Monday, July 24, 2017

Product Review: Watson & Holmes

(Image from:  Boardgame Geek)
I was never a big fan of the mystery genre, with one exception--Sherlock Holmes.  My wife's son-in-law is also a fan, while she loves police dramas.

So when I stumbled across the game Watson & Holmes, I thought this would be a good family game, rather than the usual games I play that involve mass-casualty mayhem.

In Watson & Holmes, 2-7 player-detectives attempt to solve 13 cases of "Dr. Watson's lost archive."

The game comes with the following--

1 x Rulebook
13 x Case Booklets
206 x Location Cards, divvied-up into 13 x case envelopes
7 x Player Pawns, representing characters in dapper Victorian fashion, along with 7 x Player Tokens
11 x Character Cards and a Carriage Stop Card
57 x Carriage Tokens, for haring-off around London
6 x each, Police and Call Off Tokens
2 x Lockpick Tokens and,
1 x First Player Token and a "Wiggens" Token
 

(Image from:  Monkeys With Fire--closed
The artwork and graphics exude Victorian elegance, while the playing pieces are thick and sturdy, capable of handling wear & tear, short of being the The Hound of the Baskervilles' chew toys.

Basically, after being read the case file, players move around to various locations, expending carriage tokens, and gathering clues.  When a player feels he's solved the case, he goes back to 221B Baker Street and consults with The Great Detective.  If the player is wrong, he's out of the game, while the other would-be detectives keep investigating.  The first person to make it back to 221B Baker Street with the correct solution, wins the game.

This sounds a lot like Clue, but with a hefty dose of immersive Victorian ambience.  Each case contains the narrative of the mystery, the Location Card layout, and the Solution, tucked-away in the middle of the file.  The first 5 cases are considered easy, while Cases 5-10 are intermediate, and Cases 11-13 are difficult.

Watson & Holmes costs $66 on Amazon.con, where three reviewers give it a 5-star rating.  But there may be a few copies left at The Miniature Market for $47.50.

The only problem I can see with this game is that it's limited to 13 sessions for the same players, unless someone acts as a mentor or gamemaster of sorts.

The quality of the game certainly deserves a 5-star rating.

But as to how Watson & Holmes plays, well...

(Image from the movie:  Without a Clue)
...I haven't got a clue.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Star Wars Armada: The Corellian Conflict Campaign Expansion

(Image found on Sterling Knight Gamers YouTube video)
What intrigues me most about military history are the campaigns that lead up to the major battles.  I'm fascinated by the hows and whys battles develop more so than the actual blood-letting of combat.

I like campaign games because they force players to think beyond a one-of battle, and inhibits them from going all-out to achieve a single victory.  However, I've experienced mixed results at running and participating in campaign games, as I'm sure many (all?) of my fellow gamers have.  The initial enthusiasm may be high, but it's hard to maintain, which often leads to the campaign fizzling-out.

Still, I love the idea of being involved in such a tabletop venture.  Hey, I can still dream, can't I?

Which is why I snatched the one copy of Star Wars Armada: The Corellian Conflict Campaign Expansion that was sitting on the shelf at The Game Matrix (TGM).

Yes, it was an impulse buy, especially since I have yet to play the core game.

I paid $30 for it at TGM, but the price can vary from $24 at The Miniature Market to a tad over $50 on Amazon.com.

Here's what you get for your money--

--1 x 20-page rulebook
--6 x Fleet Rosters
--2 x Team Rosters (Rebel & Imperial)
--10 x Main Ship ID Tokens
--10 x Ship ID Tokens
--10 x Scarred ("damaged") ID Tokens
--2 x Main Flagship Tokens
--2 x Flagship Tokens
--14 x Squadron ID Tokens
--12 x Scarred Squadron ID Tokens
18 x Veteran Tokens
3 x each Diplomat, Spynet, and Skilled Spacer Tokens
--6 x Obstacles representing asteroids (3), dust fields (2) and a space station
--16 x Squadron Disks to place on the standard fighter squadron stands
--39 x various cards for squadrons, objectives and the space station
--1 x sticker sheet, representing active or destroyed bases and outposts
--and one small, cardstock map representing the Corellian Sector...


Here's what you don't get for your money--

--additional miniatures
--a hefty, mounted map
--counters representing active and destroyed bases and outposts

 Three reviewers on Amazon.com gave The Corellian Campaign a 5-star rating.

But after scrolling through the comments section on various "Unboxing" videos, like Crabbok, YouTube viewers have been less-than kind.  Some even cancelled their pre-orders.

Most gamers have issues with the small size and flimsy map.

My biggest sticking point--is with the stickers.

(Image from:  Boardgame Geek)
The designers' justification for using stickers instead of counters or tokens was "...to create a living record of the ongoing Corellian Conflict," (page 6 sidebar).

And...then what?  Frame and hang the map up in your man-cave?

The sidebar note goes on to say that players can eschew the stickers, which will probably be impossible to remove from the map, and keep track of who controls what via the Team Rosters.

Here's a suggestion:  How about using counters to represent political influence and military control, like other board games do?

To remedy this sticky situation, I intend to paste the stickers on blank boardgame counters, or a matboard, trim the corners, and use them as control tokens for the game. One player used magnets to create re-usable playing pieces.

Arts & Crafts project recommendations aside, since I haven't played Star Wars Armada...

(Image from:  WWPD's "Most Wanted!" Battle Report)

...I've only given The Corellian Conflict rules a cursory glance.

Set-up appears to be in "tic-tac-toe" style.  That is, the Empire initially controls Corellia proper.  Then players alternate placing their base/outpost stickers on planets, keeping in mind some planets provide more resources than others...

(Image from:  The Bell of Lost Souls)
...followed by constructing 400 points worth of starships and fighters.

Despite the above-mentioned shortcomings, I don't regret buying the game.  The artwork is nice.  The cardstock map is no thinner than other non-mounted boards I've seen in larger, more expensive games.  And the actual counters are thick and durable.

So I give The Corellian Conflict Campaign Expansion a conditional 3-star rating.

"Conditional" being based on how I feel about the game after I get a chance to actually play it.

If I ever do.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Book Review: Faith & Fire


One of the more popular factions among Warhammer 40K players, but sporadically supported by Games Workshop, are the Adepta Sororitas (a.k.a. Sisters of Battle), the actual military arm of the Ecclesiarchy.

I stumbled across a copy of Faith and Fire at Half Price Books.

Fire certainly comes into play throughout the novel.  The Sisters of Battle believe that the only good witch/mutant/heretic/traitor is one who's not only dead, but burnt to a crisp.  Meanwhile, their psyker enemies often retaliate with "witch fire."  So in just about every combat scene there's flames, screaming, smoke and burnt-flesh odors.

The story itself revolves around Miriya, a Celestian, and Hospitaller Verity, in their attempt to recapture renegade psyker Torris Vaun.  During their investigation, and the battles they're swept-up in, they uncover a plot by deluded Deacon Viktor LaHayn to restart an Artifact Of Death hoping to revive the comatose God-Emperor of Mankind.

Their Odd Couple partnership resembles the Cop And Scientist team-ups from Holmes & Watson to Scully & Mulder.

I found Faith & Fire to be a predictable, but entertaining story and give it a 3-star rating.  The finale has an element of Deus Ex Machina to it.  However, this can be justified, since the story revolves around the characters' religious zealotry for the God-Emperor.

Readers generally liked Faith & Fire, which has a 3.5-star rating on both Amazon.com and GoodreadsWarhammer 40K fans either loved it, or hated it.  The fans who disliked the book thought the characters were wooden, flat, unremarkable and even unlikable, along with sounding more like men, than women. 

I didn't pay attention to these valid observations, because the characters are members of Imperium's Church Militant.  Their lives revolve around prayers, singing hymns, and incinerating the enemies of the God-Emperor.  This doesn't leave much room for deep character development, or more feminine pursuits, beyond religious fervor.

Faith & Fire does follow the standard story lines of the Warhammer 40K 'verse--

--The heroes demonstrate insight and initiative.
--Which in turn, causes them to run-afoul of their dogmatic superiors.
--The agency the heroes are members of have a hidden agenda.
--Which in turn, runs afoul of one or more other agencies operating on their own agendas.
--There's a conspiracy afoot to take over a planet/star system/quadrant/the entire Imperium.

Despite these standard tropes, I still liked Faith & Fire enough to start reading the sequel,  Hammer & Anvil, right off the bat.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Celebrating the 4th of July!


Best wishes to all of you this Independence Day.

I thought I'd use the occasion to play around with some photos I took of last year's Enfilade convention to create a holiday greeting card, along with an announcement for next year's convention theme.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Enfilade 2017: Slugfest Off Samar After Action Review

(Image:  USS Johnston (DD-557) at the Battle of Samar, by artist Paul Wright)   
Well, I managed to play my first wargame this year at our Enfilade convention.

I was on duty for most of the Memorial Day Weekend, but managed to zip down to Olympia's Red Lion Inn on Saturday night to snap some photos for my 38th YouTube video.

Of course, on the Sunday morning of my initial wargame of 2017, I woke up with a splitting headache, thanks to a duty-related pinched nerve in my neck.

Normally, I would have opted to stay home.  However, since this was my chance to finally sit at a gaming table, it was:  Damn the headache and full speed ahead!

All heroic naval quotes aside, I wasn't planning on playing Ed Beauregard's Slugfest Off Samar.  But between my headache and the other games having a full roster, I found Slugfest suitable and enjoyable for the less-than-sociable condition I was in.

The set-up was an alternate-history version of the Battle off Samar, which was part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf.
(Image:  The Battle Off Samar)   
But unlike the usual complicated plans the Imperial Japanese Navy concocted, Ed's scenario simplified the Japanese strategy down to a massed charged against American naval forces supporting the liberation of the Philippines.

In another twist, American ships weren't the only ones involved in the action against the Japanese.  Due to some astute diplomacy, British and French vessels were on-hand.

(Image:  Slugfest set-up)
Ed used the rules Supremacy at Sea developed by the University of British Columbia Sunday Night Crew.

In his scenario, most of the cruisers and destroyers were engaged with their counterparts "off screen."  This allowed for a basic battlewagon brawl.

The Japanese surface action task force consisted of the following:

Battleships--the Yamato and her sister ship, the Musashi; along with the Nagato, Fuso, and Yamashiro.
Battlecruisers--Kongo and Haruna.
Heavy cruisers--Ashigara and Nachi.


(Image:  The Japanese surface action task force)
The Allies were organized as follows:

East Division--

HMS Howe (BB), HMS Renown (BC), along with the French ships Richelieu (BB) and Dunkerque (BC).
(Image:  Ships of the Allied East Division)
The West Division consisted of the American battleships California, Tennessee, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

(Image:  Ships of the Allied West Division)

I was given a mixed command of battleships consisting of the USS West Virginia (BB-48), USS Maryland (BB-46), and HMS Resolution.

(Image:  My Central Division zig-zagging into battle)
(Image:  My division coming under fire)

The American ships were hamstrung with a limited supply of armor piercing ammunition (AP)... 

(Image:  The Yamato and a Kongo-class battleship)

...because they were originally tasked with shore bombardment.  So we used high explosive (HE) rounds for our initial ranging shots.

(Image:  The Yamato and her consort under fire)

The Japanese outfoxed the Allies right away, by sending the bulk of their forces east to concentrate on the Allied East Division.

Whereas the bulk of our forces swerved west, leaving us the Japanese East Division, consisting of the Yamato and her escorting battleship, as the only viable targets.

(Image:  Three Japanese battleships of their Central Division steaming west)
(The Japanese Central Division under fire from the allied guns)

Supremacy at Sea requires players to write orders for their ships, so movement is conducted simultaneously.
(Image:  The Allied Central Division facing off against the Japanese East Division)
However, in the heat of battle, it's easy for fleet commanders to "transmit the wrong signals."

Things went from bad to worse for the Allies, when two British ships in the East Division collided.

(Image:  HMS Howe rams HMS Renown)
Most of the action involved blasting each other with the ships' guns.  But the Japanese cruisers made two torpedo runs against the allied ships.

(Image:  As Allied and Japanese battleships exchange salvos, a Japanese cruiser launches torpedoes)
Nearly every ship suffered some degree of damage.  Only the USS Pennsylvania and the USS Maryland remained unscathed throughout the battle.

The Allies got the worst of the pounding match, starting with the USS West Virginia under my command.

(Image:  The USS West Virginia capsizes)
(Image:  The USS West Virginia slips beneath the waves)
In addition to the West Virginia, the following allied ships were sunk--
--HMS Howe
--HMS Renown
--USS Tennessee

Several ships were severely damaged.
The Mississippi was crippled, chugging along at 10 knots, but still capable of firing all her guns.
The Richelieu was a floating wreck.  Her decks were awash and her main guns silenced.
The Dunkerque wasn't much better.  Although two center turrets were knocked out, she could still make an impressive 21 knots.

Along with the havoc wrought by Japanese shells and torpedoes, the surviving American ships were 1 to 2 turns away from exhausting their AP ammo.  With that, the allies conceded the game.

We all concluded that Yamato would have been sunk the following turn, while another Japanese battleship would continue to limp northward, hoping to avoid American dive bombers.

However, the really bad news was, the remaining Japanese ships would have fallen upon the invasion's support ships--a major setback for the liberation of the Philippines.

(Image:  Slugfest Off Samar's endgame--a Japanese victory)