2012-03-18

Review: A Game of Thrones: The Card Game

In anticipation of four players for game night tonight, I set up Civilization ahead of time... guaranteeing that only three players would show up (thanks, Murphy).

Instead of Civ, which we prefer with four players, the three of us played A Game of Thrones: The Card Game for the first time.  Here's a short review of how I liked the game, without getting too far into how to play it.

A Game of Thrones is a "Living Card Game" that was once a collectible card game.  That basically means that it's still best to buy a lot of cards and build custom decks, but the additional cards are available in fixed packs instead of a random selection.

Also fairly obvious: it's themed after George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, though it was created long before the television show and uses original art instead of screen shots.

We played with three out of the four starter decks from the core set, without any modifications.  Two of us have extensive experience with CCGs prior to playing, and the third has moderate experience.  Because none of us had seen any of the cards before, it took us over 3 hours to figure out the rules and play a 3-player game, which is a lot longer than the recommended time frame.  We acknowledge that we're typically a slow group compared to published time limits.  I'm confident that subsequent plays would be much faster, probably within the 1-2 hour time frame they suggest.

My one line summary is: I really like this game!  I'm really afraid of buying more cards.

The cards and rules do a great job of implementing the feel of the politics of Westeros.  House Lannister has and uses money, House Stark has a bunch of kids with dire wolves, and House Targaryen has dragons and not much else to speak of.  There seemed to be a few bugs with individual characters: Eddard Stark's ability clearly should not be to constantly avoid death. And maybe I haven't read enough of the books yet, but some of these houses didn't come into direct conflict as much as they did in the game.  But the overall feel of the complicated political interactions between the noble houses of Westeros is implemented very well by these rules.

The multiplayer conflicts and variable player order combine to require very difficult decisions between spending resources to initiate challenges versus saving them to defend yourself; and between choosing titles first versus having the last opportunity to attack.  The game definitely encourages success through good strategy, and I never felt randomness played an overwhelming role in the outcomes.

My biggest concern with the rules is analysis paralysis.  It's easy to overthink things ("So clearly, I cannot choose the wine in front of you").  There is also a lot of direct conflict that is veiled in a theme of indirect conflict, so it's important to put on your "thematic game" and "wargame" hats before starting.

I'm a long time fan of the Middle Earth: The Wizards CCG.  It has a long play time with a lot of high quality thematic content, and it comes directly from the books instead of relying on cinematic interpretations.  My overall feeling of A Game Of Thrones: The Card Game is very similar.  It doesn't follow the plot of the books exactly; but it does retain the setting and characters in a lot of detail, and it encourages exploration of the world and themes created by the original literary source.

If I compare this experience to the general case of "CCG with vanilla starter decks," only Middle Earth: The Wizards comes close to providing a comparably high quality experience.  If I compare it to other CCGs that handle more than 2 players gracefully... the only other game that comes to mind is Shadowrun, and even if you could find an opponent, where would you get the cards?

To be fair, we have no experience with the additional cards available for the game, or with deck building, so this review is necessarily limited. There will certainly not be any problem with a lack of depth in the card selection, but it's not clear whether the huge number of cards that have been released so far are well balanced or not.  It's hard to find time to build decks anymore with 2 kids around, but I'm sure we'll get sufficient value from the core set's $40 price tag.

If I had to come up with a complaint about this game, it would be the packaging.  The core set has the worst box insert I've ever seen.  The only way to justify the huge square box at all is to suggest that you can store all of the expansions in it along with the core game, but it begs to be stored as you'd store any CCG: in long card boxes.  Unfortunately, in their attempt to make this into a board game instead of a CCG, Fantasy Flight added pawns and a board that don't store well along with cards.  The Title Reference Cards are more than adequate to convey all necessary information; I'm sure the board and pawns are only there to make board game players more comfortable.

I would definitely recommend this game for anyone looking for a CCG (or LCG) with a lot of player interaction that supports more than 2 players.  If you also know and love the works of G.R.R. Martin, you can't go wrong here.

2012-03-17

Cold Wars 2012: Saturday

Matched pairs, 15mm games
JM and I volunteered to run a DBA Matched Pairs event on Saturday morning.  Neither of us got a lot of sleep the night before, so when I woke up I just let JM sleep in and started the event without him.

I posted details on Fanaticus, but here's a summary of the results.   We had 16 players in two brackets.  4 players used "hybrid" basing, which uses 15mm figures with the 25mm base sizes for more visual appeal.  One player had 6mm figures on 15mm bases, and the rest brought straight 15mm figures.

Since each player provides two armies that will play against each other, any scale can be used as long as they're compatible.

Jason Bostwick won group A with 71 points (3 wins, 1 loss), and Ted Furey went undefeated in group B with 89 points.

May the Beer be With You: Rick Wynn, HOTT matched pairs.
Next was Hordes of the Things matched pairs.  I brought my Battle of Endor "matched" pair built from Star Wars collectible miniatures.  This was not an even match, but it produced historical results.  I need to work on the army composition before bringing it out again.

In the first round, I faced Alex Bostwick using my army.  He chose the Rebels and Ewoks, and I played the Imperial side.  He crushed me quickly, I believe it was 6g-0.  Shooter generals are feeble, but it was too late to change my mind.

Next I played against Jeff Franz using his Perseus vs. Medusa Greek armies in 15mm scale.  I  had Perseus fly behind his line with a harpy to strike his harpy in the rear and kill it.  Unfortunately, in response Medusa turned around and shot Perseus down, recoiling him into his own harpy and killing him. I lost 6g-2 after 2 rounds of combat.

In the third round, Rick Wynn also chose to play the role of the Ewoks.  This game lasted a bit longer, but ended the same way: my shooter general was crushed and the Empire fell.  It was approximately 8g-0 at the end.  Hmm, I have a problem losing generals, apparently.

Finally, I faced Greek Alex who was borrowing a pair of "Arabian Nights" armies from Rick.  They were identical: a Magician general, flyer, dragon, behemoth, and warbands.  These are PIP intense forces, but it evens out when they face each other.  Alex whittled me away, got his dragon on the board, and finally ended up winning 14-0.

Once again, I felt a need to learn how to play HOTT effectively.  The troop interactions are fun, but also new and different, and not what I'm used to.  I ended up picking up prepainted Mechwarrior figures for another HOTT matched pair of armies, so I'll have more armies to choose from if I ever find the time to play.

Finally, the event we've all been waiting for: Condotta Chaos!  As usual, the Two Davids campaign event was the highlight of the convention.

Jeff Franz, looking down.
By the time this event started, I had been running on too little sleep for a long time.  I was basically on autopilot by now.  Luckily the event was run using the DBA 2.2+ rules, which I seem to be more familiar with these days.

I originally intended to take Pike and Artillery as my army options, but then I learned none of the Condotta armies were allowed to take pike.  Since I needed to take spears, I took psiloi to provide support for them. My other options were an additional Light Horse, and of course the pavisiers.

In this event, all knights were allowed to dismount as blades at deployment.  I painted blades for this, so I hoped to get a chance to use them.

In the first round, I drew a high numbered chit, and defended against Jeff Franz's Condotta.  I placed terrain, and used a road curved around a hill and a wood.  I deployed with two Knights dismounted as Blades near the bad going to act as bad going troops.  He very helpfully placed his Artillery on the same flank, and I sensed an opportunity.

This was the only game when I took advantage of a 2.2+ rule that I remembered but the enemy forgot.  He kinked his line, so I contacted his ungrouped Artillery and caused it to conform to my column of blades so I could fight it without an overlap.  It wasn't without risk: I had to survive one round of combat against a knight before I could get back into bad going.  With the threat from his artillery neutralized, our lines clashed and I eventually crushed him and killed his general: 4g-2.

In this campaign, losing a general meant rolling on a table to see whether the general escaped (no effect), was captured (the only way for a winning defender to gain a vassal), or killed (causing the army to lose their vassals).  Jeff's general escaped alive but embarrassed.  Fooey, I could use a good vassal!

Jan Spoor, looking down.
In the next round, I got to choose between two high numbered tiles and so I was attacked again.  This time I faced Jan Spoor and his... wait for it...  Condotta!  He used the same composition that I had.

I rolled as the defender and placed similar terrain: minimal bad going with enough room between them to play, and a bent road.  I deployed all my knights mounted, and left two elements of bait to the left of the woods.  He deployed three elements on that flank and took the bait!  Oh wait, he also brought his General with him so he wouldn't be out of command.  That wasn't part of my plan...

In the end, it was a very close, hard fought battle.  He had superiority on the left flank, but I managed to kill enough in the center that I pulled off a 4-3 victory before I died.  Once again, since I was defending, I didn't gain any vassals.

Rick Wynn, looking down.
In round 3, I drew two tiles again since I won, and once again my numbers were too high to attack with.  Rick Wynn attacked me with his Medieval Germans.

I defended, placed very similar terrain again, and once again placed two elements of bait on the left flank. This time they were on a road, making them look extra fancy in their steel stirrups and poofy sleeves.  I deployed one knight dismounted, since Rick had more heavy foot than I did.  He also took the bait, but he took an entire spear quad to counter it.  This was great news.  As long as I could threaten them enough not to move back to the center, I was confident I'd never need to face them.

It was either this game or the previous one when I finally figured out how to wheel my army into advantageous matchups effectively. In this game it really clicked and worked well.  I swapped my elements into place so that it was in Rick's benefit to walk forward, and in my interest to wheel into a better position, and it just worked really well.

But Rick is a good player, and he did a very good job of protecting his flank with the woods on his side.  I managed to hit his line hard enough to do some damage, but after my initial combat advantage I started taking casualties.  Pretty soon I was only one element from dying, but I managed to kill his general and win 4g-3.  In the end, two of my elements and one of his had done a 180 in the middle of the board, it was a real mess.

This game demonstrated the difference it makes when you don't lose rear support when a front rank dies in 2.2+.  My psiloi support survived at least 2 rounds of combat against his knight, but eventually lost a 2-2 mutual quick kill roll. A Knight killing spears and following up into a Psiloi with double overlaps is not necessarily a good deal for the Knight... it's certainly dangerous, possibly too dangerous.

Since Rick lost his General, he had to roll on the CMAT table as well, and I captured him.  A vassal at last!

Mark Pozniak, looking down.
In the final round, I drew the 1 and 2 tiles.  Finally I got to attack, and so did Rick.  I had a tiny vassal tree compared to other players, but they did look like juicy targets.  I hadn't played against Poz yet, and he had a big vassal tree that I could reach easily, so I attacked him.

Mark had Condotta, and I think he took Artillery.  He defended and placed terrain.  It looked similar to mine, but with the bad going farther apart and larger.  He also placed two elements of light horse on a flank, and I mirrored his deployment there.

Again this game, I was able to wheel into good matchups with the main line.  I struck his light horse with mine at just about the time our lines met, but it was a minor mistake: I should've waited for him to come to me so he'd be out of command radius.

I killed one of his light horse immediately, and this time I didn't lose my early combat advantage. I won combats all down the line and fairly quickly killed him 4-0.  It was a much faster game, but much less tense than the previous ones.

This win netted me a large vassal tree, and Rick added to it with his attack as well.  In the end, first place was a three way tie between me, Mark, and Rich Baier.  We had a roll-off to break the tie before Dave Schlanger had a chance to tell us who was actually eligible, but everyone else had so many plaques they just let me take it anyway.

So finally, I started winning!  I guess it was better that it was all in one event; now I'm qualified for the NICT and have a measurable reason to try to get to Historicon in July.  We'll see if my schedule allows it.

Saturday night, we stayed up until 4:30am after the Daylight Savings clock change, playing Red Dragon Inn.  This was quite a fun little Take That! game, with a good theme.  But as with most of these games, it is nothing without its theme and the right players to make the most of it.  It's not a good choice for our gaming group in Pittsburgh, but it was a lot of fun to play with the rowdier convention crowd.

Those games produced my favorite quote of the convention, courtesy of Alex Bostwick: "Hey guys! Alan is secretly 40!"  Well, just because you don't tell anyone something, that doesn't necessarily make it a secret, but I'm old enough to appreciate it when someone thinks I'm in my 20's.

Thanks to everyone for running these excellent events!  I had fun, as always, and look forward to seeing everyone again.

2012-03-16

Cold Wars 2012: Thursday, Friday

Another Cold Wars has come and gone.  It was a lot of fun, as usual, and it has renewed my enthusiasm for going to conventions.  My friendships with friends I rarely see grow stronger, and I look forward to seeing everyone in person again soon.

I did a lot of losing this past weekend, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on it.  There are other newer, more interesting things to talk about instead.

Thursday

JM and I rode out with Larry and Rich and set up camp in a second room the hotel accidentally reserved in Larry's name.  Thanks for the mistake, no other rooms were available!

On Thursday night was Larry's element-based theme game: Horde Wars.  Armies were required to contain at least one horde, so I took Post-Mongol Samurai with four hordes.  As usual, despite being a "Horde Wars" event, the metagame turned it into "Horde Killers Wars."  I usually take advantage of the opportunity to try to learn how to use the themed element type, instead of trying to learn how to kill it.  This time, I'm not sure it worked, because I don't think Hordes are as useful in large numbers as in smaller numbers.

My losses were against Ron Giampapa's Feudal English, 2-4; Mark Bumala's medieval army (I forget which one, but it had more Knights), 6-0; and Jason Bostwick's Sarmations, maybe 4g-0.  Basically I was crushed, and the only elements I killed in the event were Ron's psiloi rush.

Friday

I actually got sleep Thursday night.. no wait... no, I didn't.  I had Thai iced tea and a Kahlua drink and couldn't get to sleep at all, but JM confirmed I was snoring so I must've slept a little bit.

Friday morning was the first Big Event: BBDBA Doubles.  JM and I took Hittite Empire (I/24a) with a Mitanni ally (I/19).  This is hopefully the last time this army will be a straight spear line.  Starting with Historicon, we'll be using the DBA 2.2+ rules for BBDBA, which will convert all the Hittite 3Sp into Light Spears.  This will make them weaker, but more maneuverable.  I'm not sure if I'd be as willing to take Hittites to BBDBA, but I'd be more willing to play a Hittite/Mitanni matched pair.

vs. Two Davids: New Kingdom Egyptians
In the first round, we faced Two Davids with their New Kingdom Egyptians. They placed a mandatory waterway on one edge, and marshes mucking up the deployment zone on the other edge. After protracted discussion, we chose the board edge behind the marshes, and they deployed half their army.  They reserved not only their last command, but a landing party from their CinC command, giving them maximum flexibility in deploying their final forces.  This won't be legal in 2.2+.

We deployed defensively behind the marshes, with our mounted almost entirely on the right flank.  This gave us a good size bad going force to fight in the marsh while our spears sat behind to prevent breakthroughs.  JM refused their slowed left flank while we attacked aggressively on the right.

We won the bad going, and eventually broke one of their commands, but it wasn't their CinC.  Unfortunately, it went more slowly than we preferred, and Dave Schlanger was strictly enforcing 2.5 hour rounds this time. We couldn't seal the deal in time, so we ended up with an unfinished game, 29-10 in our favor.  This is as well as we've done against the Davids in person, which is good, but it is no fun to leave a game unfinished.

vs. Greek's Greeks: Syracusan with Carthaginian ally
In fact, we disliked it so much that we decided to do it again in the next round.  We faced "Greek" Alex and Mark Pozniak playing Syracusans with a Carthaginian ally.  They defended again, but placed their mandatory waterway on the flank instead.  Heavy bad going bogged up the other flank, so we were destined to stick to the coast on our right flank again.

This game went very similarly to the first one, at the start.  We deployed on the right flank with the intent to attack heavily with chariots and support in adjacent bad going, while refusing the left.  The two games were similar enough that they get mixed up in my head.  In this game, we both broke one of the enemy's commands before time was called, and the game ended 25-22 in their favor.

vs. Hans and Franz: Alex and the Classics
These two unfinished games pretty much spoiled the bracket and meant that someone could advance to the finals with only two wins.  That turned out to be Hans and Franz, who we faced in our final round: Rich Gause and Jeff Franz playing Alexandrian Imperial with Classical Indian ally.

Oh boy, did we end up sucking this game. But at least we finished it.  We placed terrain and deployed centrally and symmetrically.  I deployed Mitanni on the right flank.

I really don't like blaming the dice, and it felt like we made a lot of mistakes this game; but in some cases we really didn't have the PIPs required to do what we knew we should have done.  The first turn started with a PIP roll of 1, 1, 1, which just wasn't enough; and it didn't get better until it was too late.  Rich was able to push his attack down the road on our left flank unopposed, and I wasn't able to mount any coordinated attack on the right.

Jeff and Rich both played very well and definitely deserved their 100-0 victory.  But that doesn't mean I have to like it!  They went on to the finals and won their final game, taking victory in BBDBA doubles.  Congratulations!

In the end, we failed our goal of getting at least 100 points.  Next time we'll have to take a faster army... hopefully one that we can win with.

After BBDBA Doubles was the Pyramid Pyramid.  This was a Two Davids pyramid format event using biblical era armies and the DBA 2.2+ modifications.

Dave Schlanger ran the pyramid format a bit differently than it's done out in Ohio.  Instead of carrying our losses each round, the losing players all lose 2 elements and the winners lose nothing.  This provides some strategic attrition to reduce the size of the armies in play, while maintaining the same size army on both sides and rewarding winning instead of playing conservatively.  It worked very well, I'd like to see this form of attrition used more widely.

I had Early Libyans, which looked quite fun in this era: Warband, Bow, Psiloi.  I lost my first game to Jan Spoor's Sea Peoples, 5-2.  Playing together in the second round, Jan and I crushed Jeff Franz's Hebrews and Larry Chaban's New Kingdom Egyptians.  In the third round, the four of us lost to Alex Bostwick, Mark Pozniak, Rich Gause, and JM Seman.  The highlight of that game was my demoralized bow shooting Alex's general (the CinC) and recoiling it to its death... but we only demoralized one of their commands before they crushed us under their unrelenting boot of progress.

Instead of playing the Midnight Madness event, which would have provided some chance of going to bed at a reasonable hour, 7 of us stayed up until 2:30am playing Arkham Horror.  We had more devoured investigators than I've ever seen before, let alone all in the same game.  In Soviet Russia, you don't finish the game, the game finishes you.  We quit while we were ahead and got some sleep... not enough, just "some."

Stay tuned for Saturday...




2012-03-15

DBA Army IV/59: Post-Mongol Samurai

I traded my Baueda Emishi army pack for a Post-Mongol Samurai army pack from Jeff Franz.  I didn't think I'd ever get around to painting the Samurai, but then the Stooges planned a Horde Wars event at Cold Wars 2012.  Samurai were the only way I could get 4 elements of horde on one army, so I painted it quickly and brought it to the convention.

DBA IV/59: Post-Mongol Samurai; Essex Miniatures.
The figures are by Essex Miniatures.  The Essex Samurai range is quite odd, I've found.  They sell Ashigaru and horde/peasant figures that are only appropriate for the later (Post-Mongol) periods, but their mounted and foot Samurai seem to be using early Samurai armor and equipment.  I'm not that happy with the accuracy of the figures for this period, based on my limited knowledge.

The sculpting is also a bit of a mixed bag.  The armor has small details that are finely carved, which makes it difficult to paint effectively using either highlighting or ink washes.  Jeff traded these away because they were a pain in the butt to paint, and I see what he means.
4 Hordes. Washed with Army Painter strong tone dip.

I did a bit of a rush job on the painting, but the figures really didn't inspire me very much.  The greatest inspiration I had was to get better Samurai figures to paint a second army with. Unfortunately this would force me to paint a third army for BBDBA, because what can you do with only 2 armies?

2x3Sp.  These are Light Spear in DBA 2.2+.
This army has three optional sections: 4x3Sp, 4x5Wb, or 4x7Hd.  15 figures for each of 4 stands?  Ugh!  That's like 2 armies worth of figures right there.   Luckily, Jeff had already painted the warbands, so I was off the hook for those.  The only reason I was painting the army was to get the hordes, so I decided on a very basic color scheme and technique for these four elements.  I just flat painted them using a limited palette, and dipped them all using Army Painter strong tone.  It's a very utilitarian look, with any variety and visual interest coming from the large number of guys rather than their paint job.

I painted the one mandatory 3Sp element, and one additional element that I primed along with it. I like the way the back flags look.  The Triforce symbol was used by the Late Hōjō Clan in the 15-16th century long before it was used by Nintendo in the Legend of Zelda series.

Cavalry and Cavalry general. Essex miniatures.
Although I like the way these flags look, I hate them!  What a nuisance.  They're molded separately and need to be glued to the figures, with a tiny surface area for gluing and no room to add pins.  Two of the flags came off before I even had a chance to photograph the elements, and two more fell off during the first tournament I used the elements in.  Back flags are the one thing that would prevent me from getting a second PMS army, because an accurate later Samurai force would have far more flags than this army does.

6x4Bd, Essex Miniatures.
To paint the Samurai armor, I decided on another simple but somewhat effective technique.  I flat painted the armor, added a few contrasting stripes on the lacing, and then used a thin, black ink (Didi's Magic Ink) to darken the armor between the raised lacing pattern.  Unfortunately, the carving is shallow enough that it didn't work as well as I had hoped.  It looks better than flat colors without shading, and it's far easier than painting highlights, but it didn't turn out as well as I think it would with more deeply carved figures.  It's good enough, but not great.

The cloth was all painted with brushed-on highlights.  I didn't use any patterns on the cloth except on one figure, though I expect technically there should be more.

This is not one of my better painted armies, but at least it's not in the "unpainted" pile anymore.  I still have 3x3Sp to paint, as well as a camp, but those will have to wait until I have another opportunity to play with the army again. Maybe next year at Cold Wars?

I really like the look of Samurai and their armies, but DBA just isn't very nice to them.  It's a difficult army use out of its historical period.

A Few Dwarfs

Here are a few Dwarfs that Martine painted.  It's a fine job for an 8 year old just learning to paint.  They're comparable quality to some I bought already painted at Legions.  It was a good lesson in dry brushing.  The fact that she got them done in one night is a bonus.

Eventually I'll base them for Hordes of the Things.  Maybe she'll want to paint the rest of the army as well.

GW Dwarfs painted by Martine

2012-03-06

Endor Bunker

I needed a stronghold for my Battle of Endor matched pair of armies for Hordes of the Things, so I made the obvious choice: the bunker that the rebels assaulted and then defended from an Imperial counterattack.  With a bit of imagination it's usable by both sides, and it's pretty much the only thing attached to the surface of Endor that isn't a tree.

Here's a Work in Progress shot showing the basic construction.  The main building is cut on the band saw from white foam.  I cut three pieces at the right angles, and glued them back together.  The roof is two pieces of foam core, and it's on a masonite base.

Next, I cut the door and vent-like shapes out of cardstock and glued them to the foam.  On the roof I added some details made of some washers and bases I had lying around.

I measured a toy playset to get the dimensions of this, which may have been a bit of a mistake.  The actual bunker had side walls that angled back into the hillside instead of a 90 degree angle.  So, this isn't perfect, but it's easier to transport.

Also of note: stacking heavy books on foam squishes it.  Who knew.  It's a bit lopsided because of this, but the more obvious defects problems where the cardstock details buckled.

DBA III/78: Early Russians; German Knights

German knights for III/78: Early Russians; Essex Miniatures, 15mm
When I first painted my Early Russian DBA army, I didn't finish the knight element.  This is a "3/6Kn" which represents German knights fighting for the Russians.  3Kn would be a bit earlier, and 6Kn a bit later.

I came so very close to basing a 6Kn element, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it, when 2x3Kn elements are so much more useful.

For heraldry or shield designs, I looked in the Zurich Roll for some authentic German heraldic designs that caught my eye as looking at home in the East.  They are totally anachronistic for knights of this period; I'd hardly expect heraldry on kite shields.  And I have no evidence that these particular people were ever in Russia, let alone in the 12-13th century.

However, they look really good and fit with the rest of the Russian army, which are my main goals.

These are Essex figures from the III/78 army pack.