Risk..and reward

Posted: January 28, 2013 by mearrin69 in Gaming

34DC483D5056900B10F5EBC357F35819I recently picked up Hasbro’s Risk the other day and LL and I gave it a go tonight. It’s not quite the Risk we both remember, but at least it’s not that weird changes-as-you-play spendy version Hasbro put out a while back. We only played one game so I can’t really say if the changes to the rules are an improvement or not but they certainly necessitate changes to strategy, as LL and I quickly learned in our first game. Before I give a brief recap of that, let me see if I can outline some of the key features and changes:

  • The board is rectangular, not square like the one I had circa 1983. This makes the map look a bit more like the world map projection I usually see used, much less distorted than on the square board. The countries are very brightly colored, causing some problems with piece recognition as I’ll detail later on. LL and I initially thought that there had been some geographic changes but it looks to me as if a few names have been changed to keep up with the times and that’s about it.
  • The playing pieces are plastic figures, with a single soldier representing one army, a soldier on horseback representing five armies, and a crewed artillery piece representing ten armies. Seems the set I had back in the day had plastic Roman numerals: I, III, V, and X. LL remembers something similar. I know these change with the time: LL has a really old version with wooden pieces…and the modern Target-only version has wooden pieces as well.
    • Our biggest complaint about the pieces, apart from being a bit fiddly, was their coloration. The red, blue, and yellow armies are pretty distinct and easy to pick out on the board. The other three are orange, dark grey, and olive-drab green. The grey and O.D. army pieces are very hard to tell apart on the board. The orange army pieces can look like yellow or red, depending on which brightly colored country space they’re in. The bright colors of the countries, though tasty, detract a bit from the playability of the game because you often have to look twice to figure out the color of the army sitting in it.
  • There’s still a card for every country but there are some changes:
    • The cards no longer contain infantry, cavalry, or artillery symbols for set-building. In the last version I played, the sets were worth different values depending on whether you had a set of three of the various types or one of each. Three cards made a set and you had to turn in cards if you were holding five or more at the start of your turn. I think there might have been an optional rule for increasing the number of armies received with each set turned in. I also seem to remember something about bonus armies if you controlled a territory pictured on a card in your set…but that might have been a house rule or something.
    • In the new version I purchased, each card has either one or two stars. You can turn in any number of cards totaling at least two stars to receive bonus armies at any time during your turn, not just at the beginning of it. You receive progressively more armies for each additional star turned in. There’s a cheat-sheet printed on the board. It stops at ten stars, but I guess it’s not likely you’ll turn in more than that in one go. The progression starts with two armies for two stars and ends with 30 armies for 10 stars…you start seeing some nice increases at around five or six cards.
  • The two-player game incorporates neutral armies. To start, each player gets twelve cards and places one or two armies on those territories, depending on how many stars are on the card. The three neutral players get six cards each and do the same. Then all of the cards are shuffled and the neutral players get three cards each. At the start of each players’ turn, before placing their own armies, they must choose a neutral player and place three armies on territories held by that player. If a player conquers the last territory held by a neutral player they take that player’s three cards and add them to their own. The neutral players don’t attack but defend normally.
    • Neutral players may have been part of the rules for a while now but it was the first time LL and I have played with them. They certainly changed the way the game is played. We rarely fought each other’s armies…but spent a lot of time chewing on piles of neutral armies placed to stop our progress. It was interesting. Also, taking out a neutral player gives you three more cards, which you can add to your own and turn in right away. This happened in our game when I was holding five cards (but only five stars) and got three more (with four stars) for taking out the yellow neutral player. That gave me nine stars for 25 armies and those armies gave me the juice I needed to take two continents away from LL, tipping the balance of the game. Watch out for your opponent if they’re holding on to cards!

risk1Well. Those are the significant points I can remember. We started a two-player game with neutral armies as detailed above. We rolled off and I got to make the first move…usually a good thing in Risk. I didn’t like LL’s dominance in Africa, so I put three neutral blue armies in Egypt. I did like my position in Australia and wanted to go for it, so I put my three armies in Indonesia and tried to make a push for Western and Eastern Australia, both held by neutral armies. You can see the board at this point in the image at right (click to enlarge). I’ve highlighted the countries held by LL (red army) and me (green army) so you can see them clearly…the combination of poor photo and muddily colored pieces makes it hard to tell what’s what! Anyway, I ended up taking Western Australia but failed in my move east. On LL’s turn, of course, she bolstered the neutral blue armies in Eastern Australia with three more. She then proceeded to take the neutral grey holdings in Central (we still call it Congo!) and South Africa.

We kept on like this for a bit and I’m not going to give a play-by-play, because that would be boring as heck. LL reinforced blue in Eastern Australia for a few turns and I kept dashing myself against it, while taking out her holding in Southeast Asia so she couldn’t take an active role there. I kept reinforcing blue in Egypt and she attacked it a few times before moving on to take over South America. She made a quick card turn-in that let her gain that ground quickly. I finally won out with a desperate push (and lucky die rolls!) against Eastern Australia but managed to hold on to the cards I was collecting.

After that, LL made another small card turn-in and pushed up into North America, quickly eliminating my positions there. I did the same in Asia, getting rid of her holdings so she couldn’t counter-attack me. Here’s where things got interesting, however. LL took out the three neutral yellow positions in N.A., leaving the two with two armies each in my back yard. She had been growing nervous about my stack of cards, which now totaled five, and the untried turn-in-anytime rule…and her instincts were right.

I had grabbed enough territories to get a couple of extra armies at the start of my turn and plopped them into Yakutsk, proceeding to roll well and eliminating the yellow neutral player. That gave me stars enough for 25 armies. I plopped them into Afghanistan and proceeded to take all of LL’s holdings in Africa, South America, and stick a toe into North America, leaving a big pile in Central America to prevent her taking it back. I stopped the attack to avoid overextending myself but we both thought the writing might be on the wall.

LL took what was left of her forces and another small card turn-in (if I’m remembering correctly) and came into Asia out of Alaska for a final push. She made it down into Indonesia and was able to reinforce with a couple of armies from Greenland at the end of her turn. By that time, however, I held South America and enough territories that I received quite a few armies on my turn. I put them into Australia and pushed back, reversing her gains. We called the game at that point.

Risk has always been a game that could turn on a good card turn-in or a rash of sorry dice rolls and I think that the new (to us) card turn-in rules make that even crazier. We’ll play some more and adjust to the new strategies suggested by the game. I predict that the next session will take a while longer!

2012 in review

Posted: January 15, 2013 by mearrin69 in Admin

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Now, if only I can catch up on blogging all of the gaming sessions I’ve missed!

They’re coming in! Three marks at 2-10!

Posted: December 31, 2012 by mearrin69 in Gaming
Tags: , ,

X-wingLL and I popped in the Episode IV Blu-ray and played a game of Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game on New Year’s Eve. This was our second session playing this game and we learned a little more about the ships and tactics.

We decided to build 50-point fighter groups. LL played the Alliance and picked up Biggs Darklighter in an X-wing (25 points, Pilot skill of 5) and a guy called Horton Salm in a Y-wing (25 points, Pilot 8). I played the Imperials and chose two Obsidian Squadron pilots in TIEs (13 points, Pilot 3) and a Storm Squadron pilot flying a TIE Advanced (23 points, Pilot 4). That left me at 49 points, so I also took an upgrade called “Determination” for the TIE Advanced pilot. The card would let me discard a face-up damage card dealt to me if it contained the “Pilot” trait. Things were already looking bad for the Imps. We had the Rebs slightly outnumbered but their ships outclassed us by a parsec and they were far better pilots. I reckon if the Storm Squadron pilot was determined about anything it was to not have to go back and report defeat at the hands of Rebel scum.

Unfortunately I didn’t keep a play-by-play of the session so I’ll just provide some general notes of how it went and what we learned. We opened up the game on opposite sides of the play area. I had the two TIEs in formation, LL had the X-wing in guard position over the Y-wing. We decided on our moves and then went in initiative order. In X-Wing, that means that the ships with the lowest Pilot skill go first. This allows better pilots to react to the poorer…and it meant that my TIEs were always first, followed by my TIE-A and then LL’s ships. Ships shoot in reverse order, with the best pilots firing first. We soon found out that situation sucked very badly for these particular Imperials versus these particular Rebels.

sw2In general, TIEs can outfly anything in the black. They can jink like crazy, often avoiding hits, and can maneuver tightly, way better than any of the Rebel ships. They can also, instead of a Focus or other action, choose to execute a barrel roll at the end of their turn – essentially moving laterally by 1″, and even backward or forward slightly. This would be an absolutely killer stunt if TIE pilots were ever in a position to react to enemy ships (i.e. by having a better Pilot and going after the enemy in initiative order) because they’d possibly either be able to roll out of an enemy’s firing arc or roll so that their firing arc covered the enemy. In practice, at least against Rebel pilots of any skill, this just isn’t going to happen. The TIE-A is even better. It performs better and can do barrel rolls too…and it has a couple points of shields.

The X-wing is a good ship. It’s pretty maneuverable, has a good attack rating, and comes with a couple of shields. The Y-wing is an absolute pig. It’s big and slow and doesn’t handle well at all, but it’s armored like a tank and carries a powerful shield generator. Put one of each up against a small squadron of ties and it’s simply a game of attrition – the Xs and Ys lumber around and try to get a good shot or two off on a TIE while the TIEs dodge about and plink at the shields and armor of the heavier ships. TIEs don’t take much to kill. One good shot (three hits on three dice in one attack) from an X will turn it to vapor. Sometimes it takes two. Considering it takes five hits to take out the X, the TIEs have to line up and get at least three mostly successful volleys. Taking out a Y (eight hits) is even harder! That means that the odds are on the Rebels in a fight where they have superior Pilot skill.

And that’s exactly how this session played out. My pair of TIEs flew around the board (in formation for quite a while) for many turns, doing barrel rolls, looking polished. They lined up a few shots on the Rebs but missed (or were dodged) almost all of the time. The TIE-A did a little better, flying about, dodging shots, and shaving a few points off of the Reb’s shields. The X and Y moved slowly and botched a few maneuvers but managed to line up enough shots on the TIEs to paste them both before turning to double-up on the TIE-A. Truthfully, the only reason the fight went on for so long is because they were focused on the TIE-A rather than the pair of TIEs. I think LL could have finished them off first and then doubled up without being harassed.

There are a lot of possible permutations with this game. If I had taken Darth Vader in a TIE-A, I think the Rebels would have been meat. As in the movies (and we saw a lot of TIEs blown up that day on the screen) the incredible numbers of the Empire are nothing versus the skill and resolve of the Rebels…or the power of the Force.

NB: I must warn you that an Imperial CAG may well have been harmed following this session. The pilots have been sitting around in the Ready Room for quite a while and nobody has shown up. That’s usually bad news. It sucks when a CAG gets Force-choked…it sucks worse when the new CAG gets all gung-ho and makes you fly drills until you’re ready to pass out on your own control console.

The Aizium stockpile…

Posted: December 24, 2012 by mearrin69 in Gaming
Tags: , ,

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_ImageIt had been a while since LL and I had played a session of our sci-fi Microscope game so we sat down on Christmas Eve to explore its history a bit more. This has been, by far, the most popular series on our blog, thanks mostly to the shout-outs by Microscope designer Ben Robbins on his Ars Ludi blog and Twitter feed. Thanks, Ben, and thanks for giving our setting a name: “Psionic Scream”.

If you haven’t been following our history so far, you can read previous sessions one, two, three, and four as well as a discussion of moving this setting over to TSR’s old Alternity role-playing game.

As part of that move, we wanted to explore a bit more about early human colonization of the galaxy: what was travel like before the discovery and exploitation of jump gates, what were the first human colonies like, and so forth. Accordingly, I opened up the session with the focus (our seventh in the game) “early human colonization”. LL followed that with the “P2X-1138 Wormhole”…something that won’t make any sense even to our avid readers until some of the following history is revealed. So, read on!

  • Early human colonization – After humanity began its slow expansion beyond Sol, establishing a few colonies by slower-than-light (STL) travel, and before it discovered and began using naturally occurring jump points, it invented slow faster-than-light (FTL) drives. We’re not sure how fast these drives could propel a ship but we do know that human colonization and trade expanded exponentially in the wake of their introduction.
    • The outer worlds initially faced massive raiding and piracy. New FTL drives created an opportunity for trade but also for piracy. Pirates in slow FTL ships could hit a world or large transport ship and be off before authorities could respond: communications still traveled at the speed of light.
    • The merger between Marquette Consolidated Industries, a heavy industrial concern, and Nakamura Ordinance, an arms dealer, was intended to take advantage of new opportunities opened up by the advent of slow FTL travel. It planned to establish corporate colonies and trade routes. Nakamura’s government connections gave the new mega-corp a leg-up on its competitors.
      • Young Omar Nakamura was called into a meeting with M-N’s board of directors. His grandfather, the chairman, told him that he would be taking over off-world colonization operations – and that he would have to take a leave of absence from the Terran Confederation Navy (TCN), in which he had just received a commission to Lieutenant JG.
    • Marquette-Nakamura Corporation established the Redemption series of penal colonies. Redemption-7 on P2X-1138, a “death world”, is the last of these; established to mine an unknown (at least to the public) mineral found there. (It had to happen, amirite?)
      • R-7, and the entire planet upon which it was sited, was destroyed in massive explosion which left an unexplainable stable wormhole in the place of P2X-1138. M-N staff scientists theorized quietly that the large quantities of mined and processed Aizium, awaiting pick up, exploded. This may have caused a chain reaction that somehow reached the vast veins of untapped Aizium that riddled the planet. Even the M-N scientists were baffled by the resulting wormhole – in theory it should have taken much more mass to create even a fleeting wormhole, let alone a stable one.
        •  A message capsule was found many years after the colony’s destruction. In it was a message from Clinton Gardener, former R-7 corporate compliance officer, stating that he had decided to overload the colony’s power plant, causing it to go critical, rather than allow the colony to fall into the hands of rebels – and reveal R-7’s sinister secret. This explosion is likely what set off the chain reaction in the Aizium.
      • Scientists flocked to the site of the P2X-1138 wormhole, as it came to be called, to study it
        • The ten ships working and running patrols in the area gained valuable experience dealing with astronomical hazards and anomalies. Many breakthroughs in navigation and sensor technologies resulted.
        • One of the experiments on the wormhole causes it to release a tachyon burst. Encoded within that burst was a signal. At first it appeared to be simple background noise but some clever filtering and enhancement brought out the details: a visual transmission recording a massive space battle. More shocking was the astrographic evidence that the battle depicted occurred (or would occur?) here at P2X-1138. The transmission was severely degraded and the ships involved could not be identified
        • The wormhole was initially stable but the scientists soon realized that it was rapidly degrading and the Terran Confederation Navy and its partner corporations, including M-N, spent immense resources to try to stabilize it.
        • Unknown to most, the P2X-1138 wormhole had a deleterious effect on psions. Humanity as a whole knew nothing of psionic phenomenon at this point, though certain individuals, corporations, and government agencies may have.
          • Petty Officer Jessie Vanhoy, a crewman aboard one of the TCN ships had, from a young age, been able to read minds. He had kept the true extent of his ability secret from his family and others, having been mocked for his claims as a child. He found that his ability did not work at all after his ship arrived in the system and resumed after it left. The loss was accompanied by intense migraines, for which he sought treatment in the ship’s infirmary. The medics were unable to do anything for P.O. Vanhoy.
        • Civilian scientific vessels were suddenly requested to depart, without explanation, the vicinity of the P2X-1138 wormhole and the TCN blockaded the system – a quarantine that is still in effect today. Coincidently, P.O. Vanhoy disappeared from his ship. None of his shipmates could give an account of his whereabouts…though several did report having seen two men in suits aboard ship. They were wearing proper identification badges and were able to answer security challenges, but no official log of their visit could be found during a later investigation.
  • Much, much later, following the so-called “Psion Revolt”, there was a dramatic increase in the birth of humans exhibiting psi powers. Until that time most humans developed psionic abilities after travelling through jump points. Nobody was sure why, but these children came “on-line” immediately following birth. They also exhibited an innate link with their psionic siblings.
  • And, later still, during the “Psionic Suppression” period: The Psion Revolt spurred widespread paranoia among non-psions. Once the capabilities of Blank-White-Curtain/Compound Omega became known to the public at large, via the court martial of Admiral Omar Nakamura, corporations and wealthy private citizens began to seek the material for their own protection. The mineral was rare but, suddenly, supplies of it began to appear on the black market, at a very high price. The crates containing it were marked with the logo of the now-defunct Marquette-Nakamura corporation and the cryptic notation, “Aizium; R-7, P2X-1138”. Coincidentally, the Free Human Front began freely spending money on weapons, ships, and other essentials shortly afterward.

photoWow. You can’t make that stuff up. Well, actually, you can…if you play Microscope!

We’ve got five sessions of the game under our belt. As you can see in the picture at right (click for a larger image), we have amassed quite a large collection of cards. We tend to write short descriptions on the front and then a much more detailed narration on the back, but sometimes our details fill both the front and back. We had initially thought about using half-sized note-cards for the game but rightly concluded that they wouldn’t really be large enough. I guess the only solution is to get a bigger table!

So. We ended up not learning all that much about technology with this session after all…but we learned a lot more about the twisted socio-political situation that drives our “Psionic Scream” setting. I sometimes feel as if LL is trying to drag us toward the light but I just can’t turn my head away from the massive potential for linking things together into conspiracy theories. Did Nakamura know about Compound Omega from the start? How much did the government know about psi before those abilities became wide-spread among humans, conferred by travel through jump? What’s happening “now” at the P2X-1138 wormhole…and when was that fleet engagement? In the past? In the future? Nobody knows. But I guess we’ll find out a little bit more the next time we play!

NB: Almost forgot that I wanted to credit the awesome PULP-O-MIZER folks for the tool that let me create this issue’s cover. What a great app! LL discovered it and sent me the link…I fear I could disappear down that rabbit hole for quite some time.

This is Red 5, I’m going in

Posted: December 10, 2012 by mearrin69 in Gaming
Tags: , ,

X-wingI picked up a copy of Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing Miniatures Game from Amazon recently, along with some “booster” ships. LL, PL, and I broke it out on Monday to give it a go. First impression, and the reason that I bought the thing in the first place, is that these are easily the best Star Wars miniature ships I’ve ever seen. Since we sometimes play Wizards’ Star Wars Saga Edition RPG, now OOP, I figured I should pick them up – even though I didn’t really care about the miniatures game itself.

We opened it up and had a look at the contents of the box. The basic set includes two TIEs and an X-wing, along with a click-together stand which hold both the ship and some counters that identify it and its current capabilities. Each ship has a number of possible pilots with different ratings and you can use the squad-building rules to add upgrades to the ships. The box also includes a number of other tokens that indicate what actions are being taken, stress effects, shield points, etc. There’s a deck of cards that represent damage taken – each card is one damage point but can be flipped over on a critical hit to reveal extra effects.

Probably the most innovative part of the game is its movement system. There’s no gridded board or hex map. Instead, there are a number of “movement templates” that let you easily plot a ship’s chosen movement across the play area. During the movement part of the turn, each pilot selects his intended maneuver on a little dial and then everyone simultaneously reveals these and the ships are moved in order of pilot skill. Simply place the movement template in front of your ship and then move the ship to the end of the template. Moves range from hard banks and gentle turns of various lengths to straight paths to a reverse that will get you going in the other direction. In the advanced game, some of these maneuvers will add “pilot stress”, limiting your options until you take it easy for a bit.

Combat is simple and uses special dice included with the game. The attack dice are marked with hits, critical hits, and special focus markers (which can convert to hits if you’ve taken a “focus” action). The defense dice are marked with dodges and focus markers (which convert to dodges with a “focus” action). You roll the number of dice indicated on your card for attack or defense. A basic TIE uses two dice for attack and three to defend. In the advanced game, there are range effects and actions which can add or subtract dice to your pool.

The quick-start rules present a very basic game. Put your ships on the map and then alternate between moving and firing until one side wins. The full rules offer additional options such as squad-building, critical hits and more detailed damage tracking, actions that will improve your ability to hit or dodge, upgrades and special secondary actions, obstacles, mission objectives, and more.

photoWe got up and playing very quickly with the basic game. LL took the X-wing and a rook pilot. I took a TIE flown by an academy graduate and PL took the same with a more experienced pilot from the Imperial fleet. PL and I didn’t exactly act like wingmen. He cut left and I flew fast and straight toward the enemy. As the X-wing flew past I looped back around to target it and PL cut back right. We had her in the crossfire and cut it to pieces. The Rebel scum never knew what hit her!

The Alliance struck back on our second basic game. We opened up in more or less the same manner, with the TIEs closing fast. She outmaneuvered us, however, and got PL’s TIE in her sights and opened up with her guns. His TIE broke into bits and I started to sweat. We came around at each other again and she repeated the feat, one-shotting my fine Sienar ride. If only they’d put some bloody shields on the things maybe we wouldn’t lose so many academy rooks to Rebel hotshot pilots.

So we were feeling confident now and decided to flip through the advanced game to see how it rolls. We built 31-point squads. For LL, that meant Biggs (or maybe it was Wedge) and a couple of upgrades to her ship. For PL and I, it meant two “named” Imperial pilots. Our guys were “Dark Curse” and “Night Beast” if I remember correctly…the Imperial Navy really needs some help on call signs. What’s wrong with “Skipper” or “Apollo” or something? Whatever.

We squared off again and let fly. My memory fails me again but I believe PL cut left and then came in for a side attack while I cut right. LL flew straight in and we both came in around her. Some shots were exchanged. I seem to recall that we winged her (wasting a crit on her shield!) and that she took a piece of my panel (yeah, what are those for anyway?). The was a maneuvering bungle on the Alliance side and a lucky break for me, as I ended up right behind her and cut in with my guns. I’m not sure who took the final shot (seems like it was PL) but we flew back to the ISD to the cheers of our teammates shortly after.

The advanced game seemed to offer some nice options and a lot more depth. There was definitely a lot more give-and-take and I believe that skill in selecting maneuvers versus your opponents and playing to the qualities of your ship are very important. As an example, LL chose to do a tough maneuver and earned herself some pilot stress. That kept her from performing any of her nifty actions (like being dodgy or getting a lock-on) for a while since she had to run a way and didn’t have time to take it easy and get rid of that stress. I did a couple of the same maneuvers too…but it had little effect since there weren’t a lot of optional actions my TIE pilot could have taken anyway. The combination of those things (and some beginner’s luck) helped me outmaneuver her and bring my guns to bear more often.

The game was surprisingly fun and we’re going to play it again next Monday. I’ve got an unopened TIE Advanced, a Y-wing, and some more TIEs and X-wings…so we’ll have plenty of options.

NB: I see that Fantasy Flight has some more ships out – A-wing, Millennium Falcon, Slave-1, and the TIE/In. Looking forward to getting some of these soon!