Prophecy of Kings

APRIL 24th 2021 – Twilight Imperium: Prophecy of Kings

TI4 remains a top pick game for many of the PE’s, and with the expansive expansion Prophecy of Kings now converted to TTS format it seemed an opportune time to get it back to the table.

Four player game, with all of the expansion mechanics in play and each of us taking on an expansion faction; James took control of the high economy Nomad faction, Carston the PDS and mech spamming Titans of Ul, Chris the extra-dimensional dinosaurs of the Vuil’Raith Cabal and finally Paul taking over the old-emperors come again in the Mahact Gene-Sorcerers.

The expansion includes multiple new mechanics; faction specific heroes granting passive and active buffs, mech units (again faction specific), and more ways to interact with the game board. Exactly how quickly the opportunites and threats presented by these new rules could be exploited was no doubt going to be key to this game.

We skipped the map drafting and used the pre-generated 4 player, 3 ring map (a nice change from the old 4 player map which could be a bit cramped if played with only 2 rings).

Act 1: Establishing Empires (Early Game)

The first couple of turns of TI4 always pan out in a similar fashion, and this was no different. Nearby planets were quickly colonised, trading was limted to immediate neighbours and with Mecatol still neutral there was no agenda phase.

The 3 ring board also lessened the border disputes which can be common; with carriers and ground forces really the limiting factor. There was some chatter over border points that would go on to be key flashpoints later in the game (Hope’s End between Paul and James, the Abaddon Trinary between Paul and Chris, and the Kraag binary between Carston and Chris), but at this stage talk was really all it was.

The early objectives wre also relatively benign, focusing on construction, and colonising the local planets. The expansion mechanics were already kicking into play with all players starting to find relic ‘fragments’ as they explored, Carston netting some early defensiv PDS’s thanks to his Sleeper tokens, and Chris coming out of T1 with upgraded Dreadnoughts after using this agent to ‘capture’ a Nomad dreadnought during the Trade step and use it to upgrade his own capital ships.

The early game came to a close in game round 2 with the predictable land-grab on Mecatol for a guaranteed 1VP (and often more); Carston pulling the trigger.

Act 2: Fight for the Throneworld

With Carston sitting on Mecatol and threatening to build up a formidable defensive posture, it feel to James acting early in the turn order, and with the forces to hand, to mount the obligatory counter offensive (taking Mecatol for his first time in the process).

A commanding Nomad fleet anchored on James’ flagship (which started the game in play), easily pushed aside the token Titan’s fleet, and whilst the Titans put up some resistance on the ground it was a fairly one-sided fight and left James comfortably in control of Mecatol; could he make it pay off?

Whilst the fight for the centre had panned out, Paul and Chris had engaged in a very civilised border dispute over the Abaddon system, with Chris taking 2 of the 3 planets, Paul the 3rd, granting both what they needed for an objective. The slippery Vuil’Raith had also managed to a Skilled Retreat, denying the Mahact the opportunity to co-opt the space-dino’s into their reborn Imperium and denying Paul several powerful racial abilities. The Titan / Vuil’Raith border remained relatively calm, and whilst diplomatic tensions were rising, the Mahact and the Nomads had also managed, so far, to keep things peaceful.

With most of the planets now explored we’d also had 2 Relics come into play; powerful items obtained by collecting or trading for a ‘matching set’ of fragments. Paul drew The Obsidian; giving him access to a fourth secret objective, whilst Carston had acquired a planet-cracking super weapon; a one shot card capable of not just wiping out a player’s forces on a planet, but actually removing the planet itself from the game.

Act 3: Diplomacy by other means

With the situation on Mecatol broadly stabilished, and easy to claim neutral systems taken up, the border disputes hotted up in earnest. James managed to hang on to Mecatol (though struggled to bank both the bonus VP from Imperial + Mecatol control whilst still keeping up withe the Public scoring) and took the legendary world of Hope’s End; provding the Nomad forces access to free mech’s each round. Paul wasn’t thrilled about this powerful world being snapped up, but ultimately wasn’t in a position to usefully do much about it at the moment. The Mahact hadn’t been entirely idle however and began to absorb the planets in the Abaddon system, chasing the Vuil’Raith off Abaddon itself from their base on Loki. The Titans didn’t mount a meaningful challenge to Mecatol again, Carston instead focusing on his border with Chris, and pushing into the Kraag system – containing two matching ‘hazardous’ planets; useful in achieving an objective needing four of the same ‘trait’ of planet. In the meantime the agenda phase had also spawned a gamma wormhole atop Mecatol, giving James easy access to another legendary world – Malice (free trade goods and wormhole schenanigans for all).

With the exception of Paul everyone had also unlocked their ‘Commander’ passive abilities by this point, providing unique faction buffs (a free respawning flagship for James, trade goods with each production for Carston and additional production towards fighters and ground forces for Chris). These buffs aren’t game breaking but provide additional uniqueness to each faction, and provide further diplomatic options with the ‘Alliance’ promissory note providing an ally access to your commander abilities as well. Carston in addition had recruited his ‘Hero’ – one time use super abilities. In his case terraforming his homeworld into a truly ridiculous ” 7 / 4 ” planet with 3 built in PDS!

Act 4: The True Emperors

By turn 5 the end was clearly approaching; everyone bar Chris in the 5+ “danger zone” area where victory was potentially achievable in a single turn (Imperial: 1VP from controlling Mecatol, 3VP from claiming 2 public objectives over the turn and a secret at some point). Whilst the Vuil’Raith were trailing slightly, with the only Stage 2 objective requiring far more technology then anyone held at the moment, there was still time for a comeback..

The final turns saw plenty of conflict across the board; the Titans returned to Mecatol, chasing off the Nomad fleet (though the slippery Nomad flagship survived, at least for the time being), in reply the Nomads struck north; discovering another legendary world – Mirage (though finally losing their flagship in the process to a Titan raiding force, banking Carston a secret objective in the process). The Titans solidified their positions around Kraag and spread out along the galactic rim, netting another objective, but losing some units to the Vuil’Raith in the process. Paul’s Mahact Gene-Sorcerers had also finished subduing their corner of the galaxy and turned their attention outwards; fleets seized Malice (claiming a Nomad strategic token in the process, and unlocking Paul’s Commander, as well as increasing the usefulness of the powerful “Edict” ability allowing him to copy other player’s Commanders), completed the annexation of Abaddon and, crucially as it would turn out, broke the Nomad lines at Hope’s End with a sizeable fleet and accompanying ground army; capturing the system and it’s vital ‘hazardous’ planet and weapons facility attachment. (Another expansion mechanic; “expansions” modify existing planets by changing their resource or technology values).

Meanwhile we also saw possibly a first time for PE:TI4 games; a mutual Support of the Throne alliance; James and Chris trading cards to net themselves a mutual +1VP. A very smart move that noticeably closed the gap and put James firmly in contention to win as we entered turn 6.

The more we’ve played TI4 the more it’s become apparent Strategy card choices at the death are hugely impactful; initially someone generally won at “end turn” scoring. The meta then shifts to who can get over the line using Imperial to score their 10 points before the Status phase, triggering an instant end game. The meta grew another arm this time, with Paul and Carston both opting for the Politics Strategy card to pick up the Speaker token a turn before they thought the game was likely to end to get the crucial first pick of Strategy cards at the end. Carston timed it better, Paul peaking a turn early and being left with third choice. Unfortunately the Public Objective gods had not been kind to the Titans, delivering an objective Paul already met, and Carston had no realistic way of achieving. Carston took Technology – which would allow him to reach his 10VPs in end turn scoring, Chris took Leadership and Paul the crucial Imperial card.

With no one in a position to stop Imperial resulting in a win, the game was called.

(Paul: On reflection I don’t think there was a “non-Kingmaking” way out of this as soon as PO6 came out as ‘3 attached planets’. Carston or Chris has to take Imperial to stop me winning as soon as it’s my turn. If Carston doesn’t take Technology he probably can’t win himself. If they take Imperial / Tech, I take Leadership, score first and probably still win (since Imperial has gone, James can’t get out until end-turn scoring and I score first, and Carston can’t win with just Imperial (he needs Imperial and Technology). The only real way for it work is Carston takes Imperialism, Chris and I split Leadership / Diplo, James takes a ‘blank’ (say Trade), so Carston can then take Technology as his second strat card; fire Tech first, then wins on Imperial).

Final Scoring

The Mahact Gene-Sorcerers – 10VP – PAUL WIN

The Titans of Ul – 8 VP – Carston

The Nomad – 7VP – James

The Vuil’Raith Cabal – 6VP – Chris

Post-Game Thoughts: Expansions. TI4. Agenda Phase.

Paul: For me, Prophecy of Kings is a great “Twilight Imperium” expansion; it adds new factions who are different enough to be distinct (the Mahact aren’t the L1z1x, the Vuil’Raith aren’t just a Nekro clone), the agents and mechs add more bespoke mechanics to each faction.

Exploration adds something new and a bit different to the early game scramble for planets. It’s not just an optimisation problem to get 1 infantry around as many drops as possible anymore. Maybe you find some new units or mechs. Maybe you get 2 blue fragments and need to trade for the third. Maybe you get some extra trade goods which lets you build that vital second carrier a bit quicker. Games will be different without any of the outcomes feeling overly “broken”.

Does this all make it a bit ‘unwieldly’ – tokens on tokens that spawn new planets, which might then get blown up by planet cracking relic weapons (sadly never deployed in this particular game). Probably. But that’s TI. That’s sort of the point. It’s not a streamlined knife fight in space between optimised fleets. It’s a bit messy and a bit sprawling. PoKings makes it more sprawling, and that’s a good thing.

Part of this is the Agenda (nee Politics) phase. You haggle and vote over things which sometimes feel like they don’t make a difference. Exactly how you fix this has always been a weakness in TI. If you just remove it the game loses some of the epic space opera-ness that is so intrinsic. Kings seems to have a better solution; secret objectives that trigger in the Agenda phase. James scored one this game (be the target of an ‘elect’ vote). I had another one (get 3 laws into play), which sadly I had to ditch after Carston used an action card to discard a law as a stalling action (rrraaaargh). A couple of more of these and the agenda phase really starts having some interesting layers to it; it’s not just about whether this particular law passes or not, it’s about why does someone want it to pass – what’s the angle? As an example, prior to Carston nuking my “3 laws” plan with his rogue action card (not bitter about that at all), I delibrately seeded a law on to the top of the agenda which was actually irrelevant (As in neither the For or Against had any impact on the current or likely future board state). Why? Because I was 99.9% confident no one would be so upset by it they’d fire an action card that would force a new agenda card to be drawn to replace this one, I didn’t care about this particular law I cared that a law would get passed.

We still need to see how the expansion buffs and balances the older factions (I’m glad Sol’s heroes on the face of it seem a bit lacklustre, which might help balance out an overall powerful faction), but for the time being – PoK is pretty much everything a TI expansion should be.

Blood on the Sands

05 & 11 Dec. 2020
Following on from the success of Twilight Imperium, proving we could play a larger game purely over TTS / Discord (including one that had a fair degree of negotiation), our next outing was a 5 player return to the sand seas of Arrakis for Dune.

Dune

A second outing for Dune after an enjoyable (albiet rather short lived) appearance back in Feb meant we didn’t need much in the way of rules explanation, and courtesy of a fairly slick TTS module James had dug up, also no set up time.

Playing the base game with five players meant we had one faction missing, in this case the iconic and treacherous Harkonnens were relegated to the bench. That left Carston commanded the knowledge-rich Atreides, Woody the manipulative Bene Gesserit, James the deadly native Fremen, Chris the wealthy Emperor and Paul the status-quo upholding Spacing Guild.

Starting positions were largely pre-determined; the Atreides beginning with a strong defensive force in Arrakeen (benefitting from the city’s passive income, spice refineries and ornithopters), the Fremen defending Sietch Tabr in the North with a few scattered scouts in the South and West, and the Spacing Guild holding Tuek’s Sietch (a crucial location as one of the only Sietch’s not in immediate striking range of the Fremen’s far-side reinforcements). With no Harkonnen in play Carthag started the game empty, whilst the Emperor and Bene Gesserit start the game with virtually the entirety of their respective forces in reserve off-planet.

Turns 1 & 2 Early Moves
The first few moves panned out largely as expected; the Fremen made use of their free-deployment ability to bolster their position on the West wide of Arrakis; seizing Habbanya Sietch and putting James in a strong position to negotiate when the first appearance of a Shai-Hulud sandworm signalled the formation of Alliances.

The Spacing Guild and Emperor largely remained ‘off map’ – building their wealth as players deployed their forces and bid on important Treachery cards (unlike other games, Dune has a partially ‘closed’ economy, with players playing spice to each other to complete actions like shipping forces offworld (beneftting the Spacing Guild player) or buying cards. The Bene Gesserit built up their presence in the neutral polar-sink region and spreading their forces round the map to pose a potential threat to weakly defended strongholds, and the Emperor dropped into undefended Carthag, securing the city.

The sand-worms put in an appearanec on Turn 2, with the resultant Nexus phase setting up the alliances that would endure for the remainder of the game. In a reasonable approximation of the ‘cannon’ outcome, the Atreides allied with the Fremen; James strong opening moves to take Sietch Habbanya putting the alliance on an immediate 3 strongholds (needing only the weakly defended Carthag for a fourth and final stronghold). Meanwhile Paul and Chris negotiated the plutocracy alliance between the Emperor and the Spacing Guild, intending to leverage their wealth advantage into a victory over the rebellious natives and upstart Atreides. This let Woody and the Bene Gesserit as the lone wolf, however this wasn’t the worse position for Woody given the Bene Gesserit’s special victory condition. At game start Woody had predicted the turn the game would end and the winning player. Should this prediction come true, the win would go to the Bene Gesserit alone (overriding the win condition of the relevant player(s)). All Woody needed to do was bide this time and tilt the scales in favour of one alliance or the other at the opportune moment…

Mid-Turns 3-6, Blow and Counterblow
With the alliances formed, and the Fremen / Atreides alliance within grasping distance of victory, it was clear the hammer was going to fall on Carthag; a victory there delivering an instant win.

It was up to the Atreides to decide whether to make the move, given the Fremen were spread trying to defend two strongholds and maintain some pressure on the Spacing Guild in Tuek’s Sietch. However, 10 Imperial Sardukar is a worrying prospect to attack, even for an Atreides player with their knowledge advantage (knowing whose bought what cards, and able to see part of an opponent’s ‘battle plan’ in advance means the Atreides are rarely walking into a battle blind). Ultimately Carston decided to wait for a better opportunity once the Emperor / Guild alliance had overstretched.. (in all fairness there was also a bit of sportsmanship here about trying to avoid a repeat of the turn 2 ally/one battle/game ends scenario from our previous outing).

With the game continuing after the Atreides hesitation, it feel to the Emperor / Guild alliance to try and force a resolution. Targetting the two Fremen strongholds, Paul and Chris made their move.. The Spacing Guild committed a combination of reserves and on-map forces into an attack on Sietch Tabr, whilst Chris’s remaining Sardukar forces assaulted Habbanya Sietch. Two victories would give the game to the Imperials, whilst James needed to hold one of them to force a stalemate.

Combat started in Sietch Tabr, where it looked liked superior Spacing Guild numbers would prevail over James despite the powerful Fremen leaders and a lucky ‘hole’ card (after paying Carston to find out what defenses James had, and tailoring his attack appropriately, thereby expecting to kill the opposing leader and win a comfortable victory, Paul then found out that James’ starting card – the only card that Carston didn’t know about, was the perfect defense, countering his attack). But.. things are not easy amongst the shifting sands of Arrakis, and in a classic ‘victory from the jaws of defeat’ moment, James revealed that Paul’s leader, Staban Tuek, was a traitor! A costly Spacing Guild victory turned into a complete rout. All of Paul’s forces were eliminated, his equipment destroyed and his leader killed. James lost nothing. The Fremen held.

Further West the Emperor’s forces clashed with a second garrison of Fremen in Habbanya Sietch. Although Chris also had the advantage of greater numbers and decent combat leaders, his defenses provided inadequate, and after Prince Fenring of the Imperial corps fell to an unblocked Fremen weapon attack the writing was on the wall; James’ strength 7 Fremen leader Stilgar more than offsetting the numercial disadvantage and wiping out the attacking Imperials. Again, the Fremen held.

With almost all of Chris’ forces in the tanks being revived, Paul nursing only a half-stack of reserves, and both James and Carston’s forces relatively unscathed, it looked like the writing was on the wall, both Carthag and Tuek’s Sietch open to a crushing counterblow.

That blow landed in Turn 6, the Atreides landing a significant force in Carthag, and the Fremen moving into Tuek’s sietch. The tables were now turned, with Paul and Chris facing the prospect of having to defend strongholds with inferior forces. Unfortunately for them, they also had inferior leaders, cards, and combat abilities… and yet…

Where was Woody in all of this? the Bene Gesserit had actively involved themselves in the preceding turns; moving into weakly held strongholds to prevent attacks (a quirk of the Dune rules being that only 2 players can hold forces in a particular stronghold, meaning that a single force from one player moving in and contesting a location can “block out” any other attacks. A useful stalling mechanic for those factions that need the game to continue on longer), suggesting that their prediction was still to arrive. But as the Atreides and Fremen made their move the girls in blue seemed oddly passive..

Seeing the only conceivable escape from the overwhelming forces closing in, Paul played his “Truthtrance” card, which required another player to truthfully answer a single “yes / no” question (which has to be about the game it has subsequently been FAQ’d!). Under the effects of the Truthtrance Woody had to admit that this was the turn he had predicted, and should James or Carston reach their win condition, the Bene Gesserit’s prediction would come true and Woody would take a sole victory. The relevation changed everything.

The Atreides and Fremen assaults now became suicide missions; if either attack in Carthag or Tuek’s Sietch was successful the Bene Gesserit would win the game. A rather despairing Carston asked if that was Woody would win as well, only to have his hopes dashed; Woody would win a sole victory.

The only course open was clear, Carston and James threw their respective battles, accepting the losses of their armies and leaders to block the devious Bene Gesserit from the win. As turn 6 closed stacks of Fremen and Atreides forces joined the Emperor and Guild casualties in the Tleixalu Tanks, and suddendly the board looked a lot more open..

Turns 7-10 Storms of Wrath

With the board state somewhat reset, both alliances (and Woody) started to plot their next moves with a view to the end game. Woody needed to control 3 strongholds to win a solo victory; in one sense an uphill struggle against two opposing alliances, but on the other hand his powerful Voice ability make the Bene Gesserit forces deadly in small scale combat, and with all four other players looking fairly depleted a sneaky triple strike wasn’t impossible.

The two alliances also both held an ‘end of game’ win condition; for the Fremen controlling Sietch Tabr, Habbanya and ensuring that neither Harkonnen, Atreides or Emperor controlled Tuek’s Sietch would deliver an end-game victory (which Carston as the Fremen Ally would equally gain). If that was unsuccessful then the Spacing Guild would claim a ‘no other winners’ victory, carrying the Emperor over the line with them. Combat wise things were also fairly balanced; the Fremen and Atreides holding more powerful abilities, but the Spacing Guild and Emperor replenshing lost forces faster. It was to be a close run to the line.

Following a slight lull as all sides geared up following the losses in turns 5 and 6, any carefully laid plans were thrown into disarray as the Bene Gesserit triggered the ‘family atomics’ card; destroying the protective Shield Wall territory and exposing Arrakeen, Carthag and the Imperial Basin to the ravages of the the Sandstorm that continuously swept the board, destroying anything unprotected it moved over.

Another Atreides stack was swept off the board as the storms ravaged Arrakeen, whilst Chris lost the last of his board presence as Carthag was similarly swept clean. Had Woody just opened enough of a chink in the armour for him to sneak a solo-win?

With the storms safely past the twin cities, Paul made his final play for the game, abandoning Tuek’s Sietch altogether (Paul: actually a deliberate ploy to allow Chris to take Tuek’s in the final turn, thereby blocking James’ Fremen special win condition noted above), and deploying an overwhelming 16 force stack to the Imperial basin, from where he could launch an attack on either Carthag or Arrakeen in the final turn; thereby able to block any last turn schenanigans from the Atreides/Fremen or the Bene Gesserit.

The only ‘minor’ risk to this plan was the potential for the ‘Weather Control’ card to be in someone’s hand.. this card would allow the player to move the storm token a massive 10 spaces, almost the entirety of the board. It seemed a gamble worth taking, after all what were the odds of getting caughty by a traitor and getting weather controlled at this exact moment.

Pretty high as it turned out. Perfectly on cue Weather Control hit the table at the beginning of turn 10, and unable to resist killing 16 troops with a single card, the storm was promptly dropped on top of the luckless Spacing Guilders. 4 turns worth of reinforcements went to the graveyard.

But Dune (or at least this particular game of Dune) was not going to end on such a predictable ending as a single card draw wiping out an entire player’s forces, at the limit of the card’s range on the final turn..

The Chris’ Sardukar, one of the few remaining respectable forces on the map, dropped into the newly vacated Tuek’s Sietch. The trap closed. Carston and James now realised that the storm that had wiped out Paul’s forces now raged over Carthag, blocking any forces from entering or exiting the stronghold. With Carthag out of play, there was now no way to reach the four required strongholds without taking Tuek’s Sietch from the Imperials and Arrakeen from the Bene Gesserit; a task likely beyond the depleted Atreides reserves, and out of range of the Fremen troops. In addition, with the Imperials now in residence in Tuek’s Sietch the Fremen end game condition wouldn’t fire, allowing the Spacing Guild to claim a final win. Carston went for the final desperate assault; a handful of Atreides forces staggering into Tuek’s Sietch only to be cut down by the Emperor’s forces, and so the game drew to a close.

(Retrospectively we noted there was the options for Carston to launch a “kamikaze” strike where he intentionally wiped out all of this attacking forces in the hope of nevertheless winning the battle and thereby wiping Chris out as well. The net result would have been an empty Tuek’s Sietch; enough for the Fremen victory condition to trigger. That said, in the end the fight was decisive enough that Chris would probably have held the line even against such an all-in attack).

Final Scoring

Spacing Guild Special Victory – PAUL WIN
Emperor Allied Victory – CHRIS WIN

Labyrinth: Awakening

A second outing to a war-torn desert, though this time a little closer to home and more recently, Paul and James faced off in the expansion version of Labyrinth: War on Terror; Awakening. Swapping our traditional roles, Paul took on the forces of democracy-by-the-gun (the US), whilst James commanded the Jihadi Caliphate. For this scenario we played the “Islamic State” scenario opening, and since this was Awakening we were on Vassal rather than TTS..

We both agreed this is potentially a much more interesting opening Board state than the normal “Let’s Roll” scenario from War on Terror. The combination of a US Hard / World Hard stance gives the US player plenty of options, whilst the lack of any Islamist Rule countries on Turn 1 gives both players abit more freedom to act (Afganistan can end up as a distorting influnence in the base game out of all proportion to it’s actual value as a non-oil producing 1 resourec country without great adjacency links). The Civil Wars raging in Syria and Iraq give the Jihadi a source of auto-recruits, whilst the Caliphate adds a vital 1 Islamist Resource from the get-go (and one that’s markedly harder to get rid of then the 1 point from Afghanistan in the aforementioned ‘let’s roll’ setup).

The opening turns saw Paul focus on Pakistan, building up Prestige with some powerful US cards, as well as dropping Awakening markers (which gives bonuses to War of Ideas / penalities to Jihadi) and pushing Pakistan towards Good Governance.

James meanwhile focused on Africa, in particular Nigeria; a new territory added in the expansion, which as a resource 2, oil producing, country with adjacency to oil-producing Sudan, was a tempting target to start the spread of Islamist Rule. Foreign Fighters provided the required manpower and Nigeria fell rapidly to the Islamists.

With the initial strategies established both players doubled down; Paul started spreading US influence in to the Gulf States; leveraging the +1 bonus for an adjacent Good Country, as well as the continuing high prestige bonuses (something of a novelty; a side effect of the ‘Lets Roll’ scenario is the US tends to end up Regime Changing fairly early, which inevitably tanks Prestige, or they steadily lose Prestige each turn as Islamist Afghanistan endures and world opinion generally isn’t sat at +3 Hard. Given that this scenario started with World Hard 3, US Prestige is noticeably more resilient. In turn, trying to roll War of Ideas successes at -1 from Prestige is noticeably more frustrating than at +1 or +2!). James’ jihadi’s meanwhile flooded out of Nigeria into Sudan and quickly toppled the government there into Islamist Rule as well. This put Paul in a precarious position; with the James sat on 2 adjacent IR countries and 4 resources, an Oil Price Spike card would hand him the win.

However all was not that bad for the US; the Gulf States had quickly moved to Good Governance (+1 adjacent Good country, +1 Awakening and +1 Prestige making rolling the requisite 6 on a D6 achievable even given Paul’s dice rolling), and the US was also making progress in the Civil Wars with troops now deployed to Syria (increasing the odds of , and amount of, damage inflicted on Jihadi cells in the war), and Advisors training up new Militia each turn in Iraq.

Paul managed to survive the 3rd Card Draw, James not picking up the all important Oil Price Spike (could be confirmation bias, but it feels like there are a less copies of the card in the deck compared to War on Terror?), but the game was still very much in the balance.

With Sudan in their clutches, Egypt was next in line for the Jihadis – pushing them over the 6 Resource mark with or without Oil Price, however, here the US drew the line. Although Egypt’s Poor Governance, Neutral Stance and distant location made direct involvement challenging, American soft power made itself felt; Paul building up to a total +4 Awakening Markers over this turn and next; making Jihadi actions almost impossible, whilst multiple Predators were deployed to slow down the build of Jihadi forces.

Meanwhile the nation building operations in Iraq and Syria continued; James had managed to force Paul into a Soft US stance by this point courtesy of an Election card, but World opinion swung back behind the US fairly rapidly as Benelux and France both found their softer sides at US urging. (A good example of how a Soft US can build support a lot faster than a Hard one; after the election the US had lost 1 Prestige and was facing a -3 WoI penalty. 2 x 1 Op cards and 2 successful 4- dice rolls later (it only needs a 1-Op card to WoI a non-Muslim country and countries flip soft on a 1-4) and the US was down to 0 penalty, and grossed 2 Presitge on the way). A massive Aid programme to Syria was enough to end the civil war and flip the country Soft, dislodging the Caliphate capital into Iraq, where Paul, now sitting on a +4 WoI bonus (+2 adjacency, aid, and Prestige) was also able to quickly end hostilities and achieve Good Governance. That might have been the end of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but James was still far from down and out. The vengeful Jihadis quickly tipped Iraq back to Poor Governance through a plot / Jihad combo, and again started to mass for another push on Eygpt.

Unfortunately for James, the dominio effect of countries turning good had opened a new front for Paul; oil-rich Indonesia, largely absent from proceedings so far, had been inspired by the democratic movements in the Middle East, and emerged as a Fair Ally with a +1 Awakening marker. With adjacent Pakistan still at Good, and the continuing awe of US Prestige (now flirting with a +2 bonus), it wouldn’t take much for Indonesia to reach Good status and hand the win to the US.

In a last ditch effort James engineered a revolution in Egypt, plunging the country into Civil War and replacing Paul’s Awakening markers (which had been making it extremely difficult to succeed at Jihads), with Militia and opening the door for James to prevail by weight of numbers rather than dice-roll modifiers. Unfortunately the Egyptians didn’t take well to this turn of events, with the Militia inflicting hits on the Jihadi cells fighting the Civil War whilst taking no damage in return. Although James managed to surge some additional cells into the country with his opening card plays it wasn’t enough, and Paul snatched the win when Indonesia (with the help of a little aid), predictably flipped to Good.

Final Thoughts

The last time I reviewed Awakening I said it felt like a different game based on the same engine as War on Terror. A second playthrough has very much reinforced that opinion. The deck is materially different even if some specific cards occur in both (Martyrdom Ops, Oil Price etc), and the Reaction markers add another layer to the game and make for a much more satisfying planning experience. Playing as the US in Awakening it feels like you’re more in control of your destiny, with a choice between using card plays to build up Aid and Awakening markers, thereby making WoI more certain, or going for the all or nothing, “chase the 5+” experience from the base game. The Reaction Markers also seemed less extreme in this playthrough; they came out a bit slower and with more board presence (and the Civil Wars tying up key countries) we saw less mountains of chits flipping countries by themselves. In fact, there wasn’t a single movement of a country soley because of Polarisation through this entire game. This also goes to show just how different the experience based on opening conditions can be; World and US posture; starting board state and even the cards in or out of play all make a difference, and suggest that the multiple scenarios included in Awakening will make for plenty of replayability.

Final Scoring

Good Resources 13 – US (PAUL) WIN
Jihadi Resources 3

Virtual Imperiums

14 Nov, 2020

With the country back in lockdown, the live gaming of September was off the agenda, and so it was back to the virtual tabletop for the Emperors, this time playing longstanding PE big-hitter Twilight Imperium.

Twilight Imperium 4

Although TI4 has made its appearance in several Top 10s over the last couple of years, we hadn’t had a game for a while (squeezed out by Star Trek: Ascendancy and COIN in the last LobsterCon), and this was also to be first time trying out the TableTop Simulator (TTS) module, so this was to be a mix of the new and old.

Five Emperors were playing; Carston (a long standing master of TI), taking took command of the L1Z1x Mindnet (the rulers of the previous empire returned as cybernetic zombies), Woody, commanding the Barony of Letnev (the other “dreadnought” faction, boasting large fleet sizes and a powerful trade-good fuelled combat bonus), Chris as the ever-dangerous Sol Federation, James directing the sneaky Yssaril, and finally Paul the wormhole bouncing Ghost of Creuss.

The opening turns played out in fairly standard fashion; each faction claiming their immediate systems and the usual negotiations over borders. Although in the galactic south the Ghosts, Yssaril and L1z1x came to a broadly comfortable arrangement, Sol’s drive for Mecatol Rex and the accompanying victory points resulted in the Barony being cut off from the centre of the map; an interesting geographical outcome that was to drive tensions throughout the game.

Trade dominated the earlier turns in a way not often seen (possibly a combination of having two high-trade factions (the Ghosts and Sol both generate 4 commodities per refresh), plus the Barony, with their appetite for trade goods, for one turn even resulting in the all-powerful Technology card being passed over.

Sol carried through their early posturing with a direct beeline for Mecatol – quickly generating an early victory point for Chris. Carston and Woody both seemed to have turned inwards slightly, teching and building fleets for use later in the game, whilst James took advantage of his faction’s special abilities to build up his hand size and complete his special objectives. Paul meanwhile had managed to wangle his 14 agenda votes and position as Speaker into 2 ‘Support for the Throne’ promissory notes (each worth 1VP), putting the Ghosts into an early lead despite missing out on one of the early objectives.

Hoowever, although trailing on victory points, the Barony under Woody had built up a scaryily large fleet, including the games first War Sun… would the tide of Barony naval might be enough to clinch the win?

The hammer of Letnev fell (probably inevitablity given the blocking position) on the humans of the Sol Federation. Led by their newly constructed War Sun the blue fleet drove into the Arinam / Meer binary. PDS fire bounced harmlessly off the invaders, and after a brief (but valiant) defense, the Solarians were swept aside and Woody took control of the important Meer military-tech planet, in the processing becoming the first player to achieve a “control 3 tech specialities” objectives.

The counter-attack came quickly though, with Sol ships from across Chris’ empire rallying to their flagship and, in the biggest engagement of the game, pushing the Barony back to their starting lines. Thanks to both plenty of card-play and ablative fighter screens neither side had taken major capital ship losses, leaving both Chris and Woody still a powerful threat.

It’s an interesting quirk of TI4 that winning battles “for the sake of it” doesn’t really help (if anything it can hinder a player). Constructing fleets is expensive, moving them is slow, and losing them without gaining any victory points renders the whole exercise fairly pointless. As such, whilst attacks such as Woody’s assault to gain his 3rd tech speciality planet make perfect sense, prolonged wars tend not to erupt; neither side benefits.

That said however, pulling Sol’s fleet on Mecatol out of position had provided an opening for the carefully consolidating Carston to let rip and order the dreadnoughts of the Mindnet into battle over the Capital World. A plucky defense by a lone Carrier in orbit was short lived, and the L1z1x moved in for the kill on the planet’s defenders. Chris had managed to drop a large number of elite Sol Ground Forces on to Mecatol; presenting a major obstable to a ground attack. However, the L1z1x had spent their time in the dark fringes of the galaxy researching ancient weapons of war, including the X-89 Bacterial bombardment weapon. A single successful dice roll later and all of Chris’ forces were eliminated by the bioweapons, paving the way for Carston to re-establish the Lazax Court on their old throneworld.

Whilst all this excitment had been going on what had transpired in the southern side of the map between the sneaky and shadowy factions of Paul and James?

The goblin-tribes of Yssaril had extended their technology and influence, racking up a total of 8 victory points; within touching distance of the 10 point win line. The Ghosts meanwhile appeared to have stalled; Paul not advancing on his 6 victory point position for the best part of 3 turns, though the Ghosts had mobilised the majority of their capital ships (a chunk of which were held back in the Creuss homeworld from where they could jump to their flagships location), and built up their technology, was this just a case of peaked too soon, or did the Ghosts have a plan?

When the 8th victory condition was flipped it was clear the last turn of the game was upon us; 2VPs for holding 3 unit upgrades was an easily achieved condition for James (who already held 2 upgrades and, by picking Strategy cards last, could ensure the Technology card was in play). The remaining field had tightened, with all four other powers sat on 6 victory points; very much within striking distance with special and secret objectives.

For the final draft Paul used his position as Speaker to snap up the Imperial Strategy card (which allows for the scoring of a public objective mid-turn), Woody took Technology (probably inevitable), and James, having been stung on ‘initiative order’ scoring in previous games, took Leadership; ensuring that in the final end turn he would score first, reaching his 10 victory point threshold ahead of his rivals.

Although a bit of defeatism hung in the air when it became clear all James needed to do was hang on to his home system and ride out the storm to achieve victory, there were never the less some fierce skirmishes between the Letnv and L1z1x fleets. Carston chased off a ‘survey’ group that had been deployed adjacent to his homeword (suspiciously well armed with dreadnoughts and led by the Letnev Flagship Arc Secundus), destroying the Letnev capital ship and achieving one of his secret objectives in the process. James hunkered down; mustering additional forces into his home world to prevent a decapitation strike rendering him unable to claim objectives. Woody fired the inevitable Technology card; James and Paul both snapping up their third unit upgrade and making them eligible for the associated 2 VPs. Carston at this moment realised he’d forgotten to keep a spare Strategy token for the Technology secondary ability and accepted defeat on his attempts to at least come in second.

The last to act of the turn, Paul finally made the move the last several hours had been maneourving towards. The Ghost’s flagship Hil Colish slipped it’s moorings and disappeared into the Beta wormhole created in it’s system the turn before by the Ghost’s Wormhole Generator technology, utilising the Ghost’s Quantum Entanglement ability to emerge from the Alpha wormhole on the Yssaril’s lightly defended eastern flank. A chunk of the Ghost’s fleet then made use of the Colish’s onboard wormhole generator to jump from their homeworld base to join the assault on the Yssaril colonies of Mellon.

Given the sudden appearance of two dreadnoughts, a flagship, and the accompanying fighter swarm, the defending Yssaril carrier seemed likely to be facing a rapid (and explosive) departure from the system. However, Paul’s rolling was to prolong things by at least a bit, a total of 9 shots (some hitting on as low as a 4 on a D10), all missed. Not realising the risk, James held the line and fought a second round of combat, where a stray shot finally took down his carrier (Paul: the only hit I rolled out of 17 attacks!). At this point Paul tabled his secret objective ‘To Spark a Rebellion‘ netting 1VP for winning a battle against the player with the most VPs.

Following the space battle, the Ghost dreadnoughts moved into orbit around Mellon and unleashed a ground bombardment. No mistakes this time, and 3 shots fired resulted in 3 hits; eliminated the lone defender, and prompting the play of Paul’s second secret objective ‘Make an Example of their World’ and another 1VP for the Ghosts, putting Paul level with James on 8VP.

Carston quickly spotted the significance – the Imperium card would now allow Paul to score the 3 unit upgrades public objective on his next action plan; reaching the 10 VP threshold and victory ahead of final scoring. With nothing the other players could to prevent it, the game was called.

Final Scoring

Ghosts of Creuss – 10VP – PAUL WIN
Tribes of Yssaril – 8VP – James
L1z1x Mindnet – 7VP – Carston
Sol Federation – 6VP – Chris
Barony of Letnev – 6VP – Woody

Pericles – The Peloponnesian Wars

Technically not a Plastic Emperors game, but one organised through our sister group Cardboard Emperors, this was a five week epic pitting James and (Canadian) Chris as the leaders of ancient Sparta against Paul and Scott (the Athenians) in a sprawling game bringing together Churchillan negotiation with Cyclades style ‘dudes on a map’ all wrapped up with a Game of Thrones style order programming system. Following on from the success of play-by-installment Liberty of Death this was a turn-and-save game played in the TTS module.

Act 1: The Age of Hateful Peace

At the start of the scenario Athens and Sparta are at peace; restricting the movement of their forces in relation to each other, but still allowing for proxy conflict through their allied city states (the Delian League of Athens and the Peloponnesian League for Sparta). As it was the first time a number of us had played the game the first phases saw the players feeling out the game. Paul and Scott probably co-ordinated their choice of ‘issues’ slightly more so than Chris and James (a theme that was to reoccur), though at the end of the first neogtiation phase it was the Spartan Agiads of Chris takin an early lead in Honor (victory points).

Turning from the ‘internal’ negotiation phase (when the two players making up each City State ‘side’ use a system of cards to bid for control of various ‘issues’), to the ‘external’ Theatre phase (when those issues are used to drive the conflict between Athens and Sparta), saw a fairly split strategy. The Athenians focused their attentions on the bubbling war in the Eastern Mediterranean; dispatching a taskforce to secure peace and preventing a long term drain on resources and Honor, though at the cost of not achieving too much else on the map. The Spartans meanwhile built up their forces (the Spartan land units being worth twice as much in battle as any other faction’s pieces), and consolidated their hold on the nearby land theatres in Corinth and Boetia.

The end of Turn 1 gave us a near brush with an early exit, Paul falling behind in Honor as Athenian losses in the initial skirmishes chipped away at a position already weakened by a relatively poor showing in the opening negotiations. With only a few issues left to resolve Chris had pulled far enough ahead to trigger an instant win if not reined in. Luckily after a bit of frantic maneourving Paul was able to order a raid on a Peloponnesian base, netting a crucial 3 Honor and allowing the game to continue.

Act 2: The Fate of Ionia

Periodically the players are issued instructions from their respective ‘Assemblies’. Failure to comply with such edicts can be severe; both players losing 5 honour (for a net loss of 10 to their City State). Should your opponents succeed where you failed, this swing becomes even more pronounced with a 20 point gap opening up. The second turn saw both sides ordered to secure a base in the province of Ionia; currently deep behind the Athenian defenses at Hellspont.

The negotiation phase seemed to have settled down, with both sides vying for the honor that came with winning issues, but a good degree of co-operation over the issues themselves. Would such co-operation last?

On the map the Athenians focused on their Assembly objective; bolstering the defenses in Hellspont and putting in place the infratructure to completely lock up the theatre with a third base; preventing Spartan units from establishing their own garrisons and thereby moving deeper inland to Ionia. The Spartans meanwhile, led by the Agiads, doubled down on their ‘near abroad’ strategy – establishing further bases in Corinth and Boetia and eyeing up further land in Aetolia and Thessalia. Although the fledging Spartan and Peloponnesian navy couldn’t really face the Athenian fleet (which enjoyed the same unit superiority at sea that the Spartans held on land), as long as their expansion path stayed on land there was little the Athenians seemed to be able to do.

As the turn closed, the first big divide of the game opened up, having established themselves in Ionia the Athens generals netted the full 10 Honor for their Will of the Assembly objective, whilst Sparta lost the corresponding 10 Honor; putting the Athenians into the lead and overturning a Spartan edge coming out of turn 1.

Act 3: Raid and Ravage

The third turn didn’t see either side set an assembly objective, leaving the commanders free to set their own priorities. The Spartans continued the march down the coast, adding control and defenses in Aetolia and Thessalia, as well as sowing the seeds of further growth with Treachery (representing irregular and partisan forces) inflitrating into Naupactus to support the Pelopennesian navy which had been relocated overland to Corinth at the end of the previous turn. The Athenians meanwhile spread out across the island chains of the Cyclades theatre, adding Delian bases and continuing a build up of forces in Hellspont, from where they could be dispatched as needed.

The big move came when Pelopennesian and Spartan land forces struck directly into Athens; avoiding combat with the powerful Athenian navy and instead established a local base defended by land units; taking advantage of the comparatively weak Athenian army. It was a bold move that allowed Chris and James to leave units in the Athenian theatre at the end of the turn, threatening a build up of forces and, ultimately, an immediate win through conquest.

Act 4: The Fair Maidens of Boetia

Another Will of the Assembly this turn; the Spartans being directed to Amphipolis in the north, and the Athenians to Sicily in the south. This time it wasn’t enough to simply maintain a base, each side had to ensure Control; meaning no enemy forces were present – a significantly tougher ask.

By this point the Athenians, still benefitting from the Honor lead they’d built in Act 2 (Act 3 had been about a wash with both sides gaining comparable amounts of Honor from raids and base building) were ‘executing’ the first action of the Theatre phase, and used their opening moves to withdraw their exposed fleet in Naupactus (again theatened by an end-of-turn relocated Pelopennesian force, though this time with Athenian naval prowess undermined by a stack of Treachery in the theatre, making a fight risky). As well as ‘getting out of dodge’ this also allowed a fleet to make it’s way to Sicily – paving the way for a base to be constructed safely behind a larger Athenian force blocking the only route to the island through Corcyra.

It seemed like the pieces were falling into place for Athens; with Sicily locked up and a dangerous situation in Naupactus defused. Then the Spartans appealed to their Oracles, and in an inspired moment (read: a horrific rules oversight by Paul), were able to destroy the Delian navy in Sicily before it could complete it’s task. (The Oracle issue allowed James to remove a single League unit on the map; usually a mild annoyance, in this case a major blow to Athenian plans. Made worse by the fact an Athenian navy could have been dispatched to Sicily just as easily, and would have been immune to such divine wrath). With the Will of the Assembly now beyond their grasp, the Athenians were left to salvage what they could from the situation.

All was not entirely lost however, some gunboat (arrow boat?) Diplomacy from the Athenians convinced the garrison at Aetolia to declare for Athens, opening a chink in the Spartan’s western flank, whilst the Spartan expedition to Amphipolis was run to ground by an Athenian task force at the close of turn, denying James and Chris their Will of the Assembly bonuses and taking the string out of the failure in Sicily.

And the maidens of Boetia? Yeah they turned out to be a fragment of wild rumour and myth. (Each player in Pericles gains two ‘Rumour’ markers to place each turn. Indistinguishable from actual commands until revealed. ‘Rumours’ provide the players with a way to misdirect their foes and hide their true movements. In this turn Boetia ended up with at least 4 such ‘Rumour’ markers – on the face of it making it appear a crucial flashpoint both sides had turned their focus to… In the end.. absolutely nothing happened..)

Act 5; Begone ye pesilient Fiend!

The final turn and the Athenians looked in decent shape with a small Honor lead, though with end game scoring weighted towards the Spartans (who gain 6 VPs per Theatre controlled vs the Athenians’ 3VPs), and a plague damaging a number of Athenian garrisons across the map, it was still an open game.

With this being the last turn the second dimension of Perciles also came to the fore. To win the game a player has to both be on the side that gains the most Honor (Athens or Sparta), but also finish with more Honor than their co-faction player. With several issues in play that expressly focus on generating advantage over your faction-mate, though at the price of doing little to advance your overall City State’s board position, would we see any betrayals or backstabs in the final turn?

(Of course we did). Scott played a strong round in the Athenian halls of democracy, dominating the debates and wrestling control away from Paul who had dominated for the preceding three turns. However, the good of Athens had still been kept in mind, leaving Paul and Scott with a strong set of issues to influence the final turn.

Things had not gone so smoothly in ancient Sparta… The Eurypontid’s of King James had moved to Ostracise the Agiad’s under Chris. If successful this would have given James a major transfer of Honor from Chris (currently vying for overall lead with Paul) and potentially set him up for a late game win. Unfortunately the Agiads did not go quietly into the night. After several exchanges and much expended effort the whole endeavour backfired and it was the Eurypontid’s sent into exile. Not only had the move failed to secure the vital ‘Controlling Faction’ status for James, the conflict had also left Sparta with precious few actions for the final turn.

The Athenians took advantage; bringing forces into the Spartan territories in Boetia and Thessalia to contest Spartan control, whilst also destroying the Pelopennesian base that had been established earlier in Athens. Paul launched a last hurrah naval assault at Sparta, after realising he wasn’t far enough ahead to survive the end game score swings towards Scott’s Aristocrat Controlling faction, but after some tense card draws it ended in a bit of an anticlimax; a single Spartan squadron sent to the depths.

Final Scoring

The final Athenian moves into Boetia and Thessalia, combined with the strangehold on the eastern islands proved decisive; the Athenians racking up points for bases and theatre control, whilst the Controlling Factions for each side consolidated their poistions at the expense of their rivals; ultimately delivering victory in War to the Aristocrats of Athens.

Athenian Aristocrats – 63 Honor – SCOTT WIN
Athenian Demagogues – 56 Honor – Paul
Spartan Agiads – 52 Honor – (Canadian) Chris
Spartan Eurypontids – 38 (Dis?)Honor – James


Gaming for Real

26 Sep, 2020

33 weeks to the day since our previous ‘in person’ gaming event (Dune at Camden Lock), four Emperors; James, Carston, Woody and Paul managed to brave travel, child-care arrangements and erratic government regulations to meet for our third live gaming event of the year.

Lords of Hellas

Poster child for inadvisably large plastic pieces Lords of Hellas was our initial contest. Players take control of the heroes of an alternative history / techno-punk ancient Greece and their respective hoplite armies and attempt to capture territory and hunt mythical monsters.

An interesting twist on the dudes-on-a-map theme with multiple routes to victory; two linked to direct area control (5 temples or 2 “Lands”), one linked to completing the construction of a Monument to one of the three gods (Athena, Zeus and Hermes), and finally, slay three monsters. Pre-game chatter had Monster Hunting down as the strongest strategy, but would things play out that way?

Picking first, Paul took kickstarter exclusive Leonidas as his hero, with bonuses to the use of combat cards in Battle (boosting his hoplite armies) and getting an extra combat card at the start of the game. James took Helen enabling him to lock enemy armies out of a particular region, Carston (optimising as ever) plumbed for monster hunter specialist Herakles, and finally Woody took the speedster of the ancient world; Perseus.

The opening moves played out relatively consistently with James, Carston and Woody all establishing themselves in a population 2 shrine region, and using their first turn to build a temple. Paul mucked up his opening gambit having got his special and regular action in the wrong order so the spartan archers (thanks to something of a mismatch between coloured pieces and hero choices), faffed about without achieving much.

Playstyles established themselves relatively quickly, James and Woody both pursuing an area control strategy; James helped by a blessing and artifact allowing him to reuse certain special actions each turn and Woody leveraging a powerful blessing that reduced the number of troops needed to capture territory whilst mixing in quests thanks to Perseus’ ability to rapidly fly round the board. Carston meanwhile stuck to the script and killed two monsters relatively rapidly, one in a stand up fight and one rather sneakily by blasting its final hit point away with an item after James had (somewhat unluckily) failed to kill it himself. Paul had managed to establish some semblance of a plan; killing the only other monster to have fallen so far, and setting up a base on the island of Euboea from where his double-marching hoplites could strike at the Red, Yellow, Blue and Grey lands in a single action (the plan being to head off an area control victory if needed).

With the neutral spaces on the board largely captured, the territorial skirmishes started in earnest; Paul’s mobile army striking from Chalikidiki in the north to Crete in the south; taking a temple from James and removing his control of the Grey lands. At the same time James launched an assault north, taking territory from Woody and putting him in striking distance of his two Land victory condition.

However, the next end-turn resulted in a new Monster spawning adjacent to Herakles, and by a bizarre bit of good fortune Carston’s 6 card hand happened to contain exactly the right 6 cards to dispatch Medusa in a single round of combat, ending the game via a Monster trophy victory.

Possibly a little faff-y first time out given rules explanation and so on, but one that certainly speeds up once everyone is in the flow. The Monuments are impressive and really add to the theme as they start to rise up and dominate the game-board. Cards rather than dice give a good balance of control and randomness, whilst the competing victory conditions mean there’s always something to be working towards. Generally a thumbs up from us and one we agreed we’d like to get back to the table again.

Final Scoring

Victory by Monster Trophies – CARSTON WIN

Colosseum

A slight break from our usual imperial conquests, Colosseum has the players take on the roles of rival impresarios in ancient Rome; hiring a range of perfomers to put on productions of increasingly extravagant plays and dramas in expandable ampitheatres.

Things maybe started a little ominously with James introducing it as a bit euro-y just as Paul launched into a calm and well reasoned critique (read diatribe) on the various euro mechanics he disliked; apparently many of which featured.

However, all was to be well, with the Emperors quickly settling into their roles and investing in their establishments and acting troupes.

Woody and James initially got stuck restaging their early material (Ode to Aurora in Woody’s case and a horse and chariot show in James’ case that seemed to often lack horses, or chariots, but in some cases did include ferrets). Carston meanwhile got off to a strong start thanks to the Emperor attending his performance for two shows in a row, whilst Paul made an early switch out of the blood sports business, trading his gladiators and horses to Carston for musicians and scenery to perfom both of his early programmes.

The mid-turns saw Carston stage the first silver-level production in his newly expanded theatre (the classic pairing of a Retiarius v Secutor) with Paul following soon after with the far more civilised (though it had to be said, less popular) Lyres of Mercury.

Woody and James continued to put on the same old shows, though both had been accuring the necessary investments and production components for a big end game push; Colosseum uses a slightly unorthodox scoring system where only a player’s highest spectator count out of the 5 shows they perform is scored, rather than a cumulative total. It’s a nice twist and means there was all to play for as we headed into the final turns.

Paul ending up going a turn early, seeing the opportunity presented by the Emperor and his accompanying Consol finally making it round to his side of the table, and put everything he had in to a grand production of (the now fine tuned) Lyres of Mercury. It was enough to secure the lead and podium medal for Turn 4, but had he peaked too soon?

James, Woody and Carston had all got into position to launch their gold-level productions for the final turn. James went first, crowding a range of nobles into his theatre (finally sporting a season ticket stand) and sending his star perfomers out to deliver the newly unveiled And Tellus Created the Earth. It was to be a masterpiece, securing first place (at least for the time being) with a solid score of 70 spectators.

However, the noble players were soon drowned out by the thundering drums and lion roars from Carston’s nearby ampitheatre as the grand production of Caesar’s Triumphant March began. Also receiving a number of noble visitors, and attracting further spectators thanks to his previous podium finishes, back-catalogue and Emperor’s Medals, Carston racked up the cash and prestige with an attendance of over 100.

Although the writing was on the wall, Woody also managed to get his new material in to the public domain with The Galleys of Apollo, scoring in the mid-60s, pretty much on pa with Paul’s final performance of the Lyres of Mercury in his boutique theatre.

A solid win to Carston, and a good first appearance at PE for Colosseum. Although certainly more of a euro than some of the things we play, the combination of a bidding mechanic for new pieces, an active need and benefit to trading pieces, and some effort put into building the theme (the expandable theatres really help, as does having the cards named and themed) meant it went down well even if euro-skeptics James and Paul.

Final Scoring

103 – Carston – WIN
70 – James
65? – Paul
64 – Woody

Civilization: New Dawn

Established now as a PE staple, Civ: New Dawn saw Carston command the fight-y Aztecs, Paul the barbarian quashing Sumerians and James the Scythian flying horse archers of doom. Woody had had to bow out by this point, so it was to be a three way race to victory.

Paul had learnt his lesson of being stranded at the edge of the board and so dropped his capital straight down in the middle of the map, whilst Carston and James took a more conservative approach.

The initial turns saw Paul’s Sumerian’s get off to a solid start; trading with nearby city states and Scythians to build up trade goods whilst defeating barbarians to earn resources. A quick pyramids giving the Sumerians a mid-game tech advantage. However, early attacks versus other players are challenging with the defensive bonuses of cities and the limited range of low tier attack cards making decisive breakthroughs challenging.

Instead the middle game was largely peaceful, with all three of the Emperors seeking to spread along the map edges to meet the “15 coastal or board edge” tiles objectives. The Scythians and Aztecs soon closed the tech gap, with all three Civilizations rushing the crucial “Flight” military tech, giving enhanced range and built in combat bonuses.

Carston ignited the World War this time round (following in Paul’s warmongering footsteps from a previous game), invading the city states of Kumesi and Brussels to secure his second victory condition. Paul quickly followed suit, though targetting James’ relatively lightly defended capital for his victory condition.

With all three players now sat on 2 / 3 victory conditions, a neverending tide of violence swept over the board. Carston had worked his Flight card into his top slot, and was cycling it back after every use with the Aztec’s special ability. Paul meanwhile was pulling off a similar feat; his Capitalism powered military-industrial complex creating trade goods and allowing the use of Flight every turn as well. James similarly had Flight tech, though with slightly fewer cities was the target of less attacks.

After multiple rounds of combat we seemed to have reached a stalemate; no-one could reach the requisite 8 cities in a single action, and upon ending their turn would immediately get attacked back, leaving a different player just shy of victory and perpetuating the cycle. In the end it was James who accepted the inevitable and deviated; building a second economic wonder, and pathing the way for Paul to secure two economic wonders with his attacks and win the game.

We all agreed this was a slightly odd game of Civ; possibly a combination of 3 players (resulting in the infamous 3 power stand off where no one can become powerful enough to defeat the other two, resulting in a constant flow of bash-the-leader (Orwell would be proud)) and also all of us now understanding the power of Flight and beelining for it. More players meaning more cities on the map would probably have ended things sooner by making it easier to reach 8, whilst having three less “fighty” factions might also have made a difference. Still with an expansion on the horizon that is due to add new victory conditions and new mechanics, it seemed fitting to give the base game a possible final outing.

Final Scoring

3 Victory Conditions Met – Paul WIN
2 Victory Conditions – James, Carston

1565, St Elmo’s Pay

The final game of the evening, with only two Emperors now remaining. 1565 is a limited card game set during the Great Siege of Malta and the skirmishes leading up to it. Players command the Knights of St John (Paul) or the Ottoman Empire (James), with cards presenting heroes, leaders, troops and tactics.

James’s Turkish assault got off to a solid start, putting early damage on to both the left and central ‘fronts’ and churning through their pre-Siege objectives ahead of the Knights. In particular the Ottoman bombards managed to do significant damage, killing two squads of Spanish Arqubusiers who had been taking potshots at the Turkish leader, whilst a Janissary Sniper killed the Spanish commander.

However, Paul had been playing a slightly longer game and managed to get a number of “resource” cards on to the table; these allow a player to pay part of the cost for more expensive units by tiring (tapping) the resource cards rather than discarding hand cards. Especially advantageous for the Knights with their powerful, but expensive, leaders and characters.

Although the Turks made it to the Great Siege first and began to batter down the harbour defenses, the Knights weren’t far behind; a valiant rearguard action shoring up the habour long enough for Paul to complete his final pre-objective. With the bay contested and rapidly falling to the Knights, and the key central battleground also swinging in favour of the defenders, the Turks were forced to withdraw.

A fun, slightly lighter game to finish, the quality of the card artwork and flavour text certainly carrying it a bit further than the raw mechanics. Probably more depth to it once you get to know the decks as well; I definitely found myself hanging on to cards because I had no idea whether they were “okay” or “excellent”. A better feel for the deck would probably make for some more informed tactical choices.

Final Scoring

Malta Holds! – Knights of St John Victory – PAUL WIN

Bank Holiday Battles

August Bank Holiday

The trials and tribulations of 2020 continue, though with things starting to ease slightly James was able to make the trip north to Birmingham for some ‘real’ gaming. Vassal and the various Steam adaptions of certain board games have been good for keeping the momentum going, but can’t really replace the in-person experience.

Brief Border Wars

First up was “Brief Border Wars” are 4-in-1 game covering a series of minor territorial skirmishes. We played the Cyprus scenario, with Paul commanding the defended Cypriots and James and invading Turks.

A relatively simple set of mechanics sees each player using a hand of cards to move their battalions around the map and engaged in combat. Battles are based on dice rolls modified by local terrain, concentration of troops, air support and quality of the combatants.

The Turkish invasion got off to a strong start, James landing the bulk of his heavy forces and making a push for the airstrip at Strovolos (which if captured would deprive the Cypriots of their air support) and the nearby capital of Nicosia City (worth a very valuable 3VP if controlled at the end of the game).

The Cypriots committed to the defense of the airport and piled the majority of their regular combat forces into shore up the defense (with hindsight this probably wasn’t the best move, the Greek airforce supporting the Cypriots didn’t have a huge impact on the game and having my regular units free to harass the Turkish irregulars would probably have been more useful in the long run).

The counterattack began around turn 5 (of 7) when Paul clocked that winning as the Cypriots didn’t mean controlling territory, it meant denying territory to the Turkish. (The win condition is scored based on the Turkish VPs, a low Turkish VP margin resulting in a Cypriot win. The defenders effectively achieve victory by preventing their territory being occupied). A change of strategy followed with the Cypriot forces spreading out across the map and contesting large swathes of territory.

With the game drawing to a close the Turks had broken through in Nicosia and now dominated the central and northern region, whilst the Cypriot ‘broad’ strategy have limited the overall Turkish gains and the concentration of troops in Strovolos was finally telling in favour of the defenders. From a minor Turkish victory and game had now swung back to a ‘draw’ with a possibility of the Cypriots pulling through.

Paul had saved several of this “special” reaction cards until late in the day, and now used them to rapidly refit and redeploy a number of damaged units, preparing for a final breakthrough push. Routing the final Turkish battalion at the airport and breaking through into Nicosia would deprive the Turks of much needed points at game end. Unfortunately the final hand of cards had not been kind, leaving only a “4” value combat card (meaning only 4 units out of the 6 present could engage).

The Turkish mountain commandos dug in around the airport infrastructure proved to be soo much for the Cypriot mechanised infantry and Greek air support. Some tenacious rolling seeing off the Cypriot counterattack and preventing the breakout into Nicosia.

With this last throw of the dice blunted, Paul conceded a draw. The Turkish had established themselves on the island and controlled key locations, though the Cypriots had equited themselves well.

Overall a fun and fairly streamlined game without needing copious amounts of rules. The semi-random nature of the activations (with each player having the same number of activations over the course of the game, but not necessarily equal in any given turn) gave the battle an ebb and flow, and, at only 7 turns, it’s not longer than it needs to be.

Certainly one I’d play again,

Final Scoring:

Turkish – 11VPS – Draw

Labyrinth: The Awakening

Next up was Labyrinth: The Global War on Terror, but with added addition of the “Awakening” base game. Having both got several games and a mini-tournament’s worth of experience of the base game under our belts, the addition of new features and cards was going to be an interesting twist.

Awakening is a relatively chunky expansion introducing a range of new concepts; “Awakening” and “Reaction” markers track the spread of democratic and autocratic trends across the region; shifting support and opinion in countries over time without direct involvement of the players. Countries can now descend into civil wars, and the map itself gets a bit of an overhaul with some new territories.

We played the single deck tournament scenario with James taking on the US and Paul the Jihadi’s. Initial set up already shakes the game up, with the US starting at a ‘soft’ posture and the regime change in Afghanistan already underway.

James quickly started ramping up the US prestige courtesy of flipping the UK and France to be a ‘soft’ posture to match the US, whilst Paul commenced the usual Jihadi approach of plotting in countries with troops to reduce prestige and looking for an opportunity to bring a Major Jihad to bear and begin the Islamist Rule country count building. The US starting on Soft was a major change for me, with the “grand tour” strategy (send cells off to Test new countries, generally resulting in a Soft world and Hard US (crippling US War of Ideas rolls and limiting prestige gains) no longer viable.

Although some unfortunate dice rolling meant James wasn’t about to flip the important Gulf States territory to Good governance early, the introduction of Facebook did get the Awakening bandwagon going, with Somalia, Saudi and Yemen all receiving counters.

In response Paul managed to engineer a brief civil war in Syria, knocking the country down to a Poor Adversary and building up forces there over the course of 2 card plays before pushing it over the edge into Islamist Rule with a follow-up major jihad.

Focus then shifted to Iraq as a key battleground. James had invested heavily in aid and awakening markers but hadn’t been able to quite clinch the deal. As a 3 resource country adjacent to the now Islamist Syria, Iraq was also a tempting target for the Jihadis. Further skirmishing followed before Paul, deciding he was getting decisively beaten, dropped a nuke in the form of a “Changing of the Government” card – resetting Iraq to untested status and removing all markers and pieces in play.

In the meantime the Awakening markers in the southern part of the map had borne fruit, with Yemen, Saudi and Somali all now Fair Allies, putting James in a strong position to build a base of linked Good countries. In response though, Egypt and Sudan had both received Reaction markers and were well on their way to becoming Islamist; Sudan falling at the end of the turn.

The final moves played out as a race over the line; the US swinging Saudi, Yemen, the Gulf States and Iraq to Good in a single turn netting the US 10 “Good Resources” despite a series of failed Jihads in Iraq to try and slow things down. In response the Jihadi’s moved a force into Egypt intending to establish Islamist Rule there and claim an instant 6-Islamist Resources win. The US special forces managed to nip this in the bud; eliminating several cells before they could strike, but it wasnt enough. The end turn saw Egypt fall to the reactionary forces, giving Paul his 6 resources and 2 connected countries.

Awakening certainly plays differently to the base game. The reaction and awakening markers swing regions fast; both directly by influencing governance and posture during the convergance phase, but also by adding major dice rolls to WoI and Jihads. With a solid Prestige bonus and a couple of reaction markers, US auto-successes are very achievable. We both agreed this gave the game more a feel of trying to hang on as fast paced event scythe through countries and regions compared to the more methodical approach of the base game. The US starting on soft definitely changes the game up as well; with limited fear of a Regime Change move the Jihadi’s can rush for Islamist Rule. The US, unable to directly intervene, doubles down on the Soft / WoI route. Other games with other card draws may play out differently, but to me it felt like this leads more to a ‘race’ scenario rather than a lot of play and counterplay. Certainly one to get back to the table, though maybe as an alternative to the base game rather than a straight upgrade.

Final Scoring

Islamist Resources 6, 2 adjacent countries
Good Resources 10


Jihadi (Paul) – WIN

No series of wargames is complete with at least some reference to the largest conflict of them all; so our next outing, suitably refreshed after some lunch, took us back to the 1940’s and World War 2.

Hitler’s Reich

A card and dice driven area control game, Hitler’s Reich saw James continue his role as the “good guys” taking command of the Allied forces, whist Paul commanded the Axis. The players take turns attacking territories on the map or engaging a strategic conflict represented by conflicts over Event cards, with combat itself a combination of dice rolls modified by command cards of increasing power.

Paul started by shoring up the Axis’ “soft underbelly” – conquering Greece and Yugoslavia, whilst bolstering the Axis forces with the addition of the Waffen-SS (adding an extra dice in combat) and Tiger Tanks (turning one die to an automatic success). James focused on North Africa, the Brits counterattacking into Libya and establishing themselves around Malta. The Allies also benefitted from a build up in forces, adding Shermans to their arsenal. Turkey found itself dragged into the war by the Allies before being promptly assaulted and occupied by the Nazi’s – opening up a vulnerable Allied flank in the middle east.

The game starts with the Soviet-Nazi peace pact in play, meaning neither side can attack the other, this all changes when the Axis player launches Operation Barborassa, receiving a slew of free actions and attacks to launch a (in theory) devastating attack on the Soviet Union.

Paul had been biding his time and milling through the draw deck to find his better commander cards in preparation for the ‘big push’ , though with the the German Supreme Commander card turning out to be the second to last card in the deck, hindsight suggests it might have been better to go early with a slightly weaker hand. (Also a bit of rules confusion here, I thought I got to use the same commander for all of the attacks in a blitzkrieg. Since that’s not actually how it works, the quest for the “best commander possible” to lead the attack was probably a bit wasted).

Never-the-less, a full set of German high command cards in hand, Paul launched Barborassa at the end of 1941. Initially successul, the blitzkreig crushed through the Soviet north-east, capturing Leningrad before plunging on to Moscow. Despite some valiant defense the Soviets were overcome and Moscow fell. The price had been high however, 3 blitz attacks had exhausted the Axis hand size, and whilst the Allies were also struggling thanks to the loss of 3 supply points, their problems were to be more shortlived.

The counterattack came from Zhukov and his lend-lease Shermans; punching back to recapture Moscow and with it a vital 2 supply points; replenishing James’ hand size and putting the Axis solidly on the backfoot. Things may still have gone either way though, with a second offensive launched by Rommel, backed by the Tiger Tank and Waffen-SS cards Paul had managed to maintain, hitting into the Caucasus. With a number of Allied defensive cards in play here as well, victory could help the Axis maintain some momentum. The dice rolling was close, but ultimately the Italian commanders proved inferior to their Soviet counterparts and the Allied lines held. Tigers and SS defeated, things looked grime for the Reich.

James went for the throat, a series of Strategic Bombing raids flattening Paul’s hand size, and ultimately knocking the Axis out the game.

A good game (though a bit of a dice roller), and one I’d certainly play again now I know the ropes a bit better. James’ advice that Guderian is a ‘must have’ for a major blitz certainly rings true (I think the single blitz into Leningrad was fine, Moscow was certainly an overeach. With Guderian in command things may have been different), whilst the command card mechanic introduces a bit of bluff / double bluff and card counting. (It’s always satisfying to catch an opponent’s high value card with something that mitigates it).

Allied Victory by Hand Size – James WIN

Men of Iron

Our final game of the evening took us back in time to the medieval era, with Paul’s latest addition; Men of Iron. A wargame charting the return of infantry to promience in the middle ages following a period of dominance by heavy cavalry. Although the game covers a numebr of battles we decided to go with Bannockburn; historically a famous Scottish victory over the English army of King Edward II, and also supposedly one of the more balanced scenarios.

A bit of a counter-fest the first challenge was getting everything assembled. Each token within Men of Iron represents a company of soldiers (pikemen, archers, cavalry and so on), with these units rolling up into colour-coded “Commands” which form the building blocks of armies. Everything is colour coded and numbered (in tiny writing). That said we got there in the end.

The battle starts with the numercial superior English disorganised and scattered; their cavalry having aggressively moved forward to begin the fighting whilst the English infantry was still in disarray. The Scots start well formed up in a defensive ‘schiltrom’ formation, making them highly resistant to cavalry attacks, but lacking the combined arms flexiblity of the the English forces.

Paul got off to a good start courtesy of some low activation dice rolls, moving the round up the English infantry whilst probing the flanks of the Scottish forces. James’ initial response was stymed by a concern of moving out of position (and becoming vulnerable to the English cavalry), whilst still needing to chase off the pesky English longbowmen whittling away at the Scottish units.

The Scottish left flank under Moray managed to inflict some damage to the English lines, eliminating a coule of units of archers in melee despite the Scottish infantry taking a bit of a beating on the way in, but by this point the English had managed to move into position and were bringing more forces to bear.

James finally took the plunge and ordered the Scottish centre forward, the high quality Scottish pikes under King Robert the Bruce moving up and chasing off the lighter English units. This however paved the way for a decisive English charge. 9 out of the 10 units of English heavy cavalry managed to encircle and flank Robert’s pike blocks who had got caught out of their ‘schiltrom’ formation. Rather messy combat later and the Scots centre had been smashed open.

Although technically not yet at their flight level, James conceded the field – with the English cavalry now unopposed and the both flanks of the English lines now shored up, it seemed unlikely the scattered Scottish units would be able to mount much of a counterattack.

On reflection, we both liked the game and think there’s potential, but may need to introduce some house / updated rules in future playthroughs. The “activation” mechanic needs a little work, with no incentive for an opponent to try and “sieze” control given that it’s statistically more likely your opponent will just fail their roll and hand you control automatically. At the same time, a flat 30-40% chance of success does open the door to a long run of continuous activations. I especially benefitted from that in this scenario – the cavalry’s two commanders effectively allowing them to move turn after turn as the two leaders alternated activations. Next time we will probably introduce a stacking +1 DRM for each roll, hopefully making play more fluid.

Having gone back and played this scenario a couple of times offline since, I’ve also concluded it’s too easy for the English to get their army organised and moving, and that the Scots have to be aggressive. Although the set up implies a defensive Scots position, simply waiting for the English to organise and advance almost guarantees defeat. The English’s 16 longbow units simply overpower the weaker Scots missile contingent and then pick apart the infantry at their leisure. (Interestingly this appears to be what happened historically, unlike his predecessors Robert the Bruce used his pike formations offensively, in the case of Bannockburn throwing the disorganised English back in to the marshes and routing them).

English Victory – Paul WIN

Meanwhile

In the meantime, a conflict has been rumbling on in the background for the best of 3 months now. With COIN games continuing to be a high pick for several of the Emperors, Paul, James, Carston and Woody decided to test out the practicality of a play-by-installment game of Liberty or Death a COIN game charting the flow of the Amercian War of Independence. Woody took on the role of the perfidious Patriots, Carston commanded the British, James the French and Paul the Indians.

Campaign 1 – 1775

With the British mostly starting ‘off map’ and the French not even able to enter proceedings until mustering sufficient force and enacting the ‘Treaty of Alliance’ it was mostly left to the Patriots to commence proceedings.

From their base in Massachusettes the Patriots sent out Militia to rouse up the colonials in the central states, whilst staying away from concentrations of British forces in Boston and New York City. The Indians tried to stay below the radar, massing in the Indian Reserves and begin to establish villages (both a victory condition and a source of wealth for the cash-strapped natives). The British managed to deploy some forces to the area, but with no Patriot Continentals the British Regulars had no good targets and were relatively ineffective whilst being gradually chipped away at by the Patriot’s French-funded Partisan activity.

Campaign 2 – 1776

After a relatively short first campaign (courtesy of the Winter card coming up early) the campaign of 1776 ran long. The Indians and Patriots both capitalised on this, the Indians getting a total of six villages out on the board (marginally pulling ahead of the Patriot fort count), whilst the Patriot campaign for the hearts and minds of the colonists was paying off; a relatively cash strapped Carston unable to effectively fight back against a wave of Patriot propaganda.

The French were still sitting off-map, meaning direct combat was again rather limited, though with French preparations nearly completion James would be able to take a more active hand in proceedings soon.

Campaign 3 – 1777

1777 was probably the Campaign that set the scene for the res of the game. Stung by lack of funds at the end of campaign 2 due to limit city control, the British garrisoned the coastal cities in force; guaranteeing end turn income, but at the cost of allowing the higher-scoring colonies to be picked off by the Patriots.

The Indians, now fully established in the Reserves began to spill over the border, raiding aggressively into Virgina, North Carolina and Georgia. Forced with a choice between maintaining garrisons there (and potentially being vulnerable to a British counterattack) the Patriots focused more of their efforts in the north; established an impressively impervious defense in Mass. and Rhode Island.

The French had managed to get on the board but found themselves hamstrung by the limited movement options. Only able to march into or with Patriot troops, the concentrated Patriot strategy also limited the French’s movement options; reducing James to ongoing bribery attempts to encourage Woody into actions that caused British casualties (a French victory condition but not a Patriot one).

At the mid-way point the French were in the lead; British casualties outweighing a small deficit in Opposition to the Royalists, but a long way from achieving a end-of-year win – would they be able to hold on?

Campaign 4 – 1778-9

With the core battlelines drawn, a double session saw the hard grind of chipping territory away from the opponent and hoarding resources kick in.

The Indians focused on Pennslyvania, getting over the border and establishing two more villages, bringing them level with the Patriot fort victory condition, although this commitment in the notrth meant the Patriots managed to swing South Carolina back to the Rebellion.

The main Continental army continued to amass in Massachusettes, though British forces in New York and Boston continued to prove a hinderance. Battles in LoD use a dice roll and modifier mechanic, with larger forces rolling more dice, and leaders, forts, supporting units all impacting the outcome. Forts in particular though provide a major benefit; reducing defender losses and increasing attacker loses, whilst also stacking. As a result the “double fort” locations quickly became unapproachable.

James made his big play of the game, using his “Brillant Stroke” card to march an army into Boston, aiming to trap and eliminate the British army blockaded there. Although getting in and getting the better of the initial combat, James failed to capitalise on it (and mistake realised in hindsight of not following through the out of sequence play with a second Battle on his following turn), and the British were able to recover.

Although not a knock-out blow the continued Partisan raiding and French attacks had whittled the British down, with the Casualties track now 4 points in favour of French, though the Royalists were hanging on to a small lead in support.

Campaign 5 – 1780

The final campaign of the game, and with only 6 cards left in the deck before the potential for the Winter Quarters card to arrive, time was rapidly running out for any decisive moves. Carston and Paul had both hung on to their ‘Brillant Stroke’ cards, hoping that the late use would limit the chances for the Royalists to respond, whilst also locking James and Woody out of full turns and special activities as the clock ticked down.

Paul used his card to some effect, dodging a nasty French / Patriot event and full action combo and also getting a village down in Virgina – tying up the Indian / Patriot second victory condition, but was somewhat stymied by the lack of a “full” turn after the brillant stroke.

The main feature fo the round though, and arguably the game defining moment, was the British assualt on the Patriot fortifcations at Rhode Island. A huge redcoat army under the command of Howe, the British Leader, faced down a 10-stack of Patriot Continentals and French Regulars defending 2 forts, the French commanded by Lazun.

It was always going to be a big ask with the British rolling 3d3 vs the Rebellion’s 3d3+3, but with time running out a massive roll might have swung the casualties number Carston’s way and delivered a much needed Support boost.

Despite his reputation, Carston’s digital dice disowned him, and a disappointing roll of 4 off 3d3 later he was crushed under Woody’s roll of 8 + 3. Seven British casualties later the colonists of New York decided it was time to throw in their lot with the Rebellion.

Although there was some final skirmishing and a bit of math-hammer at the end as Paul and Woody tried to work their way round a powerful event card for the final play of the game, not much really shifted in the board state.

Once end game scoring was totted up the Rebellion had nudged ahead on Support, whilst the decisive defeat of the British army meant the French netted a solid win on their secondary victory condition.

Final Scoring:

French: +7 – JAMES WIN
Patriots: +1
Indians: -1
British: -7

On reflection we all came away feeling Liberty or Death doesn’t quite hit the mark, certainly as a 1v1v1v1. Having a ‘natural’ ally could be nice, but in practice ends up in some wonky situations (by the end it was clear Woody’s only hope of victory was to purposefully sacrifice his armies to create Rebellion casualties, otherwise James would win). The French can be frustrating to play, spending half the game off board, and a chunk of the rest of it hamstrung by limited movement options. The British with their extreme mobility should be fun, but practically a turtled Patriot player isn’t exposing any Continentals for the British to engage, and major set piece battles always seem to favour the defender.

One suggestion was to play it was a true team game on a 2v2 basis, with a combined victory total (Casualties + Villages + Support vs Casualties + Forts + Opposition). That would help alleviate some of the ‘unwinnable’ situations, and might also mean the joint actions get more use. If this one gets back to the table its probably going to be on that basis.

A Near Run Thing

June 2020, 205th Anniversay of the Battle of Waterloo

With the Emperors largely confined to quarters courtesy of Covid-19 warfare has had to be continued by other means. Steam and Vassal have both been brought to bear to allow imperial conquests to continue, and as June saw the 205th anniversay of the Battle of Waterloo, fought between the 15th-18th June 1815, it seemed an opportune time to for James and Paul to break out the Vassal module of Mark Herman’s “Waterloo; Campaign of 1815”

This was our second outing to the fields of Belgium and we reversed roles, James taking on the staunch Anglo-Allied forces under the command of Wellington and Bloucher, whilst Paul directed the French. Mechanically the game is relatively simple, the players maneourving their infantry and cavalry corps on the map to attain favourable positions before a brutal combat mechanic resovles attacks. Complexity is added by the need for forces to stay with Command range of their respective generals, the interplay between cavalry (precious, mobile, and capable of a single powerful charge each turn) and infantry (numerous, slow, able to gain defensive bonuses), and the terrain itself; roads allow for faster movement at longer ranges, villages and chateaux providing defensive advantages.

Broadly the French have the advantage in maneourve; their three generals allows for units to move over a broader area of the map compared to the Allies split Anglo / Prussian commands. On the other hand the British forces represent the most powerful units individually and Wellington if devoted to his ‘battle’ mode provides the biggest bonus.

The previous game had ended with an Allied victory after one of Paul’s British corps had rampaged through a depleted French line courtesy of a series of successful dice rolls, decisive, but not hugely satisfying. Would history repeat itself this time, or would Napoleon halt the Seventh Coalition in its tracks?

The Battle of Ligny, June 15-16th

The opening positions of the two forces largely drive the players into a set of historical moves. The British start scattered, but with a good road network to concentrate their forces. The Prussians meanwhile start exposed to an initial French push into Ligny. The Prussians need to retreat in good order, the French need to make their initial attacks count before the Allies can consolidate their position.

Broadly both forces managed to achieve part of their initial objectives; the British got on to the board and started to converge on Wellington’s position. The Prussians meanwhile fell back to a defensive line at Ligny. However, the French took first blood, aggressively moving up to engage the Prussian 1st Corp under Ziethen, and having locked them in combat, then reinforced the attack with Grouchy’s Reserve Cavalry and the 3rd French Infantry Corps under Vandamme. A bit of luck to Paul converted a dice roll advantage into an elimination (rather than the more likely “blown” result that would allow Ziethen’s troops to return to the field later in the game).

Retreat in the Rain, June 17th

June 17th brings the potential for rain, slowing down troop movements off the road network, exhausting cavalry and giving a powerful advantage to defenders (as cannons become less effective due to the soft ground).

Given that neither force really wanted to attack given the weather conditions turns 5 and 6 became more about maneourve. The French abilty to secure their centre with Napoleon (giving a small combat bonus to nearby troops) whilst still retaining flexibility thanks to Ney and Grouchy commanding the flanks came into its own. A no man’s land had formed between the French forces at Ligny and the British at Tilly (the British were unable to attack since it would take them outside Wellington’s command range, whilst the French had no desire to attack the superior British infantry, particularly in the rain), but around this static core the French were able to launch an attack north under Ney (driving off the British cavalry under the command of Uxbridge but utlimately indecisive), and east, some skirmishing saw the British 2nd Corps under Hill and the French 1st under D’Erlon both blown, though able to return for the final phases of the game.

As June 17th came to a close the French were still ahead in points, but not enough to claim a ‘strategic’ victory (the margin deemed sufficient to count as a win given the historic conditions), and the Anglo-Allied forces had been able to link up. The game was still finely balanced as we moved into Turn 7 – a crucial tipping point since “blown” Corps would now count as eliminated making combat far more decisive (and risky).

Napoleon forces a breach, 18th June AM

The ground began to dry out on the morning of the 18th, allowing for more freedom of movement, but still making attacking a challenging prospect. Wellington established at Tilly and forced a withdrawal of the French Guard and Reserve Cavalry that had been marauding down the western flank, whilst Bloucher was able to concentrate the Prussian forces at Corroy Le Chateau. However, some aggressive cavalry play by the French allowed them to force a breach between the two Allied armies, catching the British cavalry in the process. Although cavalry play had featured in our initial game, James had certainly developed their use further; effectively locking down Paul’s powerful French Guard Infantry with the comparatively weak Prussian cavalry; before retreating the cavalry once the French movement phase ended; leaving the Guard isolated and useless in the coming attack phase, whilst the Prussians were still able to benefit from cavalry support. A very effective tactic (and one Paul stole without delay in the subsequent turn).

Despite the rain both sides had set up some powerful attacks; the British cavalry, isolated and unsupported, were routed by Vandamme’s 3rd Infantry and the elite French Guards Cavalry, depriving the British of potentially crucial cavalry support for the final phases of the battle. In response the concentrated Prussian forces wiped out Reille’s 2nd infantry corps who had been sacrificed to protect the flank of the units going after Uxbridge’s British cavalry.

To end the phase James tried a risky attack on the French Reserve cavalry at Ligny. A bit of rules caffuling ensued since it was unclear whether defending cavalry still received their ‘battle star’ bonus, though ultimately it didn’t matter either way; the dice granted the French a decisive win and Hill’s 2nd infantry corp was also eliminated.

A strong turn for the French with 2 of the powerful British corps knocked out of the fight at the cost of only a 0 star infantry corp. The French were now in a position to deliver a hammer blow to the Prussian army.

The Guard Dies, it does not Surrender, June 18th PM

(This one might not be exactly right since I had to recreate it from memory rather than a screen-grab)

The final turn of the game started the the French exploiting their cavalry superiority to lock down the British infantry corps. Utilising the same move as James had pulled in the previous turn, the French cavalry units moved into contact with the British forces “locking” them in their Zone of Control, and allowing the rest of the French army to descend on the Prussians – before withdrawing once the Coalition forces had ended their movement; leaving the British without anyone to fight in the final Attack Phase.

The Prussians formed up for their last stand, and rather than nibble at the edges and try and claim a points victory, Paul committed the French forces to decisive final attack.

Things started well for the French, Vandamme’s 3rd Infantry scoring yet another victory, assaulting the Prussians from the north (Vandamme’s third scalp of the battle). The Prussian counterattack was always going to be difficult and an attack by Burlow saw another Prussian defeat, forcing them to withdraw.

This set the stage of the most powerful attack of the battle, The Guard Infantry, suported by the Guard Cavalry and directed by Napoleon descended on Pirch’s entirely isolated 2nd Prussian Infantry. At +5 (on a d6 roll-off) French victory seemed assured.

The Guard attacked. The Guard rolled a 1. The Prussian peasants stopped the cream of French imperial might dead in their tracks.

Rightly identifying that further French assaults were inevitable Pirch’s plucky Prussians counterattacked. The Prussians attacked. The Guard rolled a 1, and unable to retreat, they died. 5 crucial VPs to the Prussians.

It fell to Gerard and the 4th French infantry to salvage the military honour of France, and in the final attack of the game they routed the Prussian cavalry in a close, but decisive, melee, smashing the Prussian centre in the process.

Final scores:

FRANCE: 15pts (5 corps eliminated; Uxbridge, Orange, Ziethen, Theilman, Genisenau)

ALLIES: 3 pts (1 normal corps eliminated (Reille), 1 Guards Corps (Drouout), -5 for not securing lines of communication).

French (Paul) STRATEGIC VICTORY

Final thoughts

2 games played and 1 win either way suggests a relatively balanced game. Playing as the Allies it felt like the French mobility meant your powerful infantry struggled to get into the game, as the French, the British 2 star infantry are a frightening prospect for your weaker troops, especially in a situation where a prolonged exchange of attacks will favour the British static bonuses vs the French cavalry ‘burst’ damage. A very asymmetric flavour (which to me is a plus).

We’ve both learned to use cavalry better; locking down infantry units before retreating later in the round. This makes keeping your own cavalry mobile important (since a cavalry unit that gets “locked” fighting infantry with their defensive and support bonuses is not in for a good time), and also gives a noticeable incentive to be the person who doesn’t finish moving first. (Since your cavalry can then retreat unopposed).

The rain over turns 5-7 was certainly a factor, making it more practical for low tier units to hang on versus a moderately committed attack. (Rain, in a village, with a general bonus was a +3 modifier, fairly decent, especially when ‘blown’ doesn’t yet mean eliminated). A drier game might favour whoevers on the attack more since it makes edge combats more favourable.

Arrakis and Aliens

Saturday 08 Feb, 2020 – Camden Lock

Our second Plastic Emperors of the year and with a somewhat larger showing – James, Chris, Paul, Cartson and Woody making up a 5 player group, with only Steve unable to attend. Once again at the LOB event in the Holiday Inn in Camden.

Although 5 can sometimes be a bit tricky (both TI4 and ST:A can start getting cumbersome past 4 players), by design we had two games lined up that easily accommodated; Dune and Nemesis.

Dune

A recent reprint by Galeforce9 of a game originally released in 1979. Players take on the roles of the various factions struggling for supremacy over the planet of Arrakis and the valuable Spice produced by the native Shai-Hulud (giant sandworms).

With Woody running a bit late courtesy of some impressive delays on the underground, factions were randomly assigned, though Paul and James swapped the Harkonnens and Atreides to each get their preferred faction, and for our first outing we stuck to the Basic Rules.

Carston took on the role of the Padish Emperor – by far the richest faction courtesy of the other players paying the Emperor for gaining special ability, weapon and defense cards. Woody controlled the Spacing Guild, again benefitting from payments from other players for deploying their off-board reserves and also arguably the most mobile of the factions, Chris commanded the native Freman (strong leaders and the cheapest replenishment of basic forces), Paul the information rich Atreides and James and sneaky Treachery and Traitor card-flinging Harkonnen.

The game plays out over 10 turns, with each turn seeing violent storms sweep the sand-seas of Dune, players bidding for powerful (or useless) Treachery cards, forces maneourving to secure Strongholds and harvest Spice, and Battles between opposing players.

The opening turn saw the Atreides locked in Arraken by a storm and the Emperor also sitting out the action in orbit, whilst the other players began to feel their way out onto the map with some minor skirmishes. Paul leveraged the Atreides ability of being the only player aware of the detail of the Treachery cards being auctioned off to gain some additional income as an information dealer; an activity we eventually concluded is within the rules (and seems supported by other strategy reviews) though caused some confusion thanks for a rather woolly worded rulebook.

An early Sandworm attack on Turn 2 heralded the first Nexus event when players can form alliances. Although this increases the required stronghold count for victory from 3/5 to 4/5 it also allows the two players to share additional resources and claim a joint victory. Carston and Paul quickly combined to bring together the Emperor’s wealth and the Atreides information advantage to lock up the Treachery Card bidding phase, whilst the Fremen and the Harkonnen joined together in an attempt to create a military power-base. Woody as the Spacing Guild ended up stuck as an independent though this feels less of a handicap since the Guild’s special victory condition means the Spacers win if no other faction or alliance have achieved victory by turn 10.

Turn 2 saw the first main battles take place between the Harkonnen and the Guild and the first of the Sardukar making planetfall to secure a foothold for the Imperials. This gave us a feel for the mechanics; a little more involved than the dice rolling or single card play from some other games. Each player picks a Leader to command their force, a number of Forces to commit to the battle (and falling casualty as a result) as well as a Defense and Weapon card which can potentially kill (or protect) opposing leaders. With a bit of practice this feels like it can be a fairly slick process but it makes battles feel “meaty” and adds a nice element of bluff and decision making into which weapons or leaders to use; particular with the ever-present threat of a Traitor lurking in the background. Chris also completed our first successful Spice harvest in the Funeral Plain; the only time during the game that any player would manage to do so.

The big moves came in turn 3 with the Emperor dropping a second stack of 10 Forces into Sietch Tabr, and the Atriedes redeploying a stack that had been on spice-collection duty into a full attack on Carthag; the Harkonnen city stronghold. Although the Fremen responded with an attack on Arrakeen (Paul’s homebase) I think the purpose of these attacks passed under the radar a little.

Carston’s overwhelming assault easily took Sietch Tabr, whilst a bloody pair of battles saw the Atreides successfully assault Carthag and defend Arrakeen; aided in both cases by Paul Atreides’ Prescient ability that allowed (real) Paul to see his opponents defensive cards before the battle took place.

With their four strongholds secure, Carston and Paul then claimed victory at the end of the turn; perhaps an alternate timeline where the Atriedes “promotion” to the rulership of Arrakis was a genuine move by the Emperor to lessen his reliance on the untrustworthy Harkonnen rather than a trap for the Duke.

Although a rather unexpectedly rapid end, plenty of support round the table for a return visit to Arrakis; possibly at LobsterCon in the Spring and this time with the advanced rules to further differentiate the factions. We possibly all underestimated the speed with which forces can move around the map (unlike Game of Thrones were armies are relatively static, the combination of ‘off map’ reserves that can arrive almost anywhere and some surprisingly rapid movement options for several of the factions) and also the potential for brutally decisive battles. I think next time might see some more cautious play with bigger defensive garrisons holding Strongholds.

Carston (Emperor), Paul (Atreides) WIN

Nemesis

With Dune having wrapped up a bit quicker than planned we had plenty of scope to breakout Nemesis , a big box game which Chris had heroically carted to multiple events now and not managed to get to the table.

Very much the board game of Aliens, Nemesis sets the players up as the crew of a starship, awakening from hibernation to find one of the crew dead and ship overrun by not-Aliens. In a semi-co-op fashion the crew must then navigate round the ship, fixing malfunctions, avoiding (or fighting) the “Intruders” and seeking to complete a secret objective each. Some of these objectives can be fully co-operative, whilst others are outright competitive (including ensuring all other players die). This adds a tense edge to proceedings and prevents quarterbacking, with players constantly weighing up whether their fellows are really helping out or if they’ve just sabotaged the engines and condemned anyone left onboard to hyperlight death at game end.

With the Captain the slaughtered crewman at game start the Emperors took on the roles of the Scout (Carston), Pilot (Woody), Soldier (James), Engineer (Chris) and Scientist (Paul – after vetoing playing Scout for a third game in a row, and drawing Scout at random to begin). As Carston pointed out Nemesis seems to follow a pattern where everyone agrees to co-operate, up until the point where people get their first action, at which point the party splits up. Sticking together slows down the exploration of the ship but makes moving safer and fighting easier.

In our case, Woody started proceedings by immediately stumbling into a slime-filled access room and getting an instant debuff, before bravely pushing on for the Bridge (where characters can check and potentially amended the ship’s heading). Chris followed suit, almost immediately barging into the Alien’s Nest and spawning the emergence of our first Intruder. Paul and Carston stuck move together working up the aft-port section of the ship and meeting up with James’ soldier after finding the Comms Room (required for several objectives).

Inevitably as the game progresses things start to get out of hand; malfunctions and fires begin to spread, characters get injured (and potentially infected with Alien parasites) and residual noise build-up makes movement slower and more dangerous.

Chris eventually escaped the nest and made it to the engines – as the mechanic character one of the best placed to identify and fix any faults which would destroy the ship (or indeed sabotage them if that’s the plan). Meanwhile Paul had located the escape pod controls and access points and begun the process of repairing the room and activating the pods.

By about a third of the way through the turn-timer things were starting to look desperate for the crew; the Intruder Queen had appeared and tail-swiped Serious Wounds on to both Carston and Chris, Woody had managed to change into clean clothes (de-Sliming him in the process), but still seemed to be on the hunt for something – exploring the corners of the stern-starboard sections, and James had started to move over towards the escape pods with Paul.

In a moment of camaraderie Paul’s Scientist backtracked to join James’ Soldier in fighting off an Adult Intruder, before both characters made it to the escape pods. James was first into the pods, but in a fateful moment decided to wait for the Scientist before blasting off. Unfortunately the Scientist’s stumbling attempts to follow drew the attention of another monster, pulling James out of the pods and back into combat; receiving a minor wound and an infection card in the process. Although both Scientist and Soldier ultimately escaped; along with the corpse of the Captain, James’ heroic Soldier had become host to an Intruder Parasite; ultimately dying at game end as he was devoured from within.

Whilst Paul and James made their ill-fated escape, Chris’ Engineer clearly decided that no-ship was better than a Bug filled ship and set fire to the Nest location; a fire which quickly spread to the engine rooms and central quarters. Despite dodging several Adults and another near brush from the Queen sadly Chris met this end moments away from the second set of escape pods, bleeding out from accumulated wounds. A similar fate befell Woody, who, somewhat time-constrained, also tried to make a final run through the ship to complete his objective (explore all rooms), but also fell to the combination of wounds and aliens.

With 8 turns left on the clock that left just Carston’s Scout alive onboard; his mission to escape whilst also ensuring the ship itself was destroyed; purging the intruder threat. Over 3-4 solo turns Carston’s scout ducked, dodged, dived and dipped and dodged his way past Adults, larvae and snuck under the nose of the Queen to reach the escape pods and successfully escape as the only other survivor after Paul’s Scientist. Unfortunately however, Chris, although dying in the process, had done his job well and repaired enough of the engines to ensure a safe hyperlight jump; the ship safely reaching the orbit of Mars where the Intruders could spread further…

Ultimately that left Paul to claim a second victory having achieved his objective of his own, plus another player’s survival (being fair, probably one of the easier objectives since I didn’t need to ensure a specific person’s survival and since everyone was trying to escape I could largely rely on self-interest to get me over the line). Honourable mentions to James’ roleplay sacrifice to keep the pod doors open, and Carston’s jinxing Scout – (the third time I’ve played and third time the Scout has been left as last-character on board and made a mad dash to freedom in the closing moments of the game).

Very thematic game and one that I’m sure will make further showings!

Paul (Scientist) WIN
Carston (Scout) – Survived
James (Soldier) – Killed by alien chestburster
Chris (Engineer) – KIA by multiple wounds, burns, bleeds and broken bones
Woody (Pilot) – MIA, presumed Dead at the hands (claws) of the Intruders

2020 – Gaming in a new decade

Saturday 18 Jan 2020, Camden Lock

The first PE event of the year, taking place at LoB as a convenient central location for the three Emperors in attendance; Chris, James and Paul.

Although a somewhat optimistic agenda included Empires of the Void 2 and Tyrants of the Underdark, the session was entirely dominated by Churchill, one of James’ newer GMT acquisitions, though not a COIN.

Churchill fills a niche very much of it’s own, part competitive (it has a single, individual winner at the end) part co-operative (since it’s hard to get much done entirely on your own), a game about a war, but not a war-game.

The players take on the roles of Roosevelt, Stalin and the eponymous Churchill over a series of conferences that took place throughout WW2. Negotiations on key issues drive the allocation of Allied forces to different theatres of operations, the establishment of clandestine spy-rings and in turn political control over countries and colonies, the development of the atomic bomb, and the establishment of a post-war geo-political framework.

To make things even more intricate scoring and victory is determined in a possibly unique way; winning the war as the strongest faction doesn’t necessarily net you overall victory if in doing so you break the delicate Alliance between the US, UK and USSR, likewise being last when the game ends doesn’t necessarily mean failure if the scores are close enough.

The players must therefore look to advance their own interests (and point totals) whilst taking care to maintain the balance. A delicate line to walk, and one which makes Churchill a far more complex beast than it may appear on the surface.

Act 1: Europe’s Soft Underbelly

With rules explanation and set-up out the way, the game began with the three factions broadly focusing on their own priorities. The Russians attempted to build up forces to breakthrough the Eastern defenses of the Germans, though going proved tough given the amount of armies defending the East prior the D-Day.

The British meanwhile focused on building up momentum for a push through Africa and into the Egypt, securing some useful Pol-Mil points in the process and doing their best to hold up D-Day (an early D-Day nets the US player points whilst an early success in Italy does the same for the British).

The US meanwhile struggled to balance the competing demands of the Pacific, European and global theatres, building up strong naval forces to contest the Japanese but some unlucky dice rolls styming the initial advance.

The UK’s Imperial Staff ability helped Paul chalk up early points, dominating the agenda phase of each conference and securing a key item early on, whilst James tried to leverage his “Neyt” bonus but found himself stymied by Chris playing after him.

Rather than meticulously track scoring we agreed to do an early score at the end of round 2, another towards round 5-6 and then a final pre-end scoring at round 8. This gave the players a sense of where they were whilst cutting out most of the “points counting” that could easily be the bane of the game.

The early scoring had the UK take a commanding lead thanks to the early Pol-Mil and Conference wins, and Chris racking up penalties for the US due to insufficient progress in the Pacific and on Manhatten Project.

Act 2: Operation Overlord

Under pressure from both the US and USSR leaders, and facing delays in the Italian campaign, Churchill (Paul) was finally forced to accept the second front opening in Europe and D-Day being launched. However, Paul was able to force some concessions on global and Pol-Mil issues as the price for allowing the invasion to go ahead, helping the British establish a colonial stranglehold that would prove to be worth plenty of points come scoring.

With the Western Front opened, the James’ Soviets also found the going easier, some of the German divisions pulled off to defend the Atlantic wall and face the oncoming American juggernaut. The race for Berlin was now on!

As we reached mid-game scoring the British overseas focus was paying off, with the UK sufficiently far ahead to establish Global Hegemony ; effectively meaning the UK points score was more than the combined USSR and US totals. This put Paul in a precarious situation as we entered the final phases of the game; as the points began to roll in for the US and through Pacfic theatre advances and the USSR scored in the Europe, was his lead going to be enough to deliver the “more than both opponents combined” victory, or just enough to break the Alliance and hand victory to second place…

Act 3: Imperial Sunsets

By this point we’d got a fairly good handle on the mechanics and as we headed into the final turns the focus was shifting to tactics, negotiations and end game positions rather than mechanics or rules queries.

At the instigation of the British the Western Allies amassed a huge push in Europe, planning to breakthrough the German defenders and take Berlin in a single massive assault, at the same time as forcing Japan into submission through the completion of the atomic bomb and closing the naval noose on the Japanese homelands.

With hindsight this was not the smartest play by Paul – boosting the UK and US totals but no the USSR who were struggling in 3rd place. This exacerbated the risk that the UK would finish too far in the lead to claim an Allied victory, but not far enough to claim a Hegemony victory.

James’ Soviets meanwhile had started to make headway but were struggling to complete their breakthrough given the amount of resources being dragged into the US / UK offensive in the West. Retrospectively we also realised this was a result of James doing himself out of 2 crucial production points each turn due to misreading his starting income values…clearly Politburo maneourvings had managed to siphon away even more resources than Comrade Stalin expected!

With the Emperors running short on time and the writing clearly on the wall for the Axis we wrapped the game up with a simultated turn 8; the Western Allies driving into Germany; blocked from the single turn breakthrough by some valiant rearguard actions, but ultimately unstoppable, with Japan surrending shortly thereafter.

Final scoring put the UK far ahead of any other single faction on 63 points, triggering the Broken Alliance condition (when the 1st placed player is more than 20 points ahead of the 3rd placed player). To claim victory Paul would need to beat the combined scores of the US (43) and USSR (30). Falling short of Global Hegemony, the British could only look on as the US and USSR forged a new order, locking the British out of key decisons and ultimately out of power.

Agreed as a thoroughly enjoyable game by all, and I’m sure much quicker on a second playthrough that doesn’t require the rules teach at the beginning. Looking back I should have either been more ruthless in crushing the Soviets, or more supportive to prevent the alliance breaking; a good lesson in the adage of “be decisive.”

Also a good contender for me of top ‘negotiation’ game; the card play and issues mechanic means deals between players are crucial to success, but without some of the bitterness that can seep into games like New Angeles. Probably still needs the right group to function at full effectiveness, but an excellent change of pace from our usual fare.

CHRIS WIN – US UNDER BROKEN ALLIANCE CONDITIONS

Top 10s for 2019

Second year of the Plastic Emperors, second year of our top 10s.

Last year was dominated by sci-fi games. This year sci-fi remains very popular, but games with a historic war theme are making a bit of an impact, notably from the COIN series, and due to the popularity of the epic War Room. Despite the highly disappointing eighth series of the TV show, Game of Thrones also makes an entry, with the Mother of Dragons expansion appealing to new players and experienced hands alike. Unsurprisingly given the origins of the PEs, euros are somewhat thin on the ground, though Trickerion and Terraforming Mars still remain favoured among those that enjoy such games. TI4 cements its place as overall favourite, in four top fours (and two number one spots). Star Trek Ascendancy drops back a bit but still remains popular, as does Forbidden Stars.

As for next year – will COIN continue to surge? James and Carston are both getting new games in the series. Dune is likely to make a big splash – Chris is the only one to have played it and has it as his number 3! Steve, Woody and Chris all have big miniatures-based games which could perform well (Reichbusters, Tainted Grail and Nemesis). Ahhh, what a time to be alive.

By Plastic Emperor the top 10s are as follows:

James – Going down the GMT/historic/war games wormhole a bit. Loving, f*@king loving, the COIN series. All of them. And GMT in general. Meanwhile TI4 has over-taken STA, and anything euro has gone (bye bye Terraforming Mars, Scythe… you can stay though Cyclades).

  1. COIN
  2. TI4
  3. Star Trek Ascendancy
  4. New Angeles
  5. Twilight Struggle
  6. Labyrinth: War on Terror
  7. Game of Thrones
  8. Churchill
  9. Conan
  10. Cyclades

Paul – Also falling for COIN, though TI4 remains top (not least thanks to a crushing first win earlier this year). War Room is obviously and clearly a ‘Paul game’ so no surprise to see it at number three. More surprising is the new entry at number five: Tiny Epic Galaxies – which is there for its newbie-friendliness apparently.

  1. TI4
  2. COIN
  3. War Room
  4. Game of Thrones
  5. Tiny Epic Galaxies
  6. Star Trek Ascendancy
  7. Letters from Whitechapel
  8. Kemet
  9. Conan
  10. Tyrants of the Underdark

Steve – As eclectic as ever, Steve’s list contains just about every genre of game; horror and hidden movement, social deduction and dry euro, with coop, dudes on a map and dungeon crawlers thrown in. Everything except historical-themed. Hmmmm.

  1. Fury of Dracula
  2. Mysterium
  3. Robinson Crusoe
  4. Letters from Whitechapel
  5. Battle of Five Armies
  6. La Havre
  7. Avalon
  8. Eclipse
  9. Star Wars Imperial Assault
  10. Conan

Woody – Not much change from last year. Still refusing to climb on the TI4 bandwagon. Fire in the Lake and War Room make an entry but that’s… hold on… what… where’s?… it was his grail game… Poor old Chaos in the Old World. Fortunately for Khorne Chris is there to provide blood for the blood god.

  1. Star Wars Rebellion
  2. Trickerion
  3. Fire in the Lake
  4. Star Trek Ascendancy
  5. Forbidden Stars
  6. Lisboa
  7. Brass: Birmingham
  8. Game of Thrones
  9. Claustrophobia 1643
  10. War Room

Carston – Similarly not much change from last year, infact almost identical new entries as Woody. You two, the NVA-VC love in continues. TI4 retains top spot. Star Trek Ascendancy drops out of the list after an underwhelming five player game at LobsterCON.

  1. TI4
  2. Trickerion
  3. Blood Rage
  4. Terraforming Mars
  5. Forbidden Stars
  6. War Room
  7. Gaia Project
  8. Fire in the Lake
  9. Brass: Birmingham
  10. Game of Thrones

Chris – Totally solid list. Everyone a banger – until we play it ourselves next year we’ll take Chris’ word for it that Dune merits the accolade.

  1. Chaos in the Old World
  2. Star Trek Ascendancy
  3. Dune
  4. TI4
  5. Forbidden Stars
  6. War Room
  7. Terraforming Mars
  8. Blood Rage
  9. Star Wars Rebellion
  10. Cyclades

LobsterCon XVIII 15-17NOV

(Copyright; Michael Steemmeijer)

November… the final month before everything gets overrun by rabid hordes of reindeer and glitter, and as the darkness draws in for the end of the year, the second annual pilgrimage to Eastbourne for LobsterCon, now in it’s 18th incarnation.

Friday 15 November
Things kicked off with well trailed favourite Cyclades, an island hopping Greek mythology outing with a good bidding mechanic and some brutal combat at times. To keep things fresh we also added in the Underwold expansion; introducing some secondary powers for the player taking the last non-Apollo action, magic items, heroes and some new monsters.

With no rules explanation needed we plunged straight in with a full five players, (Chris, Paul, James and Carston from the PE’s and Tom taking the place of the en route but late Woody).

James got a good economy up and running early by bagging several of the trade route slots at the edge of the board, and set up a potential win with a newly added card allowing his armies to tunnel through the Underworld to appear on the opposite side of the map. However his ambitions were stalled as some stoic defence from Carston and Tom kept James pinned up and Paul’s naval empire slowly gobbled up the trade lanes (not that it did me much good in the end).

As is usually the case with Cyclades the end came fairly abruptly when Carston’s armies were able to overrun an additional island, giving him his second metropolis and a solid first victory.

CARSTON WIN

With Woody still absent but apparently getting closer in a somewhat Frodo-like fashion, next up was card civilisation builder Flow of History with Paul and James joined by Tom, Canadian Chris and Simon. Carston has a cameo in the pictures of this one but made the strategic blunder of putting food and water ahead of board games and therefore missed out on a spot.

Tom set the tone by building on this initial combat stat by picking more combat cards and looking for opportunities to attack Chris and Simon’s farmers, James’ wonder-builders and Paul’s Frenchies (aristocracy and military). Although gaining some initial traction, it also prompted the other players to pick up later combat cards of their own, and led to a number of potentially decisive attacks through the game. Paul, Chris and Simon all lost crucial point-engine cards at one point or another, and in the end it was James’ atomic-bombing wonder engineers who scored an emphatic win.

Good filler game with a bit of backstabbing and enough direct player vs player conflict to prevent it becoming euro-y, with the benefit that it doesn’t go on longer than it needs too.

JAMES WIN

By this point Andrew had completed his quest to reach Eastbourne, and the Emperors were up to full attending strength (James, Carston, Paul, Chris and Woody). We therefore cracked out the first ‘big’ game of the event, space opera classic Star Trek Ascendancy.

The new shiny this time round was the addition of two new races; the Vulcans (with James at the helm) and Andorians (with Paul taking command). Whilst the Andorians are broadly a standard faction with some tweaks (one of their trade agreements gives Science and they have some cool mechanics to gain science by fighting and culture by upgrading weapons and shields), the Vulcans play very differently, pursuing their own hidden agendas rather than the standard victory conditions, paying ascendancy tokens to set up colonies anywhere in explored space, and utilising “ambassadors” rather than star bases. The new factions were joined by the Federation (Chris), Ferengi (Woody) and Romulans (Carston).

The early game progressed as expected, with players building their own ‘core’ worlds, and the usual hilarity at scout ships invariably dying to level 6 hazards. We’ve all got pretty good at engineering labyrinthine set-ups to place our homeworlds outside easy sniping range and to maximise the number of planets that can be held, however, I wonder if we are starting to get too meta with this and a more open board might actually be to the advantage of certain races (particularly the more fight-y ones).

James was realistically in the cross-hairs from the beginning, with his ‘revealed’ victory condition being to control 12 resource nodes. With the Vulcans ability to settle any explored but empty planet without needing a ship in orbit, this gave them tremendous ‘break out’ ability, dropping 3-4 colonies and 4-6 nodes in one round to claim an instant victory.

With the that in mind everyone was rather cautious, with Carston and Paul tentatively agreeing a neutral zone, and Woody struggling to get the vast Ferengi production income we’d seen in some other games. Chris did a good job of exploiting the Fed’s ability to explore and gain culture via phenomena, but with neither of his neighbours really investing in Culture nodes which could then be ‘persuaded’ to join the Federation, there wasn’t a clear path to victory there either.

James’ first sneaky attempt at the 12 nodes was beaten back by some aggressive moves from the Andorians and Ferengi, but we may have underestimated the Vulcan’s ability to bounce back. With a number of players all eyeing up the elusive fifth Ascendancy token over the next turn or 2 James calmly dropped a massive amount of resources into securing first place, estabilishing his colonies across the galaxy and claiming victory.

JAMES WIN

Saturday 16 November

Saturday was to the be the day of the ‘Daftly Big Game’ for four of the Emperors, with Paul, Carston, Chris and Woody joining Alex for grand WWII epic “War Room” whilst James sat down to a number of other games through the day (more on that later).

War Room

Daftly big both physically (the board above is only the Strategic map, with battles taking place on separate tactical boards) and in scale and scope, War Room is a Second World War epic bringing together elements of Diplomacy, Axis and Allies and some flavour all of its own.

The Allies comprised Paul (UK), Carston (US) and Alex (Soviets), whilst Chris took on command of the Axis in Europe (Germany and Italy), and Woody the Pacific theatre as the Japanese Empire.

Over turns lasting about an hour each the players direct resources from their economy into production, trade and maintaining their units damage in combat, and order their armies, navies and air commands into battle across the various theatres. Although a lot of steps to each phase and phases to each turn, individually none of the rules are too convoluted, and with the exception of some bits and pieces around convoy raids and aircraft carrier fighters, we moved along with limited need to rules consultation.

Whether this was subconscious bias, geographic determinism, or just random, events panned out in an almost surreal facsimile of history. The German war machine crashed into Western Russia, inflicting massive casualties, but ultimately being unable to win through to Moscow. In North Africa the British stubbornly hung on in Egypt, initially holding the line before breaking the Axis forces in the second Battle of El Alamein, and opening the door to an advance along the cost into Libya.

In the Atlantic crusiers and aircraft skirmished with Germany submarines, but utlimately the seas were cleared and in the closing stages of the game US and British Canadian forces had crossed the Atlantic and landed in Europe, initially striking into Scandinavia, whilst the second wave built up in the UK for an amphibious invasion of Western Europe.

In the Pacific things went a little different, with some bold moves by the Japanese navy preventing a Midway type encounter, the Japanese fleet breaking through to the coast of the US, though without sufficient weight to seriously threaten an invasion. The largest naval battle of the war did still happen between the US and Japanese navies though, with both air wings and surface fleets trading belows through the years.

Russia meanwhile was taking a beating, losing territory in the East to Japanese raiding forces, and in the West to the German onslaught. Loss of units and most of all territory leads to nations accumulating “Stress” which in turn limits their ability to fight and finally to a loss of income and troops.

By the time the game reached a negotiated end some 12 hours in, Russia was on the verge of collapse, infrastructure destroyed, economy imploding, but still valiantly in possession of their capital and a few full stacks; and their mission ultimately accomplished; hold the line. With British forces firmly in command of the African continent, and both Commonwealth and US forces ready to land a decisive blow to Germany, the view was reached that whilst neither Russia nor Germany was likely to survive the next couple of turns, the combined US and UK forces would eventually grind through Woody’s Japanese Imperials.

Generally I think we all enjoyed this despite the size and time constraints, and would play again. With experience I think the early stages would definitely have gone faster, and lack of familiarity also led to some over-cautious play. Casualties proved far less of a hinderance than loss of territory, and I think we underused strategic bombing; the destruction of rail routes to prevent reinforcements to the frontline potentially being key. Overall though a true epic and well worth the time investment.

Highlight moments..

The combined US and UK Bomber commands flattening France in a single round, wiping out all of the defending forces, forces under construction and industry.

Alex and I having a conversation around the end of turn 2 that went…
Russia: “We need to open another front in Europe to take pressure off the East”
UK: “We’ll bring over the US / Commonwealth forces once we’re secured the Atlantic from the u-boats, so we need a bit more time.”
Russia: “Fine, but you need to hurry.”
Pause.. Alex: “Did we just have the d-day conversation?”

DRAW / NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT – ALLIED VICTORY

.. Meanwhile…

James’ Adventures

Gandhi
Latest in the COIN series and first to have non violent factions, the Muslim League and Congress. They have a symbiotic relationship with each other, both creating protest and opposition but to different ends. I played the Government faction the Raj and it was the most interesting government faction I’ve played in COIN. They are very mobile until there are strikes on the railway lines then become stymied. I wasn’t doing very well when the insurgent faction the Revolutionaries did a move out of the blue that won them the game at the end of the second campaign. The ending was bit unsatisfactory but the game itself was good and it felt quite different to other COIN, also welcome.

Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done 
Me and Canadian Chris played this with two randoms. A cross between Fire and Axe and Hansa Teutonica. Quite good, but nothing to get too excited about. I came last.

Archipelago
Me, Chris and three randoms. Tight game as stone was high in demand to build churches, and not much was available. We used the War and Peace expansion cards for the first time, adding a lot of fuck you cards. They seemed fun, but with every one new to each other they weren’t really used as no one wanted to be a dick. I did a really stupid move on what turned out to be the last turn of the game and lost my church, meaning I came last. Again.


With the heavy games of the day complete, we wrapped up with beer-and-pretzels (or at least wine) dungeon crawler Conan, for which Paul now (rather inadvertantly) owns a small shop’s worth of content.

Andrew took on the role of the DM, commanding the savage tribes of the frozen wastes against James, Carston, Chris and Paul’s heroes. The first scenario was a bit of a battering for the heroes, James (Shevitas) getting literally dog-piled by a horde of wolves on turn one and virtually dying off the bat, before Paul’s minions got picked apart by the more powerful enemy warriors. With our allies dead, the remaining heroes lacked the numbers to score sufficient victory points even if they could have survived another 5 turns of onslaught.

Game two saw the heroes get their act together, Shevitas redeeming himself with some good use of the move and complex manipulation bonuses to recover fragments of an amulet we needed to render the evil necromancer ‘boss’ character vulnerable. Niord and Belit then deliering the coup de grace and winning the day.

Scenario 1 – Overlord (Woody) WIN
Scenario 2 – Heroes (James, Paul, Carston, Chris) WIN

Sunday 17 November

The final day for this particular gathering, with many of the Emperor’s back to the humdrum of work on Monday. We did have time for a couple of quick ones though, Paul, James and Carston joined Canadian Chris for an outing of (relatively) quickfire COIN – Cuba Libre,

Some difficult early game cards knocked Chris back, and he spent most of the rest of the game struggling to regain lost ground vs Paul’s 26July insurgents. James slowly expanded his casino empire, reaching the requisite 8 open casinos in the closing stages of the game, but struggling to also meet the resource condition (interesting this is the first game we started to see the use of economic centres, with both Paul and James diverting resources to contest these areas). Carston meanwhile applied pressure to government control in the centre of the map, stretching the police forces too thinly, before snatching victory with a well timed march move on the final action before a Propaganda round.

Good game and well played all round, CL certainly feels ‘tighter’ than some of the more sprawling COIN epics, and with the shorter play time is far more practical to fit in as one-of-several games in a day.

CARSTON WIN

The final game of the weekend was a light hidden movement / dice roller based on the iconic film Jaws.

Paul took on the role of the Shark, but struggled to bring his usual hidden movement skills to bear on a tight board and in the face of Carston’s unfortunately (for me) similar strategic thinking – allowing the hunters to land a turn 1 hit and see straight through a bluff a couple of moves later.

The first Act of the game went to the hunters, with only 3 swimmers eaten before the Shark had been tagged and brought to battle. With hindsight the first phase is in the favour of the hunters with their faster movement and wide variety of ways to detect Jaws, and so a more aggressive “eat everything, eat it now” approach was probably a better choice than my “run silent run deep” submarine-esque approach.

Act Two pitches the hunters directly against the Shark and is more weighted towards the attacker, the hunters using up valuable ‘one use only’ cards as their boat is ripped apart around them and any character being dropping to the water can find themselves victims of bonus attacks.

The Shark put up a good fight, bringing most of the hunters down to half health or lower, but the advantage in equipment from Act 1 was telling, with Chris eventually ending things with a hammer to the snout.

HUNTERS WIN (James, Carston, Canadian Chris)

So that brings another LobsterCon to a close, from ancient Greece to the far future Empires have risen and fallen, dice have decided the fate of theoritical millions and many plans and schemes have come to fruition (or not).

Until next time!

/P