Billabong Boardgamers
 

Billabong Boardgamers - 4th July, 2000

Present: Alan, Doug, David, Craig, Torben, Debbie, Steve, Julian, Jack

Previous session report

David Coutts writes:

I know I don't write too many reports these days, but today I have 3 to write. Usually I don't have the time, and my fellow Billabongers are happy to oblige (thanks guys). At the moment I'm off work, between contracts, so I have some time.

Lately I've been getting back into a little wargaming, with a preference for playability over historical accuracy. Classics like the Australian designed The Russian Campaign (originally by Jedko games of Melbourne) I now get to play again (the Avalon Hill version) thanks to Play By Email, a very convenient way to play longer games.

BATTLE CRY

Antietam, 17th September, 1862.
Union, George B. McClellan (Doug Adams)
Confederate, Robert E. Lee (David Coutts)

I picked up my copy of Battlecry in the morning and, with the aid of my modelling knife, had all the pieces out of their sprues with their little flags attached in an hour or so. What a great looking game! The production is excellent, and a quick look through the rules book was enough to convince me to take a wargame to Billabong. We play very few wargames at Billabong, due to theme, game length and the fact that many are only 2 player (thus taking 2 players out for the night).

Lucky for me that damn Yankee, Doug Adams, was in a fightin' mood. Young Doug was hankering for a fight at Antietam, and I was happy to oblige him! Having diced for sides, I assumed my best Southern accent (...which leaves much to be desired...). Here we were, fighting a battle from the USA's bloodiest war, and Antietam being the bloodiest day of that war. All was as it was, except this time WE were in command!

The action opened at Burnside's bridge, with Burnside's first sortie there repulsed with heavy losses. The Yankees seemed to come over the bridge piecemeal, and Toombs' men had no trouble securing the first of our required 6 flags. In the centre, Stonewall Jackson secured the sunken road for the Confederacy and annihilated the oncoming Union divisions. In all, 3 flags were gained here by Jackson at Bloody Lane. They were ably assisted by some surprise reinforcements, which then swung away to assist Toombs in holding back another Union assault over Burnside bridge. At the bridge, our numbers were severely depleted and I regret to report that we lost our first flag.

Hooker's men had, all this time, been attacking my left flank. I had prudently withdrawn my advance cavalry there to delay contact, and was then fortunate to see Hooker's lead unit (lead by Hooker himself, I gather) withdrawn from the front line due to lack of supply. With the centre won, Jackson lead his men into the attack North against Hooker's remaining divisions. Confederate units near Dunker Church then advanced through Miller's Cornfield against Hooker to gain our 5th flag.

Finally, a reinforced Toombs advanced against Burnside at the bridge to take our 6th flag. A glorious victory for the South, six flags to one! In fact, in completing our designated attacks, a 7th flag was also taken. There was no stoppin' my boys!

Okay - back to reality for a moment. Doug has played a few games of Battlecry, and appears to have read some of the many postings on r.g.b and elsewhere. He's a big fan, and owns 2 copies for those really big battles (over and above the 15 scenarios that come with the game). I've only played this once, but loved it before I rolled a single die. There is sufficient flavour in the map layouts and scenario notes, plus the great physical components, to satisfy the military history buff. And it played in under an hour! Perfect.

As to scenario balance, Doug mentioned that all the scenario's are meant to be balanced. (Doug here - I actually said all scenarios are meant to be historical, ie. not evenly balanced) With Doug playing the over-cautious McClellan his hand-size was only 3 cards, and this seemed to be a telling factor (at least, this time round). The great Robert E. Lee, played by the less-great me, has a hand-size of 5 cards at Antietam - a distinct advantage. Plus, the Sunken Road provides a great defensive position in Lee's centre. And Burnside's bridge isn't easy to cross for the Union.

Still, even if a scenario is unbalanced, Battlecry lends itself to match-play (swap sides and play again, best overall tally wins).

I commend Richard Borg, and Hasbro, for a fine game.

Doug writes:: David bought Battle Cry along, a American Civil War battle game that has received a lot of favourable press lately. It is a very simple wargame that blends simple wargame mechanisms with some elegant mechanics - a deck of cards that are used to activate units.

The game looks superb when set up. A large game board is overlayed with a plain hex grid. One of the fifteen scenarios are selected to play, and terrain hex tiles are used to build the historical battlefield. Add some detailed plastic miniatures, of course in blue and grey, and you have a very nice looking game.

The game mechanics are very simple. Play a card, follow instructions, draw a card. Command and control is built into the hand sizes for each side, and this changes from battle to battle. The cards come in two flavours - events, or activations. Activations allow you to activate a number of units, from one to all of them, one of the battlefield sections - left, right or centre. Units can move and/or fire, with a couple of extra rules for unit types (infantry, artillery, cavalry).

The game ends when one side has eliminated six units of the enemy. The game is very fast - it almost takes as long to set up as it does to play!

David and I selected Antietam. This is an interesting looking battle that I hadn't played yet. As this was David's first game, we were both facing the unknown. David drew the Rebels, I drew the Union. I had a paltry 3 card hand, David a delightful 5 card hand.

Right from the beginning I could see I was in trouble. On the Union left, the troops must cross Burnside's Bridge in single file, and try and force the heights on the opposite side of the river (guarded by Rebels, of course!). In the centre, the Sunken Road sits there like a fortress - not a lot of hope there as the Union has to be virtually adjacent to have a chance at hurting the Rebels. On the Union right there were possibilities - Fighting Joe Hooker has a nice force of troops, with the cornfield and West Woods offering good cover. It was here I decided to fight the battle, turning the flank on the Sunken Road.

Ha! My three card hand gave me perhaps 4 right flank cards for the entire game. Most of the cards were left flank and centre, so I decided to make the best of a bad lot, and advanced in those two sections. David had a ball, and I was quickly 5-0 down in flags. The card draws were painful right through the battle - at one stage I was holding two Centre cards (no units in the centre) and a Cavalry Charge (no cavalry in this battle!). I did manage to take one flag to bring the battle to the threshold of victory (ie. only 5-1 down!) when David majestically played ALL OUT OFFENSIVE which allows him to activate everything.

After the smoke cleared, the Union was 8-1 down, and after that drubbing the secession succeeded and Dixie was whistled throughout the land. I should have recommended a return battle, as the rules suggest, to get a balanced result, but others were wanting to play other games...

Doug's rating: 8 - great fun. Gen'l Coutts, suh, revenge will be mine.

Back to David...

HERA & ZEUS

Alan as Hera, David as Zeus.

Another Richard Borg design! It was looking like an evening by Richard Borg...

Alan and I hadn't played this one, and neither of us own it (yet...). After a quick run through the rules, plus a few clarifications by Debbie who had played before, we waged godly war upon each other.

This was really a learning game, and we constantly surprised ourselves with the abilities of the cards we held and the cards we played. I quickly gained the upper hand (more by luck than judgment, I feel), but then kept the advantage by always reducing Alan back down to 1 or 2 columns (and hence only a 1 or 2 draw capacity). Alan played Hera early, but she was removed very soon after (I forget the card I played...).

We both used Medusa's to good effect, and I soon copied Alan in his clever use of the Pegasus to attack the opponent's hand. In the mid-game I picked up Argus as my 3rd action, and had only 4 cards in my hand. A Pegasus from Alan now would be fatal....and he played a Pegasus... and drew another card (if he'd drawn Argus he would have won).

I got to play Posieden (?), my strongest challenge card (7). I also used a strength 6 to defeat Alan's strength 6, then played cards to regain both his 6 and my 6 from our discard piles. Alan was soon down to 1 column, and in big trouble. He delayed things well by blowing away my weedy centaur, with me having only a Medusa to fill the gap from the next row. That meant I couldn't challenge to win the game. Then, as luck would have it, Dionysis came to my rescue and allowed me to reshuffle that column. My strength 5 (?) was enough to wipe out his whole row on the next turn. Game over, and victory for Zeus.

A very interesting game with an unusual theme and nicely produced with great artwork. I'll be buying one, by God!

VINO

Debbie, Craig, Alan & David.

Sorry Mr Borg, I know this isn't one of yours. Almost a evening by Richard Borg!

I'd seen this game when it was released at Spiel '99, but this is the first time I'd played it. In fact, only Debbie had played it so she taught us the game. She pitched at about 2 hours, and 2 hours it proved to be.

This is an older game so I won't do into too much detail. Suffice to say that everyone seemed to enjoy it and the end-game was extremely close. It all came down to my control of Tuscany giving me first option to buy vineyards there on what had to be the last turn of the game. Because Debbie had thwarted me in Appuzzo (I think it was), I had 1700 in cash left over from the previous turn. Then I made another 1400, leaving me enough cash to buy everything left in Tuscany except 1 vineyard which got for free. I picked up 9 vineyards. Lucky for me, Debbie - with an eye on the clock - and Craig both bid for Tuscany and lost out (thanks to my majority there). If they'd just gone elsewhere...if...if

The other highlight was Alan's brilliant 3rd place the Northern province (I forget the name), gaining him 4 vineyards for free in the Government handout. I must admit, on a first play, I find this a peculiar mechanism (why does 3rd place get the biggest handout, for example?).

Scores - vineyards (cash)
David 26
Debbie 25 (940)
Alan 25 (10)
Craig 23

It's an attractive game with some fiddly components, and some strange mechanisms for the theme. However, I think it works and though it won't make my top ten (which contains about 30 games!) I'd definitely play it again if it were on offer.

Doug Adams writes:

AUSGEBREMMST

Jack, Steve, Doug, Julian

This game has been on my trade pile a while, however I wanted to try it again before sending it on its way. I'm glad I did, because behind the rather shabby components there lurks are very good racing game.

The looks are against this game from the start. Stand up cardboard cars (hastily replaced with some Micro-Machines Indycar racers), some rather cartoony board segments, 3 in number, can fit together in different combinations to form 8 separate tracks. The number of spaces a race runs on each track (from about 70 to 80) determines the difficulty of the track. The rules recommend a series of races over different tracks, but we played just one.

Once the track is built, the players construct their cars from a deck of cards. The cards simply contain numbers from 1-6, which relate directly to the number of spaces you can move on the track. By leaving out certain numbers, you can build a fast, slow or medium car - each containing the SAME NUMBER of factors in the race. Fast cars have lots of 5/6's, slow cars have not so many, but a lot more 1/2's. Why not build a fast car each time? Well, you drive with a 2 card hand, and if you can't move your full compliment on the track you don't move at all - essentially going a turn down. It's important to keep making headway, and a medium car has perhaps the best mix of cards to ensure that happens.

After building your car, each player must commit a number of cards to the pits. Each deck contains 84 movement points, and around 3-6 points of this go into the pits. It's designed in such a way that if you drive the ideal racing line, you will just make it across the line, but if you are forced wide you burn movement points, and will have to pit to claim the pit cards and those extra points - clever.

The last step in car construction is building the "gearbox". You take your deck of cards and sort them into four piles, in any way you want. For example, you may place your 1/2 cards in one pile, then 3/4's in another, then 5's and 6's in the last two piles. When replenishing your meagre two card hand, you may draw off any pile. In this sense you are "driving" your car - if there is traffic ahead, draw low, if there is clear air, draw high, etc. The rule is, make progress.

Our single race took place on the Platfuss-Ring, a "medium" rated track. Steve was on poll and took off into the lead. This lead continued for a lap and a half of the three lap race, before Doug overtook him. Doug had pitted at the end of the first lap, and held up Julian in the pit lane as the track was blocked ahead. Jack was driving a slow early race but made great progress in the second half to take the lead halfway through lap 3. This allowed Doug to play a six to get ahead again (you cannot play a six card if leading - a bit fudgy), but that was it, Doug was left with a single six, and only his low gear pile of 1's and 2's. Doug crawled around the last corner, hoping someone would pass him, to allow him to play his six to cross the line.

Jack passed Doug and got to the last space before the finish line, and then stopped - out of fuel (ie. cards). Jack hadn't pitted, and fell one space short. Doug crossed the line with his six card for first place.

Placings:
1st. Doug
2nd. Steve
3rd. Neutral 1
4th. Julian
5th. Neutral 2
DNF. Jack

I'm hauling this off my trade pile - a great driving game when using the Advanced rules. Very simple mechanics (play/move/draw), but it imparts a real feel of driving your car. Car set-up, gearbox configuration, and staying on the driving line while avoiding "no move" turns really connected with me (then again, I am a bit of a racing game nut). Rating: 8

Julian Clarke writes:

AUF HELLER UND PFENNIG

Steve, Jack, Julian, Alan

Result: Julian 193, Steve 192, Jack 162, Alan 153

A new game for Steve, who from observation, doesn't need to have any more games explained to him, to give the rest of us a chance.

The first round was fairly low scoring with lots of negative tiles coming out early, making a positive move very difficult, & so few markets went down. Round 2 again pretty negative, and at the end everyone had at least their 4 market & 1x3 market left, so big guns were going to be out in force for round 3. Alan at this point was convincing leader & looking to keep scores low. However, the trend in the earlier rounds didn't repeat, & some hefty positions were being opened up. Alan eventually only got one market down to 3 or 4 by others, & one is never going to win without at least 2. The game was played in an _almost_ co-operative way in some aspects but cut-throat tit-for-tat placing of large negative customers was a great source of satisfaction for some. Eventually a close game, & it is interesting how different (simpler, more straightforward) this earlier (1994) Reiner Knizia game is from more recent games such as Stephensons Rocket.

Craig Macbride writes:

RA

Ra's a quick filler, and here was a chance to introduce Torben to it.

I usually hang back for too long and get caught having not bought enough when the final Ra tile of the epoch comes out, but I only did that once this time. I never had a chance at collecting many civilisations, so I made a grab for pharaohs early and Niles and monuments as soon as I had a nice pile of pharaohs. In the end, having one of every monument and a couple of piles of three of one type gave me a big boost.

Scores:
Craig - 67
Debbie - 55
Torben - 43

Steve Gardner writes

EL GRANDE

Jack, Julian, Torben, Doug, Steve (in playing order)

El Grande was the first game I bought after a long period during which I owned only Cosmic Encounter and Settlers of Catan. But soon after, I acquired Ra and Taj Mahal. As a result of this, and the fact that El Grande really only plays at its best with 5 players, this wonderful game has been undeservedly neglected. I was glad of the chance to play it for the first time at Billabong. This was the first game of El Grande for Torben and Jack.

I took an early lead in the first round, adding Valencia to my home region in the Basque Country and scoring the five-regions for 12 points. Doug spread himself thinly across the initially unoccupied southern regions of Seville and Granada, while Jack took strong positions in the central, high-scoring regions of Old and New Castile. The mobile scoreboards made early appearances in rounds 1 and 2, with both being placed by Torben. He used the good one to upgrade his home region of Catalonia from a four-region to an eight-region, and the bad one to downgrade New Castile. Torben secured the King for Catalonia and scored it in round 3 for a maximum possible 12 points, and by the end of the first scoring round, both he and Doug were hot on my heels and my lead had been narrowed to just four points.

The early part of the middle game seemed to belong to Doug as he surged past me and grabbed a pretty respectable lead, but the game was proving a close one: once again the leader was hauled in, this time Jack making a strong move. By the end of round five, he had grabbed opportunities to score the six- and seven-regions, and gained influence in Valencia to open a lead of about ten points. In round six Torben was unlucky to see his plan to play first and determine King placement for the scoring round foiled when the King's Adviser card was turned up on the four-pile. I grabbed it, regained control of the Basque Country (where first Doug and then Julian had gained the upper hand), and secured the King there for a very handy nine points to close the gap on Jack. Going into round seven, Jack and I were tied for the lead, with Doug about five points further back.

Down to brass tacks, and the manoeuvring all over the board was intense. Doug overtook me again the Basque Country, and I struck back by snatching control of Seville from him. In Valencia, Jack cleverly used an intrigue card to arrange a tie for first place between us there. In round eight, Torben finally settled what had been a game-length, three way struggle in Catalonia between himself, Doug and myself by evicting Doug and I from the region. But I used an intrigue card to sneak back into second place with a single Caballero, which paid off when Torben scored Catalonia in round nine. It gave me a slender 3 point lead with just the final scoring to come. Jack and I had both gotten heavily into the Castillo, and just as one likes it in El Grande, it would all come to that final decision: where to reinforce from the Castillo?

Jack was getting plenty of advice, most of it contradictory, but he kept his head and his own counsel, and coolly grabbed back control of his home region in New Castille. His fine play in Valencia also paid off, leaving me a tough decision to to try and grab the outright lead there, or in Aragon. I plumped for Aragon, trying to take points from Jack there - and discovered I'd misconceived the problem. Catalonia was the place to have gone if I wanted to win - but it's always easy to see these things with hindsight. In any case, Jack's fine overall play throughout the game - and in his first game, at that! - certainly earned him his victory. Well played, Jack!

Scores:

Jack 105
Steve 104 (second place in all three games played!)
Julian 92
Doug 92
Torben 81

Steve's rating: 8.5, a welcome return to a neglected game which has a great mix of strategic themes and tactical opportunities.

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