A few boardgames

I’m afraid my next article in the Dungeon series has been postponed due to me feeling a little under the weather. Instead, I’m going to write about a few boardgames I’ve ordered and which should arrive tomorrow. (Can’t wait!)

As a few of you may know, I’m a mad keen boardgamer. About eight years ago, I was introduced to a little game known as The Settlers of Catan, one of the early German-designed boardgames. These boardgames, also known as Eurogames, have taken the boardgaming world by storm. (Boardgames are a lot bigger in Germany than they are in Australia or the USA). Actually defining what is a Eurogame is something that I’ll leave to other more eloquent souls, but one characteristic that I’m going to call out is this: From Simple Mechanics, Great Games Grow.

I’ve also become more interested in wargames of late. You may have read a few of my ASL reports, but I also play a few other wargames with my good friend Randy. So, it’s not much of a surprise that any order of boardgames that I make includes at least one wargame.

Finally, I haven’t abandoned my fantasy role-playing roots. In the order is one fantasy-rpg-like boardgame.

So, what have I ordered?

Prophecy – Z-Man Games – This is the fantasy adventure game for 2-5 players. It is an descendant of Talisman, although, from what I can gather, significantly less random. Characters are seeking to become powerful enough to recover four (of five) artifacts from the guardians. All characters are members of guilds that provide training; you can train from any guild, but it costs more from guilds you don’t belong to. Movement is non-random: either you move one space, or pay gold to move further. That’s one of the key differences from Talisman! My main concern about the game is that it may take 3 hours to play, which is longer than I’m often willing to spend. Most boardgames I play take 1-2 hours. (Talisman only takes about 1 hours when I’m playing!) Prophecy is rated a 7.1 and ranked #417 on boardgamegeek.com.< /font>

Combat Commander: Europe – GMT Games – When you come to modern boardgames, it’s hard to go past Combat Commander. This is a game that Randy’s owned for some time and I’ve played a few times with him. The game is a hex-and-counter wargame (like ASL), but differs from its older cousin significantly in mechanics and complexity. CC:E is much simpler, for one thing. The other major difference is that it uses a card-based action and resolution system.

In CC:E, you have a hand of (generally) 3-6 cards that detail certain orders: Move, Advance, Fire. You play the cards on individual units (or small groups clustered around a leader) to activate them. If you don’t have a particular card in your hand, you can’t issue that order. Cards also have modifiers on them; for instance you may play one card as a Fire action, and then another card which otherwise would be used to Move to give a +2 bonus to the Fire action. When you would roll dice in other games, you instead draw a card and use the number printed on it… but the card might trigger some special effects as well, such as reinforcements, a sniper firing, or a gun jamming.

The game is brilliant and is a lot of fun to play, and I really wanted a copy for myself. So I’ve ordered one. If you like World War 2 wargames, this is one to investigate. 2 players, and generally about 1-2 hours.

Combat Commander: Paratroopers – GMT Games – This is just a small expansion with more maps and scenarios for CC:E. It was cheap, so why shouldn’t I get it as well?

Cuba – Rio Grande Games – A classic form of Eurogame has you as the “ruler” of a small village or city and trying to build up your community in the most efficient way possible. Pillars of the Earth, Caylus, Agricola and Puerto Rico are all examples of that sort of game. Cuba is simply one of the more recent (although Agricola is getting a huge amount of good press… alas that I have to wait for it to come out in an English version!)

I’m a very big fan of Caylus, and fond of PR and PotE. Cuba has you in pre-Castro Cuba overseeing a small village. You ship off your produce and improve the village with buildings, but progress does come with a cost: you never just build over ’empty’ land; you’re always losing access to something. Like Pillars of the Earth, Cuba is a limited-turn game; after 6 turns, it’s over! For 2-5 players and taking 2 hours, this looks quite interesting.

Command and Colours: Ancients – GMT Games – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Memoir ’44 or BattleLore, two hex-and-card based wargames, but C&C:A is the third in the trilogy… only published by another publisher than Days of Wonder, and using wooden blocks instead of plastic miniatures. In fact, Richard Borg’s C&C system also includes BattleCry (AH), which means it is more than a trilogy of related games.

C&C:A sounds superficially similar to CC:E – even the names seems similar. Both use hexes and cards. However, the mechanics couldn’t be further apart. Whilst CC:E is much closer to a traditional wargame, C&C:A goes for simplicity. The battlefield is broken into three sections (left, middle & right), and you play one card a turn, which dictates how many units you can activate and on which sections of the battlefield they must be. Once you activate a unit, it may move and then fight. Combat is also simple – you roll dice equal to the strength of the unit and the symbols on the dice indicate whether the opposition loses men or must retreat (or is unharmed).

Compare this to CC:E – in CC:E you can activate any units, but the orders that you can give them are limited by the cards in hand. In C&C:A, the units you activate are limited by your cards, but they can undertake any order… well, within the more limited format of the C&C rules.

The “Ancients” this wargame refers to are mainly the battles of the ancient romans from 406 BC through 202 BC. Carthage vs Rome! Beware! Expansions to the game expand its reach, but I’ll be getting just the basic game. 2 players, and about 30-60 minutes a game. Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam!*

In the Year of the Dragon – Rio Grande Games – The final game that I’ve ordered is another recent Eurogame release. In another year, Dragon might be getting a lot more buzz, but it’s been swept aside by the much heralded Agricola. For 2-5 players and taking about 75 minutes, I expect this game may see some play at our boardgame days. Assuming it arrives – heh.

The setting for this game is China around the turn of the Millennium (1000 AD). Each player is a ruler of part of China, attempting to protect their subjects from attack by the Mongol hordes, whilst building a nice series of palaces. The game is played over 12 months (turns) with the winner having built the best palaces whilst not having their ability to do so eroded by the constant attacks.

Brief turn summary:
* Choose Action bonus
* Recruit Worker
* Resolve Event (Mongol invasion, plague, fireworks, etc.)
* Decay & Scoring (palaces without inhabitants lose their roof!)

As is standard in a Eurogame, we’re talking about fairly simple mechanics that lead to an interlocking mechanism of great interest.

So,when is Z-Man games releasing Agricola?

*: Yes, I know that the scenarios in C&C:A don’t actually quite take us up to the third Punic War which Cato the Elder helped provoke by using (and reusing) that famous quotation, but you’ve got to use it any discussion of the Punic Wars!

Postscript – the games have arrived. I realise I forgot about Roma, a cool 2-player game with dice & cards that I also ordered. Randy got 11 new games, including the excellent Thebes – a game where you explore for antiquities. Great fun!

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