Half-Year Gaming Report, 2021

2021 is already halfway over! At least the period of January to May felt like the longest five months ever. Yet now summer is here, COVID is retreating where I live, and so we get to enjoy some of the things we love best again. For example, board gaming in person. So far, I’ve only been visited by a friend for some board gaming once this year, but I do plan on stepping it up! Here’s what I played so far in the first six months of the year.

First, the raw numbers: All in all, I played twelve different games a total of 35 times. Not so bad by my standards! Four (and a half, more on that later) of the games were new to me. More than two thirds of the individual plays were on apps or other digital platforms, as befits our times. About half were played solo. Given how much solo gaming there was, it should come as no surprise that there are also more historical games than usual in the mix (eight of the twelve, which account for 26 of 35 plays). The month with the most individual plays was April with 11 (I played a lot of solo Pavlov’s House (David Thompson, Dan Verssen Games) in that time), the one with the least February (only one game – guess it’s a short month!).

Pavlov’s House, the three-layered defense of a fortified apartment building in Stalingrad, is also the game I played most often in the first six months of this year (8 times in total). Not only does the game fit perfectly with the trends described above (historical, solo, good app implementation on Steam), it’s also pretty addictive. An individual game takes less than an hour (at least in the app, which does all the housekeeping (implementation of German attacks etc.) for you, and then you always want to play it again, beat your score (or, if things went awry, at least beat the Germans), and this time try out a new strategy: Keep the river banks clean for your artillery to strike the Germans. Get the sniper first thing and clear all infantry approaching the building. Bring all the leaders into the house and profit from that bonus action. And so on.

Second place in matters of most plays is shared by…

Eldritch Horror (Corey Konieczka/Nikki Valens, Fantasy Flight Games) – a perpetual favorite at this house, recently enhanced by the second expansion Mountains of Madness (Nikki Valens, Fantasy Flight Games). This expansion has a theme of cold – there is an Antarctica sideboard and one of the Ancient One opponents looks like a yeti (and loves to strike your valiant investigators with hypothermia). Maybe that’s just what we need with the heat waves which will continue to plague our summers in this age of climate crisis.

…and Unconditional Surrender! (Salvatore Vasta, GMT Games). A bit unexpected – after all, the campaign takes 50-100 hours, so one would not expect to finish too many games. Yet the game comes with smaller scenarios (including three very helpful ones that form a tutorial campaign), and during the aforementioned gaming visit of my good friend A., we played all three of them and then launched into a campaign of which we played the first year. The positions of units etc. were duly noted, so we can resume the campaign whenever we meet again. At this pace, it might take as long as the actual war!

Stray observations: Some upcoming or new-to-me games I’ve played (if not mentioned already):

Red Flag Over Paris (Fred Serval, GMT Games): The second instalment in the Final Crisis series, to be released in September 2021. Two players take the role of the Paris Commune of 1871 or the Versailles government of France, struggling for control of society, political institutions, and the streets of France. Designer Fred Serval was so kind as to teach the game (and then crush my Paris Commune, while remaining unfailingly polite about it). Our game took less than an hour including the teach and extensive history discussion (always a favorite part of gaming for me), so experienced players should be able to play it in half an hour – just right for a lunch break! If you can stomach the immense tension that every action in the game entails, that is.

Cuius Regio Eius Bellum (Francisco Gradaille): This operational game on the Thirty Years’ War is likely to go on GMT’s P500 soon. I got acquainted with it when designer Francisco Gradaille demoed it at SD HistCon Spring Deployment (May 2021). Since then, I’ve been playing it in the Vassal module for the game (ask Francisco if you are interested). There are some very interesting challenges of maneuver and supply in the scenarios – how far can you push your army before fatigue makes it ineffective? Until when can you keep your imposing big army in the field before you need to break it up for winter quarters? The longer scenarios (and the full-war campaign) are a bit less dynamic as you can build up large armies from your vast recruitment areas, but cannot move them as fast as smaller forces, so I’m not sure I have the patience for that.

Tilly holds against Mansfeld in Tyrolia (1), Hohenlohe’s weak force (2) is threatened by Bucquoy to the south and Dampierre to the west (yellow pieces). From the Vassal module of Cuius Regio Eius Bellum.

No Retreat! The Russian Front (Carl Paradis, GMT Games): A game on razor’s edge. If you don’t pay attention as the defender, the player with the initiative (so, first the Axis, then the Soviets) might fulfill their VP goals faster than you think (I’ve seen the Axis win in July 1941!). From my accompanying reading (I went for the commendable Russia’s War (Richard Overy)), the game gets the essence of the war on the Eastern Front right: Russia will suffer tremendous losses in the beginning, but has an easy time replacing its weak units. These units gain in quality (in history, that’s less a matter of equipment and more of doctrine), but remain brittle through the middle of the war (so Russian losses will remain high). In the end, a Russian victory (if it so occurs) will not have been won by numerical superiority on the front, but by the commander’s ability to use their improved forces.

As the Soviets take the initiative in late 1942, they have already cut off German forces in eastern Ukraine and threaten a further breakthrough. Sudden Death victory for the USSR! Image from the Vassal module of No Retreat!, ©GMT Games.

Finally, that brings us to the “half” new game that I played – the Hamilcar half of Hannibal & Hamilcar (Mark Simonitch/Jaro Andrusziewicz, Phalanx). I’ve owned the game for almost three years now, but only this year did I get around to play the Hamilcar scenario (instead of Hannibal or the sub-scenarios for that). It introduces a few new rules: The Carthaginian player has to enlist domestic support for additional troops, and both powers struggle for naval supremacy. Especially the latter provides interesting shifts in the game (and my Roman all-out naval strategy in the game, coupled with a successful Sicilian land campaign yielded excellent results). So, if there’s one thing to take away from this post: Often, your “old” games have still a lot of new things for you to discover! So go out and give them some love before you buy new games.

What did you play and enjoy so far this year?

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