I showed up at HomerCon West in sunny Lodi, California at about noon on Friday. I roll my eyes a bit as I see as I see the three games being set up are The Gamer’s Omaha, This Terrible Sound, and Guderian’s Blitzkrieg II. My friend Paul, with whom I have a Europe Engulfed game set up for Saturday, is the one setting up Omaha. I give him a bit of a hard time about whether he’s going to be able to even finish setting it up (turns out that’s not such a big deal), and then see who’s available who isn’t in on the GBII or TTS. Turns out there are three of us, one of whom is a walk-in who really doesn’t have much wargaming experience. So we settle on the only really good 3-player wargame I know, Napoleon from Columbia games.
We choose the Columbia 3.1 version (I actually have both editions in my one box, but third edition is a little more interesting for 3 players I think). I’m the French. I’ve played before fairly recently, while the Allies haven’t – which is balanced somewhat by the fact that a French win is pretty rare in any edition of this game. Games are often close, but I haven’t seen many French wins. Last time I played, as the French I went after the Prussians first and came up short. This time I went right down the middle and then hooked left to go after the Anglo-Allies. This worked pretty well when the Prussians dithered a bit and failed to properly concentrate or link up, so the French went on to victory.
Everyone else is still setting up their games when we’re done, so I look over my box to find another game we could do 3-player. Europe Engulfed is an obvious choice, but I was nervous about playing a game with a 20-page rulebook which I hadn’t played before with a new guy with little wargaming experience. So we settled on EastFront, the other Columbia game I had brought. There are of course a fair number of units in EastFront, but this actually did not work so well 3-player. Problem is of course that on any one turn you’re not doing a huge amount – the big decisions are which HQs to activate and once that’s done, there aren’t a lot of units to move and it’s hard to share the burden. So, what happened was that I took the Germans and ran them for the first month to teach the game, and then moved on to set up Europe Engulfed while the others finished EastFront. I hear it did not end well for the Soviets, with the Germans occupying Moscow. When I asked Paul if he had remembered to take his double-fire, double-defense in Moscow, he told me that it actually hadn’t been garrisoned at the time. Ooops. Great game, too bad I didn’t get to actually play it that much.
Everyone else was still setting up, so my next game was Europe Engulfed, the 1942 Tournament Scenario which is pretty short and an excellent introduction to the game. Normally with a game this substantial, I would try to solitaire a couple turns to get a feel for it before playing face-to-face, but this time I had prepped by just thoroughly reading the rules through a few times as I felt it would be reasonably straightforward. While I actually got going with the game pretty easily, there were a number of tactical details I hadn’t quite grasped. As the Germans, the game got off to a bad start – I assaulted the Don river basin on the first turn to try to do the historical Case Blue, but I woefully under-committed and when Paul used his Special Action to reinforce, things started going down hill. I subsequently tried to dig in on the Eastern Front while pursuing an aggressive strategy in the Med and a defensive one in the east, buying up U-Boats and Interceptors … but the Soviets become an avalanche if you don’t maul them during the Summer. Those Winter Offensives are brutal. I managed to not get crushed in the East, but Italy collapsed and the bombing campaign was not going well.
So, chalk it up as a learning game … probably the right thing to do would have been to restart after I had misjudged the Eastern Front on my first turn, but I hate to do that sort of thing – I prefer to live with my mistakes, for some reason. Still, I enjoyed the game and can see that it’s got a lot of challenges for the player. I like the Special Action chit mechanic quite a bit, it presents tough choices and adds tension. I like the production system, unlike some WWII games there are real, important choices about what to buy and at least twice as many things you desperately need as you can afford. The real costs of major offensive operations seem very nicely reflected. And like EastFront, the block really do add some great uncertainty and real tension to the game.
So, with the learning game out of the way, I went back to the hotel and immediately read through the rules again, and after that everything became pretty clear in my mind. So that was good. EE is not rules-light, but the core rules for Strategic War, movement, combat, and Special Actions are quite straightforward and it’s just a lot of the typical WWII ETO special rules (rules for Soviet production, Vichy, Axis Minors, Italy, etc. – the usual suspects) that jack up the page count. Still, I was very comfortable with game after only one play, and a “Chris’ Wargame Complexity Metric” of 1 is quite good for a big game. Looking forward to playing a “real” game on Saturday.
By the time I left, the other games had in fact finished setting up and for the most part had started actually playing.