Wednesday, 18 March 2015

World War II - the short version

With Martin unusually absent due to a cough and a cold, and Adam unusually present, we were six at mine (Joe's) last night, with Katy expected later.

I seized the opportunity to offer up Quartermaster General, the crazy game of World War II in 90 minutes. It's a team game, with three players playing the allies - UK, US and Soviets - and three the axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan. Although it can be played with fewer players taking on multiple roles, it plays best - and quickest - with a full six.

Last week, Andrew was last to arrive, and found himself being dealt in to a game of Pairs, much to his consternation. This week he was last again, and we upped the ante somewhat by dealing him in as the Germans in WWII. This may have coloured his appreciation of the game to follow.

Play is extremely simple, with each power having a small number of tanks and ships that gradually spread out from their home territory. Each turn, you play a single card, check all your units are in supply, score points for your side and discard/draw cards. The snag is that once your draw deck is depleted you get no more cards, so it's important not to rush through it. Added to that, some of the powers have fewer cards to start with.
Europe after turn 1 - (not our game!) from BGG user Noah Sheola

The game lasts 20 rounds, but either side can win instantly if they control two enemy home spaces, or score 400 points. As we began, the axis took an early but delicate lead thanks to Germany's occupation of Western Europe, scoring four points per turn to most other players two. Ian, as Italy, played some useful status cards which bolstered the axis scores each turn. Uk and Russia got stuck in in Europe, with the UK also creating supply bases in India and Australia. The US hung back, for want of build army cards, and surveyed the growing number of Sam's Japanese ships in the Pacific.

However, we realised that most of the Japanese navy were out of supply, and had to be dismantled, which allowed me, as the US, to steam in and 'occupy' the Western United States. An unorthodox approach, perhaps, but the midwest is crawling with rattlesnakes and bears - much better to travel by sea.

By the middle of the game, Germany were squished in Europe, not getting anywhere - the Allies had the upper hand, with UK scoring 8 points a turn; Japan was playing many mysterious face down response cards but cursing the lack of build army cards, and Italy was valiantly keeping the Axis end up.

We got to I think round 14, and Sam's Japan was about ready to pounce (I think), but the Allies managed to clear out Italy and Germany, and I played a card that let me redeploy all my armies, so we occupied both for the instant win.

I really enjoyed it, but it was perhaps a touch anodyne - there wasn't a huge amount of tension or intrigue. I do think that once you get to know the decks that would change, as you know what your opponents are capable of and can try to outwit each other. Sam said he'd be prepared to play again but would rather not play as the Japanese. Andrew hated it - something about cards and war not mixing - he'll have to explain.

I'd love to play again - it's always nice to have viable 6 player options, even if, as a team game, they mess with the leaderboard.

At the risk of damning it with faint praise, it certainly played fast. We were done and dusted by 9.20, and Katy had arrived, so we split into a three and a four, and Sam, Katy, Ian and Andrew played Pompeii, whilst Adam, Andrew and I played Through the Desert.

It may have been Adam's first game, but he got the measure of it pretty quickly, not side-tracked by the pretty pastel camels. I made poor choices with my caravan leaders, and found a couple fairly shut out form the start. It was a quick game, and a two-horse race by the end, with Andy just pipping Adam to the win. I lagged behind in third.
I do love me some pastel camels (not our game, but at least the pic is by me)

Pompeii finished at exactly the same moment, and Sam called it a night - the remaining six of us tried out my print-and-play copy of Spyfall. It's a simple game of trying to root out the spy amongst you - all players have a card showing a single location, except the spy, who doesn't know where you all are. Players ask each other questions, trying to ascertain who knows the location, with giving it away. Because as soon as the spy has worked out what the location is they win. Unless they can be unmasked first.

Dead simple, and very clever - I think we played three rounds; a good way to end the evening, but again non-leaderboard, I suppose.

A great evening, good to play a few different games too - a team war(ish) game, some regular Euro-fare and a deduction/party game too. Thanks all for coming, let's play again soon.

BTW there's an interesting post on BGG regarding playing the Japanese in QG. It seems there's a fairly key rule we may not have explored which allows for some more creative play - you're allowed to battle an empty space. So if you have a response or status card that is triggered by battling in China, you can do so even of there's no one there to trigger your cards. A bit gamey perhaps, but pretty useful.


  1. I'd like to try Quartermaster General again, for sure. I kind of enjoyed it, but with three of my five Build Army cards rooted to the bottom of the deck, I did feel like I was hanging around - mainly I played Response cards, but these seemed to deter anyone from attacking me, which led to more hanging around... I think whilst there's obviously strategy there if your cards come out in less-than-ideal order it can feel frustrating - especially as you ideally don't want to be discarding your hand too much.

    But aesthetically I liked it and the quick play I also liked too.

    Katy won her inaugural game of Pompeii, keeping her grip on the various Leaderboards iron-tight. Ian beat me into third via a tie-breaking (we both had 6 survivors, Katy 7) and Andrew came fourth with only 5 family saved. Good game, Pompeii. We should get it out more.

    We should also play one of my guilty four (this weekend maybe?) Giants, In The Shadow of the Emperor, Ginkgopolis and Aquasphere.

    Actually that last one looks too Feldish, even for me.

  2. I liked QG. My normal cooperative game complaint (that optimal play is normally for one player to start giving orders) is sidestepped neatly by having cards that your team mates can't see and the enemy being able to intercept your communications (ie listen to you talk). I guess we need to be a bit more au fait with the various cards in the game to avoid the traps we fell into, so I'm up for a few more games...

    I also like how varied the winning strategies could be - I counted:
    - try and gang up to knock out an enemy quickly (Japan and UK are fairly isolated at the start)
    - just get your victory point machine ticking over to win at turn 20
    - grind through someone's card supply so that they become a sitting duck in the end game
    I'm sure there are plenty more.

    Enjoyed Through the desert and Spyfall too - IIRC Joe lost then Ian and I won as spies?

  3. We are a group that collectively (though maybe it's mainly me and Joe who are guilty) like to try new stuff. I still want to play Rialto again...

  4. I did enjoy Quartermaster General, and would play it again to see how things pan out differently, but I have just given it a rating of 6 on the Geek, which is below the level at which I think I'd be pushing to play again, so I definitely have it down as flawed.

    I did enjoy Through The Desert and I may well have played before (in the days when I didn't record plays on the Geek), but I'm not sure because it felt similar to other Knizia designs. Or maybe Oasis.

    Spyfall was definitely not a game designed for me - hidden role games just don't interest me at all, I'm afraid.

    Still a good night's gaming, mind.

  5. I am keen to try Giants, In The Shadow of the Emperor and Aquasphere, though note that the former two are supposed to be at their best with exactly four players. I've played Ginkgopolis but it didn't really appeal to me, though I note that the Geek is recommending it as a two-player game.

    Not that I am here on Saturday or next Tuesday for trying any of these, of course.

  6. I disliked QG for a number of reasons. For a start, I've realised that I don't enjoy direct combat games. Apart from Wallenstein and, at a pinch, Quantum, anything which is pure combat doesn't interest me.

    The mix of war games and cards doesn't work for me. It's far too luck based, and especially with QG where certain cards are only much use at a certain phase of the game. The idea that discarding cards shortens your game seems far too punitive for just having bad luck.

    I didn't like the fact that to play well you need knowledge of everything your deck includes (so you're not waiting for another Sea Battle card that doesn't exist) and also some knowledge of what other players have, so you can make some decisions based on what they've done. This seems like a lot of front-loading.

    And I didn't like the event cards, either. The game mechanic that allows a hidden card to do a lot of damage has never been a favourite of mine. I don't see much point in building up a strategy when it can be undone with one card.

    During the game Joe played a card that allowed the Soviet Union to expand far quicker than I was expecting, so I was trapped early on. I spent almost all of the game frustrated or bored in equal measure.

    I'll play it again if everyone is really keen, but I'd appreciate it if I wasn't asked.

    1. Yeah, but did you like it? :)
      Most of the decks have cards that let you recycle your discards, so you don't need to rely on a particular build card that isn't in you draw deck. Plus I see no reason not to let players have a look through their draw deck during the game, as long as they shuffle it afterwards.

      Funnily enough, it feels like a game with very little front-loading to me, though I appreciate it's not the game for you.

      I wonder what my Bete Noire would be . . . hmm, will give it some thought.

    2. The Japan deck didn't have a card that let you recycle, as far as I'm aware. I think looking through your deck and then shuffling could be a potential issue too; it's minor but then you do know what order you're cards *aren't* in - with very few cards left this could be considered an advantage.

    3. I'm not sure - the fewer cards the more likely they could come out in the same order you saw them, even after shuffling. But yes, if your opponents have a larger deck left, you'll have a better idea of how things are going to play out than they will.

    4. The mathematician in me can't let that lie Sam :) assuming you shuffle properly, you would have no more information about the order than you did before you looked.

  7. What about Impulse, Andrew?

    Sam, I'd really like to try In the Shadow of the Emperor, and I've played Giants and Ginkgopolis once each and didn't hate them :) I'll skip Aquasphere though...

    1. Of course Impulse is great but I don't think of it as a direct combat game. You can win Impulse in a variety of ways, so it's not the one-note banjo that QG is.

    2. Ah I get you, I just remembered you describing it as a 'war game'. I guess I'll have to try QG and make up my own mind.

    3. I probably have called Impulse that. But it's a war game with other bits as well. I like that. If you don't like the salad, just eat the chips.

  8. I might skip Aquasphere myself, I was guilty of not researching that one it looks kinda nuts.

    Andrew I think that's a reasonable and impassioned critique! I think as Japan I experienced something similar, and only by being so remote (and so 'responsive') did I avoid a kicking.

    1. My initial critique was much angrier. I did it at work on my phone, and I should be grateful that the batteries ran out since I was able to mull it over during the afternoon and actually pinpoint what I didn't like about it.

  9. Ah - Tzolkin! That's pretty much the only game I can remember playing thinking 'I really hate this, I really don't want to play it again.'

  10. You weren't alone. t was the only person from those who played it who liked T'zolkin. Which is kinda weird cos it's quite a heavy game really.

  11. My dislike of I'm The Boss is well known, if somewhat exaggerated from over-use. But the game that Paul, Andrew, Chris and I played that we stuck with for nearly two hours before putting it away in collective disgust was Battlestar Galactica.

  12. Sam, I retold that exact same story at the Reading Boardgames social yesterday!