I didn’t expect this to happen until next year some time, but a long time gaming friend was passing through anyway, so we made time for another weekend of nonstop gaming. (See here for details of the last one.) Here’s a list of the games we played along with notes on how they stack up against each other:
Reinforcements arrived just as the last bits of the city burned to the ground. They did, however, have a darn fine ferry at their disposal.
Dragon Rage — I have waited a long time to finally get this one out! While it is superficially similar to Ogre in its overall design approach, it nevertheless has several key differences. The default scenario features two dragons on the attack– reminiscent of two very angry Ogre Mark III’s– but the “command post” here takes up most of the map, and it has to be broken down one bit at a time. The overall tone of the game is thus closer to Rampage than Ogre. The fact that it is almost impossible to wipe out the defenders means that the dragons have to focus more on property damage than fighting. Also notable is just how terrible Ogre defense tactics play out here: you can’t just surround the dragons and pound on them, but you have to consider how to stall them while keeping all of your bases cover. If you are looking for a portable old school microgame with top of the line game components, don’t mutilate your Ogre set. Get this instead…!
Yellow appears to be ahead, but red has control of some surprisingly valuable locations on the board….
Revolution! — My friend was disappointed when we didn’t get to this one for our previous session, so we made sure to make time for this one. I knew it would be easy to teach and play even when we were starting it after midnight. This game is so easy to teach and it appeals to a wide variety of folks: serious gamers, casual gamers… even kids. I seemed to be in the lead for most of the game, but my opponent wasn’t hopelessly behind. I didn’t go easy on him, but I never took the time to count out the current standings down to the last point. As such… I was shocked when my friend actually won the game by seven points on his first try! (Philip duBarry did a fantastic job on the game design here and the theme is a perfect fit for what you’d expect from something with Steve Jackson’s name emblazoned on the side.) Of all the games in my collection, this is the one that is most asked for. Even more surprising, it doesn’t seem to be getting stale even as we approach 25 plays. This is truly a remarkable game.
“There stands Jackson with not a confederate in sight — rally round the cavalry!”
Battle Cry — My friend had played Commands & Colors: Ancients on his last visit. He was so impressed, immediately picked up a copy of this. The game turned out to be a lot simpler. I don’t think we had to pick up the rule book once we started playing. There are no evasion rules or elephant rampages to puzzle through– and no elaborate reference card, either. You just kick back, move your men, and throw the dice in this particular variant. Though the learning curve for the rules is easy going, I was shocked at just how much the tactics change when you go back to this incarnation of the game. I put my confederate troops all on a hill… where just about every single Yankee on the board could take pot shots at them. Oops! If Stonewall Jackson hadn’t retreated behind it, he’d have been blown away! (In our game, he never would have earned his appellation!) I sent J. E. B. Stuart to take out an artillery unit, and I found out that this can be really painful when it doesn’t work out. (Are you sure there’s no evasion rules in this set…?) I only just barely eeked out a win by getting that last flag in the end. And though leaders don’t have quite the impact here as they did in Ancients, old J. E. B. pulled through for me by providing with the very last hit I needed! This is a great game though– it is sure to see a lot of play because it’s so easy to teach and quick to play. It’s also very “moreish” and a loss is not as painful under this system for some reason. After all, you can always blame your opponent’s victory on the cards.
It took just a few minutes to play out a duel between two Mark I’s.
Ogre — My son had been playing in the snow for most of the morning, but when he saw Battle Cry on the table, he forgot all about it. He played against our guest and completely crushed the Yankees. (I found out later that his opponent was going easy on him.) My son liked the game well enough, but expressed some concern over the absence of the “battle back” rules from ancients. That afternoon, I encouraged him to try his Ogre strategy out on his new found opponent. It turns out that his all-G.E.V. force is not an imbalanced choice, and my son’s units were wiped out to a man. My son asked for a Mark I duel and it ended the same way as the Mark VI duels did: with one Ogre immobilized and the other destroyed. They tried one more game of the Basic Scenario and switched sides. Our guest then tried out four howitzers and four G.E.V.’s and got completely annihilated by my son’s Mark III. Still, one of the best moments of the weekend was seeing my friend’s eyes widen when I brought this game out the first time…!
A winning power structure in a two player game of Illuminati.
Illuminati — This game… is simply not reccomended for two players. We got it out and played it anyway. I just love making power structures and pushing the money all along those tentacles of power and corruption. We built took over some groups while we tried to pick up on the rules. I don’t know what it is about this game, but it seems stupidly hard to learn it again when you don’t play it for a while. There’s so many rules that you can remember half wrong or that it is difficult to track down when somebody is waiting on you to finish your turn. Anyway, why does this game not work so well when it’s only two players…? Well at some point the two illuminatus will come into conflict: one might be trying to neutralize a major wing of his opponent’s power structure, for instance. If the victim does not have enough money to block this… he basically loses the game right there. His opponent will be getting more money every turn from his bigger power structure… and so he’ll be able to neutralize (at the very least) things as much as he wants. Odd ball cards can derail this occasionally, but that’s pretty much how it is. The whole design of the game hinges on the other players being able to cooperate to keep back the leader. (I can see this game functioning sort of like the old Avalon Hill Dune game. Even if you can’t get a good five players together locally, it’s famous enough and hip cool enough that you should be able to make it happen at a reasonably sized con.)
The hammer is about to fall here….
Space Empires: 4X — This game is much denser than the others, so we saved it back for after the kids went to bed. I tried my best to explain the things that usually trip people up– things like how bases and ship yards are built and how and when they appear at a new colony. We got started, and though I had intended to use the full set of advanced rules, neither one of us bought any fancy stuff beyond the pipelines. (I remembered from Star Fleet Battles that its bad form to kill a new guy with something weird, so I didn’t break out the raiders or the mines like I was wanting to.) I sent a fleet of two battleships, four destroyers, and two scouts out that was more or less at Attack-1, Defense-1, Move-2. I ran over some decoys when my opponent was rolling over my colonies, but I kept pushing forward while I tried to react and build back up. I was about to bust up my opponent’s colonies in retaliation, but he sent out a fleet to try to kill my forward fleet and I shrugged it off. I realized that his forward colony probably had a base on it, so I ignored it and headed towards his home world. He sent another small fleet out instead of hanging back with his armed shipyards… and somehow, I managed to demolish him. After the game, my opponent was just plain flabberghasted– he couldn’t figure out where my fleet came from and why it was so effective. After sleeping on it, though he says he has a bit more respect for the game and a desire to try it again sometime. I’m thinking that a decent set of combat examples covering some typical tactics and situations will help him wrap around how the game works– because this thing sure doesn’t play out like Axis & Allies. It rewards aggression and it’s more of a quick and dirty knife fight than it is an accounting match. I love how that forward fleet can’t rebuilt or repair– and even better, it’s liable to be slightly inferior to the defending home fleet. It takes a lot of nerve to send those ships out and leave your home systems open to counterattack…! But that’s how the game is played….
So that’s how it went.
- Revolution! really stands out in this group of games. The fact that a new player can actually develop effective tactics during his first game is remarkable. It is also easy to get players for a fuller game, too. This is the most versatile game of the bunch. (One game played… with somebody showing up Sunday afternoon to randomly ask for another!)
- Battle Cry is also very good. You get a lot of game there without a whole lot of overhead. There’s not a lot to it, though– I just don’t see its chassis being able hold the massive number of expansions that Commands & Colors: Ancients has amassed for itself. But for a good, non-brain-burning two player battle game, it’s hard to beat. (Two games played.)
- Ogre is crunchier and a little more dry in comparison… and though it may lack the chaos of Battle Cry and the misdirection of Revolution!, it is at the very least short and to the point. The thing that really stands out about it is not only do ten year olds quickly develop their own pointed opinions about the relative utility of the various defense units, but they also create their own scenarios and demand to play them. (Three games played.)
- Space Empires: 4X really does require more than one teaching session I think. There’s just a lot there and it can be difficult to express it all concisely in the heat of a session. It can be frustrating in comparison to something more familiar like Axis & Allies, but a game of Space Empires can be completed far sooner and your tactical and strategic options are far richer. I think it’s worth the investment. (One game played to completion in four hours.)
- Dragon Rage really fascinated me, but my opponent said it was a little complicated for what it was. (Of course, he tends to like the less complex games of my collection in general.) The first session of a game of this vintage is nearly always going to be a slog, though. The game really picks up its tempo once you get the hang of it and once a few key units are weakened or eliminated, but there’s enough to this that I wouldn’t recommend teaching it unless you can agree in advance to push through three or four plays with it. Still, I especially want to play it again because I know I can do so much more with my wizard than just toss a single lightning bolt like I did this time…. (One game played.)
- Illuminati, I hate to say, but this game sort of tanked in this session. It just needed additional players in order to be a real game and we didn’t have them. On the other hand, playing it this way is worth the investment I think because we’ll have worked through all of our rules questions by the time that we actually do get a good number of players together to play it! (One game played.)