Had Mark over today for our monthly wargaming session. It was his turn to pick, and he decided to go with a couple of shorter games to give us some greater variety.

We started off with Winds of War a ‘bonus’ game from Against the Odds, that started on a bet. Namely, a “I can make a game on anything” bet. The eventual result was a game on Japan’s attempt to bomb the US with hydrogen balloons during WWII. It’s… not much of a simulation, but it isn’t bad for a game that takes an hour or so.

I took the Japanese, and got to manage groups of balloons coming in from off the west coast, trying to find randomly distributed targets in the hope of causing some damage (I was more playing the wind than the Japanese). Mark, as the US, got a number of random markers that allowed him to interfere with what I was doing, by pushing around the balloons I was moving some more, or modifying the die rolls when I did find something.

Since the targets are face down and shuffled randomly, there’s not a lot of strategy involved. Most spaces are barren desert, so it takes some luck just to find the targets. What there is involves getting as many balloons onto targets at all, versus getting them off-course or keeping them from having any effect. I developed a strategy of moving most everything into position first, and then ‘landing’ them in clumps at the end of the turn, to minimize Mark’s ability to fiddle with their movement or force them to land in empty spaces (once targeted, a space is then empty for the rest of the turn).

Mark mostly stuck to modifying my die rolls when I did find something. Since the highest VP rolls are the lowest, this is pretty effective. It also didn’t hurt that I generally rolled high. So, I generally had one or two VP events a turn. Out of 50 VP needed to win as the Japanese… I got 14. It did, however, take just under two hours to play, including pre-game rules discussion.

It’s a cute game, but I don’t see how the Japanese can win, unless the US player gets too enamored pushing around the balloons with his modifier markers.

After that, we went to the main event of the day: Red Vengeance, a fairly simple game on the last year of the Eastern Front in WWII. It’s an old-fashioned hex-game with ‘buckets of dice’ combat resolution—a combination I’m not used to.

Mark decided to take the Germans, and lined up on the start line. I started on my start line. I was a little worried at first, since you must set up on these lines, and they’re in contact for almost the whole length. I could move back and out of combat, concentrating force for a few breakthroughs, but that didn’t seem right. So I stayed put and slugged it out.

This was the right decision. The Soviet units generally have higher combat factors (more dice), which gives a good general advantage, and both lines are packed enough that concentrating force at the beginning of the game would be difficult. The real key is that the Soviets go first, and get the first repair and replacements phase on the second turn. So the Wehrmacht has to take a second round of attacks before they can bring any weakened unit up to strength. It is very hard to kill a unit, as most have a second step, and you are only forced to take one casualty in any combat; after that, you can take further hits as hexes of retreats.

I also had some good dice during the first turn. (It seems unwise to play any game against me where I need to count on rolling ‘6’s.) Mark stepped back and repaired his line, but both flanks pretty much dissolved during the second turn. In the north, that’s not too bad, as the Baltic gets in the way, and the length of line needed gets shorter. In the south, things start opening up in Hungary and Romania, and it was causing some trouble.

The game claims a 60-90 minute play time. So far, not so. We did about 4 turns out of 11 in three hours before Mark had to pack it up to go home. I figure we were picking up speed, but you’d have to be pretty darn fast to get to the speed they’re expecting (sounds familiar…). At any rate, I had demolished a fair chunk of his forces, and while that’s not what victory really consists of, I think we agree that I was winning, though the speed I would really make through the winter months could determine a lot in the way of VPs.

Anyway, it was actually a reasonably fun game, and we’d like to give it another workout soon. Next month is my choice, and it’ll either be Metropolis playtest, or Federation & Empire.