Monday, 4 January 2016

This is my rifle, this is my gun.

Christmas is done, the New Year is over and the NoBlog catches up with the last couple of sessions of December.

On the week before Christmas Tuesday, NoBoG saw the Vietnam war era COIN series game Fire in the Lake have its debut at the Mash Tun.

If you've never played a COIN ( COunter INsurgency) game - or even heard about them - then they are fairly simple area control wargames with a very heavy semi random scripted event theme going on available via a deck of cards. Despite being simple area control games, COIN games are definitely not for the casual gamer and constitute some of the heavier, if not the heaviest of Euro-ish games, and some of the COIN games can take a considerable time investment ( the earlier Andean Abyss COIN game has had sessions that have rolled on past 9 hours in length ).

The conflict that COIN games depict are very much of the modern zeitgeist and in one way or another are pretty much a ubiquitous background noise these days from the 24 hour news empire. Given the relative strengths of well funded and armed combatants against rag tag outfits it's a no brainer that these kind of asymmetric conflicts have become the norm.

The COIN series of games attempts to capture the nature of this asymmetric warfare and also the oh so important political/terror fight for the hearts and minds of the populace that goes hand in hand with it. Previous games have visited the utter chaos of Colombia in the 1990s ( Andean Abyss ) and its druglords, the turbulent Cuban uprising of the 50's ( Cuba Libre ) of Fidel Castro et al,he more recent Afghanistan quagmire ( A Distant Plain ) of a US led coalition force and for the most recent game, the Vietnam war - Fire in the Lake.

Fire in the Lake-the red forces of Hal's NVA amass in the North
Fire in the Lake somewhat controversially pits four competing sides of the North Vietnamese Army, Viet Cong, US and the South Vietnamese republic forces ARVN against each other in a fight for domination of Vietnam. There are a number of team permutations you can play with - depending on number of players and political sensibilities - as well as what is probably one of the most complex AI scripts in a game for any of the factions should you wish to have the game control a player.

Asymmetric player capabilities tend to come down to outright displays of firepower with army units sweeping in and airstrikes, versus more subtle opinion influence, terror operations and sabotage. The goals in particular are setup in a clever way - the NVA and ARVN forces are rewarded for controlling areas through military domination, whereas the US and the VC are rewarded for having support from the general population. So whilst in theory the US and ARVN are fighting on the same team, the US are interested in getting everyone to be happy - and commit as few as troops as possible to do so - whilst ARVN is interested in projecting force into regions and making sure their corrupt friends are getting plenty of US aid money fed into their pockets. There is some - you might almost say accidental - overlap in goal alignment between allies, but it can be tenuous and at certain times even entirely unwanted ( the US for instance can help militarily dominate a region, even though the US in theory has no actual gain in doing so, and may in fact be hurting their own chances of winning )

This setup leads to some great emergent gameplay and very interesting choices about what to do in a given situation and something of a shaky ambivalent nature to the alliance of communists versus non communists. Some debate and "shit stirring" is definitely part of this game as play unfolds and each of the various factions bubbles up to dominate.

Enough of the theory. What happened with our game ? I took the VC - the only faction solely committed to unconventional guerrilla warfare, Hal took the NVA, Darren the US and Pete the morally bankrupt ARVN. We played the short scenario which is played over some 29 ish event cards / turns and means in practice that each player probably has around 12 turns in which they get to do something. As it turned out in our game, the corrupt leadership of the ARVN was highly resistant to change, meaning that funneling US aid out to ARVN cronies was extremely effective, and meant that Pete was doing his utmost to shove as much cash out the door to his mates, pushing his victory points way up.

Hal as NVA and Darren as US struggled to make much headway in their own VP fields, and for myself I had managed to get a crucial opinion shifter into play from the very start that punished anyone targeting me by awarding me with victory points.

Pete breached his VP goal by the middle of the game and was set for a win, only a self sacrificing move by Hal as NVA and then a wave of terror operations by myself ( and not a little outright killing of police by the NVA, and convincing other police to join my team ) saw his VPs shifted down enough for him not to win and continue on the game.

With the NVA struggling militarily, and the US having spent a buttload of money to influence popular opinion in their favour, Darren with it has to be said a fair amount of ( good ) advice from Team Communist of me and Hal decided take the opportunity to enact a massive withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam, wildly boosting his Victory points as the yanks were suddenly happy at not having to fight such a punishing war.

End game, blue VC enjoy support, the NVA marches
and the US have gone home... but win the day.
ARVN are reduced to a few key cities and locations.
Historically... accurate ?
With US ground support reduced to a skeleton force, and some painful anti corruption events played against Pete, the ARVN faction saw their control collapse, whilst myself as VC undid all the US good will work in Central and Southern Vietnam with only the cities now not being openly communist, and Hal pushed into Southern Vietnam to finally dominate areas in the South.

Despite the communist advances the happy vibes inspired by having such a low commitment to the war meant that Darren ended up the winner, having breached his VP goal and ending some 8 or so above it. However myself as the VC had also breached their VP goal in getting a decent majority of Vietnam to buy into the communist ideal, but crucially not enough to erode Darren's lead - indeed it was the US withdrawal that had bagged the win, just going by popular support the win would have been mine. Hal was very close to breaching his own VP goal of military control, whilst poor Pete ended up firmly fourth as his corrupt shenanigans caught up with him and the US withdrew.

Great game all in all, and once everyone was down pat with what was going on, the game moved on at a brisk pace. The medium length scenario would definitely be achievable within a pub evening with players that were kinda familiar with what was going on. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a game with a bit of a deeper bite to sink your teeth into and high player interaction.

Darren enjoyed the game so much he listed it as one of his favourite plays of 2015 ! High praise indeed.

Moving away from Vietnam, we had another first at NoBoG as Kingdom Death Monster turned up to put a bunch of players through their paces. Kingdom Death Monster has the dubious title as Most Expensive Board Game Ever as its absolutely top notch and arguably unmatched quality miniatures command ridiculous prices. ( I believe the base Kingdom Death Monster set with all the bits was some 300 post colonial dollars ). Kingdom Death Monster is almost a two part kind of game - with one part being a tactical combat game with an emphasis on boss monster kind of takedowns ( if you've ever played an MMO with a raid boss, you'll know the score here ), and the second part of the game being a colony planning and building campaign with an emphasis on a rogue like level of brutal difficulty and sudden random unfair hideous death.

Kingdom Death : Monster. Nothing's going on here....
Despite having gorgeous miniatures, I singularly failed at taking a good shot of them. So. Yeah. Sucks to be you. In my defence I was busy terrorising convincing the Vietnamese peasants to join the glorious communist uprising and caught the KDM'ers in one of their town planning sessions.

KDM went down very well with some interesting tales being told in the aftermath like Sean's character Carol - a hard hitting monster bashing type - having a crucial weakness of fainting at the sight of blood and having to be continually roused by team mates to get up and finish the job. I think Carol ended up losing limbs and eventually dying, not before managing to have a child - which then became Sean's character.

Although I haven't looked hard at KDM it continues to surprise me about just how positive people are when they play it - I think the whole colony planning phase and story element is the secret sauce that lifts this tactical melee game with work of art miniatures above what it would otherwise be.

Two Rooms and a Boom also made its NoBoG debut, which must somewhat annoy Lewis as he had been keen to play this but due to Christmas type responsibilities had skipped NoBoG. I can't say much about Two Rooms except that it involved an awful lot of people milling around the pub - at one point I thought just about the entire NoBoG playerbase was involved. There were some excited high fives, a good deal of chatting, and Sam slipped me a look of his role card. Suffice to say I hadn't a clue what it meant - except he apparently wasn't allowed to talk to a group of people. Sounds a bit harsh to me. Your role is to sit in a corner and have no fun. Sam seemed to be enjoying it however.

Blood Rage turned up again - Pete has waded in and bought this, so with both Nicky and Pete having copies, expect this to turn up even more at NoBoG. Champions of Midgard was also present during the Christmas period and I think is going to end up being the early 2016 popular game of NoBoG with several people now having bought copies of it and eager to give it a bash. Given that CoM is not a million miles away from Lords of Waterdeep - and Lords of Waterdeep was one of the top 10 games of 2015 at NoBoG, it's a reasonable bet that CoM is going to be a shoe in for 2016.

Finally, Sean who has been a recent regular NoBoGer - and particularly untrustworthy werewolfer/resistancer/spyfaller/mafioso - is leaving us for a year to go do university type things with embedded electronics and wifi devices. Spy devices then. He's going to advance the field of spy devices. Good luck in his studies, and his loud and dubious traitor antics will be missed !

As ever I leave you with the gallery.

Terra Mystica. Sam would like to confirm again that this is better than GoT. He made sure to tell me. Again.

Resistance. With an animated Luke who is odds on probably undermining his own team at this point.

A fine hand of cows there Adam. Sechs Nimmt.

Champions of Midgard with Ewan, Tim, Heather and home from Uni Kaya (sp?!)

The Shy Persons Christmas Approval Meeting. Everyone closes their eyes before interacting to avoid embarrassment.
Either that or it's Resistance. I guess it could be Resistance.

The lovely Divinare. Which I am turning into something of a Savant at. Needless to say I won.

The much fancied Lords of Waterdeep. One of NoBoGs Top 10 of 2015.

Cauldron. Still haven't played this. Still need to play this.

More Lords of Waterdeep. Popular. Apparently.

More Champions of Midgard. If you accept CoM = LoW, then it was played four times in two weeks !

Blood Rage ! It's like Chaos in the Old World but with only 3 turns. And more scoring volatility.

7 Wonders
32 and 33 respectively for those who are counting. 33 during the period between Christmas and New Years is crazily up.

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