Friday, November 21, 2008

Board Games Evening

Friendless and I had arranged to play some games at his house on Friday evening. The last time I'd gamed with Friendless was back on 9 April 2008. I can't believe it's been over seven months since I've played games with people other than my immediate family. Friendless has been my only opponent for Commands & Colors: Ancients so I was certainly looking forward to replaying some ancient battles with him.

On arriving, I found that Friendless, his fiancee Scrabblette, and his son Harley22 (AKA The Kid) had kindly set up some stacks of games from which I could choose our first game. I chose Aquaretto as I'd never played it before. This game is designed by Michael Schacht who is the designer of Coloretto and the 2007 Spiel des Jahres winner Zooloretto.

Aquaretto is a set collection and tile placement game where the objective is to gain victory points by successfully managing a SeaWorld-style water zoo. This was a first time play for me and I could see the similarity to Coloretto which I've played before. Aquaretto had lovely components and was an enjoyable game. Final scores were Friendless 1st with 38, me 2nd with 30 and Scrabblette and Harley22 sharing 3rd on 18 points each.

My aquatic zoo in Aquaretto.

Friendless and I then sat down to play Commands & Colors: Ancients. We would play the first scenario of the base game, the Battle of Akragas (406BC), and then swap sides. In this way we would get the opportunity to experience the challenges of commanding both forces in the same battle. It's also a fair way of determining overall victory by comparing the totals of banners (victory points) won in both games.

The Battle of Akragas (406BC)

Historical Background (From the C&C Ancients scenario book)
It is a time of violent competition between the Syracusan Tyrants (military dictators) and Carthage for control of Sicily. The Carthaginians under Himilco have besieged Akragas, a city allied with Syracuse, prompting Daphnaeus and his army to march to its aid. The Carthaginians split their army into an observation force in front of Akragas, and a blocking force sent to oppose Daphnaeus. The Carthaginian army was almost totally mercenary, while Daphnaeus’s contained veteran heavy infantry that proved invincible when committed to the battle. The survivor’s of Himilco’s badly beaten army fled to the coastal fort sheltering Mago’s observation force. There was no pursuit and no further battle. Daphnaeus’s force was spent, and the forces in Akragas did not sortie. Before another assault could be made on the Carthaginians, their navy managed to interdict the Greek supply line, forcing Daphnaeus to withdraw. Akragas fell eight months later without a fight.

The stage is set. The battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. Can you change history?

War Council

Carthagian Army
• Leader: Himilco
• 5 Command Cards

Syracusan Army
• Use Roman blocks
• Leader: Daphnaeus
• 6 Command Cards
• Move First

5 Banners
Special Rules

Image from
Click for a larger image.

GAME 1: In our first game I commanded the Carthaginians (brown blocks - the historical losers of this battle), while Friendless commanded the Syracusans (grey blocks). I was aware that my Carthaginians were outclassed four to one in Heavy Infantry by the Syracusans. There was no way I was going to advance my weaker infantry towards the meat-grinder that was the Syracusan centre.

My aim in this game was to wait for the Syracusans to advance towards me and pepper them with missiles to hopefully break their line and reduce their morale (i.e. knock out blocks from the units). I had received the card Darken the Sky (which allows missile troops to fire twice when ordered) in my first hand so I was looking forward to using that.

The Syracusan general Dionysius advanced on my left flank with his Medium Cavalry, Auxilia and Light Infantry. Having a greater movement range, Dionysius and his Medium Cavalry units were a tempting target sitting out in front of my troops all alone. Whether it was a ruse or not, I found the temptation too great and rather impetuously charged my Heavy Chariot and Light Cavalry forward to engage the sole Dionysius and his sole unit of Medium Cavalry.

My attacks were ineffective (I think I only killed one block) and Dionysius' battle back killed a block of my Heavy Chariot unit (leaving only one). The next turns saw Dionysius and his Medium Cavalry attack and wipe out my Heavy Chariot and Light Cavalry units. Friendless was ahead two banners (victory points) already.

Dionysius was soon overextended and I managed to finally wipe out his Medium Cavalry with a unit of Auxilia and send the general fleeing back the the safety of his rear.

Meanwhile in the centre my missile troops (Light Infantry and Auxilia) were slowly wearing down the Syracusan centre which was still lumbering slowly forward.

Photo taken about halfway through the game.

I soon managed to even the score to 2 banners all. The Syracusan's then advanced over on my right. I sent my Heavy Chariot unit on my right flank into action and it managed to do some damage before dying. As the Syracusan Heavy Infantry came closer in the centre I decided to charge a Warrior unit forward with good effect. All along our battle line we traded kills until we were 4 banners each. For a turn or two it was quite tense until the Syracusans were able to finish off one of my remaining units to win the game. Final score was Friendless (Syracusan) with 5 banners and me (Carthaginian) with 4 banners.

It was only as we were finishing the game that we realised we'd forgotten to put a Syracusan Light Bow unit on the board. We also noticed that I'd mistakenly used my Carthaginian Medium Infantry units as Warrior units (how embarrassing!). That's what comes from having seven months between C&C Ancients games and not re-reading the scenarios notes before we started playing! To be fair we left the Syracusan Light Bow unit off the board for the second game and also allowed the Carthaginians to use the Medium Infantry units as Warrior units.

GAME 2: I commanded the Syracusans (grey blocks) and Friendless commanded the Carthaginians (brown blocks). I was dealt a Line Advance card in my initial hand so spent the first turn getting my units into a straight line so that I could use the card in a later turn.

Over on my right flank I sent forward Dionysius with his Medium Cavalry supported by some Auxilia and Light Infantry. Just like in the previous game Dionysius was able to take out the opposing Carthaginian Heavy Chariot and Light Cavalry units.

However, unlike the previous game, the Syracusan Heavy Infantry led by Daphnaeus in the centre were able to make contact with the Carthaginian forces. I kept pushing my Syracusan Heavy Infantry forward with every chance I had (Line Advance and Double Time cards came in handy) and it soon turned into a bloodbath.

The battlefield at the end of the game. You can see Daphnaeus and his Heavy Infantry (grey blocks) have penetrated deep into the Carthaginian centre.

The Carthaginians did manage to kill a Heavy Infantry unit in my centre. However, it turned out to be a major Syracusan victory. Final scores were me (Syracusan) 5 banners to Friendless' (Carthaginian) 1 banner.

The final total score of both games was me with 9 banners to Friendless' 6 banners. When we next meet we will play the first scenario of C&C Ancients: Expansion Pack #1: Greece & Eastern Kingdoms - Marathon (490BC).

After those two intense battles we decided to join Harley22 for a game of Dominion. Dominion was only recently released and has already shot into the Top 10 games at BoardGameGeek. It is basically a game of deck-building and includes 500 cards. I won't go into the rules too much here but if you're interested in a review then click on the game link above. This was my first play of Dominion and suffice to say that initially I was bewildered but after a few turns I caught on. We played the 'First Game' set up. I enjoyed Dominion and can see what the hype was about. I actually went on to win the game with 35 points, Harley22 came 2nd with 31 points and Friendless came 3rd with 24 points.

My starting hand.

As it was getting late we decided we'd have enough time for a final quick game. This turned out to be Risk Express (on loan from CyberKev63). The original Risk was one of the first boardgames that I enjoyed in my youth. I really enjoyed the conflict, the secret victory conditions and the dice-rolling. However, I didn't necessarily enjoy the ganging-up, player elimination and game length of the original. Risk Express condenses the fun parts of Risk and makes for a very light, enjoyable and tense short game. Essentially you roll dice (with images of infantry, artillery, cavalry and generals) to match corresponding symbols on 14 card discs representing regions of the world. At the start of the game no player owns any of the 14 discs. On your turn you roll your dice and then decide, based on what you roll, onto which disc you will place matching symbol types. You then roll the remaining dice to try to match the remaining symbols on the disc. If you cannot match any of the required lines of symbols you remove one die and roll the remaining dice. You keep rolling until you either match the remaining symbols on the disc which allows you to claim it, or you run out of dice and play passes to the player on your left. Each disc is worth a certain amount of victory points.

The Risk Express box is actually a plastic dice rolling tray.

Discs are coloured and each colour represents a continent. Obviously Europe and Africa have more discs than say South America or Australia. If you claim all the discs of a continent you can turn them over and they are then worth a victory point total which is worth more than the individual discs combined. The other advantage is that when they are turned over your discs cannot be attacked and claimed by other players. To claim a disc owned by another player you must fulfill all the required dice combinations as well as roll a further general symbol.

I shot to an early lead and looked to have the game in the bag. Friendless and Harley22 then attacked me and took over some of my regions. It was then anyone's game and came down to Friendless taking a last disc with the required roll of a symbol on his last die roll (before it would then have been my turn with a chance to snatch the win). It was a tense couple of last turns and Friendless' winning roll caused us all to cheer. I find that luck, so often disparaged by many, can be an important and fun part of games. This was my first play of Risk Express and I found it to be an elegant and enjoyable game. It was only after I came home and was logging my plays on BoardGameGeek that I found that it was designed by Reiner Knizia!

Final scores were Friendless taking the win with 15 points, myself 2nd with 13 points and Harley22 3rd with 7 points.

And after an evening of great company and fun games and with midnight fast approaching I took my leave.

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