Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dumbhead David Plays Another Napoleonic Game

I encourage those of you interested in a BIG Napoleonic miniatures game to direct your browser to and check out Battles of Napoleon. This game has a hefty price tag but there is a lot of game in the box. Multiple scenarios, hard mounted map boards, and neat miniatures. There has been some flap over on fantasy flgiht's message board over some misprinted cards (U.S. buyers can get a replacement deck at no cost and we played with the replacement cards!) The cards are quite beautiful, very nice glossy finish with quality artwork. The miniatures are nice, but the horseman needed to be glued to the saddle seats.

Still, there was lots of flavor in the game, most of it centering around what players could do and when they could do it. An interesting initative system uses a number of chits. The chits have numbers on them. A player may attempt to "change orders" for a unit in an attempt to obtain a lower number. He also may end up with a higher number that forces that particular unit to move or attack later in the turn. Changing orders is not a certain thing, however. Communicating with subordinate generals during the heat of a battle isn't always easy. Sometimes, they are out of reach and sometimes they just don't listen. Therefore, a die roll result of 11 (the standard success number in this game) is required to change orders. Oh, and the game only comes with 10 sided dice. Obviously, a number of modifiers are added for almost everything.

Formations count in this game. Players can be in column, in line, or form a square against a cavalry charge. Each formation governs some of the modifiers and permits or restricts movement.

On top of the other stuff thrown in that make this game cool is the combat system. players fire and\or melee and then add up the modifiers to combine with their die roll. An attack of a modified 11 is considered a success. There is no complex battle chart and no automatic hits. The attacker flips over the top card of the event deck and checks the result (indicated by an icon) based on the actual number of his modified roll. Results are more devastating with larger die roll results, but the various icons offer results.

The event cards are pretty cool. I had one in my hand that would have won me the game I played today, and I played it at the wrong time. My French troops had one of the three Victory hexes under control and on the last turn was in position to take the second one. In order to prevent the British from slipping in and taking that hex, I meleed an adjacent unit and got a result > 11. I was overjoyed.. it was the result I needed to play the card and move those Brits further away and they could not take the square. Then I had another melee with a result greater than 11 and could have forced his unit OFF of the Victory hex and moved onto it and would've controlled two of the three victory hexes... which would have won me the game since it was the last turn. A typical Dumbhead David move, I assure you!!!

I've decided I like miniature games, but don't care for handling a tape measure or yeardsitck around a gaming table with miniatures. Typical Dumbhead David move # 2 would be knocking over miniatures with the measuring implement. A Napoleonic battlefield should never look like a nuclear bomb went off on it or like Godzilla just stomped through. This is especially bad because I am not artistic at all and can't paint minis worth a darn. Since my gaming buddies CAN and actually CARE about all the hard work they have put into painting miniature figures they tend to become a bit cranky when this happens in a game.

So this game offers a huge gaming experience without the measuring, without the painting (though I am sure that there are some artistic fellows who will paint theirs) and without the constant purchases to keep adding to a collection. In other words, the $99.00 retail box is HUGE and OVERSIZED and packed with a lot of great, great stuff.

This game also offers a variety of rules-- we played with the simplest rules and had a great time, but I can sure see that the optional rules add even more depth and Napoleonic flavor.

Finally, while the game may look like a Port of Memoir '44, Battlecry, etc. it is not. There is much more depth here and I don't think players will be disappointed.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

you Say You want an American Revolution (again!)

I've now played Washington's War two different times. As a longtime fan of its predecessor, We the People, I had the potential to be either WOWED or DISMAYED. In this case, I lean a bit more toward the WOW side.

For those who are unware, Washington's War is a reboot of Mark Herman's ground-breaking American Revolution based game of Avalon Hill's We the People . GMT games has done a wonderful job with the graphics and game components. The hard-backed board appears to be a new standard for most GMT products, replacing the folded poster sized maps. The player aid card provided is simply gorgeous , very well organized and utilitarian.

In both my games I played the American Side and in both my games I lost. This limited experience might lead some players to believe that the American side is weak, but I'll have to admit that my losses both stemmed from a lack of comprehension of rules and mechanics and inability to utilize them to my advantage.

Players who are familiar with the original We the People can pick this one up and play it almost immediately. There are three major differences. First, the combat system has been completely revamped. Sadly, for me, the Battle Cards (a major innovation first introduced in We the People) are gone. Now, combat is won by the highest die roll with a number of modifiers. In regards to combat, I have to state that the Americans have to beware that the Brits have a slight edge in most cases, especially if they have the British regulars-which they usually do. The British side also gets a ton of reinforcements, especially in the early turns of the war. The second major difference is the "pick up" event cards. If an opponent discards one of your events you can play an ops card to pick up and play that event. The third change is that a player can play a battle card and after the combat he is permitted to draw a replacement card for his hand. This adds a new strategy-- fighting for the express purpose of using a battle card that may or may not help in order to draw another card and maybe improve your hand.

When I get a few more plays of this one under my belt I'll share more. At this time, I have to state my opinion that Washington's War is a really good game. After a few more plays I may revise that opinion, but thus far I have enjoyed the game and have a very positive regard for it.

In today's game, the war ended in 1781 (due to a mandatory card play) and I held 4 colonies while my opponent held 9. A clear loss, and if the war had gone further it would have been even worse for my side. I had lost almost all of my combat units due to Washington's inability to defeat a force entrenched in Philadelphia. Today, war was truly Hell for the Americans... we only hope that the next time I roll this one out I'll be able to turn those lobsterbacks into the sea.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How to Improve on Saint Petersburg

I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of games where the entire game is wrapped up in taking turns making choices of offered items. For example, I strongly dislike Saint Petersburg, a game by Rio Grande games that, like Alea's Puerto Rico, is more of an exercise in frustration than an evening of fun.

I much prefer games where players get a chance. After playing Puerto Rico a number of times with cut-throat players I got fed up with other players taking the "job" that did not really help them, but would've greatly benefited me. Saint Petersburg is a bit more of the same. Players end up "hiring" cards (which represent various vocational characters or buildings). Many times, this means another player will make a selection just to prevent another player from taking that card. All of this based on a revolving turn order in which each player will go first in one of the four phases.

At least wargames have objectives that can be fought over. In games like Saint Petersburg a player is simple stuck with the luck of the turn order and can almost rest assured that the player who makes his selection/purchase will take the card that he wants. No fighting over it. No combat, just picking what someone else wants. The only actual restrain is cost.

So, I was thinking.. how could one improve Saint Petersburg. I've got several untested ideas I'll throw out. I haven't been able to convince my friends that like this game to try them yet, but if they want me to keep playing they will have to at least experiment with one or more of them.


First, I would propose an assasin variant. Perhaps a player could pay a certain amount to have another player's card assasinated. The cost of the assasination should be more expensive than the actual purchase of the card. I would suggest trying such a variant where the cost of an assasination would be COST + 3 of the card. So if a card initially cost 12 for a player to purchase, another player could pay 15 and destroy it. This action would, of course, be instead of making a purchase of a card.


Or perhaps we could propose a duel variant. A player could, instead of purchasing a card, use on of his orange character cards to challenge another player's orange character card to a duel. The challenging card would have to be of equal or lessor cost of the card being challenged. Then, both players roll a 6 sided-die. High die roll wins and the losing card is eliminated OR "reincarnated" to the board, immediately available for purchase. Perhaps a die roll modifier should be added to prevent a 4 value character from challenging a 10 value character. Give a +1 to the die roll for the difference between values to the player with the highest value character. Perhaps a "Fine" for dueling should be paid by the loser to the bank.


How about an all out War? During the orange phase, a player could pay something like 10 and declare an attack on another player. Both players add up the value (cost + VP's) on the orange cards they wish to send into the battle. Each player rolls 2 six-sided dice and adds that result to their value. Player with the highest total value wins. The losing player must eliminate orange cards equal to the difference between the totals, not to exceed the number of cards he sent into battle. Therefore, a player who lost that only sent one card into the battle would only lose one card. The attacking player will not be able to count the victory points or collect money for cards that were in battle for that phase. The attacking player would have to declare which cards were going into battle. This system could be more throughly explored, adding rules for losing green cards in place of orange cards, etc.

All I am saying is that players deserve a fighting chance. Turn order should not determine the outcome of a game. Far too often, that is the case in Saint Petersburg, and I'm tired of seeing my ship fail to come in over and over and over.

I'd also like to add that while I loathe Puerto Rico, I thoroughly enjoy its sister game San Juan. Go figure!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Napoleonic Miniatures for Beginners!

I got my first taste of "Napoleon's War" from Worthington Games last weekend and thought I would share my initial thinking. My opponent and I played from the first scenarios of this series, offered in a boxed set called "Napoleon's War: The Hundred Days." Rules range from simple to intermediate and then to advance, but honestly, there were no complex rules in the game. A basic 8 page rules set that lets the players scan and play is provided.

The maps have large hexes (similar to Avalon Hill's Battlecry!) and the terrain is essential to the strategy of both defensive and offensive players. On the Ligny map (shown above) the ridges played a huge role in combat. First, it blocked line of sight so that offensively players could not fire over it. Second, when shooting at a unit on the Ridge the attacker received one less die to cast. Third, a unit can shoot or move, but not both. Therefore, a unit moving onto a ridge becomes a sitting duck for units sitting on the other side. The unit moving onto the ridge will be fired upon before getting a chance to shoot. At least twice during our two games I moved a unit onto the Ridge in hopes of getting a shot at an opponent and then my opponent got lucky with his limited number of dice, rolling two sixes and thus eliminating my artillery unit with one volley. Artillery units may not be rebuilt.

The miniatures are simple plastic miniatures. The set we played with featured only two colors, grey and blue. I imagine other colors will be added in other expansions, judging by the photo above which comes from the Worthington Games website. The pieces were utilitarian, meaning they they were not works of art but worked well for gaming purposes.

I mentioned that artillery may not be rebuilt. Leaders, however, may "rally" a wounded unit (assuming the leader began the turn in the spot with the unit and that the unit or leader will not do anything else on that turn). It isn't automatic, a die roll is compared to the current morale of the hex, but if successful a figure that matches the unit being rallied is placed back into the hex.

Cavalry can charge and attack, but only if they are not "engaged" (in contact with an enemy unit) at the beginning of the turn. We did have problems interpreting the "Cannot shock combat, i.e. melee, across a stream" rule. The problem? Does that mean you cannot charge across a stream and move two hexes and shock, or does it only mean you cannot shock across a hex into a hex that is adjacent to the same stream? We took the most restrictive interpretation meaning that Cavalry could not shock if they crossed a stream on that turn. When Cavalry charges infantry, the infantry have a chance to form a square by rolling against their morale. If they are successful it becomes harder for Cavalry to effectively hit them. However, then the infantry is still in the square formation and the only thing that they can do on their next turn is fire at greatly reduced effect (only getting 1 die) or unform the square, which of course makes them vulnerable to another attack.

The system using a varying number of action points for each side. It costs one action point to move, shoot, melee (shock) rally, etc. At the beginning of the turn, a player is normally granted 4 action points and then rolls a die. Depending on the die roll, the player may have 5, 6 or 7 action points. (7 was the maximum). My opponent, a pleasant fellow who always has problems with hot and cold dice, seemed to always be hot when rolling for his extra command points and had 7 points per turn for nearly the entire game. I was lucky to have 5 most turns and only managed to obtain 7 two or three times in a twenty round game.

Combat is normally conducted using 3 dice. Normal rolls of 6's count as hits. Artillery will hit on 5's and 6's if they are adjacent. Cavalry can shock and obtain hits on 4's, 5's and 6's. A unit attacking a unit in some types of terrain will only be permitted to roll two dice instead of the normal 3.

This turned out to be a neat system and I really enjoyed the game. In a three hour period we managed to play the game twice. Setup is very simple because each map has a letter indicating what units go in that hex. There were minimal rules lookup and the game moved quickly once we knew the basics of movement and combat. We used the simple rules for the first game and intermediate rules for the second game.

If you're looking for a simple miniature game, I don't think it gets any simpler than this. I can easily see players substituting their painted miniatures for the plastic pieces and playing this one over and over again. Simple and very action-filled. Also, this would make a good introductory wargame for players about age 10 and up. Players who like games like "Battlecry" or "Memoir '44" or "Commmand and Colors" will definitely want to play this one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm old, but I don't want to wear glasses to read those rules!

Recently I was looking for a good five player game to play in our local gaming group. Since I prefer Wargames over Euro style games I am really tired of St. Petersberg, which I don't enjoy at all. So, I pulled out a copy of Avalon Hill's "Wizard's Quest" which I view as sort of a cross between a Euro and a wargame. Since it had been a very long time since I have played this classic (except a computer version I downloaded from somewhere) I felt it was probably wise fro me to look over the rules.

The rules for the game aren't really complex. However, I decided to create a quick start summary of the rules for my friends who had not played before. As I went through the rules I discovered some very interesting factors. I discovered two problems with the rules as I viewed them.

The first problem was the miniature type face on the printed page. I mean, I'm fifty-two years old, and the font used was proabably the correct size for the adventurers in Isaac Asimov's classic novel "Fantastic Voyage." I pulled out several other Avalon Hill titles from this period and discovered that indeed, almost all of the typeface used for these games were teensy-weensy.

As I proceeded with my project I found the reason for such a small typeface. The author(s) of the rules had written everything in such a wordy format that they took twenty-five words to say what could be communicated in ten or twelve. My 12 point font quickstart came in at 3.5 pages with minimal margins (top and bottom) and I feel that I communicated everything that was in the rules fairly thoroughly. In fact, when our group gets together I am certain that the rules summary I wrote will be pretty much all that is necessary to play the game.

Over the years, I have been daunted by rules for other Avalon Hill games. I never understood "Up Front" at all. I finally sold my copies of the game as unplayable, though I know that many players manage to play and derive great pleasure. I've got a copy of "Mosby's Raiders" that proved to be an exercise in frustration the one time I set the game up and tried to comprehend it. However, viewing the rules for "Arika Korps" was hardly daunting at all (except for the small print used).

I understand that writing rules is a complex operation. However, using more words is not necessarily better. At least the rules for "Wizard's Quest" were well organized and proceeded properly from phase to phase of the game. They were not confusing at all.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to pull out a few more of these beloved titles and see if I have avoided them because of small print or incomprehensible rules.

Now if I can just get the other guys in my group interested in a game that features FRENZYING ORCS!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jazzed over Jena 20

If you like the Napoleonic era you want to know about the products offered by Victory Point Games. Jena 20 is reasonably priced at $20.95 and offers a quick game that is exciting and fresh nearly everytime you play. I have played this one about five times and am delighted with its simplicty, ease of play, and of course, its fun factor. Jena is based on Napoleon's invasion of Prussia in October 1806.

First, there are only 20 counters in the game. That's right, only 20 counters. Unlike many wargames, you can have this game on the table an playing in literally minutes.

There are a number of strengths in this game. First, sticky zones of control. What this means is that once a player moves a unit adjacent to an enemy unit he cannot continue moving. Also, he cannot freely move in and out of an enemy zone of control. Players may be forced to retreat after a battle. This really is a strong point to the game because it forces some conflict and at times, forces a player to avoid conflict.

The morale point system creates a sturdy foundation for play. If a player's morale level ever drops to zero he loses immediately. A player can use morale points to do things like increase his defensive or offensive strength for a battle or to force march a unit (increase its movement by one). The most common loss of morale points comes from losing a battle. If a unit loses a battle and is forced to retreat (determined by a die roll) more than its normal movement factor than the overall morale drops a point. Players must work diligently to protect these morale points and to use them properly.

A randomizing factor are the events. The events are well-designed, none of them being super-powerful and none of them being game breakers. an event can bring in reinforcements or restore a morale point. An event may bring morning fog which would effect movement. While each event can impact the play of the game no event is likely to swing the momemtum of the game too far to one side or the other. The events add to the flavor and unpredictability of the game and add an extra level of pleasure to play.

The only drawback to these games is that they are printed from a desktop computer. However, let me say that the art is very high end and the quality of the components are far superior to most of the desktop printed products hawked on the internet. Alan Emrich and his team at Victory Point Games are doing things right.

Jena 20 is only one of a series of these small Napoleonic games. The others are just as good. Other titles include:
Albion 20
Dresden 20
Austerlitz 20
Borodino 20
Bussaco 20
Waterloo 20
Katzbach 20
Vittoria 20

There are also several expansion kits available to extend your gaming pleasure with these titles.

A deluxe version of Jena 20 is available in the most recent issue of C3i magazine.

For more on the Napoleonic 20 series (and many other wonderful small wargames) check out the website:

For more on the deluxe version of Jena 20 published in C3i # 23 check out the gmtgames website:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Petroglyph Develops a Panzer Blitz of Its own!

I recently bought an Xbox 360 (refurbished- do you think I am nuts enough to pay full price for a video game machine) and started playing over the internet via Xbox live. I'm too cheap to buy a new game so I settle for purchasing used games from my local GameStop! One of my favorite titles is the Quantum of Solace game, based on the 007 movie of the same name (but actually a mixture of action sequences based on both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace). However, during a break I made an exciting discovery. I played a demo of "Panzer General: Allied Assault" and was instantly hooked. In moments, I had pulled out my credit card and purchased the full game. I was delighted later to discover that the game is in reality a boardgame that is being published by Petroglyph games. (The Xbox version is designed by Ubisoft).

So, how can I describe this one. It is a mixture of board and cardgame. The board is something like a chess board, with individual rectangles representing areas that are controlled by one side or the other. The goal of most games is to capture the home row of your opponent. Player may hold ten cards and the cards truly drive the game. Some cards are units, which allow placement of combat units. The units are fairly standard artillery, infantry, armor, mechanized, etc. Units can normally move one square. Moving into an enemy occupied square creates a combat situation.

Combat it really very, very cool. Each attacking unit has a specific attack level. Other surrounding units may be used for to support an attack. If a force attack a unit that is "dug in" then that unit gets to fire first. In the midst of a combat, players are allowed to play combat cards that can change the flow of the battle. Some of these do immediate damage to an enemy unit, some of them increase attack or defensive levels, etc. After both player finish playing combat actions players can burn ANY type of card using its level (7 is the highest I remember seeing) to boost their attack or defense level. Then, as if that wasn't enough, a die is rolled. The die has positive and negative 1-3) That number is either added or subtracted from the total attack being made and then the results are computed.

Another key element to the game is the use of prestige points. Players earn prestige points for holding territory or elimintating enemy units. Prestige points must be used to play cards (each card has a value of 0-7 on it).

The game has a great ebb and flow to it, whether playing another player online or simply playing against the artificial intelligence of the program. There is a large luck factor which will put some gamers off. After all, having the right cards in your hand may not be the easiest thing to accomplish. Still, players must use the proper strategic movement, plan the use of cards, and then choose when to make attacks, etc.

This game was a wonderful discovery and I can't wait to get my hands on an actual copy of the boardgame. In the meantime, my Xbox 360 is getting a lot of use between Quantum of Solace multiplayer, watching Netflix films, and playing Panzer General: Alllied Assault.