Journal: 10/27/2017

I didn't write a journal last night as Antonio came over for game night. Therefore, this morning I want to write about...game night!

Stratego: On a strange whim after the night's main attractions, we went downstairs to grab Stratego. I think Stratego is the best of the classic Target games. By that, I mean Monopoly, Uno, Stratego, Clue, Risk, Battleship. These are the games that used to be the only ones at Target. I don't think Stratego is "good for its time" or "fun for nostalgia," but legitimately delightful. Antonio had a few misplays due to some issues between keeping the subtle ruleset differences in his mind. But, I had a disastrously decisive sweep of his backfield with my 9, then ran him back to counter Antonio's 9, which was dangerously close to my flag. The game has so much tension, so much fun initial strategy, and I think it's a masterful design.

Wartime: This is a game that I've been dying to play for a very long time. I ordered it on Amazon last week and grabbed it Monday. It made a lousy first impression as the components are shoddy and the aesthetic design is downright atrocious. Hint: If you're curious which game I was talking about in my journal two days ago, it's this one. But, the core mechanism is fantastic. The game is basically Memoir '44 (a favorite design) with sand timers. Instead of using cards in turns to activate units, you simply say "Move Men at Arms 3." You then pick them up, move them three, and assign a 30, 60, or 90 second sand timer to them. This means you cannot use the unit to Move, Attacker, or pair with a special card until that timer ends.

It's simple and really brilliant. Before I get to my critique, I want to call out one other mechanism that I think is genius. Line of sight. This aspect plagues every tactics game ever created. All of them more or less come down to: "Draw a string from the attacker to the defender. If it goes through an entity that blocks line of sight (a hill, a fence, a forest), you cannot hit them." This sounds simple in practice, but hexes don't always play nice, and it gets confusing in a lot of situations that are unfortunately common. In Wartime, to see if you're in range, you count the shortest number of hexes to the target. You can't count through a terrain that blocks line of sight. But, you can count around it. Is this fictionally goofy that arrows can bend? Sure? But it is SO elegant and abstracts the situation beautifully. The game's damage also accounts for this. For example, Archers hit for 2/2/2/1 damage at range 1/2/3/4, respectively. This means if you tuck a guy behind a forest, he's going to take one fewer damage. That is a perfect abstraction with none of the floaty "imagine a string" nonsense.

But, the game itself. The core mechanism is a star, and most of the card and unit content is very interesting. By just tweaking movement, attack, range, range damage, and whether the unit can charge or not, they create a great deal of variety with a very disciplined rule set. The scenarios though, aka how I first experience the game, are atrocious. We played three in a neat little campaign. If Team A wins scenario 1, you play scenario 5 on page 3, otherwise play scenario 6 on page 4, and so forth. Well, in two of them, we thought for a long time and could not figure out how I could have won them with my units. In the middle one, we couldn't figure out how Antonio could win. It felt stupid, and like a tragic mis-use of the premise.

Therefore, a lousy scenario book and just atrocious visual presentation make this a hard one to recommend. We're going to build some scenarios to see if it's better when approached more like Heroscape. But, I wager this will be on the trade stack before long. A pity. It'll be difficult to get me to buy a Wizkids game for some time.

Fields of Despair: Megan is out of town and Matt was busy last night, so we were able to play Fields of Despair. This game is a beautifully produced sim war game about the trench warfare of the western front. We struggled with the rules a bit. Not that they were badly written, but I hadn't fully grasped them yet (my fault), and the game is just a big one. I'm going to go on BGG to fire off some questions, but I think this game will be a winner once we work through all the kinks. It's really neat, but it does a few BRILLIANT pieces of abstraction that simply must be shared.

  • Eastern Front: More or less, the war in the east against the Russians consumed men and equipment that could have been fighting in the west against France. Every round, you pull three cubes out of the bag. If you pull red ones out (Russia), you take some long term damage that affects the reinforcements you get if/when Russia leaves the war. If you pull out three red cubes, Russia wins a major victory. If this happens three times? Berlin falls and the Central Powers immediately lose. The Central Powers player can toss in economic currency to the bag to muddy the Russian war effort. You can't gain anything...but you can offset your defeat. Simple, brilliant.
  • Naval Warfare: Very similarly, at the start of each round, you pull three cubes from a bag. Blue cubes ding the Central Powers economically. This represents the blockade hindering supplies. Black cubes ding the Allied powers. This represents submarine warfare. The Central Powers have a choice: If they activate unrestricted submarine warfare, they also kill enemy units before they even hit the battlefield. But! This will increase the rate at which the US enters the war. Simple, brilliant. 
  • Air War: Every round you can place aircraft tokens face down on any hexes. A simple dogfight ensues (roll some dice, compare hits) and any remaining planes let you examien the strength of enemy blocks. It really showcases the importance of aerial reconnaissance once the trenches locked things down, and really leans into the game's mechanism where...
  • ...to highlight the cat and mouse nature of massive offensives sprouting from the trenches, the game has blocks with strength range from 0 to 20. This means I may have two blocks worth 2 strength...or worth 40! There is a wide front, and it's impossible to cover everything. As your opponent sneakily moves men around, sets up his big artillery pushes, you have to hope you find him before 60 Frenchmen emerge screaming against a front where you have two Germans. As Antonio shouted, "Vive le France!"

This month has been incredible for games. I'm at 115 plays. I'm looking forward to the journal where I cover my new plays.