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.

The holiday season is upon us – Limited November gaming but still lots of joy.

November was a VERY slow gaming month. Lots of moving parts conspired to reduce the number of games played this past month. The RockyMountainNavy tribe missed two (2!) weekends of game nights. This is the first time since August 2016 that we missed  more than one week at a time. It also doesn’t help that the Youngest RMN Boy started Indoor Track season which digs into my weeknight game time. It also doesn’t help that my gaming space has been overtaken by the gift wrap station….

So how did the month look?

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According to BGStats, I played 18 games in November. Once again, the way BGG Stats tracks plays is off as I actually played 16 games and two expansions. The multi-game play was Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) using both the Prelude and new Colonies expansion.

box-heroThe game of the month was definitely AuZtralia (Stronghold Games). All my plays to date are solo play as this game has yet to reach the RMN Game Night table. My initial impression was a bit weak, but as time has passed the game has grown on me more. I really want to get this one to Game Night and see what the RMN Boys say!

pic360048My Grognard Game of the Month was Tokyo Express (Victory Games, 1988). It was a real treat to play it again after so many years. A solid design with alot to teach about what a real solitaire wargame can be.

It was also Black Friday in the States with many sales. Actually, the entire month of November featured many sales, a few of which I took advantage of. That is how I welcomed Brian Train’s Finnish Civil War (Paper Wars, Compass Games 2017) to my collection.

pic23647501The biggest surprise of the month was the Kickstarter fulfillment of Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games) after a delay of over two years. I will have many more thoughts on this game coming at you in the future. Actually, there are several Kickstarter and pre-order fulfillments coming that I did not expect as recently as two weeks ago. My preorder copy of Pandemic: Fall of Rome (Z-Man Games) is enroute, and Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk, 1943 (Academy Games) may be in hand before the end of the year! I will also likely add several more games to my order list as Hollandspiele is having their Hollandays sale starting the day this posts.

December will continue to be gaming challenge as we are busy and my gaming space is preempted. On the plus side, I earned a generous amount of vacation time and I plan on using it at the end of the year (after Christmas). I feel that the last week of December may see an explosion of gaming as I make up for lost time.

Here’s wishing all of you a Happy Holiday. May you spend it gaming with family and making memories for a lifetime.

 

#Zombies & #Cthulhu are not my usual thing but for #AuZtralia (@StrongholdGames, 2018) I will make an exception

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Cthulhu (courtesy BGG.com)

In the boardgame community zombies are probably the most overused theme for a game. Right up there with Cthulhu. While many gamers obviously like these themes (based on how many games are made – and purchased) I don’t. Horror stories just don’t grab my attention and horror gaming even less so. Given my attitude, I never should have pre-ordered designer Martin Wallace’s AuZtralia: The Great Designers Series #11 (SchilMil Games/Stronghold Games, 2018). After all, the game has both zombies and Cthulhu! However, after listening to several podcasts discussing the game I succumbed to the Cult of the New and ordered it. I am very glad I did because AuZtralia is a good game that smartly uses a mixture of game mechanics to bring a theme I have no real interest in to life. It does such a good job that I find myself wanting to play AuZtralia despite my negative attitude towards the theme.

AuZtralia is thematically linked to an earlier Martin Wallace title, A Study In Emerald. ASiE is a game I will probably never play if for no other reason than both the theme and core mechanic (deck-building) do not appeal to me at all. AuZtralia, on the other hand, was described as something near a waro, a category of gaming I positively love. After getting the game in hand, I discovered that AuZtralia is not a waro because there is no player-vs-player combat possible. Instead, BoardGameGeek describes AuZtralia as an adventure/exploration game. The game actually mixes multiple game mechanics together. Using the BGG description I see the following game mechanics in play:

  • Resource Management – Build a port, construct railways, mine and farm for food.
  • Time Management – Everything you do in the game costs time, which is one of AuZtralia’s most valued resources.
  • Opponent AI – At a point in time, the Old Ones will wake up and become an active player. They begin to reveal themselves and move, with potentially devastating outcomes.
  • Semi-Cooperative -You’ll need to prepare wisely for the awakening and may have to co-operate with others to defeat the most dangerous Old Ones.
  • Combat/Hand Management – Military units will help you to locate, fight and defend against the nightmarish beings that may be lurking on your doorstep. As well as hardware, you’ll need to recruit some Personalities who have the skills and resources to help you.

Although I was expecting a waro I am happy with the game nonetheless. AuZtralia’s mix of game mechanics delivers a relatively quick-playing game that builds a play narrative that in turn fits the theme perfectly.

Time, the most precious of resources, is constantly ticking away. Actions cost not only resources (money, commodities) but most importantly time. The time track is used to not only show who goes next but also serves as a countdown timer for the game. This simple mechanic puts pressure on the players and both literally and figuratively builds towards a climatic showdown.

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Old Ones Card  (prototype courtesy BGG.com)

One of the most interesting mechanics in AuZtralia is the Old Ones AI. A set of 40 Old Ones Cards is used for movement and combat. Being a wargamer, I focused in on the combat mechanic. There are no dice used for combat in AuZtralia; instead, the Old Ones Cards are used to allocate hits. The combat results feel plausible and build a narrative of desperate battles.

Even the solo version of AuZtralia is not really solo since the Old Ones are controlled by an AI. In my first solo game, I lost to the Old Ones by a large margin, mostly because I didn’t understand the strategy needed and the Scoring rules made me pay for it. In my second solo play, I barely eeked out a victory (52-49) even though I lost my Port and all my farms were blighted. The difference between victory or defeat was my Solo Objective Card which gave me a bonus 20 points for being a Railroader (place all Railroads on the board by game end). As the game was winding down I really felt the pressure of losing time and made the decision to forego protecting my farms and concentrated on building the last of my railroads. I placed my last railroad the turn before I lost my Port. The game made me feel like a heartless railroad tycoon absolutely determined to get the last rail of track laid regardless of the insanity happening around me. All very dramatic.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys have watched me as I played several games of AuZtralia solo. I think this game will be a perfect fit for our Game Night. AuZtralia is a game that should be playable in a few short hours but more importantly delivers a compelling narrative of play without a difficult set of rules to parse. AuZtralia really is an adventure/exploration game built on a solid foundation of mixed game mechanics that fit the theme and make it interesting to play.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

The COO Viking – Raiders of the North Sea (English 2nd Edition, Graphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2017)

Or – a wargaming family’s journey into a true Eurogame.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys love Vikings. Not long ago we were in our local FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies, and my youngest saw Raiders of the North Sea (English 2nd Edition, Graphill/Renegade Game Studios, 2017) and it caught his attention. I eventually ordered it and the game arrived on Halloween and we slotted it for play on Saturday night. However, the Boys got done with all their homework and chores early enough on Thursday that they asked to learn the game.

According to BoardGameGeek rankings, Raiders of the North Sea is a very strong game with an average rating of 7.8. At the time of this post it was ranked 104th overall and 73rd in the strategy category. The publisher’s blurb certainly makes Raiders of the North Sea sound interesting:

Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!

Raiders of the North Sea is a Eurogame using a worker placement mechanism. Every turn players use their worker (err…Viking) to Work or Raid. Workers Vikings come in three colors and not every action space is accessible by all colors. Players start with the black Viking which is the most common color. A white Viking is is most powerful with access to the best spaces. There is also a gray Viking that is more versatile than the black Viking but cannot access the better spaces like the white one. Each turn players get two actions; the first uses the Viking in their hand which is placed on the board and the second is from another Viking taken from the board into their hand.

Like so many Eurogames there is little actual player interaction. A few cards have a “take that” effect on another player but it usually is limited to taking a few items, trading cards Townfolk, or at worst swapping a worker Viking on the board.

Raiders of the North Sea is rated at 60-90 minutes. In our first game, which took nearly 2 hours as we learned, we quickly discovered the game can drag. The turns may be quick but the game is not. I think this is because there is a limit to the number of cards, coins, and Townfolk/Hired Crew you can have in your hand or on the table. This means your “game engine” has a governor on it. It takes a few rounds to assemble your team Hired Crew and gather Provisions to make a Raid. That assumes you get the right color worker in your hand at the right time….

After playing the game and considering it, I have two major problems with Raiders of the Lost Sea. One is the game, the other is me.

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Courtesy BGG.com

First, Raiders of the North Sea appears to hit the Viking theme to a T. The artwork is highly evocative of the theme (even if it is a little cartoonish). However, the use of the worker placement game mechanic doesn’t fit what I expected in a Viking game. Sure, the reality is that Vikings needed to do more than just raid and plunder (i.e Work) but I want to Raid!  In the end, the Viking worker placement mechanic actually doesn’t support the theme. The players are nothing more than a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a unit trying to organize their workers Vikings by Working in the town and occasionally getting out of the office Raiding. Indeed, the players are not really in charge as they need to make offerings to the CEO Chieftain!

Secondly, Raiders of the North Sea shows me that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are more waro-gamer than Eurogamer. Truth be told, I am a wargamer first and a waro-gamer second. There are a many thematic Eurogames we like such as Ticket to Ride, Scythe, Firefly: The Game, or Battlestar Galactica: The Boardgame. Given our druthers playing a good waro is the most satisfying. Unlike 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (Academy Games, 2017) the core game mechanic in Raiders of the North Sea fails to create a compelling gaming narrative of Viking raids that we can immerse ourselves into and enjoy.

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Courtesy auztralia.net

Now, I am not ready to trade away Raiders of the North Sea just yet. I think it has a place in our collection, just not the prominent role that I was expecting given the ratings and hype around the game. Our reaction to this game does make me worry about another game I have on pre-order, AuZtralia (Stonghold Games, 2018). There is alot of buzz about that Martin Wallace title and I jumped at it because it was described as a waro. I certainly hope it is.

 

 

#SPIEL18 – My ESSENtial thoughts including AuZtralia, ICECOOL, lots of Plastic Soldiers, and wars across the world

The Essen Game Fair, or International Spieltage 2018, is going on as I write this post. BoardGameGeek collected a list of around 1200 games that either debut or will be available at Essen. Like so many others I reviewed the list to see what strikes my fancy. Apparently, I am too much of a niche-gamer because my list of “Must Have” or “Interested” is very small.

I have seven games on my “Must Have” and “Interested” list. All but one are wargames or a “waro.” One is a kids game because, you know, reasons!

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Spiel18 My Picks via BGG.com

AuZtralia (Stronghold Games)MUST HAVE

I am not a Cthulhu Mythos fan and for that reason alone this game should not be on my list. However, this Martin Wallace-designed waro looks so interesting with its mix of multiple Eurogame mechanics (worker placement, resource collection, track laying, and action selection) combined with a semi-cooperative wargame. My preorder is already placed.

ICECOOL2 (Brain Games)MUST HAVE

The RockyMountainNavy house already owns the original ICECOOL. It is a favorite game amongst Mrs. RMN’s students (especially Little Clara). This expansion takes the possible player count to eight making it a great candidate for a Party Game.

1918: Death on the Rails (2D6.EE)Interested

Chosen mostly on the basis of the topic. Admittedly, the game does not appear to offer any really new or innovative mechanic but (hopefully) is a solid implementation of a block wargame. I have few European publishers in my collection; interested to see their perspective on wargames too.

Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy (Lautepelit.Fi)Interested

The original Eclipse was strongly recommended to me by Uwe Eickert of Academy Games but I never got around to picking it up. Maybe I will be better this time!

Lincoln (PSC Games)Interested

Card-based wargames are not really my thing but just maybe this one will work for me. Almost pulled the trigger during the Kickstarter campaign but several design controversies made my shy away. Still a bit reluctant to go all-in.

Radetzky: Milano 1848 (Post Scriptum) Interested

A cooperative wargame? Sounds interesting!

Wings of Glory: Tripods & Triplanes (Ares Games)Interested

Technically speaking, the RockyMountainNavy collection of Wings of Glory “belongs” to LittleRockyMountainNavy. He likes Wings of Glory over Fantasy Flight Games’ X-Wing because it is more historical and less tournament-based. That said, he does have an interest in the steampunk genre through games like Scythe (Stonemaier Games) or AuZtralia.

Undecided

Not shown above, I have another seven games in my “Undecided” category.

Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles – Starter Set (Ares Games)

Am interested in the topic but if this is another cinematic movement system and not vector movement (more thematically correct) then I am going to pass. Have some hope since the publisher’s blurb mentions, “…unique dynamics of the battles….”

Expedition Zetta (Ion Game Design)

Topic interests. Looks thematically appropriate. Need to learn more.

Hannibal & Hamilcar (Phalanx)

Another asymmetric card game. Not sure about card games.

Normandy: The Beginning of the End (Draco Ideas)

Need to explore what the Paths to Hell system really is. Another question is, “Do I really need another WWII tactical combat system?” After all, I am already all-in on Conflict of Heroes and the Panzer (Second Edition) series.

Quartermaster General: The Cold War (PSC Games)

Looks interesting…may be suitable for family game night with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Few games out there in that 3-6 player category (with three-players key for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night).

Scorpius Freighter (AEG)

“Recruit Crew, Customize Ships, Smuggle Goods.” Sounds alot like Firefly: The Game, which I already own, only with the serial number filed off. Although thematically close it is much different graphically. Interesting, but once again I have to ask myself is another “pick up and smuggle” game worth my investment?

SHAEF (PSC Games)

Another PSC Games card-driven title. But only 2-player.

So there is my Essen. Of the 14 games here I think three or four maybe will get into the RockyMountainNavy collection within the next 12 months. Maybe.