Monthly Archives: March 2013

Star Wars: X-Wing (17/03/13 – Solo)

Stay on target

Stay on target

This was an odd choice to play solo given the hidden movement mechanic, but with the arrival of the new ships and the impending dual with my son over Easter, I felt I needed to brush up on the rules and some tactics.  Also, being completely depressed by the rugby (the injury rate in the Irish team being comparable to the attrition my Crusaders are suffering in a Vassal game I’m playing at the moment), I needed something which wasn’t too heavy.  Anyone who enjoyed “Wings of War” would enjoy this game, though the movement mechanic of playing 3 move cards has changed to selecting a move on a dial which is then placed face-down beside the ship it applies to. Each ship comes with a stat card which detail the pilot skill as well as what their attack and damage ratings are, any special actions they can perform and whether they have shields or not – much of this information is replicated on the model ship’s base, which is useful. There’s a choice of up to 6 pilots for each machine – there may be more with some of the expansions which I don’t own – and each ship can be given upgrades, though this means you will get less ships for your force.

Stat cards

Stat cards

In the turn sequence, after orders have been placed, there is a rigid action order where the least skilled pilots move first but then the most skilled pilots fire first. For dolts like me this takes some getting used to as the least skilled pilots can stop the pilots who move later from performing their orders by getting in the way, so some pre-planning and thinking ahead is essential (as well as second-guessing what your opponent will do). When ships do get in each other’s way, the base overlap is dealt with elegantly – you have to stop if you can’t completely clear another ship’s base and a Special Action can’t be performed if you end up touching another ship’s base (or an asteroid). As two of the new ships (the Millenium Falcon and Slave-1) have very large bases, planning becomes even more important now and blocking these ships from moving is easier to execute than against ships with smaller bases. On the plus side, the ship you’re touching can’t shoot at you (usually – there is a special pilot ability which overrides this, but I think only one A Wing pilot possesses it)

Rebel scum

Rebel scum

Shooting is dealt with by opposing dice rolls with certain special actions able to influence the dice in the attacker or defender’s favour, but when there are any hits left over then damage has to be taken. There are two types of hits shown on the dice – normal and critical (as in “Wings of War”), and normal hits must be cancelled before criticals. A normal hit just draws the top card off the damage deck and places it beside the ship card face down – when the number of normal hits equals or exceeds the hull value of the ship, it is destroyed. A critical hit means the damage card has to be turned over and this is always bad, ranging from damage to engines/cockpit etc (which can sometimes be repaired) to losing 2 hull points.

Dodging asteroids

That’s more or less all there is to it. There’s a few extra bells and whistles such as stressful moves which allow difficult manoeuvres at the expense of losing special actions in future turns until you perform a calmer manoeuvre, but sometimes you have to perform that Immelman to avoid flying off the 3′ x 3′ board (thus exiting the game). There are also penalties for hitting asteroids and shooting at ships obscured by asteroids, but not too much to remember. If the above sounds too simple, it still gives a really exciting game in under an hour on a small table which is sometimes all I have time for.

Slave 1

Slave 1

The one issue I would have with the game is price. Though the starter set can be had on-line for around £25, it only gives you an X Wing and two Tie fighters. This is enough to try out the rules and see if you like them but to give a decent game you will want 3-6 ships per side, and at £12 per ship it soon gets expensive. I got mine for Christmas though, so I didn’t pay :-), but it is a consideration. That said, the possibilities for cliched Star Wars quotes during a game are endless, so the game gets a thumbs-up from me on that alone.

Kingdom of Heaven (03/03/13 – Nick)

Action around Antioch taken from my solo game

Action at Antioch taken from my solo game

My friend David generously swapped me this gem for my spare copy of “Here I Stand”, so games tart that I am I immediately dropped all other games, played through a solo turn of this one and was so impressed I declared it would be our game for this coming weekend. I had pre-ordered the game when it first appeared on MMP’s P500 3 or 4 years ago, but after being stung by customs charges and seeing games in shops before my pre-orders arrived, I cancelled and decided I would get it from a shop. The long wait is finally over, and I didn’t even have to pay for it – thanks David!

We played the First Crusade, a learning scenario which is only 3 turns (other crusades are 5-6 turns) with Nick as the Crusaders and me as the Muslims. There is no supply in the game as such, but it has a neat attrition system where at the end of your move you sum up all the hostile spaces you have passed through, add in some other modifiers and roll a dice – the larger your force is, the more potential for attrition there is. Moving from Constantinople across Asia Minor is the first action the Crusaders have to take and they suffer an attrition roll with a big plus for this, but in our game they got off lightly.  I played “Crusaders go Home” in retaliation, forcing the Crusaders to send 1D6 steps back to Europe, but of course I rolled a ‘1’. Not having any cards which would provide naval transport, the Crusaders had to take the long way around the coast to get to Jerusalem (one of their victory conditions) and I moved a Muslim force from Mosul to intercept them at Antioch. This Muslim force would not be large enough to fight them in a pitched battle, but there is a tactic for the Muslims in the game called “shadowing” where they can harass the Crusaders and force them to take attrition rolls at high modifiers while only taking normal attrition on themselves – this effectively simulates the low-level skirmishing which went on while the Crusaders were on the march. Wary of the Muslims placed just beyond Antioch, the Crusaders ignored the city (changing history) and marched instead on Aleppo, where they got bogged down in a long siege.

Crusaders massing

Crusaders massing in Byzantium

The siege mechanics are interesting – when you move on a stronghold it gets assigned a resistance factor (RF) based on garrison size and whether it is a port or not and at this stage the attacker can call on the stronghold to surrender. There is a number to roll depending on the RF of the stronghold, modified by the leader doing the asking amongst other things – if the defenders thumb their noses at the attacker and decline to surrender, then the next surrender roll against another fortress gets harder until the leader successfully assaults a fortress which resets this accumulator to zero. If the call to surrender fails then the attackers can settle down for a siege or move on, taking attrition losses for passing through an enemy stronghold space.

Sieges are conducted by the attacker spending a card which has attacker siege text on it (most cards have siege text on them, either attacker, defender or both may use them), then the defender can respond. The attacker can then assault or play another card – doing the latter allows the defender the opportunity to play another card, but an assault does not. As most attacker cards reduce the RF of a stronghold whilst defender cards increase it, timing when to assault is crucial to success. If the attacker does not have an attacking siege card then in desperation he can try “Fortunes of War”, where he turns over the top card of the deck and the siege text on it occurs immediately whether to his advantage or not. The Crusaders at Aleppo were this desperate by now and had to try “Fortunes of War” – they drew “Epidemic” and had to roll a dice for each unit in their force – on 5 or 6 they lost a step. We had to break out a fistful of extra dice at this point, but to cut a long story short 3 steps died but no leaders ( they needed a 6 to perish) – the epidemic petered out without reaching the defenders (phew!), but in the ensuing assault they were massacred to a man. Flushed with success the Crusader swarm marched on Edessa and when called to surrender it gave up without a fight – obviously intimidated by the gruesome fate of the defenders of Aleppo. As the Crusade turned south towards Jerusalem they were worn down enough for the Muslims army to intercept (my only 3 card of the hand, which was also the mandatory “Fatimid Diplomacy” card – the disadvantage of playing this card was that it replaced Seljuk rule in Jerusalem with Fatimid rule and Fatimid units are weaker – oh well). Just as the Muslim horde was getting under way the Crusaders slapped down the “Heavy rains” card which slowed the cavalry army down from a 6 space move to 2 space move. This gave the Crusaders breathing space they needed, so en route to Jerusalem they then marched past 2 Muslim castles, persuaded a third to surrender and rolled really low on the attrition roll to do all this with minimum losses. Paralysed and with no leaders in or near Jerusalem (and no 3 cards to activate any of the leaders I had), I was forced to shadow the Crusader force with a small force of cavalry, only inflicting the odd loss through attrition. Unfortunately right at the end of turn 2, the depleted Crusaders were able to succeed in inviting the small garrison of Jerusalem to surrender and if they held on to the locations they had they would win the game by a long way.

A close up on the beautifully designed cards

Turn 3 – the final turn – and the Muslims had to re-take Edessa and Aleppo just to draw the game, but again the card deal delivered a lack of 3 value cards (I had one) and this crippled me. The 3 card was a good one which allowed me to activate 2 leaders at once so with this card I was able to lay siege to both key cities. During the long sieges which followed some Crusaders sailed to Egypt from Acre and took Dameitta on the coast for another victory point which would put the game out of my reach unless I could capture another Crusader city in addition to the ones I was besieging. To add insult to injury, the Crusader Egyptian expedition then laid siege to Cairo with half the number of troops which were actually in the city – without a 3 card to activate the Fatimid leader I couldn’t even attack out of the city so had to sit tight and await events. I did retake Edessa and Aleppo by the end of the turn, but the Crusaders hung on and claimed victory by a single point.

The map at the end of the game

We really enjoyed this introductory scenario, though it leaves out some things (like diplomacy for example) which didn’t figure in the real First Crusade. The siege system in the game is excellent, though I can’t comment on the combat system for traditional battles as we didn’t fight a single battle! What does look interesting is that there is a pursuit mechanic where the loser of a battle can suffer a lot more casualties during the pursuit than in the actual battle, which again seems very true to the period. There is an optional rule to allow players to combine operations values of cards over 2 or more plays, and boy could I have done with that, as all my leaders cost 3 ops to activate and I drew 2 cards in the last 2 turns which were worth 3 ops. I was still able to move small forces with lesser value cards, but couldn’t seriously challenge the Crusader juggernaut. The lack of a supply rule is also novel and in keeping with the period – this allows the Crusaders to keep on moving towards the Holy City regardless though they suffer attrition while doing so. From what I could see we only got one rule wrong (which says a lot for the quality of the rulebook) – when castles fall to assault and flip control they come on as a reduced garrison unless the victor takes an extra step loss.

I was a bit disillusioned with the Crusades as the subject for a game after Columbia’s “Crusader Rex” initial balance issues, and I was hoping that “Kingdom of Heaven” would  come good. It definitely has – I even think the full Crusades might be playable in 3-4 hours once you know the game, which is always a bonus. Recommended.