Posts Tagged ‘Board Games’

Achtung, baby!

Posted: March 4, 2013 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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sl_boxcoverLL and I dug deeply into my games library this Monday, laying hands on an old wargame gem we’ve both barely ever touched: Avalon Hill’s Squad Leader. I picked up this game and some of the accompanying expansions way back in, let’s see, 1988 or so. I played a couple of times with some mostly disinterested parties and a few times solo (which isn’t much fun). LL played a few times as well, when a few “grognards” found enough charity in their cold hearts to let a girl sit in on their game. Needless to say, neither of us remembered much about the rules.

They’re not that bad, actually. Though there’s a lot of material in just the basic game, the rules are broken into sections providing bite-sized gulps needed to play progressively more complicated scenarios. The first scenario, which focuses on the Russians trying to oust the Germans from a section of Stalingrad, comes with rules that introduce basic movement and combat, support weaponry, unit morale, and other essentials. The second scenario brings in demolitions charges, smoke and concealment, and some other things. Tonight we played the first scenario, called “The Guards Counterattack”.

You can see the setup in the picture below, stolen from BoardGameGeek.com because the one I took didn’t quite come out! The German counters are light blue and the Russian counters are brown. The Germans have a number of good leaders, several LMGs, an MMG, and a HMG. The Russians have a lot of troops, a couple of pretty good leaders, and an MMG. The scenario specifies in which buildings the units should be set up. The goal is for the Russian player to capture two more stone buildings initially held by the Germans than they lose of their initial holdings within five turns.

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Those of you used to absolute balance in gaming might be turned off by “proper” wargames, which often present a pretty one-sided situation based on historical events with only a little attempt to provide “fairness” to both sides. This scenario isn’t that badly unbalanced but the Russians definitely face a tough task. They’re facing a bunch of crack German troops armed to the teeth with MGs and sheltered in good cover. To win, they’ve got to advance across open ground (thankfully fairly short stretches of it) and engage the Germans up close. A battle of attrition is likely to end badly for them…and isn’t possible anyway, given the five-turn limit.

Squad Leader is played in turns with one player going first, followed by the other. Each player turn includes several phases that, in this basic scenario, boil down to: 1) rallying demoralized units, 2) laying down preparatory fire, 3) moving units that didn’t prep fire, 4) fire by defending units, 5) firing by units that moved or stayed put but didn’t prep fire, 6) routing units demoralized by fire, 7) advancing (possibly into close combat), and 8) conducting close combat. In this scenario, the Germans set up their units first and the Russians take their first turn.

This was just an introductory game and I’m not going to give a play-by-play here, but I’ll cover the highlights and things we learned. LL chose to play the Russians and I the Germans. We set up and she took her first player turn. Right away we found out how important the Preparatory Fire phase can be. She got a couple of her units working together as a fire team and brought a lot of rounds down on a small group of Germans manning an LMG. The leader failed his morale check and the soldiers did likewise, becoming “Broken”. Broken troops can’t contribute to the fight and must run to cover in the Rout phase…though they can shelter in place if they’re already in cover and there aren’t any adjacent enemy units. Also, if they fail another morale check (which they might have to make if a stacked leader fails his or they come under fire again) they are eliminated completely!

The other important bit comes from the organization if the Combat Resolution Table (CRT). The Squad Leader CRT is arranged in columns by ascending points of Fire Power (FP). By combining the FP of stacked and adjacent units, you shift your die result further to the right on the CRT. With just 2 or 3 points of FP, you have to roll very low to have any effect; but at 24 or 30 points of FP you start to get into deadly territory. Your roll is modified by things like the influence of leaders and terrain effects: shooting at a target in a stone building adds three to the roll, for instance, making low-FP attacks on units in cover virtually useless.

So: if you want to take a position guarded by units in a building you’re going to have to use the Prep Fire phase to lay down some good cover fire to make them keep their heads down so that your advancing troops don’t get cut to pieces in the Movement/Defensive Fire phase. If you can kill or demoralize the defenders then your moving units can get out there, fire again, and then advance into close combat to finish off the survivors and send the Broken units running for more defensible cover.

Your moving units also have to be concerned about Line of Sight to other enemy units. During the Defensive Fire phase, defending units get to take shots at the attackers. If your unit are moving in the open and cross the LOS of a unit in range, those units get to fire at yours…with a big bonus to their roll on the CRT. This, as we found when a group of LL’s units crossed a street guarded by three German units with three LMG support weapons, can be quite deadly. Several of her units were gunned down on the move and completely eliminated.

There’s a lot more to the strategy and tactics of this game than I can possibly cover here…and we certainly haven’t learned everything there is to know, even about this first introductory scenario. Hopefully we’ll get to play Squad Leader some more over the next few months and I can share some more details. If you ever find a copy on eBay or on the used shelf at your FLGS I have to recommend you pick it up!
MA

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Zombicide

Posted: February 20, 2013 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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zombicide_box_th2LL and I tried out Zombicide from Guillotine Games tonight. In the game, you take the role of one of six survivors facing down a zombie horde as you attempt to accomplish certain objectives. It’s very well done, with great components including nine map tiles and various tokens printed on thick cardboard and 71 nicely sculpted 32mm miniature figures. There are six survivors to choose from and each has special features that make them unique.

Zombicide has some unique gameplay features. The play sequence has the survivor characters acting first, followed by the zombies. On their phase, the survivors can each take three actions (more if they have special abilities allowing it or have gained some experience). They can move from one “zone” to another, attack a zombie, search a room or vehicle, open a door, and more. As survivors kill zombies and accomplish objectives, they gain experience. As a survivor’s experience grows, so does the danger level of the game. Survivors start out at the “blue” danger level but move quickly to “yellow” as they reach seven experience points. It takes a bit longer to get to “orange” and a bit more to get to “red”. At each level, they gain new abilities: an extra action at yellow, and selectable skills differing for each survivor at each of the other levels.

What does the danger level mean? New zombies enter the board at “spawn points” at the end of each turn and are placed in revealed rooms after doors are opened. To determine how many and which type of zombies appear at a given point, the players draw from a deck of cards and read the results shown. At blue level the usual result is one or two normal zombies and sometimes nothing. At yellow and higher, however, things get a little tougher, introducing larger groups of zombies, “runners” (two attacks and moves each turn), “fatties” (tougher to kill and accompanied by two “walkers”), and (heaven forbid) the “abomination” (a scary fatty that’s very hard to take down). The game starts out slowly but ramps up quickly: once the first survivor reaches seven points of experience, the danger level goes to yellow…for everybody.

zombicideZombies are drawn toward any survivors they can see or to the noisiest spot on the map. Actions like shooting a gun or bashing down a door with an axe generate a “noise token” in that zone. Additionally, each survivor counts as a noise token in the square he or she occupies. This sounds bad but can be used to your advantage: put your badass zombie killers somewhere and start up chainsaws and such while your stealthy roller-skating waitress survivor goes around and opens doors with a crowbar (silent). Nobody said zombies were smart.

All survivors start out with a (randomly dealt) piece of equipment and can find more by searching (but only once per survivor per turn). The former cop starts with a pistol then each survivor is dealt one card from a deck containing a pistol, a fire axe, a crowbar, and three frying pans. The pans suck. Equipment is key to surviving the game: you need better gear and weapons to survive the zombie onslaught and accomplish your objectives. You can search a room that’s free of zombies by spending an action and drawing from the search deck. Most of the time you’ll find a weapon, supplies, or a special item (such as a flashlight, which lets you draw two cards when you search). Sometimes you’ll find a zombie…

Each weapon card tells you how many dice you can roll with each attack, the number needed to hit, and the number of wounds caused by the weapon. It also shows you whether it can be dual-wielded…if you have two of the same weapon you can use both in the same attack, giving you more dice to roll. Melee weapons are only useful against zombies in your zone. Ranged weapons might reach out as far as three zones. The extra twist on ranged weapons is that you’re pretty much going to kill survivors in whatever zone you shoot into…so only shoot into squares containing only zombies. Walkers and runners take one point of damage to destroy. A fatty takes two. The abomination takes three…which means you need some major firepower (like a Molotov cocktail) to kill him.

LL and I each took three survivors and we got the hang of killing zombies pretty quickly. We spent several turns searching for equipment and killing the zombies that came our way. Doug, a dual-wielding office worker, found a pair of SMGs. Another found a rifle and paired it with a scope. Together they made a pretty good killing team. Before we knew it, we were at the yellow danger level. Then the abomination showed up. Seems I remember that LL’s survivor killed him with a Molotov. Later, as things heated up, we were still doing okay…until we drew a couple of cards that didn’t add new zombies but instead gave the ones already there an extra attack-move phase. Suddenly we were overrun and facing some tough choices. Needless to say, the game ended in tears…

The game was pretty fun and easy to play and I think we’re both looking forward to trying it again. I understand that Guillotine is working up a new add-on featuring a mall, six new survivors, and zombie versions of the old and new survivors. Now that sounds like fun!
MA

Risk..and reward

Posted: January 28, 2013 by mearrin69 in Gaming
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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!
MA