Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Mid-Week Gaming

As any parent with small children understands, the reality is that one's social activities are seriously curtailed. As a parent I accept this but as a gamer it occasionally irks me. So that's why I was so excited to actually get in some gaming with someone other than an immediate family member this week.

Let me set the scene for you. As it was Maddie's (aged 6) school vacation I'd taken a week off work. My wife Deb was at work all week and Georgia (aged 2) was in daycare all week except Wednesday. On Wednesday our kids' Pop & Nanny (my father and step-mother) would visit us and spend the day with Maddie and Georgia before taking Maddie to their house for a couple of nights. On Friday Deb would pick Maddie up in the afternoon from Nanny and Pop's house and take her to see Disney's High School Musical: The Ice Tour (they had free tickets). So this all meant that I would have time to myself during the day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - Oh joy!

I became aware early in the week from a post over at fellow Brisbane gamer and BGG user Friendless' blog, Playing With Myself, that he was having minor surgery early on Monday. Thinking that he may have some days off work to recover I sent him an email asking him if he was up for any gaming. I think the last time we'd gamed together was back in December 2006 when we'd played Commands & Colors: Ancients. I hadn't played C&C: Ancients since then and I was really looking forward to a game. As it turned out we ended up setting a time for midday on Wednesday.

I arrived at his house at the appointed time and had the opportunity to meet his partner (and BGG user) Scrabblette. She had an appointment to go to which left Friendless and I alone to play games.

Friendless already had the C&C: Ancients board set up with the Colline Gate 82BC scenario from the C&C: Ancients Expansion Pack #3 The Roman Civil War. The battle of the Colline Gate was fought in November of 82BC and was the final battle by which Sulla secured control of Rome following the civil war against his rivals. The Samnites, led by Pontius Telesinus attacked Sulla's army at the Colline Gate on the northeastern wall of Rome, and fought all night before being routed.

Although I didn't know the outcome of the historical battle at that time, I chose to play the historical losers - the Samnite army of Pontius. Looking more closely at the setup I could see that Friendless had two leaders (Sulla and Crassus) to my one (Pontius). His Romans were arrayed in front of the walls of Rome with the gate at their backs in the centre. The Romans also appeared to outnumber the Samnites in medium infantry. Not only that but my forces only had 5 command cards to the Roman's 6. The victory condition was 5 banners. This was going to be challenging.

On my first turn I immediately moved Pontius (who was attached to a unit of medium cavalry) from his initial position behind the centre of my lines over to the right flank. I only had one other cavalry unit and that was over on the left. Friendless moved Sulla forward from his position at the gate to where he would be of more use in the centre.

The majority of my forces were Auxilia and some other light troops, with only two Medium Infantry to stiffen the line in the centre. I was fearing the result of a clash of our lines head on as Friendless' forces were slightly more numerous and of better quality than mine. Knowing this I made the decision not to advance my troops but to wait for him to come to me. I then tried to disrupt his line. I sent my Medium Cavalry unit on a feint attack on my left flank but it was then beaten back with losses. What I really wanted him to do was come in range of my missile troops because I'd been sitting on a Darken The Sky card since turn 1. Unfortunately, he was using his turns to position his troops and straighten his line. I didn't get to use my Darken The Sky card until about turn 3 or 4 and not with all the troops I'd wanted.

I had two camps on my rear board edge which were each worth 1 victory banner. I think it was about the middle of the game when Friendless sent forward Crassus and his Medium Cavalry to wipe out my Medium Cavalry on my left flank. After quickly wiping out my cavalry Crassus had a Momentum Advance into my infantry. The only thing between him and my rear left camp was a unit of Auxilia. The attack caused a couple of hits and a retreat so I was then able to retire that wounded unit to the relative safety of the camp.

Friendless had wisely gotten his two leaders into combat and I'd left poor Pontius sitting by his lonesome on my right flank. I'd been saving a couple of right flank cards just for this time. I ordered Pontius and his Medium Cavalry to hit the flank of the Roman left. The charge was successful and destroyed a unit of Auxilia (thanks to them having limited room to retreat due to the walls of Rome). I then was able to use Momentum Advance to have a Bonus Combat which caused some losses to the next unit in line.

My right flank after Pontius lost his cavalry unit but then evaded and counter-attacked with some Auxilia

Meanwhile our lines met and there was a back and forth struggle in the centre. Friendless was taking ground on my left flank while I was pushing forward on my right. In an effort to be smart and cut off the retreat of one of Friendless' units in his rear I inadvertently left Pontius in a vulnerable position. Friendless immediately took advantage of this and surrounded Pontius. His first attack wiped out the Medium Cavalry unit that Pontius was attached to. Pontius survived a Leader Casualty check and then had to evade. However, to evade he had to move through one of Friendless' Auxilia units which then had 3 dice to attack with - any Leader symbol rolled would eliminate Pontius, my one and only Leader.

I held my breath but thankfully for Pontius no purple Leader symbols were rolled. Pontius retired onto an Auxilia unit and then counter-attacked. I think we were sitting at about 3 all at this stage. Another two banners would win the game for either one of us. Friendless only had to destroy my wounded Auxilia unit on the camp to win. I had to destroy two more of Friendless' units.

My brave Auxilia unit holds on in the camp in the bottom left of the picture

I was able to achieve victory in the end by finishing off two Roman units in front of the walls of Rome. I won 5 to 3. It was a very exciting game against a tough opponent. I have to say I love C&C: Ancients. It well deserves the 10 rating I've given it on BoardGameGeek.

After that we decided to take a break from C&C: Ancients and have a go at some other Eurogames. Friendless pulled out Hey! That's My Fish! This is a game I'd been wanting to try for some time. I suspected that it would be a good game to play with my family. I was not disappointed.

I love the title of this game

It's basically an abstract game but with a theme that fits nicely. The board is comprised of hexagonal tiles each with one to three fish pictured on them. Each player has a number of penguins which are allowed to only move in straight lines. When you leave a hex tile you take that tile as scored points which leaves a hole in the board. Penguins are not able to move over other penguins or holes. It became clear that one must not allow oneself to get cut off from the supply of fish. The game plays fairly quick and it looks like it would be fun to play with kids. It was a close game with Friendless winning 49 to 48. I really, really like this game. In fact, so much so that it has now entered the top of my 'must buy' list.

Our next game was the latest from game designer Kris Burm (of the Gipf Project) - Tzaar. Friendless had an Essen pre-release copy of Tzaar which was signed by the designer. I'm a big fan of the Gipf Project games and I could instantly see the goodness of Tzaar. Unfortunately, I'm also aware that it normally takes a couple of plays for me to understand the strategies of these games. Friendless ended up winning in an enjoyable game which made my brain hurt in a good way.


After that we played Fish Eat Fish. In this game players have coloured fish and try to eat other fish to score points. Each player has an exact same deck of cards with different attack values and special abilities. It's basically a game of bluffing your opponent. It was alright but it didn't grab me like Hey! That's My Fish! did at first play. Friendless trounced me 17 to 3.

The bright and colorful components of Fish Eat Fish

Our next game was Trias. In this game players are allocated herds of dinosaurs in a colour. Friendless took yellow and I chose red. The board is comprised of hexagonal land tiles of mountain, steppe and jungle which support 2, 3 and 4 herds of dinosaur respectively. Each turn a player has a certain number of action points which they can spend on moving, having offspring or rescuing herds. The fun mechanic of this game is the mandatory land drift where each turn you must move a land tile away from the centre volcanic region. This replicates the movements of land masses over the millennia. This is quite a cool little game and I can see why Friendless rates it a 10. I ended up winning a close game 6 points to 5 (with a little help from Friendless during the game).

The drifting continents of Trias

As luck would have it Scrabblette arrived home and Friendless was able to persuade her to join us for a last game of Hey! That's My Fish! I'd been that engrossed in our first game that I'd forgotten to take a photo of the setup. And guess what - I was so engrossed in our 3-player game that I again forgot to take a photo! Our 3-player game was as fun, if not more so, than our 2-player game. Scrabblette went on to take the win with 33 points to Friendless and myself each on 32 points.

And so that ended a marvelous afternoon of gaming with Friendless and Scrabblette.

P.S. It never rains but it pours - As if seeing two other Brisbane BGG users wasn't enough, I took Maddie to the local library the day before on Tuesday and happened to bump into another BGG user, Mikey, (who I hadn't seen for over a year) who was there with his kids.


Melissa said...

I'm not a fan of Fish eat Fish either, although I do like the Evil Penguins Game. Both are very abstract, but somehow Fish eat Fish feels like it has less soul - maybe it is the board?

Friendless said...

Fish Eat Fish is too vulnerable to a particular player being picked on - the opponents can really wear one player out and ruin their chances. The bluffing is kinda fun, but it only works half the time. In H!TMF! you can definitely block someone and make gains for yourself. It's very much like Through the Desert and a little bit like Go in that you're always looking to make the move that will give you the most territory.