Rescue of the Maria Celeste, Part Two

Posted 17 May 2015 by jameslebak
Categories: Sessions, Star Fleet Battles and Federation Commander

This weekend, Rick and I played the scenario Rescue of the Maria Celeste for the second time. This time, I was the Andromedans, and I didn’t have any better success than Rick did in destroying the captured Andromedan ship in time. We both like the scenario, but we both think it’s a pretty tough fight for the Andromedans.

Turn 1: I entered at base speed 16 so that the main ship would stay with the satellite ships, who are limited in speed after being launched. As the scenario starts with the Andromedans 26 hexes from the base, this means that the Intruder can only get within reasonable combat range of the base on turn 1 if it leaves the satellite ships behind. I chose not to do this, but (based on a suggestion from the Facebook Fed Commander group) chose to approach the base using evasive maneuvers, something that Rick hadn’t thought of last time. The Federation base and ship still fired phasers at my ships on the last impulse of the turn, and I don’t think that using evasive saved much damage: the major benefit was that it was completely unprofitable for the base or the ships to consider launching photon torpedoes at my ships on turn 1.

Turn 2: I continued using evasive maneuvering for the Intruder at speed 24 but not for the Mambas at speed 16, and had all three ships travel very fast. My plan was to continue to make it unprofitable to target the Intruder and also to have the Intruder bypass the ships as much as possible. At the end of impulse 1, this set up the following situation.

Turn 2 Impulse 1

Turn 2 Impulse 1

The NCL was faced with the unattractive choice of firing on the incoming Mambas or doing minimal damage to the rear PA panels of the Intruder. Rick reluctantly chose to fire on the Mambas, which was probably the sensible thing to do. One Mamba took 68 points from the NCL, which filled the PA panels but did minimal other damage. In return they managed to wreck the NCL so that it wasn’t much of a factor for the rest of the game.

Meanwhile, the Intruder continued toward the base. On impulse 2 I ended evasive maneuvering, closed to range 3, and announced that I was firing and using the displacement device on my ship. This forced a range-3 shot with photons from the base, and here I was very lucky: three of the four bearing photons missed, resulting in only 12 points of damage. Still with damage from phasers the Intruder took 58 points of internal damage and only inflicted 35 points on the base. After this, I displaced out of engagement range and the Mambas broke off. The rest of the turn was uneventful as I had literally spent all the power on all of my ships and fired every weapon available.

Turns 3-4: The Mambas were mostly okay, but the Intruder had lost all of its batteries, and was in tough shape with only 21 power left and full PA panels in front. I spent two turns repairing batteries and dissipating power from the panels before moving back toward the base on evasive toward the end of turn 4. One thing I didn’t do was repair the one TR beam that I’d lost. This was probably a mistake but I was scrounging for power everywhere I could and adding one more power sink didn’t seem profitable. We ended up at range 17 from the base at the end of turn 4. I received a pot shot from the base but it only did 12 damage.

Turn 5: I had the Mambas, which had mostly full batteries and clear panels by now, run in toward the base ahead of the Intruder. The Intruder stayed on evasive the whole turn but the Mambas closed to range 3 and took a shot at the base. The result was that the previously damaged Mamba 1 died, but Mamba 2 was still just fine and together they did about 50 points of internal damage to the base. This started to cut into the power and weapons advantage the base had.

At this point, I felt really good about my chances. The remaining Mamba was going to get a second shot with phasers at the down shield on Impulse 1 of turn 6. The Intruder had managed to clear a lot out of its panels and it would probably have been able to get a good shot at a down or nearly-down shield, and the base would probably not be able to blow up both the Mamba and the Intruder without photons available. Unfortunately, the scenario has a built-in time random time limit, meant to simulate the Federation effort to research and understand the captured ship. When the Federation player has drawn more than 40 points in cards the scenario is over. At the end of turn 5 Rick revealed that he had indeed drawn 3 face cards (10 points each) plus a 9 and an 8, and I had lost.

It would be easy to blame the loss on bad luck, but I knew it was a risk on my part to spend two entire turns recharging and repairing. Plus, I had been plenty lucky with die rolls (see the comment I made about escaping photon damage on Turn 2). I think the truth is that this is a really tough fight for the Andromedan player, who has to be relentless and very effective to win, and I didn’t do that. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to play the Andromedans, but be prepared to have to work hard to win.

Rescue of The Maria Celeste, Part 1

Posted 19 April 2015 by jameslebak
Categories: Star Fleet Battles and Federation Commander

It’s been a long winter, but finally my friend Rick and I were able to arrange a time to meet to play the Federation Commander scenario “Rescue of the Maria Celeste” from Communique #107. The objective is for the Andromedan invaders to recapture or destroy a derelict Andromedan ship docked at a Federation base. Rick took the Andromedans, which had an Intruder and two Mamba satellite ships, and I played the Federation battle station, new light cruiser (NCL), and a large freighter.

Based on the point values and our reading of the scenario, we both thought this would be a scenario in which the Andromedans had a reasonably good chance of victory. As we played it, we both came to the conclusion that the scenario is much harder for the Andromedans than we originally thought. I think the fixed location around the battle station negated some of the movement advantages that their ships have. Nevertheless, we both found it to be a fun and challenging scenario.

On turn 1, he moved slowly because he was launching satellite ships and trying to keep up with them. Over the turn, he closed to within 10 hexes of the base and 6 hexes from my ship, which wasn’t really an ideal range for his weapons, but at which range he did take quite a bit from my ship and from the base’s phasers. He tried to use the displacement device to move my Federation NCL out of the way, but missed the roll and the device had no effect.

Andromedan approach at the end of turn 1.

Andromedan approach at the end of turn 1.

Turn 2: His fire from the Satellite ships on impulse 1 resulted in the destruction of the NCL, which I hadn’t counted on. He then came closer with his Intruder and fired on the captured ship docked at the base. He did a significant amount of damage to the captured ship, but doing so exposed him to the full fury of the base’s phasers, which destroyed his ship.

We played on for four more turns, during which his two satellite ships alternately spent their turns reloading their weapons and making attack runs to fire on the captured ship. Each time, they would knock down the previously damaged shield and do a little more damage to the captured ship, but also each time, the base would fire back. The first time, the base’s fire destroyed the first Mamba, and the second time, it destroyed the second one. We ended on turn 6 with all three Andromedan ships destroyed and the captured ship heavily damaged but still intact, resulting in a Federation victory.

Firing on the ship was only one possible Andromedan strategic choice, but it was the one that made the most sense to us. The Andro player has the option to try to recapture the ship too, but it’s relatively easy for the Federation player to put so many boarding parties on the ship that this isn’t really feasible.

It wasn’t until after the scenario that we realized that the Andromedans could have used the displacement device to cover a lot of distance quickly at the start of the first turn without facing significant penalty from the base station’s phasers. This might have allowed them to close on turn 1, maybe having a better chance of survival. We also realized that it might have been better to use the displacement device to leave the area on turn 2 AFTER firing. Both of these are ideas that I will keep in mind when I take the Andromedan side the next time we play this scenario.

(As a side note, yes, there’s a large freighter. I have no idea why. I did manage to have it do 17 points of damage to various Andromedan ships, but really it felt like it was just there to give the Fed player something to move after the NCL got destroyed.)

Escaping the Forbidden Desert

Posted 21 September 2014 by jameslebak
Categories: Uncategorized

We won a game of Forbidden Desert with our friends Sarah and Matt yesterday. We have found this to be a very tough game at which to win, and anytime we do win it feels like we were lucky. Yesterday was no exception. Jane ended her last turn with no water hidden in a tunnel. During Matt’s last turn, he was at zero water. He picked up the last piece of the aircraft that we needed to get out of the desert and was going to end his turn out in the desert. I persuaded him to use his time throttle and travel the remaining two steps to get to the tunnel where I was. This proved to be necessary as we drew a Sun Beats Down card on his turn, so he would have been lost if he was outside the tunnel. I was the climber, and on my turn I picked him up and carried him with me to the launching pad so we could be ready to leave, and activated my solar shield so that he wouldn’t run out of water (I could also have just given him 1 water as I was at 2). Finally, Sarah, who was the Navigator, moved herself and Jane over to the launch pad so we could all escape. If she hadn’t done that, we mostly likely would have lost the game through being buried in sand: there were only two sand tiles remaining in the pile. Here’s what the board looked like at the end.

Winning Forbidden Desert with Almost No Margin

Winning Forbidden Desert with Almost No Margin

Avalon Hill Advanced Civilization

Posted 8 September 2014 by jameslebak
Categories: General Gaming

Several of my friends from the Cornell Game Club were recently tagged in photos playing Avalon Hill’s Advanced Civilization game. Seeing those photos made me think about the game, what I miss about it, and why I’ve only played a couple games of it in the last 2 decades.

This game defined an entire genre of gaming. People talk about “Civilization games” and this is nearly always the one they mean, although sometimes they mean the Sid Meier computer game that was inspired by it. It also incorporates most of the ideas present in what are now called “4X” games. It’s a huge game of building a civilization in the ancient world. You populate an area, build cities and the infrastructure to sustain them, trade and fight with your neighbors, and make technological advancements that will ensure the dominance of your Civilization. It’s not a fast or short game. You can play it with as few as three players, but I don’t think we ever played with fewer than 6 and we had as many as 8. And you’re not playing anything else that night — I don’t think a game that I played in with a 7 PM start ever wrapped up before midnight.

I can’t speak to why my friends still play it, but for me, the primary reason to play the game is the satisfaction of seeing your Civilization build up and be able to do more as the technology advances. The various abilities that you can purchase for your civilization give you advantages over your neighbors and influence their own choices for technological development. It can be tough to keep enough cities to maintain minimum standards and enough population to support the cities in the face of the calamities that the game throws at you. You can fight with your neighbors, but we generally tended to avoid combat because it detracted from the building aspect of the game. Usually the only combats would occur early in the game over particular city locations.

A second attraction is the great interaction during the trading part of the game. Your goal during trading is to collect sets of goods and also to avoid getting traded calamities that will destroy your city. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another game which motivated players to trade and make deals in the same way that this game does, and if I did I’d probably play it. Your civilization earns goods based on the number of cities, and this is an interesting limiter: you can’t collect enough goods to really earn points unless you are at the same level as others. In this regard it didn’t do much good to be too far ahead of other players because if you were you wouldn’t have anyone to trade with. I remember the sense of accomplishment when I’d managed to collect all of a set of resources. You could usually tell who had managed to do that by the way they were beaming at the end of the trade round. By comparison, the 1-1 trading in Settlers of Catan is simple and limited. There was a computer version called “Avalon Hill Advanced Civilization” (distinguishing it from the Sid Meier game) issued back in the 90s, but there’s really no way that a computer simulation can capture the trading aspect of the game in a remotely satisfactory manner.

I own a copy of the game. It’s completely unpunched. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to find a friend at work who owned the game, and we managed to get enough folks together to play a game or two in the space of a few years. Then we both had kids, and it’s been a few years since there’s been the opportunity for another game. While I can easily get the kiddos to devote 45-90 minutes for a game of Settlers of Catan or Sentinels of the Multiverse, something as big and heavy as Civ is not really in their repertoire yet. Still, it is a game with a special place in my heart and my collection.

Federation Commander: Base Busting

Posted 3 September 2014 by jameslebak
Categories: Star Fleet Battles and Federation Commander

My friend Rick and I wanted to play a scenario with the Andromedans. Quite a while ago, we played the scenario “Three against Cortez” and found it to be a pretty tough scenario for the Andromedans to win. This time, we went back to the original “War and Peace” module and picked the scenario “Base busting.” In this scenario, a Galactic fleet takes on an Andromedan battle station and a group of satellite ships.

The scenario specifies 500 points of ships but doesn’t say at what scale. Normally, I’d assume that it meant squadron scale, and as we meant to play at fleet scale, I assumed the galactic fleet would be 250 points. However, I noticed that the Andromedan fleet itself was about 500 points at fleet scale, and this made us both a bit concerned. What if the 500 points for the Galactic fleet was meant to be at fleet scale too? As the Andros have the potential to have reinforcements arrive during the scenario, this seemed quite plausible. And 250 points at fleet scale only equates to 3-4 ships, which didn’t seem sufficient to defeat the battle station and its satellite ships. So, we decided to even the odds by upping the points for the Galactic fleet to 500.

I spent my 500 points on a Hydran fleet, including an Overlord BCH, a Dragoon CA, an Iroquois NCA, two Tartar CMs, and a destroyer and a frigate, along with all their fighters. Unfortunately this proved devastating to the Andromedan forces. While the Andros blew up the Iroquois on turn 1 and the Dragoon on turn 2, I managed to destroy 3 of the satellite ships on turn 1, and the remaining ships and the battle station on turn 2.

The scenario was obviously not balanced as we played it. However, I don’t think it would have been balanced as originally written either. The smaller galactic force would have had to use all its firepower to destroy the satellite ships, rather than about half as the big force did, and would have had little left to deal with the battle station. Meanwhile it still would have lots two ships and been left with just two ships against the base station on turns 2 and 3. I don’t think it would have had very good odds at that point. I think the balance point is probably somewhere in the middle.

Onslaught Fetchlands in Khans of Tarkir!

Posted 1 September 2014 by jameslebak
Categories: Magic: The Gathering

Woo hoo!

Escape!

Posted 10 August 2014 by jameslebak
Categories: General Gaming

During a recent visit to Kansas, my brother Tim introduced me to Escape: The Curse of the Temple, a real-time board game which is best described as “like the first five minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark (or, UHF).” The older Kiddos and I played several games with him and my Mom and we had a great time. We liked it so well that I ordered a copy for home. It arrived this weekend, and Kiddo #2 and I played and won 3 games. As a two-player it’s not so tough: in each of the games we played, we won and had a couple minutes of time left. I think next time we may add a couple jewels to the total to increase the difficulty.

Kiddo 3 wasn’t interested, but Kiddo 4 liked it. He’s a little young for the real-time aspect, so we just played it with him without the timer. After a couple plays, Kiddo 2 and I were done, but he took the game pieces out of the box and kept playing solitaire for quite a while. He was making up his own rules and seemed to be having a great time.

Kiddo #4 plays his own version of Escape: The Curse of the Temple

Kiddo #4 plays his own version of Escape: The Curse of the Temple