Sunday, January 22, 2012

Boardtastic Saturday of Wargaming goodness

A full on day of Wargaming of the board variety yesterday as I went to Stephen's at 1000hrs to play the excellent Age Of Napoleon game (we really should have been playing a practice game of Dbmm for Munster competition next weekend !), followed by trip to my fathers with No Retreat! The Russian Front under my arm for another excellent session through to 0100hrs.
Both very good games and both with excellent components and cards (AON edges it in looks department especially the cards and counter artwork) both very playable and both very enjoyable.
Who could ask for more ?

Age Of Napoleon is a broad strategy wargame (in the mode of 'We The People' or Hannibal versus Rome') with card play (various event type cards or discard for various actions) integral, I played as Allied Coalition whose field armies are simply not up to the standard of Napoleon whose Corps (units nominally represent 'Corps' of 40000 or so troops) has highest combat factor in game and top movement and seniority (ie ability to command).
This works fine as Napoleons ascendancy in battle is well represented as the French try to win primarily (at least so it seems) by military conquest.
Allied player relies more on cards played particularly Diplomacy cards (by which he can turn French Allies to Neutrals and so on) and by cards such as Insurrection (Spain uprising very possible but also can occur elsewhere). French have some similar cards but usually not as useful as Allied but do seem to have more cards applicable in battles (eg Le Garde Imperiale).
Battles are straightforward affairs with each side totalling available combat factors (various cards can affect this) and rolling a D6 on corresponding column of CRT to yield a result.
Both sides survivors (if any !) are spent (flipped to weaker side) after combat but winner can immediately recover his army (ie stack of units) by discarding a card whilst loser cannot recover until next  round.
Lots more to it of course !

In our game Napoleon had a fairly torrid opening year (1805) as he failed to beat a meagre Austrian Force (2 lowly combat factor 2 Corps) with his Army (If I recall correctly 18 combat factors ?) by failing to inflict only 1 hits (as did Austrians)  and then again failing the drawn battle roll (for which he had a +4 DRM) thereby being forced to retire spent and bloodied ! the Allies where then able to follow this with a nice card combo of 'Peace Talks' (basically cancels all but Diplomatic activity for 2 rounds of the 6 round year) followed by 'Napoleonica' card which allowed me to recover the 'Peace Talks' card which I played again later to cancel all activity again (1805/Campaign scenario starts in 3rd round so I limited French to military activity in 3 out of the 4 available).
Stephen was less than impressed as he had no cards to counter any of this, and indeed at one point threw his cards across the table (I am calling this evens for my (allegedly) throwing a dice last year !!) in disgust and frustration, we take our gaming rather seriously over here !!
But the following year 1806 not so good for Allies as French managed to convert or conquer most of Italy and Germany (size of cards hand each is affected by number Minor & Major countries controlled). This was achieved without Napoleon (whom I had sent off to deal with 'Rebels & Loyalists' a card which forces French player to replace Napoleon with another Corps).
In 1807 Allies again done quite well with Russian forces coming westward and play of 'Radestky' card generating a stronger Austrian force pool. French main army again led by Boney again failed in a major battle against a combined Russian-Austrian force (I ducked but no more cards were flung just expletives !).
However in 1809/1810 (we finished at this point) the French proved unstoppable as Napoleon crushed the Austrians (forcing them into occupied Neutrality) gave Russians a pounding and converted several Allied Minor nations into French Dominions (making them immune to Diplomacy !) only an Insurrection in Spain blotted their copy book.
Britain failed to appear (they only have 4 Corps but can move by sea) in game as the required 'Brittania' card was always in French control or in re-shuffled deck !!
This is a game I was impressed with as it has nice historical flavour (chronology of events certainly askew) and loads of decisions points each turn/round which are constantly varied with changing card hands.
Stephen after an initial dislike (he felt French were impotent) also liked the game as he noted that French really need to concentrate on the Military side of things ie Conquest conquest and more conquest in spite of Allied political machinations.
I soon learned that Allies just cannot go toe to toe with Napoleon and must try to balance withdrawal with tactical stands to slow French progress whilst trying to change allegiances and split French effort across multiple theaters which is all very plausible stuff.

Austria prepares for French onslaught in 1805 with Prussia in Neutral mode (crappy iPh pic)

And so it was that I later leaped forward a century and a half or so (and about 20 miles physically) to do battle on the Ostfront with No Retreat! The Russian Front.
As my Dad is a firm Germanophile  I took mantle of the Ivans in this newly acquired game. Another game with cards (albeit possibly less crucial than in AON ?) and all the expected Ostfront stalwarts such as, Panzer Bonus, Blitz Attacks, Pockets, ZOC, Generals Mud and Winter and so on.
Cards are split into top (German) and bottom (Soviet) half with various actions and events possible depending on game phase and period of game.
The Germans have the strategic initiative early on but then it turns to Soviets and several cards only useable in these initiatives.
Turns represent 2 months nominally and each unit is an Army or Front, one striking feature of the game is low number of unit counters (40-60 although the do get recycled throughout) making this a very playable game.
A lot of stuff is therefore abstracted (rail moves, supply etc) or dealt with by the cards but game definitely mirrors strategic historical advantages and disadvantages of both sides overall.
Units have a combat and movement factor (with Huns being generally more mobile and their Panzers tough especially in 1941/42), and combat is resolved on separate CRTS. using an odds ratio system with cards, terrain, blitz/shock counters and similar affecting odds by column shifts to left or right (ie down or up). One novel rule is the Counter-blow which allows the defender to force the attacking side to make involuntary attacks on defenders units (simulating spoiling attacks) at cost of a discarded card and loss of any defensive terrain benefits.
Usual range of combat outcomes with Defender forced to Retreat or be Destroyed/Shattered or Exchange of hits or No Effect.
German units have 2 loss steps (flip counters) whereas initially all Soviets are only single step loss (but later in game the appear on their stronger flipped side whilst still being 1 hit wonders but from late 1943 they gain 2 step loss ability) this along with their much superior reinforcement schedule sees them gather strength relentlessly if they survive long enough.
Germans can win in 1941 by achieving a Sudden Death victory condition (totaling 21 VPs from their start of 12) or a several later sudden death totals or alternatively an Objective Victory by capturing 3 of the 5 Soviet objectives (Moscow, Stalingrad. Sevastopol, Leningrad and Polesti Oilfields).
Again much more to game than this but this is essential flavour of the game.

Late 1941 with Germans having taken oddles of cities but no objectives with Soviets firming up around Moscow (another poor iPh pic), note also Leningrad isolated (bottom left near Lake)

In our game in 1941 the Germans crushed the Soviet west front forces and spread rapidly into Mother Russia capturing lots of VP cities, but no strategic objectives. But they faced the standard quandary of whether to adopt a 'broad front' or 'rapier thrust' strategy and lack capability to replace losses in first couple of turns.
Soviets flooded Moscow region whilst trying to trade space for time in south and essentially leaving Leningrad to its fate.
I realised almost too late that my cautious strategy was risky as on turn 3 the Germans came oh so close to achieving a Sudden Death victory having accumulated 20 Vps (ie needing only 1 more !!) and having an attack in place at Leningrad (which was not yet able to Fortify).
This attack by Army Group north units looked certain to succeed but as luck would have it the attack yielded an Exchange result which destroyed my unit and caused 1 hit on a Hun unit but crucially the Germans were unable to advance into vacant Leningrad hex (normal moves occur before battles) and this ended their turn !!
I was then able to re-occupy Leningrad with a stronger reinforcing unit. Mud conditions in October/November turn slowed the Huns (and cancelled  any Panzer bonus) and despite investing Stalingrad they could capture no more cities (and indeed had to send forces westward as Soviet units threatened their supply lines.
The following 2 turns are Winter and Long Winter which still restrict movement but also give Soviets defenders extra -1 and -2 (only in this first winter) defensive shifts on CRT if attacked (Panzer oil and Whermacht blood frozen !!).
Soviets also got several strong reserves (Siberians ?) and I was able to regenerate lost units. Destroyed units cost one discard to restore but count Disorganized (no attacks) unless a further discard made. Shattered units come back free but also cost to recover from Disorganization.
Surrendered units yield a VP to enemy and cost 2 cards to restore, but due to my retreat strategy (and Germans not realizing significance) I had suffered no such losses (suspect I will next time).
Soviets then get ability to flip one unit a turn to its stronger side (I was also able with a card to flip two in one turn) and the 5-3 Inf Army unit in Leningrad became a whooping 8-4 Guard Tank Army !!
This put fear into Huns (whose best Panzer Army is a feeble 7-6) who realized that they had reached their high water mark and began to pull back westwards to try to protect gains essentially abandoning assaults on all Soviet objectives (only Sevastopol was still marginally threatened) as Soviet juggernaut gained strength and numbers.
We ended mid-1942 at this point both rather excited by the prospect of this game.
Another hugely enjoyable gaming experience.

Moscow citadel forming just in time.........................
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