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Saturday, August 27, 2011

No Retreat!

I've been really excited about the new GMT deluxe edition treatment of the Victory Point Games game No Retreat!: The Russian Front.  What appeals to me about it is that it is an elegant, but not simplistic take on the entire East Front. It's very playable, and has really interesting "design for effect" aspects.

I was able to pick up my copy at WBC and after chomping at the bit to play it, I got the chance at SNEW, with Nick Avtges, who had played it a few times himself at WBC. He was a great teacher - even though I had read the rules a number of times, it's easy to forget minor things the first time you play a game, so it's good to have one played slightly more experienced. We ended up playing the first scenario with me as the Russians and he won via sudden death VPs - it turned out we misread the rules and he was actually short by one, but it gave me a sense of how combat worked. So, we switched sides and played again. The second time went the distance (5 turns out of the campaign games 22+ turns.) and I ended up one victory point short of victory. We then tried the second scenario which covers turns 7 through 10, and I once again lost a close one.

I taught Jerad No Retreat! yesterday afternoon. He played the Germans and I gave him a few hints on the first few turns to get him started and to help him make effective attacks. After that he did a great job on his own, and we had a great, tense game.

In No Retreat there are a number of ways to win and one of them is to control three out of five objective hexes. These hexes give an extra left column shift so are extra hard to take, and smart Russian play puts fortifiable units there, which ignore retreat results on the CRT once fortified. Unfortunately I was not able to get one of those units to Sevastopol, and he was able to send a Panzer division down there to clear it out in the Spring of 1942. In the last clear weather turn of 1942, Jerad swept a bunch of units into the Moscow area and managed to push me out in a way that led to no way to counterattack on my half of the turn. Since he had taken Leningrad in 1941, the German juggernaut got an Objective Victory on turn 9!

Apparently I'm not very good at No Retreat yet, but I'm finding it a ton of fun and highly recommend it!


Sunday, August 21, 2011

WBC Wrap-Up

The end of the WBC was fun and exciting, and I was only somewhat zombie-fied. I played in the Princes of Florence semi-final and the Brass semifinal, but couldn't pull of the magic this year. Unfortunately I'm hazy on exactly what went down. I played ok but not perfect in both games. I needed to play a game purely for enjoyment with no stakes, so I jumped into the third round of Washington's War just to get a game of it in.
I played an awesome guy also named Chris who was from England, and we ended up choosing the opposite nationalities for the game! My experience with the British paid off as I was able to easily push him out of the New England region and not let him back in. I was able to create a southern diversion with Cornwallis coming into Virginia, which was enough to keep him busy before the Wars End card made the game end early. I'm starting to appreciate Washington's War more, although I still wish there were more interesting event cards. I still feel like too much of the game is spent arbitrarily moving PCs around, and not enough thinking as if you were Washington or Howe. So I have to think of it more like a light strategy game, and less like a typical wargame... and accept it for what it is.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and doing a little open gaming. I ended up playing a three player game of Glen More with my friends Stephanie and Richard. It was a cute little game with a decent number of decisions... kind of like Carcassone/Alhambra but with the river mechanic from Egizia in terms of how you acquire your tiles. And with a resource collection/management aspect because when you add a tile to your board, you activate nearby tiles, which might generate resources or convert resources (like corn into whiskey). I didn't feel compelled to run out and buy it, but it's worth a few more plays.

I also played a few games of Dominion at some point with a nice woman and her 11 year old son. He had just learned the game and had figured out some pretty sophisticated stuff about it pretty quickly. I was impressed!
I was hoping to get someone to play a wargame with me, and amazingly at midnight Andy Latto walks by, and I say "Labyrinth?" and he sits right down faster than I've ever seen anyone agree to a game. We had an epic back and forth game where it came down to the very last few card plays, but my jihadists were able to win a victory check at the end of one deck.

To recap, here are the tournament games I played. (S) means semifinal, (F) means final.

   Hannibal 3-2
   Wilderness War 0-2
   Saratoga 0-1
   Washington's War 1-0
   San Juan 3-1

   Power Grid 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 1st (S), 5th (F)
   Le Havre 1st, 1st, 2nd (S)
   Brass 2nd, 3rd, 3rd (S)
   Princes of Florence 1st, 2nd, 3rd (S)
   Agricola 1st, 3rd (S)
   Caylus 1st (skipped semis)
   El Grande 5th

On Sunday, we had a nice lunch out at Red Lobster with one of our WBC friends Laura and a bunch of people she knows, then had a nice drive back with Stephanie in the car with us. Another great year of gaming down... and a second plaque, for my fifth place finish in Power Grid.

This WBC showed me that I have a second game I'm good at, Power Grid, in addition to Princes of Florence. My results in Power Grid have been pretty consistent, with lots of 1st and 2nd places in games. I reached the semis last year and got 2nd there, and the finals this year. I discovered a new found love for Agricola, and am looking to play it more; and I don't like El Grande as much as I once did. In wargaming, I had enjoyable games of Saratoga and Washington's War, came very close to getting a plaque in Hannibal, and learned I have a lot to learn about Wilderness War, if I make that commitment. Unfortunately I once again had to miss the Twilight Struggle tournament for the Power Grid semis, but this year it worked out better!


Monday, August 8, 2011

WBC Day Seven

I'm writing this after getting back to Boston - I didn't have the time/energy to keep up the daily blogging!

The Power Grid semis were a great game played with great opponents, including Meghan who I had played earlier in heat 1. We played on the Korea map and I won! This game me my first final table of Power Grid and a guaranteed plaque since the top 6 get them.

We went straight to the final after a short break. The Japan map we played on was extremely tough and brain burning. You can start in only 6 specific cities on the map, and you are allowed to start two different networks, even later in the game if you only started with 1 start city and never entered a second.

That made me miss heat 3 of the Agricola tournament, but it didn't matter since my 1 win was enough to make it to the semis. I definitely felt outclassed in that game, but had a lot of fun watching the Occupations fly. There are a number of players who know every card by heart and can play nearly instantaneously. I was at least competitive, tying for last with a score that was something like 41-37-32-32. I did enjoy getting the guy who gives you an extra clay when you get wood or clay, then putting out the guy who lets you get food for clay. This game definitely made me appreciate Agricola more and sparked me to want to play it more regularly and learn it more deeply.

The final game of the night was the second heat of Princes of Florence. I got to play with a guy I knew from way back in the Magic days, Ed Fear, and a few other nice folk. I won this one, with Ed coming in second. Somehow I either win or come in second in most games I play in heats of Princes of Florence and Power Grid, so clearly they are my best games. I need to step it up in other games!


Thursday, August 4, 2011

WBC Day Six

Thursday at the WBC feels like the tip of the mountain - you're right in the thick of things, but you know you are getting closer to the end of the con than the start. That said, I try to savor the experience as best I can.

The first game of the day was the final heat of Power Grid. This time it was Benelux, and I got put at a table with Bill Crenshaw, who I've played at least twice before in Power Grid and talked to about his game, Manifest Destiny. He's a tough Power Grid player, and I once again came in second, giving me two seconds and a first leading into tomorrow morning's semifinal. I'm pretty consistent at getting firsts and seconds in the heats in Power Grid - I think I had a similar record last year and got second in the semifinal to Raphael Lehrer on the Italy board. Tomorrow will be Korea, which I've never even played before...

After a snack, I entered Caylus and got assigned a table with my wife Bronwen and a guy named Jim who was a really fun opponent. He hadn't played Caylus in a few years, and I beat them pretty handily. (I hope Bronwen isn't going to ever read this... )

That was followed by two back-to-back games of Le Havre. The second heat had Grant Ladue, who I've played Wilderness War with and talked to on, and two nice older guys who hadn't played very often. We ended up having to cut the game short, and since none of them cared to advance and they agreed I had a good set-up for the end game, they gave me the win. The second game was the semifinal with Mike Kaltman (who is also the GM of Caylus) and a guy who was in my Power Grid game earlier. We had a great, tight game, but Mike clearly knows the game well and got a well deserved win, mostly by building steel ships and luxury liners. I did the most shipping I've ever done in Le Havre, which was interesting, and took second. That should make me come in 5th or 6th overall...

I decided to forgo the second heat of Agricola because I didn't feel like playing a 5 player game. I went to the Lampeter room and signed up for the Saratoga tournament, which I often don't get to play because of its usual conflict with Twilight Struggle (which last year and this year conflicted with Power Grid semis, sigh.). I got paired up with Chris Byrd, who just learned the game, and we had a fun, tense game dancing around the edge of Freeman's Farm trying to flank each other. He captured the Ottawa Indians in the midgame, and Gate's wing was released as early as possible. His attack along the Hudson to try to get my baggage train ended up costing me the game as he did a step loss to a unit there. I probably should have put more thought into how to defense that region. I wish I had more WBC time to find some fun games of this series. Someone out there has got to want to play them.

Tomorrow: Power Grid semis, Agricola heat 2, Agricola semis, and Princes of Florence heat 2!!!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

WBC Day Five

Another exhiliarating and exhausting day at WBC! I'll write more later but here's the wrapup:

I came in 2nd in the closest game of Brass ever: 141-141-140-115, losing by 1 on the income track.

I came in 2nd in Power Grid on the Central Europe map, losing to the GM and two-time winner, Jim Castonguay... I'll accept that loss!

I reluctantly played Agricola, because I found out it was 5 player games, and somehow I pulled it out, mostly through mastery of animals. I'm not great at Agricola, but I have my moments where it all clicks.

I played a snoozer of an El Grande game and got destroyed. I don't understand how to play well, and don't really enjoy the game all that much, I've decided.

That was followed up by a fun game of Princes of Florence with two strong players, David Platnick and Greg Thatcher. David crushed us with 7 works from the two seat, and I came in second, beating Greg on tiebreak money.

The end of the night was a late start Brass at 9 pm, that ended at 12:30. I got to play with Bruce again, which was great. He crushed us this time with a score like 160-120-111-105.

Awesome times, and I'm glad to be in three semis: Power Grid, Agricola, Le Havre.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

WBC Day Four

Despite wanting to catch up on sleep, of course I again was instantly awake at 7:30. At least this meant I could bring Andy Latto an extra copy of Innovation for his demo at the Showcase Sampler as he had requested. As his demo was starting, Eric Brosius walked by and we decided to try out his copy of A Few Acres of Snow, which I had only played about 40% of a game of the other day. Eric smoked me as the French - I tried out a specific strategy I thought of but misimplemented it. I thought it was a pretty cool game and I want to play it more... not sure if I want to buy it yet though.

I stopped by the auction store and found two good deals - Wellington and Imperial, two games I was looking for. I hope I can find people who would play Wellington at some point...

After that I ran into one of our regular friends at WBC, Laura. It was good to see her again since she missed last year's WBC, so I tracked down Andy after his demo and we grabbed another Andy, Andy Gerb, and picked out Yspahan as a game that we were all interested in playing. It was definitely a learning experience since Andy won last year's Yspahan tournament and Laura clearly knew what she was doing. Andy took it down with lots of cards and camels in the last week.

Then, one of those glorious days at WBC got even brighter. I ran into Alex Bove, who is an awesome and intense gamer - every time I talk to him I learn something knew about thinking about games. He's one of the few people I know who really likes Princes of Florence, so we got a 5 player game together. I was very happy to win after the guy in seat 2 decided to go builder heavy and let me have the extra Profession card. The scores ended up very tight: 59-58-58-57-48.

Then the official tournaments kicked off with the Power Grid at 6 pm. I had a fun table with some people I vaguely knew, Deniz and Meghan, a nice 25 year old guy named Derek, and a funny, inattentive 14 year old named Eli. We played the Germany map with the alternate power plant deck, which I owned but hadn't played with yet. In a very, very close game, I pulled it out with 15 cities powered by not building cities on the second to last turn and getting the Step 3 card to come up so I could build out first. I also waited out the auction so even though people had 16 capacity, I doubted they had the cash to build to 16. Derek had about 7 Electros while I had around 27 for the win!

Finally, I was agonizing over a "cake-or-pie" decision: Le Havre or Ra. Even though Le Havre would keep me up later than I wanted (I'm psyched for Brass 9 am tomorrow...), I knew I just like it better overall. The judge didn't randomize the tables for Le Havre, so I ended up playing with Rich Meyer, who is from western Mass but I don't think I had ever played a game with, just because he was sitting near my board. We had just had a nice dinner together with my wife Bronwen and the winner from the St. Pete game yesterday. After the game started, I knew I had made the right decision. The other players were fun, a nice younger guy and Pete Staab, who I knew from the Chicago Express tournament last year. I pulled out a tight 6 point victory with Rich in second place, mostly by building efficiently.

Winning three of my favorite games back-to-back was certainly satisfying! Tomorrow: another day full of heavy eurogames. Check out this intense line-up:

   9    Brass
   12  Power Grid
   3    Agricola
   6    El Grande
   8    Princes of Florence
   10  Brass


Monday, August 1, 2011

WBC Day Three

This will be a bit of a shorter update, but I wanted to blog every day of WBC, so here it is!

I wanted to sleep in today a little, but woke up early for no good reason other than overall excitement for the WBC. I did a little work on one of my new projects, which is to try to get good at some of the CDGs by reading some ACTS logs and following the plays on VASSAL. For those of you who don't know them, ACTS is a website that manages cards and dice to enable competitive play of a number of games. The earlier mentioned Twilight Struggle ladder uses ACTS. VASSAL is a program that does the boards, pieces, etc. for tons and tons of games. It has the ability to play live, or you can have it log what you do and then send the logs via email to each other, but it doesn't enforce the rules and if you aren't playing live, you could re-do a log if you didn't like the dice rolls you got. So it's great for fun games where nothing is at stake, and also good for soloing games.

Anyway, I decided to play the San Juan tournament in the morning. I liked the fact that it was 4 rounds of 2-player games, and the GM, Bruce Reiff, is the GM for a bunch of tournaments and knows how to get them going fast and efficiently. Also, he has the perfect voice and presence for a GM. San Juan is a game I like, but don't love, but it was the only thing going at that hour. I hadn't ever played it before at the WBC, but apparently I'm not terrible at it, since I ended up going 3-1. I would have to say that was a pretty satisfying experience since it took about 2.5 hours. That actually qualified me for the playoffs, but I figured the chance to get laurels was still pretty low since the competition would start to be better... and it conflicted with Wilderness War.

Last year I took a break from wargames at WBC and skipped Wilderness War and Washington's War in favor of Euros. I still played Hannibal and Paths of Glory, and was going to play Twilight Struggle but it conflicted with the Power Grid semifinals. I decided to take the 1 in 5 chance of getting a plaque in Power Grid, but ended up taking second in my semifinal.

Wilderness War, for some reason, is still hard for me to wrap my mind around, especially when I'm playing the British side. I haven't played it face to face often enough to have a good feel for the tone of the game, since which cards come up when really affect how you should approach it. I faced a really great opponent in the first round this time, who was willing to talk through some implications of rules I had forgotten about since I've only played it maybe twice in the last two years. Sadly at this hour I am blanking on his name, but he said it was his favorite game and he certainly knew it well and played it well. I was the French and he was able to build a huge stack with Wolfe and come straight up the gut, using Johnson as a distraction in the Mohawk Valley.

In round 2 I played Bill Peeck, who I had played in Twilight Struggle three years ago and he took me out as the USSR. My Americans watched from the ground as the Soviets were colonizing Mars or something... The GM of this tournament is trying something very cool - making players switch sides every round as much as he can make it happen. So I got to play the British this time... and try some of what I had seen in round 1. However, I only got one reinforcement in the first two turns, and only one in the next two turns (out of the six turns in the game!) and Wolfe didn't show up. I don't know how to win at WW in the situations that are tougher for each side, although I'm sure it's possible by adjusting ones approach. Otherwise there is no way the top players could win as consistently as they seem to. Maybe I'll decide to really learn this game over the next year... I like the theme, the art, and enjoy playing it. The subtle tricks you seem to know to win still elude me, and I've even won a few games at the WBC in the past.

After all of that, I decided I didn't want to play another round of Wilderness War so I jumped into the first heat of Saint Petersburg! Here's another game where luck seems to be huge, but gamers I respect like Randy Buehler insist theres skill. I ended up at a table with a friend of mine, Richard Shay, and guess what - the guy on my right dropped a turn 1 Mistress and a turn 2 Observatory, the guy on his right got turn 2 Observatory. I got something slightly better than average, and Richard never saw a good card early. Guess what the score was at the end? Yep - Mistress/Observatory on my right was first, Observatory was second, and I was third. I find games where I can predict the exact score order at the end of the first 3/4ths of the first turn accurately regularly often to be somewhat suspect... but I am now accepting Saint Petersburg for what it is, and I enjoyed playing it despite knowing I had no chance.

I ended the night deciding to bail on playing in the Amun-Re tournament. I don't know the game well enough and just wanted to relax, so Richard and I found another friend Joel and we went to the open gaming room and borrowed the new Airlines Europe from the library. The WBC library is an amazing thing! This game was a cool, light, interesting game. Very easy to learn but seemed to have some good skill involved. I think I like almost any game involving stock certificates... I want to play the game it's a re-theme of, Union Pacific, at some point. I won the game with something like 81-68-63.

I guess I had more energy for blogging left than I thought! Tomorrow there is the auction, which I might visit but don't usually pay a lot of attention to. I'll try to hit the supermarket or Walmart for some supplies for the mini-fridge in our room. I think I just decided to not play the Labyrinth tournament because I don't know the Jihadist side well enough, and instead to play Le Havre. So tomorrow will be open gaming, then the official WBC starts with 6 pm Power Grid, 9 pm Le Havre!