Sunday, April 28, 2013

Liberty (aka Oedipus's Dice)

I've been boardgaming for a while now (since grade school) and the first game I remember playing was 1776: Birth of a Nation with my father. He played the Americans and I played the British. I won the game and he wasn't pleased. "It's not right to beat the Americans, even in a game." Those words, I think, stuck with me and have cursed not only me, but my children, with poor dice rolling. I really didn't make the connection between this incident and my poor dice rolling until I read Oedipus for a class and wrote a paper on curses. At that point it became clear: me and my descendants were cursed because I beat the Americans as the British in a Revolutionary War game. Interestingly, when I mentioned this to a friend of mine and gaming buddy, he pointed out that every time we played an American Revolution game, I played the Americans. Huh, I thought, maybe there was something to the curse hypothesis after all.

But how does one break a curse? The obvious solution would have been to challenge my dad in a game, but he's been deceased for 20+ years so that wasn't possible. I saw several alternative options: I could play a Revolutionary War game against one of my two sons as the British and throw the game and let the Americans win, or I could play as the Americans, let the British win, and then forgive my son for beating me in an alternate reality curse breaking game. Unfortunately, my youngest son doesn't care much for wargames and my oldest son keeps rather busy, so I opted for a third alternative: I would play a solo game, but seriously try to win as the British while the Americans would hold on for dear life. Either way, if the British won, I'd break the curse by telling myself it was okay. If the Americans won, I'd break the curse by declaring "vengeance" upon the prior loss.

I decided to break the curse using Liberty, an easy to play block game by Columbia Games.

1775 - Not much happened the first year. Both sides built up forces. The British did try to attack Baltimore, but were repulsed by General Arnold and his forces.

The War Begins

An Early Attack on Baltimore

1776 - Both sides built up and reinforced.

1777 -  The war begins to heat up as the British take Philadelphia in a decisive battle. Meanwhile, Gates attacks Carleton at Ticonderoga and takes a beating, leaving the fort in British hands. Arnold tries to retake Philly but fails. Essential the British were taking a two prong approach: attack from the North and take the Middle Colonies. I really did not bother much with New England or the Northeast. My goal was to divide the American forces between north and south and then start cutting supply.

The British Push for the Middle Colonies
At this point, the Americans were still not able to bring in the French.

1778 - The British were real close to winning and gave a grand push to try to wrap things up before the French entered the war. As it was, with the French out of the war, the British were able to leave the West Indies open. In the opening move, the British attacked Baltimore, Yorktown, and New Brunswick while the Americans attacked Ticonderoga. All four attacks succeeded, leaving Britain in control of the middle colonies, and the Americans in control of Ticonderoga and the North. At this point, the British had enough points to win, but the Americans countered by retaking New Brunswick and then taking St. John's. In an interesting twist, Washington ended up in the North while Gates ended up in New Jersey. The turn ended with the British having 26 VPs and no French entry.

Washington Moves North
1779 - The British and Americans work out a prison exchange (pretty much even up). Not much really happened this turn. Washington moved north to attack Montreal and the British took Charleston, bringing them to within 2 VPs of victory. The Americans once again failed their French entry roll.

1780 - This was definitely an exciting year. The Americans took Quebec and shored up the south in an effort to prevent the British from winning. They then attacked NYC and Boston, taking Boston, but losing to the British at the battle of NYC. The British took Springfield, setting them up for a gaming winning push against Hartford and Boston. They managed to retake Boston, but lost at Hartford. The war would continue another year, and without the French. (Really? Six rolls and I can't get an 8 or higher?)

1781-83 - With only three years left in the war, both sides shifted gears. Previously, the British had been attacked high-value targets while the Americans were doing the opposite. At this point in the war, the British started picking up a number of smaller VP targets, effectively using their heretofore unused Indian allies. The Americans, on the other hand, in an attempt to concentrate their forces and prevent the British from winning, started attacking higher-value targets like NYC. They also made a move in the South to prevent the British from winning a southern strategy. The French never would enter the war and the British flirted with 30 VPs the entire last three turns. At the end of 1782 I realized they could have won had they taken Ft. Pitt with the Shawnee. The British managed to get just 30 VPs at the end of 1783 to win the game.

The British Closing in on the Americans for the Win
A few notes about this game:

1) I played the cards randomly.
2) I often forgot to roll for weather effects. I'm sure that would have impacted the game.
3) French intervention is CRITICAL. While it's possible for the Americans to win without the French (as they almost did this game), it is very difficult. Same with the British, I don't see how they can win if the French intercede. The British have to hit hard and hit early. I would actually like to see some modified French roll based on the year...the longer the game goes, the easier it would be to bring them in and vice-versa. It would reflect real-life where the French waiting for a while...or maybe base it on British/American VPs?
4) I think too often I would fight until the end--all three rounds or until one side was eliminated. In hindsight, knowing now how hard it is to replace units, I would have fought more limited engagements.
5) The British need to make use of their Indian forces. I kept them in stasis most of the game, but they made a difference in the end.

Was the curse broken? Only time will tell. I have won two games of Power Grid since then, but that game doesn't involve dice.

It's a fun game and I'm looking forward to playing this again--maybe even with a real person.

Happy Gaming! Roll well and live!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Power Grid: Double Win!

I have been doing much more gaming than blogging lately, but I do have a lot going on in my life right now (new job, school, daughter getting married). Still, I'd like to bring everyone up-to-date with a series of posts, starting with a summary of two games I played of Power Grid, a fun and easy game in which players compete to build the most effective electrical power network. I say "effective" and not "biggest" because while someone might have a larger network, if they can't power it, they may end up losing.

There are no dice involved in the game (something I enjoy) and the mechanics are easy and balanced. Players take turns bidding for power plants, buying fuel (coal, oil, nuclear, and garbage), expanding their network, and powering their cities. The game puts the leader at a disadvantage and those trailing at an advantage, making the game pretty even throughout.

The first game I played was with my two sons, 23 and 13. The game was pretty close but I had made a critical mistake--I invested heavily in fossil fuel plants on the last turn, we were nearly out of oil and coal. My 13 year old bought his fuel first and could have bought the rest of the coal (there are limits to what one can buy to ensure someone doesn't monopolize any of the fuels) but didn't, allowing me to power my 17+ city network and win the game.

My Winning Position in the First Game (I am blue)
The second game was during the First Annual International Table Top Game Day. Again, I won, but barely. The game was pretty close throughout, but toward the end I went on an expansion frenzy and pulled ahead.

International Table Top Game Day
On the last turn, my closest opponent decided not to expand, but to save up for a better power plant the next turn. I was able to take advantage of his decision to win the game that turn.

My Winning Position in the Second Game (I am once again playing blue)
The game is fun and is becoming one of those "really don't have to think about the rules a whole lot" games that our group enjoys playing. The basic game comes with two maps: Germany and the United States, and expansion maps and power plants are available.

Roll well and live!