Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blocks of War I: Hellenes by GMT

In a recent high level of activity, I played a number of different block games. For the purpose of this series of articles, I am going to stretch the definition a bit and include the most excellent Richard Borg title "C&C:A", but this first entry, Hellenes from GMT is a classic block game in the most perfect tradition of blending the Columbia Games heritage with GMT's added goodness.
Hellenes - Sparta in Red, Athens in Blue

Going back to Hammer of the Scots, and some titles from before, Columbia has been blending the great idea of their block games (which feature 1-sided wooden blocks for units, allowing for great fog-of-war; and the blocks rotate showing stepwise reduction in combat unit strengths) with the more modern ideas of card-activation in a wargame.

I don't know for sure (and I bet there are half a dozen forum articles and geeklists at Board Game Geek on the topic) but I think that the first of the card-driven designs may have been Hannibal and Successors both from Avalon Hill, but these were quickly improved and followed up by For the People, Paths of Glory and Wilderness War from GMT. With the design for Hammer of the Scots, Columbia expanded the idea to separate the unit activation cards from event cards. Each round a player picks one, and it gives either a number of activations (for units or groups of units), or an event. This keeps the game always fresh and adds a lot to replay value. The GMT idea for the cards had three things on each card - unit activations, events, or replenishment - and when a card was picked, the player then had to choose which they wanted. The cards were balanced, so that the really good activation cards usually had the good events, and so on, so that the decisions were tough and required some decent thought and planning. Elements that make for a great game, in my book.  By the way, see the homemade map for Hammer of the Scots, by DK Kemler (as posted on Board Game Geek)- it is beautiful!

Homemade map for Hammer of the Scots
The recent game Hellenes from 2009 takes the Columbia idea of blocks with hidden values, and rolling for combat based on a two-value combat rating. The first value is a letter (in this case, from A to F) that gives the basic "initiative" value of the fighting - so that all A units fight before all B units and so on. Then there is a numerical value (usually from 1 to 3) which gives the target number for scoring a hit. Roll 1d6 for the strength (called the Combat Value, or CV) of the block (which ranges from 1 to 4, based on the current strength of the unit), and each dice that is equal or less to the "hit" number scores a hit on the enemy. An equal range at the top of the dice span means an enemy unit is routed. There are specifics about which units take the hits first, and who routs first, etc. Simple, but elegant, and gives great results with some appreciable depth. So far, this is classic Columbia Games (although I don't recall seeing the to-rout capability in older designs). But GMT adds rules for naval transports (there are, not surprising in a game on the Peloponnesian War, lots of naval units), as well as rules for sieges, pillaging, and so on - to capture the feel of the city states going into rebellion, and being besieged (all from Thucydides - great stuff). And with the activation cards all having an event, the goodness from GMT makes its way in.

There is a 2007 Columbia design on the same topic - Athens & Sparta, which appears to be a little bit simpler, and can cover the entire war in one sitting (whereas the more detailed Hellenes covers scenarios of the war in a single sitting), but it is a small matter of difference about which card system you prefer. Both have their strengths, and both (to me anyway) are appealing.

On Thursday, August 26, Wayne and I played a game at the weekly ODMS meetup, and he took Athens while I became a Spartan general for the evening. The game was great, and although I won, I believe it was due to a fluke in my exploiting the economic engine of the game a turn before Wayne was prepared for it. We have scheduled a rematch, and shall see how it goes. This time I think there will be a lot more fighting over the point-value-rich colony city states. It, like the original war, should be glorious!

On a side note, I would like to put out an endorsement for two histories on the Peloponnesian War - the first from Donald Kagan (The Peloponnesian War) (a few years older, but quite excellent), and the second from Victor Davis Hanson (A War Like No Other).

See you soon - Chuck

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Autumn Gaming is Approaching

After a very successful "end of summer" wargaming event - the ODMS convention, Guns of August, the staff from Gaming with Chuck is looking forward to some Autumn Wargaming.

Autumn is coming at us hard and fast, like a Monkey riding a Goat, and if the schedule isn't filled up soon with some gaming activities, then all of the normal stuff that takes place this time of year will ensure that there ain't no gaming! So to keep that from happening, we hear at staff HQ are going to try to do some weekly boardgaming, as well as an occasional Thursday night wargame with the ODMS guys.

Upcoming possible wargaming projects include:
DBA campaign revolving around Phillip II's conquests (being organized by Cliff)
Victorian Colonials (TSATF) (by me)
Cold War Commander (Wayne and Scott)
My Galley Sally (Dave D)
C&C:Ancients (Wayne)

Boardgaming at HQ will likely include:
Zombie Dice
Wizard Kings (maybe...)
And the usual (see the Boardgames tag for more on what usually goes on around here for boardgaming)

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Guns of August, After Action Review

ODMS Convention Page

The convention was a great success, from the perspective of the staff. I can only hope the gamers felt the same way! (comment about your experience, please!)

On Thursday we got to the hotel (a day before the official start) to meet with the hotel staff and make sure everything was ship-shape. The tables we rent were late getting there, so some of the ODMS guys helped to set them up right, so that everyone's games would go off with a minimum of disturbance over the weekend.

After all the setup (and getting the hundreds of sodas and snacks loaded into our Hospitality Room), there was a round of boardgaming in the gaming area (the tables have to be broken in, you know). The Vendors continued arriving all evening, from all over the eastern half of the US, and set up their fantastic wares.

The Thursday night boardgaming was terrific. I played a really neat game of Reef Encounter (polyps anyone?), and then proceeded to totally Borg out in repeated games of Commands & Colors: Ancients (for those who don't know, Richard Borg is the designer of C&C:A).

The Reef Encounter game was with Anita, Heidi and Jeremy, and was a lot of fun. Jeremy was king Shrimple, getting his prolific shrimp all over the ocean floor, and it turned out that his Parrot Fish ate the most coral.

The C&C:A games were mostly against Wayne, but I also played against John Snelling as well. the battle was the same for each game - the Battle of Leuctra. Every time I played the Theben army, and every time I got the Sacred Band killed off by the Spartans. The first game was the most humiliating, as Wayne's Spartans totally eviscerated me in about four turns. I actually won a game or two, but still lost the Sacred Band each and every time. I guess they weren't that Sacred after all.

Friday came, and there were plenty and plenty of miniatures games, as well as a whole lot of board games. I had to leave the convention in the afternoon for a few short hours, but in the evening when I returned, I got to run my "Neil Thomas" rules Napoleonics game. It was an a-historical scenario - set in 1813 Saxony, with a British force facing off a French force twice its size, trying to buy time for the Prussian command in the area to arrive and help against the French. The British were played by Paul Knight, the Prussians were played by Scott Kidd, and the French were played by two players new to the rules, whom I did not know, but whom were real gentlemen to play with. The game went well, with Paul playing the role of a British commander very well (form a defended and anchored line of Infantry and hold it against repeated French assaults). The Prussians finally arrived, and the French decided that they had enough. My apologies to my players for not providing some really good player aids (the game needed quick-reference sheets).

Saturday came, and during the day all I did was to help out with the convention (spending many hours in the morning working Registration and meeting many of the great gamers who came to play at our show). In the afternoon, I got to spend a few short hours enjoying the hotel swimming pool (highly recommended) with my Daughter and some friends, and spending time talking to new gaming friends as well. Very nice.

Saturday afternoon, our Boardgaming room was a complete hit! It was filled to overflowing with boardgamers playing old and new wargames, and the Euro-games library that we had in the Hospitality Suite was really put to good use, with a bunch of gamers checking things out (most popular - SmallWorld and Steam). Tons of gaming in the Hospitality suite as well - Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, and so on.

On the Wargaming front, everything from the old SPI classic 1918 to the much newer Washington's War were being played. There was also the double blind Axis and Allies game (each player only knew where his own pieces were, not even his allies). Neato.

Napoleon came and visited the convention on Saturday afternoon, and stayed until about 5:00 or so, when he gave an address to the gamers and bid his Adieu. Afterward, the great Guns of August Raffle took place, and thirty great gaming prizes were raffled off.

Saturday evening brought a new round of gaming for all involved, and I got to run my game of The Sword and the Flame. It was a total fun-fest, with the Anglo-Indian army attempting to rescue a small command of Miners waiting for transport down a river, and suddenly attacked by hostile hill tribesmen. This time, the British and the Indian troops were able to rescue the miners. A few casualties, but it was a successful operation.

Late night Saturday there was more gaming. Card gaming, to be sure. Plagues and Pestilence, which I (miraculously) won. I almost never win those kinds of games, because there is almost always a "pile on chuck" phase, but this time I drank some excellent imported beer, and played it cool, while my fellow Medieval City Builders were busily destroying each other with mongols, vikings and bubonic bonbons.

Sunday came, with more gaming and final shopping in the great Guns of August Hobby Bazaar, and afterward the vendors started breaking up and heading home, and the final games were played, and we all sang hey nonny nonny and bid each fare-thee-well until the Williamsburg Muster.

It was a great time, and I hope you can make it to our next show!

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