Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: The Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine 1815

The Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine 1815
The Prussian Army of the Lower Rhine 1815 by Peter Hofschröer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A pretty solid effort by the Hof, building on previous work. There's a few jibes against anglo-saxon historiography, as expected. What I liked best was the section quickly detailing the origins, uniform and equipment of each regiment, showing what a hodgepodge the Army of the Lower Rhine was. Bonus is the information on the North German Federal Corps.

Excrutiatingly, there are no references anywhere in the booklet!

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Review: The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806

The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806
The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806 by Peter Paret

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent combination of military, art, social and intellectual history of the Prussian defeat at Jena and Auerstedt in 1806, and how it affected Prussian (and German) society, army and politics. Finally Paret distills this in an discussion of Clausewitz' theories on warfare, which he shows were influenced by much more than just military events.

I love how Paret weaves books like Kleist's The Prince of Homburg and paintings like The Chasseur in the Woods into his argument. Fascinating in their own right, especially in their relevance at the time they were made, they also have a wider significance.

One of the bravest books by a military historian.

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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Review: De Adelaar En Het Lam: Onrust, Opruiing En Onwilligheid In Nederland Ten Tijde Van Het Koninkrijk Holland En De Inlijving Bij Het Franse Keizerrijk

De Adelaar En Het Lam: Onrust, Opruiing En Onwilligheid In Nederland Ten Tijde Van Het Koninkrijk Holland En De Inlijving Bij Het Franse Keizerrijk by Johan Joor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joor looks at the level of civil unrest in the Kingdom of Holland (1806-10) and the 'Dutch' departments of the French Empire (1810-13). He shows that it was pretty high by European standards (despite never reaching full scale armed revolt such as in Spain or Southern Italy) and by Dutch standards of the 17th and 18th centuries. This contradicts earlier books that assumed resistance to French and French backed authority was low.

The highest levels were recorded in 1809 and 1813, with higher levels from 1810-13 than before. Most important source of unrest was military service, followed by tax and smuggling and general opposition to French or French-backed authority. Religious and civilian disputes were rarely behind large scale unrest.

In terms of participants and modes of protest, there is strong continuity with 18th century forms of unrest. Mostly lower middle class craftsmen and farmers (rather than urban and rural poor), a high participation of women and mostly very local and disciplined. Where the protest were non-traditional was in their opposition to expanding role and power of the state (conscription, taxation).

Excellent, based on extensive research of primary sources. Includes lots of case studies, background information on policies, and on the means at the disposal of the authorities to deal with unrest.

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Thursday, 23 October 2014

First Impressions and Final Thoughts on Spiel 2014

There was some stuff that I hardly saw but quickly formed an opinion about:

Good impression: Historia was very much enjoyed by my friends. It offers a two-axis take on civilization with room for conflict.

Battle of the Five Armies: looks great as ever (but many of the miniatures are the same), and similar to Battles of Middle Earth. But maybe we should play those more before buying this one.
Greenland: the premise is great, but it’s three players.

Quartermaster General: this could still be Axis&Allies with less combat
Raid & Trade: didn’t see it played or explained but looked as if it had a lot of numbers on counters and the board. Excellent minis and artwork though.

Lord of the Ice Garden looked great, but the unpainted miniatures expansion adds €40 to €55 for the basic game.

Bad impression: Athlas, Empire Engine (cube producing micro game), Swedish Parliament (although the policy axes were nice), The Walled City (looked like Carcassonne the City and ignored the contentious history of Londonderry), 8 Minute Empire expansion (there is something contradictory to a micro game expansion)

Missed: Night of the Grand Octopus (but it will be in stores at some point), €uro Crisis, Airborne Commander, Fantastiqa, Fief: France 1429, Luchador, Nothing Personal, Pamietne Historie, Patchistory, Pocket Imperium, Samuari Spirit, Shinobi Clans, Stimmvieh, Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Wir Sind Das Volk, Battle at Kemble’s Cascade

It seems like I’ll need to play less to see more. I did that the last few years but I think I prefer playing to running around.

So how did I feel about this Spiel?

Even though I’m no longer excited by this year’s euro offering (Arler Erde looks too much like Agricola and Panamax might be another multiplayer solo hit) and Sci Fi and Fantasy have become mainstream (almost everybody has by now jumped on the zombie bandwagon) there is still room for excitement and surprise.

The Polish publishers have blossomed by adopting euro mechanisms but they keep applying them to historical theme. Now Greek, Romanian, Spanish and even Indonesian publishers are following in their wake. There is still so much unused and unique theme around one might despair of the next generic fantasy game. Wallace still produces interesting games, even if they are occasionally flawed. And there are still publishers wanting to take risks.

It’s been a good year.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Mythotopia and Spiel 2014 shopping

Saturday's 'one more for the road' game was Mythotopia, Martin Wallace's new offering. It's a bit of a cop out, really, to apply a mechanism to a fantasy (or sci fi) theme, but it works out well enough. As in A Few Acres of Snow the deck building mechanism is subordinated to the map manouever. You build the deck from 4 basic cards and 6 area cards, which gives every player a unique set of resources (grain, gold, bricks and military goods). You can add to your hand by conquering new areas and buying cards from the market for gold. What cards are for sales changes from game to game.

Another familiar feature of Wallace games is that you can take two actions, chosen from a wide variety of options. Some of the cards in your hand provide extra options (instead of playing them for resources). Most actions require playing resource cards from your hand. When you invade an area, the war is only resolved by a player ending it as the first action of her turn. This can protract wars as players keep adding resources to an area and tipping the balance.

There are challenges to your hand management once your deck grows, but the game offers the opportunity to place cards in a 'reserve' so you can use them for permanent effects or to save them for a better opportunity. But placing cards into the reserve counts as an action. There are also a few cards that help you draw extra cards or search your discard pile. Let's see about killer combo's...

You score victory points for the number of areas you hold and a range of achievements, the standard three being castles, cities and roads, and possible other special conditions: areas conquered, successful defense or dragons killed. However, for every type of achievement, there is a limited amount of times they can be claimed.

Victory is determined by a player claiming victory as the first action of his turn. Any running wars are resolved then, but you can only claim victory if you end up with the most points after resolution. We ended up very close to each other which made it impossible to clinch victory in the end. So we decided on a four way tie. I hope this is a one off bug, and not a feature. Despite the ending a good finish to the gaming side of the weekend! With the varying selection of cards available on the market and the changing set of victory conditions ensures a fair amount of replayability.

So what did I buy?

My buying strategy this year was focused on games I was pretty sure would make it to the table. I think I’ve managed that well. I’ve shied away from the overly complicated, and 2 and 3 player games, leaving micro games and multiplayer. Lost Legacy: Starship, Unicum, Auge um Auge, Mat Goceng and Verone have all been dealt with in the previous posts.

 Lost Legacy: Flying Garden looks very much like the Starship game, but with another ending. The cards of Flying Garden and Starship can be mixed for variation.

I was torn between First to Fight and Race to the Rhine. The latter is a game that is very close in design to what I had in mind myself about the breakout from Normandy to the Rhine in autumn 1944, as a logistic struggle between three allied players, rather than two player campaign. It also looks good, but I didn’t take time to see how it plays because there were always people playing the demo.

First to Fight has all the players controlling Polish forces over the course of WWII. Because the Polish forces were few and widely scattered, I felt it is a great challenge to get all that into one game in a coherent way. In the end the decision was based on Race to the Rhine being three players which made it unlikely to hit the table regularly.

Marchia Orientalis and 15 Dias are both games with a strong historical theme, which I like. Maybe they end up being forgettable additions to the genre of tile laying respectively influence building games, but I’m eager to find out. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Just another day at Spiel 2014

After our pretty successful first day in Essen, we returned still burning with curiosity and enthusiasm.

Our first stroke on Friday was to try out Fire in the Lake at the UGG stand. We were quickly into the game as we’ve already played Cuba Libre. But while the mechanics are familiar, FitL is much more complex. There’s more units, more areas and possibly longer scenario’s. So we did a couple of enjoyable rounds, but not really knowing what would be a good strategy for each faction.

We then split up as two of us had arranged to play a prototype of Mahardika. This game about the Indonesian independence struggle has the feel of Pandemic, with a similar engine running ‘the Enemy’ (ie the Dutch colonial state and its allies) as the outbreaks. The main interest is how it ties in the history into the objective cards. You either solve two series of objectives, or you get defeated by the Enemy. It is hopeful to see this game coming from Indonesia.

Mahardika will not be published until later this year, but the publisher had Mat Goceng available, a simple card game where you duel your opponents with hidden identity and hidden objectives as the catch. I hope to play it soon.

We then reconvened to play Euphoria, a worker placement game that owes most of its appeal to the brilliant application of the theme to the board and game pieces. Brilliant green and orange, suitably dystopic locations such as the Incinerator of Historical Accuracy (it sounds even better in German).. It is also neat that the workers are dice and you roll for their value every time they are taken off the board. Some of mechanisms neatly tied into the theme such as the risk of too much knowledge leading to workers escaping, but the layer of theme remains thin overall. So if you like worker placement games, this might actually be one of the more fun to have around.

Then Tragedy Looper. One that has good reviews from folks at Fortress Ameritrash so I wanted to try it out. I was cast as the MasterMind, ie the bad guy/gm. I think it is a wise move that Z-Man have included a introductory guide for the Mastermind in the first game because it really is tough to play it straight off the bat. I still made a clumsy mistake on the second day of the second loop which cost me the game. The players did well in deducting several of the character roles but not all.

As a treat we got to play the prototype of Conan Hyborian Quests, which will Kickstarter in January. The mechanism seem fine for a skirmish game, with the players spending energy and deciding whether they recover fast or slow. As all the scenarios have a time limit these are important decisions. The Bad Guy/Mastermind has a similar mechanic, and he uses energy to activate units or to roll emergency defense.

The evening was started with a quick game of Lost Legacy: Starship. It is strongly modeled on Love Letters with a slightly different ending (players having the opportunity to guess who has the ‘starship’). Nice, but I’m not sure that it will be worth it having several of these.

The main feature was Onward to Venus, a solid Martin Wallace steam punk fiction design. Ranging between Venus and the Kuiper Belt, the great European nations of the early 20th century take to the exploitation of these planets’ mineral resources, and some occasional big game hunting. The joy is in the possible crises on the planets (eg Martian attacks) and the bonus cards. After a tight finale we retired to bed well satisfied with another long and hard day’s work.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Spiel 2014 day one

I went to Essen with a rather long list of games I looked out for but it always proves hard to check everything you want and luckily you also run into happy accidents

Hyperborea was a great start to the show. It allows for different strategies, offers some interesting events and sets up for conflict. It’s rightly been likened to Eclipse. We went through a few rounds and then decided it was a winner.

Run, Fight or Die is the umptiest zombie game and I realized I was suffering from zombie fatigue after a decade of exposure. And although there is some kind of a challenge in there, it is mostly multiplayer solo.

Spartacus is one of the first games by Gale Force Nine and although it probably isn’t the edgiest design, the intrigue is fun. Trash talk flows naturally and you find yourself booing gladiators that don’t try hard enough.

Theme and the fact that it is published by a Greek company drew me to Gothic Invasion. How can you not get excited for the war that inflicted one of the heaviest defeats on the Roman Empire and saw the death of an Emperor? The designer gave us an overview. Play is card driven with 2 or 3 options per card. Forces and objectives are asymmetric, so there is a lot of maneuver on the map. You can see there is a lot of promise in there. Although it can be played with more than two, there is no rivalry or separate objective. It just didn’t do it for my friends so I was faced with buying a game that wouldn’t get played.

Time Masters tries a new approach to deck building by making time the key unit. It works, because the game speeds up and slows down. But I didn’t feel like I was achieving anything worthwhile by building the deck. Somehow I couldn't find a way to hold the cards due to the horizontal design. And who asks €35 for a card game these days? [edit: apparently I was misinformed at the booth or I misunderstood the price: the publisher has informed me the price in stores should be €30 and would have been €25 in Essen] 

The evening in the bar and restaurant was spent with Unicum, Verone/Council of Verona and Auge um Auge. All three are excellent for beer and pretzels. Unicum offers a small box for a short game with a neat betting war hidden in it. This is fun, but I just wish the ‘uniqueness’ argument mattered a bit more. If you can get into the spirit of bogus arguments that helps.

I think that Verone is a truly great microgame, with all trying to influence the outcome of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. It is worthwhile getting the French edition because I like the art better (and it automatically includes the Poison expansion, which is a neat addition). Pic above is the English version.

I’m not sure about Auge um Auge though. It is mostly a dice rolling fest with an alliance system. There are some abilities that help you create series, which you need to inflict black eyes on your opponents. But the alliance system is what makes the game interesting, because ganging up and keeping the front runner out of fist fights is the key. It may be a bit long for the amount of fun it holds. Art work nice, as always with Sphinx games.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Spiel 2014 longlist

Having browsed the lists of games coming out at Spiel this week, and with some suggestions from others, I have come to this list of games I will be looking for. It's adding up to about fifty, so I've narrowed it down to over a dozen games that I really would like to know more about and the rest would be nice. Of course I've now got an idea what they are about.

Stuff that gives me a good feeling

  • 15 Dias. My old time friend: el Conde-Duque de Olivares
  • 1944: Race to the Rhine. Always been fascinated by the logistics of this campaign. Check out Matt Thrower's review
  • Coup: Reformation. I just loved Coup.
  • First to Fight. will be interesting to see what they can make out of this
  • Gothic Invasion. great subject, plus multiplayer. And good to see Greek publishers attending!
  • Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice. Dice rolling, and looks good.
  • Battle of the Five Armies. The guys from War of the Ring at it again. Not an Essen release but who cares?
  • Mahardika. Fascinating to find a game about the Indonesian War of Liberation. As a Dutchman I'm used to watch it from the other perspective so I should learn a lot from this (maybe more about current perceptions of the war in Indonesia than what actually happened). But I'll be curious about their handling of British troops, Dutch internees in camps, Dutch atrocities, Moloccans etc
  • Marchia Orientalis. As a fan of the Holy Roman Empire (although I do not seek a return to it), this could be right up my alley
  • Mat Goceng. Interesting piece of Dutch/Indonesian colonial history from the Indonesian viewpoint.And good to see Indonesian publishers attending!
  • Mythotopia. Wallace's multiplayer version of A Few Acres of Snow
  • Raid and Trade. theme and minis promising
  • Samurai Spirit. The 7 samurai in game form, with a very postive review from SU&SD
  • Tragedy Looper. See Charlie Theel's review on 2D6
  • Wir sind das Volk! Interesting to see that somebody thinks East Germany could have beaten West.

Check out my list on boardgamegeek if you want to have a closer look at the games. 
And the Spielbox overview of all the games released at Spiel. So you can figure out stand numbers if you intend to visit yourself.

I will be tweeting @jurdj as always.

Stuff that might be good, but perhaps not

I might pick up one the cheaper ones

  • €uro Crisis
  • Abraca... what?
  • Abyss
  • Airborne Commander
  • Athlas: Duel for Divinity
  • Conan: Hyborian Quests
  • Corto: The Secrets of Venice
  • Cyclades: Titans
  • Dixit: Daydreams
  • Empire Engine
  • Fantastiqa
  • Fief: France 1429
  • Fresh Fish
  • Greenland
  • Guatemala 1954
  • Hyperborea
  • Illegal
  • Lost Legacy
  • Memorable Stories
  • New Dawn
  • Night of the Grand Octopus
  • Onward to Venus
  • Patchistory
  • Pocket Imperium
  • Quartermaster General
  • Romans Go Home!
  • Stimmvieh
  • Swedish Parliament 2014
  • The Walled City: Londonderry & Borderlands
  • Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  • Unicum
  • Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter
  • Vérone

Review: German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman – Barbarossa 1941

German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman – Barbarossa 1941
German Infantryman vs Soviet Rifleman – Barbarossa 1941 by David Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Describes the fighting of German an Soviet troops in the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa, so a combination of first line Soviet troops and the new armies that were hastily thrown into battle in July.

There's a lot of Glantz but not much in terms of accounts by Soviet participants, which would have been a great boon in understanding what it was like for Russian soldiers.

The choice to show three encounters from this early phase of Barbarossa can be defended although I think a comparison of fighting in June/July, August/September and October-December would have better shown the development of fighting capabilities of the Wehrmacht and Red Army over time.

I guess the Combat series is picking up for me, but it has not reached its potential.

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Friday, 10 October 2014

Review: The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper

The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper
The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper by Scott Frost

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the return of Twin Peaks to the screen I could help picking this one off the shelf. Ranging from the weird to the hilarious. How can we not be interested in how Dale Cooper came to find his strong mental powers, when he first discovered coffee and pie, the letter he received from J. Edgar Hoover, how he lost his cherry or how he met Windom Earle?

Some of the stuff on the Teresa Banks murder conflicts with what happens in Fire Walk With Me, but small beef.

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Monday, 6 October 2014

Return to Dux

It had been a long time since my first game of Dux Brittaniarum, and I was glad to get another go last Saturday. My knowledge of the rules was rusty and although I picked up the basics soon enough, I didn't get the finesse of card hand management.

Dick and I set up a campaign in the kingdom of Caerwent, where former Saxon auxiliaries had turned on their former Roman employers around 550 AD. In spring my Saxons under lord Artelric ambushed a Romano-British waggon train. And although I successfully distracted some good enemy units with some warriors, I always found myself one step behind in a tit for tat with the rest of the enemy. It had been a pretty chaotic raid, and by the end Artelric's men were slowly rounded up in a small area. A last ditch attempt to capture the wagons failed and the remnants of his force fled.

Later that summer the rejuvenated warband returned to raid a village but just as his men started to search the houses for loot, the Romano-British appeared out of nowhere. Again, I was on the receiving end and despite some serious retribution again Artelric's men left the field empty handed.

By now Artelric's nickname The Martyr has raised some suspicion among his following about his chances of success in the future. Getting wounded every time surely doesn't help although his willingness to get into the thick of the fighting stands him in good stead. It is to be hoped that he and his devout henchmen One-Eyed Aelfwyn and Ine the Pious will be able to turn around the series of bad luck, because there is little time until winter and payment to king Cwichelm is due...

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Won by the Sword and more

So after my last lament at getting so little gaming in, this has been a good catch up. Managed to play Won By The Sword. As a recent arrival with limited length of rules I decided it was best to get it to the table instead of something else.

It took us an evening to get through the first month (ie 5 activations of 5 armies each) of the 1632 scenario including a major battle and a small siege. The manoeuvring was a lot more hectic than I'd thought it would be. By the end we felt reasonably comfortable with the rules (there's not a lot of them but some of it is complex).

What I liked about Won by the Sword was that it promoted historical strategies, like laying waste an area so you make it more difficult for your opponent to attack you; and splitting off a separate cavalry column to forage.

Although it is a main part of the game, the foraging feels clunky, mostly because you make about 30 dice rolls in a turn just for that (no kidding). Too much looking up. I understand the wish to randomise but with this many rolls, the results tend to the average. 

Oh well, no judgement till I've played a bit more

Yesterday we were supposed to play a game of Civilization but changed our minds. We had a very tight game of In The Name Of The Rose, where Diederick scraped a just few points less than Michiel and me, even though I saw through his little trick!

Then continued with Love Letters. Michiel finally got most letters through. Love Letters was perceived as okay but not as cool as King of Tokyo which we played next. And again. And again. Absolute hit I guess!

Brutal as always I think we all won one of the games, and I won the last, very unlikely, with one health left. Epic, n'est-ce pas?

And in terms of New Years Resolutions this means one more unplayed game scratched off!