Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Kashgar

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Many people will probably think of the queuing mechanism in Kashgar as a twist to the deck-building mechanism, but the designer actually came up with the mechanism before the first deck-building game, Dominion was published. Here's how it works.

Every player starts with three queues of workers. On your turn, you pick one of the workers (i.e. cards) at the head of a queue, and execute his ability. Once done, he goes to the back of the queue and starts queuing up all over again. That means you will need to activate all the other workers in that queue before you will cycle back to him. You start the game with two workers per queue, one of whom is a Patriarch who can recruit new workers. When you recruit, you draw two cards from the worker deck and pick one. Sometimes you can select one worker from the discard pile. Worker abilities vary greatly, but most do one of two things - collect resources, or fulfill contracts by spending resources. Fulfilling contracts is the main way to score points (some workers are worth point values too). There are always four contracts revealed at the centre of the table. Whoever fulfills a contract claims the contract card and then replenish the contract pool.

Game end is triggered once anyone reaches 25VP. The round is played to completion.

So far I only know of the German version. I don't know whether there will be an English one.

The player board on the left is for tracking your resources. The three queues are on the right. Claimed contracts are at the bottom. This copy of the game (Kareem's I think) has English paste-ups, without which it would be very hard to play because it's text-heavy (well, unless you know German). Blue circles with yellow numbers are victory point values. All contracts have them, some workers have them.

The Play

Right off the bat I started aggressively fulfilling contracts. Every player starts the game with some resources, and since some of the initial contracts in our game were small ones, it was already possible to fulfill them in the early game. Naturally that was also dependent on being able to recruit a worker who could fulfill contracts. It turned out to be not a bad idea. I took an early lead, and continued to maintain it throughout most of the game. This doesn't seem to be a game where you have to focus on building your engine first, and then at some point switch mode to scoring points. It is possible to do both at the same time. I didn't plan to specialise my three queues in any particular way. Broadly speaking, two of them were helping me to gain resources, and the third was the only one with some workers who could fulfill contracts. Playing the game was a matter of watching the available contracts, collecting the required resources (hopefully more quickly than others) and then timing the workers to fulfill the contracts. Ivan and Dith had workers who could fire other workers, and they both culled one of their queues down to just one worker. That means whenever they activated that queue, it would always be the same worker reporting to work (poor guy!). That's not a bad idea actually. For example, always having a worker ready to fulfill a contract is handy.

As everyone's worker abilities grew, it became more and more competitive, and racing to be first to fulfill a contract became more intense. Dith claimed one contract just before I could do so. It would have helped me cross the 25VP line. I had to settle with claiming another one which only got me to 24VP. Soon after that Ivan managed to reach 25VP to trigger the game end. I had a Matriarch card at the front of one of my queues, which allowed me to recruit a worker from the face-up discard pile. I picked one worth 1VP, pushing my score to 25VP. Tiebreaker was reverse turn order, so I narrowly won the game.

I didn't have any worker who could fire another worker, so my worker pool grew to be quite big. Aahh... unions.

The Thoughts

The queuing mechanism in Kashgar is interesting. There are various ways to build your queues and to make use of combinations of worker abilities. The resource collecting and contract claiming parts are pedestrian. They are just there to give a goal to the core mechanism. This reminds me a little of The Speicherstadt, which I didn't like, and felt it was a hollow game built around one clever mechanism. But in Kashgar at least there is some meat in the various worker abilities to chew on.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Wilderness War

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Wilderness War is a game I bought 10 years ago in Taiwan, and only recently got around to play it. Back then I had underestimated its complexity (or overestimated my capability). Later, even after I started to delve into more complex games, I still never quite found the time or will to play it, even after I bought the deluxe game board (the original game board was just thin poster paper). This year, because of my new year resolution of planning one hard-to-arrange game per month, I finally managed to bring it to the table.

Wilderness War is a card driven game, like Twilight Struggle, Paths of Glory, and Washington's War. The cards contain events which bring out much of the story, and can also be played for their operations points to execute various actions on the board. The historical backdrop is the French and Indian War in North America, i.e. the same as Martin Wallace's A Few Acres of Snow. This is a rare topic in boardgames. This period in history was a turning point for North America, when the English defeated the French to become the main colonial power. However soon after this the War of Independence occurred, and the colonies broke away to become USA.

One player plays the English, and the other the French. The objective of the game is to reach a certain victory point (VP) level, while the English can also win by capturing specific locations. VP's scored by both sides are always net off, like in Twilight Struggle, so it's a tug of war on the score track. VP's are gained mainly by winning battles, capturing or destroying fortifications, and raiding. The game comes with a few scenarios, varying between 3 to 8 hours of gameplay. Victory conditions differ slightly depending on scenario. Each scenario lasts a fixed number of years, and each year has two rounds, a round being a complete play of a hand of cards.

The board shows the French colony in the northeast and the British colony in the south. In between is a huge swath of forests and mountains. There are three main fronts in this war. In the centre both the British and the French have built fortifications along rivers, which allows them to quickly send troops to the front to fight. In the west the French has forts and allied Indian settlements in the wilderness which can be used as bases to raid the English colony. The French will want to raid, and the English needs to build fortifications to stop that, or bring the fight to the raiders. The third front is the Louisbourg front, where only the English, if they are able to draw an amphibious landing card, can attack the French port fortress of Louisbourg. If they are successful, they can further press on along the coastline to attack Quebec and even Montreal eventually. The French, having a weaker navy, has no option to launch an attack in the opposite direction.

You can say there is a fourth front in this war - the raiding game. Raiding scores points, and the French which tends to have more Red Indian friends, has much incentive to raid the English colonies which has a long border.

This is the central front at the start of the game. This is looking southwards, i.e. looking at USA from Canada (although neither country existed at the time of this war). Those boxes in the foreground are holding boxes for generals. Instead of stacking so many pieces on the board, you can place troops and subordinate generals lead by one particular general in his holding box. At this moment the English has three generals in the vicinity (red coats), and the French has two (white coats), one on the main board itself and the other in the holding box of the lead general.

This is the western front at the start of the game. The French has one general rubbing his hands greedily getting ready for raiding. The English has started putting up fortifications, but there are still gaps.

A full view of the board. Square (and rectangular) spaces are cultivated spaces, round spaces are wilderness, and triangle spaces are mountains. When regular troops move, they must stop in the next space if they pass through a wilderness space without friendly fortifications.

There are three types of troops - regulars, auxiliaries and militia. Regulars fight well in the colonies, i.e. cultivated spaces. They can besiege. They can build fortifications. However moving regular troops in the wilderness is difficult. They must stop in the next space when they move through forests, unless there is a friendly fortification. If they lose a battle in the wilderness, they must be able to retreat to a cultivated space or a friendly fortification. Else they all die. Auxiliaries (Red Indians, British rangers and French coureurs) don't suffer these penalties. They move quickly. They can raid. But they are much weaker, and they can't besiege or build fortifications. When fighting in cultivated spaces, if you don't have regular troops but your opponent does, you suffer a penalty. When fighting in the wilderness, if you don't have auxiliaries but your opponent does, you suffer a penalty too. The use of regulars and auxiliaries in this game is one of its interesting features.

Movement on the board is mostly centred around leaders. The action cost for moving regular troops individually is high, so you will need to rely on your leaders to lead armies. Some leaders can lead as many as 7 units. Auxiliaries are much cheaper to move individually, but if you intend to use them to raid, you'd better have some leaders guiding them. Without leaders, raids tend to be rather iffy.

Players use the same deck of cards. Some cards can be used by only one side as events. Drawing your opponent's event is bad in that you can only use it for operation points, but it is also good in that you have denied your opponent this event which may be quite useful to him.

The Play

On 4 Apr Allen and I had our first outing with Wilderness War. Since this is a game about British ascendency and French demise, I let him play the British.

We played the shortest scenario, 1757 - 1759, so there were only six rounds, i.e. six hands of cards to play. The scenario started off with many troops already near the central front. We further escalated that by consolidating troops there and combining them into two huge stacks. The situation remained so for the whole game. We had some battles, and we continued to send reinforcements. It was an escalation that neither of us were able to back down from. As the French I had to commit all my resources here, because I received fewer new troops than the English did. As the English, Allen could afford to send some new troops to other fronts. Thankfully the French was still strong in the early game, and I managed to win some battles and even capture a fort. However I did not really break through that front, and we more or less maintained a nervous stalemate on this front throughout the game.

In scenarios starting in 1757, armies at the central front are already on the brink of battle.

To simplify the situation at the central front, we kept the army commanders (i.e. the lead generals) on the board, while we moved the subordinate generals to the holding boxes of the commanders. I moved my units there too. Round units are auxiliaries, square units are regulars. These match the shapes of locations on the map.

To make things even easier to see, I spread out my units, so that I could more easily add up their combat values. The four on the upper left are Red Indians of various tribes. The two on the upper right are coureurs, French soldiers adept at fighting in the wilderness. The top numbers on them are their combat values. The bottom numbers are their movement values. The square units at the bottom are regular troops. The numbers on the left are the combat values, and those on the right are movement values. When injured, a unit is flipped over to show the weakened side with a diminished combat value on a white background.

Allen's English army. Those with a red background are Englishmen. Those with a green background are provincial troops.

The situation at the central front kept escalating. We were both sending more and more troops here. In hindsight, this might not be a good idea. In the deck there is one Smallpox card which hurts many units at one go, especially when played on a crowded spot.

At the end of every year (i.e. every two rounds), there is a wintering phase. Regular troops need to return to civilisation (i.e. cultivated spaces), or suffer heavy attrition. Forts and stockades in the wilderness can accommodate some regular troops, but they have limited capacity. This photo shows the end of autumn, so troops at the central front have now all temporarily retreated.

I was very lucky with the Louisbourg front. In early 1757 I played a French Squadron card which prevented the English from making an amphibious assault on Louisbourg for the rest of the year. This meant I could ignore defending Louisbourg, at least for the short term. That was only the start of my good luck. Throughout the whole game, Allen did not draw a single Amphibious Assault card! There are three in the deck, and the cards get reshuffled not only when they are exhausted but also when a specific card is played. In one of the rounds I drew all three of them! No Amphibious Assault meant Allen could not attack Louisbourg at all. He had two good generals there waiting to pounce, and he had also deployed troops there to be ready to launch an attack. Those were all wasted.

The Louisbourg front was uneventful.

On the western front, I eagerly did some raiding, and found out the hard way that it wasn't exactly a piece of cake. The chances of successfully raiding were not exactly high, and the risk of injuring my auxiliary units was high. I realised I really needed leaders to help improve my odds. I did manage to do some raids, but later on Allen assembled a strike force and came after me. I only had weak units which were no match at all, so I had to keep retreating, burning stockades as I abandoned them, so that Allen didn't get the pleasure of scoring points when he captured them. I kept retreating until I reached Niagara. One of the winning conditions for the English was capturing both Ohio Forks and Niagara. Ohio Forks was near the English colony and had already fallen. I could not allow Niagara to fall too. His western army was fast approaching. Niagara was not too far from my French colony, so I could quickly redeploy troops there, but I needed troops in the central front too.

This is the western front. I succeeded in making some raids. Upon completion of any raid attempt, regardless of success or failure, the raiding party escapes (teleports) back to the nearest fortification or Red Indian settlement. This makes raiders hard to catch. This is guerilla warfare. The location where that French general is standing is Ohio Forks, one of the victory objectives of the English. Allen had amassed strong English regular troops and was coming to get me. I did not have French troops to spare to help out here. I could at best do an organised retreat, burning stockades as I went to prevent them from falling into English hands.

The French started the scenario with 4VP. Throughout the game I managed to score more than Allen due to battles and raids, and my score was approaching the 11VP required for a sudden death victory. In case no other victory conditions were met by the end of the scenario, I would win by simply having VP's. So the pressure was on Allen to capture Niagara, which was his only realistic option by then, because it would be much harder to take away my 11VP within the little time remaining. I did a gamble. I sent more troops to the central front, threatening to defeat Allen's army for that last 1VP I needed to reach 11VP. This was just trickery, and it worked. Allen quickly consolidated his troops in one spot in anticipation for the battle. Then on my next turn, I took the chicken way - I captured an English stockade which Allen had left undefended. That was worth 1VP too, and I reached 11VP to win.

This was the end of our game. That stockade in the centre had been captured and turned into a French (blue) stockade.

After the game, I rechecked and reread the rules, and found out that I had taken advantage of Allen in more ways than one. I had incorrectly interpreted that sudden death meant the game ended immediately when one side reached 11VP. The correct way is to check for this condition only at the end of a year. So we should not have ended the game where we did, and my devious plan might not have been feasible at all because I had left Niagara poorly defended. Another mistake I made was regarding the French Squadron card. I played it in 1757, and it was removed from the game. Upon removal of this card, the French was not allowed to make any more naval moves. I had forgotten about that and in 1759 had redeployed some troops from Louisbourg via a naval move to reinforce the central front.

There was a third way I gained an advantage. There is a Massacre card which kills all Red Indians present when the enemy successfully assaults a fort or fortress. Allen played it on me, but he played it as a regular event, instead of as a response event when I captured his fortification. He had to take it back, and since I knew he had that card, I delayed my attack on his fort until he used the card for operations points. If he had played it at the right moment, it would have been a devastating blow to me because I had many Red Indians in my army.

I think we should do a rematch. :-)

The Thoughts

I find Wilderness War a game that gives me a lot of "feel". Perhaps it is because it has a rarely-used setting. The game feels unique. It has a strong character. The event cards really bring out the story. Much of your strategic manoeuvring has dependency on the event cards you draw, so to a certain extent you are at the mercy of fate. In most cases you will eventually draw the card you need, but the question is when. You need to make the most of what you are dealt. You grab an opportunity that arises. You try to do damage control when you get a poor hand, or when your opponent has a powerful hand. Every fresh hand of cards is exciting because you need to consider all the possibilities it offers you, how it can support your current strategy on the board, and whether you need to switch tactics on some fronts. Knowledge of the card deck is important. There are some powerful events you need to watch out for, e.g. the Massacre and Smallpox cards mentioned above. You need to anticipate event cards that your opponent may play, and prepare for them. If you happen to draw these cards, even though you can't use them as events, the fact that you are holding the cards means you know opponent won't have these options this round. So you can discount these threats when you plan your round. I find it an interesting design to have players share the same deck of cards.

The execution details like leaders, movement, battles and sieges are nothing particularly noteworthy. They work. What I do like is the additional touches that give the game some character, e.g. regulars vs auxiliaries.

Compared to A Few Acres of Snow, Wilderness War is more detailed, more complex and requires more effort. A Few Acres of Snow uses an abstract way to represent armies and battles. They are represented by cards and there are no actual units on the board. Before I played Wilderness War I wondered whether I would like it more than A Few Acres of Snow because it is more detailed. Now that I have played it, I find that it doesn't diminish what I think of A Few Acres of Snow. Not having detailed control over armies is not really an issue. In fact sometimes micromanaging armies can feel tedious. In A Few Acres of Snow, you decide what cards to buy to augment your personal deck. You are at the mercy of the order of cards being drawn from your deck, but what cards get added to your deck is completely under your control. In Wilderness War, the uncertainty is not only in the timing of cards appearing, but also whether the cards are being drawn by the "right" player. In A Few Acres of Snow, the difficulty is your deck grows to become more and more unwieldy, and it becomes harder and harder to draw what you need when you need it. In Wilderness War, the shared card deck presents the players different hands every round, and the challenge is making your hand work for you, not just for that round, but also for the longer term. At the tactical level, i.e. where you spend cards as operations points, you are restricted by whether you draw high numbered cards. At the strategic level, where events dictate reinforcements, allow amphibious assaults and trigger many other powerful effects, you need to puzzle out how to best use the events and the order of their appearance. A lot of excitement comes from seeing what hand you are dealt next, and whether a carefully planned event card play will work out. These two games are very different, despite trying to simulate the same difficulties faced by the two colonial powers in this war.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Shadow Hunters

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Shadow Hunters is a secret identity team game, like Bang, The Resistance and The Message: Emissary Crisis. The two main teams are the Hunters and the Shadow. They aim to kill off each other. Some players will play neutral characters. They win by achieving their unique personal objectives.

The game starts off with the six location cards randomly distributed to three locations. On your turn, you roll two dice (a four-sided die and a six-sided die) to determine which location card you go to. Usually the location card will ask you to draw a card and apply its effect. Sometimes it asks you to either injure another player or heal yourself. After that you may attack a player at the same location, i.e. on the same location card or the one next to it. The attack value is determined by rolling the two dice and taking the difference, e.g. rolling and 6 and 1 will yield and attack value of 5.

The game board has an injury track on the left, where everyone starts with 0 injury, and three locations with 2 cards each on the right. On the injury track, the health level of every character is marked, so if your injury marker reaches that spot, your character is dead and you are out of the game. The position of the markers are a clue to an opponent's identity. If his marker has passed or reached specific spots on the track and he is still not dead, then you know he must be one of the characters with a higher health level.

There are three types of cards. Black and white cards are equipment and spells. Equipment are placed in front of you and take effect every round. Spells take effect immediately and are then discarded. Black cards seems to be more powerful, but sometimes they can injure you too. Green cards help you determine the identities of other players. After drawing and reading a green card, you pass it face-down to another player. That player then reads it and does what it says. His action will give you clues to his identity. E.g. a green card may ask the recipient to take one damage if he is a hunter or a neutral. Having a green card passed to you can help you guess the identity of the card giver too. If he continues to attack you after knowing your identity, then he is likely from the opposing faction. The bystanders who don't get to see the content of the green card can also make guesses based on the subsequent actions of the two players involved in this green card transaction.

Every character has a single-use power, and to use it, you need to reveal your identity. The power is strong, but the danger is you are telling everyone who you are. So this should be used with caution.

The Play

I did a 5-player game. An experienced player taught four of us newbies to play. With 5 players, there are two hunters, two shadows and one neutral. The rule teacher, as is customary, was attacked by all of us when everyone was unsure who was on which team. That was not a good idea at all, since he could be your teammate. I guess we weren't taking the game too seriously. Afterwards, we were shocked to find that we had almost helped the teacher win. His character turned out to be a neutral with the objective of being the first to get killed. If we had not felt guilty for piling the hurt on him and then decided to "spread the joy" around a little, we would have easily killed him off early and given him the win.

Our game teacher (black) was hit left, right and centre and was already severely injured in the early game.

In the early game I had no clarity at all who was who. I didn't get to draw green cards much, so I could not deduce friend or foe. It seemed we were all randomly attacking each other, and just trying to keep the injury evenly spread so that no one was "left behind". Well, maybe the others had some clue about who was who and knew what they were doing. I was rather clueless. Attacking is actually optional, and not attacking is probably a good idea when you don't know for sure whether you are attacking an enemy. In our game we got the ball rolling with the random attacks, and we couldn't slow down.

By the time I found out who my teammate was, I was glad to find that she was the least injured player. We were in a good position. We were hunters, and one of the shadow players had already been killed. Once I identified my teammate (by using a green card), I attacked another player immediately, which should be a clear enough message that I was on her team (or perhaps I could have been trying to mislead her). I decided it was time for me to reveal my identity so that I could use my special ability, which was a strong attack. Soon we killed the other shadow player, and won the game.

The Thoughts

I enjoyed The Message: Emissary Crisis very much. Shadow Hunters has a very similar feel, but somehow I didn't enjoy it as much. It might be because 5 players is not ideal. I think the game needs at least 6 players, 3 each of hunters and shadows. The other thing that bugs me is I don't seem to be spending much time trying to work out who is who. This should be the crux of the game, but I am dependent on the die roll to be able to pick green cards to help me identify friend or foe. There was a fair bit of luck in the game I played. However the impact of this randomness might have been our own doing - because we chose to attack even when we were not yet 100% sure about one another's identities. We probably should have played less recklessly. Overall though, there is still significant luck because of the die roll determining what you do on your turn.

If I play this again I would insist on having at least six players.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Napoleon

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Han was in town recently, and brought Napoleon over to play. This is a 2-player block wargame first published in 1974 (40 years ago!) and is now in its 4th edition. It focuses on the Waterloo campaign, and plays over 8 (in-game) days, with only 3 turns total per day. The English and the Prussian armies are preparing to attack France, and Napoleon plans to catch and defeat them individually before they can meet and combine into a much larger force.

In game terms, the French are under time pressure to attack because they lose if time runs out. The French win by defeating a specific number of English and Prussian units, or by capturing two of the three supply towns. The Allies win by defeating a specific number of French units, or simply by holding out until time runs out. On your turn, you get to activate two groups for movement. In the case of the Allies, one group must be Prussian and the other English. There isn't much time for movement and manoeuvring on the main game board, especially for the Allies who only get one move per country per turn. The positioning on the main board is basically setting yourself up for the actual battles, which are played on a separate battle board. Positioning on the main board determines how many units you start with when a battle begins, and how much reinforcement you can draw from neighbouring towns during the battle. Turns on the main board can be very quick. Once battle is initiated, you shift to play on the battle board.

This is early in the game. The French is blue, the English red and the Prussians black.

The number pointing upwards is the strength of a block. It indicates how many hit points the unit has left, and also how many dice it rolls when attacking. The red text in the corner means firepower. F1 means the unit hits when rolling a 1. F2 means the unit hits when rolling a 1 or 2.

Like a Chinese Chess board, the battle board has two symmetrical halves, each half consisting of left, centre, right and reserve sections. You can advance to your opponent's side of the board, but you can't move laterally between left, centre or right sections. To win a battle you need to capture one section on your opponent's side, i.e. have a unit there while clearing it of enemy units. There are three types of units - infantry, cavalry, artillery - and each behave differently.

Losing a battle is quite devastating, because most surviving units need to take additional damage, and when they rout, the road capacity is low, forcing them to disperse. It is difficult to reorganise after losing a battle. In Napoleon there are no new units entering the board and no healing. What you have at the start of the game is all you have. Every loss is permanent.

The Play

Han let me play the Allies, because they can play more defensively. The French is under time pressure to attack. The game comes with reference sheets showing where each unit was located historically. However players have much freedom in setting up their initial placement. They just need to make sure the units are set up in their respective setup areas, and they obey the initial setup stacking limit. Once the game starts, there is no stacking limit. I did my set up according to history, and then made some adjustment. The initial stacking limit for the Allies is lower, which means they are forced to be less concentrated. I'm not sure Han followed history. His French stacks were huge.

He went for the Prussians first, and he went almost all out. I managed to position most of my Prussian units to be able to reinforce the battle, except for a few holding back to guard my supply town. The English armies could not get in position to reinforce the Prussians unfortunately. The Prussians were outnumbered. They had a slight battleground advantage - a house on my right flank in which one infantry unit could hide, a hill at my centre from which my cannon could get a better shot, and a river on my left flank which allowed at most two units crossing in any one turn. Surprisingly Han put his focus on my left flank, probably intentionally. He had cannons shooting at me across the river, and then cavalry rushing in to attack. My Prussians defended staunchly (i.e. I got lucky with my die rolls) and dealt a fair bit of damage to the French. However I dared not probe into Han's area from the centre or right sections, because he still had the numerical superiority and I might need to shift my units from those fronts to help defend my left flank. Eventually I could not hold back the tide, and my left flank broke. The Prussians lost the battle and were scattered.

This was when the first battle started. The French army attacked my Prussian group in the middle. All blocks in surrounding towns could reinforce the battle.

This is the battle board. Before the battle starts, the defending player draws two terrain blocks (green blocks) and the attacking player draws one. These are placed onto the board and will impact unit abilities. E.g. a cannon on a hill can shoot more effectively, an infantry hiding in woods can conceal its strength and type.

In this photo you can see that Han is targeting my left flank.

Han's French units have marched up to engage mine on the left flank, and he is using cannons in the centre to shoot at my units.

While the battle is in progress, the main board becomes cleared up because units are all moved to the battle board. I still have two black Prussian units waiting to reinforce their countrymen.

My left flank is starting to break. My units are getting battered. Those in the reserve area are mostly injured units. And Han has seven cannons raining hell on me in the centre.

This is the aftermath of the battle. The Prussians are scattered everywhere and it will be very hard to reassemble, because I only have one move per turn.

Han was still 3 units short of reaching the Prussian kill requirement, and needed to divert some of his units to catch and destroy my routed Prussian units. At the same time he had to prepare to attack the English. It was at this moment that we realised it might not have been a good idea for the French to attack the Prussians first. Even if they could beat the Prussians, there was only one supply town protected by the Prussians, and taking one supply town is not enough to win. The English side of the map had two supply towns. If the French could defeat the English quickly, there was a good chance of capturing both supply towns. If the French went for the English first, then it would be the Prussians coming under pressure to rush to help the English. At this point in the game, as the English I could try to avoid battle to ensure the French wouldn't get enough English kills to win. I just had to make sure the remaining Prussians could hold out against any French task force split from the main French army, and I then could afford to lose one English supply town. If the French sent a task force towards the Prussian supply town, that would be good news for me too, because that meant a weaker French army coming for my English army.

I didn't feel like running. I wanted glory! I knew the French took considerable damage in the fight with the Prussians, so even though they had more blocks, I knew some of them were weakened. My English blocks were all still fresh. Knowing what was coming, Han didn't bother to divert a taskforce to take out the Prussian supply town. He came straight for the English army. I managed to get three still-fresh Prussian units to join the English. In the end, our final battle was not in Waterloo, but right next to it in Brussels.

Han again picked my left flank as his target. He positioned a huge group of artillery there and rained cannonballs on my defenders. I tried to reply in kind, sending in my own artillery, but I didn't have as many as he did. I had to send some infantry just to help take hits, so that my cannons don't get killed off too quickly. Those poor guys must have been cursing "this is not what I signed up for". While Han battered my left flank, I decided to advance on my right flank, sending up my fresh English cavalry, and following up with some infantry. It was a race between who would break the other side first. Thankfully my left managed to hold up long enough for my cavalry to do its work. Han even had to send in Napoleon himself to keep morale up. Every turn units damaged down to one hit point must roll a die for morale check. If their morale breaks, they must disengage, possibly causing a rout if there are no more units defending a position. Leaders like Napoleon and Wellington reduce the likelihood of morale breaking. Unfortunately for Han his units were already injured, so my cavalry eventually managed to break through, trampling Napoleon to bits under their hooves. The Allies killed enough French units to win the Waterloo campaign.

Small scale battles (called skirmishes) where at least one side has three or fewer blocks are not fought on the battle board. Only one round is fought directly on the main board, and then the loser retreats. We did have a few skirmishes during our game.

After winning the battle against the Prussians, the French army killed some routed Prussian units and also reorganised themselves to prepare for the next big fight with the English army. Three Prussian units joined forces with the English, preparing to face the French.

This was the climactic battle on the very last turn of the game. It was do or die for the French. Han had a whole orchestra of cannons on the left raining hell on my units. I tried to return in kind, but I simply didn't have as many cannons. I attacked on the right flank, hoping to make a breakthrough before my left flank was reduced to smithereens.

My left flank was still holding, but things didn't look so good for Han on the right. Even Napoleon himself had to come to rally his troops. Eventually my units broke through and won the battle.

After the game, we realised we had made some mistakes. Once the French defeated the Prussians (i.e. killing the 9th block), all Prussian blocks should have been removed from the game immediately, i.e. they would not stay to help the English. If we had understood this correctly, we would have played differently after the Prussians lost their battle. Han would have had more incentive to hunt down three more Prussian units, since removing all Prussians from the table would make their supply town completely vulnerable. I would be more desperate to make the Prussians last longer. Also I might not have had those three Prussian blocks helping the English army in the final battle.

The Thoughts

Our game took about 2 hours, but what I remember most about Napoleon is how fast-paced it felt. There are only 3 turns per day over 8 days, which means 24 turns in total, i.e. 12 turns per player. A third of those are night phases which means movement only, no fighting. So that's 8 turns per player where you can initiate a battle. I felt I was pressed for time, and every move was precious. The positioning turns on the main board are very quick. The play on the main board and on the battle board feel like two distinct games. However I don't think they will work as individual games. The former gives context to the latter. It is preparation and build-up for the latter, without which the latter would feel like an orphan, bland and generic. These two layers of the game are not particularly memorable individually, but together they make an interesting whole.

Among block games this is at the easy end of the spectrum, even simpler than Hammer of the Scots (and it makes me want to play Hammer of the Scots again). It is much simpler than Rommel in the Desert.

Players have much freedom in game setup, and can try different approaches in handling this Waterloo campaign. That gives some replayability. However the victory conditions are the same, and the victory towns don't change, so you can't veer too far off from the Waterloo campaign. Martin Wallace's Waterloo has a fixed starting setup, but it is about what happened on the actual day of the battle, and not the overall campaign.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

in photos: DVONN, Amun-Re

in photos: DVONN, Amun-Re

16 Mar 2014. I pulled out DVONN and asked Shee Yun (9) whether she wanted to try playing it with the proper rules. When she was a toddler I used to let her play with the pieces. She liked to stack them all up in one huge stack. Now she is old enough to play with the proper rules.

DVONN is one of the games from the GIPF series of abstract games. The most highly regarded one is probably YINSH, which I have tried but do not own. DVONN is simpler. On your turn you move one of your stacks (i.e. any stack topped with your colour) onto another stack, combining them. How far you move (which must be in a straight line) depends on how tall your stack is. A single ring can only stack on top of its immediate neighbour, but a tall stack can jump far away. Usually a tall stack will get stuck and be unable to move, because the play area is in a long shape, and there will be fewer and fewer stacks on the board as the game progresses. The red rings are life rings. You can't move them directly, but you can stack on top of them and move them together with your stack. Any stacks that get isolated from the life rings are removed from the game.

Similar to Cappuccino, you can tell who has won very easily, by combining all your stacks. I (white) didn't win by much, but I did give Shee Yun tips along the way which helped her a little.

21 Mar 2014. I brought Taluva to Boardgamecafe.net. This is a game I've always liked. And it's beautiful too. I taught three players who were all new to the game. I felt a little guilty because I felt like I was bullying them. Surprisingly I lost the game. I had not expected that the game would end by running out of tiles. I rarely play with 4 players so usually we don't exhaust the tiles. I was about to finish two of my three types of buildings to win the game, but my opponents worked together to stop me. If the game ends by tiles getting used up, the winner is determined by comparing buildings constructed. Sinbad had constructed more than I did, and won the game.

The Reiner Knizia classic Amun-Re. Players bid for provinces in ancient Egypt, farm, and build pyramids. The game is best with five players, and we had five. That means all provinces were in use, three per player. This was near the end of the first half. All provinces have now been claimed. The owner places his marker at a corner of the province.

The bidding mechanism works this way. You must bid an amount on the card. If someone else overbids you, you must remove your stone and then bid on another province. You are not allowed to immediately top him at the same province. Only if you also get overbid at the other province then you can return to fight for the first province again. This means if you are very keen on a particular province, you'd better bid high to deter your opponents.

The provinces have different features. Baharya has four farms, but two of them come with free farmers. The pyramid and the bricks are left over from the first half of the game. When the first epoch ends, the board is cleared except for the pyramids and the bricks. All ownership markers are cleared for the second epoch. That card icon in Baharya means you are allowed to buy one power card during the shopping phase. Some provinces give power cards directly. Some give cash up front. Some give a fixed amount of money during the harvest phase as opposed to a variable amount depending on the Nile inundation.

This was the situation before the end of the game. There were many more pyramids compared to the first epoch.

Near the end of the first epoch, I stole the most pyramids award for both sides of the Nile by praying to the gods. During the shopping phase, we had a few players tying for most pyramids on both sides of the river. However when it came to praying time, I dumped in a lot of money, and the gods gave me some free bricks. Each brick counted as one third of a pyramid, and I was able to give myself a boost to become the sole winner on both banks. That gave me a 10VP lead, which was sufficient to win me the game even though I didn't do particularly well in the second epoch.

These four spaces in the foreground are for marking the Nile inundation level. This level depends on the total amount of money spent by players in praying to the gods. It determines how much each farmer will earn, ranging from $1 to $4.

Amarna only has four fields for farmers, but I had a power card which let me add an extra farmer. That temple here means I got to score points at the end of the epoch, depending on the inundation level.

25 Mar 2014. I played Innovation with Han. He kept getting the special achievements, while I focused on the score achievements. He had a much more advanced civilisation than mine, having many cards, and splaying all of his colours. In contrast, I had fewer cards, and not many of my colours were splayed. I was too busy scoring points and then claiming the score achievements that I sacrificed nation-building. Surprisingly I was able to claim achievements #1 to #6 without once being caught up by Han, and I won the game with my pathetic third world country. Han was out of luck. He didn't get any cards that he could use effectively to steal my points or to boost his own.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts

Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts is an expansion I have waited a long time for, but I realise I have not mentioned it here even though I have already bought it and played four games of it. Alien Artifacts is not meant to be mixed with any of the previous three expansions. It was developed based on a reset approach, exploring how the base game can be expanded in a different direction. Because of this, I bought a second copy of the base game. So now I have two play sets, each containing the two separate expansion arcs.

The main addition in this expansion is, of course, the alien artifact itself, a.k.a the orb. The game starts with a derelict space station (built from cards) at the centre of the table, and during the game players use their explorer teams to explore this space station and to pick up goodies. They play additional cards onto the table to expand the explored space of the station. Naturally, anything to do with this space station exploration is done by playing the Explore action card.

This alien artifact component of the game is optional. The game works with or without it. The designer recommends starting without it and only using it after you get a feel for the new cards. So far I have played two games without it, and two with. Michelle's first reaction when we played was: where are the objectives? We have become so used to having them (since the first expansion) that they felt like a recently lost tooth - the tongue keeps going there to feel the hole. The game felt brisk and clean without the objectives and the prestige points (the latter being introduced by the third expansion). Not that I don't like these additions. I do enjoy them and think they make the game richer. However it is refreshing to play a version of the game without them. I don't remember whether I felt this way when I first played Race for the Galaxy before any of the expansions came out.

I haven't quite grasped the techniques and the strategies in the alien artifact aspect of the game, so I'm not sure yet whether I like it or not. It is quite different from mechanisms introduced by previous expansions, so I think many players can't help feeling resistant to change. It does feel a little cumbersome. It seems to me I am randomly picking up goodies and VP's when I explore the artifact, as opposed to pursuing a coherent strategy and improving my ability to execute this strategy. I guess you can consider increasing your military strength a part of increasing your ability to explore the artifact, but it is unlike other broad strategies. E.g. if you go for a consume strategy, you need to have production worlds, and you need to have cards with consume powers. It's something you can build towards and get better and better at. I don't get this feeling with the artifact exploration yet.

I will need more plays of this alien artifact component to get a better feel. Unfortunately Michelle and I don't play Race for the Galaxy anywhere near how frequently we used to play when we were at the peak, so I'm not sure when I'll be able to get a better appreciation of it.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

in photos: Quarriors! and other iOS games

Quarriors! was free on the iPad recently, so I downloaded it. I wasn't particularly interested to try it beforehand, but since it was free and convenient, why not? In summary, it's deck-building using dice instead of cards. On your turn, you randomly draw some dice from your bag, roll them, and then execute actions based on the result you get. Dice generally represent your soldiers. The six sides of the dice normally represent either elixir or soldier. Elixir can be used to buy more dice into your pool. It can also be used to deploy soldiers (i.e. you have other dice on that turn where you have rolled soldiers). Soldiers have three main stats - attack power, defense power and scoring power. When you deploy a soldier, you send it to fight your opponent's soldiers (if any are in play), and then hope that it will survive until your next turn, when it will score for you before returning to your pool. I found the game rather plain. You are just racing to buy strong soldiers and deploy them as often as you can to score points until you reach the target VP. There is variety in the types of soldiers, and many have special abilities. Only some soldier types are in play in each game, so there is variability from game to game. I've only played two games against the AI, and after that lost interest. Perhaps I have not given it a fair shake.

I have played many games of Ascension on the iOS, almost all against other humans. I had all the big expansions, but I resisted buying the promo packs because I felt they had poor value for money compared to the regular expansions. I recently decided to just buy them all at one go. I've got so much play out of Ascension that I'm happy to further support Stone Blade Entertainment and Playdek. Some of the cards in the promo packs are quite interesting. This Rat King is one of them. When it appears, it places Giant Rats atop all other cards in the card row, blocking them. Giant Rats are strength-1 monsters which you must defeat to get to the cards they are covering. If you are able to defeat the Rat King directly, you automatically defeat all Giant Rats for free.

This Ender of Days is the strongest monster I have ever seen. It is worth 10VP, and when you defeat it, you trigger the game end. Unfortunately the contract between Stone Blade Entertainment and Playdek is only until end of this year. I understand Stone Blade Entertainment is developing a new version of Ascension. I wonder what will happen to the current version by Playdek (which I like a lot). Will it not work completely after 2014, or only online play will be discontinued? At the rate that I'm playing Ascension, I think I'll be buying whatever new version that comes out in 2015.

Booting up Tigris & Euphrates again after a long interval is like taking out the statue of Reiner Knizia and worshipping it again. Even when only playing against AI's, I can appreciate the genius and beauty of the game. It's a very open game where you create your own opportunities. There are tensions building, dangers lurking and weaknesses waiting to be exploited. The board situation can change dramatically as wars and internal power struggles change the faces of the kingdoms. It's quite rare for a Eurogame, especially one from this era, to be so bloody and vicious.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Axis and Allies 1914 (World War I)

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

The Axis & Allies series has always been about World War II. In this latest release, it explores a different era, that of World War I. Strictly speaking this should not be Axis & Allies anymore. It should be Central Powers and Allied Powers. Since this is World War I, there are quite a number of changes to the rules. The technology and the political situation are different in this earlier war. The playable countries on the Central Powers side are Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. The Allied side has United Kingdom, France, Russia, Italy and United States. The objective of the game is to capture two enemy capitals. For the Central Powers, one of them must be Paris, while for the Allied Powers, one of them must be Berlin.

The flow of the game is similar to traditional Axis & Allies games. On your turn, you buy units first and set them aside. Then you move units on the board to fight. Only after combat you place the newly bought units onto the board, i.e. you will only be able to use them on your next turn. Finally you collect income based on territories you control. Here are some differences from earlier versions of Axis & Allies:

  • Technology: No bombers, no aircraft carriers, no destroyers. Tanks only get invented in Round 4, and they are weaker than infantry and artillery. However attacking tanks have the ability to absorb hits, which can be very useful. There is no rule for fighters to fly out and then fly back to land. They accompany land armies and never fight at sea. They mainly act as recon to boost artillery combat strength. Artillery can be paired with infantry or tanks to boost their strengths.
  • Land armies: Land armies must contain at least one infantry. You can't have armies of tanks or artillery or anything of this sort. You can't always decide to sacrifice the cheap infantry whenever you take a hit. Being short on infantry also means you may not be able to split your army, because each half needs infantry.
  • Land combat: Land combats are only fought for one round. If both sides have surviving units, they stay put, and the territory becomes contested. Neither side receives income from this territory. For in-progress battles, the active player may choose not to combat and just maintain the stalemate. This can be a good move, because attackers tend to have poorer odds, and sometimes you do want to stall.
  • Sea combat: When navies meet, combat is optional. However if the active player wants, sea combat can be fought for as many rounds as he likes. There are sea mines now. Each individual ship that approaches an enemy port is at risk of getting hit.
  • Production: You only produce new units at your capital, except that UK can produce in India too. No new factories can be built.
  • The Bolshevik Revolution: From Round 4 onwards, if Russia fares poorly and a specific set of conditions is met, the revolution occurs and Russia will exit the game.
  • USA: USA cannot start fighting until Round 4, unless the Central Powers attack it first or Germany robs its merchant ships.

The box cover is just as epic as they have always been.

The Play

I originally scheduled a four player session with Allen, Heng and Jeff, but unfortunately Allen couldn't make it at the last minute, so we did a 3-player game. Heng and Jeff wanted to join forces, so they played the Allies while I played the Central Powers. Jeff picked to play France and UK, so Heng played Russia, Italy and US.

Game setup: The full board. The Central Powers are Germany (grey), Austria-Hungary (bright green) and the Ottoman Empire (teal, i.e. greenish blue, or bluish green). The Allied Powers are France (bright blue), UK (light green), Italy (orange), Russia (brown) and US (dull green). Both Germany and Austria-Hungary have two fronts, and need to worry about how to distribute their troops. The Ottoman Empire needs to manage Africa and the UK troops from India, and also worry about its front with Russia. UK has no troops on the European continent yet, and will need a navy to ship them over from the British Isles. It can produce troops in India, to harass the Ottoman Empire and to fortify Africa. France only has one main front, so it is more straight-forward. Russia has all three Central Powers touching its frontline, and is under much pressure. Like France, Italy has one main front, to its north, but which side will gain sea superiority in the Mediterranean is still unknown, so there is a threat of amphibious assaults. US has very few troops, and will need to get busy preparing to ship units across the Atlantic Ocean.

At sea, the Allied Powers are slightly stronger. Every major nation has a navy, but the Allies are stronger in the Mediterranean. Things are more equal in the Atlantic Ocean, but Germany moves first and that is an important advantage in Round 1.

Africa is a patchwork of colonies, with few units guarding them. These colonies are hard to attack and also hard to hold. No one has production capabilities on the African continent itself, so it is hard to reinforce.

Game setup: The French-German border. Switzerland and the Netherlands (not coloured) are neutral countries. If they are attacked, defenders will arise to join the opposing alliance. Belgium is an aligned minor power. It has the same colour as France. If it is attacked by the Central Powers, new French units will materialise to fight the invaders. If an Allied Power steps in, it doesn't not resist, and is instead spurred into action, raising armies to fight for the Allies.

Game setup: The border between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia.

Game setup: Egypt is guarded by a strong British army. The dark blue chip under the British infantry represents five units, so there is a total of six infantry. The light blue chip represents one unit, so there are two artillery units here. The Allies use blue chips, the Central Powers use red ones. Similarly, dark red means five, light red means one. The two British ships next to Egypt are a transport and a cruiser.

Game setup: The European continent from UK's perspective.

Game setup: There are many minor powers in the Balkan peninsula. Albania, Serbia and Romania are aligned to the Allied Powers, while Bulgaria is aligned to the Central Powers. Greece is neutral. When a minor nation is invaded, the number of units that arise to defend it is double that of its economic value. If Greece is invaded (economic value = 2), there will be 1 defending artillery and 3 infantry.

In Round 1, there is a special rule where Austria-Hungary must attack Serbia. This marks the start of World War I.

The fight is on! Oh look at those thundering armies shaking the camera. On my first turn as Germany, I invaded Switzerland to create a flanking path (and there goes historical accuracy...). Belgium is now contested, occupied by armies from both sides. In the top right corner you can see Germany has conquered Denmark. Now the French are counter-attacking.

My German naval strategy was to sink all British ships as long as my fleet lasted, without investing more in building ships. This is commonly used in traditional Axis & Allies games. It is a delaying tactic, trying to hold off D-Day as long as possible, while USSR is being dealt with. It turned out to be quite effective here too. I destroyed the British fleet twice, the starting fleet plus one newly built fleet, before the combined Allied fleet destroyed my navy. However we later realised we missed one important rule. For the first two rounds, we forgot about the sea mines rule. If we had remembered that, my German navy might not have lasted that long.

Another rule we missed in the first two rounds was the artillery pairing rule. Some infantry should have fought with a higher strength. If we had played this correctly, there would likely have been higher losses. That probably would have made things worse for Russia, which had a tight budget.

Austria-Hungary (bright green) pinned down Italy (orange) to allow Germany (grey) to focus on France (bright blue) and UK (light green).

The game doesn't come with enough pieces. I had to borrow German infantry and also plastic chips from another Axis & Allies game. Jeff said this black German soldier took a time machine to return to World War I.

Africa is all about these small-scale battles, which tend to be quite iffy. Germany just conquered Belgian Congo, and now UK promises revenge.

France used transports to send troops from North Africa down south to contest the African colonies. Germany had no production capability in Africa and the German troops could only retreat.

Now there are only two German soldiers left.

In the Middle East, UK eagerly invaded the Ottoman Empire from Egypt. My Turks didn't concede so easily, and had already prepared to counter-attack. We ran out of red chips, so the Central Powers had to borrow some of the blue chips from the Allied Powers.

The Ottoman Turks have now destroyed the British Egyptian army, and are threatening Africa. Jeff never did build many British units in India, and thus never seriously exerted much pressure in this area. On land, Persia and Afghanistan, both neutral nations, lay between India and other territories. Both Jeff and I were reluctant to be first to invade these neutral nations, lest it thinned our forces. These nations remained a protective wall until the end of the game.

Once the Turks broke through to Egypt, they were unstoppable. The remaining Allied forces in Africa gathered in Sudan to set up a united front, but it proved too weak. The riches of Africa were mine for the taking.

After the Ottoman Empire became rich, it invested in a new navy to contest the Mediterranean Sea. Italy was getting poorer and poorer and it couldn't afford more ships. UK was unwilling to invest in ships in this arena. So the Allied Powers were still using the old ships they started the game with.

Towards the end of the game, the Ottoman Empire conquered half of Africa, and also controlled the Mediterranean Sea.

Let's now move to the Eastern Front.

Austria-Hungary invaded Ukraine, bringing along an airplane. Airplanes were a new technology during World War I.

The Russians put together a strong counter-attack, concentrating many armies here to drive off the Austria-Hungarians.

At the end of a bloody combat round, the Austria-Hungarians only had these units left.

The Germans invaded Poland when the Russians were busy fighting off the Austria-Hungarians. The Russians quickly returned to fight the Germans. Look at that huge stack of artillery which just came back from the other battle. The Germans had a fighter though, which gave all their artillery an advantage.

Russia simply didn't have enough GDP to cope with the joint assaults of the Central Powers. Its line of defense eventually crumbled. Now Heng had to contemplate how to manage the downfall of Russia. Round 4 was here, so the Bolshevik Revolution was an option. In fact, it was the better option. If would prevent the Central Powers from capturing more land. It would also prevent the Central Powers from capturing Moscow and stealing the Russian treasury, which would be a major boost for them. The conditions for the Bolshevik Revolution are (1) Moscow not yet fallen, (2) three territories next to Moscow controlled by the Central Powers, (3) one more other territory controlled by the Central Powers.

An Ottoman army is right next to Moscow now.

Fighting had commenced in Moscow. I was just one soldier short of capturing Moscow and preventing the Bolshevik Revolution. There was just that one single Russian soldier holding out. Aarrgghh!!

The Bolshevik Revolution was triggered. Russian territories captured by the Central Powers now belonged to them. Contested Russian territories could no longer be fought over, and the Central Powers must leave at least one infantry in such territories. With nothing else to fight for in the eastern front, my armies now hurriedly marched towards other fronts where they were needed. With Russia out of the picture now, I had one front less to worry about, which was a great relief.

Now let's look at the western front.

My German armies pushed steadily westwards. I had captured Switzerland and Belgium, but I didn't want to attack the Netherlands, worried that it would sap my strength. The Dutch stayed at peace for the rest of the game, despite the bloody fighting right at their border. At this point, although I had reached the outskirts of Paris, I knew my supply of troops had dried up and I wouldn't be able to go further. I was later pushed back towards the original French-German border.

At this point, the German navy had been sunk, and I didn't want to spend any money on ships. The British could freely unload troops onto the European continent. That meant I had to carefully defend my entire shoreline. I had to watch out for any surprise amphibious assault on Berlin. My purchases were quite conservative. I always bought many infantry units, and only supplemented that with a few artillery units, and occasionally fighters and tanks. I was defending using numbers. Every round I marched my units westwards along the coast (except for the detour past the Netherlands). This achieved two things - I defended my shoreline, and also maintained the pressure on the western front.

The most epic battles of the game took place in this area. The Americans had landed now (dull green). In this photo, my western front was broken. However I did have many troops on their way to fill the gap. At this point in the game the Russians were already out, so Austria-Hungary could now help out on the southern flank of the western front.

The Americans had built a massive fleet of transports and set up an impressive shipping line across the Atlantic.

The Americans landed in Denmark and captured it, but the Germans soon came to kick them out.

The Austria-Hungarians did well and went all the way to the doorstep of Paris. Ruhr was not empty. It was too crowded and we had to temporarily move the units off board. There were a few massive and intense battles in this vicinity. The Allied Powers fared poorly, and this sealed their fate. The Central Powers were economically stronger by this time, and if the Allies could not break through, they were doomed in the longer run because they would not be able to keep up with the production power of the Central Powers.

These are the units actually in Ruhr. My German airplanes gave me air superiority, making my artillery more effective. In every battle, if both sides have airplanes, they must dogfight until at most one side has any airplane left. That is the side which will enjoy air superiority.

Italy had been poor for many years, and could not match the production power of Austria-Hungary. In the early game the Italian navy gave the Austria-Hungarians much grief, dropping Italian troops in its backyard - the Balkans. By now the Italian fleet had been sunk by the Ottoman fleet, and it was the Ottoman Empire's turn to be the bully in the Mediterranean.

We played till Round 9, which took about 7 hours, excluding rules explanation and lunch break. The Allies conceded defeat. They had not lost any capital, but we knew it was only a matter of time. The momentum was irreversible. Looking back at the game, I could not say what exactly the Allies did wrong. I could only think of Indian UK not being aggressive enough possibly being one contribution to the Central Powers' victory. Or perhaps the Russians could play more conservatively, intentionally choosing not to fight already-engaged battles on its turns. If I look at the Central Powers perspective, I think one thing I got right was my shopping policy. I insisted on buying a lot of infantry, and on maintaining a steady stream of them to the front line. I kept up a constant pressure. I'd like to think German precision and manufacturing won the war. That was how it survived this war of attrition.

This was the economic situation at game end. Germany was the richest, followed by Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Italy was the poorest. This sheet was downloaded from BGG and did not come with the game.

This was the board situation at game end. The Ottoman Empire was unstoppable in Africa, and it was preparing to attack British India. Paris was surrounded, but would probably still last a few rounds. The British and Americans were likely going to lose their foothold on the European continent soon.

The European continent at the end of World War I. Greece remained neutral. No one wanted to mess with it.

The Thoughts

Both Jeff and Heng agreed this is their favourite Axis & Allies game so far. I was a little surprised at that comment, because despite enjoying the game very much, it didn't strike me as being particularly outstanding from its brethren. Although there are many changes to adapt the game system to World War I, I feel the core engine is mostly the same. To a large extent, it is a shopping game. You need to plan ahead and know what units to buy for the coming turns. The selling points of the Axis & Allies series have always been: (1) it is quite accessible and is not too complex, (2) there is still sufficient strategy to be rewarding, (3) it is very good looking. It's a game system which allows you to have fun rolling lots of dice. The adjustments made to this 1914 version were all very well done.

The granularity of the game is appropriate. It is not overly tedious like the combined 1940 game (but I do think AA1940 Pacific and AA1940 Europe played by themselves are fine). It's still a long game, so it's something you want to plan almost a full day for. But it's a satisfying and fun experience. I'd recommend a lower player count, at most four, so that you don't wait too long for your turns.

The dice that come with the game are quite small. I think that's a good decision, because it means you can roll many of them at one go. It's exhilarating and also simply fun.

Heng and Jeff. Guys, the victory sign is from World War II. It's a Churchill thing. You got your history mixed up.

Note: A big thank you to Jeff for providing some of the photos (the better-looking ones).