Thoughts about Age of Sail

I have thought for some time the reason why it is hard to create Age of Sail game that would be fast to play, rather simple and rewarding. After testing out quite few light and heavy rulesets I have found out one common problem shared by almost all systems that claim to be simple.

Sometimes I wonder if the game designers have any understanding of the evolution of sailing war ships and related tactics at all – not to mention the sailing itself.

Sailing model

Fight_of_the_Poursuivante_mp3h9426

Fight of the Poursuivante against the British ship Hercules, 28 June 1803. Oil of canvas, 1819. Louis-Philippe Crépin (1772 – 1851). (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Necessary disclaimer: I have to admit that my sailing experience with square rigger is rather limited, but I have spend some summers sailing with a yawl and should therefore qualify to have experience greater than zero :).

That said, on can say that competent seaman is quite able to say with certain precision the possible positions of three masted square rigger in next three to five minutes. Viewing some of the modern era Tall Ship Race ships maneuver in harbor with sails only gives some idea about more or less concerted movements. Knowing the alignment to the wind, and course, move of such ship are predictable, and necessarily so. Evolutions of sailing ship maneuvers may take a long time. Which brings to a point:


Most of the Age of Sail games assume that the battle starts when the ships from both sides are already in relative positions and pay little heed to how the positions were gained. What is left, is little else to do but to slug it out. What would be needed is a system that allows the ponderous approach and positioning to be played out in quick mode.


However, it is not that sailing model should be excessively complex, in fact very simple one may work much better – at least one has opportunity to complete the games.

Gunnery

Capture_of_the_El_Gamo

The Action and Capture of the Spanish Xebeque Frigate El Gamo (source: Wikimedia Commons)

When someone looks at the real casualty figures, dead and wounded in a naval combat, it is quite evident that the numbers that were inflicted were by no means prohibitively heavy. Many authors describe a heavy casualties when total toll was in their tens in a ship with complement of well over a hundred (there are of course notable exceptions, but that is another matter). It was also pointed out curiously enough that seamen were considered lucky because of the much lower chance of being killed in action than their land lobbing counterparts. Disease and other discomforts existed of course, but they were no alien to common soldiers either.

So, that leads to interesting observation. Most simple games appear to have their weapon systems stolen from much later era while preserving bits of Age of Sail. Interestingly in simple games ships tend to sink, explode or burn all the time while in reality it was ship surrendering well before any of the others happened – if even that. Most curious occurrence was certain very light game where single shot caused three ships out of six to explode or sink after first shot.

Monsoon seasWhen damage that is caused by fire is such that no vessel can take it for more than few shots (common argument is that the firing resembles multiple shots) it renders any attempt to perform reasonable maneuvers invalid (Common maneuver of wearing together for instance to match enemy course and tack would be borderline impossible). While this makes certainly faster games, it is doubtful if it makes the game interesting, or playable in historical context.

How would one preserve the durability of the ship, yet resign from tedious record keeping and at the same time maintain reasonable resemblance of the period rate of fire? How to account the smoke resulting black powder gunnery? Crew fatigue and other considerations without making a game too complex and tedious?

So gunnery is a major issue in many games that claim to be fast. It is just much too effective, or too little effective, but in a wrong way.

Command and Control

SCA.FPSo it rises question what is the interesting and rewarding aspect in Age of Sail? Over the years I’ve come to think that it is the command and control challenge and maneuvering in the tactical setting, more than the micromanagement of every single ship of the fleet.

Command system is absent in most games, and if implemented, it is only superficial, far too generous, considering that the players have option to see everything happening in the map. A capacity that most admirals would have greatly appreciated.

There are some systems – namely Signal Close Action that has paid significant amount of detail in the command and control system. Admittedly it is the most complex part of the rules, but it does give pretty good concepts of fixed signal book, message delivery, message relaying and limited freedom to act within the constraints of the signal. It does of course mean that players have to play in gentlemanly manner and respect the intention of the signals, but also it does give immense depth to the subject.

SCAWhen playing the game without signals, every ship has capability to do whatever they like to do. However, with signals, the story is wholly different. Now entire fleet is subservient to single commanding officer that sets out the grand strategy through means of extremely limited signaling system. One can of course address whole fleet, or just single ship, but doing that means that everyone else is left to act upon the previous signal – usually continue on same course and sail settings.

Relaying messages causes delays in the signal delivery and every signal has possibility of failure. It may be that when ships are engaged, there is no more practical means for receiving signal (or acknowledge it). In short, you lose the control at the moment the fleets are engaged. Precisely on the moment you’d need that hand of god.


Age of Sail command and control system is a reminiscent of ancients battles, where strategy may have been formed, and once units engaged, there were nothing that could be done, but to fight it out.


However, while signaling system is a crucial part of Age of Sail, there is still something that no game system has done well. Bringing in the point of…

Forgotten detail: Fleet PreservationClose Action

It sounds insignificant detail, but it is not. Fleet morale rules dictate the time when fleets are either forced to separate, or officers are losing heart. Too many otherwise fine games assume, quite wrongly, that engagements would rage on until there are no opposing ships afloat.

However, historically it was very rarely the case – and game wise it is rather stupid assumption.


When Suffren fought in India, no ships changed hands, yet it is the most active era of French navy. In general before the Napoleonic era (eg. before the revolutionaries decided to decimate the officer core) it was rare occasions that battles ended up with only one side remaining. It was rare even in the most decisive battles.


There are few things to consider, and these are not minor details, but dictate even some foundation assumptions in Age of Sail. Any fleet that has lost few ships will have hard time keeping up the fighting spirits, while opposing side would see every struck enemy vessel as a fuel to fight even harder, because it was known to landslide. Finding the critical point when the avalanche of losses becomes unbearable is quite difficult. Yet the overall fragility of the fleet would contribute to the preferred tack, and also to some extend the gunnery. Considering the options, fleet prone to low morale, or non-combat escort mission would more likely opt to disable enemy to continue with the mission, rather than capture or force surrender.

Rebel seasFor example, wind cage may be preferred because, if executed right, it allows one side to decide the point of attack, especially if sailing by the wind in parallel lines. However, one could see leeward side as better opportunity for escape, should battle go awry. Having significant rigging damage, it becomes hard to withdraw from the windward tack, therefore choosing leeward side may therefore be fully intentional. Additionally, in heavy seas, leeward side may allow lower deck gunnery more readily.

There it is then. So far, a Fleet Preservation has been elusive rule. I have not seen it executed well in any game, and therefore it has been necessary to make gentleman agreement on the conditions when fleets should separate. Some house rules have been attempted, but unfortunately they have not turned out to be satisfactory.

Advertisements
Posted in 7 years war, AAR, Naval engagements, Revolutionary wars, Signal Close Action | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Signal Close Action – de Ternay vs. Graves

It came to our attention that Graves were sailing in the vicinity of the Bay but it was necessary to deliver the troops and take the risk of encountering the fleet. Unfortunately we could no slip to the bay without the British noticing and we had to prepare for battle. Hope of having one ship superiority was turned down by sight of London (98), a large three decker. Duc de Bourgogne, now carrying complement of 80 guns is no match to London, and regardless of my attempts I have not been able to gain windward side in the coming engagement. British fleet, sailing in parallel, opposing course may choose quite freely the avenue of their attack, and I have only few options available.

SCA.FP.de Ternay - 1.png

Why not set up the table outside for a chance?

British fleet under Graves
Resolution (74)
Prudent (64)
London (98)
Royal Oak (74)
America (64)
Bedford (74)

French fleet under de Ternay
Neptune (74)
Jason (64)
Provence (64)
Bourgogne (80)
Eveille (64)
Ardent (64)
Conquerant (74)

SCA.FP.de Ternay - 2We have some disorder among the line, and I have to make signal to everyone form a line stern Neptune and observe the British fleet maneuvers evolving. Waiting aggressive attack from the windward side, British are content to fire from long range, and not many of our vessels have received substantial damage. They have now parallel to our line, and I cannot see British attempting nothing but wearing together, or in succession to concentrate fire in the rear.SCA.FP.de Ternay - 3

I have now for some time contemplated – because of the British caution not to close in the usual aggressive way, to maneuver against the British by tacking in succession, now that none of the enemy ships appear to have inclination to attack more closely. By tacking, I had opportunity to gain both superior force against now apparently weak British rear. After all, America (64) appears to have suffered significantly under the fire of our van. SCA.FP.de Ternay - 4

I sent out the signal to wear in succession and Neptune acted promptly. However, Jason was not apparently aware of the development, and collided with tacking Neptune, throwing the whole line in disarray. Provence had to take measures to avoid collision, and everybody else scrambled to reduce sail when realizing what has happened in the van. These unfortunate events provided golden opportunity for the British, and they waited not exploiting the opportunity. Entire British fleet now bore down on our line, and Eveille(64) was especially hard beaten by much larger London (98).SCA.FP.de Ternay - 5

Luckily enough, my good officer manning Eveille (64) fought until to reasonable end, and then slipped behind Due de Bourgogne, and Ardent (64) & Conquerant (74) took her place in the line. Undoubtedly this saved Eveille from the immediate danger and gave her much needed respite. I can only ardor the dedication of her crew for putting up a stiff resistance against such monstrous broadside London (98) could deliver.SCA.FP.de Ternay - 6

Meanwhile, Neptune (74) followed by Jason (64) and Provence (64) had finished their tack and were now sailing aggressively against America (64), Royal Oak (74) and London (98).  In the rear, good officers of Ardent (64) and Conquerant (74) concentrated on Prudent which had ill chances to survive concentrated fire for much longer. However, British finally finisher their wear, and line was, from the most part parallel to ours. Now London (98) and Royal Oak (74) found their marks and what I could tell from the smoke engulfing Jason (74) and Provence (64), they were both in grave danger.SCA.FP.de Ternay - 7

Now, having the lee side, and not being able to perform the tack, I had difficult decision to make. I could only call for retreat, since fleet was now effectively split in half. By luck we lost no ship to the enemy, nor did none of English surrender. SCA.FP.de Ternay - 8

Eveille (64), Neptune (74) and Jason (64) all suffered gravely. What I can tell, only America (64), and Prudent (64) suffered comparably. It is evident that due to the untimely collision of our leading ships, the intended maneuver could not be executed in timely manner, causing us to lose critical initiative.


This time Signal Close Action was played with optional signaling rules, and it did make complex maneuvering very dangerous. Inherently difficult maneuver, such like tacking in battle is insane to start with, but with signaling rules in play, it becomes suicidal. If something goes wrong – and it will, there is nothing one can do to change it. Ships in absence of annul, or other signal will have to follow the one they had. Any correction or annul takes at least, if lucky, one turn to reach the ships. By then, order such as wear in succession has already been executed at least by one or two leading ships. Recalling them to perform tack again, or wear is, well…SCA.FP.de Ternay - 9

It was evident that once word was out to the fleet, there were no practicable way to annul the signal and change mind. Delay, albeit only one turn, has dramatic effect on the overall fleet control. Everything relies on the signals, their timely execution and decision when to send them out.  Yet again, excellent, fast and very realistic game, given the simplified system that SCA:FP is. I fully acknowledge that the full system would, especially in this particular tactical scenario give very, very good game indeed.

SCA.FP.de Ternay - 10

Final evolutions before the recall of French Fleet. British let the French slip – mostly due to their own developing disorder – while two ships could have immediately start chase, they would also have to face the whole French fleet, should they be separated too far.

Posted in 7 years war, AAR, Naval engagements, Revolutionary wars, Signal Close Action | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fire in the Sky – American disaster

We had an opportunity to play Fire in The Sky – my favorite take on the Pacific war and I had the honor of playing American side of the story. I have to admit that the American problem – excessive flow of wrong material at the wrong time is a bit frustrating – especially if opposition manages to snatch CV’s away early on.

My opponent opted not to go for the Pearl Harbor to my amazement, but instead put up a strike force that guaranteed the flow of oil and to take out Port Moresby and Guadalcanal. Besides of that, he was rather conservative in the oil expenditure, and reserves were building up quite nicely – especially near disaster near Wake that reminded Japanese that American CV threat is real. Unfortunately US TF did not manage to cause damage nor hits to the Japanese, but they certainly treated more carefully afterwards.FiS - 1

At the start of the second turn, Japan could transport 8 and after third, when Singapore fell, 12. From then on, he kept hoarding – and then only focused on severing the link between Australia and Pearl Harbor keeping reactionary force at hand. Until Guadalcanal, the attack went surgically and like knife in the butter. Cost however was that spent units were not redeployed into the front lines, and holes started to appear into Japanese umbrella.

Of course I tried over and over again block the eventual doom from happening but my every attempt met end in the hands of the carrier force – or some other disaster. Hard task when moving single 4 step infantry unit to anywhere near Guadalcanal cost half the available transport capacity and fleets faring not much better. Deploying even a small reactionary force to keep eye on the Japanese operations in the region had tremendous cost. American single carriers were vulnerable to extreme. It is not to say that my opponent did not make tactical and strategic mistakes – far from it. However, they were completely offset by my own incompetency ;).

FiS - 2

However, losing a CV and AACL in same turn to two submarines is something to tell home about, a bad thing not because of losses – they would be replaced, but because of the region the losses occurred – in Gilberts. At the time, only viable position to threat Japanese ops and drag them into fighting on ground of my choosing. That was the moment things started to hit the fan – repeatedly.

Our take on battle in Guadalcanal featured – remarkably enough – carrier hide and seek where both sides launched strikes against another simultaneously, and while Americans mortally wounded Shokaku and Zuikaku, Lexington paid the price and sunk. Two smaller Japanese carriers were damaged but made it back home. Not in any shape to continue fight, American TF limbed back to home and for the moment it seemed that Guadalcanal and Port Moresby were safe.

FiS - 3

Far from it. Despite the reinforcements that New Zelanders received in Port Moresby they were subject to vigorous attack from the Japanese ground forces, apparently infuriated by the fact that every call for support from Japanese navy, or air forces had failed in past months. After the latest batch of reinforcements, Port Moresby fell to Japanese hands, and not a long after, first troops landed practically unopposed in Brisbane.

Mind that at this time Manila, nor Leyte were not taken yet and both were well within the Japanese gasp would they wish to do so. For Americans, there were nothing that could have stopped it from happening. Loss of Brisbane was to have catastrophic results. In fact, when American final attempts to alleviate the situation miserably failed, and VP’s were mounting, I conceded.


Lesson learnt. Never leave your backdoor unguarded – and American CV’s are indeed very vulnerable if fighting alone, and not in the ground of their choosing. Given that the reaction distance is only half of the movement allowance, even the fastest vessels have range of four. Therefore, guarding region of Solomons or New Guinea does require local reactionary strike force standing by all the time. A hard task even if there is no Japanese air umbrella in place – which will surely extend as operations move forward, additionally hindering naval ops.

Posted in AAR, Boardgames, Naval engagements, WWII | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

ASL – Puma Prowls

Puma Prowls is one of my ASL favorites – all vehicles scenario featuring four of my favorite 4 rad armored cars (PSW 234/2) versus Russian T-70 tankettes. Puma’s are, albeit lightly armored, quite well armed and therefore they can bring to bear quickly. With 33 movement points, they can get to almost any position in the map as long as roads are present. 50L gun with 2 ROF guarantees that they can hit a target far and efficiently.

If something, Puma does have one drawback. Light armor makes it vulnerable to enemy fire. Utilization of mobility, smoke dispensers and every conceivable hull down position is essential. Because armored cars can take the fight anywhere, there is little need to put up a pitched battle when situation is not favorable.

We chose the sides in random, and I had the luxury of getting the T-70 tankettes. Only positive thing about them – like most Russian AFV was that I had five and 9-2 armor leader against his four and 9-1 armor leader. T-70 is a small thing, in late war – when everyone should have already known better, it still has a slow traverse single man turret with 45L gun and no radio.

In plain terms it means platoon movement, no flexibility and n ability to gain benefit of crew exposure (knowing that Puma has quite good MG, I doubt it would make difference there anyway). So Pumas had the upper hand in mobility, raw gunnery, while I had advantage of numbers and better leadership.

It was Russians who moved first, and already expended half of their MP’s were not going to get very far out.  Pumas however got pretty far and my task changed quite rapidly from advance to figuring out the best defensive postures. So, I got to the walls first and several shots were exchanged. Albeit Puma’s armor is weak, it was tough enough that my initial shots did not find their way through. Puma crew however took out one of the T-70’s and made burning wreck out of it. Now, my one platoon had single vehicle, and no platoon restrictions. Good. Another Puma came in for the kill, when first shot missed, only to get a critical hit through intensive fire. Not bad. A bit of standoff resulted, where few shots were exchanged – T-70 in the location of the burning wreck and Puma in the open. Situation favoring the T-70, Puma decided to evacuate the position and rely in it’s mobility.

Shortly after one Puma lost the main armament and was recalled, while another T-70 went up in flames. That was followed by another Puma down with intensive fire critical hit, and two T-70’s with malfunctioning gun. Another one of those was dispatched by last remaining Puma, before I moved around the town center with my last remaining half-platoon and tank leader to kill the last Puma.

T70’s killed three, and three with three losses of their own. One Puma was recalled, and one T-70 had no functioning MA at the end. So, it was 3VP each for the kills, and 2 for getting one T-70 out with functioning MA.

Puma prowls - 1

Moment before the last shot that killed the last remaining Puma. After that, it was smooth sailing to the recon mission that the Russians were performing.


It was very good game, albeit I had unfair advantage of playing the weaknesses of the armored cars while he was not used to the intricacies of them. Instead of allowing Germans the luxury of the walls, or long range fire, I drew the enemy into town fight where my small tankettes were not so much disadvantaged. Close range fire and small target silhouette is a benefit for the Russians.

That said, the last Puma really started to use the mobility and smoke capacity instead of just putting up a slogging match and was much harder to kill that the first two. Again, lesson learnt, Puma’s are very dangerous when wounded. 🙂

Posted in AAR, ASL, Boardgames, WWII | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Review – Battlestar Galactica

BSG.pngGot the game as a present during holidays and I have to admit that I’m quite fond of the series (both original and remake). However, after certain games, I am less and less fond of FFG designs. All too often rules turn out to be very poorly written, have conflicts that are patched up with separate rulings in various cards and in errata longer than original rulebook. On top of everything else, most games are cluttered with immense amount of unnecessary rubbish that one could easily live without. That combined with some sort of obsession to institute same basic system to every game regardless is just beyond my understanding. But anyways. Some of the games are entertaining.

What is in the box? (besides of rather poor quality miniatures (flashed bendyplastic) representing raiders, vipers etc)? Basestars are cardboard which is rather good choice (that said, cardboard counters would work much better for everything, and also look much nicer). The box has usual amount of cards but not quite as many as in some others and that is definitely good. There is also unusually modest amount of other counters and such. That part is then promising. Board has places for various cards counters etc, including some resource dials bolted on the board (definitely better than stack of counters or cards that I expected). So, overall it all looked fine.

After scanning through the rulebook I came into two conclusions. First, it is written by Corey/FFG standard, which is nice way of saying that competent rewrite and indexing would be in order. There are 32 pages of rather illogically organized rules and as usual without index or proper examples. In reality there is content for about 3 pages. The rest is just fluff to hide the rules (for sake of comparison, moderately complex Wilderness War can get along with 16 pages of well written rules, and Successors with 20 pages, including index and examples).

Second observation was that because of the clutter, and equally cluttered rules, game would play rather slow. Initial guess was between 5 and 8 hours. Setup time would not however be measured in eons like for 1st Ed Mansions of Madness and that is a good thing, but it does take quite long anyway. Unfortunately after reading the rules it was quite evident that the mechanics really required exactly five players and would not actually work with any other number. Later confirmed from other sources that it is indeed the case.

All in all, the first impression of BSG was mixed.


Game flow

Game flow is very odd at best. Essentially the system is build around anonymous voting system combined with reheated Arkham Horror/Mansions of Madness move-action scheme (Wings of War, Sails of Glory, X-wing and others share same ideological origin and it’s functionality can be argued in those as well. At best is just awkward. Many would appreciate if the system would finally be buried somewhere nobody can find it ever again).


Update: Mansions of Madness 2nd Ed, with different designer has apparently seen the light and build system that actually works for the purpose.


There is no defined turns that would give any indication of time-scale so it is assumed to be flexible. At the same token, there are weird details and no-abstractions that would be better if abstracted entirely (a simple example that repeats in various ways over and over again: when person can walk from one end of the ship to other, viper or raider cannot fly same distance in same “time” in space – may be funny first time around, but then… well, really? Could not come up with anything better? Seriously?).

A Skill check – or rather, a voting system allows players to make decisions called by crisis cards. Each player draws a crisis card at the end of their turn and it is resolved in a way or other by each player playing color coded cards to either advance the case or work against it. Curiously enough, player in brig does not draw crisis cards, so nothing advances during their turn, but then nothing bad can happen either. Which is funny – for a while. Player in brig may however play and draw new the cards for full effect – which brings in mind interesting considerations. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of room for meaningful strategy and everything depends on the random card draws.

Game bogs down a lot if there is even a single player that has tendency to play slow leading to significant downtime between players. It may take well over 20-30 minutes of idle time between moving one piece and doing nothing meaningful before it’s your turn again. There are also many, many things that can put players in sick bay and repeated visits there is probably the worst part (one character was sent there again after every action he got out and holding about 1 or two cards in hand at most). Sickbay mechanic  bogs the game down, but also reduces the meaningful decisions even further.

There are also cards that force player to discard cards and failing to do so will dwindle the resources. In two games so far there were no apparent Cylons present, but food was reduced to zero just because president kept on getting event cards of that effect every turn, and could not discard required amount of cards repeatedly because there was not enough even at the start. Quite uninteresting way to spend 4 hours. Change of that, or something similar happening again is remarkably high. Not to take it wrong, there is nothing wrong with that, it is just plain boneheaded if the game system drives there like a train and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It is just not fun.

Conclusion

BSG idea is good. The hide and seek to discover the enemy within before they destroy you – or to destroy the enemy before being discovered. However, the design is really very poorly executed, repetitive all too similar to Arkham Horror and after a while, becomes  boring. Because of the rule ambiguities, the clutter, poorly designed game flow, cards for everything and constant requirement to reshuffle cards cause the game to be easily 6-8h ordeal. (For sake of comparison, this is a time scale one can squeeze about 2 small ASL scenarios, or one very long Fire in the Sky, 2-3 Wilderness Wars, or 2 Hannibal games, not to mention six games of Basic Impetus with a good long lunch break in between).

Is BSG worth it then? Hard to say. Assuming one can collect five players to play game for 6-8 hours (or more), the fun part is number of laughs about the random cylon hunting process. The Cylon side being far more fun of the two. Question is though, how many times that will be fun though before well runs dry? I’m afraid that the number is very limited indeed.

Sadly, would anyone else have designed the game, it would probably not feel like Flux, and it would have good rules and reasonably fast gameplay. I would certainly not add any expansions to the game but will probably play it again – if getting five players. With any other number – no thanks.

Posted in Boardgames, Fantasy, Review | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

ASL – The Agony of Doom

The Agony of Doom is a great scenario which features interesting set of vehicles. Russians have fielded the big guns, ISU-152, pair of ISU-122, supported by a pair of T34/85’s. Against this set of massive tracked firepower comes solitary Tiger and two fearsome Jagdpanthers and their 88LL guns – a force to be reckoned with.asl the agony of doom - 1

My opponent opted for the Germans, and I was left with the Russians. Now, I faced an situation where Russians were set against rag-tag late war Germans with low ELR – and hence good change of being disrupted once broken. Goal was to capture 4/5 multi-hex buildings in town on map 3.  Firepower was not a problem – on paper. Deploying it in meaningful way was a bigger issue, considering that Russian guns wouldn’t hit a barn door from any distance, and getting close risked Panzerfausts that about every German squad possessed.asl the agony of doom - 2

That said, there is pretty good squads in play for Russians, and even some mobility, which would enable them to be ferried around. Trucks and unprotected road leading straight to the backs of the Germans was attractive avenue., especially considering that the German forced were quite up front, expecting the all frontal attack. asl the agony of doom - 3

Meanwhile in the Russian headquarters, plan was formed to push straight into the German position frontally, and make little flanking move around through the forest. However, because of some odd miscommunication between my right and left brain lobes, the Russians disembarked early and I failed completely to put force against the German rear. Was too afraid of the incoming reinforcements I guess. It was even more odd, considering that I did indeed take the T-34/85’s for a long tour, to achieve precisely nothing.asl the agony of doom - 4

So, First victim was the Tiger overseeing the Russian entry in the hill near town. ISU, after taking two ineffective shots from the 88L, put one 122mm round through the gunshield of the Tiger making sure that it was going to stand as a monument to deployment error. Shortly after accompanying infantry started retreating towards the town, Russians on their heels. However, advance was not as quick, not as casualty free as it should have been – given the distance between the troops to their objectives and the amount of Germans standing between. Two leaders were lost, one 9-1 and one 8-0. One in close combat, and another to a sniper – lesson again not to leave leaders alone in open. Mind that I only had three leaders to start with, my entire left flank and middle were now without a rally point. Any casualties there, and the whole progress would stall. Losing ISU-152 to permanent gun malfunction did not help matters.asl the agony of doom - 5

That was however not going to happen, mostly because of single berserk that killed one rather nasty unit along the way. It was the right flank, bounded by 75mm AT gun and one Jagdpanther that was stalling and having literally nowhere to go. Dwindling in men and material and not being any closer to the objective, I conceded the game. Russians bagged 3/4 buildings but the two remaining ones were being strongly occupied.


Few things were evident. Disruption is fatal for low quality troops with low ELR. Exploiting that with encirclement is excellent idea. However, big guns on tracks do not help if one is not able/talented to utilize them in best possible way. T34/85 is no match to Jagdpanther frontally and ISU-122 that is, is not going to hit it buttoned up from the preferred engagement distance of the former, nor is it a machine suitable for fighting in narrow streets with limited aim. Additionally, trying to position Russian CT AFV to HD on a hill is, well… parking exercise like no other.asl the agony of doom - 6

Once I found good position to threat the Jagdpanthers rear, I missed and in next round up, second one maneuvered to point blank range and did not miss. 88LL just improved the T34/85 air conditioning a lot. Hitting the darn thing didn’t make a dent.

Tank-to-tank battles are one thing, trying to utilize assault guns efficiently in a face of potent enemy firepower is another. Back to the drawing board then. Meanwhile, there would have been a much better chance winning, would I have driven the trucks all the way to the back of the Germans and occupy one or the other of the two buildings there.

The Agony of Doom is a scenario worth playing again.

Posted in ASL, Boardgames, WWII | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Mansions of Madness, retake

Long story short, Mansions of Madness 1st edition was a rubbish, including most of the expansions. In fact, some enterprising spirits have rewritten the whole in attempt to make it work. The key reason for it was that Wings of Glory system does not really turn into exploration game, regardless of how much cards you add. Fundamentals were flawed. Foundations stood on what could be described as intellectually dishonest logic and there were no easy way to fix it.

Another problem was the rules which were scattered to most unlikely places without any indexing in a page count that exceeded some modestly complex, genuine wargames. All this when in reality there was real content for about 4 pages worth. A Third problem was the setup time that allowed filler game of modestly sized ASL scenario to be played, with a coffee break in between. Final problem that broke the whole product was the complete lack of play testing, and many scenarios that were irreparably broken (what is more fun than spending three hours to set up a game that breaks down completely after hour or two of playtime? Or game where the main goal is to avoid all the system traps that cause the scenario to fail completely?). That said, our group could certainly put the game system to test, but with MoM first edition, one had to tread carefully like amidst venomous snakes.

I did file a complaint about the defects long ago, because I think that it is not the customer’s responsibility to playtest and debug a system that comes with such a hefty price tag. FFG ignored the complaint.

… Then, time went on… About five years passed.

Apparently Asimodee took over FFG in some level, and Mansions of Madness was redeveloped by new designer that had genuine ideas of how to make the game work, and not to make it just another Wings of Glory, or X-wing on a ground level. Asimodee also had completely reverse attitude towards the defects of original.

… and then some additional time passed, and I received a parcel.

Yes, it was a copy of the 2nd Edition.

Now, 2nd Edition of Mansions of Madness appears more of the product that first edition should have been (except the figures, which are, unfortunately, still rubbish. However, luckily the monsters have counters to represent them and they work wonderfully). Instead of being clutter ridden cardboard hell, 2nd edition has stripped out all but essentials – and replaced keeper with application. Downside is that one needs a computer, phone, or pad to play but the upside… well, it completely remodels what original failed to achieve. Exploration.

MoM-2nd-ed - 1

Scenario 1, final moments 😉 Spoilers, if you looked!

So far, there has been only one game of 3 players, but at first time, most striking bugs are some of the algorithms that declare how events affect, or how monsters move. For example statement of: “monster moves towards the investigator with least damage” is hard to judge when there are three investigators without any damage in equal distance. Instead it would have been better to say: “…towards investigator with most health remaining” if that was implied (for example, least damage is not equal to most health and there appeared to be no tie breaker rule). Similar imprecise wordings are probably the worst bugs discovered at least so far. Compared to the first edition, that is a massive improvement and they can be worked out even if one would appreciate more accurate “algorithms”.  Rulebook does state that in conflict situations players decide but it would be worthwhile to have some of the texts altered for less room for players to maneuver.

MoM-2nd-ed - 2

Made it, just barely. Relatively easy, but pretty solid scenario.

Of course, in the original, the 1st scenario was really the only one playtested, and factually playable, hence waiting to see what happens after we’ve done all of 2nd ed scenarios. At this time, I am willing to say that Asimodee has done the right thing and I consider the matter settled.

Posted in Boardgames, Fantasy, Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment