Boardgamecafe.net Meetup Report @ OTK Cheras 27/9/2013 – Martin Wallace Nite (Age of Steam: Korea, Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, Liberte, Gettysburg)
Time for us to pay homage to another prolific boardgame designer as we rolled out MARTIN WALLACE games for tonight’s meetup. Wallace simply has too many games for us to cover but tonight we checked four of his faves AGE OF STEAM, LIBERTE, DISCWORLD: ANKH-MORPORK and GETTYSBURG.
Gamers: Darren Eng, Jia Yin, Sinbad, Ivan, Kareem, Hiew, Allen, Heng, AAnemesis, CK Au, Waiyan & others.
Games: Age of Steam: Korea, Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, Liberte, Gettysburg.
There’s no night like Wallace
After getting three Kickstarter theme nights done @ OTK, we thought it’ll be interesting to switch focus to another prolific Euro Boardgame designer who not only has a number of award-winning games under his belt, but some of the finest Euros in the ever increasing trend of same-same new Euro games being published. If you are fans of Age of Steam, Brass or Automobiles (among others); tonight’s for you!
AGE OF STEAM: KOREA
Above: On the left is the 3rd edition Age of Steam which are available from our webstore. My library copy is the 2nd Edition (Warfrog) on the right.
Arguably the game that propelled Wallace to prominence, AGE OF STEAM (AOS) was first published back in 2002. That’s before I even got started on Euro boardgaming. J
I regard Age of Steam as the successful conclusion to Wallace’s experiment with train games thru the Railways series (New England Railways being one of those) and Volldampf. The number of expansion maps for AOS – both official and fan-designed – attest to it’s everlasting popularity and also expandability.
Note: Strangely Wallace didn’t apply the same “expandability” mindset when he designed BRASS which he’s now trying to fix thru AGE OF INDUSTRY.
Hiew (another Wallace fan I presume) brought his copy to the OTK table tonight with the Korea map from the official AOS Map Expansion #3. I’d thought I done the Korean map before – but when the rules were explained that all cities in Korea are gray and therefore the demand of cubes are based on the existing cubes in the city rather than being a fixed color (as in vanilla Age of Steam) – I realized I’d not done Korea but probably Scandinavia (which is the other map in Expansion #3).
Therefore even tho’ the AOS table already has 4 gamers, I asked to be the fifth. And thereafter, the conversation drifted into whether the Korea map is able to support 5 gamers.
Above: AOS gamers looking very “happy”… as we got started our journey to find out if Korea supports five. 😛
Aanemesis (another AOS veteran) came a bit late else we could have gone on an even better adventure of discovering Korea for Six! It might just hurt a bit. LOL
Allen-blue won first bid with me second, and he wasted no time to establish his base at the southern area of the map. Ivan-yellow joined him there (always good to have some competition on the AOS maps).
Me-black and the rest camped at the north-western area of the map which in hindsight is too light to support 3 and to make matters worse, Ivan-yellow also diversified into this network – not exactly at the north western area but from the south connecting up.
Hiew-green and Heng-red were the first to upgrade their Locomotive to a level-3 engine. And Heng-red was rushing ahead on the share liability. Am sure he has a.. plan somewhere. 😛
As the game developed, Hiew-green was the first to build a more coherent – and lengthy (always good in AOS) – network. Only question remained whether he’ll be able to string high-value deliveries based on his network. The rest was a bit here-n-there though I thought Heng-red’s network was also well planned except he didn’t seem to have sufficient cubes to support his deliveries.
Korea presents a very unique problem; a constantly changing delivery landscape. Instead of being able to know which city has demands for what color-cube (traditionally in AOS, you deliver the same color cube to the city’s color), cities in Korea change their demands based on the cubes remaining in the city which meant a city that’s expecting demands for red and yellow may suddenly change to requiring only red (If yellow cube is no longer present in that city).
This makes long term planning a little bit challenging. 😛
Allen-blue would eventually build up his southern network to be largely semi-monopolised. Ivan-yellow was there in the mix but becoz he also has another network on the other side of the map (below), I suspect that splitted his attention and his other line was not able to effectively pressure Allen.
I (black) was caught badly between Ivan-yellow and Hiew-green and was struggling to make an impact. In AOS when this happens, you slowly drift away…
Korea’s unique delivery demand system making an impact to the players… brains started burning… tsk tsk
Hiew-green was the first to break out into a Level-4 engine and was also able to have delivery network to support this level. An important lead indicator in this game.
… while the production goods were largely spent (which was good as it meant the cities were receiving a steady stream of incoming cubes). Maybe this helped sustained our 5-player Korea session and avoided any bankruptcy.
Hiew-green subsequently pushed to Level-5 and even Level-6 engines at the last round. Think he did say he probably didn’t need a Level-6 but this is still telling, since he was the only one to be able to make use of his Level-5 engine and it’s not surprising when he pulled away from the lead to win this session comfortably.
Hiew-green’s network which managed to support a few important 5-engine deliveries towards game end to put him into an unassailable win.
Korea for Five?
So does AOS Korea support five players? From our session, I would say Korea – which by itself is already a difficult challenge – would be tough for 5+ players. I’m not even sure it’ll take six? In our session, the production cubes were distributed pretty evenly. Without that, we would be struggling for cubes to deliver even in mid-game. As-is, we made it thru to game end without any bankrupcy though I would also say me & Heng drifted out of the game after the midway stage and left this into a 3-way fight towards the end.
Allen later pulled an Expansion Guide worksheet from Boardgamegeek and it said Korea’s best with 3-4 players and “possible” for 5-6 players. Endless possibilities, it seems. Haha.
Korea is definitely one of the more challenging maps for Age of Steam; certainly happy to revisit this map.
P/s Am sure Hiew will write up his sessrep for this. Will cross-post when that has happened.
Updated: Sessrep from Hiew
Sinbad brought some of his hiking frens for tonight’s session and they settled down to one of Wallace’s lighter games from recent releases: Ankh-Morpork, set in Terry Pratchett’s popular Discworld novels. If you browse thru Wallace’s earlier game design, you’ll be hard pressed to find any light or even light-medium games from him prior to Ankh-Morpork.
That’s not to say Ankh-Morpork is not an enjoyable game.
I think this group enjoyed their session. And while knowledge of Pratchett’s Discworld would have added to the game experience, you can still enjoy this game even if you have not yet picked up any of Pratchett’s novel.
And while we are on the topic about Pratchett, there are two other games related to his Discworld; one is the OOP (out of print) Guards! Guards! (not designed by Wallace) and the second is Wallace’s next game in the Discworld universe The Witches slated for release about now.
LIBERTE (2001) is actually an earlier Wallace game than AGE OF STEAM. That would be the 2001 Warfrog edition (above) which has been OOP (out of print) for a long time before Valley Games reprinted it in 2010 (below).
Kareem’s been edging to get a game of LIBERTE on the table and tonight he’s got his wish granted albeit as a 3-player session.
LIBERTE reminds me of Reef Encounter; in that it has a unique game design. It looks deceptively like any other Euros but you’ll find it “chaotic” and not like most Euros. 😛
The game is about the fight for the control of the French government during the French Revolution. But it’s not a straight-forward game where each player controls one faction vying for the absolute power in Paris. Instead you play to get influence for the three factions vying for the power position.
We have seen a few Euros with similar indirect influence as winning conditions – another of Wallace’s game BYZANTIUM came to mind – however when you considered Wallace designed this back in 2001, you may just begin to appreciate the depth of his design experience.
I’ve not done a full game of LIBERTE too (the last was a semi-learning game at Games Circle many years back) so would definitely want to get this to the OTK table again.. soon. According to Kareem, 3-player is okay but the game would really shine if we can get 6-player to the table!
Ah… with the success of his first 2-player wargame WATERLOO (and the success of his 3-player games such as AFTER THE FLOOD and GOD’S PLAYGROUND), GETTYSBURG is Wallace’s follow-up of another 2-player wargame. This game sold out it’s first print run and was not re-printed hence it has received almost no buzz around it. Part of the reasons (as Heng hypothesized) could be the Gettysburg theme receives very little love outside of the US of A.
Allen has a copy and he’s looking for a trade so his copy ended up in my library and given Heng’s recent interest in the Gettysburg theme (from his backing of Shenandoah Studio’s iPad app “Gettysburg: The Tide Turns“), he was keen to try this out.
Since tonight’s a Wallace nite, we decided this is a good opportunity to bring this (albeit 2-player) game to the OTK table. However we’ve three – me, Heng and Ivan – after everyone’s done with Age of Steam and Liberte. Heng offered to teach me & Ivan the game as he has to leave soon (he has an early day tomorrow).
Rules look simple enough (ah… but… more of this later) and after going thru the basics of the game timing (it’s split into three days, with each day having four periods – morning, mid-day, afternoon and night; with night being mostly a logistic phase where no combat is allowed, how the command blocks & order tokens work together in allowing you to pass out commands to your troops; the game map being split into two halves – one for the Confederates (Ivan) and the other for the Union (me).
Command blocks (above) are the key element of your order system. You basically just place one of these command blocks into an area (free of enemy troops) and the number indicates the number of order discs you can placed in the area or adjacent areas which then allows you to execute one action for your troops in the area where you place the order disc.
A higher-numbered command block obviously means you can give out more orders around that area (simulating a more effective general) while a lower-numbered block limits your options. The key (and one rule we misplayed) is that these command blocks are placed onto the board in an upright position with the number facing you. This meant your opponent won’t have any idea whether it’s a high- or low-numbered block (simulating some fog of war).
Each side also has a limited num of order discs (above) which they can use to pass out order to their troops. The Union (blue) started with 10 discs in the Morning period (but will drop to 8 in the next period – Mid-day etc) while the Confederates always have 12 single orders plus 4 double orders (unless they ran out of their own order disc – usually not likely unless they did not manage their orders properly).
The higher number of order discs given to the Confederate (gray) is used to simulate the speed at which orders can be performed by their troops (unlike the Union which was less organized than the Confederate on Day One of this famous battle). The Confederate also has four double order discs… when these are used (they are used in pairs), it meant the Confederate player can execute two actions in the same turn (again, simulating the speed at which they can rally their troops to the frontline).
This is the key advantage for the Confederate player in Day One, and clearly the additional order discs should be incentive enough for the Confederate to play more aggressively before Gettysburg becomes harder to take when the Union’s reinforcements arrived later.
The Union (blue) player on the other hand is constantly hobbled by inefficient orders and Wallace introduced black order discs to indicate a “forced pass” where the Union player still has to play the order disc as an action but has to take a pass (and not do anything). The Union player has a limited number of order discs (just 12) and if they ran out of blue order discs, will have to substitute with the black order discs. What this mean is that the Union player still has to drop a fixed number of order discs for each period but if some of these are black ones, the Union player effectively loses a turn to the Confederate player (advantage Confederate!)
Combined with the higher number of order discs given to the Confederate player, the loss of action tempo due to the black discs can hurt the Union player badly if they did not manage their (blue) orders properly among the four periods – morning, mid-day, afternoon and night – in order to maximize the efficiency of their orders.
A very simple yet effective and streamlined mechanic designed into the game to set the onus on the Confederate player to rush for an early victory before the Union reinforcement arrives (the double orders in particular are bad for the Unions).
There are three types of units – infantry, artillery (both shown above) and cavalry. Only the Union has cavalry forces, and in addition to being able to move faster than infantry, they can also carry an artillery in a retreat (can be very useful when you are facing Confederate troops aggresively pushing on your frontlines and all you wanted to do is to delay their advances).
The Confederates start the game with their initial troops massed at Chambersburg Pike (which is actually north-west of Gettysburg though from the map above, you might think it laid north of Gettysburg).
The Union has only a small cavalry / artillery unit (Buford’s cavalry) standing between the Confederate troops and a swift advance towards Gettysburg. The Confederate swiftly brought it’s strength in numbers to bore on the Union’s position.
The Union was not able to hold their position and folded back into a position north of Cemetery Hill. There’s another Union artillery & infantry (top left of pic above) but I spent too many order discs on the Buford cavalry instead of moving those units closer to Chambersburg Pike to halt the Confederate’s advance.
The Confederate troops were able to successfully advanced towards Gettysburg, defended only by a sole Union Elite force (Elite troops are in red), it is unlikely to hold the town for long.
Surprisingly Ivan’s Confederate – instead of advancing into Gettysburg to gain control of the town – decided to swing south (ie left direction from the pic above) towards the Union forces near Cemetary Hill. Perhaps he was thinking of eliminating the loosely coupled Union troops on Cemetary Hill before I can regroup.
Note: I think given my Union troops retreated from the battle of Chambersburg Pike, they should have been carrying the Disruption marker along which would have made them “weaker” against the Confederate’s assault.
Unfortunately the Confederate found stubborn resistance from the Union troops and couldn’t gain foothold on Cemetary Hill and instead found themselves back west of Gettysburg town (back where they were).
For some strange reason, I’ve a single Cavalry unit left stranded at McPherson’s Ridge, which Ivan’s Confederates totally ignored!! It’s a bit stranded for me to attempt to bring back into the main defensive line (since placing command block and then order discs to pull the unit back would only give more momentum – ie extra turns – for the Confederate to organize their attacks).
So it was left there deep behind enemy’s position, watching curiously as the Confederates advance on Gettysburg. 😛
Ivan next turned his forces to drive out my Elite force from Gettysburg, while my other troops on Cemetary Hill began to dig in (the single wood piece indicates one level of entrenchment; you need two levels of entrenchment for it to provide you with defensive cover – again you need to weight the benefit of entrenchment cover vs cost of order disc).
At this stage, the game is still evenly fought.
The Confederate’s first reinforcements arrived mid-day… split along Carlisle Road and Harrisburg Road (above); while the Union only has two measly (inferior) infantry coming off Tanneytown Road (the two orange infrantry to the left of the board below) – a bit far from the action.
Things went south very fast for the Union when I unexpectedly lost my (red) Elite infrantry to another of the Confederate’s continuous attacks. That Elite infantry has already been ordered to retreat but alas was caught badly in some crossfire and went down fighting. Oops.
Without that Elite division – which has been doing a great job of hampering the Confederate’s progress north of Gettysburg, Ivan was able to quickly push his new reinforcements directly into Benner’s Hil & Culp’s Hill for a swift victory before mid-day (of day one).
Also crucially, the Union has ran out of blue order discs to attempt a repel of the Confederates from the above positions (left with two black discs) so this also highlighted the importance of order disc management especially for the Union player.
The Reinforcements table showing the (strict) arrival of additional troops according to historical schedule. As you can see, the Union’s reinforcements only arrive after Mid-day of Day One so it’s imperative the Union player has a good gameplan to hold off the Confederate’s attacks until then (sadly in the above game, the Union player capitulated it’s position in mid-day).
As Wallace advised in his game notes, “I cannot offer any great insights into how to play the game except to say that as with the real battle it pays for the Union player to take care not to throw the game away in the first day.” Errm….
Overall, it was a very enjoyable 2-player wargame which has been well abstracted and does not feel like those classic hex wargames. I felt most of the abstractions are well-designed (command blocks, order discs, disruption marker) and removed the need to have too many “realistic” dice checks (ASL anyone?) yet gives you the feeling of uncertainty in battles.
The game rules could have been written better (we were having a hard time with the artillery’s Line-of-Sight rule for eg) and it seems there are a number of FAQs around the rules requiring clarification. We think we’ve them sorted out now (see this thread for the Rules FAQ) and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays with the correct set of rules.
The Unions will be back!
P/s Interestingly Heng stayed with us until our game finished. So much for his plan to leave early!! LOL. He could have actually just sat in and played the game instead of offering his seat to me. 😛
SO MANY WALLACE GAMES… SO LITTLE TIME
We knew we weren’t going to be able to go thru the list of Wallace games in our collection within an evening (regardless of how late into the following morning we continue playing). The collection of games above is not a *complete* Wallace set – they are just the Wallace games I’ve in my collection – so you can imagine the daunting task of trying EVERY Wallace games. 🙂
We did manage to play four of his games tonight; a mix of classic (Age of Steam), everlasting oldies (Liberte), 2-player wargame (Gettysburg) and his recent foray into lighter games (Discworld: Ankh-Morpork). The choice of games played only served to highlight the diversity of Wallace’s design.
Still we didn’t get to do some of his faves like BRASS, AUTOMOBILE, STRUGGLE OF EMPIRES or his newer ones such as P.I., AEROPLANES. After enjoying GETTYSBURG, I’m also keen to find out more about his 2-player wargames such as WATERLOO and even 3-player ones like AFTER THE FLOOD and GOD’s PLAYGROUND.
Not to mention we are still awaiting delivery of his Kickstarter MOONGHA INVADERS (above). No, I kid you not.. The game box design might look iffy but it is indeed another MARTIN WALLACE game! 😛
You can bet we’ll be doing more Wallace Nights at OTK in the near future but for next week, let us swing our attention back to Essen Spiel 2012. 🙂
For more pictures of tonight’s meetup, pls check out our Facebook album below.
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