Friday, 3 August 2007

long or complex games 2

Another long game that I have played and enjoyed is Pacific Victory. This is a game about World War II in Asia, similar to Axis & Allies Pacific, which I own. Pacific Victory is a wargame. World War II in the Pacific theatre is quite asymmetric. Japan is economically weaker than America, but is well prepared and well poised to attack. It is geographically nearer to the theatre of war, whereas America is far away. The Americans are rich and strong, but are far away from the action. The British forces are spread thinly, and logistics, and how to allocate resources are both difficulties for them. In this game, victory is determined by how well the Japanese does within a fixed number of years. To look at it in another way, victory is determined by how well the Allies can defend against Japan and how well they can fight back.

I played the Allies in this game. It was fun to have so much resources at my disposal. Being the rich guy is nice. However I think I was overly conservative and was not aggressive enough in counter attacking Japan. The game ended in victory for Japan. I never managed to reclaim much lost ground.

I had some very lucky die rolls for my Indian defenders, who defeated wave after wave of Japanese soldiers. In games where a lot of dice are rolled, sometimes it's just funny how some die rolls can just be crazy. I treat it as something amusing, rather than something frustrating. Over a long game where many dice are rolled, the good luck and the bad luck evens out more or less, so strategy and good decisions win the game, not luck. Anyway, who says there is no luck in real war.

I made one bad mistake in not maintaining my supply line. Some of my troops were cut off by the Japanese and suffered bad losses. Now that was a strategic mistake. No luck in it at all.

I enjoyed my one and only play of Pacific Victory, although it is not something I'd play very often. If I play it again I'll need to read through the rules again. It is definitely one of the most complex games that I have played. One thing that surprised me is how similar the game feels like Axis & Allies Pacific. Axis & Allies Pacific is much simpler. The rules are simpler, there are fewer exceptions / special cases to remember, there is no supply line concept. But there is the same tension in that the Japanese try to expand quickly and then hold on to what they can conquer, while the Allies try to contain the Japanese quickly. So, in my opinion both games capture the essence of World War II in the Pacific theater well.

Another longer game that I have played and enjoyed is Crusader Rex. This game, of course, is about the crusades in the middle east during the middle ages. The Franks (I call them the Christians) and the Saracens (I call them the Muslims) fight over the key cities in the holy land. At the start of the game, the Muslims are more numerous. The Muslim soldiers are generally weaker but more nimble. They can travel faster, and they can run away during battles. The Christian soldiers are generally stronger but slower. They can conduct powerful cavalry charges, although at the risk of injuring themselves. So, again, there is an interesting asymmetry. Also, although the Christians are inferior in numbers at the beginning, as the game progresses, crusaders will start coming from Europe to help fight the Muslims. These crusaders are powerful. So, there is a certain story arch, and a gradual change of who has more advantage.

Crusader Rex

Close-up of Crusader Rex

I have played this game twice and have written about my 2nd game here (scroll down to Nov-Dec 2006 section). I'm happy to say that playing this game does evoke the feeling of being in that time and place and making those decisions that the generals at the time had to make. The effort to learn the more complex rules is very much worth the enjoyment and experience obtained from the game. Crusader Rex is simpler than Pacific Victory. It is probably too complex for a normal person, but it is considered very simple for veteran wargamers (which I am not one).

These two games above are war / conflict oriented. There are also peaceful games that can be long and complex, like Power Grid. This is an example of a longer and more complex Eurogame. Power Grid is about managing your own power company - buying power plants, buying resources (coal, oil, garbage and uranium) to power your plants, developing your grid of power lines, and eventually supplying power to cities and earning money from it.

I would say Power Grid is not an elegant design, because there are quite a number of special rules you need to remember and special situations to handle. But I think they are manageable. The overall sequence of a turn is actually quite straight-forward if distilled down to basics - buy power plants, buy resources, extend your grid to connect to more cities, and then supply power to earn money.

Power Grid

I quite like Power Grid. There are quite a number of things to manage - the auctioning of power plants, the positioning of turn order, ensuring you are able to buy the resources you need, managing your money, and also the spatial element of connecting cities and blocking your opponents' expansion. You must not ignore any of these aspects, as one blunder in one area can cost you the game. You need to look ahead a few steps, especially when approaching the end game. Many times when I lose a game, I can trace back a few turns and find out exactly what I did wrong. Sometimes I spent too much to win a good power plant during the auction. Sometimes I managed the upgrading of my power plants poorly, to either depend too much on one type of resource, or to be too slow to increase my total capacity. So I often get a feeling of I can do better in the next game.

Power Grid is an incremental game. From the start you strive to optimise your moves, to spend least on resources and to reap the most rewards. The little savings / earnings from each turn gradually add up. Some people find this boring, but I don't mind it. One interesting aspect of the game is the positioning game (also something that some people like and some don't). Over the course of the game, the turn order is determined by who is leading in terms of number of cities connected. More cities connected means you can supply power to more cities and can earn more money, however you may not always have the power plant capacity or the resources to do so. So people usually expand their grid carefully. Turn order is determined such that the "leader" is always at a disadvantage, e.g. first to choose a power plant to auction (because better power plants may turn up later), but last to buy resources (cheaper resources would be bought by others, and some resources may even be sold out!). So, in this game sometimes players try NOT to be in the lead. But sometimes being in the lead also means earning more money, which is also an advantage, if the other disadvantages are not hindernig you too much. I find this jostling of position is an interesting part of the game.

Games of Power Grid actually do not always go too long. Sometimes when playing with Michelle and Han it only takes us about an hour or slightly more. I only remember one 2.5 or 3 hour game when I played it with 5 players, who mostly were new to the game, and were not hardcore boardgame hobbyists like myself. But I do consider this game to be on the higher complexity side among Eurogames.

The good things about longer and more complex games include the satisfying intellectual challenge, the immersion in the atmosphere, and the development of a story. The bad thing is it is sometimes hard to get people to play, or to get enough people to play (like A Game of Thrones). For long games like Axies & Allies, Samurai Swords and History of the World, you'd really have to plan ahead, like allocating one full day for it, and maybe even keeping the evening free just in case.

I hope one day I will have enough boardgame kaki's to regularly (maybe once a month or once very two months) plan a long game.

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