Abyss

I explain to any new players unfamiliar with Abyss that it is a game in which you try to make fishy friends, and the person with the best friends at the end wins.  Though that description hardly matches the dark yet stunning aesthetic tone of the game, it describes play and game objectives succinctly enough that the term “fishy friends” has stuck.

In actuality, Abyss is an abstract game of political intrigue in which each player seeks to gain control of a selectorate through which they are able to place nobles from various castes into the gears of bureaucracy in an effort to exert control over the government.  You must carefully recruit important persons from all walks of society to ensure that you will be Lord of the Deep!

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Gameplay, while easy to learn, is varied and nuanced to where I can say there’s really no other game I’ve played remotely like it.  You have two different but linked economies within the game, in the form of pearls and allies.  Pearls can aid in the acquisition of allies, and allies are required for the acquisition of nobles.

Players can take one of three actions during their turn.

Exploration – Both pearls and allies can be gained through exploration; numbered allied cards are flipped from the exploration deck, and going around the table each player has an opportunity to buy the flipped card from the explorer for 1 pearl + 1 additional pearl for each card previously bought.  Sometimes monster cards appear instead; if a monster shows up, the exploring player can fight it for the reward (a combination of monster tokens (bonus points), pearls, and/or keys – more on those later), or keep going.

Petition the Council – Unbought allies go to the “council” where they’re sorted by suit and left face-down.  Rather than explore, a player can take any single suited stack.

Recruit Nobility – Noble cards from the noble deck are placed at the bottom of the board and are available for purchase.  These are bought with the allies cards acquired from exploration or petitioning the council.  These cards all have a point value, but some have additional abilities and may have keys (getting to those soon, I promise!)

The game features five distinct castes: Crabs (Red/Military Class), Squids (Blue/Political Class), Clams (Green/Mercantile Class), Jellyfish (Purple/Mystic Class) and Seahorses (Yellow/Pastoral Class).  Each suit has some sort of one-time or continuous ability that reflects their class.  Crabs tend to have the lowest point value, but often have some ability that is detrimental to opponents.  Squids and Jellyfish have average point values but have potent abilities that usually allow one to muck with cards on the board in some way or another.  My favorite factions are the Clams and Seahorses.  Though they have minor (some Clams get you pearls) or no abilities, they are usually cheaper and have higher point values than the other suits.  Finally, there are a handful of 5-suited nobles, whose primary value is administering a domain on their own without locking down your other nobles.

Keys!  Whenever you have any combination of three key tokens or nobles with keys on them, you get a “domain”.  In the abstract game of politics, this means that your nobles have been sent to the provinces to oversee a new administrative district; though they’re increasing the power and influence of your faction, they’re no longer interfering with business at court.  In gameplay terms, you draw a domain tile that will grant you a certain bonus to your victory points at the cost of losing the continuous abilities of all nobles who had key icons not already assigned to a domain.

Abyss has rapidly become a favorite in my gaming group.  Like many newer games, player conflict is mostly indirect.  Unlike some of the newer games I’ve played, however, there does seem to be some solid strategies one can use to do consistently well.  Sometimes these strategies can be mucked up by other players, or a bad flop on the nobles at the start can force one to rethink, but I may have this one figured out!

Don’t put your eggs in one basket, unless that basket is Seahorses.  The games I’ve done best in were the times I was able to corner the Seahorses with some Clams to supplement my pearl economy.  Sometimes it’s good to get some guys or gals from the other classes, particularly if they have an ability that you really want or really don’t want another player to have (the nobles that can zap stacks from the council, that allow taking an extra stack from the council, and that prevent anyone from having more than six allies in hand spring to mind), but unless you have a domain that will give you points for those specific nobles and allies, the difference in points between the blue-collar civilian castes and political or military castes may be insurmountable if the player going for farmers and merchants really is getting what he needs.

Anyway, this is one I strongly suggest you check out.  There’s an expansion – Kraken – that was released just recently.  I don’t personally own the game, but if it’s not too expensive, I might see if anyone in our group would be interested in throwing in a couple bucks each to pick it up.  Not that we’ve even come close to exhausting or growing bored with this one yet.

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Bull Run, pt. 3 (Wrap up)

In the end, Bull Run may have looked closer than it actually was. By the time the Union got moving and threatened my position in Manassas, I had far too much strength already bearing down on Centreville.

To make matters worse for the Union, the artillery regiments arrived with very little support, so that Hampton’s Legion and a few of Kirby Smith’s boys were able to ride out and harass the van while several regiments of confederate artillery made the odds astronomical. The benefits to this were two-fold: one Union infantry regiment routed was small potatoes, but having two regiments on the main road between the Union army and Manassas would buy at least a half hour before the Union could coordinate an attack on my camp. Worst case, Hampton routes, Kirby rallies his regiment back in Manassas while he sends fresh troops to stand in the way of the Union advance. The best case ended up happening and my troops on the road simply retreated back to the camp.

Further north, I had five brigades bearing down on Centreville. Jones ended up going fully around to the north from the east, forcing my dad to create a thin line to hold him off. Ewell kept pressure on the flanks with help from Holmes, while Jackson and Longstreet pressed upon on the Union camp with 8 regiments between them from the south. With Jones cutting off any retreat, the Union troops in camp were completely surrounded and surrendered around 4 in the afternoon of July 21, 1861. Presumably the bulk of the Union army spent the rest of the evening retreating round-robin by way of Sudley Springs in hopes of keeping Beauregard from threatening Washington.

Next week, we’ll be starting Air Assault on Crete. Now THAT looks like it will be one hell of a complicated game.

Bull Run Pt. 2

The first part of our playthrough of Avalon Hill’s Bull Run can be found here.

My dad & my first play through of Bull Run is turning into a big flanking battle: we’re each delivering a strong punch from our right as our lefts collapse.  The question is who will deliver the knockout blow first?

We’ve made it into early afternoon and don’t anticipate the battle reaching evening.  Bee and Bartow’s brigades were surrounded and routed from hillock just northeast of New Market, but they managed to slow the Union advance just enough to allow a number of highly beneficial pieces to fall in place for the Rebs.  EK Smith arrived by train in time to ensure that my camp in Manassas won’t be a gimme.  Stuart along with some of Smith’s rear-guard regiments have been able to pick off the union men who got too far ahead of their column.  Meanwhile, Longstreet and “Rolling Thunder”(as he will be known hereafter in this alternate universe) Jackson have been making a coordinated push through the woods towards Centerville as Beauregard has ridden out with Ewell to attack the Union HQ from the East.

Early game, Command Path rules did not seem like a huge deal, especially when regiments were being automatically activated by proximity to enemy units.  Mid game, this turned into a real game changer.  With Confederate troops suddenly eliminated from Henry Hill to Flat Run, the Union commanders suddenly found themselves at a loss for what to do.  McDowell had ridden out back across the river down Warrenton Pike to shepherd a desperately needed relief brigade towards Centerville that had four brigades bearing down on it, leaving the bulk of the Union Army without orders.  McDowell literally spent two hours riding back and forth while three and a half divisions of Union troops sat with virtually nothing between them and Manassas!

My own issues with Command Path seem rather minor in comparison.  With both Jo Johnston and Pete Beauregard respectively leading the charge and flank through the woods south of Centerville, my batteries overlooking Blackburn’s and McLean’s Fords, as well as the infantry guarding the Union Mills Ford, have been left without orders.

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“First Bull Run July 21 am” by Hal Jespersen, cwmaps.com CC by 3.0 via Commons

Bull run map

Troop movements from morning until early afternoon.  Crosses where Confederate Brigades have been routed.  (original image from BGG).

My dad thinks I’ve won.  I think he may still have a chance to dislodge Smith if plays a hurry-up offence.  I’ve gone for an all or nothing gambit, as there’s no way I can hold that little church (red starred hex, lower portion of 2nd map board from left) for another 10 or so turns.  I’m hoping I have enough numbers I can overcome even the relief forces reaching Centerville, but a series of bad rolls could stall me out.  We’re already talking about setting up Malta next time we get together, so this game will hinge on the next few turns around Centerville I’m guessing.

One last note, It turns out that there’s very little “rallying” going on.  It could just be the way we’ve been playing, but by noon, all of my commanders were too busy driving towards the enemy or too busy being dead/captured/fleeing for their lives to spend a turn rallying a regiment.  The great mid-day stall-out of the Union advance gave my dad a chance to pull a few guys from the Rally-box, but the overwhelming majority of guys who go there are probably gone for good.

Fortress Europa Wrap-up & Minor Updates

The final nail in the coffin was hammered on the September IV turn.  I managed to make one last heroic strike and was even able to take out SHAEF, but without enough troops to form a line, my few strong piles would get surrounded by Allied troops and would so be unable to escape (units retreating through enemy ZOC are immediately eliminated).

Anti-climactic, I know.  But we will be starting Avalon Hill’s Bull Run this week, which we are both pretty stoked about.  After bagging Fortress Europa, we set up the Order of Battle Cards, were both impressed and perplexed by the granularity of the forces, attempted to extrapolate the system based on the pieces and were delighted as we figured out that some of our guesses were correct.  On the surface, it looks like a far more complicated game than it probably actually is.  I’ll go into that in the first post of our run on that game.

So, time for a few updates.  First, the zine:

I may have found an artist for the first issue of Cirsova.  Once contracts are signed and everything is official, I can make the official announcement.  I’m pretty excited about it.  This week, I’ll be doing a bit more work on adspace; I’ve figured out how much adspace I have, now I just need to get some exact print dimensions so I can provide those specs to potential advertisers.

Now that I may have an artist, I have figured up my costs for this first issue, crunched numbers and have something in the way of rewards tiers planned out.  All rewards will be some combination of “investing” for one copy or many and buying an ad or not buying an ad.  I’m going to try not to harp on this too much, so I don’t burn people out before I get a chance to actually launch the kickstarter, so my next updates prior to launch will simply be to announce the artist, show off the art once it’s done, and to promote the kickstarter.  I’ll include details on those things here, naturally.

Second, Drasmyr Week:

It’s not quite going to be a full-blown Drasmyr week like I did when The Children of Lubrochius came out, but I will have the author Matthew D. Ryan here on Wednesday talking about Tolkien.  Hardback for Sceptre of Morgulan comes out on Lulu tomorrow and you can bet I’ll be ordering it!

Now, the AlisonScam:

I wanted to try to say something about the whole Alison Prime/Steve Polk massive troll, but I can’t really put together anything that doesn’t sound like I’m saying ‘this person is being pilloried and that’s probably a good thing’.  For those who don’t know, Alison Prime was a self-described boob obsessed lesbian gamer girl who was also a cancer survivor and survivor of domestic abuse who was loudly pro-gamergate (though from what I’ve heard, she would mostly derail conversations by bringing up boobs); this person turned out to be a sock-puppet account of some dude named Steve who used pics from a (supposedly dead) friend and other various similar looking women to create a composite fake gamer girl.  Steve’s house burned down and got outed when people were raising money for “Alison Prime” whose house burned down.

I was only vaguely aware of Alison Prime, because I mostly only paid attention to a small handful of streamers whom I had time for (Sargon, Vee, Queeny before she left, Sox and the Honey Badgers.)  Most GG drama is pretty bad for GG, but I don’t know if it will be bad in the long run that everyone in all corners of GG can be united in being pissed off that someone lied about being a cancer and abuse survivor for attention. It also shines a bit of an uncomfortable light on how the internet affects our empathy: many people seemed to love and genuinely care about this weird and kooky person who turned out to never actually exist.  To find out that someone you cared about was not only lying to you but didn’t actually exist must be pretty gutwrenching, and I feel pretty bad for the folks who’ve been affected by it.

Ogresuit Gundam: It’s Coming

I’ve actually found someone interested in playtesting this. Later this month or next (depending on how the posting schedule pans out; more on this later), I’ll have some basic rules ups with everything needed to mess around with some mobile suit battles. It will include stats for Zakus, Doms, Gundams, Guncannons, Guntanks and rules for MS vs MS and MS vs non-MS combat resolution.  If things work out in playtesting, I’ll be expanding the number of mobile suits I will be writing stats for (adding Goufs, GMs, Groundtype Gundams, and Gelgoogs), and also try to include some rules for handling landships (for those wanting to recreate the battle between Ramba Ral and the White Base, maybe even including some scenario recommendations), basically making Ogre a 3 rather than 2 tiered game.

Space ships may be more of an issue, because for some weird reason (probably related to pressure or something) space battleships in the Gundam universe are WAY more fragile than landships.  But still, I’m stoked that one person interested in this project has said they have a copy of Holy War to try out space battles with.

I probably won’t write up a formal ruleset for the conversion, but will certainly have enough written up that players can adapt it as they see fit, eventually compiling my notes into a single post or document.  I know I’m kinda half-assed on my game design follow through (I’m going to finish Broadswords & Battlefields one day!), but something playable is already written up and you WILL see it soon!

I’m mostly writing this post because I want to share this awesome UC Hardgraph art.

Ogresuit gundam

Fortress Europa Take 2 Pt. 2

The important lesson learned in this rather shorter playthrough of Fortress Europa is to not leave Holland a tempting enough invasion site.  If the Allies can be contained here, they will be bottled up worse than any other landing zone with the fewest eligible ports to increase their supply capacity.  On the other hand, if they are able to break-out, there will be no containing them at all and the German forces will be totally unable to form an effective line.

I’ve managed to keep a strongpoint at the north end of the Siegfried line that may very well remain for the rest of the game, but other than serve as a mild distraction, I don’t think they will be able to make a game-changing difference.  As the coastal gunners leave their post and hop on trains back to German, paratroops and commandos have seized both Brittany and the French Riviera, and the Pas de Calais has folded to the massive second wave invasion.  Brussels and Paris have fallen and American mechanized cavalry has nothing but a few volksturm between them and the victory objectives in Germany.

My one stroke of brilliance which gives me something of a sense of victory as I go down in flames: I managed to land some Luftwaffe behind the British lines to take out their main HQ.  The British northern flank around Bremen crumbled in disarray upon news that Bernie Montgomery died in a hail of gunfire as an entire division of Fallschirmjäger landed right in the middle of the 21st Army Group’s command camp.

I’ve been fairly generous in letting my dad move his HQs up to ensure that his troops are in supply if he forgot to move them in the second impulse (family after all), but there was no getting around a dozen British units cut off from any other allied supply.  It let me regain a small foothold in northern Germany, which might buy me time for my September reinforcements (the first substantial that the Germans get) to arrive, but with most of the fortifications gone and southern Germany almost forfeit, it won’t tide me over for another 15+ turns.

Next session will almost certainly be the last.

Tomorrow: Why is a 14+ strong DCC party the most craven group of adventurers I’ve ever been a part of?

Fortress Europa Pt 7 (conclusion and reset)

Last night, it was pretty clear that I would be fighting for the draw.  The question was whether I could push the Germans out of Frankfurt, and the answer was ultimately no.  Even though I scored some crushing victories, the final February turn my attacks were repulsed or Nazis in the rough received the dreaded “DR” retreat, meaning that they got to camp out where they were.  10-1 odds against a half-strength infantry and a brigade of artillery ended with no results.  These defeats killed even the slightest chance of reaching Nurnberg, but I still had a chance at Frankfurt.  In March, the last of the British threw everything they had against the city and managed to drive out the Volksturm, but in trying to take the city, they had to take fire from the troops across the Main and were ultimately unable to hold the city.

While it’s unquestionable that the Allies will win the war, even in the position I’ve left them, the game ended up being a narrow victory for the German player.

Though my dad is incredibly excited to try out the Bull Run game, he wanted to make one more go at Fortress Europa, this time as the Allies.  I’m more than happy to oblige, but I’ll be sure to bring the next issue of Planet Stories with me to read while he takes his turns.

I’m trying to convince him that he should launch the primary Allied invasion in the Netherlands.  I’ve left it ill-defended, however it will put the Invasion Response Force within a single turn’s movement (even with my rail capacity bombed to crap this turn) of landing forces.  The advantage in taking the Netherlands would be that it would open an avenue straight into Germany without having to fight across the Pas de Calais.  On the other hand, it would make the primary Allied game objective of taking Paris next to impossible.  I’ve already allowed, however, that SHOULD the Allied forces somehow take all of the key cities in Germany, the German forces isolated in western France would probably surrender.  I’ll have to check the supply rules to see how that would actually work out, but I’d imagine that HQs that could not somehow trace their line back to a rail connected to Germany would not be able to keep any German troops in supply.  A turn or two of that and they’d be wiped out anyway.

Minor update:
Damn, seeing Jeffro post about Federation Commander really makes me want to crack open Imperium and give it another go.  I probably haven’t played that one since I was 10.  I know it wasn’t one of the greatest games, but man, how can you not love a game with space ships!  I mean, come on, it has a Glory marker!