Saturday, April 30, 2011

Combat Commander

In September 1944 the Allies, after successfully landed in Normandie (D-Day), conquered the north of France and Belgium. There were now two opinions about continuation the battle. The Americans wanted to attack Germany over a long and wide front. The English Field Marshall Montgomery wanted to advance right through Holland to the Ijsselmeer and then proceed eastwards into Germany. That way, the German troops in West Holland would be isolated. In addition, the Allies wouldn't have to face the heavily defended Siegfried line. After a lot of discussion, Montgomery was authorised to execute his plan "Operation Market Garden." The plan existed of two parts.

Market: by means of airborne landings of the 1st Corps of the 1st Allied Airborne Army to conquer the most important bridges between Eindhoven and Arnhem.

Garden: The advance of the 2nd English Army of General Dempsey from which the 30st Army Corps had to push from Neerpelt in Belgium through Eindhoven over the conquered bridges to Arnhem.

On September 17, 1944 between 13:00 and 14:00 hours the airborne landings began. The American 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles" landed near Son and Veghel, the American 82nd Airborne Division "All American" near Grave and Nijmegen and the 1st English Airborne Division near Arnhem.

For many reasons, the operation did not proceed as planned. The advance of the army from Belgium was seriously delayed by unexpected resistance and because the bridge over the Wilhelmina channel was blown up by the Germans. The Allies first had to build a Bailey Bridge making the advance of the army 36 hours behind schedule. Poor radio connections prevented good communications, especially near Arnhem. Bad weather conditions delayed the dropping of necessary reinforcements. The presence of two SS divisions at the Veluwe was fatal for the British troops at Arnhem.

Robert Bolan came over on Thursday night to play a bit of Combat Commander. I wanted to start trying to get in a playing of each of the WBC Combat Commander Tourney scenarios from 2009. There is a tournament I've signed up for at the Geekway next month, and I'd like to not suck too badly. At any rate, this particular scenario was called A Bridge in Belgium (001) and setup the German forces vs the British forces. The Germans held a bridge in the middle of the map as the defensive force, while the British goal was to capture the two ends of the bridge. There were a couple of other interesting factors - no scoring for exiting off the opposite side of the map and night rules were in effect. I chose the Germans and bunkered myself in, determined not to play as the aggressor, but to simply outlast the Brits. It wasn't going to be easy. The British forces advanced into melee combat and devastated the group holding one side of the bridge. On the other side, the Germans held the high ground. The problem was, the Germans only had a single light machine gun and the distance to the targets at night made it nearly impossible to hit anything. I shot at the British every chance I could, knowing the futility, but needing to chew through cards for both sides. Fortunately for me, time was on my side - in this case, time events and running through our decks but a quick end to the scenario. Much as history played out, the Germans held their ground (and blew up the bridge).

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Top 10

I covered what I thought about the BGG Top 50 and here is my top 10. The last couple fall into a bucket of games that could round out the top.


Far and away my favorite game. This game is so interesting to me. I suppose it is interesting in the way that Chess is interesting to a Grandmaster - there isn't too much information that you can't take it all in, but there is enough going on to make it interesting. The game plays 2-4 players and is subtly different with each number of players. If there is one flaw it is that an inexperienced player gives a huge advantage to the player that follows.

This is the king of trick taking / climbing card games. This is really just a standard deck of playing cards + 4 special cards and yet those 4 cards make this a special game. The best partnership game out there.

Combat Commander: Europe
First, I'm not a WWII enthusiast - I don't read everything about it nor know all about it. However, this isn't just a game, it is a method of storytelling and an experience. It is Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers all rolled together. It would be easy to glance at the game and suspect that the scenarios are all similar or that they all play similarly. They do not. It never ceases to amaze me how different every single playing of this game feels. Each army has a different feel because of the card decks and unit combinations. The scenario setup and postures also change things every time. I haven't had a chance to play the random scenarios, but I've read nothing but good things about it. I can see playing this for years and years.

Power Grid
As I mentioned last time, this one has a bit of fiddlyness, but is such a fun playing experience that I've always overlooked it. It combines an auction with resource planning and positioning. I really don't know anyone that thinks its a bad game. It has seen a lot of plays over the years and some players may be burnt out on it a bit, but I'd still play it almost anytime.

The original - Age of Steam was my favorite game for a long time. I never even wanted to try this game. Once I did, I realized that it was probably the better game. The changes Martin Wallace made were not significant enough to completely change the experience, but really cleaned the game up. The new method for restocking goods makes planning so much more straight forward and the money management is much much better. The game is also quicker by eliminating some of the little things that caused the game to drag on (like building a bazillion little pieces of track).


There is something really cool about this action-point game. There is a ton of chances for clever play and outsmarting your opponents. I really enjoy the spatial play too - building castles and thinking in multiple dimensions makes this a unique experience. This might be a bit dry for some tastes, but I really like playing this.

Carcassonne: The Castle
There are a lot of Carc variants and expansions, but this one struck a certain chord with me. Maybe it is the "frame" which reigns in the board while still retaining the essential feeling you get from playing a Carc game - building a world. I also love the bonus chips and how you have to manage your scoring tactically to snatch up bonus opportunities. This is a great two-player game.


Chaos in the Old World
Four asymmetric forces duke it out in a dice fest? Well, not entirely. This is a great marriage of Euro and Ameritrash. It is a tactical fun fest and each side plays differently enough to make each game just a little different. The play time on this is limited so it won't overstay its welcome and force someone to sit around for hours on end.

Dominant Species
I hesitated to throw this in hear after only a couple plays, but for a game to play in 5.5 hours and for me to play it week after week and not need a break says something. I just enjoy myself the whole time I'm playing. There is just enough complexity that you feel like you have a lot of control amid the chaos. The game rewards good tactical play, but can swing to someone else just as quickly. I think you can cut off 20% of the playing time by taking out cards and would still get a great experience.

Medici, Through the Desert, Antike, Chicago Express, Age of Empires III, Steam Barons, Battles of Westeros, A Game of Thrones, Ave Caesar, El Grande, Java, Ticket to Ride

Too many choices to round out the top 10. Each has some reason for belonging and frankly needs to be played.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dominant Species

Yeah, I HAD six tundras, but Matthew is about to remove a
load of my cubes and take the Survival card and points.
Dominant Species hit the table again Friday night. The players? Dion Garner - Birds, Matthew Frederick - Insects, Amelia Boli - Mammals, myself - Arachnids. We discovered two rules we played wrong the first time - turn order starts out in REVERSE food chain order. The second is that ALL VPs that are earned for glaciers, Wanderlust, and the last round Dominance are scored on the Bonus Point scale (ie triangular scoring). This makes the last round of the game much much bigger than we had planned for.
I had started the game as we all did - just trying to carve out our niche. Unfortunately for Dion, Matthew grabbed the Blight card, which removed all the resource markers from one tile (except one). During the extinction phase, Dion lost a whopping 21 species (half his total). This devastated him, though to his credit, he found a lot of points the rest of the game. With Dion having next to no cubes to put on the board, I started pushing the glaciers and taking over the tundra to score survivor points. I managed to grab a huge score about 2/3 through the game and painted a large target on my chest. Matthew used the Catastrophe card to make me pay dearly and took the tundra from me. With a lot of help, we kept Matthew from fully catching me with survival. But the last round... With no more cubes to place, I started methodically placing my actions onto the competition areas - I needed to wipe Matthew off of a lot of place to score decent Dominance. I unloaded 4 attacks (plus my single Animal ability) and switched dominance all over the map. The dominance bonus and my position let me pull away from everyone in the final scoring.
We talked and I think the game might be BETTER if you take 5 cards out of the game (at random). It would not only lop off 45-60 minutes, but it would also add a small amount of mystery to the game (is blight coming?). Still a good game despite its length as it is engaging the whole time. Amelia didn't care for it as much as the rest of us, as their is a good bit of "Diplomacy" involved. Some points are easy to see, but there are so many things you can do to fix positions and score points, that nothing is obvious.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Top 10 Games of the BGG

And finally, the Top 10 games of all time (on the BGG)


Twilight Struggle (2005)
This is the King of CDGs. It isn't the first or most original, but it is perfectly executed and as a child of the 70s-80s, the theme is well matched to the game in every respect. This is one that gets better after you've played through the cards a couple times and have a feeling for the flow of the game. A little luck can swing a tight game, but the experience is so good, I never really mind (exception: Bear Trap card).

Puerto Rico (2002)
One of the Kings of modern boardgaming. I wont' gain any friends by saying this, but this one doesn't hold up. Sure, it was original at the time, but the game is flawed. The person after the newbie (or guy that screws up all the time) is going to win. The strategies have all been played out and the game is just understood. Sorry, it just isn't all that fun - even with the expansion.

Agricola (2007)
This game came out of nowhere to dethrone Puerto Rico. As a worker placement/build A to get B to get points game, it is ok. Better if everyone knows the game so it'll move a bit faster, but this one just doesn't scream for me to play it. You have to know what your cards mean and the winner is the one that can interpret their cards and execute the related manipulation the best. Despite this, this game won the 2011 Geek Madness Tourney over Power Grid.

Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization (2006)
I discovered this game last year and fell in love. Then I played it some more - quite a bit lately. I'm over my infatuation with this game. One the one hand, it really feels like playing Civ the computer game in boardgame form. On the other hand, this is a "rich get richer, poor get poorer" game and it is not the least bit fun to be on the losing end. There is no catch up mechanism (I did say rich get richer) and so the first person to bash someone is likely to be the winner. I think most people haven't realized this because it is so long that they likely haven't played it much.

Power Grid (2004)
This is one of my favorite games of all time. Though a bit wonky/fiddly in the phases, the combination of auction and position management is top notch. I'd never suggest someone try and figure this out from the rules, but if you can get someone to show you how to play (not hard), you are in for a wonderful game. Don't believe me - this game has won 4 of the last 6 Geek Madness Tournaments

Le Havre (2008)
Le Havre was the followup to Agricola and there was such excitement that a group of us ordered this from overseas. DHL and Germany decided to lose our package for months and we finally got the game a week or two after the game was released in North America. That coupled with a game that felt a bit mechanical/dry and is a worker placement/get stuff to build more stuff game and I was less thrilled. This is a good game, but one I'm not dying to play.

Dominion: Intrigue (2009)
See #8 below.

Dominion (2008)
Dominion was a revolution in recent gaming with its deck building mechanic. Yep, that's all I can say about this boring boring game. Sorry, it just is not thrilling. It is the same boring thing as you try to build a faster engine than everyone else. Despite the variance in cards and the multitude of expansions, the games all seem the same (yes, boring).
**Note, it is not the mechanic, as I LOVE Thunderstone and all it's expansions. Anyone that says I only like to play the soulless Euros is wrong.

Brass (2007)
This Martin Wallace game is supposed to be excellent (though only four-players) game. This one was revised as Age of Industry, which means I'm less inclined to learn this. Martin tends to revise his game and he really gets them right the second go round. That being said, I have played neither of them and would enjoy it.

Caylus (2005)
I have not yet played this game. I have played its little brother - Caylus Magna Carta. I'd be interested in giving this a go, but not with Steve Bauer, who has played this a bazillion times online.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Thoughts of No Interest on the BGG Top 50 (11-20)

Getting close to being done. Here are the bottom half of the top twenty.


El Grande (1995)
This is quite possibly one of the best games around. Area control and various powers with something of a bidding mechanism. Really a great 5-player game. This one can cause a little AP (analysis paralysis), but is worth the effort.

Race for the Galaxy (2007)
RFTG is the card version of Puerto Rico, but re-themed in space (seriously, that's how we ended up here). The original design for San Juan was basically RFTG. At any rate, it is a decent (though as far as I'm concerned, far too highly overrated) game. I disliked that luck of the draw can pretty well determine the winner early in the game. There are plenty of strategies, but if you start down one path and never get the cards you need, you are screwed. No way to catch up.

Tigris & Euphrates (1997)
I only ever played this once a while ago. I don't remember it being a bad game, but about half the local group doesn't care for it. I think its one that I'd enjoy if I played it some more.

7 Wonders (2010)
This is a card drafting game where you are trying to build your civ/empire. The beauty of this game is that it is fast/short and interesting. It also plays well from 2-6 players. I nice recent hit.

Steam (2009)
Steam has taken over from Age of Steam (#20). Steam cleaned up the re-stocking phase, introduced a new action phase to replace the auction (though you can still do the auction if you prefer) and offered up a gentler way to manage stock/money. Combined, the systems make the game faster and more streamlined. One of my favorite games.

War of the Ring (2004)
At one time, I had a copy of War of the Ring, but wasn't all that interested in even trying it and traded it away. This is the same "game" as #26, but the original version. Erik has claimed this is a great game - maybe I'll get a chance to try this out someday.

Commands & Colors: Ancients (2006)
Until Battles of Westeros came out, this was probably my favorite of the Command and Colors series. The system "grew up" and was more complicated by just enough. The block system really works here. Minis aren't necessary for enjoyment of this game. A good game with tons of expansions. The only down side is that all the scenarios feel a lot alike, except for the unit distribution.

Battlestar Galactica (2008)
This co-op has a twist - not everyone is on your side. Some of them "have a plan". Though I enjoyed some of the show, I never really wanted to sit down and play this. Probably because I'm not good at deceiving the other players and easily deceived.

Paths of Glory (1999)
This card driven game about WWI doesn't hold as much interest as other periods and has a really really long playing time. If someone I knew had this and really wanted to play, I might indulge, but haven't gone out of the way to try this.

Age of Steam (2002)
For a long time this was my #1 favorite game. I still own it and 15+ expansion maps (including a number of print & play maps). When I first heard about Steam, I figured it was just going to be more of Raiload Tycoon. Then I played it a couple times and realized that as much as I love this game, I liked Steam more. This is a great great game, but Steam has cleaned up a few things that make it more streamlined.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

My Thoughts of No Interest on the BGG Top 50 (21-30)

Continuing on with games 21-30 from the BGG Top 50 and MHO...


The Princes of Florence (2000)
This is some people's favorite in the the Alea Big Box Series. Its an auction game of sorts where you are vying for (IIRC) the "help" of various builders to construct a palazzo. I might be completely wrong - its been years since I've played this. It is ok but I didn't love it enough to drag it out over and over again. Maybe I should...

Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (1996)
This game was, for a long time, a hard to find and expensive older game originally done by Avalon Hill and one of the first "modern" card-driven games. Not quite a wargame, the mechanics of this one feel similar to Twilight Struggle. I highly recommend this, though it is a bit on the long side. The one thing I don't care for as much is the whole battle card system. It certainly doesn't ruin it, but it doesn't feel quite right to me either.

Stone Age (2008)
Hey look! A worker placement game. This one reads good on paper, but I'm pretty sure I'd play it and then wish I'd played something else instead.

Goa (2004)
Goa was somewhat played out by the local group right before I came along and started playing. I still haven't tried this and nothing I've read about this one makes me push to play it either. It doesn't sound like something I'd dislike, but it doesn't sound like I'd fall in love with it, so no big whoop if I don't.

Combat Commander: Europe (2006)
Readers of my blog already know how much I like this particular series. Combat Commander is as much a game as it is a story engine. It is like playing out episodes of Band of Brothers. I really love how the various armies play out differently and any scenario's flow can quickly change (much like war I'm sure).

War of the Ring Collector's Edition (2010)
At one time, I had a copy of War of the Ring, but wasn't all that interested in even trying it and traded it away. This particular edition isn't different, just glitzy. It looks cool as hell, but that doesn't really make me want to play it.

Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) (2005)
The original longer wargame from FFG. This space fight is a 6+ hour Ameritrash style game that I've never been that interested in playing. I think I got enough of this kind of gaming growing up - we used to play loads of Risk, Axis and Allies, Conquest of the Empire, Fortress America, etc.

Pandemic (2008)
Pandemic is a co-op game where the team is trying to irradicate a number of spreading diseases. The game is fairly fast paced and has a decent amount of tension in a short playing game. One of the better games in the team genre. I think the expansion makes this better, but the game is good by itself.

Runewars (2010)
Yet another longer wargame from FFG. I've read this one is a mish-mash of mechanics and this kind of game isn't ultimately a hit with my local group, so I haven't even seen this one played.

Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game (2010)
I have not tried this newer incarnation of boardgames trying to imitate the computer game of Civ. It sounded a little long and I've been playing a lot of Through the Ages so I'm burnt out enough on this theme/genre currently and don't know that I really want to try this one.