Wizard Kings

After our recent game which went well, Rich wanted to get in another session to solidify the rules. Since we had played the Surprise Attack scenario from my site last time, I thought it would be good to stick with that one, but we mixed up the races – this time the Ferkin were defending, and Rich’s Dwarves attacking. This was good; I hadn’t tried out the variant with the Ferkin on the defense.

Rich went for a full-on attempt to kick the defenders out off of board 1. This is a tough proposition, since it involves taking two cities with impressive natural defenses, but it does maximize the Dwarves’ initial firepower advantage. Rich’s Dwarves made an early play on Langara, a city surrounded by woods and rivers and a tough nut to crack. He had some bad luck, and was bloodily repulsed. Langara then became the Dwarves’ Stalingrad, as several attacks were beaten back and the losses there were really the decisive turn.

The Dwarves’ big weakness is a lack of decent general-use 1-level spells. They have Destruction, the Castle-destroyer, which is very nasty – but useless if your opponent doesn’t have a castle. Avalanche is worthless outside the mountains, and Stone Bridge is a fairly marginal movement-enhancer. Normally it’s not a huge deal, but I had bought a Demon, and this is an extremely tough Chaos creature that was made even more murderous because Rich lacked any kind of directed-damage tools to take care of it. As a consequence, the Demon was able to rip through Rich’s good units with his “Soul Sucker” ability. I think the Demon is probably slightly undercosted. With his extremely potent spell, maybe he should be a 6 or 7 cost instead of 5. On the other hand, with direct damage not being that hard to come by generally through Wizard spells or chaos creatures, a case can be made that almost nothing is worth more than 6 (the Dragon, for example, is very hard to justify at 8 points even given his monster stats and very powerful spell, because he’s so vulnerable to even the weakest directed-damage spells).

As I’ve said recently, as I’ve been playing Wizard Kings more and more recently, and my fondness for the game has been only increasing – and I liked it quite a lot to begin with! I really think this might be almost a perfect wargame – short, with lots of tough, meaningful decisions throughout, with great and interesting variety, but generally well-balanced. It’s already at position 3 on my “best of Columbia” list, but that might not be high enough. Certainly a great wargame for eurogamers. A year or two ago I had decided that what the game really needed was 12 good 2-player scenarios generic enough to swap in most of the different armies. I now have one, this Surprise Attack scenario which I have become quite fond of and have played in many variations, and which has been a lot more successful than my other scenarios. Now I just need 11 more.

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Silicon Valley Boardgamers: Global Powers, Wizard Kings

It’s been ages since I’ve been to SVB for a variety of reasons, but I think it’s time I started making an effort to go more regularly, even if not at the every-week thing it used to be.

First up was Global Powers. I had played this once before, and while the reception was not great, it seemed to have enough there to intrigue me to play. So I made up some english cards and made an effort to haul it out again, which I was finally able to do tonight. I must admit, that after the effort I went to in order to play this game, it actually angered me.

Why? Well, for one, the action cards are outrageously unbalanced. The idea is to build up your politicians to control areas, but the politicians are a very scarce commodity – in the 5-player game, under good circumstances, you are bringing on 2, 3, maybe 4 a turn on a good turn. Then someone turns around and plays Riots or Revolution, which can sweep 12-15 or more politicians off of the table quite easily. When Revolution was first played virtually everyone at the table’s jaw dropped, and bickering started immediately over how this couldn’t possibly be right. It was though, at least according to the translation on BoardGameGeek. Plus the cards are incredibly uneven, with several being just this side of worthless and others being the equivalent of a large nuclear device. This was deeply unsettling.

Add in a playing time that is way too much – the box says 2 hours, but for the first couple games there is no way you are going to get a turn in much less than 60-90 minutes, and the game will probably go 3-4 turns. And finally, it’s just way too much work. You’ve got to form coalitions to do virtually anything, and usually these decisions don’t rise to a level of importance to get you to care.

We actually packed the entire game in after less than a turn; unusual for me, but this game just wasn’t working. In fairness, part of it was that this is a big, meatier game and it just wasn’t the right game for one or two of our players, I think; I also am guessing that some of us would have liked to continue, just to see it out. But the bottom line is, as I say, it just wasn’t working.

The shame of it is, there is some neat stuff in here and some interesting ideas. But it’s just too klunky, too long, and those cards are brutally unbalanced. I think it says something that this is actually quite a unique game – usually enough for me to cut a game a lot of slack – but it just didn’t do it for me at all. I suspect this is a game that the designer and his friends quite enjoyed, and if you have the same mindset as they do, you might like it. I did not. These small-press games are always a bit dicey; I think I had been lulled into a false sense of security by recent success with Bewitched, Cwali, and Splotter (well, with Roads and Boats anyway for the latter).

Anyway, after that deep disappointment, Rich & I went on to the far superior Wizard Kings (interestingly, there were two guys playing Hammer of the Scots right next door – good to see Columbia getting some play). This was the Surprise Attack scenario from my web site, this time I played the Undead attackers vs. Rich’s Elven Defenders. Having now played this variant twice, I think the Undead may require a minor boost. They’ve lost some important advantages the Dwarves have (better spells, the ability to maneuver around in the mountains near the board edge), and not replaced it with much. Although, I would also play quite differently next time. When playing the Dwarves, I usually use a two-pronged attack, one from the northeast driving into the heart of board 1, while the other enters on the west edge and either drives towards the center of board 4, or pivots and turns left into board 1 to link up with the second prong. This, however, is a very poor strategy for the Undead who just can’t deal with the terrain in the northeast. I think they need to drive all-out for board 4, bypassing most of the Elven at-start units; use their big, fast flyers coupled with the cavalry to threaten almost the whole south board. I should probably try this approach before fiddling the balance any, generally I’ve been extremely happy with this scenario, I’ve played it at least a dozen times in its various formats. Anyway, an awesome system, great game, one of Columbia’s best – as I’ve said before, I need to find time to finish out some scenarios I’ve been toying with.

Wizard Kings: Surprise Attack

I’ve been very happy to be getting to play a bit more Wizard Kings recently, as this game has a lot of great properties – quick-playing, lots of decisions, flavorful, exciting.

Carl & I got in two games today, both of the Surprise Attack scenario which is on my web site. First one (Dwarves vs. Elves) was a time-tested matchup, and went well. I lost this game mainly due to a faulty strategy reinforced by bad luck. I think there probably is only one valid strategy for the Dwarves, making the main thrust on the flank while sending a pinning force into the heart of the forest, and I should have realized that sending the main force into the forests was a bad idea.

Second game was a variant that had not been previously played, Frekin attacking Dwarves. This was a crushing Ferkin victory, and I think the scenario will need some tweaking. One map will be switched (too many gold too near the edge), and the Dwarves will get a few more gold at start (mainly because unlike the elves, they don’t gain a combat advantage from their Mountain “nativity”.

In both scenarios, I’m going to put a limit on the number of chaos units available. One of the gimmicks here is that the attacker has to wade through very unfriendly terrain. By allowing access to a wide range of chaos units (I’ve added two boxes worth), things got a bit out of hand – the Ferkin used no less than 7 chaos blocks, which allowed them to circumvent the terrain more than I had hoped. So I think I will put a limit of 4.

I have a couple more scenarios that I’ve been working on recently, and hopefully I can get them posted and my long-dormant Wizard Kings website updated.