Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: War Games

Colonial Twilight: A Different Kind of War

A good game forces you to learn something in order to play it well. Colonial Twilight has quite a bit to offer in that regard and it can take several plays to get the hang of it.

The guerrilla forces are of course the most attractive aspect of the game. They fight differently than conventional forces. They have different capabilities compared to conventional forces. They have completely different objectives than they counter-insurgent government player.

But here’s the thing….

If you try to go head to head against France’s elite troops with them, you’re going to get blown away. It doesn’t matter that you can ambush them, subvert Algerian police and troops, and rally new recruits faster than the government can kill them.

Even an experienced wargamer is likely to spend far too much time and materiel playing the sort of game the guerrillas are ill-suited for. But a novice will compound this by neglecting the much more significant battle for the hearts and minds of the civilian population.

Which means that when the second propaganda card turns up, the game can come to a very abrupt end with a very early and very decisive government victory:

Better luck next time!

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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: Shooting While Moving Ain’t Happening

The big lesson of the Ghost Panzer tank combat scenario is that moving and shooting just isn’t going to happen. If you’re in one of those massively well-armored T34’s, then you’re going to fail your proficiency check on the turn you’re moving into position. So you wait. The next turn, you’d like to be able to hit a German tank so you stay still. Making you something of a sitting duck. Even then, due to the low-initiative nature of the Russian tank crews, you still have less than a 50/50 chance to take a shot– because the Germans are going to be on the move.

On the other hand, being a sitting duck is not such a bad deal when you’re a Russian. The solid front armor of the T34 tanks are pretty much better protection than anything else you can do. So you line up, hang back, and wait for the Germans to come to you. This is a simple scenario where the winner is the person that kills the most tanks– and the Russians win ties. So they can afford to let the Germans come to them.

The German Panzers are pretty awesome, though. They’re slow and lightly armored in comparison. But they shoot a lot. And critically, their crews have about a 50/50 chance of being able to take a shot while on the go. And the Panzer IV has a gun on it that very nearly ignores even the best armor.

Now… I’ve played this scenario by the numbers and I’ve played it with absolutely no idea about any sort of sane strategy. I have to say… it was fun trying to play this “wrong.” Tanks were scattered all over the board and facing every direction. Germans would position themselves just out of my firing arc so that I’d have to take a -1 to proficiency when I had to change facing. It was an absolute nightmare of carnage and destruction and not a great day for the motherland.

I’ve wanted a playable tank game for a long time. Certainly, whatever it is that miniatures players tend to do is way too complicated for my table. This is just right. In Ghost Panzer, a tank that is shot by another tank is either dead or (more rarely) probably dead. The tanks are described fully by weapon, armor, movement, and proficiency values– in such a way as to encourage players to rediscover their nation’s doctrine. And the only thing that is even close to being confusing in the rules is the terrain modifiers and line of sight stuff.

Especially with the new “Remastered” edition here, you’ve got a MicroGame level of rules density combined with the sort of game components people expect from a contemporary board game. Even better, you’ve got everything you need to blitz Russia!

If you are looking to branch out from euro games and role-playing games and into historical wargames, this is one that is liable to give you a great deal of bang for the buck. Like everything else Jim Krohn has designed, it’s engineered to give you a great deal of flavor and nuance from a relatively small number of “almost invisible in actual play” type rules. Check it out!

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!

A First Look at Commands & Colors: Tricorne

First off, I don’t play these games in order to watch toy soldiers camp out in cover gradually wearing away at each other at a distance. I want dramatic action. I want an opportunity to seize the initiative and turn the tide of battle. I want, more than anything… tabletop glory. In other words, I want more of whatever it is that Commands & Colors: Ancients has… and less of whatever is wrong with Battle Cry.

The new revolutionary war themed game in this series delivers:

  • The new battle card mechanics can make taking out of the ordinary risks much more worthy of consideration. They can also reverse the results of unlucky dice results from early in the game. However, once they’re gone, they’re gone. You only get more when instructions on a command card tell you to draw another!
  • Finally, the number of blocks in a group finally has an impact on a units behavior on the battlefield. Every unit that retreats now has to make a rally check. They roll a number of dice equal to their blocks, +1 if they are at full strength, +1 if they have a leader with them, and -1 if they are militia. If no flags come up… the unit has left the battlefield completely and their opposing side scores a victory banner.
  • Like Commands & Colors: Ancients, it’s very much worthwhile to stay in a line formation.
  • Unlike Commands & Colors: Ancients, leaders provide attack bonuses to both close combat attacks and ranged attacks.
  • Like Battle Cry, leveraging terrain bonuses is going to be critical to winning play.
  • Unlike Battle Cry, close combat matters and can be extremely decisive. (Of course, marching your units forward while people are shooting at them is risky…!)

I’m completely sold on this game. I think it’s a marked improvement over other entries in the series.

But I am biased: I’m coming straight from a game where my elite Scottish Highlanders got inside the Continental lines and wreaked havoc among them. It was awesome. Every command card played was a blast.

Recommended.

My highlanders survive attacks from three enemy groups… and cause two of them to fail rally checks in the process. Boo-ya!