Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saturday, Feb 21, 2009 - Hammer of the Scots

Nevin called me on Thursday evening and asked if I had 3 hours to spare on Saturday for a quick game. After confirming with Dana that I did, 8^) , we agreed to meet at his house, at noon, for a game of Hammer of the Scots. I had not played the game in about 2 years but the rules are short so I gave them a quick read through Friday evening. When I arrived we rolled for sides and I drew the English against Nevin's Scots. For those unfamiliar with the game, Hammer of the Scots falls into the block wargame category made popular by Colombia Games. Block wargames use blocks, surprise surprise, to add an element of the fog of war to the game. During the game the blocks are faced such that only the owner of the unit can see the units current stats. The block's current stats are revealed, in the case of Hammer, only when a battle is resolved. Hammer of the Scots is a game about the Scottish rebellion, think Mel Gibson and Braveheart, against the English in the 13th century. The game has two scenarios, "Braveheart" and "The Bruce", and a campaign game,  where both scenarios are played back to back. The "Braveheart" scenario is the first, chronologically, of the two and occurs while William Wallace is still alive while "The Bruce" takes place after Wallace's execution when Robert the Bruce takes up the mantle for Scottish independence.

Braveheart - FREEDOM!
Nevin and I decided to play the first scenario and setup according to the rules. We made our first mistake when both of us left off one of our starting nobles from the map. Nevin forgot the Bruce noble and I forgot to place Dunbar I believe. After setup, Nevin dealt out the first hand of 5 cards each and we were off. Each turn of Hammer represents the passing of 1 year which is divided up into 5 game turns that consists of the play of one card face down from each players hand, in the Card Phase, and then revealed simultaneously. Each card in the deck will either be a number card, numbered from 1 to 3, or an event. The person who plays the higher valued number card or event card goes first with the English player winning ties; although, I don't know if "winning" is the correct term as oftentimes it is a disadvantage having to move first. The revealed cards are then resolved in the Movement Phase. If an event card was played, read the event and resolve it as instructed on the card. If a number card was played then you may move some or none of your units on the map possibly initiating battles. Before explaining movement I will have to talk about the map for a bit.

From On Board Wargaming

The Map and Movement - the Scottish Highlands are a B*$!#h to Take!
The map is a representation of Scotland and the Northern part of England that borders Scotland. Scotland itself is divided up into areas with either a red or black border. Most of the areas are marked with a heraldic shield indicating which noble controlled this area; this is the Noble's home area that they will return to during the Winter phase. All areas have a stacking limit indicated by a number in a black castle icon withing the area. The stacking limit is the number of blocks that may remain in an area during the Winter phase. Lastly, some areas also contain a major Scottish Cathedral indicated by a white cross in a blue circle; these areas increase Scottish stacking limits by one. Areas sharing a common border are adjacent for movement purposes. All blocks within an area's boundary, within Scotland, are considered one "group". On a numbered move card, the number indicates how many "groups" of units a player may move in that game turn. For example, If I played a "2" card I could move units from two separate areas during my game turn. All units, except the Norse unit, have a movement rating printed on their block either a 2 or 3. This is the maximum number of areas a unit may move when activated to move. Moving into enemy occupied areas and crossing red borders causes a unit to immediately end its movement. Units starting in England have special movement rules in that they are treated as "groups" individually so a "1" movement card would allow only one unit to move across the border into Scotland. Black and Red borders also regulate the number of units that can cross that border in a game turn. Six units may cross a black border in a game turn while only two units may cross a red border. The red borders represent the more difficult mountainous terrain limiting the number of units that may cross it and how far they can move. If your units are moved into an area containing enemy units a battle will be initiated. The battle is resolved after both players have resolved their cards for the Movement Phase of the game turn.

Battles - How William Got His Groove Back
Eventually hostilities will occur between the players; these battles are resolved in the Battle Phase of the game turn. It is one of the ways to get Nobles to switch to your side. If multiple Battles need to be resolved the first player designates the order. Battles last for three rounds. If the attacker has not eliminated the defender after three rounds the attacker must retreat and the battle ends. All units have a combat rating and a current strength. Combat ratings are a letter number combination such as A3 or C2. The number is the number that must be rolled less than or equal to on a six-sided die (d6) to "hit" the opponent and the letter is when it fires. "A" blocks fire before "B" which fire before "C" rated blocks. Withing the same letter rating the defender fires before the attacker. So a typical round would go as follows, Defender "A" blocks fire first, the attacker assigns hits, Attacker "A" blocks fire, the defender assigns hits and it continues with the "B" and "C" rated blocks; that completes one round of combat. When it is a block's turn to fire it may instead chose to retreat. Blocks must retreat to friendly or empty areas obeying border crossing limits in a combat round and they may not retreat across a border last used by the enemy to enter the battle area. A block's strength can range from 1 to 4 "pips". As a unit takes damage it is rotated so the number of "pips" uppermost represents its present strength. A one pip unit taking one more hit is eliminated and removed from the map. If the unit is a Noble it switches sides at strength "1" and comes back into the battle as a reserve unit. If the unit is not a Noble block it will either be permanently eliminated or be returned to the players draw pool depending on the rule for that unit, i.e. if the William Wallace block is eliminated it is gone for the rest of the game. If multiple groups of blocks on a player side enter an area across different borders one of those groups will be designated the main force and the rest will be reserves which enter the battle in the next round. After a battle has been resolved, the victor may "regroup" his surviving units. Regrouping allows the player to move any number of his surviving units to any adjacent friendly or empty areas within the border crossing limits. Regrouping is optional. After all battles have been resolved in the Battle Phase a special Winter Turn occurs.

From On Board Wargaming

Winter Turn - All Good Things Must Come to an End
In the Winter Turn, all nobles return to their home areas on the map, armies are checked for over stacking in all areas in Scotland, players may then receive replacements, and a new hand of five cards are dealt out for the next year turn if no one has won and the game has not ended. At the beginning of the Winter Turn, all English controlled nobles are returned to their home areas. If a home area is enemy occupied the noble switches over to the Scottish side, at current strength. All Scottish nobles are then returned to their home areas and likewise if their home area is enemy occupied the noble switches sides. If there is a Scottish King on the map he may withdraw to any friendly or neutral (empty) area on the map with a Cathedral, disband, or remain where he is. The English player may then disband some of his units (except nobles). English Archers, Knights, and Hobelars must disband; English Infantry have the option of disbanding or remaining in Scotland within an area's castle limits. If Edward I is in Scotland he may "winter" there; if he does all red blocks stacked with him, except nobles, may remain in Scotland regardless of the castle limit of the area. Edward I may not winter in Scotland in back to back turns. If Edward does not winter in Scotland he must disband. The Scots player now winters his remaining units. If Wallace is on the map he may remain where he is or move to Selkirk forest where he may gain up to 2 replacement points. The Scottish player now disbands all of his units that exceed an area's castle limits. Both sides may now use replacement points on existing units (both sides) or to bring on new units (Scottish only). After replacements, the English player conducts his feudal levy of troops in England, provided Edward I is not wintering in Scotland. Finally a new hand of cards for next turn are dealt out to both players.

Highlights and Mistakes - William Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Unfortunately, we did not get to finish the scenario; we had one more year turn to play through but we ran out of time and I had to leave. When we stopped, we both controlled 7 nobles apiece. William Wallace had been eliminated but Nevin had crowned John Balliol King so it was still a close game and could have gone either way. For some reason Galloway just did not want to switch over to the English. He always managed to survive the battles and finally switched sides after a successful play of the Herald Event. Edward wintered twice in Scotland with a good size force but in both instances the year ended on the first game turn due to event cards being played by both sides. The army must have thought they were on holiday. There was only one big, at least 6 blocks on a side, battle, initiated by the English. It occurred in Fife on the next to last year turn; I was hoping to kill some nobles so they would defect to my side but it ended in a stalemate with both sides units badly injured and the English retreating back to Mentieth.

As usual with games we haven't played in a while, or in new games we play for the first time, we missed some rules. Here are the ones I, as the English player, played incorrectly and some that may have been played wrong.

1. Units can not winter in England. They must disband at the end of the turn.

2. The English King must disband at the end of the turn if he does not winter in Scotland.

3. If Edward I winters in Scotland the English player does not get a levy in England for the next turn.

4. Losses due to the Pillage Event Card are distributed exactly like combat losses, i.e. they must be applied to the strongest units.

5. English levy units entering Scotland from England do not have to stop when crossing the black border lines. They only have to stop moving when they cross the Red Dotted border line. I played this wrong the whole game and it slowed down my levies moving into Scotland.

Thoughts for the English - What John Would Do Next Time
I think the only thing I did right as the English in this game was maintaining control of Mentieth. Mentieth is the gateway to the North or South of Scotland depending which way you are going. Of course Fife is another nice area to control. 

1. I would try to convert Bruce and Galloway quicker next time as the English. They were a constant thorn in the English side. Once they are converted, I would move them out of their home areas and combine them with other English blocks. I think Nevin drew the Herald Event at least three times in our game and Galloway or Bruce seem to be his favorite target; fortunately for me he failed all his rolls but if he was successful and they were stacked with other English at least there would be a chance to convert them back in the ensuing combat.

2. I did not bring infantry out of England quick enough early in the game. Of course I was playing the movement rule for crossing the Scot/English Border incorrectly but I was still too slow. You need these guys to occupy enemy noble areas so the Scottish nobles will convert during the winter turn. I never really got a chance to use them in this capacity. Most of the time they moved into Dunbar and then moved into Mentieth.

3. I would put up more of a fight when the Scots go after the English nobles starting in Argyll and Atholl. Once they are converted it is tough to get back in there with sufficient strength to battle them do to the red borders. 

It was a fun game and I hope to pull it out more often than every 2 years.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Saturday, Feb 14, 2009 - Starcraft and Neuroshima Hex!

On Saturday, Mick, Nevin, Mark, and Mervyn came over for a game of Starcraft: the Boardgame with the Brood War expansion. A random draw of factions and player order resulted in the following player assignments and play order:
1. Nevin - Aldaris (Protoss) : Home Planet - Tarsonis
2. Mick - Arcturus Mengsk (Terrans) : Home Planet - Chau Sara 
3. John - Tassadar (Protoss) : Home Planet - Halcyon 
4. Mervyn - Jim Raynor (Terrans) : Home Planet - Braken
5. Mark - The Overmind (Zerg): Home Planet - Victor V

"STRATEGERY" in Progress

At the beginning of the game, every player must chose one of his Stage I Leadership cards to start the game with. Nevin was the only one to chose his special victory condition requiring all the other players to accumulate 20 Conquest Points to win the game. Nevin would win by accumulating 15 Conquest Points or win at game end by default. Mark chose "The Overmind" leadership card which gave him an extra Conquest Point every turn as long as the Overmind was in play. I chose the "Warp Gate" which let me move all units in the area with the Warp Gate to any other area that was friendly to me or empty at the end of the Regrouping Phase. Mervyn chose the "Storage Facilities" which gave him 3 resource tokens at the start of the game and allowed him to collect up to 3 more resource tokens at the start of the Regrouping Phase provided he had unused workers remaining in his worker pool (this is a nice ability for the Protoss whose units are expensive). Mick chose "The Sons of Korhal" ability. This allowed him to use the star order token. When executing it, he could chose to use it as a Mobilize, Research, or Build order and he could chose to treat it as a special order provided he fulfilled the other requirements for using special orders. Nevin's special victory condition was going to make it tough for any of the other players to win and increase the game's playing time.

The View from the Trenches - During Turn 4 Planning Phase, I believe

The set up of the map dictated where the early battles would be fought and in this case it was divided along two major "fronts". In one front, Mark and Nevin would be the major combatants and in the other Mick, Mervyn, and I would fight over planets.

In the beginning, Mark's Overmind token allowed him to take the lead in Conquest Points but it did not take long before Nevin's units invaded and destroyed the Overmind taking away Mark's bonus Conquest Point ability. While Nevin and Mark waged war against each other, Mick and Mervyn fought on Antiga Prime allowing me to expand to Hydrax peacefully and eventually the space area of Erebus Station. Mick would land on the land portion of Erebus Station where we would maintain a truce until turn 5. Mick's initial battle went badly forcing him to retreat to an empty area of Antiga Prime but at the end of the turn a "navigational error", played by Mick, caused Mervyn to lose his way back to the planet when Mick swapped the Z-axis end points between Antiga Prime and my home planet. After a second round of battle, on the following turn, this left Mervyn with a lone isolated unit on Antiga Prime and Mick with a gleam in his eye thinking of future clean up operations on Antiga Prime. After the "Navigational Error", Mervyn had "backdoor" access to my home world, Halcyon.

During the turn 3 planning stage, I told Mervyn I was going to trust him not to invade my home world so I could consolidate my holdings on Hydrax. Mervyn did not attack my home world but he did contest Hydrax. I can't blame him as that was the only logical expansion route off his home world, Braken. Turn 3 saw more fighting between Nevin and Mark, and Mervyn and I. Nevin and Mark fought to a standstill on Dylar IV while I managed to defeat most of Mervyn's forces on Hydrax. Turn 3 saw the appearance of the Stage II event deck and during the end turn Regrouping phase everyone chose to play their "Hero" Leadership card.

A Hero has  abilities specific to that faction and the following additional abilities common to all heroes, immunity to splash damage, immunity to mind control, and immunity to technology card abilities that destroy units outright. I placed my hero, Zeratul (Dark Templar), on my home planet in the area where the Warp Gate was located so I could warp him off planet if need be during an end of turn regrouping phase. I think it was at the end of turn 3 that I used a "Navigational Error" event card to swap Mervyn's and my z-axis routes back to how they were at the beginning of the game giving Mervyn a chance to come to the aid of his lone unit opposing Mick on Antiga Prime.

More fighting ensued during turn 4 between Nevin and Mark, and Mervyn and Mick. I landed on Mark's home world intending to attack his lone hero but he had evacuated his planet before my troops landed. At the end of turn 4, all factions were on at least 3 different planets but I had a slight lead in Conquest Points and so was attacked by Mark, Mick, and Nevin during turn 5. Turn 5 would be our last turn of the game as both Mick and Mervyn had other commitments that evening so we called the game at the end of turn 5 in favor of Nevin since none of the other players were anywhere near the 20 Conquest Points required to win.

After the Starcraft game ended, Nevin and I played a two player game of Neuroshima Hex! and then we played a 3-player game with my son Cody. In the first game, my human Outpost faction was victorious over Nevin's Moloch cyborgs. In the following game, my Hegemony human gang HQ was completely destroyed and Cody's Outpost humans squeaked by with the win beating Nevin's Moloch by one point. We played the new Z-man Games version that included four different factions, the Moloch, Borgo, Hegemony, and the Outpost. The game consists of laying tiles on a hexagonal grid map trying to score the most damage on the opponent's Headquarters (HQ) tile by game end. So how do you do all this?

Two-player game in progress - Outpost vs. Moloch

Each faction's playing pieces include one HQ tile and 34 other army tiles divided up between Instant Action tiles and Board tiles. The Board tiles are units representing either "combat" units or "modules" that enhance a units abilities or give them additional abilities. Instant Action tiles, as their name implies, are not played on the map but cause a certain action to occur immediately when played. Examples of Instant Actions are Battle, Move, Sniper, Push Back, and Air Strike.

At game start, each player shuffles their 34 tiles and places them in a stack. This will be their draw stack used during the game. After setting up your draw stack, each player's HQ is placed on the map starting with the first player. The are no terrain effects on the map in the base game so all hexes are the same. For a two player game, only the 19 hexes in the center of the map are used. The other hexes are reserved for future scenarios. After the HQs are placed the first player then starts the game by drawing the top tile from his stack and revealing it. The player then has three options, play the tile, discard the tile or save it for a later turn. The second player then takes his turn by drawing the top two tiles from his stack and either plays it, discards it, or saves it. Play then passes back to the first player but from then on the players will draw a number of tiles until they have three revealed tiles. Once this happens a player on their turn will first have to discard one of their tiles and then takes their turn as before, i.e. discard, save, or play a tile. This turn sequence continues until all players have drawn all of their tiles from their respective draw stacks at which point the game ends and a winner is determined. The fun part is deciding where to place your tiles to do the most damage to the other player when a battle occurs and the resolving of the other instant actions. 

Three-player Death Match

Combat units will have at least one of the following combat abilities, Melee attack, Ranged attack, Net, or Armor. These actions will be assigned to a specific hex side of the combat unit. This indicates in what direction that ability can be used. Combat units, if it has an attack type ability, will have an initiative rating which determines when it fires during a battle resolution . Units that have a better (higher) initiative rating can destroy enemy units before they have a chance to fire. Melee and Ranged attack are the abilities that cause damage to enemy units. The Armor ability provided protection against ranged attacks, and the Net ability prevents an enemy unit from doing anything. Finally, a combat unit may have one, or more of the optional abilities: Mobility and Toughness. Mobility allows a combat unit to move during the owning players turn. Units without Mobility can only move when a Move Instant Action tile is played on that unit. Each Toughness icon on a combat unit increases the number of hits required to destroy a unit by one. Units without a Toughness icon require only one hit to destroy. So how does a battle begin?

Battles are initiated when a player plays a Battle Instant Action tile, the 19 hexes of the play map are filled with board tiles, or at the end of the game (the final battle) when the last tile is played, discarded, or saved. All units with the same initiative fire simultaneously, with higher initiative ratings firing first, and all fire from the same initiative is resolved before going on to the next lower initiative rating. Combat units and modules are removed, at the end of the initiative phase they were fired at, if they take hits equal to their wound rating. Hits on HQs are recorded on the score track on the map board. HQs start on the 20 space of the track with each hit deducting a point of their total. It they go below the 1 space the HQ is destroyed and that player is eliminated from the game. If this was a two player game then the game is immediately over and the other player wins. The game has quite a bit of strategy trying to figure out how best to use the Board tiles and Instant Actions you've drawn and plays quickly so if you are eliminated in one game you have plenty of time to get even.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

GiftTRAP: The Hilarious Gift Exchange Challenge

I received a copy of "Gift Trap" from my sister over the weekend and Cody, Christine, Claire, and I had a chance to play it twice this past Sunday. The game is quick, about 30 minutes, and the kids and I enjoyed it.

The full title of the game is "GiftTRAP: The Hilarious Gift Exchange Challenge". The games plays with 3 to 8 people and plays best with people you know a little something about. In the game, you score points by giving the gifts others like and getting the gifts you like in return; it's that simple. The game is played in multiple gift giving rounds until one person wins by moving both of their scoring pieces to the GIFTED space.

A round starts with the first player drawing a number of gifts, from one of the four categories, equal to one more than the number of players and placing them in the numbered squares in the middle of the board. For example, in our game we had 4 players so 5 gifts were drawn and placed in spaces 1 to 5. There are four different groupings of gifts to choose from but the rules don't mention how they are differentiated.

After placing the randomly drawn gifts on the board, each player simultaneously decides how they are going to divide the gifts up between the other players. Each player places a numbered GIFT marker, number side down, in front of each of the other players with the number corresponding to the gift you think they would like. So if the "Racing Pigeons" gift, an actual gift, is on space 1 and you think Joe would like it, you place the #1 GIFT marker in front of Joe. In our 4-player game each player gave out 3 gifts. Once this phase is completed, each player then rates the gifts on the board on how they prefer them with another set of markers labeled "GREAT, +3", "GOOD, +2", "OK, +1", and "NO WAY, -4". This is done simultaneously with the rating side of the marker placed face down on the gifts one is rating so all players preferences are secret. Since there are only 4 markers, some gifts may go unrated. The unrated gifts are the ones you are lukewarm about. Once all gifts are rated, the scoring phase begins.

Scoring is done one player at a time starting with the first player. The first player turns over all of their rating markers they placed on the gifts revealing what they thought about each gift. They then turn over the gifts they were given by each player and compare what they got to how they rated that gift and move theirs and the giving player's scoring markers on the board. For example, if Player Two gave Player One gift #3 and Player One rated gift #3 with a GREAT Player One's "GET" score marker would move forward +3 spaces and Player Two's "GIFT" score marker would also move forward +3 spaces. On the other hand, if the gift had been rated "NO WAY" the score markers would have been moved -4 spaces backward. Unrated gifts score a minus 1. Once all players have scored, if one of them has managed to get both of their scoring markers in the "GIFTED" space they win the game otherwise another round starts with the honor of being the first player passing clockwise to the next player.

As you can see, winning requires giving the gifts people want and getting the gifts you want.

The game is quite entertaining and fun and has won many awards including:
Best Party Game of the Year 2008 - Games Magazine
Top 5 Party Games 2006 - Majorfun.com
Game of the Year 2007 - Faidutti.com
Best Game from a New Publisher - Boardgame Podcasters Awards
Top Ten Games for 2006 - Chicago Tribune
Featured in 'Good Gift Game Guides 2006' - Seattle Morning News
Best Party Game 2009- Creative Child Magazine