Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Vietnam Miniatures Rundown

I'm going to be running several games at Huzzah using 15mm miniatures. At the moment there are a number of good sources of figures but postage and unexpected sales have propelled me towards a few brands.

A local store ran a huge sale on Battlefront miniatures recently following the demise of Flames of War at their site. I picked up some NVA regulars and American airmobile infantry. The American troops are decent. The pack has a good variety of poses and the sculpts are characterful, especially considering the scale. I sped through the painting process in order to generate a platoon quickly and with that level of care the minis still end up looking pretty good.

The NVA regulars, on the other hand, are embarrassing. There's far more flash than a 15mm figure from a major player should have. The poses are odd or unrealistic. Some of the body parts are bizarrely proportioned. And the insignia on the helmets are scaled to look like miner's headlamps. I think these were early works in the line but Battlefront should have pulled them and replaced them with something less horrible.

Finally, I picked up some Battle Honours/Quality Castings 15mm VC. These figures are smaller than the Battlefront types and don't attempt any real facial features. They are also a little more stylized in their poses and remind me of the Peter Pig house style. That being said, they do the job well and look good on the table. I'll be looking for more of these, especially for NVA and VC troops, who should be slighter than their American and ANZAC opponents.

I would have liked to use Peter Pig figures but the postage from the UK is crippling, especially if I'm going to be fielding a company per side. Brookhurst Hobbies carries that line as well but it remains expensive. I will use Peter Pig for civilians as their selection is better than any others. Flashpoint Miniatures carries a Vietnam line but their military figures seem no better than Battlefront's and their civilian selection strays away from straightforward farmers and bystanders.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Search and Destroy for Huzzah!

As both my readers will recall I recently ran a game of Charlie Company with the idea of either starting a campaign or running a game at Huzzah!, or both. That project lurched a bit as I tried to find some way of making squad level action relate to Vietnam specifically. Gaming the period really seems to beg for an entire company being present. With that in mind I started looking for another rule set.

Search and Destroy was published by SPI in 1975. Gamers of a certain age are now getting misty eyed and remembering flimsy flat plastic boxes, counters, and rules headings arranged in helpful numeric form ("[5.36] Under certain optional rules "Killed" or "Wounded" markers representing..."). Good times. But thanks to the modern magic of the interweb and the folks at Board Game Geek the rules and accompanying articles in Moves magazine are still available.

Search and Destroy is a board game in which each counter represents a single squad. Typically two companies will face off. The goal of the game is to score points- the American scores by collecting hidden caches of weapons and records, and by not being decimated in the process. The NVA player wins if they inflict casualties on the Americans and defend the caches.

Analog Game Tools
The designer took those basic criteria and made them period appropriate. Americans score fully if they can confirm the casualties, either being inflicting them at close range or through after action policing. The Americans score less if the casualties are inflicted through air or artillery, and further, the NVA Get points each time air and artillery are used. In essence, the American player can score a military victory with lavish air and artillery and still lose politically- and politics is the currency for victory in this game.

There are some further design tweaks. The NVA operate in blinds and until they are "searched" the American is unsure whether a counter represents decoys, troops, or peasants. NVA can also "hide" which essentially turns a known unit back into a blind. And as one could imagine killing peasants is politically damaging to either side.

The end result is that the Americans command a huge amount of firepower but have to be cautious in how they use it. The NVA can use hit and run tactics but in the end have to defend or distract to protect their weapons caches. The rules include fixed wing and rotary air, helidrops, antiaircraft fire, interrogations, and medics. I'm looking forward to playtesting them and running the game (hopefully) at Huzzah!.

For more information look on Board game Geek for more reviews, lists of related articles in Moves, and some helpful images. Phil Kosnett's article in Moves #23 is pretty essential, and has some critical errata.

Time for Huzzah! in Portland, Maine

It's that time of year when a young man's thoughts turn to game conventions and the game convention my thoughts turn to is Huzzah!

I've been attending Huzzah! since 2010 and it's been consistently my favorite wargaming convention on the East Coast (I do have to put in that caveat because of Milleniumcon in Austin, which was good fun as well). Huzzah! offers a mammoth number of games all put together with the highest attention to table and miniatures quality. Maybe more importantly, the people attending are very good sports and the gaming is typically fun and good natured. It is sad to even have to touch on that topic but some cons seem to attract prickly folks.

They sunk my battleship
This year is looking to be a lot of fun. I believe the Fletcher Pratt Naval Game will be played again, which features an entire ballroom as the playing surface(!). Boston Trained Bands is running the "too strange not to be true" Battle of Fishguard 1797. There will be the yearly Aerodrome game, which features some insanely fun but quite accessible WW 1 air combat.  Also look for game systems like Force on Force, Battlegroup Kursk, and Commands and Colors with miniatures. Finally, there will be a board gaming component that's looking to feature some pretty exceptional games.

This convention is top notch, and it's held in Portland, Maine, which is a great city to visit. I just can't recommend it more highly.

Takenoko - Another Decent Family Game With Some Depth

I have an odd perspective on Takenoko and it is hinted at in the post's title. Takenoko is a decent game. My wife tells me to never describe her cooking as "decent" and I certainly will not in the future. But the publishers of this game haven't made similar character building suggestions so there we go.

In Takenoko the players compete to grow and harvest different kinds of bamboo. Through the game you are dealt cards which give you a secret victory condition - "harvest three green bamboo plants for 3 points," for example. Other players may be trying to grow two yellow plants next to each other, or plant a row of red bamboo plots. You lay down a plot of land by placing a tile on the table. The tile will grow a color of bamboo. You can cause more growth by moving the gardener to the spot. You can harvest the bamboo by moving the panda to the spot.

Super Cute
Takenoko does have several things working in its favor. The plastic gardener and panda are super cute, as are all the art and graphics. The rules are straight forward. Some of the icons are not as self explanatory as we might expect from a 21st century game but still the game is easy to pick up. The rest of the components are hefty and the bamboo is made of wood and is quite pretty.

Takenoko's best feature perhaps is that there is some decent tactical depth to it's play. It can pay to chart out the panda's and gardener's likely paths of movement. There are times when it is better to grow and other times when you are better served trying to lay plots of bamboo. You can score in three different ways and there are fun and interesting choices to be made along the way.

That being said, it is also a game with a plastic panda and cute art and simple rules. This game would be completely appropriate for younger players and casual non-gamers.

I suppose my mixed feelings about the game stem from my total lack of interest in bamboo and the subtle art of its cultivation. I have the same feeling about Power Grid. Great game system but the theme leaves me cold. In the end I need some sort of narrative to feel excited about a game and Takenoko does not deliver that. However, it has ooodles of good qualities so if this is not a deal killer for you then it's a game well worth considering.