Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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Category Archives: Games

The Curveball Strategy in Space Empires Replicators

Okay, I’d played this once, opting to take Destroyers with Attack-2 Defense-2 and Move-2 with my Giant Race empire. Those were some awesome ships… basically cruisers that cost next to nothing. I didn’t like having to stick with just one sort of ship the whole game… and it turned out that the extra tech I bolted onto them was tremendously helpful to the Replicator empire.

So I tried again with an attempt at a solitaire game. I opted for Raiders and Merchant Ship Pipelines… but that turned out to be fairly ineffective against the Replicator fleets. I may have been doing something wrong, but with the rule benders that are granted to the solitaire Replicators, I don’t think I stood a chance.

Fortunately I got another chance to play. I did several things to improve my game:

  • I skipped buying terraforming technology, instead opting to sack deep space alien worlds only for the technology. (I didn’t realize previously that you didn’t have to colonize them to get the stuff!)
  • I built a complete Merchant Ship pipeline which resulted in 18 extra CP a turn thanks to my drawing the Traders empire advantage.
  • I sent my scouts to explore deep space rather than saving them back racking up maintenance costs..
  • I outfitted by flagship with exploration tech and found a space wreck and 10-point minerals… and an alien world right next to my empire.
  • I chose to build fighters and carriers instead of destroyers and raiders. The operated very poorly in their first few battles, basically getting mostly blown away while doing the bare minimum.
  • Because of that… I adjusted by buying up two more levels of fighter technology. Not only did my fighters attack at 7, but the also got a much needed point of defense… without giving research points to the Replicators.
  • When I sacked the alien world, I lucked out and drew afterburners which gave my fighters another +1 bonus to attack. Perfect!
  • I’d also persuaded my opponent to play on the “normal” 2-player map… which gave him a LOT less minerals and space wrecks to harvest. (It’s a default for the solitaire game… which surprised me because we always played with as much deep space as possible before!)
  • Also, the doomsday machine really seemed to go out of its way to make things difficult for the Replicator player. (It even killed the planet for me when the Replicator colonized the barren world in deep space!)
  • Finally, when the Replicator fleet starting sending attack fleets at me, I also purchased some mines. I was able to use the merchant pipelines to position them for maximize their effect. More fighters might have been just as effective or better, but it was danged fun to throw the second curve ball there… especially when mines took down an entire attack force. (Of course, those mines could not be used to attack… and a cunning opponent will tempt you to fight away from them. On the other hand, there’s a limit to the counter mix, so you have diversify at some point!)

Now that I’ve played this out, it’s clear how the curveball strategy can really work. The fighters are your teeth. (B7 and B8 for attack is just plain awesome, especially when combined with their probable numbers. (But note you have to have advanced technology at level two before you can unlock Fighter-4 to get that B8 with defense 2.) Mines can take out your opponent’s biggest and most dangerous ships for next to nothing, but are a bit of a waste against the small ones. (More fighters are going to be a better investment than too many mines. However… given that the Replicators get research points for fleet size… mines instead of fighters can be a better buy in some cases!) If you expect your opponent to use point-defense against your fighters, you can use Raiders to counter them. Finally, if your opponent is spending effort planning and building ways to counter all three of these technologies…

You’ve got so many options for what combination of units to get with this and how to position them… it’s just an all around blast to play. Of course, which exact strategy you go with is going to ultimately hinge on what empire advantages and alien technologies are in play. I’ll tell you, though… I was sore afraid when we got to turn ten and it turned out that my opponent had “Green Replicators” and wouldn’t be depleting his planets until turn 13!

Anyway, great game here… so much you can do with it!

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Space Empires: Replicators is the Bee’s Knees

This expansion really make Space Empires 4X an order of magnitude more fun.

The super sized terrain tiles…? They’re just flat out gorgeous. And it’s so much easier to read the board. Also, the names of the planets remain visible for the duration of the entire game now. Heck, you’ll go explore deep space now just for the chance to place another one of these onto the game board…!

Now… about those replicators. This is the all-new all-different fifth-player faction, the Cylon/Borg/Terminator faction. I only have a passing familiarity with the rules for these, but I have to say… watching someone else run these things, their in-game behavior really is completely alien compared to the standard player factions.

They can explore their home space in half the time. They have this huge incentive to explore deep space, too. They don’t have much to think about everyone else is shopping for tech and ships. But during the movement and combat phases, they will spend a lot of effort battling against the unknown. They are denied the usual exploration tech, so it’s interesting to watch them get eaten alive by Danger!, Black Holes, and Doomsday Machines. The Minerals and Space Wrecks they collect are well worth the loss in scouts, though.

The big downside to them is that you’ve got all this crazy technology for the standard Empire factions… and then with the Replicators in play, they have this gigantic disincentive for using any of it!

It’s tough!

The game-play here feels more or less like the solitaire games from the original base set. You commit to a fairly narrow production strategy and then wait for the bad guys to come to you. The strategy notes do suggest throwing a series of technological curve balls to keep the Replicators off balance… which sounds more fun. I didn’t do that in my game, though, because I drew Giant Race for my empire advantage, which made Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-2 Destroyer stacks my preferred weapon. (Though springing for that extra move and defense maybe hurt me more than it helped when the toasters turned it into research points.)

The main thing that I’d do differently based on this first experience with the new faction is that I’d probably invest in more space exploration earlier than what I did. The Replicators look intimidating, but they do need to wait a while before they throw a punch. Exploring the edges of the board is tempting. Raids are (unfortunately) less tempting because you need a specially equipped transport to fully burn down a Replicator colony. On the other hand, beating up their ships before they can combine to become dangerous seems like a very good thing. So while you don’t have the option of doing something crazy that seriously dents their production, they does seem to be plenty of good reason to go fight them early on.

Given the number of things I’m puzzling over here, I have to say… the new faction is probably working exactly like it was intended to… and has fewer of the problems than I expected to see. So if you have an opponent that would rather play the robots than a “real” Space Empires empire, don’t fret. You’re still going to get to do each of the four X’s that make up the game.

Besides, turn ten where the Replicators start losing entire worlds due to pure exhaustion is right around the corner!

Ghost Panzer: Running Across the Street Isn’t Trivial

I’ve played the quick infantry training scenario of Ghost Panzer several times now and I have to say… there is a lot here to like.

The Germans play completely different from the Russians due to their higher morale, better unit cohesion, and greater effectiveness when reacting or on the move. When filtered through the rules, the numbers on the counters really do capture the “flavor” of how each side behaves on the battlefield.

The system just plain works, too. You can keep an enemy unit pinned down with suppression fire, then send some other guys around their flank in order to move in and finish them off. When the target (almost assuredly) fails their morale check before the melee phase, they will more than likely simply evaporate.

Meanwhile, crossing a street is insanely dangerous. All units get a “free” chance to take opportunity fire. Even units that have already taken their turn and are marked “used” get a chance for opportunity fire against adjacent enemies. By spending a command point, your heavy weapons team can take a rule-bending long ranged “final opportunity fire.”

And under those circumstances those morale checks can be a killer. First, your guys might just stop moving altogether when they come under fire. Later on, they may decide to fall back in order to take cover.

This scenario is just a MicroGame-sized chunk of action… but everything here works. It’s very easy to teach. It’s easy to set up and takes place all on one map panel. My wargaming pals on the other side of the world have been recommending this one for years. Glad to finally know what all the buzz was about!

Tabletop Glory with Formula D

In the first place, tournament grade board gamers are cold-hearted, merciless lot. They play flawlessly, too. They’re quick to read the board and they just don’t make blunders. The kicker, though, is that racing games are doubly brutal. You might lead the pack, but everyone trailing you has every incentive to take on risks that can propel them ahead. You’re just not going to walk into a convention and do well against these people unless you’ve played the exact game hundreds of times already.

I sat down at the Formula D heat anyway. I’m not even clear on the finer points of the rules, so I was doubly out of my depth. The game is rightfully a classic, extremely accessible to all ages and yet difficult to master.

Somehow I got the pole position. This was actually bad for me because I couldn’t copy other people’s moves! I drove through the first three turns like a maniac, burning through my tires and wearing out my brakes. I was still in the lead, though… but then I missed a roll with exactly the wrong amount. It was extremely unlikely… but it was just enough off to send me into a spin-out.

Somebody at the other end of the table piped up: don’t have to worry about him anymore!

An absolutely crushing remark that put me way down on the tabletop hierarchy. It rolled right off of me. See, this isn’t 2016 Jeffro we’re talking about here. This is 2018 Jeffro… whose very brain has been rewired to accommodate his top lobster mindset. That tail-flick reflex that would normally steer me safely away from conflict and potential humilation? It was nowhere in sight. Flushed with high levels of serotonin, I calmly set myself to taking consistent, moderate risks with essentially no margin for error. And over the course of the two lap game, I found myself passing one tournament-grade player after another until I was in second place.

I was barreling toward the penultimate turn of the game. I needed to land inside it in order to maintain my position and threaten to win. It came down to a two-in-three chance that I could pull it off. If I’d had more of the brakes that I had carelessly spent it the opening phases of the game, it would have been far more likely to succeed. But I throw the dice… and I find myself spinning out for the second time in the game.

It was still awesome. Guys at the table that might have looked right passed me congratulated me on my climb from total irrelevance to “my gosh, he could actually pull this off.” I wasn’t going to the final on this one… but I was awash in a feeling of tabletop glory anyway.

Clawing my way up through this particular bucket of crustaceans was flat out exhilarating.

Battle Cry Isn’t Commands & Colors: Ancients

The more recent edition of Battle Cry tightens up the rules of the game by a fair amount compared to the original. I can’t say I care for the “big box of plastic” approach to the game, though. The block wargames look classy and consistently turn heads. The stickers on Battle Cry’s units will be falling apart on anyone’s game that sees any significant amount of play.

The game play is much more different from Commands & Colors: Ancients, which I have played a lot more of. In ancient warfare, generals lead from the front. In the civil war game, they… just don’t seem to do all that much. (Aside from a few odd cards, the only thing you can count on from them is their ability to ignore a retreat result. In a game where retreat results actually can help you!) Combine that with everyone having effective ranged attacks and nobody having an automatic “battle back” action, and yeah… this is a completely different game.

If you play this Civil War game in the same way as you would the the Ancients one… you will die ingloriously. Tournament grade play will feature units mostly hanging back in some kind of cover and taking mostly one die and two die pot shots at things. Charges tend to result in the slaughter of your own men, not anything remotely approaching glory.

It’s brutal.

There are only four unit types. There is less variety in the units. Formation and leadership have almost no impact on the tactics. And winning tactics are decidedly un-epic. Mostly… it just looks tacky.

If you only get one of these Richard Borg battle games… I have to recommend against your getting Battle Cry.