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New Year’s Gaming

Posted by Denny Koch on January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

Dear fellow gamers!

Happy New Year – hopefully, a year full of new wargames (and old classics, of course!). Thanks again for keeping faith with the HFC and for your appreciation and great feedback!

Christmas provided us with new games, so we spent the prolonged weekend around New Year with unboxing, glueing, and counter-punching.

A Game of Thrones: Battles of Westeros (FFG)

However, before trying one of our gifts, I had to solve a problem I was occupied with since early December: Andreas’ House Stark armies were still undefeated in the Battle for the Kingsroad in FFG’s A Game of Thrones: Battles of Westeros board game. This Friday, my House Lannister forces challenged House Stark to a return game!

 

The Battle for the Kingsroad, as seen from the Lannister POV

The game started as bad for House Lannister as the last game had ended. My armies were crushed under Stark’s bowmen, infantry, and cavalry. In the final turn, I didn’t have anything left besides my two leaders Kevan Lannister and Adam Marbrand and one lone 3-step Casterly Rock chevalier unit. My objective was to cross the River Trident and to occupy two strategic hexes which were heavily defended by Stark’s bowmen and Richard Karstarks cavalry. We discussed whether it was possible to fulfill the victory conditions with my poor, lonely units, but decided to play it out.

And, as every experienced A Game of Thrones fan knows, things always turn out differently and with a big surprise you didn’t expect or see coming. This was also true for my game I had thought lost.

My cavalry unit managed to lure Andreas’ infantry over the Trident, so that they couldn’t reach and defend the objectives in time. Kevan Lannister (without any accompanying men) escaped an engagement at the ford and rushed into one objective hex where he stood adjacent to Stark’s archers. Since he was a sole leader, he couldn’t be killed but had to be captured, but the bowmen were incapable of achieving enough hits to capture him.

Kevan Lannister and Adam Marbrand, defending the objectives!

Simultaneously, Adam Marbrand remembered his strength – riding through any terrain, even impassable, even a river, as long as his move ended in a legal hex. And so he galloped into the Trident, followed the river until he reached the objective and occupied the hex – again, adjacent to the bowmen who couldn’t capture him either.

Richard Karstark then attacked Kevan Lannister because it would ensure his victory if he captured at least one of the two leaders, but the attack failed. In the nick of time, House Lannister won the battle (for the first time), by utilizing typical Lannister tricks and strategies 😉

War is Hell: The Hell of Stalingrad

We then tried out Andreas’ Christmas present: The Hell of Stalingrad, a card game by Clash of Arms Games.

This game proved to be an absolute blast, we got the hang of it really quickly, despite the fact that the structure of the rulebook isn’t optimal and you have to do a lot of page turning.

The game certainly requires some table space...

We were immediately thrilled by the innovative and very cool mechanics, the impressing and quite explicit artworks, the historical photos, and the overall look and feel of the game.

In our first game, I played the Germans and Andreas played the Russians. In the game, you have to fight for single historical buildings and locations (for example, the Tractor Works, Red October). It’s the German objective to capture the buildings and reach the Volga and it’s the Russian job to hinder them and to fight for each building. The combat system is extremely bloody and gives a very good impression of the chaotic, bloody, and desolate battle for Stalingrad.

In the evening, we supplemented our game by watching the German 1997 movie “Stalingrad” which depicts the Battle of Stalingrad from the perspective of four German grunts and their Lieutenant. The movie is quite visceral and realistic, showing heavy fightings, tanks and overruns, fanatic Nazi officers, arbitrary executions, desertion attempts, as well as (forbidden) contacts or cease-fires with the Russians in order to retrieve the wounded, catastrophic conditions on the battlefield hospital next to the airfield within the cauldron (where, in real life, my mother’s cousin, 18 years old and from a miner’s family in the Ruhr region, died of a shot in the belly. I still got pictures and the letters to his mother from his superiors and the army chaplain.)

Heavy fighting in the Red October steel works factory

If you are interested in this movie, there is a dubbed version available, but I have read that the dubbing is terrible and completely destroys the atmosphere, so you should  do yourself a favor and watch the German version with English subtitles!

The problem is, even if you know some German, you will have a hard time understanding it  without subtitles because most soldiers speak in various local dialects from Northern German to Prussian to Bavarian or Swabian or are shouting while under heavy artillery fire. In addition, working-class slang of some soldiers in contrast to the educated speech of the officers gives valuable insights into the background of the characters.

More games, more fun!

A game I got for Christmas was the strategic board game “Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead“. This isn’t a wargame and you don’t shoot zombies either, it’s a strategic game where states have to deal with a zombie pandemic by sending the military, doing research to find a cure, or developing other technologies. We didn’t try it out yet, but it looks very promising and certainly is an unusual approach to the zombie topic.

Another zombie game which found its way to us was the dice game “Zombie dice” which can be played within minutes – very quick, very funny. You roll dice with symbols which symbolize close combat against attacking zombies. There are brains, there are shotguns, there is escape. If you need a game which doesn’t need table space and which can be played on the train or on a party by 2-99 players, check it out 🙂

A game you certainly won't find on the HFC website: "Monopoly Junior"... played by Denny with niece and nephew 😉

Last but not least, the brand-new Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations by DVG  reached our HFC test lab after being delayed by German customs. The box is very impressive with cool artworks and even the customs officer was impressed and couldn’t believe that this was a board game (he thought it was a PC game because it looked so modern and stylish). Hornet Leader is a Solitaire Game like its cousin Thunderbolt / Apache Leader, but like TAL, it can also be played with two players cooperatively. Watch out for our review where we will take a special look at the cooperative aspect of the game!

We are also looking forward to the new cooperative The Lord of the Rings LCG by FFG which will (according to unconfirmed rumors) be published February / March 2011.

2011 will be a great and interesting gaming year (as was 2010), so stay tuned and visit us again for more information, reviews, and stuff!

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Introduction to A Game of Thrones – The Card Game

Posted by Denny Koch on August 4, 2010

A Game of Thrones – The Card Game is a Living Card Game (LCG) by Fantasy Flight Games. It is the successor of A Game of Thrones – the Collectible Card Game (CCG) which started in 2002 and was discontinued in 2007 when the distribution format was changed into a Living Card Game format.

The game is based on George R. R. Martin‘s “A Song of Ice and Fire” story circle, an epic story taking place on the fictitious continent of Westeros where several nobel houses struggle for the Iron Throne. The story is rich with intrigues, battles, espionage, treachery, and of course war. Many hundreds of characters, groups, organizations, sword brotherhoods, and secret societies shape the fate of the medieval world, combined with some low-fantasy aspects, for example dragons and other mysterious creatures.

Author George R. R. Martin is very protective of his universe and therefore the Card Game is true to the story. You can find your favorite houses, characters, and groups and all of them are represented in a very distinctive manner. As a side note, HBO currently produces a mini series based on the books which will be aired in 2011.

A Game of Thrones (“the only game that matters”) is the first book of a series of 7 books. Four are already published (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows), the release of the fifth (A Dance with Dragons) is scheduled for September 2010.

You can play the game without knowing the books and any of the characters, but you will miss a lot of fun and many important aspects of the game if you don’t know who’s who. You should at least read book No. 1, “A Game of Thrones” before starting, this will highly enhance the experience. You should keep in mind that you have to decide on ONE house, and only knowing the houses and their characteristics, their enemies and their affiliations from the books will reveal the true depth of the game to you. By the way, you should also read the books if you don’t intend to play the game… they are highly addictive 😉

What’s the difference between a Living Card Game and a Collectible Card Game?

(Please forgive me if I “steal” some information in this paragraph from my Introduction to Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game. ;))

A Magic Booster, containing 15 random cards

The main game concept is identical: players choose factions and then try to build a powerful deck to “beat” other players’ decks. This genre is known as “Dueling Card Games“. Depending on the game, you have to follow a basic rule set for constructing your deck (a minimum or maximum number of cards, a point or cost system, allowed number of copies in one deck etc.), but apart from this, you are free to build and explore the “ultimate deck“.

In contrast to a traditional Collectible Card Game or Trading Card Game (Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Marvel Vs, The Lord of the Rings TCG, Pokemon), the Living Card Game breaks away from the Collectible model.

In a Collectible Card Game, you have to buy booster packs if you want to improve your deck and if you want to find rare and powerful cards. You don’t know the specific contents of a booster pack, though, so it can happen that you have to spend $100 for a very rare card while finding 85 copies of a cheap card. Since most game systems regularly publish new booster packs, you have to spend a huge amount of money if you want to stay up-to-date and if you want to improve your deck and counter other players’ new cards.

This “blind buy” purchase model is the most problematic aspect of Collectible Card Games. The collecting and the thrill of buying new booster packs without knowing what’s inside can be somewhat addictive, so often players are forced to quit the hobby because they cannot keep up the pace and spend too much money in buying useless boosters with multiple copies of cheap cards they already possess. If you want to play competitive, you are forced to invest your money in booster packs or to pay tremendous prices for specific cards sold on eBay.

The Chapter Pack "Ancient Enemies", part of the "A Clash of Arms" sub-collection

A Living Card Game (LCG) offers a new card distribution model. Instead of selling randomized booster packs, cards are sold in fixed add-on packs. The content of such a pack is public knowledge and fixed. In A Game of Thrones – the Card Game, these add-ons are called “Chapter Packs“. They are published monthly and belong to certain “sub-collections” which focus on different aspects of the game. They bring  in more characters and other aspects of the books (locations, groups, weapons, creatures, events). You don’t have to buy all Chapter Packs, if you don’t want to, but you can choose which packs would really improve your favorite faction, your deck focus or your strategy – and which packs are not really helpful for your individual style.

Most players buy all Chapter Packs nevertheless, just to “have them all”, but this doesn’t hurt as much as buying booster packs in the CCG format.

Chapter Packs are very thematic and deal with a major storyline from the books (Nights Watch vs. Wildlings, the events from King’s Landing when Eddard Stark became the King’s Hand up to the Battle of Blackwater, the Brotherhood without Banners…). They also allow for building very thematic decks, for example decks centered around the Night’s Watch, Kingsguard, minor houses, certain traits or characters.

Chapter Packs cost about 7-11 $, depending on the shop where you buy them, and that’s it. You don’t have to hunt a rare card anymore, you simply order the Pack with your favorite cards on amazon or buy it in your local game store. Even if you are a hardcore competitive player who duels on tournaments, you don’t have to buy more than three copies of each Chapter Pack because you aren’t allowed to have more than 3 copies of each card in a single deck anyway. Publisher FFG even listened to their fans – the newer Chapter Packs contain three copies of each card, so there’s absolutely no need to buy more than one copy of each Chapter Pack any more.

Besides from the different distribution model, a LCG still offers the same dynamic customizable game play as a CCG. You can customize and build your perfect deck, but without the blind purchase model. In the end, the LCG model gives you the best of both worlds.

What’s A Game of Thrones – The Card Game?

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