Friday, December 27, 2013

Year in Review

It's embarrassing that it's been so long since I posted. As they say, "It's my fault but I blame others." Christmas, work, painting. Probably the main culprit is the brain numbing cold and darkness that together make me as productive as a groundhog.

Groundhogs hibernate through the winter in tunnel complexes up to thirty feet in length. You learn many interesting things when you have kids and live in the country.

As I gear up and prepare to knock out a few posts it seems appropriate to look back on 2013 and try and come up with some sort of Best Of list. I like reading other people's lists. Let's give it a go.

Best Miniatures Game
X-Wing Miniatures Game. I do dislike the Star Wars merchandise empire and I resisted buying this game until it was deeply on sale. That being said it's fun, simple, and has a lot of tactical depth. We've played it as straight ahead skirmish combat and with scenarios. It works with three ships on a table and I've played in a game that featured literally dozens of ships. In all cases it's fast and engaging. It feels like a Star Wars space battle. The miniatures are decent quality and (relatively) good value for the fun you'll have with them.

I have really enjoyed the Bolt Action rules for the Second World War. I like how they move the emphasis of the game away from masses of armor and towards infantry maneuver and fire. Further, the rules hit many of the buttons that I look for- they include opportunity fire, they don't encourage rules debates, and they demand a fast moving game. The possible downsides are the expense in starting up (rules, army book, and special dice) and of course the need to have many painted miniatures. Unless of course you have spent the last forty years accumulating painted miniatures. Score.

Best Board Game
Phantom Leader. I have played the heck out of this game over the last year. Phantom Leader is a solitaire game in which you manage a squadron of pilots in the Vietnam conflict over a short or long campaign. In the course of the game you pick targets, assign pilots, arm planes, and then try to navigate through defenses to finish your mission. The game has huge replay value and is quite engaging. I want a solitaire game that I can win occasionally- not never (ahem, Dawn of the Zeds) but enough to bring me back for more. Between replay value and elegance of rules Phantom Leader has been an awesome addition to my collection.

Other than Phantom Leader I can't say any board game has seemed particularly noteworthy this year. Seasons remains entertaining. It's colorful, tactically interesting, and certainly lovely. With the right crowd The Game of Thrones Board Game is terrific fun, but "with the right crowd" is a big caveat. You need to invest some time and some attention to make the game work- not for casual players.

Best Children's Game
King of Tokyo, no question. This game is simple, fast moving, and Exactly deep enough to entertain adults while giving younger players something to think about. It's inexpensive, durable, and colorful. There is some reading involved but in such small amounts that a younger player can simply remember what the cards say. What else? Good for two players, good for more players, has some expansions... Just get it.

I did pick up Mice and Mystics for Christmas. This looks like a lovely game but we haven't played yet. It could be terrible in execution but my guess is that it will be awesome.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

War and Empire- More Kickstarter Fun

Up to now I've only supported one Kickstarter project. In theory Kickstarter seems like a fun idea but in reality do I want to buy a game no one has played yet? Certainly there are many people who Do but I haven't been able to bring myself to do it and I haven't had a whole lot of regrets so far.

This week West Wind Productions started their War and Empire kickstarter. War and Empire is slated to be a rule system for wargaming but this particular project is actually designed to support the miniatures line. This particular line features Romans, Macedonians, and Carthaginians.

Now, if you were to identify the most versatile miniatures in the world to own you might guess the armies of the Macedonians or the Carthaginians. Carthage employed Celts, Spaniards, Numidians, and Libyan spear. With enough Carthaginians you can represent a multitude of peoples over a fair span of time. The Macedonians and Successors include Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, and Macedonians. They fight in a variety of settings and against a variety of enemies.

That being the case it would therefore be wasteful Not to invest heavily in these figures given the opportunity. I would hate to be accused of being wasteful and so I jumped at the chance to buy into War and Empire's Macedonians and Carthaginians. Now I am looking forward to telling the wife what a non wasteful husband she has. After that happy encounter I can sit back and wait for some really lovely looking figures to arrive!

Space Cadets Dice Duel, a Party Game I Actually Like

It's the destiny of a picky gamer to struggle to get their friends to play games. I have no idea why people don't jump at the chance to play games with titles like Twilight Imperium or Blood Bowl Team Manager. Chaos in the Old World. Advanced Squad Leader. They all sound irresistible! But mysteriously the majority of the world's population does not agree. Instead, they want to play party games. Cranium, Pictionary, Sequence. The horror, the horror...

Happily there is now a party game that gamers can endorse. Space Cadets: Dice Duel is a terrific party game that can easily support ten players. In Dice Duel you are piloting a spaceship and attempting to shoot down your opponent's ship. This is a bit geeky to be sure but if people can swallow that small pill the rest goes down easily. Each ship has weapons, sensors, an engine, and defensive shields. Each of these is controlled by one of the players. To make a part of the ship work you have to roll special dice until you get a certain combination. As an example, imagine that to make the ship move you need to roll dice until you have a "one," a "two," and a "three" in front of you. You may get a one, two, and four and then keep on rerolling that last die until a three appears. Then you get to move the ship.

Powering the Tractors
Now take that image and multiply it for four or five. Each player is busily rolling their dice trying to get a certain combination and when they finally get it they shout out "ready to fire" or "shields up!" The final component is that one last player is rolling their own dice and they give permission for the others to roll. So until the "engineer" rolls a "four" the person in charge of shields can't roll. When the engineer rolls a five the player in charge of the engines can roll.

The whole process features lots of yelling, dice flying everywhere, shouts of "fire" and "no, no, I need more shields!" and so on. It's loud and fun and about as strategic as Crazy Eights. So no, not a space combat simulator at all. Just an excuse to shout, roll dice, and then shout some more. The rules are really dead simple and the whole game takes maybe thirty minutes. I highly recommend Space Cadets: Dice Duel if you have a lot of people who are up for flying a spaceship and shouting a lot. As an aside, the game does not do well with less than eight players, you really need a crowd.

Another Notable First

Tonight my son played his first hex and chit wargame. I found my copy of Ogre, purchased in 1977, and signed on the back of the map by 12 year old Michael Fischer.

It took a few minutes to explain the game and then we started off. My son ran the Ogre. He saved his missiles for when they were needed, used antipersonnel weapons appropriately, plowed through my defenses and won the game. I'm so proud I can't even say.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hueys on a Budget

There are plenty of suppliers of 15mm UH-1's but the models are pretty expensive and some battles require quite a few helicopters. In the past I've used Matchbox and Hot Wheels vehicles in 15mm games. In this case I resorted to Corgi.

Corgi manufactures a police UH-1 that is the right scale and (roughly) the right variant. Roughly in this case meaning not the right model at all, but still recognizably a UH-1 at least. I picked up five on eBay for about six dollars a piece. Then I coated them with black gesso and set to work.

At this point I was hugely aided by the Vietnam Hueys page. This site, last updated in 2008, has some beautiful renders of machines that served during the war, in some cases accompanied by historical tidbits. It's a very nice resource.

The Corgis painted up very nicely. I used some colour photographs from Yahoo to pin down the dark green shade they were painted in.  One thing I noticed in the historical photos is how the details seem to submerge in a  mass of shadow. For that reason I tried to keep the drybrushed highlights to a minimum. Finally I applied some individual markings and matte painted the finished vehicles.

I'm happy with the results. They're not completely authentic for the period. On the other hand they were affordable and
as diecast models they are crisp and hefty. Next step are the M113s.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Double Feature- Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness

After a lackluster experience with Full Metal Jacket I moved back a few years and watched Apocalypse Now (AN). I also tracked down Hearts of Darkness, a documentary about Francis Ford Coppola's  filming experience of Apocalypse. As Tradgardmastare  has suggested, the combination is certainly more than the sum of it's parts.

I was fourteen when AN was released and I can remember feeling shocked that anyone would make a film about such a taboo subject as the Vietnam war. At the same time the premise of seeing into a previously hidden world was thrilling. Sadly (for me), AN was baffling when it wasn't boring and I didn't see it again for thirty years.

Thank goodness my tastes have matured every so slightly in thirty years. AN has it's flaws to be sure, but it has scenes of amazing power and beauty. Coppola doesn't just frame an arresting image (cough cough..Kubrick...cough), he creates moments full of emotion, movement and intensity that are a privilege to watch. AN is often quoted. That may be in part because of some clever lines, but also because when we hear the quote we can remember so clearly the scene associated with it. 

In terms of story AN has a road-trip structure composed of a series of encounters before a final climactic scene. As Hearts of Darkness describes it the process was hampered ever so slightly by the complete lack of plan as to what that final scene would be. Coppola was basically struggling to write a punchline to a joke that was halfway complete. For this reason it's easiest to enjoy the first three quarters of AN simply as a set of amazing scenes and encounters. If I was to stretch I might suggest that the films message was that ordinary people can do good or evil as a choice. The movie ends with Colonel Kurtz, who has stepped beyond good and evil by abandoning all pretense of method or plan. He simply exists, in a camp filled with rotting corpses and lost souls. Kurtz is intended to be the ultimate, well, ultimate something. Coppola may be saying that the only thing worse than evil is complete chaos.

Hearts of Darkness suggests that Marlon Brando essentially free associated all of Kurtz's lines and maybe movie's punchline is a huge dig at Brando. Brando's refusal to use any method or script is the ultimate evil in a film-maker's world, just as Kurtz's choatic realm is the ultimate evil in a military setting. How funny it would be if the ultimate purpose of this beautiful, crazy, multi-million dollar film was to call Brando a jerk!

It's fun to think about AN, and it's a tremendous experience to watch it. How does it relate to the project of understanding and gaming Vietnam? I think it was helpful, it conveyed much of the feel of the war even if some scenes were a bit surreal. Interestingly, as I write this I want to see it again, which is not a bad sign.  Hearts of Darkness is not essential viewing but it's interesting enough and worth tracking down as well.

King of Tokyo- Hey, it's a Game Review!

Between work, family, and six new chickens (!) I have managed to get some gaming in. King of Tokyo was released a while ago and for some reason I had just avoided playing it. My son has become more interested in games lately and also more interested in giant monsters so it seemed like the time for KoT had arrived.

In the interests of minimizing hazardous stress and tension let's jump to the conclusion of this piece- King of Tokyo is a fun and elegant game that has huge replay value and is well suited for younger players. It is nicely produced, well balanced, and priced appropriately for what it delivers. If there is a boy in the house who wants to play games this is likely to be a big hit. Likewise if there is a girl who likes giant monsters but sadly that is not as common.

The goal in KoT is to either amass twenty victory points or be the last giant monster standing. You accomplish these goals by rolling six dice. By the way, these are huge, hefty, attractive custom game dice. Rolling dice is fun in general and these are extra fun to roll. The dice are marked with claws (to attack), energy symbols (for energy points), hearts (to heal), and numbers (for victory points). You may reroll some, all, or none of the dice up to two times. At any given point, then, you're trying to decide if you want to attack, heal up, or rack up victory points. You reroll the dice you think are less helpful and hope for the best.

I can't even begin to describe how satisfying it is to see my six year old mull over what his goals are and which dice should be rerolled. I'm actually watching the genesis of his strategic and tactical skills! Just amazing.

The game also features extra powers which can be purchased with the energy you've amassed. The better the power the more energy it costs. Thus, an additional concern is whether you want to hold out, attack less, and just accumulate energy for some awesome power. 

KoT is absolutely a light, filler game that plays in thirty minutes or less. For my purposes that makes it ideal for a game before dinner or before bed. Unlike many designer games it's reasonably priced. There are a good number of decisions to be made but the luck component keeps it from being too stressful. In that vein it's good for younger players who may find losing to be tough. Good for adults with the same issue too.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie Night! Full Metal Jacket

If I'm going to game a period I may as well see some films as well. I had never seen Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) so a few weeks ago I got a copy from Netflix and sat down to take a look. I was excited to see a well respected, big budget film and to see how it compared to it's contemporary: Platoon. Plus it inspired a catchy song!

I have to say the FMJ was a bit of a disappointment. For those that haven't seen it the movie is split between a sequence depicting Marine basic training and a sequence set in the city battle of Hue. In it's favor the entire movie is attractively filmed and there are many scenes that leave you saying "oh my, what a set of stark visual contrasts" or "gosh, someone knows how to get the most from a dolly shot."

That being said I felt let down otherwise. For one, much of the movie is formed by linking together well-known Vietnam anecdotes into a series of scenes. In doing so you end up with a set of memorable lines to be sure, but that's not the writer's craft. It felt like the plagiarism of otherwise unrelated famous quotes, rather like having one character say "I regret I have but one life to give for my country" and immediately another says "Hell yeah! For my part, give me liberty or give me death!"

Secondly, the training portion of the film seems superfluous to the second half. You could watch one or the other alone and really lose nothing. And at the end of the film itself I'm left with the feeling that the main character hasn't changed or grown, merely observed. Specifically, he has observed dramatizations of those famous anecdotes.

Which leads to my final issue, which is that if this film had been released in 1979 prior to Apocalypse Now you could at least give it credit for broaching some basic issues regarding the war. Instead, coming on the heels of Apocalypse, Platoon, and Deer Hunter, it really fails to add anything to the general understanding of the conflict. And without a strong story, interesting characters, or a passionate heart, that left Full Metal Jacket a bit of a dud for me.

Next: Apocalypse Now and Hearts of Darkness.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Starting a Local Game Club

I Still Own This
When I was in junior high our school was visited by Scott Bizar, the owner of Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU). FGU published wargames and role playing games and Scott also owned the local game store, Waterloo Hobbies. Those first experiences playing games at school led to literally decades of hobby fun. I would spend hours at Waterloo over the next few years, taking breaks for pizza and Asteroids before going back and playing Car Wars, Villains and Vigilantes, and Star Fleet Battles. It's strange to think back now and realize how one person can have such a role in your life.

Never Played, I Will Always Regret that
I'm pretty content not to be such a formative influence myself, but it looks like I may be involved in a local game club in Pelham. The neighborhood game store has an interest in reaching out to the schools and I think I may be a part of the process, at least until it takes off and becomes self sufficient. Speaking professionally I think (obviously) that games are good for kids and I'm happy to have my office support gaming in the area. Speaking personally, I suppose I don't mind the idea that I might help some young gamer start a fun hobby, or just pass a few hours playing.

The next step is probably to come up with some good ideas for games. At the moment I'm thinking Castle Panic, Race for the Galaxy, Game of Thrones Boardgame, and Space Cadets. I imagine the game store people will form an even better list. We'll have to make sure the games are basically inoffensive but also exciting. One thing I do worry about is the stress of competition and winning and losing.  I spoke with the librarians in Bellows Falls, VT on the subject a few years ago and their game Yu-Gi-Oh players at Pandemonium (heh) Games in Boston a few years ago as well. Tempers can run high in passionate gamers!
club kids seemed pretty willing to police their own behaviour. At the same time, there was apparently a roiling brawl between tween

Assuming we can find appropriate games and prevent brawls I have high hopes that this club could be a lot of fun.

Keepin it Local- Derry Public Library

My town library has a nice selection of books and is pretty as can be. In addition, New Hampshire interlibrary loan makes the Derry Public Library functionally gigantic.

I started research at DPL with Sebastian Junger's book, War. This is certainly what the local pediatrician should be seen carrying around! Lurid title aside this is a great piece of reporting in which Junger spends time with stressed troops operating out in the middle of nowhere. They fight insurgents who can pick the time and location of every battle and then disappear into the countryside.  They struggle with ambushes, a hostile environment, an unfriendly alien local population, and what seems like an impossible mission objective. War was a very readable introduction to Vietnam, ironic because of course because the events and reporting took place in Afghanistan.

From Afghanistan I moved back a few decades to Michael Hess' Dispatches. This is Vietnam reporting that actually originated in Vietnam in the later 1960's. Junger writes crisp and factual accounts. In contrast Hess allows his experience and emotions to become part of his text. Dispatches in very readable and has a lot to say about the psychological price paid by the combatants. Hess has very clear biases (and so does Junger, just maybe not as overt) but they don't interfere with the value of the story being told. Why was Vietnam a different kind of war? Hess is a good person to turn to for an explanation.

Rounding out the round of public library work was Lt. General Hal Moore's We Were Soldiers Once, and Young. Then-Lt. Colonel Moore commanded an air cavalry unit in one of the first major American encounters of the war, the battle at Landing Zone X-Ray. The battle and subsequent encounters and ambushes were major learning experience for both the North Vietnamese and the Americans. It's not certain that the lessons learned were the Best ones, but the battle was highly influential on how the remainder of the war was conducted. Unlike Dispatches, We Were Soldiers... describes a pair of battles in great detail. The human component is absolutely present but the reader also gets a sense of how a battle might ebb and flow.

In hindsight the Derry Public Library really came through. I can't say these books were fun to read, but the history was valuable in general and certainly with regard to simulating the period in a game.

Let's Start the Reading- Time to Visit a Library

One thing I've discovered about the Vietnam War is that there is an amazing amount of information available. Further, many extensive archives of information can be accessed for free. The first stop for me was the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH). This site has extensive online resources including a huge number of Vietnam era publications. These range from interesting if I had three lifetimes to work with (Law in War Vietnam, 1964-1973) to more directly relevant titles like Seven Firefights in Vietnam and Mounted Combat in Vietnam. Many are written during the war or soon after it ended.

The information from the CMH is a great place to start. It's useful in it's own right and if you read between the lines you can get a sense of some ongoing controversies and struggles. For example, in the preface of Mounted Combat in Vietnam:

"After eight years of fighting over land on which tanks were once thought to be incapable of moving, in weather that was supposed to prohibit armored operations, and dealing with an elusive enemy against whom armored units were thought to be at a considerable disadvantage, armored forces emerged as powerful, flexible, and essential battle forces. In large measure they contributed to the success of the free world forces, not only in close combat, but in pacification and security operations as well."

No one serves the haters like a military writer.

One downside to the list of publications is that the selection seems haphazard. This is not the definitive site for research, but it's a good place to start.

The Vietnam Project

I was born in 1965. I can remember when President Nixon was re-elected, I can remember hippies and Charles Manson and having "acid rock" explained to me. And through it all I can remember when the Vietnam War was active and the day Saigon fell. The Second World War was my grandparent's war (and also the First, for my grandfather on the German side who saw action for the Kaiser). My father served in Korea. For me, Vietnam was the war. But unlike the previous conflicts the war in Vietnam was collectively swept under the American rug afterwards and remained there for more than a decade. With catastrophic consequences for many Americans.

Through all the years that I've been playing wargames I have yet to play a game set in the Vietnam theater. Now I'd like to fix that. I think the conflict has lessons that our leaders have forgotten- there are reports from Afghanistan that read chillingly like after action reports from 1967. Further, I think there are stories from that war that need to be told and remembered. Largely stories of ordinary Americans who were put in extraordinary circumstances and for the most part did their best. For their country, or their friends, or just because they wanted to do the right thing. That's not to say that terrible things weren't done as well. Doing terrible things is, in a sense, not hard during wartime. Stress and a weapon is a recipe for disaster. The stories I'm looking to tell through gaming are the ones where men and women went above and beyond. When they resisted the darkness that lies within all human beings and became something greater.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sake and Samurai- Theme Galore

So imagine that you're really, really hankering to play a game that simulates sitting down to drink sake with a group of samurai who may suddenly attack each other and if they die turn into ghosts that then steal the sake because they like it so much. In that scenario you'd be pretty gratified to stumble upon Sake and Samurai. You would, in fact, feel like your admittedly rather specific gaming desire was about to be exactly catered to. I had stumbled across this game online a while ago and finally found a copy at the amazingly well stocked Weekend Anime in Westbrook, Maine.

Unlike Seasons, Sake and Samurai has a pretty clear theme and sticks to it. In each turn players can collect sake tokens, assemble weapons, or attack their drinking partners. Over a few short rounds the sake tokens are all gone and the player who is still alive and has the most tokens (ie. is the most drunk) wins. If a player is killed during the game they continue to play as a ghost who can steal sake or influence the other living players.

The game play itself occurs with cards and uses a set of simple symbols to describe what each card does. Thus it's easy to learn and new cards can be understood with a minimum of trouble. Many of the cards are silly - players can throw rice or soup at each other for example. They can also play cards to belch and pass gas which has various effects. Depending on your family that either makes this game very appropriate or very not appropriate for the teen players.

I see Sake and Samurai as being a close cousin to Bang. It's card driven and the symbols share that ease of interpretation. Players can attack someone in one turn and then shift targets in the next, nothing is taken terribly personally. I like Bang until someone is knocked out of the game, then they suffer a decent amount of downtime waiting for the game to end. In Sake and Samurai you continue play as a ghost and that's a nice touch. Another quality similar to Bang is that the game is appropriate for less experienced gamers, maybe even more so since Bang usually gets off to a slow start if beginners are playing.

Now it is apparent that this is a game about drinking. I'm not convinced that's a deal breaker in itself. When I played I imagined myself in an old black and white samurai movie. I don't personally want to drink heavily because that ruins my fun (and hurts my stomach and ruins my sleep) but it's fun to play a game simulating drinking and carousing. I can well imagine rowdy college students seeing this as a celebration of alcohol, but I think that illustrates that this is a game where you get out of it what you bring to it. If the theme sounds fun, then you will enjoy this game. If it doesn't then there are lots of other choices out there!

And I have to say, a great many of those choices are found at Weekend Anime. Worth a look!

I Have Been Served

This Rules Book is Awesome!
Following an attempt to play Arkham Horror with my son:

Me: Sorry Henry, that game does have many rules.
Henry: Maybe too many, dad.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Seasons- An Awesome and Pretty Game About Something

I typically enjoy games that fuse theme with mechanics well. That's probably a holdover from my miniatures gaming background. I can recognize the cleverness of games like Tsuro or Gosu but they can't hold a candle to theme in my mind. There are always exceptions, Dominion for example, or Dixit. And now Seasons.

Seasons is described as a game in which competing spellcasters rack up points in a contest to see who can be the best wizard of some fantasy land full of competitive spellcasters. The cards and components are stupendously attractive. Each spell and magical item is depicted in fabulous euro style cartoon artwork. The dice are solid and huge. There are a few kilos of cardboard counters and play aids and they're all sturdy and colorful.

There are many factors in the game's favor. They play is extremely fast with very little downtime and few chances for a player to stare paralyzed by their choices. I found myself with enough time to plot and plan well enough but almost never did I find myself sitting and waiting. The rules themselves allow for some strategy, you certainly improve your game with experience, and players can come back from defeat with inspired play and a bit of luck. The entire game can be finished in a bit more than an hour.

The main drawback to Seasons is that it's almost impossible to describe thematically. In concrete terms players take turns picking what sort of resource they will gather each turn. They can then turn in resources for victory points, save them for later, or spend them on "spells" which lead to more victory points, improve the player's game overall, or hurt the other players. Now all this is accomplished via "crystals," "power cards," "seasons," and "energy."

I've played this game several times and won once. I still have trouble remembering what a crystal is versus energy and power cards leaves me cold as I call the things spell cards. When we read the rules for the first time I watched three experienced gamers flail like prehistoric apes in front of the monolith. Ironically the game itself is actually pretty easy to play but for whatever reason the theme is like a blow to the head.

I recommend Seasons as a fun medium weight game. I like any game that you can come back from behind to win at. Further, while you can discomfort the other players it's on the whole pretty non confrontational. The rules are solid and the components pretty. Just don't be put off by the terminology. Set it up, start playing, and it'll all fall into place.

Morels- The Perfect Meal for Thanksgiving

I have a soft spot for mushrooms. The first meal my wife-to-be ever cooked for me was a pair of roasted portabella mushrooms served with vegetables. I have always Hated the taste of mushrooms but she had worked so hard and made such a lovely meal. I wish I could say I ate the whole thing but instead I was a boor. But she had her moment when I introduced her to Retsina so what was good for the gander was good for the goose. Anyway, the Idea of a mushroom meal is now suffused with nostalgia, though the reality remains another story.

Recently I played the game Morels, which is all about collecting and cooking mushrooms. The game is designed for two players and is nice and affordable at $25. One's first impression is that this is one very cute game. The package contains a few decks of cards, some counters, and the rules. The artwork on the cards depicts different types of mushrooms growing in the wild and it's very appealing. It's a pretty game.

In terms of play the game is straightforward. Players take turns collecting mushroom cards and then turning it sets of the same type of mushroom for victory points. The more of the same card you can collect, the more points you can score. Mushrooms are presented in a row and you can choose one of the first two in the row for free and pay resources to obtain one of the rest. Each turn some new mushrooms become available and some of the old mushrooms may disappear.

Cute Enough for You?
The strategy of the game comes from several factors. For one, there is a limited number of cards that you can hold in your hand. Thus, you have to do some planning to make sure you don't clutter your hand with useless mushrooms. More valuable mushrooms are also more rare and so you can either collect low value cards easily or hold out for higher scoring ones. Secondly, you watch as mushrooms appear and try and time when you pick them and when you turn them in. Finally, mushrooms can be traded in for resources which allow you to get exactly the card you want from the row of choices.

In summary this is a game about collecting and trading in sets of cards. The mushroom theme is cute and the rules are simple but do allow a bit of strategy. The game is certainly kid and family friendly. It seems designed for a less intense half hour play between couples or with some relative after Thanksgiving dinner. Non-fanatic gamers can pick it up easily. For the price it's a nice light game.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fleet Redux

Some time ago I wrote about the game of Fleet and how much I enjoyed it. One caveat I had at the time was that the version I had played had included various limited edition cards that were not found in the standard game. Now I can rest easily because Gryphon Games has started a new Kickstarter which offers the original game, an expansion, and all those special limited edition cards, plus wooden fish tokens.

The basic premise of Fleet is that players compete to acquire fishing licenses and then go out onto the sea and make money from fishing. There is a lot of decision making to be done as you try and find a niche in which to make money, keep your boat intact, and hire crew.

I still cannot decide why I love this game so much. In one sense Fleet is just a nicely done economic game. There aren't any crazy mechanics or unusual components. The art design is good enough. I think it's just a theme that really resonates with me. I find real estate games dull, I Power Grid to be like a cardboard sedative, but the thought of sending a old chugging fishing boat out into the frozen waters to pull in lobsters and tuna is just super appealing. The spray, the wind, the weathered wood beneath your feet and the roll of the decks. Wow!

Not surprisingly I have watched Master and Commander about a million times.

If you're looking for a fun, simple game that is suitable for serious gamers and also for family play, I'd recommend taking a look at Fleet and its expansions.

X-Wing Followup

I Promise to Avoid Further Collision
Now that I've played X-Wing a few more times here are some thoughts on the game.

For one, if you're teaching it to people, try and give each new player two ships. X-Wing is fun enough with a single ship to control but it begins to shine when you try and fly in formation. At first you experience non-stop collisions. I collided with asteroids immediately in my first few games. Not after desperate flying or while trying to evade some attacker. Immediately. Turn one. Crash. Now at the time that was pretty embarrassing, especially since there are six small asteroids across a pretty large board. After a few turns, however, the satisfaction of controlling my two ships and not smashing them into things and in fact flying them in cool wing-to-wing formation made my earlier mishaps fade from memory.

Beyond the thrill of competence flying in formation also gives you a clue as to how strategic a game X-Wing is. Certain ships move better in packs. Certain ships work better as scattered skirmishers. You only get a feel for this when you have direct control of more than one ship. So give your new players two ships and maybe hold off on the asteroids.

Not Obscure!
Secondly, Target is now busily putting the base set on clearance. I found a copy for $20 which is an insane bargain. One box will give you a decent few games, two starters and you are set. The downside to this? Explaining what you're looking for to the seventeen year old employee. First he looked up "Ex-Ring," which is sold out. Then after some discussion he looked up the "X-Ring" game, also not in stock. I guess considering the other ways one can misunderstand "X-Wing" things could have gone worse. Still, isn't the X-Wing pretty much common knowledge at this point? It's not like I was asking about the Bugaloos game. Though if there was a Bugaloos miniatures game I would buy it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Playing X-Wing

This really was on TV
I'm old. Old enough in this case to have seen Star Wars when it was released. Also old enough to see the Star Wars Christmas Special, Princess Leia in a bikini on Saturday Night Live, and musical stormtroopers singing and dancing on the Donny and Marie Show. From that perspective the present day well oiled multimedia empire of Star Wars just seems implacable, grim, and oddly enough, stodgy. For that reason any new Star Wars product triggers automatic disdain for me. It took some time for Neil in the Meeples and Miniatures podcast to convince me that the X-Wing Miniatures Game might be worth playing.

In a game of X-Wing a player controls one or more miniature ships in a space battle. The players can pilot familiar X-Wings, TIE fighters, and even the Millenium Falcon. For aficionados there are also A-Wings, TIE Advanced, TIE Interceptors, and quite a few other choices. Players choose maneuvers and a simple set of templates act as guides to move the ships around. There are also simple rules for shooting and dodging. If you're inclined you can add in rules for ace pilots, special weapons, and unique skills and abilities.

I've played about ten games of X-Wing by now. Most of them have been with my six year old son and his friends. Those games were pretty fun. The kids understand the game well enough and the play goes smoothly. As a bonus an alert adult can nudge the flow subtly to make sure that every young player miraculously gets to blow something up. It's an amazing coincidence that each child seems to manage to destroy exactly the same number of enemy ships!

I've also played a number of games with other adults. Those were quite a challenge, which is to say I got creamed in every game. Once I stopped slamming into asteroids I did have a good time playing and I was impressed by the game's capacity for tactics and thoughtful play.

On the whole I'm pretty pleased with X-Wing. It can be a fast game, it's suitable for younger players, and it's fun. There is a learning curve and with more play you certainly do become a better pilot. I have noticed that experienced tournament players can get quite intent on developing the ideal squadron but if that level of min-maxing is not your cup of tea it's easy to avoid. On a whole the game has been a good purchase and a lot of fun!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Moving is Fun

I have grown to really enjoy moving. You learn about a new part of the world, you get to try different foods and see new thing. Moving is especially nice if there are some interesting new things to see or if it puts you near old friends.

Hmm, Interwar Sikhs go where...?
Unfortunately there seems to be no way to Move without also Packing and Unpacking. That process is like a torture session that never seems to end. Have you collected lots of miniatures? How about cans of spray paint and glue bottles? Do you have a painting table that has possibly acquired sixteen half finished projects? Then Packing and Unpacking is going to add ten years to your life. Not cheery laid back years reclining by the blue waters of the Aegean. Awful dust covered years spent deciding whether you're ever going to finish customizing those AT-43 figures you picked up two moves ago. (Answer- it's not impossible- pack them!)

So apologies for the hiatus. I'll get back into the swing of things soon. The family is now in Derry and within range of Myriad Games, Hobby Bunker, The Comic Store, Game Castle, and Adler Hobbies. Also apparently good school and libraries, town beaches, and museums according to the wife. Bonus!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Historical Wargaming Podcast Discovery

I've been searching around for some time for a podcast to complement my beloved Meeples and Miniatures. I enjoy M&M quite a bit but it seemed as though there should be at least one other podcast out there that focuses on historical wargaming. I suppose it's a commentary on my
search skills that it took this long to track down "The Historical Wargaming Podcast."

I've listened to two episodes so far through iTunes and so far the podcast is hitting all the right buttons. The hosts are excited and upbeat about gaming. They care about history and also recognize that some games can be fun even if they're not completely historically accurate. They have a wide range of interests and seem unable to stop buying and painting miniatures. Perfect!

Further, the host recently pointed out that there is a podcast produced by the publishers of Ancient Warfare, a magazine which somehow I have not yet subscribed to. That gives me something fun to look forward to listening to next!

Love Letter- Simple and Cheap Game

Events here are moving along and the family is going to be moving soon to the South. Nashua that is. For that reason my gaming has been pretty limited to Dance Central 2 and Phantom Leader. I did come across a copy of Love Letter recently and between the hype surrounding the game and its dirt cheap price I had to pick it up.

Love Letter is a solid game with a somewhat pasted on theme. In theory you're trying to get a love letter to a princess who is locked away in her palace. The player who gets the most love letters to the princess wins the game. Now really this game could also be called Tomato Grower or Transmission Repairer. But the theme does lead itself to very adorable illustrations and has made it a very appealing offering to non-gamers, kids, and the wife.

The mechanics of Love Letter are dead simple. Each player has a card in their hand. That card has a number value. You take turns drawing a card from the deck. Then you must play one of the two cards in your hand. Each card has some effect. It might allow you to see another player's hand (which is one card). It might allow you to trade your remaining card with someone or get a new one from the deck. At the end of a round the player with the highest valued card in their hand has successfully gotten a letter to the princess and wins a victory token. After so many rounds the person the the most tokens is the winner.

My wife and I played a few rounds of Love Letter and had a good time. The card rules are simple enough and lead to some amusing interactions. At the same time there is a good amount of luck. On the whole it was a fun time and a good filler game experience. It's completely portable, fast, simple, and kid friendly. I'd recommend it.

Funny Little Wars Follow Up

This year's Huzzah convention was as fun as ever and I was able to run my Funny Little Wars game on Saturday. Part of what has kept me from posting lately has been the feeling that on the whole the game was not a huge success. So let's go over what may have made the game experience what it was.

I ran a scenario in which two forces meet and have to take control of two landmarks. The forces are identical and the idea behind the scenario is to see whether a player wants to play it safe and take one objective or somehow manage to control both. In my game each force had colorful units with unit histories and Italian and Croatian titles. The terrain was set up to emulate traditional old school gaming. Basic green landscape with simple houses and a river.

In terms of game mechanics the system worked just fine. Cavalry acted as a fast moving but fragile striking arm. Infantry could cover ground well in column and hold territory once it arrived. Artillery was highly destructive if it hit, had good range, and was almost impossible to aim.

One drawback to the game that became apparent almost immediately was that the imaginary nations of Malomocco and Veglia were highly entertaining to me, but carried no meaning to any of the players. In the books I've read imagi-nation games seem like a lot of fun but that may be because the nations are more recognizable (ie. Army Horizon Blue is France) or because the players have designed and painted their own forces. Of course the other factor is that people who love imagi-nation gaming and write books about it are certainly going to be pretty happy to be playing. For the future I'm going to either seek out players with a love for this kind of gaming or encourage players to create their own forces.

The second drawback to the game is that I may have emulated old school terrain too well. I was just thrilled to make the setup look "just right" but a player in 2013 may be looking for a different experience. In the future I think I'll be adding in a bit more terrain. As in, quite a bit more.

Finally, I think the scenario may have been too subtle. I played a great Bunker Hill game once and I remember what made it so fun was how straightforward the objectives were. For the British- get to the top of the hill. For the Colonials, keep the British from the top of the hill. I probably should have done the Bridge Demolition scenario or the Surprise Attack game.

All this being said the players were good natured and many elements of the game were fun. Cannon that fire real matchsticks are just outrageously entertaining. The Armies in Plastic troops looked just terrific on the field. They paint up just beautifully. We spent a fun few hours and even got to entertain a baby.  I'm not sure I'll be running this at a convention again but amongst friends and interested players Funny Little Wars is a good game.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Funny Little Wars Playtest Report

In hindsight it may not have been totally wise to paint hundreds of miniatures and arrange a convention game for a rule system I had never actually tried. I think I was using the logic that any game with adorable images and witty rules must be pretty great. While this has proven horribly wrong in the past (ahem, Dungeon Lords, Ankh Morpork...) in this case it turns out that Funny Little Wars is both adorable and well designed.

We held our game in the Charlestown town hall. That's a blog entry in itself. An antique hall with two gigantic open areas, a stage, and a kitchen. Why is this place not in use all the time? Tragic. There were five players. Two were veteran gamers, two had done some gaming, and one was a clever ten year old boy. The rules themselves took maybe fifteen minutes to explain. For an adult board or wargame that's pretty good. I had some play aids printed and then forgot them. That was unfortunate but turned out to be a minor issue only.

Prior to play I covered an eighteen by eighteen foot area of the floor with lime green felt. Blue and green fabric added a forest and river. I put down a half dozen simple houses and that was it for terrain. I think the overall effect was striking and effective, and certainly a contrast to the amount of fuss I usually put into gaming tables. With a bit more time I would probably want to add some lime green insulation sheet hills.

Our scenario was Charles Grant's Advance Guard Tabletop Teaser. I think a good convention scenario has to include either exciting troops, exciting weapons, or a scenario with clear objectives. Funny Little Wars troops are from imaginary lands and the weapons are pretty basic so using a Grant scenario was pretty essential. In this case the situation is that two equal armies stumble across two locations to occupy. Do the generals camp out on one, try and take both, or just defeat their opponent in the field and win by default? It's a basic question but engaging.

The group formed their plans and launched in. In the hours that followed we saw cavalry charges, towns being taken and defended, unexpected reinforcements, and artillery battles. I was very happy with the game on a number of levels. Firstly, each unit type had a strength and a weakness and the successful generals were the ones who recognized which was which. Young Liam scrambled to get his fast moving skirmishers into the town and held it afterwards against attack. Paul sent his cavalry in flanking sweeps across the board and tied up oncoming reinforcements simply by acting as a threat. Those moments were memorable because they felt right, they felt historical. The game is light but the foundation is solid.

Secondly, Funny Little Wars features matchstick firing toy cannons. Cannons that fire matchsticks across the board are more fun that a barrel of monkeys. After one turn I ran to my boxes and unpacked All of the cannon. They were insanely entertaining. I can't say they were terribly accurate but matchsticks flying hither and yon are just hilarious.

Finally, we found that the rules were more than adequate to manage the situations that arose. There were no fights, no pouty grumpy faces, just a bunch of players happily pushing soldiers around and firing matches at each other. That's most of what I look for in games. Not specifically flinging matches, but a relaxed good time. I'm looking forward to running the game at Huzzah and then getting it out into the garden.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thank you Vogue Fabrics!

The Funny Little Wars game is ideally played outdoors but I'm reluctant to count on good weather in Maine. In addition I'd have to make a slew of movement trays and  deal with wind and dirt and all the other perils of the spooky outdoors. Happily the folks at Huzzah were able to get a room to play in. At this point the question was how to turn a hotel carpet into a cool old school style play surface.

Hey, everyone with twenty pounds of felt raise your hands! Yup, I'm now the proud owner or twenty yards of bright green felt, enough to cover the floor of a decent sized room. I had to look around a bit to find a good supplier of bulk fabric. It turns out that there's a store in Chicago that is apparently a mammoth cavern of fabric And does mail order. Vogue Fabrics was easy to work with and they got the material to me in no time. Plus it came in a gigantic box that's well suited for turning into a spaceship or submarine.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Cavalry for, well, someone...

I just finished another unit of cavalry for the Funny Little Wars game at Huzzah. I'm not even sure what their back story is but they're ready to ride, fight, and then return to the tavern for hard cider and onion soup. Next up, big beardy guys in grey! And on the horizon, the town...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Phantom Leader- Excellent Solitaire Fun

As I've mentioned it's been pretty hectic here but I did get a chance to try my new copy of Phantom Leader this weekend. This has been on my short list for a while now and I found a copy for the right price and picked up up.

Phantom Leader is a solitaire game simulating air missions during the Viet Nam conflict taking place between 1965 and 1971 or so. In the game you manage a squadron of pilots and attempt to complete missions and accumulate victory points. Your job is made harder by both enemy action and by unexpected political events. For example, one mission might require you to attack enemy air defense installations. But then "Peace Demonstrations" might occur and limit your weapons choices. On the other hand, you might get unexpected air support. As the player you have to assign pilots and arm them based on the mission requirements but keep in mind that unexpected events are pretty likely to crop up.

I played the simplest of games and flew a few missions during the early air war. Briefly (I'm tired from the d%$# painting) I found the game to be well balanced and very exciting. The random events and long list of possible missions keep things varied. The game components are top notch. But mainly I felt like this game walks the line perfectly between being demoralizingly hard and boring. Winning takes some work and effort but it's possible. In contrast, as much as I admire and enjoy Death Angel it does get to be a downer to lose 90% of the time.

I'll be playing more Phantom Leader soon, and if I can track some some more games in the series at a decent price I'll be pretty thrilled.

As an aside, someone might reasonably ask how this game could possibly be fun, considering the historical subject matter. I don't really have an answer. I'm well aware of how insanely ill advised and horrible the war was. So yes, good question. I suppose for me I can enjoy the game while simultaneously regretting the horrible judgement that got the United States into the war itself. Just one of those odd things.

No Posts?

Nutritious Dinner in Foreground
I felt like I was posting up a storm until recently. Suddenly I realize I haven't posted in weeks. Unfortunately I have not been busy inspecting a chocolate factory I just inherited (and there is one close by!). The Funny Little Wars project for the upcoming Huzzah convention has just taken up all my spare time.

Painting 54mm troops is not quite as easy as you would imagine. They suck up several coats of paint and my favorite shortcuts of washes and dips are pretty useless. In addition, everyone has lots of belts and webbing and shiny buttons so even painting in a toy soldier style seems to take forever. I'm feeling nostalgic for my 10mm Napoleonics, which really just needed a basecoat and a wash.

There is an end in sight, at least. If nothing else the project ends in May when arrives. None too soon as the painting space no occupies about 20% of the kitchen!