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“Operation Red Nose”: the HFC Game Meeting March 2011

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on April 5, 2011

"Operation Red Nose" - 4 days of eating, drinking, and non-stop gaming!

This years’ HFC & Friends Game Meeting was again held around the days that are known in Germany as ‘Karneval’ or ‘Fasnacht’ and which is a time when folks start wearing silly costumes, drinking a lot and dancing to a very weird form of music ;)

Since we don’t belong to those who take part in such strange rites, we usually use the time to prepare ourselves with beer, food, and games and then just close the door for a few days of gaming. A good friend of ours, Wolfgang,  who is living in Mainz (also a city which is ruled by the ‘fools’ during this time) then comes over to join us and so he arrived on Friday, quite early. Denny and I got some new cool games over the year which he didn’t know yet, and we were also eager to get some multiplayer games going with games we could only play with two players so far, so we were looking forward to some great game sessions.

When Wolfgang arrived, we started with a little chitchat and had a beer for starters and then we prepared the gaming table. He was very interested in trying out some LCGs about which we talked before and he had some first impressions about the core gameplay of these sort of card games when he played Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers on the Xbox 360 (it’s not a LCG, but not actually a CCG either, so it’s a game in-between with pre-built decks and limited possibilities to customize your deck). But he at least knew the basic gameplay and he liked it, so he was interested to see how a real LCG would be played face to face.

Call of Cthulhu (LCG)

The first game: Call of Cthulhu (LCG)

The first game on the table was Call of Cthulhu (FFG), which is the easiest of the three LCGs published by FFG so far. Since we all love Arkham Horror and the Lovecraft theme, this game seemed to be a good introduction to the LCG genre. We set it up, I explained the basic Sequence of Play and then we started playing right away, using the player aid sheet that we had printed out and laminated before, to make things as easy as possible.

Wolfgang chose the Miskatonic University deck and I played a Shub-Niggurath deck, all of which were mono decks. By now, we own enough Asylum Packs to play all factions of the game as mono decks, and although for some players out there this doesn’t seem to be the best way to play the game competitively, we decided to use mono for Wolfgang’s introductory games for several reasons. First, it’s easier for a new player to see how a faction in a pure format is played, how it feels, and he will soon realize the strengths and the weak points of that faction. To know the specific strengths and weaknesses of a given faction is an important prerequisite for deck customization.To give Wolfgang a very harsh and brutal impression of each fashion, we even removed the neutral cards from all decks, so that he could feel the raw characteristics of each faction without any fine tuning and balancing. The intention was to show him the options for deckbuilding and deck enhancements by chosing a certain focus, adding neutral cards, or even by building a combi deck with a second faction, which will eventually lead to a deck that works great. If you don’t know the characteristics of a certain faction, you don’t really know how to counter their weaknesses or how to maximize their strong aspects.

CoC gaming table

Apart from this, we generally don’t mix all factions wildly together because we love to play the game based more on theme than on raw competition power, so Denny and I also chose our decks based on the humans vs cultists dichotomy that is part of the Lovecraft stories. Denny is playing all cultist/Old Ones factions while I am playing the Syndicate, Miskatonic University and the Agency. In our games, we pimp these factions with neutral cards but seldom mix them with the other factions, it just feels right for us to actually play from a certain story perspective.

The first game indeed showed that the Miskatonic University (with all their professors and students, who are well-educated and learned in old scriptures dealing with arcane content) is a difficult faction to play without any neutral cards. The MU is quite strong in the arcane and investigation struggles, but really weak in terror and combat. That means if you are sending out some of these academics to investigate what’s happening, they might have the knowledge to solve the arcane and investigation struggles but they are easily frightened by anything supernatural. So before they can use their strengths to get some success tokens on a story, they often will flee the scene because of a lost terror struggle or be dead and out of the game after an attack by the monsters lurking around.

Shubb-Niggurath vs. Miskatonic University

Shub-Niggurath, on the other hand, is quite strong in terror and combat, but lacks on the investigation side, so usually this deck doesn’t score a point in the investigation struggle, even if no one is around to stand against them. Therefore, bringing success tokens on the story is taking some time and the fastest way to achieve this is by eliminating the opponent’s characters with terror and combat, so at least you get the additional success token for being unchallenged in a story. The match MU vs. SN seemed to be a bad choice at first and very unbalanced as the first game was a complete domination of my Shub-Nigurrath faction over the MU, who never really got thru because of losing the first two struggles (terror and combat). Afterwards, we decided to play a second game with the same factions nonetheless, because Wolfgang didn’t want to base his judgement about this particular faction on his first game alone, so now feeling a bit more competent and knowing what the MU faction can do – and what not, we shuffled the cards and started again.

This time – and that’s the beauty of the game, really – things went completely different and not really well for me. I wasn’t able to bring out characters in the first turns at all and in later turns only some weak ones while Wolfgang had some great guys on the table, who were able to limit my actions and could control the game by their various character abilities. He hit me fast and hard with some spells, which limited me even further and he actually rushed me and won quite easily this time. Since I couldn’t send out some of my better characters to challenge him, he had not to deal with the terror and combat struggles as much as in our first game. Some of his abilities changed all terror or combat struggles into ones that could only be won with investigation icons and since that’s not the strength of Shub-Niggurath, I usually lost these as well as the genuine investigation struggles. So the second game ended with an easy victory for the MU and it was a good example how even such an unbalanced combination of factions in a game can be won by the faction that is considered the weaker one if things go right for them.

Still, the MU usually has a hard time alone and makes for a much better support faction in a combi deck, so a strong partner who can deal with terror and combat is able to cover their backs, while they can use their arcane and investigation icons to keep standing after being involved in a story and collect success tokens on a regular base.

Generally, Wolfgang liked the game and stated “that it demonstrates very well the strong aspect of LCGs –  very simple game mechanics, but still lots of tactical/strategic options and the possibility to play it according to your very own ideas with the customization of the decks”. This ‘easy to learn, hard to master’ nature of the game appealed to him and so he said: “Let’s try out another LCG!”.

Warhammer Invasion (LCG)

The next game: Warhammer Invasion (LCG)

So we prepared the gaming table for the next LCG, one step up in complexity and options (complexity is a relative term here, of course, because compared with a consim, all LCGs are quite simple) and that was Warhammer: Invasion.

Warhammer: Invasion is based on the Warhammer Fantasy universe, a different universe than the known Warhammer 40k universe, and we only own the core set so far. Thus, when using only the core set, you simply choose your faction from the pre-built decks in the box, spice up this basic deck with 10 random neutral cards and you are ready to go. Wolfgang stuck to a human faction as he did in the previous game, so he chose the Empire. As in CoC, Denny and I had divided the factions among us – she’s playing the Orcs, the Chaos etc. and I’m going into battle with the Dwarfs and the Empire. I didn’t have any problems with Wolfgang’s choice because this would allow me to play a faction which was completely new to me as well. I wanted to try out the Chaos, so after choosing sides and dealing out the neutral cards, we laid out the citadels and the war-horns were blowing…

The Chaos was crushed by the Empire

Using our player aid sheets and the rulebook, we got into the game easily and it didn’t take long before we were engaged with each other, thinking about our possibilities. I had some form of deja vu however, because I couldn’t really bring out many characters. What I had on my hand was expensive and so I had some troubles to defend my citadel while lacking the force to really attack his one. The game went on with some discussions about the rules and the card wordings, which is still a general problem of this whole genre. You are easily disappointed when you come to the game with a consim mind, expecting some clear and extensive rules about all details of the game. One has to adapt to a very literal understanding of the cards’ wording to not get into trouble about how some cards are used and especially when to use them.

In the mid game, I was able to bring out better characters and at least could stand against the fast Empire deck for some time, but in the end I lost. Apparently, you have to get used to the abilities and characters of the Chaos faction if you want to be successful, so we decided to shuffle the decks and used the same cards for a rematch.

This time I had some great cards in my starting hand and was able to bring out some good characters and cards that created corruption to the enemy, while my characters could gain strength thru their corruption! I had some nice little synergies in effect and prepared for some major attack… when the Empire cleared the battlefield with a card that killed all characters in play who were not in a zone with a developement! I didn’t have any developments in play because I planned to use my cards offensively and Wolfgang had only a few characters out and one developement which saved a good character.

As scary as the dark forces of Chaos: The cake, forged by orcs in the depths of Mordor, made of blood and steel

So I saw myself totally open to the enemy with all my good cards and my smart little synergy plan destroyed in one single sweep. Things went bad again for my Chaos faction from then on, I didn’t get any good cards anymore or at least not cards I could afford with my now limited resources and from my citadel I could watch Wolfgang preparing for battle with more and more troops. In the end he had out a dozen cards both for the attack and the defense while I could barely bring out a little demon then and now before everything was killed again and so that game ended also with a glorious victory of the Empire over the Chaos.

This game was even more appealing to him because of the nice touch of options you get with the three zones in play, but the cards and rules questions that came up were a bit disappointing for him. The problem is not so much the fact that a game which uses many different cards and effects and time frames to play cards and defend against cards, has some ambiguous aspects in the wordings of rules and card texts, but the unsatisfying situation that there’s not really any answer to get by the designer(s). When you look for some answers that might help you to clarify specific points, you usually only have the official FAQ and the forum over at FFG or BGG.

Enjoying famous mincemeat garlic balls, pasta salad, turkish bread with home-made garlic butter, and of course German beer

The FAQ is good to have, but you are completely dependent on when the designers will bring it out, when they decide to update it and especially which questions will be answered and which problems they will address in the end. Everything not answered is open to debate by the players and that’s what players do – they discuss rule and card problems and try to find a reasonable solution. That’s fine and all and helps you to get on with your game, but no matter how good the solution looks, it’s still a house rule as long as there’s no answer by the designers. As a wargamer I very much appreciate the close contact to designers over at CSW or even via email, so often you get a fast reply by the person who did design the game in question and you therefore know that’s what the designer had in mind when he wrote the rules. FFG seldom does that directly in a forum and that is a weak point in their support for their games. Still, the LCGs are playable and it’s certainly not a game breaker, or better has not been so far for us (there’s the danger though, that things might come up that no one can decide upon and the game session would be over if no one can agree on a solution), so we enjoyed the game anyway.

After that we had a break for some food and beer and talked a bit about different games and such and  I showed him the new game by DVG Hornet Leader Carrier Operations, which unfortunately didn’t really interest him. For some reason he has some problems with playing modern warfare games, although he’s playing Call of Duty: Black Ops on the Xbox 360, which is not really WWI either, so when we talked about it and the question on ‘moral’ regarding wargames and certain eras came up, it didn’t really convince me. Surely, there are folks out there who refuse to play modern stuff or even a certain side in a WWII wargame, but to say the truth, I don’t understand that. Anyway, the opportunity to try out this great game in a coop session with him was lost because of his non-interest in the topic and so we called it a day.

A Game of Thrones (LCG)

First Multiplayer game: A Game of Thrones (LCG)

The next morning, on Saturday, Denny arrived for breakfast and brought along the important pizza supply and after hot coffee, toast, tea and eggs and more to strengthen us, we again prepared the gaming table.

We set up the third LCG we own, A Game of Thrones, and for the first time had the opportunity to try it out with three players. The multiplayer map that is included in the box is only used – as the name suggests – when you play with more than two players (in fact the game is indeed a multiplayer game that can also be played with only 2 players and not the other way round as is the case with the other LCGs) and it adds some interesting choices to make. Players play a certain role now in the political conflict that is going on in Westeros to win the Iron Throne and so you can be Hand of the King, Master of Coins, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard etc. which is a certain position supporting other titles, opposing another one at the same time by being supported by a third. There are limitations to observe when you choose a certain title because you can’t attack the title you support, while the supported one can attack you. You get more power (points) by defeating a title that is opposing you, while your supporter can make things easier for you and help you out when you are attacked without being able to defend yourself properly. All in all, a very interesting twist to the general gameplay and adding a whole new dimension of choices.

Playing the three-player melee variant

We also have more than enough cards to have several houses to choose from, i.e. House Stark, House Martell, House Lannister, House Baratheon and House Targaryan (House Greyjoy is not playable yet, we need some boosters to get it going and I also want to create a Nights Watch deck, for which I currently collect the cards – so still potential left here). We pre-built decks for all our houses, so we could all choose a deck and start right away.

Wolfgang doesn’t know the books the game is based on and so he  actually has no knowledge about the story, the characters and so on and for some reason he doesn’t like the artwork (in his opinion, everybody in the game is portrayed in a rather ugly way, with twisted faces – which actually is nothing I could agree upon, but that’s how he felt about it), so for him the different houses were all the same from the start and he randomly chose House Martell. I had built a new House Stark deck and wanted to try it out (heavy focus on direwolves to send out against my foes) while Denny used her favorite choice – House Lannister (‘Lannister to the bone’ she is ;) )

All was set up and Denny explained everything, which was quite easy to follow for him now because of the basic knowledge he had from the previous games. After we checked out how to play the multiplayer game, we were ready to start.

Martell vs. Lannister vs. Stark

The first game was dominated by House Lannister, Denny had lots of money to support her nasty cards and effects and neither House Martell nor House Stark could really do anything about it. Lannister accumulated power point after power point and while House Martell at least could stay in the game, House Stark was not really part of anything that happened on the gaming table. My great plan to send out my wolves as soon as possible and then to use characters that would gain strength from the wolves in play didn’t really work out since… there were no wolves around. My hand always had different characters that didn’t support what I wanted to try out and when I changed my plan to get back into the action and finally had some strong cards in front of me, some cruel game effect caused by House Martell took them all out at once. So my strength – military challenges – couldn’t be used anymore and in the next turns I constantly lost cards because of intrigue challenges and I lost what power I gained so far due to power challenges to both – House Lannister and House Martell. The game ended with a clear Lannister victory and a quite puzzled Lord Eddard Stark… still waiting for the wolves to arrive.

Again, it was the first game and we shuffled the cards anew for the next game. This time Wolfgang was confident because the first game had clearly showed him what House Martell should use as a tactic and what to avoid, and House Lannister had no reason to lose any confidence because of the easy win in the last game. House Stark realized, though, that the time for revenge had come, since the ‘lost wolves’ were gathering in huge numbers in my hand…

From that on, I was able to play what I intended to play with the new deck and I could bring out strong cards which were able to hit fast and hard, to use stealth and the threat of “deadly” characters to hold my foes at bay. This time my weak points – lack of intrigue and power icons – were not that obvious because I had some interesting characters like Hodor with an attachment that gave him an intrigue icon, too. All in all, the first turns went quite well for the Starks and I could prepare myself in a rather fortified position that was easily defended against all military challenges and a good deal of intrigue and power challenges as well.  House Lannister and House Martell realized that this time, my Stark deck would be no pushover as it was in the last game and they decided to go against each other instead of attacking me while trying to defend themselves against my military attacks. That of course made me even stronger because I could make strong military attacks to eliminate characters from both Houses, and often could win power this way by making unopposed challenges. House Lannister lost more and more characters while House Martell could defend better with some really powerful cards, but in the end, House Stark won back all the lost glory of the first game. I was quite satisfied with my new deck and now have a better base to optimize it even more.

Wolfgang The Red Viper (left) vs. Eddard Andy Stark (right)

The third and final game went much better for House Martell and although Stark was ahead in the mid game (while House Lannister again had serious troubles), Martell in the end game came back strong and won a great victory by using many characters that were able to collect power with their renown ability. Proper defending by these characters left not much possibilities to get these power points back from Martell, because the power on their characters was in no easy reach for either Lannister nor Stark, so that was a close game which showed how flexible the gameplay in AGoT LCG actually is.

We then discussed the games of the day and agreed that this game is the best of all the three LCGs available at the moment. The many different options the players have and the many layers of gameplay, such as the plot decks which the game offers together with the more open approach in the challenges in general, makes this one a real great and quite deep game. Of course, the experience is even deeper if you know the books by G.R.R. Martin, so you can recognize the characters you like (or those you dislike), and it’s really cool that you can actually take part in that great story about the Iron Throne. The multiplayer adds much to an already satisfying game and is certainly the best way to play it, because you have to take into consideration all the  connections between the players that shift from turn to turn. Initiative is even more important in a multiplayer game because now you have the opportunity to choose a title before the other players do, which often is worth playing a high initiative plot card.

All in all, a fantastic game and easy to teach to a new gamer.

Lighting: War on Terror

Lightning: War on Terror

After cleaning up the table and some gaming talk while having a beer and eating pizza we had some time left before going to sleep and so we tried out a game that Denny brought with her. We already own Lightning: D-Day from the Lightning Series by DG/DVG and the new game we opened that evening was Lightning: War on Terror.

We expected a game on the lines and with the mechanics of the other Lightning games, but we were actually surprised that it is a completely different game which has nothing to do with the other games of the series. The only thing that is comparable is: it’s using cards and it’s a light game…

Fighting terrorist threats all over the world

It’s a multiplayer game, can be played with 2 – 4 players and deals with modern warfare where the US is trying to liberate states like Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen etc. Set up was easy and quick, the game was learned in minutes and after we were a bit confused about the mechanics and how the game played… we came to the conclusion that it was fun to play! And, surprisingly enough, Wolfgang suddenly had no objection to playing a game on modern warfare…

It reminded us of a military-style Quartets game and there’s some strategy and fun in there, although it’s definitely more fun with more than 2 people! Playing time is really short (less than half an hour), but it isn’t a game you won’t repeatedly play for hours and hours and hours. It’s a great little game, however, while having a beer, as a closer or filler, as we used it on that saturday after many hours of concentration and gaming and for that it worked perfectly.

I won’t go into details here because we are planning to write a HFC review about it anyway, so stay tuned :)

Space Hulk – Death Angel

Space Hulk: Death Angel, a great cooperative experience

Now, THAT's a swarm... led by a Brood Lord

Sunday started with breakfast and then we soon switched to another game, Space Hulk – Death Angel, which is one of our favorites, because it’s a great coop game (as you can read in our extensive review). Set up was easy and fast and then we used the step by step description in the rulebook to get (back) into the game and explain it to our friend. In the three player game, we used a different starting location than we had used before in our 2 player sessions and therefore we had much more Space Marines in play as well.

All three players command two teams consisting of 2 Marines each, so the entire formation contains 12 Space Marines – which is quite an impressive sight on the table. We used a form of in-character play, so that you don’t give away all the information on your action cards right away, but try to explain what you want to do in more realistic terms, just hinting how fast you would be able to execute the order you will give your marines, so there’s still the ‘factor X’ that you may come too late to the show with a high numbered action card…

Our first game went well rules-wise, but it clearly showed our friend what to expect and that it was no easy win against the genestealers – our Marines were slain! This convinced him of the most important aspect of player communication if you want to have at least a slight chance against the Aliens – who often seem to have intelligence on their own in this great little game. Although the gamebox is quite small, once you lay out the cards you’ll see that the game actually needs a big gaming table. We discussed our options, supported each other, slew the genestealers, lost or even sacrificed men in fight, had some desperate  ‘Oh no! Not him!’ situations but also cool events when some ‘Strike! Yes, I got them!’ cheers went up and all in all we had a really great time with the game. Although the genestealers had the better time because they eventually defeated us in the last room…

Discussing strategies is a crucial aspect of the game

…which was nothing we could accept of course, we had our orders by the Imperium and after shuffling everything again and dealing out new team combinations, a new formation was sent into the Space Hulk.

This time everything went really well, we made the right decisions at the right time, we had lots of support tokens on our characters, we got thru the locations quickly and safely while killing every ugly alien face that looked thru the ventilation duct or waited around the next corner. Again we came to the last location and thought we were in a good position this time… before everything first turned to bad, then to worse. The genestealers came in in great numbers, two brood lords showed up that we had to kill in order to win the game and which are stronger than the normal Alien. Brood Lords also try to hide behind other genestealers and you have to kill all those in a swarm with a brood lord before you can bring down the final boss. The Aliens started to flank us and sometimes a Space Marine had 15 genestealers behind his back and everybody was – of course – facing the wrong direction and so not able to cover his back.

Tough decision: which Marine should be sacrificed to safe the others?

We were so close to victory that we actually felt sorry for our Marines when things started to go wrong big style… our chances began to worsen from turn to turn, as more and more Aliens showed up and moved around the formation, while we desperately tried to cover each others’ backs. Then the first KIA happened and the formation shifted together to fill in the gaps left by the dead brothers, sometimes some Marines used their psychic abilities to freeze a big swarm and others forced them into another direction now and then, just to get some breathing space and the opportunity to reload (support token) and to turn around before the next attack came in… another brother down… what to do? Give up? We can not win… NO! We cannot win, but these are Space Marines, they will NOT give up… what can YOU do this round? Support and Move… fine… and you? Support yes… ok then, support me, I’ll shoot that swarm and try to thin them out, we must get to the Brood Lord! Ok, then we know what to do… switch the cards. Another roll with the combat die, genestealers go down screaming, the Brood Lord is one step nearer… weapon jammed, no skull on the die, no kill. Now’s the genestealers’ turn, they attack, our brother goes down… move!!! back to back… what now? What options are left for us? Hm… let’s see, what if we…. yes, let’s try that out…

Facing death in the final room of the Space Hulk...

We had a great game and it ended in an epic way with the formation losing man after man while all were surrounded by genestealers. We were able to kill one of the Brood Lords, which alone was worth the long game since it first didn’t look like we had any chances left in the final location. The last standing brother knew he would go down facing a large swarm in front of him, a team-mate just killed beside him in the attack before, but he had some bullets left given to him by the now dead brothers… and he used them to go down fighting – he was a Space Marine! :)

That game appealed to everybody and Wolfgang appreciated the fact that the players actually had some chances to win even in that last room despite the seemingly desperate situation. When the Space Marine who was using his “counterattack” ability would have rolled skulls on the die, he could have killed a genestealer with every skull and get going with the fight as long as skulls were rolled. If things go nicely, then such a counterattack can eliminate a swarm with 17 genestealers, not likely, but possible.

The cards look great, the options are enough to make for a thinking game and the atmosphere is true to the Warhammer canon. Highly recommended!

Circus Minimus

It was already late, but after dinner, we decided to at least start a chariot race and brought Circus Minimus on the table.

Circus Minimus

Circus Maximus, the old Avalon Hill classic chariot game is one we bought several years ago but unfortunately didn’t play that often. The ugly counters and the rather complicated structure of the rule book weren’t really helpful to get it on the gaming table on a more regular base and so I can only remember that we played it one day with the above mentioned friend, but that was years ago and as far as I can remember, we didn’t even use the advanced rules. Chariot racing is a great topic, though, so when MMP sold Circus Minimus as a special offer for 10 bucks, we bought it and laminated the map. So there it was, sitting on the shelf and waiting, and since we were the same three folks who played Circus Maximus years ago, we were all very interested to try out this Minimus version.

We laid out the map, which is better looking than the plain yellow – although mounted – Avalon Hill board, and sorted the counters, which are also much better looking. Denny and I had played Circus Minimus once several weeks ago, so she could explain it to Wolfgang while I also listened to get back into it.

Getting into the game was quite fast and easy and we chose our chariots, bought our equipment, let the die tell us who could choose their position first and when the chariots were on the track, we looked up to the Emperor and saw the sign for the start of the race… ok ok… we had some beers ;)

Chariot racing in Ancient Rome

Everybody chose to hard whip the horses to get some speed and hopefully a good first position and everybody tried to drive rather close to the ‘spina’ in the middle of the track. Wolfgang and I had bought weapons, like a Trident and an additional whip just in case the original one would be lost in an attack on another driver, while Denny made some offerings to the Roman gods to have 6 re-rolls available if the die results would be bad for her, or good for her opponents.

The game plays quick and easy, because all you need to know is listed on your player chart directly printed on the map, you can see how fast the horses are going, if there’s any fatigue to deal with, what weapons can be used when and so on. Wolfgang’s chariot established a good position in the field, quite far ahead of Denny’s and my own chariot and so I was tempted to whip my horses to take the next corner in a more speedy way to catch up. My chariot had a speed of 10 when I approached the corner, so I used the ‘brake’ by drawing back the reins but still came in with a racy speed of 8… very fast for taking corners and I thought ‘This idea wasn’t too good…’ And of course all things went wrong for me, I slid with the chariot into one of the inner lanes and that made me  actually face the wall and the chariot was still driving, but before I could try to adapt to that dangerous situation, the chariot… flipped! I was still connected to the horses with the rains which didn’t see any reason to slow down and at least I took the corner and was in sight of Wolfgang’s chariot as planned  – but without my chariot, the horses dragging me behind… which was not according to my plan. But the game allows you to cut yourself lose, running to the outer lane and try to stop your horses, get back on the chariot and drive on, so not everything was lost – or so I thought…

The game definitely looks better than its ugly predecessor, Circus Maximus

Denny was still behind me with thundering hooves, but then slowed down and took the corner in a much slower speed, but also in a much safer way than I did and so the race went on, she behind me, Wolfgang in front of me and I – dust in my face, couldn’t see that much, really – being dragged by the horses as a solid no. 2.

As the race went on, I tried each turn to cut loose myself from the rains but also failed each time. After being dragged over half the track I was severely injured and out of the game. Wolfgang was still leading the race, Denny a dozen spaces behind him and so we decided that it wouldn’t make much sense to continue the race since it was already a bit late. So we cleaned everything up and would come back to the Circus after breakfast next morning.

Monday was the last day for our multiplayer sessions because Denny had to leave us in the evening, so we were at the gaming table quite early and ready to do everything better in the chariot race. Chariots were chosen, equipment bought and the lines on the track chosen as starting positions and this time I bought a war chariot, much better for ramming attacks than the normal one (and contrary to Circus Maximus, it’s not slower than a lighter chariot). Denny and Wolfgang each decided that they had a little party the night before (you can ‘buy’ an option that gives the opponent a certain malus to make the race a bit more interesting for them…) so both started with a malus when checking the skid table (being tired means you can’t control the chariot that good and you are likely to have problems when coming in too fast), which was something I liked to hear, since I was fresh. I bought a whip, Wolfgang a net and Denny made her usual offerings to the gods, to get some re-rolls. Go! said the Emperor…

We had an interesting race, I whipping the horses of Denny’s chariot as soon as we were close to each other to make them go faster and causing some trouble for her in the next corner, then whipping Wolfgang right in the face (my driver his driver, please don’t get a wrong picture of our meetings…) when I came close to his chariot, so he had his first injury and then hard whipping my horses to get enough speed to make it for position  no. 1….

"I will whip you to death and pierce you with my trident!!!"

Wolfgang and Denny were behind me and got into a little fight that made Wolfgang lose control and being knocked off the chariot! The horses went on running, though and I was already considering my options to squelch him when I came around again. In the next turns, I tried to ram the empty chariot to make it a poor choice for him to get back into it again. The chariot was between me and the wall and while I got one damage, the chariot rammed got two – worked for me – and then I went past, again whipping the horses, I needed speed. Wolfgang tried to run over the track to get into a position that would help him to get on Denny’s chariot and she of course used that to try to run over him, but he was able to jump away. After that he indeed succeeded and was able to get in her chariot. We used the advanced option rule that allows two folks being in the captured chariot, the owner still drives while the ‘guest’ is fist-fighting him and that goes on until one of them gives up and jumps out, or one is killed in that fight. Seeing that I decided there’s no need to risk my own chariot in ram attacks against the empty chariot and so I used the situation to take corners safely and get some speed and advantage on the straight part of the track with the possible option to ram whoever is left over driving Denny’s chariot. They were fighting on over several turns and eventually Denny won, dumping Wolfgang’s corpse out of her chariot to get back on track in the race. In the meantime I was quite ahead of her and with the third player out of the game, we decided it would make more sense, to quit and set up another game. Whew, what a ride :)

Circus Minimus is a nice game and does many things better than Circus Maximus and still you have a lot of options although there are less rules. Unfortunately these rules have a few holes and all in all we had 9 questions that couldn’t be answered by the rule book and quite important ones like can you do a whip attack and then attack with a weapon? Can you ram and make a weapon attack, or just ram and a whip attack? How is ‘adjacent’ actually defined in the game? Can a running charioteer move through a space where a chariot is located? And so on…I won’t go into more details, because Circus Minimus will get a HFC review as well (perhaps also a comparison with Circus Maximus), but these holes in the rules are a bit disappointing and Wolfgang said that while Circus Minimus is of course much easier to get into compared with Circus Maximus, it’s probably as difficult to play with the RAW if you don’t want to use house rules. He has a point here, I have to admit. Anyway, chariot racing is fun and again the game does more things right than wrong , but it has a few problems.

Zombie State – Diplomacy of the Dead

A strategic-level-zombie game: Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead

All players are fighting the zombie threat in their territories, but the game isn't a cooperative game!

So, the day was still young, so to say, and we had another new game on the shelf that we only played with two players so far and now wanted to try out with three - Zombie State, Diplomacy of the Dead.

Since we are also planning to write an extensive review about this game, here’s it in short. Every player is the head of a country, we had Asia, Africa and Europe in play and a global virus infection takes place turning the population into zombies, or ‘zeds’ as they are usually called among zombie friends :)

Every player has a great deal of options to use different technologies and scientific research to keep their population healthy and getting rid of the zombie problem. There are three tech trees you can use to choose different approaches, for example a military strategy to kill the zeds, a medical tree to heal and vaccinate the population or to evacuate folks into another area or pure physics, like researching new technologies to control the behavior of the zeds etc..

Resource management is an important aspect of the game

Set up is quick and easy, Denny was the Asian leader, Wolfgang led Africa and I was responsible for Europe. All these countries/nations do have different resources which they produce (wood/metal, food, chemical stuff and fuel) and of course you need resources for everything, be that tanks being produced in your factories, or trying to make a scientific breakthrough of some kind. The countries have different borders, Africa is connected to Asia over the sea, Europe is not, but has both Asia and Africa as neighbors – and having many borders to defend is bad in this game.

The game may be colorful and not very complex, but fighting the zombie threat nevertheless requires tough decision-making

When I played the game for the first time with Denny some months ago, I chose the military tech tree to deal with the zed problem and that worked quite well , but I still lost that game because at some point I simply couldn’t get as much tanks on the board as were needed to actually hold off the zombie hordes and because I didn’t have much options left in terms of technologies. Military was my focus but I also tried things from the other two tech trees and that made me running low on the later much-needed resources to produce enough tanks.

So this time I wanted to choose a different strategy and I decided to only use the physics tech tree. There’s one interesting technology which is utilizing sonic beams (if you are able to get it to work, of course), a sound technology which attracts zombies to one specific area within your borders and – which was much more interesting for me – to an area adjacent to your borders. The technology is costly, though, because to use it you have to use one of your freedom points (action points) for every point you want to add to a die (dice are used to mark the population level and zombies feed on that population and if all inhabitants are zombified, the now larger mob moves on to an adjacent area with the highest population). That means, if you really want to maximize the usefulness of this tech and if you want it to have any significant effect in the game, you can’t do much besides using your sonic beams…

The entire population of South East Asia turned into zombies...

But I wanted to try this strategy out because the idea to just lure the zeds away from my country to the areas of my opponents, seemed to be quite nice.

Denny and Wolfgang used a combination of different technologies in the game, Wolfgang was the first one who used the military. The game went on and I was actually able to get the sound to work and almost every turn I used all of my actions to raise the dice in Denny’s and Wolfgang’s areas that were adjacent to my zones, which made them a major attraction to all zombies nearby. This way I was able to channel the zombies from my areas to the borders and then send them over to Asia and/or Africa.

When they had fed on these border areas, they moved on to the population centers deeper in these countries and the areas adjacent to Europe were left empty. Empty areas are a buffer zone, because without anything alive there and without Zombies, no new zombies will be attracted to these zones and that was the plan – having a clear zone around Europe so no new mobs could get in and then being able to deal with any zombies left in my territory.

Zombie State is an "independent" game without a big publisher, but has a very good production quality nevertheless

I was pleased to realize that Asia and Africa came into trouble rather quickly and neither Denny nor Wolfgang were able to reduce the zed stacks enough. Both constantly lost population while the zombies marauded from area to area. Some of them used the sea connection from Africa to Asia to make their way to Denny’s territory as well. To make things worse, I sent new zombie stacks over to them almost every turn.

I had many resources collected because I only needed to spend my freedom points to use the now activated technology and couldn’t do much more besides this, but it worked as it should. The only time I got into trouble was when an outbreak occurred within one of my areas. But since I didn’t have as many zombies around as the other players, the outbreaks weren’t that much of threat and I could control them, later even with producing tanks to kill them. This was especially true for the end game because (with empty borders around Europe) I couldn’t use the sound tech anymore (you can only raise the number of dots on a die, not place a die into an empty area), so I could spend freedom points and my resources for building tanks.

Wolfgang was the first who lost every living human to the zombie hordes and was out of the game with Africa completely overrun with dead men walking, while Denny was able to retreat to Australia and barricade it in order to save what was left on her last population die. The first player without population triggers the end game and after this turn was over, we counted the population on our dice and I had 15 points left, so I won the game.

We all agreed that this is a fantastic game, it has considerable reply value and lots of options and strategies to explore. The components are great, the ideas are innovative and it’s really fun to play if you like zombies. Wait for the review to see why you must buy it :)

Zombies!!! The Boardgame

Zombies - The board game: This one's a no-brainer!

Being in the zombie mood now (and still having some hours left before Denny had to leave), we brought Zombies!!! on the table, the classic zombie game published by Twilight Creations. We own the core set with three expansions mixed in and we hadn’t played the game for quite a while now. Wolfgang, who is a big fan of the game but can’t bring his partner to play board games as often as he would like to (she enjoys playing the card game “Bridge”, but for some reason all the games we play, don’t really interest her), was eager to play this one.

Set up is also easy and quick, we went through the short rules once and were ready to go. In each turn, the active player lays out a map tile, puts  zombies on it, draws cards, moves his ‘shotgun guy’ (the little figure used as the player marker on the maps) and moves zombies (usually away from yourself and towards the opponents).

You win the game when you see (read: find) the helicopter pad and use the heli to escape (read: you reach the field in the middle of the tile after killing all zombies there). The game is fast and fun and the cards have outstanding artwork and often nasty effects you can use to make things harder for your opponents, or easier for yourself. There’s another way to win, though by just killing zombies and when you have 25 Zeds collected, you are the Zombie Hunter and you win.

It’s not that easy, though, because you have only up to 5 live tokens and although you can collect bullet tokens which allow for re-rolls, they are often spent in the fights, so if you rely on fighting and killing zombies instead of running to the heli pad, you likely first run out of ammo and then out of live… but if you are dead, you’re not out of the game – you simply ‘respawn’ in the center of the town, but you lose half of your zombies trophies you collected during your last ‘incarnation’ and you are usually far away from the heli pad (if that has been found until then at all). Each death sets you back and makes it easier for your still living opponents to either shoot enough zeds to win or to find the heli pad and reach it before you.

Watch out! Zombies are highly contagious!

We had a great time, as usual when playing this game, and it was some tense back and forth and respawning. In the later turns, I had a great hand of cards allowing me to find some cool weapon in a building, the heli pad was in reach for me and both Denny and Wolfgang were far away and not likely to make it in time. But first I had to get into a building to search and hopefully find that weapon (read: to play that card) and of course my opponents realized that I was trying to get into a building for some reason…

So they moved zombies into my place as often as they could to slow me down and hopefully get me killed in the end. I managed to beat the zeds however and was always close to the door but couldn’t get into the building because of bad movement rolls.

Denny found a fire axe in her turn and *surprise* I also found one at the same time (read: I played a card that copied the weapon another player just found) and I thought now I would have an easy time getting into the building to find the weapon I was after, and with two weapons and fresh life and bullet tokens also available in the building and in reach of the heli pad… things looked good. I also had over 20 zombies collected and a card that allowed me to keep all zombies instead of giving away 50% if I got killed! I was sure I would win… since my chances were equally good to fulfill both victory conditions – but if you are too sure, things usually start turning against you…

The town is overrun!

In my turn, I killed the zombie in my place, made a good movement roll and finally made it into the damned building… I just said grinning ‘I play a card which states….’ and Wolfgang’s voice boomed over the table ‘STOP! I play…’ and to my horror (my grinning was gone instantly) he played a card that forced me to discard my entire hand of cards immediately! I lost the weapon I was trying to find in that building and the card that allowed me to keep the zombies if being eaten up by them, which crashed my entire plan.

So my poor shotgun guy was in that building, running low on bullets, with no weapon (even the fire axe was countered by another card in play and couldn’t be used either) – but with lots of hungry zeds all around me… and of course I died in that turn, loosing half of my collection and respawning back in town, far away from the heli pad. Situations like these make this game so great, everything can happen all the time and the players always try to make it a trip on a bumpy road for all other players.

In the end it was Mr Red against Mr. Black, because Mrs Green had to bail out to prepare for her trip back home (the player figures are colored and we always name the players Mr(s) *say color*), and Mr. Red now being that far away from the heli pad decided to hunt zombies to make it for the 25 zeds win since he also was over 20. I couldn’t do much anymore, because I was now down to 11 zeds and so Mr Red won the Zombie Hunter crown and the game. Great game and pure simple fun from start to finish!

More infected victims!

This was the last game for our meeting, Denny said goodbye, Wolfgang and me cleaned the table, prepared for the meal and had a few more beers over the evening while watching DVDs (“Punisher Warzone” and the animated Marvel comic “Dr. Strange”) to chill out.

He left the next morning and drove home to Mainz and that was the end of this years’ Operation Red Nose. Again, it has been much fun with all the different and new games and we were able to test out the multiplayer aspect of some of these games, which will be taken into account for the next reviews in the pipeline.

I hope everybody had as much fun as I had and I’m looking forward to the next meeting :)

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