Friday, January 27, 2012

Return to Combat Commander

Situation Report
St. Jean De Daye, France July 8, 1944
July 7th saw a brief battle in which German forces were forcibliy evicted from their hilltop defenses near the Vire Rivert. The small American force that won the day - elements of the 743d Tank Battalion, including an immobilized M4 Sherman - was then tasked to hold the hills until reinforcements could arrive to relieve them. Sergeant White ordered his infantry to dig in atop the dominant hill as Sgt. Beuhler prepped his shaken tank crew.
It is now just before dawn, July 8, and the dim morning glow is punctuated by a flare igniting over Hill 104. The expected German counterattack has arrived; the US reinforcements have not.

I chose the Allied forces for this match up. Nearly all the weaponry at my disposal was attached to the immobilized tank, which I placed in a valley. Sgt White and his infantry awaited the assault on the hilltop. Reinforcements would come, but slowly with no leaders and terrain covered in wire and mines. Robert's German forces began their advance. A small group coming through the hedges trying to advance to position to take out the tank crew and the remainder of his troops advancing through the cover of buildings to determine their attack plan on the hill. Luck favored the attackers early as the German machine called in air strike after air strike. Fortunately the well armored Sherman kept the troops from any real harm and a fire in one building soon spread to the other, forcing the Germans out of their safe location. The group advancing on the tank made a sneak attack, hoping to best the tank crew and their Sgt in hand-to-hand combat, but the Allied fighters were too good (a stray round from the German artillery finished off any hope of forcing the Americans from their tank). The German command then focused their effort on the group on the hill. Taking advantage of the hedgerows for cover, the Germans began a series of fire attacks at the foxholed group that slowly took their toll. Unfortunately for the Germans, the got desperate and forced and ill-advised rush up the hill to try and take out the American squads. The group was repelled and finished off as time ran out for the Germans.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ora et Labora

Matthew and Amelia stopped over Friday night and we got in a couple of new (to me and them) games. First we started off with Rattus. This one is almost like El Grande on speed. There isn't as much control, though there are interesting choices to make. We all felt that it was a bit random, but the game plays so quickly that I don't think it matters a whole lot. Matthew and Amelia started the game bashing on me a bit, so I had to really work at getting back into the game. Amelia had a nice little string of good luck and kept quite a few guys on the board. I was able to whittle Matthew down a bit at the end and we ended up tied for first-loser.
Next up, I got out Ora et Labora. I have no clue what Ora et Labora  means. What I do know is - Ora et Labora is the most recent game from Ewe Rosenberg. Ewe is most recently associated with Agricola, Le Havre, and At the Gates of Loyang. I have not had the chance to play Loyang, so I can only compare and contrast Ora to Agricola and Le Havre.Ora is something of a worker placement / engine game (engine game meaning - gather basic resources to build a building that builds more advanced resources which are used to score points or some such). Each player has a plot of land on which to build various buildings and settlement cards. Some of the spaces have to be cleared first (which of course is how you get two of the basic resources) before you can build. Players can also buy expansion plots of land, the trick being that the plots get progressively more expensive more the next plot - for everyone. Each round, players can take one action, then the start player for the round gets a bonus action. Rather than a board that loads goods up after each round (ala Agricola or Le Havre), Ora uses a unique mechanism in the form of a rondel/dial which is advanced each round. As it advances, goods that haven't been gathered recently become more valuable/available. It felt like a unique mechanic (though it is basically the same sort of thing as Agricola and Le Havre) and was interesting twist.
The next thing that stood out was the "food gathering". In Agricola and Le Havre, the first part of each game has a lot of tension as players struggle to find a way to feed their family. Ora somewhat hides this mechanism behind the idea of settlements. Periodically in the game, play stops and each player can build one of the settlement cards they have in their hand (each player has the same choices). The cost of each settlement is paid in food and energy, though some are more expensive than others (and thus worth more points). What this mechanic does is take a lot of the desperation out of the game and made the overall experience more relaxed. The game played in about 3.5 hours for the three of us (with rules for three new players) - so a bit shorter than Le Havre. Of course, none of us knew the cards, so it'll likely get faster with more plays.
That doesn't mean the game is any less "meaty" than the others. There is still a lot of work to be done to get the resources you need to build a set of buildings that have some synergy. However, like Le Havre, if your opponent gets that building you really wanted/needed, you can still use it - you just have to pay them for the privilege. And of course, there are multiple ways to score points and win. This is most obviously demonstrated by the crazy end-scores to our first game. Matthew, Amelia, and I all managed to end with exactly the same score! We all got there by taking quite different routes. Matthew and Amelia were able to place buildings and settlements such that they scored a lot of points at the end of the game. Matthew also had a number of valuable buildings, but wasn't able to create any points in goods due to a lack of resources at the end. Amelia didn't have the expensive buildings that Matthew had, but was able to get a few goods for points at the end. Me? I pushed really hard at the end to create a few high scoring goods that earned me a lot of points on my final turn.
So, did I like Ora et Labora? Yes. If you like Le Havre, you'll very likely enjoy this game. Even with all the options, the choices available each turn are limited enough not to overwhelm players (though we certainly had a couple turns where we couldn't decide between two choices). The game comes with two sides to the cards - Ireland and France, so you can play with either set of different buildings. This feels a bit like the repetitive nature of Le Havre (where only a small set of buildings are unique per game), but I'd guess (given past history) that we'll start seeing expansion cards for this game soon.