Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Hello Rabbit Leader - Battle of Britain boardgame

Although I bought the Battle of Britain boardgame from Plastic Soldier Company back in October I'd only managed one actual game...this was with Eric the Shed towards the end of last year and I was soundly beaten!  So I was pleased to get a chance to give it a second outing this week at Guildford.

Action over the South Coast

My opponent, Anthony, has a preference to play the Brits so I knew there wouldn't be any debate about which side I was going to play!

The game mechanics

The game mechanics are fairy straightforward. Squadrons are organised into Luftflotte or Groups and these comprise 6 German squadrons made up of a mix of fighters and bombers versus RAF squadrons made up of 3 fighters.  The actual composition of each squadron is initially random but can then be adjusted as the game progresses.

The Luftwaffe allocate missions to each squadron; again these are drawn randomly but the German player has some control over where they are allocated.  As German planes reach the British coast and cross a radar marker, the RAF have the option to intercept them.  This can be pretty deadly as the RAF field all 3 fighter squadrons while the Luftwaffe have to put up a random draw of 3 of the 6 cards, which could result in the German bombers being caught in an unwelcome air battle.  The snag for the RAF is that they only have resources to engage in 5 air combats each turn which means inevitably some bombers will get through.

Assuming they survive the initial interception, next turn the Germans can continue to move a further 5 or 10 squares (the RAF only move 3) which does give them the option of reaching far flung targets like Belfast!  The Luftwaffe have 3 target types:  radar stations (which mean they cant be automatically intercepted), airfields (which make them unavailable to the RAF) and cities (which deny the RAF production points).  The RAF can also dogfight with German squadrons but this is fought as a series of one on one fights which means the Germans have the chance to field fighters where available...again there is a 5 combat limit which means the RAF player has to choose carefully where and when to pick his fights.

Assuming that some of the bombers at least have made to their targets they are then able to make a bombing run (and risk ack-ack fire in the process).  Squadrons then return automatically to home but do have to check on losses on the way back depending how much fuel they have used on the way

Go Luftflotte 5!!!!

At the end of the turn the RAF use the available production points to repair damaged radar and airfields and restore damaged aircraft.  The Luftwaffe don't have the luxury of repairing aircraft but do have a much bigger starting stock (apart from the rather weedy Luftflotte 5 who fly out of Norway with a frankly rubbish small mix of bombers and fighters...historically accurate though)

So how did our game go?  I was very lucky in that my initial choice of bombing missions was largely concentrated on the south and east coasts so I was able to knock out a couple of radar stations in turn 1.  Some lucky dice throwing on my part also meant that the RAF took heavy casualties...especially 10 Group covering the South and West.  I had less success around the SE but did manage to knock out a radar station in the North West and avoid too many casualties on Luftflotte 5.  The high amount of damage meant the RAF couldn't repair everything and get planes back in the air and crucially the gap in radar cover meant I was able to pile squadrons through the gaps and bomb Exeter and Swansea. Although these were repaired next turn I was also able to bomb Portsmouth and the Port of London and keep the pressure up on the South coast.  Luftwaffe casualties were mounting this point however and we ran out of time for the final turn but it was looking like a narrow victory for the Luftwaffe.

Each Luftflotte has a management board to organise flights and missions
Back when I first posted about the Battle of Britain game there was a lot of grumbling (including by me) about the quality of the miniatures, the bendiness of the wings etc.  I've straightened out most of the planes which was pretty easy to do and they look good on the table.  They aren't meant to be detailed representations of the the squadrons...the actual plane used has no connection to the composition of the Luftflotte or Group.  Think of them as the counters being pushed around by WRAFs on a map table in a Command Centre somewhere in the South of England while a stoic Wing Commander smokes his pipe and looks on pensively...to that end they work very well.  The only niggle I still have is the size of the stickers used on the bases to denote which Flight and Squadron each one represents...although they are colour coded which helps the writing is tiny which makes it very easy to mix up the flights.  Despite this the game is great fun and well worth looking out for.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Labyrinth - The War on Terror

So the first proper game of 2018 was a boardgame which my son got at xmas  (I'm feeling old...we used to get him games like Operation and Monopoly, then Warhammer stuff and now it's games about the global war on Terror!)

Labyrinth is a (kind of) sequel to the excellent Twilight Struggle but focuses on events from 2001 onwards.  The players either represent the United States or Jihadists, each trying to bring about different victory conditions.  Like Twilight Struggle each player holds a hand of cards which are either played for Operations Points which allow you to do stuff, or to trigger an event which  has good consequences for the player.  As in TS the downside is that if you play a card for the points, but the event would benefit you it doesn't happen, whereas if it benefits your opponent then it does occur.  This means some careful thought has to go into which card to play and when.

The map focuses on the Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia.  Each Muslim country
has a state of government which can be influenced by either side: the USA wants to have 'Good' governance as this makes states less likely to be swayed by the Jihadists and also enhances the USAs prestige rating: once enough states are 'Good' the USA wins.  The Jihadists, meanwhile want to destabilise the governments of Muslim states as a prelude to then launching a major Jihad and creating an Islamic regime...get enough of these and the game is over.  Of course the Jihadists can use other tactics including getting their hands on some stray WMDs that might become available...either via Pakistan, Russia or Centra Asian States.  If the Jihadists can sneak one of those into the USA and set off a nuke or release a deadly virus then it's an immediate win although it's seems like an exceptionally tricky thing to pull off. 

While both sides are trying to improve or degrade the governments of Muslim countries, each side also has some specific tricks up their sleeves.  The USA can attempt to wage a 'War of Ideas' in countries to either make them become allied or, in the case of Europe and other non-Muslim states, to boost prestige and try to get them to the same attitude as the USA.  In our games the USA mostly adopted a 'hard' posture while those woolly, lefty liberals in Europe stuck to a 'soft' attitude which makes it harder for the US to influence others.  The Jihadists meanwhile need to keep up their funding levels so they need to conduct operations to both influence governments but also to bring in funding...either by launching Jihads or by setting up 'plots'.  The Jihadists have a limited number of cells which they can attempt to deploy and move and these can set off unspecified plots which the US can alert host countries to by spending operations points (or not...).  The US can also, in certain circumstances, institute Regime Change by launching a full-blown invasion which switches a country to allied status but potentially leaves it open to Jihadist sympathies.

Because each side has both different victory conditions and different mechanics for playing cards the rules can come across as more complicated than they actually are and it took me a couple of play throughs to get my head round it.  The game comes with both the rulebook but also a 'playboook' which contains a detailed play through of several turns and explanations which helped.

So far it's all in the best possible taste then!?  Actually it comes across fairly respectfully given the subject matter.  It certainly makes you think about the implications of your decisions...leaving a plot to go off in a host country because you don't want to spend the points feels more real than in many boardgames.  I know I've seen reviews in which the reviewer has been very uncomfortable about the subject matter but if you can get your head around that then it's a fascinating game.  Like Twilight Struggle it can be a bit daunting at times to know where to make your next move and it takes time to build up a strategy to influence a country...there are no quick routes to victory...I'm not sure 'fun' is an appropriate word given the subject but it's a very interesting and challenging game and well worth looking out for.

Monday, 1 January 2018

2017 and all that...

January 1st, so it must be time for the traditional look back at the old year and make sketchy plans that will never be achieved for 2018!

The Blog
Looking through my posts on the blog over the last 12 months I made 44 posts (plus one in draft)... 4 more than last year.  These seem to come in fits and starts with some months only having a couple of posts while in others I managed to get 4 or 5 posts up.  I guess this reflects work and family stuff intruding.  Views of the site have risen to 135k after crossing the 100k threshold in January...these may be Russian bots of course but oh well...!!  The posts which attract the most views tend to be ones about shows (eg Salute or SELWG) which didn't surprise me, but anything with "Boardgames" as a tag tends to pick up a lot more views too which I thought was interesting. There are also now 99 kind people who follow the blog...many thanks to all of you.

Games played
Boardgames dominated the year...not least because my son and I (and occasionally my wife) played a whole load of games over the summer.  I also acquired several new games including Twilight Struggle, Battle of Britain, Wilderness Empires and Hold the Line.  My son got a copy of Labyrinth at xmas which is a (kind of) sequel to Twilight Struggle and takes on the War on Terror.  We've had a couple of goes at it over xmas but we didn't have the time to play it though fully...fascinating game although it did make my head hurt at points.  I'll put up a more detailed post about the game at some point.

The Labyrinth board

oops...the terror cells seem to have just acquired Pakistani WMDs!

I've also played several boardgames over at Eric the Shed's, especially as the winter closed in.  The highlight, I think, has been the new Fallout boardgame from Fantasy Flight games which was great fun and really reflected the computer game.  This isn't the  tabletop skirmish version by Modiphius which I'd been very excited about when it was first rumoured but then very disappointed by when I saw the game being demo'd at SELWG and even more so when I saw the price!  The FFG game is a co-op exploration style game and as you advance in the game the storyline unfolds in a very entertaining way.  Very tempted to get my own copy of this.

Most of my 'proper' figure games this year have been at the Shed with a smaller number at Guildford and/or my friend Andrew's.  Black Powder, Pike and Shotte, Bolt Action and Chain of Command have dominated with some other games (eg Sharp Practice or Lion Rampant) making an occasional appearance but I've been fortunate to be able to get a game in most weeks with some good friends.  I have to admit I'm very lucky to have fallen in with a decent circle of gamers.

Painting has been even slower than usual this year and, after my flurry of work completing my Aztecs and Conquistadors back in the summer, has pretty much ground to a halt.  I'm committed to getting my North West Frontier figures moved on a bit with a deadline in March which always help focus the mind but I also have a few other bits and pieces to complete...some extra bits for Ronin and Sharp Practice and some newly acquired Cowboys.  More effort and dedication is definitely required for 2018...step away from the computer games and TV and get on with painting!!!