” be able to come up with good adventures for 3-players, especially using the Call to Arms system. Although fantasy is not my go-to genre for gaming, I sense that BattleLore may actually fit many of our Family Game Night needs. BattleLore will find itself on the gaming table again, but not before I thoroughly reread the rules and make considered decisions on adventure design and balance.

Plotting Along with Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977)

Playing Air Force (Avalon Hill Battleline Edition, 1977) for my Game of the Week culminated in a game with the RockyMountainNavy Boys on Saturday night. Although I personally rediscovered my love for Air Force this week, the Boys had a lesser reaction.

At first I imagined a basic Battle of Britain dogfight scenario with Hurricanes and Spitfires versus Me-109s. That was until Youngest RMN Boy got his hands on the Aircraft Data Cards (ADC) and found the Me-262. He absolutely wanted to fly the Schwable. He also asked about shooting down bombers. So I quickly scratch-built a scenario where a single B-17G, separated from the bomber stream but escorted by a pair of P-51D, is jumped by a pair of Me-262.

Gameplay in Air Force is “Spot-Plot-Scoot-Shoot.”  In the interest of making for an easier first scenario we bypassed the Spotting rules and got straight into the action.

Youngest RMN Boy quickly discovered that the Me-262 handles like a truck. We had randomly rolled for starting altitude with the B-17G at 20,000 ft. In Air Force, when the Me-262 is at 20,000 ft. or higher, it has no Maneuver Speed and therefore adds the Level Speed penalty for maneuvers. This made the already ponderous Me-262 even more ponderous!

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Photo of Luftwaffe Me-262 being shot down by P-51 Mustang of the 8th Air Force, as seen from the P-51’s gun camera (Courtesy warhistoryonline.com)

I spent a lot of the game helping the Boys with plotting notations. The hardest part for them to envision was the aircraft Attitude, or banking.. Interestingly, Middle RMN Boy, my Autism Spectrum son, caught onto plotting faster than his brother. This may be because he is a bit of a “rigid thinker” and the predictability of the plot “clicked” with him easier than his more free-thinking brother.

The game lasted 15 turns, played out over about 90 minutes. The result was both Me-262 shot down by the B-17G, but with helpful contributions from the Mustangs. Unfortunately, in the same turn the last Me-262 was shot down, the B-17 fell too. This was in great part because the Me-262 used it’s Air-to-Air Rockets…and blasted the Flying Fortress.

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A B-24 “Liberator” of the 448th Bombardment Group, shot down by R4M missiles of a Messerschmitt Me-262 (Courtesy warhistoryonline.com)

After the game, we talked about Air Force as it compares to the other air combat game the Boys know; Wings of Glory. They both agreed that the addition of aircraft attitude and altitude was a large step-up in complexity over Wings of Glory. They also agreed that the flight model in Air Force gave a better comparison of the aircraft.

Although he had trouble during the game with plotting, Youngest RMN expressed a desire to try Air Force again. Next time, he wants to fly a maneuverable FW-190! I think the next game will be better; the hardest part of the learning curve for Air Force – plotting – is now behind them.

The Man with the Plan – Playing #Pandemic by @Zmangames

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“I is for Infected” (Courtesy KillerTaco on BGG.com)

With #windmageddon shutting down most of the area this weekend (and thankfully we didn’t lose power or have a tree fall on our house – or a large outlet sign) I felt the need for a “lighter” Game Night. So Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008) landed on the table. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself played a 3-player session with Youngest RMN Boy as the Operations Specialist, Middle RMN Boy as the Dispatcher, and myself as the Scientist. I really enjoyed the game tonight not because (spoiler alert) we won, but because the game enabled Middle RMN Boy, who is on the Autism Spectrum, to shine.

At first it looked bad as the initial infection was heavily Black Plague and Red Death. As we tried to beat back those two contagions, the cards fell my way and I was able to eradicate the Blue Virus. Youngest RMN was quickly able to cure the Black Plague, but several closely spaced Epidemic Cards led to multiple outbreaks. It was looking bad; we really needed to knock back the Black Plague and the Red Virus was out of control. We cured the Yellow Virus, but really needed to get after the Red Death.

We always play Pandemic with everybody’s cards face up in front of them so we can all collaborate on strategy. Usually, this discussion is dominated by Youngest RMN and myself, with Middle RMN Boy only occasionally making a contribution. We usually try to let him plan his own actions and Youngest RMN Boy sometimes has to control his facial expressions as he disagrees with what his brother does.

Tonight, at the peak of the pressure as we were running out of Outbreaks and Action Cards, Youngest RMN Boy and I were having a “spirited discussion” as to the next actions. We were trying to plan two-players ahead, and that included Middle RMN. Suddenly, Middle RMN Boy spoke up.

“Don’t worry, I got this,” he emphatically stated.

“Got what?” I asked.

“We can win. I’ve got this!”

I challenged him to explain what he was thinking. He proceeded to lay out a three-player sequence of events that, sure enough, would give us the win. His idea took advantage of a recently drawn Event Card and optimized each players abilities. It was a brilliant plan.

I love my Boys and sometimes I don’t give Middle RMN Boy enough credit because of his Autism Spectrum. He rarely shows the ability to think ahead, and when he does it’s often for the wrong reasons that end up getting him in trouble. Though we haven’t played Pandemic too many times, it obviously has “clicked” with him.

Small moments like this tell me that our weekly game nights are well worth it. It also reminds me that, as much as I love being a Grognard, other genre of games are well worth playing and sometimes bring out the best in each of us.

Expanded Play of The Expanse Board Game (WizKids, 2017)

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Courtesy WizKids

The weekend RockyMountainNavy Game Night this week was The Expanse Board Game. I wrote before about this game and how I see as the consummate Eurogame. To date, we had not played a full 4-player game. That was remedied this weekend.

For the game, the Middle RMN Boy went first as the United Nations (UN). Youngest RMN Boy was the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) and I took ProtoGen. Since ProtoGen is not used in the 3-player game it was a new faction so I took it so as not to burden the others. For the Oldest RMN Boy it was his first time playing The Expanse Board Game so we gave him Mars since that faction plays the most “direct” of the four.

Scythe taught me that I must be careful with new factions, especially with the Middle RMN Boy and his Autism Spectrum Disability. He has difficulty quickly grasping a new faction and their powers jso it is safe to let him play a “known” power. There was no way I could allow him to pick up ProtoGen for the first time. Oldest RMN is a video gamer so he should groan new situations but as we will see the game is not balanced between players of different experience levels.

I gave Oldest RMN a rules walkthru as the others were cleaning up after dinner. We also placed him last in the turn order so we could talk about the other player’s actions and let him see a bit before his first turn.

Getting through the first three Scoring Cards took over an hour as we all were slow relearning (or learning) the game and analysis paralysis kicked in. The Middle and Youngest RMN Boys brought the Cold War directly to Mars, all but eliminating Martian influence at home. The OPA had established dominance in the Outer Planets and took the first two Scoring Cards in that Bonus Sector. The OPA ended up far ahead of the others in CP.

After the fourth Scoring Card, the only Bonus Sector left was the two The Belt. The fifth Scoring Card came out pretty quickly but all tried to avoid it as we jockeyed for influence in The Belt. The draw deck dwindled down until there was only one card; the last Scoring Card (the game immediately ends when the last Scoring Card is turned up). None of us were ready, and the game ended with a runaway OPA victory (99 pts against UN and ProtoGen in the 60’s and Mars in the 50’s).

There were many rookie mistakes made. Oldest RMN Boy was more focused playing Events than Action Points and as a result fell far behind. He ended the game with eight influence cubes still on his player card. As ProtoGen, I waited too long and ended the game without playing either of the Protomolecules.

Taken as a whole, the game was a bit disappointing. We played for nearly 2 hours and a lot of it was boring. Given our slower pace of play and analysis paralysis there was just too much downtime between each player’s turn. The Expanse Board Game strikes me as a game that is best played when it is played; familiarity breeds speed. The Expanse Board Game is not alone here; in my experience other games like Terraforming Mars or Scythe (especially Scythe) need to be played often to maintain familiarity and understanding of the game mechanics.

I was also mildly surprised to see that this game was the fifth logged play of The Expanse Board Game. This makes it one of my five “nickel” games in the past sixth months. Amazing, considering I only rate it a 7 on BoardGameGeek (just slightly above my 6.41 average). Maybe that’s because I want The Expanse Board Game to work even when it doesn’t.