Monday, 28 April 2014

Video Games Player... Geek, Boardgamer... Geeky, Wargamer...

So... Apparently I've entered a niche that even the broad spectrum of general boardgamers don't approach for fear of being labelled "too geeky"! In this niche we don't use card decks, we don't use meeple, we certainly don't use miniatures, although there is an awful lot of cardboard, sorry... counters, a whole load of counters - don't forget the hexagonal map grids either!

It all started at the last UK Games Expo in 2013 when I was invited to try a game on the Saturday night.  I'd had a couple of beers - a couple of whisky shots too, so when my good friend Jay told me that we were playing a "wargame" - Conflict of Heroes - well I was more than happy to try.  I'll be honest, I was a little taken aback by the jigsaw puzzle size box - where were the miniatures, the scenery, the hundreds of dice?

Jay got things going with the starting scenario and then we just kept going - from explaining the coding of the counters, attack values, defense values, facing, cover, hard cover.  We just kept going through scenarios, adding more complexity but with each level of complexity a greater respect for what the game provided... immersion! I've played it since and again, thoroughly enjoyed it, although we still haven't got to the tanks... yet!

Now Jay was happy that he had someone who was willing to play one of his beloved wargames, but he went on - iterating that there are so many different wargames out there, perhaps I'd consider trying another of the titles in his collection, something perhaps a little closer to my heart, something a little more futuristic.  I think, he says, I've got a game that would be perfect for you - I think you need to try Space Empires 4x!

So... I've played Space Empires three times now, the most recent was last weekend (yeah I realise this isn't date specific).  Now I like 4x games, I own Eclipse which is one of my most favorite games in my collection,  it's a very good 4x game but so is Space Empires (I can't deny I've hunted and found a copy on the dreaded eBay).  They're both very different beasts though, different enough that I'm happy to have both in my collection and I would be torn now in having to choose between them!

So back to the games we've played... Game One involved a small two player map with not much space between us - the intention being that it was a learning game and hopefully not too long - we didn't finish the game but that was a timing issue!

The second game was the same small map and same basic rules but we picked up the rules and the admin pretty quick again once we got going - this game had an end and a winner but we didn't play until the other was totally annihilated, just until the homeworld was taken.  Now normally, certainly with other boardgames, once you've got an opposing player on the rails you go in for the kill.  Apparently with a wargame if you've got your adversary against the wall it's actually acceptable to call the game, especially if it means you get a second game in the evening. We didn't get a second game but we knew the next game would allow us to use the full complement of rules.

The third game used a larger map, meaning more exploration and all the rules were available - this meant we had access not only to all ship types and technology but also warp gates and alien races - however the game has been designed so the additional rules are in fact modular so you can pick and choose to make the game more complicated, or less so...

As the game started Jay had access to a lot of minerals whereas I had explored and found a lot of my starting worlds, what this meant was that Jay was initially wealthy although I had more opportunity to make wealth in the long game.  What I chose to do however was to use merchant ships to link all my newly colonised worlds together which provided two benefits 1) for every connected world I got an additional CP & 2) as my merchant ship network expanded it meant any ship travelling along it got an additional move (very useful as I later found out).

For the first handful of turns both us simply explored and made plans, it later transpired that Jay's plan was to learn terraforming so that he could colonise barren worlds, it was a sound plan (and an expensive one) unfortunately after finding one barren world he lost pretty much the entirety of his scout fleet and then was unable to locate any more barren worlds; a slight hiccup.

My plan was to build some big ships so whilst I was colonising worlds and increasing the size of my MS pipeline, I was also researching the necessary technology to build my big, big ships. I had also researched a technology that would allow me to explore a little easier - it essentially meant i could look at what a system contained without revealing it and then move to a different hex and explore again; quite useful! Especially since I was able to locate a number of black holes and some equally dangerous hexes.

As the turns progressed the inevitable happened and we both met in mortal combat, admittedly I was the aggressor but on this occasion I wasn't the victor - my attacking fleet was all but destroyed.  This wasn't the first fleet I lost either, the second fleet I sent on the attack although liberating a barren world was then lost to mines - they didn't even get a shot off - this was both a costly affair and also such a waste.

To counter this new threat of mines my scientists developed mine sweeping technology, my third fleet  was supported with my newly designed minesweepers - this fleets's mission to finally take Jay's homeworld.  Here was the problem for Jay, because of my MS pipeline I was able to get all newly created fleets onto Jay's doorstep by the end of my movement phase - meaning that he was having to go on the defensive as opposed to taking the fight to me. It was a close fight but the minesweepers did their job, unfortunately one mine survived destroying my designed & created flagship Dreadnought - one of the largest ships that could be created in my shipyard.  Fortunately, the Battleships that survived the dreadnought's destruction rained down righteous fire on Jay's remaining ships and homeworld - nothing survived!

Jay's economy was understandably rocked but he was not down for the count,  Jay did however concede a victory to me (we were after midnight on the clock) since his homeworld was lost and it was unlikely to end well for him.  Jay wasn't defenseless though and he had in fact sent a fleet towards my MS pipeline.  His fleet may not have got too far since I had another fleet of Battleships lurking  two hexes away but he certainly could have slowed me down.

Our third game finished we both looked at the board and just talked about how things went - we both agreed, mines are nasty - they don't take hulls off, no they just take whole ships. A mine, if the other doesn't have minesweepers, takes out a ship that is in the hex with it - the mine owner gets to choose the target and it can take out a dreadnought just as easily as a scout.  With no shots fired and my first dreadnought removed from the board, it's very annoying, however I also had mines researched and built so they were fair kills - it could have so easily gone the other way.

The other thing we both agreed upon, we definitely want another game of Space Empires 4x soon, but our next game will now probably include additional rules from Close Encounters, the first expansion. SE4x:CE brings a lot of new rules in the form of ships even bigger than dreadnoughts, nebula mining and ground combat on colonised worlds to name but a few.  Space Empires is a fabulous game, allowing you to build an entire civilisation and then send it to war - it is most definitely a 4x game - explore, expand, exploit and exterminate - definitely exterminate ;-)

What can I say other than I believe I'm a wargamer convert... I quite like chits / counters!