Saturday, 27 July 2019

1777 - Year of Decision

The American War of Independence (or is it the American Revolution?) has always been a bit of an interest although lately it has definitely caught my imagination...I've recently bought some figures to get started on (although they are still languishing in their box, unassembled) and I've been reading Christopher Hibbert's history of the war.  So when my friend Andrew proposed trying a game of 1777-Year of Decision I was very keen.  This was a game released via Strategy & Tactics magazine, something I've never really looked at although I've seen copies in wargames shops like Orcs Nest.

The game is set in, erm.., 1777 and sets the British forces the task of capturing key objectives within a 10 turn time limit.  The American objective is simply to prevent this happening.  I was impressed with the quality of the components: the map is really lovely and illustrates the northern theatre of the war, ranging from Montreal and Lake Champlain in the north down to Philadelphia.  The map is surrounded by a host of tables and charts used in the game and these are also found in the 16 page rulebook.  The counters are nicely done and show Senior and Subordinate commanders and then various troops types... Regulars, Hessians, Artillery, Torys and Indians for the British and Continentals, Artillery and Militia for the Patriots (as the game insists on calling them...I'll stick to 'Rebels')

Units can only move when a commander activates them but the senior generals (like Howe and Washington) can activate subordinates to help with this.  Armies also have to make sure they maintain supply lines by bringing along supply trains and setting up depots.

Movement is done by moving from point to point and the routes are slow and convoluted, which reflects the dense terrain of the time.

The action in our game seemed to follow the historical version...troops from the north marched slowly ( or sailed slowly down Lake Champlain in Burgoyne's case).  Meanwhile Howe, starting down in New York marched around a lot with the Rebels falling back and avoiding a fight.  He did manage to get to Philadelphia and then slowly gathered his subordinate commanders into a larger field army and headed after Washington who had been falling back towards Albany and his own reinforcements.

The rebels had managed to slow down my 2 pronged northern advance: I had seized another objective in Fort Ticonderoga but the 10th and final turn was approaching and I didn't think there was much chance of capturing my final objectives of Fort Montgomery and Albany.  Somehow (I'd like to claim this was tactical genius but it was actually luck!) I managed to reach my targets on the final turn and the game was poised to end on 2 make or break battles.  Howe overwhelmed Washington at the Battle of Albany, sending the renegade fleeing north but enough Rebels survived to fall into Albany and hold it for a game winning turn.  North at Ft Montgomery most of the Rebel Generals had assembled and they forced back my 2 pronged attack, preventing me taking the 2nd objective and giving the rebels the victory.

Am excellent little game...lots of things to think about; supply, movement, sea travel (which we didn't use) and a number of advanced rules (which we also left out) but easy to pick up and very intuitive after a couple of turns.  I'm always impressed when a time-limited game builds to a climax on the last turn and this worked really well.  Must have a look at more issues of Strategy and Tactics...

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Britannia on Kickstarter

I'd sworn off Kickstarters for a while (mainly due to lack of funds) but I seem to have signed up for another one!

Plastic Soldier Company are in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for a new version of the boardgame Britannia.

This was first produced by Gibson games back in 1986 and has has various versions released by Avalon Hill and FFG.  This newest version promises to stay pretty faithful to the original but has neatly included a 2 player map on one side and a multiplayer version in the other.

The Kickstarter campaign seems to be going very well... 8 days to go and they are just shy of £50k pledged (the target was £20k) and various new tokens and figures are being released as part of the campaign (although they are making card counters available if you want to go really old school!).

All the info can be found here

Also included in the campaign is the chance to buy discounted versions of PSC games and this includes Battle Ravens which I can highly recommend as well.

Friday, 12 July 2019

I have been to...Hamburg.

A few months ago my son told me to make sure I had booked off Friday 5th July but wouldn't tell me why.., I think it was payback for years of taking him on mystery days out when he was little.  He used to enjoy these but the mystery element drove him up the wall (which of course as cruel parents we thoroughly enjoyed!).  A few days before the 5th he announced that I would need an overnight bag and then on the 4th he told me I'd need my passport and to be up ridiculously early next day.

So on the 5th we were up at 4am for an early morning drive round the M25 to Heathrow airport (thanks to my wife for getting up at an unearthly hour to drive us).  I still wasn't sure where we were off to but was guessing somewhere touristy like Paris or Rome... on check-in I discovered we were booked on the Hamburg flight.  I've never been to Germany (although I've always wanted to go) but knew nothing about Hamburg, apart from the famous red-light district and I didn't think a father and son tour of the Reeperbahn was something either of us would want to do! :)

After a short flight into Hamburg we hopped on the train into the city centre...I was still in the dark as to why we were there but was a bit more relaxed now I at least knew where I was going.  We wandered around town for a bit.  My son had been reading up and apparently the Hafenstadt area is worth visiting...lots of new architecture and redevelopment.  I think we missed this bit completely but did find some empty wastegrounds!  We then wandered back through the historic Warehouse district (now a UNESCO world heritage site) which was much more impressive, before going down to the harbour area for some lunch...currywurst of course!

After lunch we hopped on the U Bahn to our accommodation a few stops away in the Altona district.  My son had booked an AirBnB flat which appeared to be owned by a cabaret and opera singer... could anything be more German? Very nice but very kitsch!  He then finally decided to tell me why we'd come to Hamburg and produced 2 tickets to see Bob Dylan in concert that evening!  I've always been a huge Dylan fan but never seen him live... as my son is also a fan he'd decided to treat us both.  A bit of a lump in the throat and 'oh dear...I've got something in my eye moment'!

We then headed back into town to kill  the rest of the afternoon.  Back at the harbour district there are lots of harbour boat trips as well as regular ferries (more on these later).   There were also a couple of tourist attractions moored in the harbour.  The first of these is the Museumschiff Cap San Diego.  This is a 1961 merchant ship, the of six ships known as the white swans of the South Atlantic which traded to and from South America.  I guess this is very like the ships my dad sailed on in the late 50s and 60s.  You can go on a tour of the ship (we didn't)  and even stay on board.

Moored nearby is the Rickmer Rickmers, a 3 masted barque built in 1896 in Bremershaven.  The ship traded initially to and from Hong Kong and then between Hamburg and Chile.  During WW1 it was captured by the Portugese in the Azores and then loaned to Britain where it was renamed the Flores.

After the war it was returned to Portugal where it became a training ship, winning the Tall Ships race in 1958.  It eventually returned to Germany in 1983 and is now a tourist attraction...again we didn't have time to explore it as we were both much more interested in the next exhibit in the harbour... a Tango class submarine...

Confusingly although it is advertised as a U-Bootmuseum this isn't a German boat but is actually Soviet submarine B-515 (despite saying U434 on the conning tower).  U 434 (or B 515) was built in Nizhny Novgorod in 1976 and served in the Soviet Northern Fleet.

The boat could dive to a depth of 400m and had a max surface speed of 13kn and could make 16kn when submerged.

One of the 24 torpedoes carried onboard...

In the ridiculously cramped interior they somehow squeezed in a crew of 78 sailors!  It remained in service until 2002

After a rather claustrophobic tour of the submarine we made our way back into town for dinner before heading out to the town's Barclaycard Arena.  Travelling around town was ridiculously easy...everything was really well connected and signed and worked really smoothly.

And so to his Bob-ness.  It's always a bit of a gamble with Bob Dylan.  His voice is very variable (which a friend reckoned meant it was either terrible or really terrible!), he is quite likely to play a set of obscure album tracks that you've never heard of and the tunes may not match what you were expecting to hear.  Or... he can sing really well (for Bob Dylan) and play lots of hits with a great band.  We got the good version of Bob Dylan.... yes his voice is an acquired taste but he ran through a 2 hour set of really great songs (including lots of the bigger songs you'd hope to hear).  Some of the tunes had been rearranged a bit to accommodate his changing voice (he's now 78!) and he played piano rather than guitar for most of the set, I suspect so he could sit down.  I was absolutely blown away and when he played a brilliant version of Simple Twist of Fate I have to confess there was a tear in my eye...

This isn't from the Hamburg concert but a couple of days earlier at the Roskilde festival...

Day 2...

We'd done a lot of walking on the 1st day (around 12 miles) and I was beginning to feel it!  We had leisurely breakfast of coffee and pastries in the city centre (well, we were in Germany) while we tried to work out what to do with the rest of the day before we had to head back to the airport.  Hamburg isn't an obviously touristy city: I imagine it's a bit like coming to the UK and visiting Liverpool or Belfast or Glasgow but there are number or attractions that we considered.   Miniatur Wunderland is a huge model railway exhibit and there is a large maritime museum which we considered, especially as the weather was a bit drizzly but in the end we decided to go on a harbour boat trip.

This took us around the Warehouse district which we'd seen the previous day from the street level but it was interesting to see it from the canal and hear about the trading history of the city.  We then headed out into the main harbour and passed several humongous cargo ships and a massive cruise ship.  We also passed a few German navy ships:

This is A50 Alster, an intelligence ship currently in dry dock.  She is a Type 423 Oste class reconnaissance ship commissioned in 1989 and designed to keep an eye on those pesky Soviets.

Further round the harbour we saw 2 German Frigates, F224 Sachsen-Anhalt and F225 Rheinland-Pfalz.  These are relatively new ships launched in 2016 and 2017 and are Baden-Wurttemburg class frigates which are still at the fitting out stage.  There seem to have been lots of issues with the design of this class which are still being worked out.As Post-Cold War ships these are focused more on land-attack capabilities and on peace-keeping roles

The harbour tour was much more interesting than either of us expected and we arrived back in time to grab some more Currywurst and then head out to the airport and back home.

An absolutely brilliant couple of days...I was so touched and overwhelmed by my son's generosity and his sneakiness in keeping it all so secret (turns out practically everyone knew about it apart from me!).  I'm very, very lucky!

Thursday, 4 July 2019

A trio of boardgames: old and new

My son's back from uni for a couple of weeks which usually  leads to a flurry of boardgaming.  Last weekend we managed to get through 3 boardgames in three days.  My wife isn't a fan but will grudgingly go along with some games, usually ones that aren't too wargamey.  An exception to this is Kingmaker.  This has become a bit of a family tradition although I think we all recognise that the game isn't without it's flaws. So game no. 1 was a 3-handed game of Kingmaker...

My history with Kingmaker goes back to my own days at uni (many years ago!) when we would play games that stretched over several days (apparently there were these things called lectures that we were meant to go to...who knew!).  These marathons were large swirling multiplayer affairs with constantly changing alliances and factions, punctuated by the odd bit of back-stabbing (and beer).

Back to the present....for the first time we tried using all the advanced rules including the advanced combat system...normally in KH you simply total all the troops on each side and calculate the odds.  In the advanced game nobles are matched against each other and fights become more individual.  In the end we decided this really didn't add much except making things more drawn out and went back to normal version.

The problem that always crops up with KM is that it can easily turn into a stalemate: I had a senior Yorkist heir to the throne stashed safely in Ireland (and as I held the Lieutenant of Ireland office this meant he was fairly safe).  My son had the King but lost him when he was summoned to the coast to meet an Embassy from overseas and he was ambushed by a pile of my wife's Nobles.  She immediately ferried the king over to Calais (where she had the Captain of Calais office) which meant he would be impossible to capture.

(note...this is typical of my wife's tactics in boardgames.  She repeatedly claims she doesn't really know what she is doing and then deals a killer blow that ties up the game completely!)

We decided at this point that, short of something bizarre happening or one of us suffering a rush of blood to the head, the game was going to be unwinnable.  It's a great game (even if it feels a bit dated) but really needs a minimum of 4 or 5 players I think.  I'm not sure we'll be revisiting it for a while.

Next on our vintage games list was a game of Gunslinger: this is an old (1980s) game from Avalon Hill and another one that I remember fondly.

Compared with more modern rulesets for tabletop cowboy gunfights these rules are very detailed with a turn representing 2 seconds (which is then broken down into 0.4 second segments!!).  The game comes with a stock of western archetypal characters...the Kid, the Marshal, the Prospector etc, each of whom has bonuses, or penalties to shoot as well as some extra skills.  There are also character types for Native Americans, Mexicans, townsfolk etc...there's even a Floozy!  The 26 scenarios cover lots of actual or fictional gunfights and the modular terrain boards can represent town buildings, ranches, wilderness etc.

There are up to 7 characters per game with each one having a deck of cards which are used to build actions over the 2 second for example you might Advance, Draw & Cock your gun and Shoot.  Each action has a time factor which determines when in the turn it happens and the use of the action deck means you are limited in how many of each action you can undertake.  Hits from a gun (or a punch...brawling is always an option) can cause wounds but more typically cause 'delay points' which then stop or slow down your actions.  Interestingly there aren't any dice in the game... all wounds (or gun misfires) are determined by drawing a card from a Results Deck and cross-referencing Aim Time and Range.

I remember this game very mate David and I used to play this a lot in the early 80s but it has lain untouched since then.  I convinced my son to give it a run out...partly for nostalgia value but also because at the back of my mind I keep thinking this could make a good tabletop game with miniatures with a minimal amount of tinkering.

We played an ambush scenario (which with hindsight wasn't the best one to choose from) in which my 2 characters (Virgil & Morgan Earp) were bushwhacked by friends of the Clantons some time after the events at the OK Corral.  This meant that the baddies had the drop on me from turn 1 and my son took full advantage of this!

I don't think I managed to get more than 1 shot off before both characters were badly wounded.  My son then enjoyed himself by seeing how many different ways he could wound me before I died.... in the end 1 character was shot, stabbed and given a severe kicking before finally expiring.  It wasn't like this in the movies!

I thought the rules worked well (my son less so) but it took a while for us to get our heads round the card options.  By the end of the game we were moving much faster (or at least  my son was...I was mainly lying in a bloody heap trying to get rid of delay points!).   I think it has potential if you fancy a very detailed gun fight but if I was running a larger multiplayer game I'd definitely look elsewhere...probably to something like 'A Fistful of Lead'.

The final game in our trilogy is very much the youngster, having only just arrived via Kickstarter.  This is Crusader Kings, based on the computer game of the same name.  My friend Eric the Shed has just acquired this and a group of us gathered to give it an initial play.  Each player (up to 5) takes on the king of a European royal family... loosely based around Spain, England, France, Italy and Germany depending on the scenario.  The aim is to build your dynasty over several turns, acquiring wives and then heirs before your king snuffs it and ensuring the survival and rise to power of your dynasty.  Each noble you acquire has different positive and negative traits which affect the success (or not) of your actions.  These range from being Wise, Kind, Chaste to negatives such as Slothful, Idiotic or Lustful although negatives can be helpful in some cases and vice versa (eg being Lustful is quite handy when you're trying to acquire a wife or husband!)

Each player can try to subvert and take over nearby territories, build castles or plot and scheme against your opponents.  A nice feature is that when you play a card which benefits your faction it is usually combined with an event which benefits the player to your left so some careful thought is needed about what to do, and when.

Despite the initial complexity of the rules we actually sped up rapidly as the evening went on and things seemed pretty intuitive.  We really need to give it a longer run through but the initial verdict was very positive: the game has lots of depth and a really entertaining storytelling aspect as your nobles rise and fall.  We are planning a 2nd game next week.

(Crusader kings images from Boardgamegeek)