First Impressions · Wargame Garrison

Insights and Impressions from Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collision, 1240-1242

We’re nearing the conclusion of the month of March, and I’m nearing the end of my backlog for these first-play session/impression reports. In case you missed it, today’s game of Nevsky made the cut for a 2019 Game-of-the-Year finalist – and part of me was secretly glad to find a Wargame that was able to make the cut (assuming you don’t count Watergate as a Wargame) in spite of my very recent plunge into those games. And this game is certainly one of those “hidden gems” of a game, with such a unique approach that I found myself really digging.

But this isn’t a review (yet) of Nevsky. No, I need more plays to get to that point and hopefully April will bring enough of those plays to get it there. Instead, here are some of the things I learned from my first success at Nevsky: Teutons and Rus in Collusion by Volko Ruhnke. Full disclosure; I still have not played a COIN Game, something that will be remedied at some point this year, so don’t expect there to be any comparisons between this and the other game system he made popular.

Insight #1: Feeding is going to limit the expenditure of your actions.

Right from the start I picked up on something: feeding my troops isn’t going to be an easy task. I should have known that my background playing Uwe Rosenberg euro games would come in handy eventually, as that is also a really common aspect in his worker placement games. Here in Nevsky, any movement or combat activation is going to require a feeding of your troops – even if your opponent is the one to trigger the combat against your army! I cannot overstate the importance of being able to feed your guys, as the impact of not feeding them is the associated marker will slide backward on the calendar track. If that Lord’s disc aligns with the current part of the calendar you are in (i.e., the turn track), that Lord and his troops are packing up and heading home for the time being and you’ll be stuck trying to pivot to figure out how to make it all work from there. And depending on when that happens, it could have all sorts of nasty ramifications that ripple down from there. Bottom line: feeding is very important. It is the economy of the game that will drive everything else along the way, and will dictate how you use your actions and even who you will be willing to activate.

Insight #2: Program carefully, and triple-check to make sure you have the right Lords in the right order

I blundered here on the second round, and fortunately it didn’t hurt me in the long run. Let me back up a moment: during the activation phase you are taking a stack of cards (there are 3 copies for each Lord, and 3 No Activation cards for each player) and choosing a variable number of them (for us, it was 6 because it was summer) and putting them in a face-down stack. So basically you are pre-planning which Lord to activate and when, as well as how many times. Choose poorly and you might be activating the wrong Lord at the wrong time (like I did), and be left trying to figure out how to do what you wanted. Not only that, but your opponent will get to activate a Lord after you activate a Lord, going in an alternating activation order, so what they do could drastically alter what you are faced with, meaning your initial plan for a Lord might have to change. Oh, and plan poorly (like I also did) and you might find yourself being unable to feed a Lord at the end of a movement or battle, forcing him to slide backwards. This could happen from using him too many times, taking movement that places you in an isolated spot you cannot leave, or even from your opponent initiating a battle against you so that you expend that feeding you needed for your own turn.

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Insight #3: The calendar track sounds quite daunting at first, but ultimately is really simple and is one of the highlights of the game

There are aspects of the game that, in the abstract, sound confusing and daunting. Sometimes reading the rulebook doesn’t give a clear enough picture of what a thing does, how it operates, etc. The calendar sounded like it was going to be one of those really confusing things, and we genuinely expected to have it be a stumbling block. Setting up didn’t help either, as we set up for a 2-round scenario and it had us put things into spots on the calendar that were beyond what the game would last. It simply wasn’t adding up…until we started playing. Suddenly it became a lot clearer about how said calendar would operate, giving both a turn track and letting us know who we could recruit and see how long some of our current Lords would be in service. Once we realized the manipulation of those Lord markers on that track, it really clicked for us. The key here: you do not want a Lord’s marker to be on the same place as the Turn Marker, because then they leave and take their army with them. Not feeding = moving toward the Turn Marker. Giving excess Loot = moving away from the Turn Marker. Simple, right? The further you can push their marker, the longer they would stay (or the more you can “skip” feeding their army).

Insight #4: Being the defender in battle is nice. And, as always, the dice can rule everything

I genuinely felt bad for my opponent. I was stationed outside of one of his fortresses with two of my Lords, and was preparing to take it forcefully. He moved his Lord to stop me, initiating a battle. What happened from there was nothing short of a massacre. As the defender, I got to attack his army first which was a really nice perk that I wasn’t expecting. Well, I rolled well and he rolled poorly to save, and by the end of the battle he was down to 2 troops retreating away and I think I might have lost 2 total. It was a bloody massacre, and his unfortunate luck of rolling high to defend caused him to get completely crushed. I assume most Wargamers are used to the kiss of Lady Luck via die rolling – those bouts of bad beats are bound to happen – and unfortunately the scenario wasn’t quite long enough for him to recover from that blow. However…

Insight #5: There is more than one way to earn points

The scores are lower than you’d think. Ultimately, the introductory scenario ended with a crushing Teutonic victory at 2.5 points to 2 points. That’s an average of 1.25 points per round for one side, and 1 point per round on the other. In other words, every little point seems to matter here. And the MVP for the Russian side of things? Ravaging. It isn’t glamorous or anything, but it wastes away the opposing landscape, gets you a Provender for feeding your troops, and gains you a ½ point. After his horrible defeat, the rest of his actions were spent destroying the Teuton landscape and it came close to paying off, especially as a misplay on my part saw my highest-activating Lord stuck due to arriving at the wrong port – seafaring is a horribly expensive way to travel in Nevsky and one small mistake there can be costly (and nearly was!)

Insight #6: Prepare for a slog for the first Levy, but the game has flow after that

The first “half” of the first round took ages. Like, every time we had a glimmer of forward momentum, one or both of us would realize ramifications of how X affects Y, or that we could have chosen Z. For instance, I was the first to Levy and so I used almost all of my points to bring out their full continent of troops via the available Men at Arms. Then, as my opponent was working through his own issues, I saw that I would need to spend even more ships to transport a key Lord via the ports, meaning I couldn’t do what I had anticipated. Cue subtle rewind to take a card instead of one of those forces. And then the moment of “what do you mean I had a Lord I could have tried to muster onto the field?” realization which I didn’t opt to “rewind” to correct, but he did. So many little things can tie together and, on the very first turn, there are so many unexplored paths of what you can do and restrictions that you may not catch until later. The only reason we didn’t force a “too bad, you’re stuck” situation is we hadn’t actually left the Levy phase at any of those points, and it was very much our first go at this slog of a set of ideas – our heads weren’t completely wrapped around it yet. Once we hit the Campaign phase, it was half-speed ahead from there, with slowness due to thinking through options and consulting our player aid charts on what to do, etc., but that second Levy phase went nice and smooth because we had a better grasp on things. The first half of that first round took close to 45 minutes. The rest of the game took about the same time.

Wrap-Up

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There is so much more I could mention about Nevsky, but I need to hold things back for an eventual review (right?) and these are the big lessons I learned from the initial experience with the game. There is a lot in here, but once you get the basics down there is a nice flow to things. It has some outstanding player aids, and there are counters to use instead of wooden bits if you want an easier reference on your mats/board. This feels like a really polished, highly replayable design that has me excited to visit this one more AND to be on board for the next upcoming titles using this system. That COIN system spawned a lot of games using a common system, and I imagine this could do the same. And as long it it stays in the Middle Ages or sooner, I’ll be 100% on board with checking them all out along the way based on my thoughts so far toward Nevsky.

First Impressions · Wargame Garrison

Insights and Impressions from Peloponnesian War

We’re creeping ever closer to getting current on the First Impression-style session reports for Wargames played this year! I think three more to go after this one..for now (Charlemagne Master of Europe, Commands & Colors: Ancients, and Nevsky are yet-to-come!) and with the chaos of moves going on for both myself and my Wargaming opponent, well, I might actually get current before adding to the lengthy list of games needing these reports. I didn’t expect that to be a possibility about two weeks ago!

This one is really unique, being designed as a solo game with a MASSIVE board that has far fewer troops on there than you’d expect. Of course, there are several different scenarios to play, and there is a pretty lengthy example of play to “play” through to get that first turn of the massive campaign finished. I started by going through that example, moving pieces around the board step-by-step as it walked me through everything. And then I had to tear the game down, as a friend was coming over and we needed the table space. But the next day, back out the game went to restart that same scenario and try to run through things from Turn 1, making my own decisions.

And boy, it lasted far longer in terms of time than I expected. Those first two Rounds took about an hour each, as I still had to stop and reference the rulebook frequently to make sure I was doing things properly. But by the time I hit Rounds 3-4, at the end of which the game concluded (I conquered Sparta!), it was moving at a clip of closer to 30 minutes per Round. Of course, with each Round lasting a variable amount of turns per side there could be both really short and really long Rounds. I found the shortest to allow 2 turns per side, while the longest had one side get a 5th turn in there. And, well, let’s just get right into the series of insights on this one because I really wish I had been able to understand this first one better before I played.

Insight #1: Your Operations can be anything you desire, and the game doesn’t really make it clear what you SHOULD be doing with them

Boy, this was a sticking point for me. I even went onto BGG after that learning turn to figure out what I was trying to do. I mean, I knew the win conditions for the game but had no frame of reference for what I should be trying to accomplish in order to get closer to those objectives. Ultimately, my first Round was spent closely mirroring the actions taken in the example game because I still didn’t grasp what was worthwhile, but figured there must have been reasons for those things. Fortunately, my Round ended on the earlier side, so I didn’t need to flounder for too long, and as things slowly began to resolve (poorly) I had the first moment of revelation: the AI opponent was spreading Rebellion across the map, and so I could focus the next turn on trying to stamp some of those down.

The next Round saw the AI get a unit stranded really close to my units, so I had my second moment of clarity come really early: I should send a stronger force to attack that stranded unit, and so I divided my efforts between mustering a slightly stronger force to go and attack the smaller armies around the map while also sending expeditionary forces to stave off the further spread of rebellion. Well, neither of those went well for me. My die roll in the battle was horrible, and so my marginally stronger force with a leader lost to their single Hoplite and I lost the entire stack. And most of my expeditionary forces were intercepted and suffered from the removal of a unit which left my leader stranded because I didn’t send him in anything more than a single boat. Also during this resolution I saw, in a negative way, what those Rebellion and Ravaged markers could do as it reduced my income for the next turn and dropped my SPI value…leading to my third moment of clarity: sending out a force to raze the land is a key way to chip away at the opposing force’s funds while also bringing them closer to a loss. Equipped with those three revelations, I had a much better time of planning out my Third and Fourth Rounds where the momentum shifted in my favor.

Insight #2: Luck can swing the tide in a hurry

My play was a tale of two halves to the game. In the first two Rounds, everything that could go poorly seemed to go poorly for me. No big deal, I thought. I’ll be in a great position once the game has me switch sides, opening the door for an easier victory. Well, no such luck was in store as I didn’t get to switch at all for the game (even on the 3rd Round when I had a +3 modifier to that roll!). But seriously, I was losing battles, losing troops during interception skirmishes, and overall doing a great job of losing the game. I’d like to think it was my better understanding of the game which changed the outcome in those last two Rounds, but it was mostly that the d6 stopped going against me every step of the way. Sure, I did plan things better to where I had better modifiers in small-scale battles, but I also saw my share of rolls go my way – especially at the very end as I tried to take down Sparta with their +4 modifier versus my +2.

Any time that luck plays a factor in games, you’re going to hit situations where you lose when you expected to win and times where you win when you thought it might be completely hopeless. Since you’re rolling a single d6, it has that room for swingy effects, as there aren’t buckets of dice to flatten the curve of chance. Just know that there’s a good chance, when things are swinging hard your way, you are opening yourself up for a greater chance of being forced to change sides.

Insight #3: The losses from a defeat can be absolutely staggering and change the landscape of an entire turn.

If you thought the dice had power before, it has staggering power when you consider the ramifications of a battle outcome. See, the winning army stays where they are and has you lose/gain VP and affect the SPI track. The losing army likely goes down on that SPI track and, even worse, loses their entire army to the Going Home box after taking permanent losses. Yep, even if they outnumber you 10:1, if you manage to win they lose everyone off the map. Huge. This could cause a massive swing in the board. In fact, this was the very thing that caused me to consider going for victory in Round 4. See, on my 3rd Operation I was on my way to squash Rebellion in the north and the nearest path took me right past a large enemy force in Corinth. Sure enough, they intercepted. Skirmish ensues, and the armies are large enough it goes into a land battle. A very close-in-size land battle that I won, wiping that space free from enemies. Well, that left a wide open path down to Sparta that I couldn’t pass on. Thankfully, my next activation happened and I was able to trek down and overcome the lopsided multiplier to pull off an unexpected victory.

Just know, those losses go both ways…and when you lose, you also suffer a -15 VP hit which stinks, since you only get 10 VP per victory.

Insight #4: The worst part of this game comes in calculating the route an Operation will take

It isn’t even close. My least favorite thing to do is to count out 8-13 spaces over and over again, taking slightly different paths, to figure out which path the force should take. Because the rules state they must take the shortest route, and when two (or more) are equal, you roll a die to determine which branch they take. Well, this really sucks to do. I’m pretty sure I managed to recount the same route accidentally at least once every time I had to math out paths, and there were several times when I couldn’t remember what a route counted as so I would have to count it again. Take this out of the game and it shaves at least 45 minutes from my overall play time. I’m not exaggerating here.

But I do understand the importance of this in the rules. After all, it prevents you from strategically making decisions to avoid – or encounter – specific spots on the board. All you can do is pick the destination and “chance” determines the rest if there is more than one good way to get there. It is how I wiped out Corinth, after all, so I can’t be too upset about the process. But this is easily the most frustrating part about the Peloponnesian War.

Insight #5: The AI only changes tactic if you put it on the defensive or if you do well on a turn. So when you suck, you can use that to your advantage.

All things accounted for, spreading Rebellion isn’t such a bad thing to see your opponent do for 3 Rounds in a row. It sent them off to distant parts of the map (and yes, it Ravaged pretty effectively along the way), but the forces sent were really small and vulnerable to attack. Rebellion is easy to remove, just needing a friendly force adjacent to the space. And for the most part, it keeps your own forces intact. Once I started to see the advantages it gained me, I was able to leverage that to a strong Round 3. And next time I hope to be able to analyze the board, and the action’s intentions, much sooner to be able to exploit that early on to my benefit – although not too strong of a benefit in case I get forced to switch sides.

Insight #6: The threat of changing sides is always in the back of your mind.

This game has that really cool and interesting approach where you can be forced to switch sides, which is a bigger threat based upon how well you do in the previous Round. Yes, it is a d6 roll, and every step on the positive direction for SPI adds to your roll. A 6+ makes you switch sides, and suddenly all that work you did to deplete the forces of the enemy becomes what you have to work with as you try and strike back and bring the game to a successful conclusion. And this is always on the back of the mind, especially as things go well for your side. There’s always a temptation to hold back just a little bit, in order to minimize the disadvantage you could possibly inherit. It seems like a game where you want to take small steps toward victory, until you can have one big turn to sweep the board into a victory – and it certainly played out that way for me unintentionally. However, my victory was not strong enough to lock up a decisive victory, something I may come to regret later in the campaign…

Wrap-Up

I sure had fun with this one overall. It helped to reignite my desire for a nice, sprawling epic of a solitaire experience while I was borrowing it from a friend. And we’ll have to definitely try out the 2-player scenario in the game at some point. While I’m a little sad that I never had to flip sides, I still learned a lot from the game as it gradually unfolded. Which means my next game should start off a little better, at least in terms of how I approach what I am accomplishing on my turns. That understanding may also come to be a strong disadvantage, should I find myself needing to defend out of the hole I dug for myself. Which is why I am excited to revisit this one sooner than later, before these lessons fade into the past. If you like solitaire wargames but dislike playing both sides against each other equally (I’m definitely not a fan of that approach), take heart: the inactive side is fully automated with tables and dice rolls. You might really dig this one, just like I did.

First Impressions · Two-Player Only · Wargame Garrison

What I Learned in my First Failure at Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation

Since my friend added yet another game to our growing list of games needing a session report after the first play, it became apparent that I needed to hammer out another one quickly. This time the focus is on Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation from the delightful Hollandspiele Games. Wow, this is a game that came out of nowhere for me, as I hadn’t even known of its existence until my friend told me about it. He kept trying to lure me with the name which, admittedly, is pretty fantastic. And tactical is definitely the name to suit the game, as there is a lot of short-term planning pivoting going on in this one.

After plays of games like 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis and Twilight Struggle, we were ready for the standard factions of U.S. vs U.S.S.R., and per the “norm” my friend randomly was given the Russians. After his crushing victory in Twlight Struggle, it seemed like it would be time for him to ride that momentum to another victory. The first 1/2 game we played we missed a critical trait regarding the Dead hexes and how all adjacent hexes become Dirty – it explicitly states that when talking about the Attack action, but not when discussing the Doomsday Phase. However, back in the Overview it does mention that every adjacent hex to a Dead hex is Dirty, so we missed it. Still, I think an addendum in future printings would only benefit. After that missed rule was discovered, we reset and started over for real.

And, well, I learned a few insights from that play.

Insight #1: If you fail to plan, you can plan on failing

The game might be tactical in nature, but you can still plan for the long-term. I did some really good things early in the game that I think were a strong benefit, but the real turning point came when I had too many people isolated and, ultimately, they got consumed by the overrun of Dead and Dirty hexes filling the board. I stopped having answers for anything the board, or my opponent, were doing and became completely reactionary in my efforts to stay alive longer. It is no surprise, therefore, that the game ended poorly for me even if it was “closer” than it probably should have been. You have plenty of open information in this game, and can see how the board will change at the end of your turn AND at the end of your opponent’s turn. Use that to your advantage for the entire game, not just the first 50%.

Insight #2: No Man is an Island, so Don’t Treat them as Such

This ties in strongly with the above point, but is a bit more specific. You see, the U.S. player has the distinct advantage of having 2 civilians start the game on the far western corner of the map, 3 hexes away from the nearest Neutral civilian and 4 away from the nearest Friendly and Unfriendly units. This seemed like a strong advantage at first, as they were safe from anything my opponent could do. And then the map started shrinking fast, and it became clear that they were going to get pinned in and, eventually, wiped off the map without doing anything useful ever. Far too late, I started trying to move them across the map. One of them made it, but at a high cost because during those 2-3 turns spent trying to move all of those guys out (by that point in time we had Pressganged a Neutral into our side, making it so I was trying to move 3 units and failing spectacularly) and across the map, my opponent was positioning himself for a victory by upgrading to Soldiers, killing off my guys while shrinking the map in his favor, and taking my Stockpiles. I should have cut my losses sooner, yes, but I also could have been slowly moving them across much sooner to get a stronger numbers advantage.

Insight #3: Don’t Underestimate the Usefulness of Militarize

It seemed like a complete waste. Spend all four of your actions to do ONE thing, upgrading 1-2 units to Soldiers. Except it became clear, far too late, that the Soliders are the key in the late game to controlling the board in your favor. Shoot, even early on they are useful. They make Threaten easier to accomplish, block your opponent’s attempts to Threaten, and do the same on Pressgang. We used them far too quickly for Attack, which is probably why I undervalued them since they were quickly removed so the cost of a turn to lose them again in a single action felt ridiculous. Little did I know, they would be really, really useful in the late game – even if for nothing more than being able to move through Dead hexes.

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Insight #4: Be a Bully and Push People Around

Normally I wouldn’t advocate something like this, as I personally suffered from bullying most of my school years. However, the imagery is suited for this one with the use of the Threaten action. There are a lot of things you can do in Meltwater to change the position of things, but one of the most important things you can do is to be vicious in Threatening your opponent – or neutral – civilians. Not to your advantage, but rather to your opponent’s disadvantage. Especially as hexes get Dirty, start trying to overcrowd an area and fill in the hexes around it with your own units – or empty them of units. Because, as you will notice, the units cannot Flee OR Defect into an empty hex in the Starvation phase. Which means that if there is nowhere to go, units start to die. The faster you can begin to deplete their numbers, the better it will go for you because then they NEED to make Soldiers to Threaten or Pressgang, or to cluster into small areas to have large enough stacks to use those actions.

Insight #5: Wage War Over Those Stockpiles

This game is all about numbers. You will be counting time and again how many units can be supported on a hex, to make sure you don’t need to send anyone packing (or worse, your opponent chooses where to send your guy packing). Which means those Stockpiles, which you both begin with two of, are essential to control. Wresting control from your opponent is a key to putting them at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, I waged war on them far too early, when the map was still relatively open. So while there was a good time where I held 3-4 of them, my opponent could survive because there were places to spread out. Later in the game, when I was struggling with Insight #2’s problem, he reclaimed some of these and took some of mine away, putting me in a critical bind to compound my other growing list of problems. If you take it, make sure you can keep it, and redouble the efforts later in the game as that map shrinks.

Insight #6: Expand early and often

This might sound like an interesting thing, but there are two key reasons for this. First, the Doomsday spreading of Dead hexes ignores any hex with a unit on it (until it no longer can), going instead to the nearest Dirty hex that isn’t occupied. So if you have a lot of space you control, you are maintaining a lot of areas that might become Dirty, but will remain free from becoming Dead. Second, during the Starvation phase a unit cannot move out of a hex into an empty hex. I know, it sounds crazy that they can’t go where they could live, even if it is there, but that’s the way it goes. This is Antarctica, after all, and an isolated civilian fleeing to an isolated location would be as likely to starve or die of hyopthermia, or something equally cheery. So the more hexes you occupy, the more places you can shift into when needed – especially if you control those Stockpiles along important areas.

Wrap-Up

What a cheery game, right? I thoroughly enjoyed the first full play we had of the game, and it cemented Hollandspiele as a publisher I need to play more often. Since then I’ve pulled back out my copy of Charlemagne, Master of Europe (review on that coming hopefully sometime this month!) and might have placed an order for The Great Heathen Army. Not all of their games are for me – anything needing 3+ is likely a hard pass – but I will be expanding my adventures into their lineup. And eventually I’ll coerce my friend into playing his copy of this one 4 more times so I can get a full review in of Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation in as well. Because who knew it could be so much fun forcing your opponent to die of starvation until you have the last man or woman standing on the map?

First Impressions · Two-Player Only · Wargame Garrison

Watergate: First Impressions and Lessons Learned

Hoo boy, the session reports are coming out of isolation now! Two of them in two days! Well, killing off the commute from work definitely gives me a little more downtime to work on things like this, and so I’m trying to get caught up a little on these before plunging back into my normal set of reviews (which are coming! And I’m hoping to get my first wargame review for 2020 up this month as well). This particular title is one of those interesting ones, as it isn’t really a wargame. Yet it has strong influences from the Card-Driven Game system made popular in games such as Twilight Struggle.

When Capstone Games first announced Watergate, I was excited and disappointed. Excited for a 2-player only game from one of my favorite publishers. Disappointed because I was almost positive my wife wouldn’t even give it a try if I set it up on the table. Political themes turn her away from a game, and I can’t fault her for that. The Watergate scandal doesn’t exactly make me excited for the game, either. However, I finally got a chance to try it back in the beginning of February and enjoyed the game tremendously. As per the usual cycle, here are some of the insights I learned from that first play as the journalist:

Insight #1: The board is small. Really small. Which keeps things as tight as a string.

The board is going to deceive you. After all, you’ll count spaces and realize you need to connect the center to one of six spots on the outside, and each of them is only a few spaces away. Piece of cake, you might say after the first round of the game. After all, it can’t be that hard to make the proper connections, especially since each person has several branches to get there. Enter the opponent, who has an easy time blocking your path since, of course, they can see where you want to go and cleverly block them. That straight path is suddenly doubled in length and, of course, they will be able to block that as well. Because when the map is this small, every placement can have a strong impact.

Insight #2: Hidden Information Holds Power

Nixon is on the defensive for most areas of the game, but that doesn’t mean he is without his resources. Most importantly, he knows what is pulled from the bag each round. That means he can be aware of what is movable and can plan accordingly, while the journalist hopes to strike “gold” with some impactful guesswork. Thematic, sure. But there are definitely times I felt like I was grasping at straws hoping to get momentum, coming up short as often as I got exactly what I needed.

Insight #3: For Every Card, An Opposite Reaction

Oh man, I got burned so often by the cards in this game. It didn’t leave me in a winless situation by any means, so they aren’t the only factor at play in the game, but it felt like I could never get things going. My opponent closed off four of the targets early in the game, and every time I had a good card to play it seemed like he could cancel it – yet every time he had a powerful card my hand was absent any counters to it. This game is so tight, especially when you trim out one-time events, to the point where it feels like there is a chance to fine-tune your “engine” of a deck over time. Learning important early plays, and which events are better to play the 2nd time you draw them, leaves me hopeful that this game has long staying power.

Insight #4: Focus on the informants early

One of the things my opponent did well was closing off my early paths. Yes, I nailed down an informant really early, but before I blinked there was only one other I could gain and I was forced to play that one as soon as possible in order to avoid an even more difficult battle. Yes, there are ways to get them back in play (something I was forced to attempt), and ways to open paths up that had previously been closed, but you don’t want to be forced to rely on getting those avenues. What you want is to have options, and to keep Nixon guessing. I failed at this, partly because of a completely lackluster card draw which saw me getting those removed informants near the end of my deck, and then again early after the reshuffle. By then, it was too little too late and I was stuck trying to pry things back into play so I could pounce on the opportunity. In such a short, tight game that is a formula which will lose more often than it wins.

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Insight #5: That Research Track is Where (most of) the Game is Won or Lost

I love multi-use cards, whether we’re talking Euro games or Wargames. That’s probably why the CDGs were the perfect gateway drug for me toward the Wargaming side of the hobby. And as much as I love the multi-use cards here in Watergate (in typical fashion, used as either an event or for its Value to shift things along the Research track. What sort of things? Well, I’m glad you asked! Most obvious is the three Evidence tokens that are randomly drawn and placed on there each round. You have to match its color to move it, which means as the Editor you need to ask Nixon if a face-down token matches and they will either flip one up that matches or tell you there are none that match among the face-down tokens. These are what get placed on the main part of the board, connecting the center toward the Informants or blocking those paths when Nixon wins them. They are gained by either reaching the 5 on a side during the round, or get placed by whomever they are closest to at the end of the round.

The other two things are almost as important. The Initiative marker is on there, and whomever holds initiative gets to draw an extra card and play first on the next round. Yes, that can be extremely powerful. The other thing is a Momentum token, which is up for grabs every round. Nixon needs to get 5 of them to win the game. Easy, right? As the Editor, you also want them to prolong the game as well as to trigger powers as you gain more of them – some of those powers are really, really impactful to flip the board.

All of this combines to give you 5 things to possibly move in a game where you are playing either 3 or 4 cards in a turn. You can’t do everything or win everything. You need to decide what you need and whether or not it is more important to prevent your opponent from getting what they need that round. Oh my, the decisions abound here! I absolutely love the decisions here, and the way in which you need to decide how to spread those plays. The push-and-pull here is powerful, and there are cards which will make your head spin in this part of the game.

Wrap-up

Let’s start by saying that Watergate makes the short list of 2019 titles that are in the running for my game-of-the-year. Had you told me that at the time the game was announced, I would have remained unconvinced. I expected it to be good, since Capstone was publishing it. I had no idea it would be this good.

And so now I have a conundrum: to purchase the game in the hopes that my wife will play it, or just force my friend to play his copy with me a lot more times. The more I think about, and write about, this game the more I am convinced that the game deserves a spot on my shelf, even if only for an occasional play or two every few months. I have far bigger games that see far fewer plays, after all, and this one is just as good (and sometimes better than) those ones. And all this post has accomplished so far has been to make me itch to play Watergate again. I think this needs to become part of my COVID-19 survival package…assuming I can find a copy locally.

If you have a copy and have been waiting to play it, don’t delay any longer. This game is good. Really, really good. It is one of the best titles in Capstone’s gaming library, and one of the best titles released by them in a year where they also released Pipeline and Maracaibo.

First Impressions · Gaming Recap · Wargame Garrison

Session Report – 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis

This is the one. The game that began the very deep hole my friend and I have plunged into. Exactly two months ago from this day we played 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis at a local game day. Was it relatively “antisocial” to play an exclusively 2-player game at a regular gathering of 20-30 gamers? You make that call, but as a result we’ve been antisocial many more times, playing titles from Twilight Stuggle to Watergate to Sekigahara to Nevsky. Both of us have read about wargames, obtained new wargames, and played plenty of wargames since that fateful evening. And if I’m honest, without the opening plays of 13 Days, we might still be quite content exploring heavy euros in larger groups – and let’s face it, we both still greatly enjoy said heavy euros and will mix those into the cycle.

But this third Session Report of 2020 is on the game that started it all. Because of the time that has elapsed, combined with the shortness of the game itself, this will be a lot more abbreviated than my Twilight Struggle and my Sekigahara ones. There are a few things I do recall from the plays (we played it twice in succession), and while they didn’t translate into success at Twilight Struggle later on I think that I did pick up on some valuable insights.

1) Points don’t matter until they do.

There is a fancy little point track on the board that shows who is in the lead on the score. Only one side can have points at any given time – something players of Twilight Struggle will find to be very familiar. However this one has a limit: 5 points. That’s the hard cap. Unless we completely overlooked a key rule, getting to 5 points accomplishes absolutely nothing during the game. Getting beyond 5 points is wasteful, because your score remains at 5. The first game we played? I’m pretty sure if the track had allowed I would have been losing by at least a dozen points. The track was stuck at 5 for the Russians and I couldn’t do a darn thing about it. Until the final round of the game, when a clever set of plays (I wish they had been clever…I am positive it was more luck than anything) scored me 6 points for the round while he scored none. Just like that it went from down by 5 to winning by 1 as the game came to a close. It didn’t matter how many points he kept tacking on, they were a waste. Does that mean to completely ignore the points? Absolutely not! I doubt I could get such a perfect storm of a final turn ever again. But at the same time, don’t focus too hard on the score during the game. Focus more on setting yourself up for the final round.

2) The Defcon track will sell you out

There is no loyalty in the Defcon track. It will go from rewarding you with points in the Agenda phase to threatening to cause you to lose the game by getting too many markers in Defcon 1 or sneaking one up into Defcon 1. We both played far more aggressively on this area of the game in the 2nd play, and it very nearly cost me the game on two occasions. In fact, my final turn was spent exclusively toward making sure I didn’t automatically lose because my opponent played extremely well and put me in a place where I had to work to undo everything he did to force me up.

3) Agendas bring the Jedi mind trickery

You each get three cards and choose one of them for the round. And the problem is that you also mark the three “areas” you had in hand. This leads to a lot of guesswork about what Agenda you should play, as well as how to focus your own turn. Ignore the wrong thing and points flow freely – I should know, I bled points in that first game. Time and again I failed to choose wisely, getting no benefit from my own agenda while losing ground on his because I picked wrong – until the final round of that first play. This is a very small thing, but I think it might be my favorite part of 13 Days because of the way it can impact your decision-making.

4) Don’t overlook the Aftermath

This was a “learn from the mistake of my enemy” moment, as the first game I grasped the importance of the Aftermath while he used it to avoid playing cards with my events on half of the turns. 2 points may not sound like much, but it was the difference between losing by 1 and winning by 1. In a game with a hard cap at 5 points, that 2 is extremely powerful for the end of the game. Yes, it can be painful to toss a good event in there, or to toss an affiliated card with a lot of command cubes. But unless that card can earn you guaranteed points, it might be better long-term in the Aftermath.

5) World Opinions Matter

It would be so easy to focus solely upon manipulating the Defcon track and jockeying for control of areas of the small map. But there are three World Opinion spaces and, honestly, they matter. Mileage may vary here – for instance, the United Nations feels a lot more important to gain control of at the end of the game for that 2 points than for the +1 Influence that the Personal Letter provides. Television is important, allowing you to either escalate on a track prior to resolving your Agendas and thus add (or reduce) the points to be gained by the Agendas, or to deescalate a step in order to keep yourself out of danger. But perhaps most important comes in the Alliances space, and here’s why. It lets you have control of the extra card, adding it to your Aftermath pile for the extra cube advantage for those final 2 points at the end, or letting you discard it. And if you are discarding, odds are that means it was affiliated with your opponent and thus you get to deny them the use of that event on the card. Power. This could arguably be the most important space to control on the board.

Wrap-up

As promised, this was a bit shorter than the others but this is a far shorter game. I did win both games we played that night, although they followed very different paths. The first I won because of a perfect series of scoring my Agenda, not letting him get anything on his Agenda scoring, obtaining the United Nations points, and getting the Aftermath points. The second game was far closer, with it being a tug-of-war around the 1-point mark on either side. Ultimately I walked into the final round with the 1-point advantage and broke even with him across the scoring in spite of having spent the entire round mitigating my earlier aggressive plays on the Defcon track. It has been 60 days since our double-header on 13 Days. It won’t be too many more (I hope) before we get a rematch and a few more plays so I can collect these thoughts into a full-fledged review, although I am at my friend’s mercy since we must play his copy since I don’t own one yet.

But here’s tipping my hand a little: this game is pretty great as a short, quick-playing game with tense, interesting decisions and a nice tug-of-war over area control and Defcon leads. Which is pretty much all I could ask of a game like this one. I strongly recommend getting this to the table if you haven’t already.

First Impressions · Wargame Garrison

A New Wargamer’s Reflections on Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan

Greetings Grognards! Once again I hope, in spite of my pending application for status as a certified newbie wargamer, I can use that term in such a familiar fashion. I covered my wargaming background, little as it is, in my first post where I provided some insights based on my spectacular failure in my first play of Twilight Struggle. If you haven’t read that one, then allow me to lay some background about me for you. For years I’ve danced around wanting to be a wargamer. I’ve played a lot of War of the Ring, which has been my absolute favorite game for half a decade (which is about as long as I’ve been consistently playing modern board games). I’ve dabbled in a few games here and there, even going as far as to review a very small selection on my blog (Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age and Agricola, Master of Britain and 878: Vikings – Invasions of England) and post a few articles for the early wave of GMT Insider a few years ago based around 1960: The Making of the President. But so far my experience with wargaming has been more of a “I’d like to play more of those” without any real progress on actually playing any of them. And in the past two months, that has started to change because I have a good friend who loves playing wargames and is a willing opponent. We’ve played matches of lighter fare, such as 13 Days: The Cuban MIssile Crisis and Watergate, and some of longer affairs, such as Twilight Struggle and Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan. I’ve even borrowed his copy of Peloponnesian War and recently brought the campaign battle to a successful conclusion for the Athenian army. And so, with this brief introduction out of the way, let me dive into the second of what I hope will be a semi-regular occurrence going forward at Cardboard Clash: a focus on wargames!

This time I’m going to reflect back on a Thursday night several weeks ago, shortly after the failure in Twilight Struggle, when he brought out Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan for us to try. I had heard a lot of buzz about block wargames being great games, and this was commonly mentioned as one of the better ones to explore. While this game is slightly later in the timeline than my preferred Medieval period of history, it is still relatively close at 1600. The historical setting of the game interests me quite a bit, actually, and I’m looking to find a book or two in the area at libraries to dig in more about the historical Sekigahara. I’d love to get recommendations!

This post is an attempt to collect some of my initial impressions of the game and theorize on what I might do differently the next time I play Sekigahara as the Tokugawa side. Which might not happen for a long time, as we randomly select who plays on which side of the battle (and that randomization has ensured his placement as the Soviets every time we’ve played a U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. game!). In fact, this may come back to haunt me if he reads these and implements them against me or, worse yet, feigns the use of these things against me and I overreact based upon my own intended strategies. This post is not intended to provide high-level strategy tips, as it will require more plays to arrive at that point to where I could even pretend to provide that level of insight. This game, at least on the surface, is extremely simple and straightforward, and many of you Grognards probably consider this more along the lines of a gateway wargame, not something worth replaying frequently because of its limitations. That’s fine, this post isn’t going to provide anything more than entertainment value for you. And yet for the sake of others who, like me, might be on the verge of their first plays and are not quite ready to grok some high-level depth in strategy, this can hopefully provide some insight so you can learn from my mistakes and have at least some idea of what to attempt to accomplish in the game.

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Insight #1: Rules Are Important. Don’t Miss Rules.

You may be wondering how, with such a simple overall ruleset, it would be possible to miss rules. I think we actually played this one really well overall, considering I came in knowing nothing for the rules of the game and the chaos of noise going on around us during the rules explanation. We even took our time to look up key things several times, and I pulled open a player aid on my little smartphone as a reference (Update: The game did have player aids, but they were apparently in my friend’s car and not in the box, so we didn’t have access to them because we didn’t know they existed!). Yet we both completely missed one key thing that I didn’t discover until I watched the Heavy Cardboard teach & playthrough afterwards: you are supposed to redraw cards after a battle based on the ones you played. We redrew cards for losses, but not from the battle itself – this made it a more challenging decision in a battle as to whether to play cards to gain Impact or save those cards for what you wanted to do on your turn. Suddenly movement isn’t quite as costly, and multiple battles during a round aren’t as likely to be punishing to a player who used more cards during earlier battles.

What this taught me, ultimately, is that it never hurts to plan ahead on what game you want to play. We’re trying to do better at this, so we can both come prepared having read rules and, if possible, watched a teaching video ahead of time to assist in capturing as many of these little details as possible from the first play. I still will continue my habit of doing the same things after the first play – shoot, I’ll admit there were little things in my favorite game, War of the Ring, that I was discovering after many plays of the game. It is easy to overlook rules. Player aids help, but aren’t foolproof. And yet sometimes even the smallest of rules can make a huge difference in the overall game experience. We enjoyed our first play greatly, in spite of this missed rule. I have a feeling it will change things a little during the second play.

Insight #2: Resource Locations Hold the Early Key

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They are small red dots along the paths of the map, but don’t let their innocent appearance fool you: they are vital, especially early in the game, to gaining an advantage. A small one, yes, but an important advantage nevertheless! Don’t be fooled by these being an end-game scoring factor, they have incredible value long before the end of the game arrives and, ultimately, you want to end the game with control and try to trigger an early conclusion anyway. One of the best ways to do this, regardless of your side, is to control an advantage in army size. While you cannot influence what blocks get drawn for your reinforcements pool, you can impact how many blocks you get to pull out of that bag. These resource locations hold the key to getting more blocks than your opponent, meaning your forces are capable of being replenished better and you have higher odds of getting stronger blocks or the blocks you need.

The check for this comes at the beginning of each new round, and it simply is determined by who controls more of the resource locations. If both of you are gunning for these, that means there might be some heated battles over these spots on the map which could possibly play into your hand – assuming you have the cards to deploy the army you’re moving to capture or hold those locations. These locations also provide good targets for the Tokugawa armies that start the game far away from the ultimate target of Osaka, giving you meaningful objectives as those troops try to march across Japan. One additional block drawn may not sound like much, but it can be a significant advantage. Worst case scenario, you want to at least be playing to a tie on this to prevent your opponent from getting that extra block.

Insight #3: Going Second Can Be Very Important

The turtling strategist in me is delighted to come across a wargame where going second actually holds a good advantage in the game. It may not seem obvious, as there is still the common benefit to being the aggressor and going first to impact the landscape and force your opponent to either lose troops they didn’t want, to play cards they needed to hold for their own turn, or to get them to change their plans in a reactionary way. Those are all still very viable reasons to want to be first, and the Tokogawa faction holds an advantage in having the higher value on their cards of similar markings so they can easily choose their position on the round when they want, so long as they are willing to part with a more powerful card to ensure they are the ones making that choice.

There is an undeniable advantage to going second, because your opponent can end up helpless to respond to the final board state of the round. A well-timed sweeping through to snatch the advantage in Resource Locations or Castles in the second half of a round can lock up both an extra reinforcement and an extra card, both of which can be quite powerful advantages in the following round. Being able to see how they end their second half of a round, and then determine how to ensure you get one or both of those – or at the very least, how to remove the reinforcement advantage from their grasp – can be crucial in this game. This is especially true in the final round, assuming the game doesn’t end with an immediate victory condition. The reason I won my first game of Sekigahara boiled down to late control of those key spots on the map, something I believe I understood a little sooner than my opponent. I don’t anticipate it being as easy to pull off the second time, but going 2nd will definitely help to ensure that control – although going 1st will help to obtain it first if an area is currently uncontrolled.

Insight #4 – Move Early, Move Often, Muster Mercilessly

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I was faced with an undesirable realization about halfway through the game: all of my armies of any significance were way too far away from Osaka to make any meaningful push. And, of course, the majority of my reinforcements drawn were tied to those distant locations. For the first half of the game, my time was almost always spent doing the 0-card movement or mustering because it seemed like the best plan was to horde the cards for battle – this may have been exaggerated a little because of our misplay (not drawing cards to replace those used in battle), which is why I can boldly state that it will probably be more advantageous to spend at least a single card for movement/mustering to move 2-3 armies than to save that card for its potential usage. Unless your hand perfectly aligns with an army you have and could be the difference between winning and losing, in which case hording that card might be the best play – especially if moving a space or two is all that army needs to cause a battle.

I find the strong appeal in being able to move 2 armies AND muster 1+ recruits onto the board. Better yet, if going last, I think there is good value in tossing two cards to make significant movement around the board with all armies and the muster action. I waited far too long to begin moving those distant armies, and once I did almost all of my efforts were spent ensuring one particularly large army kept soldiering onward toward Osaka to try and crack that nut before the game reached its conclusion. Staggering several smaller armies along, taking branching paths even, could allow a maximum of force taking fortresses and resource locations along the way while bringing them closer, one turn at a time, toward the end game condition of conquering Osaka. Had I moved the army one turn sooner, I could have taken the victory via Osaka instead of via Victory Points.

Insight #5: Conquer Castles for a Late Card Advantage

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There are an odd number of Castles on the map, meaning someone is always getting an extra card drawn. This is always something that will be an important advantage, and not just for the card. However, the Castles increase in their importance as the game winds down to an end. First of all, your armies are getting into position and, in some cases, might be quite a bit larger. Having enough cards to deploy as many blocks as you can is something you’ll want to value. Not planning on conquest this turn? There is still value, as that extra card can be used for a better movement action (such as tossing 2 cards to move ALL armies and muster) or to toss for a forced march to move a single army one extra space. This right here would be enough, however…

Castles can be difficult to conquer. Your opponent loses the chance to make you automatically lose a block when you lose the battle, and thus must hit at least 7 Impact to get you to suffer a loss – this is balanced by your 2-block maximum to retreat into said Castle and an inability to play any cards in response. It also nullifies the use of guns and cavalry, making those special forces ineffective which makes the higher impact a challenge. And, of course, the most important reason is that every Castle is worth 2 victory points at the end of the game, which is a significant value considering the other scoring condition, Resource Locations, are only worth 1 each. Having the majority in Castles is the key to having a head start on winning if the game runs its full course, as it means you don’t need to go overboard on the Resource Locations – just keep within 1 of your opponent.

Insight #6: Feint the Early Conquest of Osaka

This one is probably tipping my hand more than anything else, but it is a vital thing to consider. I waited too long to consider the conquest of Osaka, and when I did it was delayed further by the impending threat of the Mori Mon armies arriving. You see, they get to arrive in Osaka the moment a battle is declared there – and they don’t even require the use of a card to bring them into the battle. Realizing that my opponent was going to get 4 free blocks, each of which chained off the others, brought a pretty strong level of intimidation to the prospect of attacking Osaka. My solution was to spend the second half of the game moving a massive 8-block army across the map and, ultimately, it was able to win the field battle thanks to a perfect hand of cards. However, it took way too long to accomplish and required an obscene amount of my resources that could have been invested elsewhere, or at least diversified.

The biggest issue is that free deployment of Mori into the battle from the recruitment box. However, if one could send a suicide squad in early to trigger them, it would balance out the challenge for Osaka. At least in theory, right? Because that would force the armies to appear, and you could viably hope to take out 1-2 blocks in the process since your force would need to be large enough to prevent the Overrun from happening. But an early pincer attack from two smaller armies converging on Osaka might just be able to bring about a strong impact while at the same time triggering the trap, making Osaka a little easier to take in the late game.

Wrap-Up

So there you have it. Straight from the fingertips of an amateur, both in Wargames and to Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan. I’d like to think that I’ve given a fair amount of consideration with my reflections. These aren’t high-level tips or strategies. They aren’t intended to be, although I really hope the triggering of Osaka turns out to be as insightful as I theorize. I’m intentionally avoiding reading up on other folks’ strategies in the game, as the exploration is half the experience and I want to see how good, or bad, my approaches fail as I consider them for either side. Regardless, I honestly cannot wait to play Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan again soon. In fact, I think my wife would probably even enjoy this one (and, knowing her, she would absolutely slaughter me in the game).

My hope is that you found some enjoyment here, even if you are a seasoned veteran of wargames who has moved on from the simpler block wargames like Sekigahara. Even if it is at the expense of an amateur who may be in for a rude awakening if he realizes these insights are completely off the mark during that rematch, getting devastated by an opponent who capitalizes upon the mistakes I make with brutal efficiency.

And I hope this is a continuation of what will be many contributions to GMT Insider in the future as I explore more games within their lengthy catalog.

First Impressions · Journey Through the CCG Graveyard

Journey Through the CCG Graveyard #4: More Impressions

A few more CCGs have received their first plays by me, so I wanted to collect my thoughts on the three games here. Watch for a board game review to appear very, very soon!

A Game of Thrones CCG

I’ve read all of the main books. I’ve seen all of the episodes of the show. I’ve played a handful of the board games created about this IP. And this weekend I finally got a chance to try out the old Collectible Card Game for A Game of Thrones. And I must say, it was treading into familiar territory for me. Why? Because I have previously played the LCG version of A Game of Thrones, both the core set for 1st edition and 2nd edition (but never anything beyond those core sets). And, well, this first iteration of the game feels and plays pretty darn exactly like the later implementations of the game.

That makes this a good thing, and a bad thing. It is a good thing, because it was a homecoming moment for my wife and I as we pulled these two decks out (The Ice & Fire set starter containing Targaryen and Greyjoy decks). Neither house was our preferred house to play, which was fine. After all, I don’t need to always play as the Starks and she doesn’t always need to be the Lannisters. However, we both agreed mid-game that we wanted to get decks for our favorite houses sometime soon! The bad thing about this CCG being too similar to the LCG is, well, there isn’t much reason to continue down the CCG path for this game. If the cards were dirt cheap, that might be one thing. It doesn’t seem ridiculously overpriced, but for the price of a box of packs I could get a complete “cycle” in the LCG format complete with 3x of every card, good or bad, rather than a varied assortment from a CCG pool. I’m not going to part with these decks anytime soon, and I’d love to find out if there are areas of the CCG that are worth diving into at a good price, because maybe a set or two did something fun that hasn’t appeared in the LCG.

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This particular session was brutal for me. It started with a really solid first two rounds for House Greyjoy, but after that things spiraled out of control. My deck drew into locations, which she managed to clear 2 of them right after that. She got out a good number of characters, and lucked into countering my Wildfire Assault plot card (does the cancelled effect/replaced card then get back into my available Plot pool for the next round? We disagreed, obviously, because I wanted to use it next round and she didn’t want me to be able to balance the board after getting a 7/2 advantage). From that point on I drew exactly one character card, and she never put out any locations – I had cards in hand and in my plot deck just waiting for her to get locations – and so she steamrolled me on her way to a 15-1 victory that wasn’t quite as lopsided as the final score indicates. Had she not hit 15, my counter-assault would have landed me at least 5 Power back onto my side of the board and killed off a few of her characters or discarded cards in the process.

Ultimately, I want a rematch with these decks. They felt pretty well-designed in terms of self-contained decks, at least from the cards I’ve seen so far. For instance, my Plot to search for a Maester was a far better Plot than I had expected, and the deck had 4-5 Maesters to choose from in the deck. And I’d still be okay with getting some cheap cards for the CCG if the right deal came along, but I am instead looking ahead to a hope of some small funds soon to grab the 2nd Edition LCG core again and some additional cards to add in there, giving us several decks to play with and some cards for me to deck construct with. Because I love few things more than building and tweaking decks – something she has absolutely no interest in doing so I’ll even be making the decks that are trying to destroy me. And yes, you can look forward to some more impressions on the LCG version of the game once I get that into my now-impatient hands. We owned it once and parted with it due to some less-than-pleasant emotions that can crop up during the game as the tides of battle ebb and flow. But we’re in a place now where I think we’re able to pull out some ultra-competitive games like this and not end up sleeping in different rooms for the night. Between Harry Potter and this, I’m working hard to get my wife to venture into more of these card-based games (and I absolutely love these kinds of games), even though I know she’d much prefer playing a game with a board.

Traveller Customizable Card Game
This one isn’t a dead CCG, but I’m hardly going to limit my scope here – it still is a CCG in name, although it follows closer to the LCG format for releases having fixed packs of cards. What really interested me in the game, apart from the cool theme, was that it contained rules for playing the game solitaire. I’m all for playing games with others, but sometimes it is a lot easier and faster to bust out a solitaire game or two. When I did my unboxing video for this game, it sure appeared daunting with the amount of iconography present on the cards. The rulebook even goes as far as to mention the card iconography approach was inspired by modern board gaming, where a lot of games take a language independent approach and use game-exclusive iconography. And since most icons merely represent some form of resource or skill, the iconography can really get boiled down (in most instances) to you are searching for a matching symbol to determine success or failure. Which ultimately accomplished two things: it eliminated the need for dozens of keywords (replaced by icons), and made many things easy to tell at a glance what was needed rather than needing to read (and reread) cards searching for the needed lines of text.

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After getting through the rules with only a few minor confusing points (which cleared up quickly as soon as I started playing and seeing how it all worked together), the game flowed really well. Surprisingly so. The iconography turned out to be an asset once you got going, allowing you to quickly find what you needed (or see that a card didn’t have the needed icon) in order to complete objectives. Having limitations on crew size, ship components, etc. helped to prevent any task from being an auto-success, and the hidden information of the face-down cards on each task kept enough tension early in the game. By the late game, it was a pretty easy task to progress forward efficiently, having enough symbols to handle the majority of what might appear. And with a simple task of accomplishing a designated number of points, it became easy to plan out what might be the best risk-reward slot to pursue. As with any starter, there appear to be limitations in there as to how much tension is present – but this is handled within the rules with modifications such as making your deck smaller (a lose condition is running out of cards in your deck), which gives you less time in which to accomplish your objectives.

Overall I genuinely enjoyed the first play, and the subsequent plays won’t be too far off in the future since this is a solitaire-friendly game. I’m hoping to get it played at least once with a friend, and finding one who won’t be scared off by iconography overload. I have a particular person in mind, as a matter of fact. I’ll be interested to try the other preconstructed deck, too, and see how that compares and then start tearing them all apart for some deck construction. And because it comes in non-random packs, I might be looking at expanding this one in the near future as well. All in all, I would recommend this one based on initial impressions, especially if you plan on playing with others, as it seems like that would be an even stronger version of the game.

World of Warcraft TCG
I apparently knew my friend all too well, for I pulled this out and he began to recount tales of his days playing Warcraft, dating all the way back to the original. To my surprise, he used to play this very card game way back when, but it had been a long time since that passed from his collection. So with a quick brushing up on the rules, we were underway in the game with only a few times to pause and get clarification. For instance, the rules aren’t clear that the allies you bring into play cannot attack the same turn, but we found that correction quickly upon noticing the presence of a keyword that allows an ally to attack the same turn they come into play. The artwork and the card names are absolutely delightful, even as someone who never really played World of Warcraft (I dabbled a few times with a low-level character but never lasted long before moving onto a different game). The oversized Hero cards that came in my starter set were a nice touch, too, adding some extra table presence in a completely unnecessary but enjoyable manner.

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The gameplay itself wasn’t too hard to grasp. I like the interplay that a hero can offer, being able to attack and defend with equipment (I don’t think either deck contained armor, which was disappointing) – something that I believe will become an important thing to build around with new decks. That, and adding in Protector allies. Because there isn’t much you can do to stop someone from curb stomping your Hero over and over with a board of small allies until you get the right cards into your hand or into play. I like the resource row, something I saw and enjoyed in Vs System. However while that game felt like it had a good curve of ramp in power between starters, this one felt more random in execution. Granted, that might be primarily a fault of the premade decks and their limitations. I think we’re going to try out a cooperative experience against a Dungeon deck or two to see if this one shines in that area – something I really hope is true because that would give it a strong niche to remain in a collection. Because as a competitive game, it was wholly disappointing from the first two plays.

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Of course, it wasn’t a bad game by any means. But in a crowded market of games, you need to be able to stand out and do something extraordinary compared to the competition. This one has the strength of its IP. Chasing Loot cards for in-game rewards is a moot point by this stage. So I’m hoping that a dungeon crawl experience awaits us – and maybe we’ll need to try our hand at a Raid or two with a few other friends to see how that plays out. Perhaps that is the unique area of 1 vs many where it can carve its niche. However, based on the prices that folks want for some of these decks…well, it is going to need to overperform in order to get a strong recommendation by the time a review focused around a newcomer circles around. If you can get a small collection for cheap, it might definitely be worth the time. But right now, I’m hesitant to invest much more into a game that I fear is going to be absolutely average overall. I’d love to find an inexpensive deal that could prove my initial impressions wrong, though!