Origins – Day 4

Gettysburg: As it turns out, I finally did get about two hours of traditional wargaming in, a pick-up game of Gettysburg that I chanced into. Late Friday I saw that CABS had finally put out two signup sheets, for Columbia games, so I somewhat optimistically put my name down.

Lo and behold, when I got in Saturday morning, someone had taken me up on my offer of a 1PM game. So I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a teaching game (my opponent had never played before and hadn’t read the rules), and we played only the first day. I played the Union, because I think the Confederacy are much easier to play your first time. For some reason, I have a hard time engaging on this game, and I had decidedly mixed feelings in the end. I probably should have treated it more as a teaching game, and cut it short at a half-day or something, 45-60 minutes. I like the Gettysburg system, but somehow playing only the first day seems to lack closure, especially for the Union whose only real hope is to extend the game into a second day – I don’t think they can achieve any kind of victory the first day. Next time I play, I definitely want to at least leave the option open of continuing if the game is close … but this is not a viable option if your opponent hasn’t even read the rules going in. Gettysburg isn’t a very complex game, but it’s complex enough you don’t want to dive in to a 6-plus-hour scenario your first go through.

Wings of War: I admit I had low expectations on this one after the Wreckage disaster (there are some similarities in the systems – distant cousins, perhaps) and reading through the downloadable rules. So many air combat games are a tedious exercise in guessing if your quarry is going to turn left or right, getting a shot at if you win the virtual coin toss, and then circling around endlessly trying to set up another guess. Oh, for some workable “tailing” or “advantage” rules. Wings of War seemed like it was going to be solidly in that somewhat uninteresting camp. This is definitely not so, however, but I’m a little hard-pressed to explain why Wings of War succeeds where so many have gone before and failed. I think it boils down mainly to good old-fashioned skillful execution. The planes are all very nicely differentiated through their maneuver decks, the fast ones vs. the maneuverable ones vs. the rotary planes that turn in one direction much better than the other, and the whole system is incredibly simple and transparent. It seems the scaling and maneuverability is just right, once you make a pass, you’ve turned around and are back in the action in no time, unlike Wreckage in which once you veered off in the wrong direction it took absolutely forever to get back into the game. The level of damage infliction is just right too, it takes a bit to inflict enough damage to knock out a plane, but no so much the game drags, and there is sufficient variance in the damage deck to make things tense. Overall, the game is extremely simple (less than 5 minutes to explain), very fast, and it seems like you’re making real choices instead of just guessing. Very refreshing, one of the best dogfight games I’ve played, and most enjoyable. I’m definitely looking forward to the next release, and might even buy a second copy of the base game to get more planes and maneuver decks.

Corsari is a rummy-type game that I got to play in the Rio Grande area, and got to play another game with Andreas Seyfarth. I was carrying around business cards with the URL of my blog at the con, and I felt foolish afterwards for not at least mentioning it, trying to convince him to check it out. I’m not a very good self-promoter, something I suppose I should try to get over. Corsari is not bad for a rummy-style game, interesting but I can’t see it being good enough to break into the mix of card games we play, so I wasn’t tempted to pick one up. If your group plays predominantly card games, though, check it out.

Middle-Earth CCG: For the past 4 or 5 years there have usually been two events for the Middle-Earth CCG, usually a pretty standard sealed deck game, and then a more off-beat game. These are run by fans that love the game and have stock left over which they are willing to share. Last year was a Fallen-Wizard sealed deck game, which almost (but not quite) worked. This year was a Balrog sealed deck game.

If we cast our minds back to 1998, the year Middle-Earth: The Balrog (henceforth MEBA) was released, you will recall it was on the heels of two rather weak expansions, The White Hand and Against the Shadow (the latter was the expansion to facilitate Minion vs. Hero matchups, a scenario which never quite worked rules-wise, and then The White Hand devolved into combo-intensive non-interactive “squatter” decks which were incredibly boring). MECCG seemed on its last gasp. What more could they possibly do? Then, ICE came up with this new set, which featured this fascinating “what-if” scenario. The Balrog was a Maia, right? A peer to Gandalf and Sauron and veteran of the War of Wrath? What if he got bored hanging out in the basement of Moria and decided to assume his rightful place in the world? And what if ICE decided to ditch the whole “collectible” tag and go with only fixed sets?

So we got this set, which was a great set and took MECCG out with a bang. It added fewer rules or new concepts than any previous set. It tweaked the game in interesting ways to make one of the most unique sets. The Balrog himself played very differently from Ringwraiths or Wizards or Falled-Wizards. Unfortunately, it was also the trickiest set to play, because the Balrog required a lot of card manipulation (moving cards between the sideboard, play deck, and discard pile) and also the greatest familiarity with the card set, because there were so many “mission” cards (card which required set up for a payoff) and comparatively few “general utility” cards. So it was a tough set to approach.

I like the Balrog. But as sealed deck, and with a couple too-inexperienced players in the mix, and getting stuck in another teaching game, the event just didn’t quite work for me (MEBA is brutal to teach with. Challenge Decks are much superior). Next year should be a better year, though, as we’ll have both the standard Sealed Deck event (which we lost this year to a scheduling snafu), and then we’ll be ditching the obscure formats for a more usual Challenge Deck tournament, which is an awesome format.

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