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The Space Skeletons June 26, 2012

Posted by Tim in War Games.
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Many games of Warhammer 40k played in recent weeks. The ongoing Dark Eldar vs Ork skirmishing seems to have escalated somewhat, with point totals increasing. With higher points totals come new types of unit.

New for the Dark Eldar are a small squad of Incubi, heavy-hitting anti-infantry infantry, riding a Venom, a hovering small-transport armed skimmer. Both of these seem to further specialise the army of The Nemesis to dealing with Orks; customising the normally quite shooty Dark Eldar along with high speed transports and highly trained melee specialists. Probably quite unorthodox, but seems to work with increasing effectiveness against my traditional green horde.

The Orks have been bolstered to compensate. New on the green team is a Big Mek, a particularly mechanically minded Ork with a large radius force field generator that can protect nearby troops a bit. I’ve lost the squad of Nobz, who generally weren’t doing a lot to help the cause and replaced them with four Deathcopters, small ramshackle helicopters armed with rocket launchers. Highly manuverable and useful against vehicles. By far the coolest addition to date though, is an Ork Dakkajet, an impossibly awesome jet fighter plane ideal for strafing, well, anything really, but ideally the enemy. Neeeooowm!

Individual fights have come and gone, including a few battles with guest belligerent The Powerarmoured Beard putting both the Ork and Dark Eldar forces through their paces, but on the whole, a similar pattern had been developing for each. With two such close-combat focussed forces, the matches often developed along similar lines, with The Nemesis consistently outflanking me with Wytch+Homunculi+Raider rushes. My Boyz squads, lacking quite so versatile transport often ended up being assaulted first, impacting their numbers before any retaliation could be mounted, and numbers is the main Ork strength. On the other hand, consistent use of Feel No Pain (Ignore wounds on 4+) had the net effect of giving his squads a larger statistical size than the models alone showed. Statwise then, most of the battles were very well balanced, and my more experienced Nemesis more often than not, just played better than me.

A couple of improvements in my own play though; notably the understanding that close combat troops must have transport, and putting the Warboss, Big Mek and Choppas/Slugga Boyz squad in the Battlewagon helps a lot. This gives me a decent chance of getting the big hitting unit to where it needs to be, quickly and safely. I just need to work on picking out the best target for that rush each game! Other improvements include a new understanding of how important and useful a correctly applied Power Klaw can be, and new options to consider regarding Deathcopters.

In general though, the last few weeks have been a bit dispiriting for me, and probably a bit dull for The Nemesis too, repeatedly seeing similar tactics applied by us both, with similar outcomes. Only odd quirky plays with Elite units provide large variation. Point proven, The Nemesis decided to mix things up with a sudden shift to Necrons instead.

These are a kind of “space undead” and very much a shooty army, with all sorts of creepy reanimation mechanics, arcing lightning guns and some really tough armour. The initial ruck saw me win, which was nice; a practiced battlewagon rush down the middle, and the Choppa Boyz working their way along the back row of suspiciously familiar looking riflemen with gleeful abandon.

The second game was not so good; The Nemesis seemed to have adapted, and lured my inevitable battlewagon rush into a trap and picked the Boyz apart with an expert pincer of gunfire. The main problem I have isn’t that his troops get back up again after being killed on a 4+, but that his large selection of vehicles are nigh on impenetrable by almost every gun my Orks have.

Lots of new tactics to learn and think about, but time might be up for the game as we know it; the fifth edition rules are to be replaced with new and improved sixth edition rulebooks any day now. The great wheel of buffs and nerfs spins again, and who knows what the future holds for Clan Bombfunk, the Dark Eldar and Necrons? We shall see in a few week’s time…

The Jigsaw Nation June 20, 2012

Posted by Tim in Board Games.
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Probably one of the most visually appealing board games I’ve played in a while has to be modern-day classic, Carcassonne, a recent addition to the roster on our informal board game gatherings.

Play is relatively simple; players take turns to pick up a face-down shuffled square game tile and look at it. On the front is a depiction of some medieval countryside, featuring varying sections of road, city and walls, monastery and grasslands. The tile must be added to the tiles already on the table in a way that makes sense; roads must connect to other roads, cities to cities and so on in a Dominoes style.

The player can then opt to place one of their limited supply of counters (“Meeple”) on the new tile to lay claim to that emerging feature. For points, the tile should be placed in such a way as to ‘complete’ a road or city, or surround a Monastery. When this happens, points are scored for the size of the finished multi-tile feature, which are given to the player with the most Meeples claiming that feature. The Meeples go back to each player and play continues.

Meeple may also be placed on the grasslands in an attempt to claim points as farmers; points worked out at the end of the game for completed cities adjacent to the claimed grassland region. These Meeple stay in place until the end of the game, so this shouldn’t be done too much.
Play continues until all the tiles are used up (72 in total) at which point farmer points are worked out. The winner is the player with the most points!

I find it a surprisingly soothing game to play. There are no dice, and the only real randomness is which tile you pick to add to the city. It still needs thinking about; rationing out the people, deciding whether to get involved in each emerging road or city, or the fascinating sub-game of farm planning and connection. I also just really like the look of the growing countryside as play progresses. Mind you, there are hazards for those enamoured with order, or who have mild OCD, and I have placed tiles simply to fill gaps in the layout, knowing that it would give my opponents points! It is quite hard to engineering that kind of trap though.

There is a certain pure simplicity to the overall design though, especially compared to some of the more exotic offerings we’ve been playing lately, and this makes it an ideal warm-up/wind-down game, and highly suitable for children and families. Playing feels a lot like a collaborative jigsaw puzzle, although how cooperative or competitive it is varies wildly by game and players.

In terms of strategy and tactics, it’s hard to say exactly what I think I should be doing after so few plays, but the winning plan seems to be a keen interest in city and road building, but also keeping a good eye on how the farming long-game is playing out. I think I might have even won a game with an unexpected rush of end-game farming points.

It’s a great game but does illustrate one of the apparent hazards of modern board game design which I’d previously only really encountered in the world of computer games; expansion creep. Consumer throughput in board gaming is probably a very slow thing, compared to computer games, films or music. You buy a board game, and as long as it is reasonably well constructed, it can physically last for decades. If it’s fundamentally interesting enough, it can probably be replayed for nearly as long too, which leaves a board game maker wondering where the next income is going to come from.

According to Wikipedia, Carcassonne has twenty expansions; (probably more by the time you read this);extra sets of tiles with new and odd rules on. One of them features an actual catapult which you presumably use to fling physical objects at the game in progress! These are all modular, allowing the basic set to be enhanced along any or all of these new lines.

We played our most recent game using some of them, but it was hard to tell what was going on really, being relatively new to the basic game itself. Something about a dragon, a fairy, some princesses and some magical portals. It sounds like the start of an off-colour shaggy dog story, but there were enough new additions in just two expansions for us to forget about fairies entirely and just about get the hang of the other three. Playing with all twenty expansions in effect at once must be impenetrably confusing, and I suspect they aren’t meant to be used all at once, instead being a kind of mix and match customisation meta-game. Even so, I find it hard to believe that all those are entirely necessary!

I’m starting to see expansions all over the place in modern board gaming; Battlestar Galactica has two; Pegasus and Exodus, which add new characters, locations and actions. Settlers Of Catan has several, adding new tiles and expanding the island for 5 and 6 player games.

I worry about expansions on two fronts. Firstly that they attempt to turn board games into subscription services, financially, and secondly that they turn board game design into a sloppier thing, the ‘we can fix that in patches’ culture of the modern-day, always online, video game. Having come to board gaming recently from that very world, I have naïve ideals; a good board game should be self-contained and stand on its own merits. It shouldn’t need a carrier bag full of add-ons and accessories to make it more enjoyable.

This is particularly problematic for brand new players, like me. I barely understand the basic game, only to be told it’s wrong or different now, or was always ‘broken’ to begin with! Expansions can offer options for replay, but can also be poorly disguised bug fixes and merchandising.

Overall though, I admire Carcassonne as one of those rare cases of a good idea well executed!

When Expansions get out of hand!

Recreational Suspicion June 14, 2012

Posted by Tim in Board Games.
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A recent gaming gathering saw us giving the Battlestar Galactica board game a few more goes. I quite like it, although it does offer some quite quirky gameplay that I often have troubles with; gameplay of a quite social nature. Paranoia, backstabbing, hidden enemies, all lurking under the surface of a busy and intricate cooperative team game; the sheer variety and spectacle of it all is enough to impress me so far.

Rather than the turgid branded Monopoly or Risk set one might expect, Battlestar Galactica is a very clever design which perfectly captures the mature political thriller aspects of the reimagined TV series. There’s a fair bit of spaceship pew-pew built in too, but the core of the game is the players, (who each take on the role of one of the key characters of the TV show), having to work together to overcome a series of trials, challenges and crises in a bid to get the fleet and remains of Humanity to the planet of Kobol, on their bid for safety and a new home, while the Cylons pursue them ruthlessly all the way.

Players take turns to draw Skill Cards, Move, carry out an Action, and then reveal a Crisis. Movement is somewhat negligible, simply allowing players to go to different locations on Galactica, Colonial One or the space sectors around the ship. The Actions are more significant, allowing players to use actions from various decks of little Skill Cards, actions written on spaces on the board and more. Predominantly, Actions seem an opportunity to brace yourself for the ensuing Crisis, and otherwise restock, repair and prepare.

The player then turns over the next Crisis card in that deck and all the players then have to collaborate to cope with the result. Thematically, the Crises represent episodes from the TV show and come in several types.

  • Decision Crisis Cards are cards that present a choice to be made, mostly by the current player, but sometimes the player designed ‘President’ or ‘Admiral’. (These are usually Roslin and Adama, but can and do change about.) Some of these are straight trades; Lose One Fuel and One Food, or Lose Two Morale, that kind of thing. Some are gambles; Roll X on an eight sided dice and check the result, or don’t roll and just Lose Y. These seem the easiest Crises to deal with.
  • Skill Check Crisis Cards are a fascinating mechanic. A problem is revealed and requires everyone to pitch in. The card has a value to beat, and states which coloured Skill Cards can help. Each Skill Card has a number on the top corner. Players put in cards, face down, and two randomly chosen cards are added from a Destiny Deck. The cards are shuffled and then numbers counted up. Cards that match the specified colours are counted as positive values, and cards with different colours subtract from the score. The overall pass/fail/partial result then dictates different outcomes. Most of these tend to be the ‘If you pass, nothing goes wrong!’ type.
  • Ambush Crisis Cards are more brutal and overt. The card dictates a layout of Cylon ships to be added to the board, along with special rules. The Cylons have a primitive set of AI rules and need to be cleared away as quickly as possible by the more Pilotey types of characters.

Once resolved, the Crisis Card could then activate the Cylon ‘AI’, making the ships do attacks and move about, and could also advance the fleet’s Jump Preparation Track. If that advances far enough, the fleet jumps (clearing all the Cylons from the board) and gains some more distance points. When 8 distance points are reached, then next jump wins the game for the Humans.

There are many ways the Humans can lose, mind you; running out of the four resources tracked by the spinney wheels; Food, Fuel, Population and Morale. Having the Galactica boarded and those troops making it along their own little counter track. Having the Galactica destroyed would do it too, I shouldn’t wonder.

The real intricacies of it all come from the fact that at the start of the game, and half way through, everyone is dealt some face down Loyalty Cards which might tell you that you are a Cylon, and so actually working for the other team. As a hidden Cylon, you have to pretend to be helping, but should actually be undermining the overall efforts any way you can; throwing in duff cards to Skill Checks, making poor Destination Choices, subtly performing sub-obtimal Actions and so on. As the game progresses, decreasing amounts of subtlety are called for, and eventually, you can just reveal yourself, carrying out a kind kamekaze attack and the waking up in the Cylon Fleet, granting access to a whole set of new and very powerfully destructive Actions with which to muck about with the remaining human players.

All quite complicated, and after three games we were still finding rules we’d got wrong, but it was a lot of fun all the same.

The first game, in which I was President Laura Roslin complete with my own deck of bonus ‘Quorum Cards’ and a fun Terminal Illness (Discard two Skill Cards to perform a location Action) was quite a bumpy affair where most of us were so busy dealing with the ongoing Crises, and remembering how to play, that we more or less forgot there were enemies among us, and in a caddish stroke of evil genius, it seemed that Cylon-Admiral William Adama had been steering us into rubbish sectors each time we jumped.

The Admiral, whoever that is, gets to choose one of two Destination Cards when the fleet jumps, and doesn’t have to show anyone what the Other One would have been, making a Cylon Admiral particularly dangerous, capable of forcibly depleting Fuel and Food resources in an almost undetectable manner from very early on. There are cards and Actions available to wrest control of the Destination away from The Admiral player, but you have to know he’s a bad’un early enough to use them.

We didn’t, because me and all my gaming friends are all Jolly Decent Chaps, so Cylon Adama had no trouble flying us out into deep space to rot.

Game two was a lot smoother, Crisis-wise, with us carrying out a number of leisurely jumps through mostly empty space. I was Admiral William Adama this time, and had two nuclear warheads that came with the job and which I used both of! These are good for clearing the big Basestars out of the way when Ambushed, but can’t be replaced when they’re gone. We made it half way to Kobol without much incident, which punished us through quirky use of the Cylon Sympathiser loyalty card. If it looks like the Humans are doing too well (or the Cylons are being too helpful!), this card can provide reinforcements, adding a possible third Cylon to a six-player game. If the Humans are struggling by the half-way mark, this card becomes a dud instead, leaving four Humans to carry on.

By the time we were on our last, ‘For the Win’ Jump, two normal Cylons had also declared and we ended up with three overt Cylons running around the Cylon Fleet set of squares, including now-Cylon-Ex-President Roslin, dropping problem after problem on us. And doing Dalek voices at us, which didn’t help. With only three Humans left, getting any Skill Checks passed became hopelessly difficult. Combined with the Cylon’s ‘Super-Crisis’ deck, playable by revealed Cylons, we just got completely swamped and ran out of resources, a gnat’s whisker from Kobol. Damn yooooooo!

Despite losing twice I enjoyed it immensely. There’s just so much to do in a typical game of BSG, so many options and approaches that I can see myself fascinated with it for many games to come. It feels like a very deep system with a lot of variation of underlying concepts and strategies to explore. The inter-personal suspicion, (or lack of in my case), gives it an extra dimension as well, although I do have trouble with that sort of thing.

Social gameplay, interpersonal negotiation, bargaining and assessment of opponents are things I do have trouble with. In typical play of Settlers of Catan, I fear the Trading Phase and will usually go with costly and prohibitive ‘NPC trades’ via the harbours, than attempt to bargain with another human being, even my friends. It’s nebulous and hazy and I can never be sure I’ve got such trades ‘right’ – have I just helped my opponent win? There is a far amount of that in this game too; hidden motives which I am ill-equipped to see. I tend to extremes, neither of which help; either they are all out to get me, or no-one is.

I am actually not that bad at those few games of Poker we’ve tried, but mostly by sidestepping this entirely. I don’t look at my own cards. It drives my opponents who think they can ‘read’ me wild. It’s a kind of protection against interrogation, applied to gaming; I can’t give anything away if I don’t know what my own hand is! Blind luck will see me through!

But I know these skills are part of the broader tapestry of Gaming, so they are things I need to learn. Battlestar Galactica provides a useful arena for that kind of thing; not only is it important to understand a board, cards and pieces, but players too, since the players are part of the overall system as well.

- – -

Edit: Some useful tips for those new to the game, like myself!

Old Boardgamers: How to Navigate Battlestar Galactica – Playing as a Human

Old Boardgamers: How to Navigate Battlestar Galactica – Playing as a Cylon

Scrumping for Skimmers May 28, 2012

Posted by Tim in War Games.
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Writeup: Warhammer 40,000, 750 points, Dark Eldar vs Orks

In a distant valley sits an orchard, an ancient place where fruit once grew. Like so much else on these ravaged worlds the place now only holds faint mocking suggestions of happier times. Withered half-fossilised skeletons, parodies of trees, accuse the present, inert reminders a time before war. No-one now remembers the harvest, those carefree days of green hills and blue skies, days when children would sneak into the trees in search of stolen treats. Now something far less pleasant creeps through the stone orchard, in search of other fruit entirely…

Onward with the campaign. We don’t actually have a campaign as such, instead just throwing two armies at each other over and over with minor tweaks and refinements as we go. 750pts each again, and I’ve opted to keep the same army as last time, just jigger it about a bit. The Nemesis is doing likewise. No pics today – forgot the camera!

Clan Bombfunk consists of; 1xWarboss, 3xNobz + Painboy, 10x Lootas, 20x Boys (Choppas), 20x Boyz (Shootas), 1x Battlewagon. I’d gone for a slightly different configuration this time, with the Lootas in the Wagon and the Warboss attached to the Choopa Boyz instead of the Nobz. Leading from the front!

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars went with the usual formation: 10x Wytches (Homunculus + Raider), 10x Wytches (Homunculus + Raider), 10x Kabalite Warriors. They had the usual assortment of tricksey wargear, pain tokens and the like. (They probably have a proper clan name or somesuch, but you have to ask The Nemesis about that.)

Game type was annihilation, and deployment was long table edges. The battlefield featured a pair of hills facing across a valley which I’d thoughtlessly placed a piece of orchard in the middle of, complete with wrecked Rhino. It a nice piece aesthetically, but proved all sorts of troubles later on. No other quirky rules in play, the way I like it.

With my ongoing paranoia about Loota destruction in turn one, I have to say I was playing rather defensively this week, with the bulk of my forces all huddled together in one corner of the table, mostly behind some low walls, ready for a long range shooting battle. The Nemesis set up midway along and opposite, with Kabalites dug in at a bastion on the hilltop and the Raiders hiding behind the trees again.

One thing I did right was let him take first turn. The sheer manoeuvrability of his sail barges means I really need to let him move before I do, to maintain some distance or face immediate hotdropping Wytches piling into close combat from 18” away on unprepared units. I can then react to him, rather than the other way around. A smart move with only the minor drawback that the Raiders’ Dark Lance AV gun things get a first go at the Battlewagon with my Lootas in it. Godamnit, I thought, he’s doing it AGAIN! And sure enough, right out of the gate, turn one, he managed to hit the truck hard enough to make it, and the Lootas inside, have to miss their turn. Gah!

“Plans” went out the window at that point and I basically just charged. I really need to work on the whole “Implacable and Emotionless Master of Strategy” thing, I think. Anyway, and enraged Warboss and Choppa squad went for the nearest skimmer, which had parked in the central trees to make his shot. A lot of axe and power klaw dice later the skimmer was immobilised and well and truly wedged in the top of one of the trees, with its Wytch passengers stunned and unable to have their next turn. The Warboss has a big fireman’s claw for a hand and it’s just the thing for vehicle work.

Satisfying, but I was still cross, so had the Shoota squad use it’s two Big Shootas to have a six-dice pop at skimmer #2. This went better than it should, wrecking and exploding the thing, although most of the passengers survived and fled to the central trees. Stoopid Pain Tokens.

The central forest became the main rucking ground for the match and despite having their rides blown out from under them, the surviving Wytches did unreasonably well in the hand to hand that followed, causing the Choppa squad to break, and then be destroyed in a Sweeping Advance.

I’d just like to take a moment to say what a stupid rule this is. In 40k, hand to hand combatants take their turns based on Initiative score, highest is faster, so has a swing first. In our matches, this means that in any given hand to hand fight, Dark Eldar always go first. Orks have little to no armour, so what usually happens is my 20 troops stand there while his 10 troops with their exotic weapons take out about 6-8 Orks. I then hit back with my 12 Orks and perhaps land 3-4 hits. His quirky pain token rules mean that these hits only turn into dead models 50% of the time.

At the end of one round, I’ve killed maybe one or two of his troops, and I’ve lost about eight. He’s got 8 left, I’ve got 12, but technically, I’ve ‘lost’ the combat – more Wounds taken. With the various special rules in use by the Dark Eldar, an Ork player seems to always lose these in the technical sense. Losers have to make a morale check, one 2d6 roll against the Leadership value. If this fails, the winner can Sweeping Advance; both players roll one dice, add their Initiative score and if the fleeing player has the lower score, the entire fleeing unit is obliterated.

Harsh, and this happened to me three times during the match. My main objection is the sudden arbitrary nature of it, one single dice roll plus a stat which for me is usually 2 and for The Nemesis is usually 5. I’d prefer to see combat re-engaged, with the fleeing party given some kind of dice roll penalty, instead of just being wiped clean off the board.

Orks do have a defence against it, in the “Mob Rule” rule, which lets you use the number of models in the unit as their Leadership score, but once you start losing Boyz, things can go south quite suddenly! Bigger Boyz squads would help – the full 30x Boyz units are effectively “Fearless”; immune to Morale rules.

The upshot of the scrum in the orchard was a lost Warboss, 20xBoyz lost and the Nobz/Painboy squad gone. Quite dispiriting, but suggesting that The Nemesis has come up with a highly effective anti-Ork force. The Kabalites were mostly taking potshots across the field with their long range guns, in particular withering down the Nobz before they could get to the orchard, and plinking at the Battlwagon, which I learnt cannot move if the Lootas within want to fire that turn, effectively relegating it to ‘bunker’ status. Doh!

Two mostly intact Wytch squads emerged from the forest, making a bee-line for my Lootas, who had spent most of the game banging about inside the truck, and then after three weeks of anticipation, they actually got to fire…

It was awesome! Imagine original series Star Trek, where the hapless redshirt does that arched-back arms-raised hands-clawing pose, then evaporates in an orange edged glow to a sort of BBBZZZOWP! Noise. Only they did that to six Wytches and a Homunculus, simultaneously, completely obliterating the squad. Turns out Lootas are quite good anti-infantry in a pinch. Specifically, their weapon’s Strength stat is so high that it will instantly kill Dark Eldar – no saves allowed, AND disallow their usual “Feel No Pain” shrug-off-the-wound-on-a-4+ rule. Glorious, and well worth the wait. Nemesis is right to try and gank them a.s.a.p.

Unfortunately, there were two Wytch squads inbound, and he didn’t let me get a second shot off. So much of WH40k is about who can Assault whom first, and if you are the assaulter rather than the assaultee, you get lots of bonuses. Being in close combat protects you from gunfire too, other units can’t shoot into hand to hand, even if they are Orks.

From there on an ugly rolling brawl drew in the remaining units, and on turn six, I simply ran out of Orks, granting The Nemesis a win. A Sweeping Advance crushed the last resistance, although only six Dark Eldar lived to tell the tale – three Wytches and three Kabalites, so quite close all in all.

A victory for the tricksters, the dancers of darkness, but a victory at cost. Weary, shattered and on foot, the remaining victorious Dark Eldar laughed and smiled at one another, but each could see the forced nature in the mirth of the others, and in time each became silent as they trudged back through the trees, lost in introspection and unaccustomed thoughts of mortality and endings. Ruminating on the cost of the harvest…

Things I Learned:
Turns out that the Lootas are worth the points after all, but I really have to be careful with the placement, and the Battlewagon really didn’t do anything for them that a low wall to hide behind couldn’t. With a 48” range, just keeping them right on the back edge should work fine. They can’t move and fire in the same turn anyway. A screen of Boyz should keep the worst off them if I fort up a bit.

The Battlewagon can carry 20 Orks, so would be best used for the Choppa squad. Warboss attached to the Choppas worked – I just got unlucky with dice rolls on the Sweeping Advance. The Nobz need work, probably some kind of transport of their own so I can use them as heavy support for any melee that isn’t going well. Probably need to bulk them up a bit too, if I can. Can never have too many Orks in general!

In general though, the two forces seem quite well balanced now and both quite melee heavy, and we’ll be looking to expand the forces to 1000 points and beyond for variety next. For me now, the important thing is to study and understand the sequence of assaults and advances, and the best way to work spatially with the terrain and units. The tools seem up to the job, but I still have a lot to learn about how to use them.

On Losing Well May 25, 2012

Posted by Tim in General.
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So I lost this week’s 40k game. It shouldn’t be a big deal – it’s just toy soldiers, after all – but losing does get to me a bit. I wouldn’t say I have the most robust psyche, and am sometimes prone to anxieties and depressions in general, but in the closer focus of the aftermath of an unsuccessful game, I do notice things in myself I’d prefer weren’t there.

It all depends on how seriously I take it. Consider a game, any game, of two players. My opponent plays better than me, or is luckier, and I lose. But losing the game can be phrased in four different ways:

  • I lost.
  • He won.
  • I didn’t win.
  • He didn’t lose.

They are all correct, but each implies subtly different meaning, different connotations.

“I lost,” is personal and brutal; I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t try hard enough. It carries undertones of personal shortcoming, fault, blame. Self flagellation. Very much taking it personally and probably not a healthy way to look at it all.
“He won,” makes it about the opponent; their skill and fortune are superior to my own, so they had the better result. There is a sense of acceptance, a feel of a match well played and a victory deserved.
“I didn’t win,” is personal again, but seems somewhat more hopeful than “I lost.” It carries a hinted silent “…this time!” and suggestions of resolve and improvement. It feels like something someone who thinks they will win next time, might say.
“He didn’t lose,” is curious, and suggests a kind of chagrin, an almost arrogant expectation that He should have lost, but didn’t, perhaps through imagined trickery or bad luck. It seems a faintly unsavoury way to view it all.

 

Perhaps I’m imagining all the above; it is all subjective, of course, and there are a further four matching statements concerning Winning which I’ll look at next time I win something! But can these statements be fitted into a neat grid?

One axis would be Optimism vs. Pessimism – the classic half full and half empty glass. The Pessimist will take defeat personally – an unfavourable judgement on themselves. “I lost” and “He didn’t lose” are probably both on that side. The Optimist is likely to be happy the better player won (“He won”) or glad of the opportunity to learn and do better next time (“I didn’t win”)

Is the other axis Competition vs. Cooperation? The two statements “I lost” and “I didn’t win” both suggest a focus on personal performance, on how well “I” did. “He won” and “He didn’t lose” both have a wider focus on the overall state of the game. Perhaps these viewpoints are more concerned with the overall game, the enjoyment (or otherwise) of all participants; the game itself becoming a thing which both participants build during play?

Where does the phrase “It’s the taking part that counts” fit in the above? Or the phrase “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!” Both quite polarised approaches to game playing.

Speaking personally, I think I am a reasonably graceful loser, but with a lot of grudingness about I all. I can be prone to sudden sullen withdrawals of personality when I think that a game is slipping out form under me, and I have to do a fair bit of internal soothing to come out of those moments, trying to convince myself that ‘It doesn’t matter anyway’. I don’t like what that turns me into, so try not to ‘try too hard’ at games, as a means of pre-emptively defusing these brief spikes of internal bitterness. But if I let it, losing can hit me hard and make me unpleasant.

I believe that losing well takes practice, but the danger is that losing often can dissuade those of a more pessimistic bent to not try winning in the first place, to minimise the losses. Unfortunately, that can result in a player getting out of practice at losing gracefully. A strange paradoxical cycle which possibly only I suffer from!

A trite conclusion would be something along the lines of “getting back on the horse”, but I’m less certain. Learning to lose well is important, but there comes a point when it is sound to simply stop playing, to give up and play something else. The key is a clear and objective assessment of the game being played, and the potential for any future improvement, and at least the potential for decent amounts of enjoyment even if losing anyway.

I shall write more on ‘Winning’ when I’m in a more winning mood!

Magnetic Lootas May 21, 2012

Posted by Tim in War Games.
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Writeup: Warhammer 40,000, 750 points, Dark Eldar vs Orks

No-one now living remembers the original Movogrovostaktelgrad; it’s streets, it’s lanes, its artists quarter and its curious cottage industry in bespoke luxury cupcake design and manufacture. One might find mention buried deep in the relevant Imperial ledgers and censuses, but the abuses of a century of repeated warfare have left little actual remnants. A few shattered buildings clustered around what was once a town square; themselves Imperial fortifications built upon the rubble of an earlier, more tranquil age. Civilisation has come to Movogrovostaktelgrad dozens of times; Imperium, Eldar, Chaos, and more, each time leaving a new kind of mark and a new legacy of blood upon the ancient stones. Civilisation is about to come to the shattered ruins once more, but whether the town will become a part of an Orkish dominion or a Dark Eldar playground, will be decided over the next few hours…

If my Warboss were a suspicious sort, he might be starting to wonder why everywhere he goes, the same pair of Dark Eldar sail-barges are waiting to attack him, but I suspect Orks don’t really think like that. Apparently, they love war, loud noises, red things and sandwiches, and don’t worry themselves about Machinations or Paranoia. We’re operating a kind of ‘winner stays on’ gentlemen’s agreement, where by whoever wins a battle keeps their army list the same, and it’s up to the loser to tweak and adjust and try to solve the previous week’s problem.

With this in mind, my army remained unchanged: 1x Warboss, 4x Nobz, 10x Lootas, 20x Boyz (Shootas) and 20x Boyz (Choppas + Battlewagon). It’s a force with a bit of flexibility, but still essentially an Ork zerg horde, based on just applying a lot of bodies to get things done.

The Nemesis went for a bit of rework this week. 10x Wytches (Homunculi + Raider), 10x Wytches (Homunculi + Raider), 10x Kabalite Warriors. Thin on models, but with a large amount of gimmickey extras; equipment options, exotic weapons and pimped sailbarges. The main tweak that I noticed was replacing a squad of riflemen with a close combat squad instead, and dropping one sailbarge and using the points to beef up the other two. He’s clearly adapting to fighting Orks and considerably adjusting his force to become much stronger in close combat, and much more mobile, with dedicated transport for his melee troops. I have a bad feeling about all this…

The setup dice rolls gave us the straight forward deployment along opposing table edges and all troops in at the start. The objective today was to capture objectives. There are five markers on the table and to control one, you need a ‘Troop’ class unit within 3″ of the marker, and no enemy unit also within 3″ of the same marker. Whoever has the most of those when the battle ends, wins. Very ticksey stuff, and I never do well at the objective-type fights; something psychological hampers me, compared to the straight ‘kill ‘em all’ type of fight.

Five objectives means I need to secure three to be sure of a win, so I deployed at the south end of the table, hoping to grab and hold a set of objectives within close proximity to each other and just dig in. The scenery was a bit dense – I went a bit mad with ruined building pieces, which i thought might provide useful cover for shooting. The Dark Eldar all set up mid-table opposite, probably with similar eye for easy waypoint grabs and off we went.

“We’z definitely goin to do some shootin this time, ladz!”

My first turn was spent mostly running Orks at cover and objectives, forgoing shooting for extra movement. This went well enough as far as it went, with my Lootas making it to a useful vantage point, ready to set up firing positions over the main street. Then the Nemesis had his go and immediately rushed a sail-barge of Wytches directly over the ruins, parked it behind the Lootas. The Wytches hopped out and pausing only to flamethrower the Lootas on the way in, assaulted the poor chaps before they could fire a shot. These creepy emo carnies have razorwire swords, poisons, combat drugs and small hands, and pretty much any time anyone rolls a 4+, good things happen to them and bad things happen to me. The ensuing melee went about as well as you’d expect and yet again, my Lootaz were gone by turn two, without firing a single shot. I’m beginning to see a pattern here…

Elsewhere in the town, my Shoota squad had secured one objective, and his Kabalites had secured another. Both ranged squads seemed to have dug in and would take a lot to shift. My Boss squad had found a building of their own to hunker down in, not too far from another objective, with a view to rushing back to secure it later in the match. Unfortunately, this building was quite close to the Kabalite squad and a fair bit of shooting attrition ensued. His other Wytch squad and skimmer were further up the field, claiming a distant objective.

At this stage, objective control seemed to be about 2-2, but very quickly it started to look like objectives would be academic anyway, with both armies really getting stuck in on the killing instead. I piled the Battlewagon and Choppa squad in on the Wytches, but it was too late to do anything but avenge the Lootaz, and even that melee didn’t go great; I eliminated them, but it cost me over half my squad of melee specialists. He managed to blow up my Battlewagon in the fracas, and the explosion took out most of the Boyz.

“Anyone rememberz where wez parked?”

Meanwhile with the Wytches now disembarked, their skimmer headed for my Shoota squad. The skimmer has a big anti-vehicle gun which can pretty much one-hit individual infantry, but worse than that, he’s added big slicey blades to the bottom of them, resulting in a vehicle which can apparently ignore terrain and cover, but can selectively slice up infantry underneath it. I found it all a bit dubious to be honest, but that didn’t stop him spending the rest of the game casually reversing backwards and forwards over my Shoota squad, who in turn were not packing enough firepower to bring the thing down. If only I had, say, a squad of anti-vehicle specialists with highly penetrative and very long ranged guns. Well played, Nemesis, well played…

Having lost one set of Wytches he committed his second skimmer, bringing the other squad into melee with the Boss squad. Again, a brutal and ugly fight and I failed to reinforce them with my remaining Choppa Boyz, as I did last game; instead of sprinting to the resurce, I stopped for an ill-advised shooting phase against the other skimmer, having gained a sense of desparation at his apparently unassailable air-superority. A few turns of rough and tumble later, the Boss and his Nobz went down. The remnants of the Choppa squad, having failed to save the Warboss diverted to the objective instead, making a half-hearted stand, but were run down by the skimmer and charged by the victorious Wytches. They didn’t last long.

This left me with one mostly intact Shoota squad camped on one objective and trying to swat a flying knife-boat with weapons that really aren’t up to the job, and nothing else. They actually got a shot through and blew it up in the end, which was commendable, but too little too late.

Meanwhile he had two mostly intact squads on other objectives, who just had to successfully Not Die for the remainder of the match, and one working skimmer which couldn’t claim objectives itself, but could prevent me from doing so if is near enough. We were at the end of turn five, the last mandatory turn. From here we could dice roll for further turns, potentially stretching the match to eight turns, but to win, I’d have to eliminate two squads of troops and one skimmer; an unlikely prospect. I surrendered at that point and we went down the pub.

Shadow descends on Movogrovostaktelgrad as the broken, leaderless and dispirited Orks flee into the hills. Supremely confident sadists on floating ships of darkness and metal drift serenely up and down the once picturesque main street. Lithe, wicked figures cavort in the ruins, inflicting further agonies on those Orks not fast enough to escape. It would seem that this ancient rural community of craftsmen and artists is about to become a home to artists once more…

Things I Learned:

The Nemesis is absolutely terrified of my Lootas, to the point that he forgets everything else on the table and will always immediately rush them. It’s a sound move, of course, because they about the only thing that can reliably bring down his Raiders – the flying boats. Nevertheless, I’m going to have to do something about it, or face the exact same opening gambit every time I play him.

Option: Don’t bring Lootas at all. For the same points cost as 10x Lootas, I could have 25x Boyz – the normal rank and file, either with the guns or with axes. 25x Boyz would be a damned sight more survivable than the Lootas in the inevitable hand-to-hand assault in turn one/two. That would leave me without AV, but 25x Shoota Boyz get 50 dice with which to try and get lucky and so far, all my barge kills to date have been just this – normal Orks getting lucky hits. If my Lootas are not permitted to get a shot off anyway, why bother bringing them? At present, they’re just feeding the Dark Eldar easy Pain Tokens (Super powers gained per total squad kill). I wonder if Lootas are a more proper choice for a larger battle force – auxiliaries rather than core troops in smaller skirmishes?

Option: Bring more Lootas. Upping the squad size to the maximum permitted 15 might help, but will be 12.5 Boyz I have to take from elsewhere, pointwise, and once the Lootas are engaged in melee, they become useless regardless of how many there are, even if they survive multiple turns of melee, they still can’t shoot down vehicles while this is going on.

Option: Split the Lootas up. The Nemesis proved his sportsmanship by suggesting this; two sets of five Lootas means he has to split his own force to deal with them – likely one sail barge of Wytches for each. This ties up most of his force very early on, leaving my Nobz and both Boyz squad more or less free run of the table. A squad of five Lootas stands as whelk’s chance in a supernova in hand-to-hand vs 9x Wytches and a Homunculi, but since their primary function at the moment, is diversionary, they’ll at least do that better. And who knows, maybe I’ll even get to shoot something with one of them, which will be exciting!

Option: Put the Lootas in a truck. The Nemesis does have several powerful AV guns, but at least the Lootas would get to die in a different and interesting manner! The truck is Open Topped, which would allow them to fire out if the truck goes slow enough, and possibly prevents them being engaged directly in hand to hand? I’ll have to check. Increased mobility will help them get where they need to be more safely too. I think my truck might be tougher than his barges too.

Option: Change nothing and somehow use his predictability. He really has no choice but to attack the Lootas early, or risk them blowing up his transports, and the troops on them. Perhaps I need to accept that this is always going to be the opening move and work with it accordingly – put the Lootas well out of reach, guard them better, use them as an intended distraction, rather than an accidental one.

Other thoughts:

The Boss squad is quite tough, but not numerous, and Orks only get useful things done when there are lots of them. At the same time, one feature of the Dark Eldar race is that they get superpowers when they destroy entire squads; ‘Pain Tokens’. While “Kill the Lootas” is always Step One, his Step Two is usually a concerted assault on the Warboss + Nobz squad. Nemesis likes small squads to munch on, to gain the Pain Tokens and he usually avoids the 20x Boyz squads if he can. Stupid Space-Vampires. I need to either increase the size of the Nobz squad for better resillience, or replace it with standard Boyz to hamper the Pain Token generation. Safety in numbers! It’s a shame, but it increasingly seems to me that it is a mistake to bring any Ork who is different or special, because it means he is more expensive and using up points that could be usefully spent on two or more standard Boyz instead. An ideal Ork force is probably one containing a many models as the points will stretch to. For 750 points, I could have four squads of 30x Boyz and still have 30 points left over for some kind of token figurehead leader type. 121 Orks! There might be specific rules against doing that, but you see the point.

The Raiders are a real problem. Assuming a lack of Lootas, (which one way or another is likely to be the case,) standard gunfire is quite bad at denting them, and the low-hanging anti-ork blades are infuriating. My fallback plan is just a huge round of weak and badly aimed standard gunfire, which does do the job eventually. The main problem with the Radiers though, is that they make it impossible for me to form any kind of ‘front line’. They go where they want, when they want and can always be placed ‘behind’ your weakest units and placements, to disgorge powerful close combat troops directly into the fray. Nemesis’s Dark Eldar force seems to be almost entirely cavalry-based these days and has free run of the table. Form the wagons into a circle? Needs more thought…

I really need not to put a ton of cover on the table if I hope to use guns much. Wide open spaces help my Lootas and Big Shootas. Wide open spaces also help my own trucks and general charging of foot troops. Waaargh, etc!

On balance, I don’t necessarily think the problems were with the troop list, more with an inadequate understanding of positions and capabilities, so I’m not sure I’d do much to change the army, beyond a bit of a rework of transportation arrangements. What I do need to do is change how I use the pieces I do have, with a far greater focus on keeping my Lootas safe; they can shoot 48″, so are probably quite happy on the rear table edge with a bodyguard escort of Nobz, just in case. I suspect that if they are allowed to fire, and can reliably eliminate the enemy Raider sail barges (with or without their passengers), things will go very differently indeed, next time…

The Worst Board Game Ever? May 18, 2012

Posted by Tim in General.
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Part of the reason for this blog is an attempt to order my thoughts on Board Games in general. Behind all the coloured counters, exotic cards and unusual dice are abstract rules and relationships which fascinate me in themselves, and many of these are intricately bound up with notions of what makes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ board game. Like any good Morat, I want to understand what makes a good board game, which is a tricky thing. One way to approach this is by elimination – by understanding what makes a board game bad.

For this exercise, I’m using the excellent BoardGameGeek website as a helpful resource. It’s the Internet! I need a list made by anonymous peers to validate my opinions, damnnit! It’s a large online resource and community for this sort of thing, central to their remit is a massive list of board games, all rated by players. Sorting this list in reverse ranking order produces this page:

Boardgame Geek: Browse Board Games, sorted by descending Rank

The page is a bit of an eye opener, and scrolling down reveals most of the ‘Classics’ I remember from childhood, and indeed, these titles will be the first thing many people think of when they think ‘Board Game’. Operation, Monopoly, The Game of Life, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Battleship, Guess Who, Yahtzee, all names that most of us will be familiar with, the stuff of rainy caravan holiday weekends. Most of these have remained fundamentally unchanged for decades and can all be found in toyshops today without too much searching.

And yet an online community of board game aficionados have downrated these titles by the hundreds, marking them as subjectively bad game experiences. Sorting the list the other way, by Highest rating, shows a page of names that most people won’t have heard of. I think I’ve only ever played six of those to date and hadn’t heard of any of them two years ago. Clearly my own credentials are suspect and I have much to learn!

The three ‘worst’ games in the list are interesting though. I didn’t know there were 7958 board games, but apparently 7955 of them are better than Bingo, and I think I’d agree. The basic gig with Bingo is a kind of extended lottery system; each player has a grid of numbers, a caller reads out random numbers and players tick any that match their grid off. First player to tick all their numbers off wins. There are variations based on getting all the corners or lines of numbers, but the basics are simple enough, and are the cornerstone of a huge industry of entertainment venues throughout the UK.

I actually went along with a family member to one of these Bingo Halls once, as a kind of UN Observer, and it was a surreal experience with an almost quasi-religious feel to it; altar, ritual, high priest, litany, hushed veneration… The game itself is highly computerised in this modern age and it soon became apparent to me that the game could effectively play itself. The computer knows what is on everyone’s play sheet – the playsheets are made by the computer in the first place. The computer also knows what numbers it is calling out (It may know what numbers it is going to call out, but I have no proof and it doesn’t matter anyway). In the time it takes our disinterested compere/caller to go “Clickety Click, Sixty Six!”, the computer has already cross-referenced the called number with its own records of every playsheet in play and determined if there is a winner, who that is, and where they are sitting. The painfully awkward, meaningful and laden silences from the caller as they wait for the winning player to notice that they’ve won were magical, and spoke volumes.

The game is an entirely random construct; a player’s involvement is limited to being alert enough to correctly tick called numbers off, and confident enough to shout ‘House!’ when appropriate. They can do nothing during play to influence their own chance of winning at all. Is this why it is a Bad Game? It seems to me that even in games based highly on chance, a Good Game offers opportunities for a player to make informed choices and to apply rudimentary strategies. When the game can play itself, as in modern Bingo Hall bingo, players no longer need to exist. That isn’t to say that for some, playing Bingo might not be an enjoyable experience; a nice night out, socialisation, the chance to win some cash, etc , but I do think that the game of Bingo itself is a poor game.

The second worst game on that list is Snakes and Ladders, and again, I agree. Another simple ‘classic’, players roll dice to move their counter up a zig-zag of squares. If they land on the foot of a ladder, they shortcut toward the winning square. If they land on the head of a snake, they are put back, moving away from the winning square. First player to reach the winning square wins!

The weakness of this game is immediately apparent, and similar to Bingo – it is an entirely random construct. Assuming truly fair dice, the winner of the game is chosen entirely at random – the aggregate result of a couple of dozen dice rolls. Players cannot directly intervene with this outcome, they cannot plan, make strategies or apply knowledge or intelligence to the game in play. A lot of time could be saved if each player just rolls one dice each, ignores the result and then all go down the pub!

Time isn’t necessarily a factor though in a good or bad game though. Good games can take minutes or hours, depending on the mood of the participants, and ultimately, all games are pointless wastes of time. The key is the transparency of it all, and intricacy and enjoyment of the wasted time. Some games even teach us things, train our minds to be better at particular tasks. Snakes and Ladders suffers the same problem as Bingo in that it is a transparent waste of time. A player’s involvement here is limited to rolling the dice and moving the pieces – both administrative tasks which could easily be done by a robot or computer. There are no executive or managerial tasks here. Snakes and Ladders has many variants; Ludo, Sorry, Game of Life, even Monopoly – all use the same dice based movement along a single track, just with increasingly complex levels of fluff added as the result of landing on any given square.

A Bad Game then is one in which a player cannot act upon the system? The objective is limited or singular, the feedback is minimal, little or no decisions can be made based on that feedback and few or no actions can be applied to the game based on those decisions. A Bad Game has players who are entirely interchangeable. Anyone who happened to have hands can roll a dice and move a counter, but can anyone devise and execute innovative strategy? A really Bad Game has players who are inconsequential, or even unnecessary.

So entirely random is bad. But what about no randomness at all? The very worst game on the list suffers none of the problems of the previous two. Tic Tac Toe is something close to the Ur-Game, with a published date of 1300BC. Quite the Classic then! Players take turns to make their mark in an empty square of a 3×3 grid. Whoever forms a straight line of three marks, wins. Pretty straightforward.

In fact, it’s too straight forward. Despite there being 255,168 possible games, any game played by a reasonably cognisant adult against similar will almost certainly end in a draw. The overall system here is very small, and easily held in the mind of a player, to the point where it is difficult to lose at all. The trouble is, both opponents are usually capable of playing to a high enough standard to prevent loss, resulting in perpetual stalemates, a fact used as an allegory for the futility of nuclear war in 1983 hacker romp WarGames. “Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

So a game picked on as a fundamental expression of pointlessness can’t have much to recommend it, and that might be why it’s at the bottom of the list. But the problems here are reversed. A game of Tic Tac Toe is essentially nothing but player feedback-decision-action phases. There are no unexpected occurrences – each move dictates a counter move chosen from a very small list, and it isn’t too difficult to plot the entire future of the game from any given state of play, in one’s head. Absolute predeterminism. This can still make for intricate and absorbing play, but the scope of possible ‘futures’ must be expanded to become challenging to think about.

Chess is just such an extension of Tic Tac Toe; let’s make the board much bigger, have a limited number of marks that move about and make each mark have slightly different characteristics. These elaborations result in a game which is treated far more appreciatively; ranked at 251/7958 on the list. Like Tic Tac Toe, a game of Chess can be theoretically modelled with precision; it too has nothing random about it at all. So if Tic Tac Toe is a Bad Game, but Chess is a Quite Respectable Game, it suggests that being a Good Game is not directly about Randomness vs Skill, but about possibility spaces.

Perhaps a Good Game is one which allows its players the most opportunities for action, for choices. An entirely random game is off-putting because it marginalises us as players and participants. Our analytical minds offer us no help in such games; prediction and planning mean nothing and degenerate to pure guesswork, as random as the events we’re trying to analyse. On the other hand, an entirely prescribed game, with no randomness at all smacks of predestination; our prediction and planning are used only to tell us that the future of the game is set and there is nothing we can do about any of it.

I suspect the best games of all involve chance and certainly in equal measure, but offer options and possibilities over everything else. Once possibilites and options are made available, strategy becomes possible.

Scavenging Scavengers May 15, 2012

Posted by Tim in War Games.
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Writeup: Warhammer 40,000, 750points, Dark Eldar vs Orks

Is there a name for those who scavenge upon scavengers? Perhaps there ought to be. Not that 115th Viridian Regiment of the endless and ever-present Imperial Guard cared for such grammatical distinctions any more. Utterly unprepared against the full force of the roaring green tide of Clan Bombfunk, the stalwart defenders of the Emperor’s domain lay now in slaughtered ruination, butchered to a man.

As the main Waaargh sweeps onward through the night to fresh conquests and battles, one thieving warband under the conniving eye of Warboss Klakclaw stops off at the newly abandoned Imperial supply depot for a little constructive looting. The spoils and shineys are so beguiling that not one Ork notices the approach of something new to the east; several somethings, sailing on shadows of the faint pre-dawn gloom – spiked and jagged, curved and black, and emitting a keen eldritch music on the dark dawn breeze, with every intention of scavenging the scavengers…

I feel like I’ve been relearning how to play Warhammer 40k at roughly two-year intervals, all my life. It is quite a spectacle when it gets going though, particularly when your regular Nemesis gives you the Ork army to play with. We’d been working gradually upward from 500 point starter book introductory games using Dark Eldar and Ork armies, and this week saw us start experimenting with vehicles, as part of two 750point forces.

I’d got the Orks, which I’m henceforth calling ‘Clan Bombfunk’ because…well, why not? The army consists of four units, a squad of Nobz (a name that will never cease to make me snicker like a 12-year-old) which also has the Warboss in, a squad of ranged Boyz (rank and file troopers) with guns, a squad of close combat Boyz with axes and pistols, and a new addition, a squad of Lootaz, Orks who have looted very large guns in previous battles, mostly gear for anti-vehicular work. Also new was the introduction of a Battlewagon as transport for the close combat Orks. We didn’t have one of those handy, so ended up using a battered Dark Angels Land Raider. Looted, I expect!

The Nemesis was Dark Eldar again and spent his 750 points on two squads of rather standard-looking elves with rifles, one squad of quite exotic looking glam rock BDSM elves with flails,  nets and other point-blank unpleasantness, and to these, added two special floating elves with four arms each and big cool trenchcoats. All very emo. These three squads were then loaded on board three admittedly very cool looking Jabba the Hutt sail barge things, as transport.

“Look boss! Flyin Boats!”

“Wut?”

Some setup dice rolling later, we’d settled on the ‘Annihilation’ objective, where the point of the exercise is just to kill the enemy, and I’d lucked out with deployment in the fabulously detailed Forge World ‘Bunker’ board panel. The game type was ‘Dawn of War’, which meant that battle started in darkness and only the first three units start on the board, with extras arriving in later turns. Practically this meant all the Dark Eldar started on the table, but I had one unit off-board, so decided to put the close-combat Boyz squad in the truck and hold that as a kind of response cavalry, to be used later into the fight as needed. The shootey Boyz were easily deployed; I dug those in behind the sandbags and the Boss squad behind them, overseeing things. Above the bunker was a smaller fortification, in which I entrenched the Lootas, with a commanding view of proceedings, and off we went.

Almost immediately, my Nemesis took one look at the Lootaz on the hilltop with 10x 48″ range anti-vehicular gun, one look at his entire army in their delicate vehicular transports and pull the sharpest left turn I’ve ever seen, intent on throwing everything he had at the Lootaz. Each sail-barge had some kind of hefty AV gun on the front, and being ‘Open-Topped’, troops inside can also use their guns on targets in range outside.

“If we stay in da building, dey can’t shoot us!”

“But now dere shootin da building!”

“Uhhh… if… we stand in front of da building, dey can’t shoot the building!”

“Gud idea Boss!”

Cunningly enough, my Nemesis decided that the best way to deal with Orks in cover, was to destroy the cover, so we dug around in the rules and found out that the tower was for rules purposes a stationary vehicle and he had at it, managing to collapse the place with the Lootaz still inside. Orks being Orks, this merely stunned them for the following turn, and reduced the intact building’s cover save from 3+ to a ruined 4+. I giggled a lot, but he then followed up this demolition with some kind of plasma flamethrower things from his Homunculi, which was an entirely different matter, killing several Lootaz outright, and the following turn they failed a leadership test and legged it off the table, without even firing a shot. Very disappointing!

It didn’t all go his way though, and in his zealous panic to murder my Lootaz, he parked one of the barges in range of my entrenched Shoota squad. The thing I like about Orks the most, is the sheer quantity of dice I get to roll. Sure, I usually have to get sixes on all them to get anywhere, but the Shoota squad was 20 strong, and they get two dice each when firing. Moar dakka, indeed! Orks are abysmal marksmen though, and often only carry guns because they like the noise they make, so even with an initial 40 dice roll, only about three shots made it all the way through, and one of those managed to cripple and crash one of his sail barges. The riflemen on board leapt out and legged it for some trees and a sporadic gun battle ensued that lasted the rest of the battle.

“Sorry we’z late, Boss! We stopped for eatz!”

Having finished pillaging a nearby Imperial Little Chef, my Battlewagon was now allowed to join in, so I piled that in to help the Lootaz. It was too little, too late to save them from fleeing, but it did a decent number in revenge. Also an ‘Open-Topped’ vehicle, I was able to bring three Big Shootas to bear on the lead sail barge and managed to ace the dice rolls, causing the thing to explode, showering everything within 5″ with burning fuel, killing off most of the occupants and routing the remainder, effectively removing the second Kabalite squad from play entirely.

“Mekz! We GOTS to get us one of da hover boats!”

It was at this point that the Nemesis made his play of the match. Because the Raiders are hovering vehicles or skimmers, they can happily ignore terrain obstacles, such as the main depot sandbag walls, and 3″ high back wall of the compound. With a mighty swoosh, he sailed it clear over my fortifications and then unloaded his close combat Wytches and Homunculi directly into combat with my Warboss and Nobz squad. Pretty hairy stuff! The hand-to-hand got quite ugly – the close combat Dark Eldar get all sorts of buffs involving ‘pain tokens’, exotic weapons and combat drugs, bringing them comfortably up to par with the typically close-combat strong Ork Nobz and Boss, and he had more numbers. To be frank, I was losing badly, and in a move born of desperation and theatrics, I decide to pile the Battlewagon in over the back of the depot.

HONK! HONK!

Desperation ruled, and I didn’t care if I wrecked the truck driving it off the cliff, as long some close combat Boyz stumbled out of the wreckage and into the brawl, reinforcing the Warboss. As it happened, the truck came up short, but close enough that the Boyz could try a ‘Waaargh!’ – a special Ork rule where by once per game, you can make all the Orks charge an extra D6″ in their assaulting phase. I lucked out with a six and they all leapt out of the truck, over the edge of a cliff and onto the startled Wytches from above. It was awesome. Big damned heroes!

Now able to absorb incoming melee damage into a 20-strong squad of axe wielding maniacs, the tables turned and the Wytches and Homunculi started to evaporate. It was at that point, with two turns remaining, that the Nemesis conceded defeat.

At that point, he was technically in the lead. Points are scored for units destroyed or fled and the tally was 1-0 to him at that stage, with my Lootaz gone entirely from the table, while his routed Kabalites still had a turn or two of fleeing before they counted. The other Kabalite squad was down to four or so, and dug in with 16 Shoota Boyz plinking away at their cover – a matter of time only. The Wytches seemed unlikely to survive two more turns of melee, which was purely down to my kamikaze Choppa squad joining; the Warboss squad itself was down to the Boss and one Painboy (A sort of Orky medic – don’t ask…), each with one wound point left – on the edge of extermination. Remaining empty vehicles don’t count for win points. on the other hand, I still had thirty or so good old Boyz, all waiting their turn to pile on in…

We agreed that a Dark Elf win seemed unlikely at that point, and went down the pub instead.

A bold sally, born of narcotic bravado and agony-fueled ecstasy, but there are limits to what can be achieved by the flesh, even under the madness of the Dark Eldar. Faced against a more wholesome kind of madness, the darkness failed. The Orks seemed unconcerned as the straggling remainders of those would-be reavers fled into the shadowy spaces from whence they came. Loud celebratory gunfire and coarse jeering soon faded away as the Orks returned to the grisly business of looting the dead; gathering weapons, gathering strength and gathering themselves for further, endless conquest…

Things I Learned:

Initiative vs Squad Size; I really need to Go First whenever I can. I actually let the Nemesis go first, figuring that he’d move the Raiders out of cover for a clear shot by my Lootaz, but he moved them in further than I thought and building are not nearly as good as I thought. In close combat I suffered a bit too – my low Initiative score means he gets a free first go at whittling my troops down, and reducing my strength severely before I get to retaliate.

I guess the best defence here is simply to have Very Big Squads. Boyz squads go up to 30 models each, which I can use as a buffer to better survive the first round of incoming. This also has the bonus of adding vast numbers of attack dice, (Who cares if you need sixes, if you get to roll 80 dice to do it with?) and also give the Orks a huge boost to morale, preventing them fleeing so much. The Lootaz could really have done with being as big a squad as allowed, because of that.

Beware Skimmers: The Raider flying clear over my defensive line was a bad shock. I probably need to defend the back line better to avoid this being so much trouble in future – my Nobz were all exposed! Transport vehicle options seem a worthwhile investment for both sides in general, allowing greater mobility for slow foot troops, and offering cover while on the move.

On the whole, there isn’t much I’d have done differently though – I won, after-all – but what will be interesting to see, is what the Nemesis has learned and what will happen next time.

The Azadian May 14, 2012

Posted by Tim in General.
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So here is another blog. This one is about games, in particular board games, card games, war games and similar.

What it is not about, is computer games. I’ve blogged about those extensively and for many years elsewhere, and really have nothing more to say about them. Their merits and pitfalls have been a large part of my life so far, and will likely continue to be, but in recent months and years I’ve found myself increasingly fascinated by board games – good old fashion constructs of mathematics, cardboard and wood. Games which are as much socialisation as entertainment, played face to face with friends, rather than remotely across the internet. Regular board game gatherings at various friends houses; it all seems so much more wholesome than a life spent only with console and computer screen. It is these I will talk about here.

The title is a conceit, but apt. Ever since reading The Player of Games, Iain M Banks’ second ‘Culture’ novel, I’d been fascinated by the concept of both Jernau Morat Gurgeh, and the Azadian Empire he encounters. One is an indolent and not entirely sympathetic character who seeks individuality and definition within the vast uniform utopia of The Culture by seeking to become the master of every board game it has. The other is an interstellar empire which uses the most complex board game ever to define and inform every echelon of its own society. The story is the account of what happens when one meets the other. A cracking read and I highly recommend it!

I don’t pretend that in the myriad intricacies of Monopoly or Hungry Hungry Hippos, the entire universe can be mirrored, not do I especially aspire to be the Master of All Board Games myself, but seeking a new focus for my hobbying, and a something of a break from computer game obsession, a more in-depth study of board gaming seems a fine way to spend my spare time, along with writing about it all here!

So welcome to my blog, the musings, writeups, reviews and thoughts of a would-be Azadian on all things board game. To give you, dear reader, some idea of the sorts of thing I mean, here’s a list of some of the games I’ve played in recent months (with links), and which I am likely to expand on in future posts:

Warhammer 40,000
Dominion
Small World
Carcassonne
Settlers of Catan
Ticket To Ride: Europe
Quarriors
Thunderstone
Absolute Balderdash
Chess

…and more!

If you see something you like, do stick around for more…

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