I spent the first four days of CSWE playing East Front games. That's half of the con. Now it was time to move on to a new theme - counterinsurgency. Since both my sons are in the army, and did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a topic that has real personal interest for me. Wargames give me a chance to learn about what they have to deal with in more depth than just reading books on current affairs.
Next up was Ici, C'est la France. It's a game on the Algerian War of Independence. Although that may not sound like an interesting topic, it's actually a fascinating period of history. The war came right after the French had lost in Vietnam. Their army resolved that they weren't going to lose another war, that this time they would learn from their mistakes in Vietnam (which the Americans in Vietnam didn't - they made a lot of the same mistakes). So the conflict is studied a lot to learn about how to fight a counterinsurgency. It is particularly relevant because the French won a decisive military victory but lost politically.
Colonial Twilight is the new COIN-series game on Algeria coming from GMT. I have been a playtester for over a year and have played it a lot. I really like the game and am looking forward to when it comes out later this month.
Ici takes a totally different approach. I have played partial games twice and have mixed feelings about it. It certainly has some obvious flaws (Mr Subliminal says "combat chits"). But it also has some really intriguing ideas. I'm not sure if it's a great game or a dud, so I was anxious to play it again to try to find out.
My opponent was Paul van Etten, aka PaVE, an old Consimworld Expo friend I've known since the first time I attended CSWE. Since ici is a long game and we wanted to finish in just one day we played the "short" scenario.
I was doing really well as the French. I had just played a game at GMT weekend in April (and had been practicing since) while PaVE hadn't played for over a year. Plus Paul kept getting distracted because he had duties running some other playtests. By the time we got close to the end I had a dominant position and was thinking to myself "yeah, this is a great game".
During the game, each side tries to increase its political influence with the population. At the end, a national referendum is held on independence. Whoever wins the referendum wins the game. Three dice are rolled for each region and the total compared with the political level of that region. I was feeling pretty good since almost all were above ten and most were above fifteen. The odds were stronly in my favor.
Unfortunately most of the rolls came in high. At one point, the roll was seventeen, on three dice, twice in a row. Seventeen comes up less than 2% of the time. Twice in a row? Worse yet, this happened on two high population provinces. When we finished, the FLN had won the referendum by one point.
Ok I thought. That was ridiculous. I decided instantly that clearly the game sucks. But all kidding aside, it did seem like a strange result. On the other hand, the game taught me a history lesson that you can't get from books. Now I knew how the French army felt after totally defeating the FLN in the field but still losing politically. So I still haven't made up my mind about Ici.
Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. Last year when we played a game of Siege of Orgun at CSWE, PaVE pulled off a win on an extremely lucky last roll of the dice. I did say "My goodness PaVE. You certainly are a lucky fellow." Or something like that. I might have used different words.
The next day I played a game of Colonial Twilight with Joel Dalenberg. I was back on more familiar ground now, which is a funny thing to say about a game that hasn't even been published yet. Once again I played the French and this time I was able to win on the second prop card.
That evening I started playing Saratoga from GMT's Battles of the American Revolution series. This time I wanted to come to a conclusion about whether I liked the game series or not. GMT is going to publish the ninth game in this series soon. I have about half of them but haven't played it enough to form an opinion. Some of the games in the series are about to go out of print and it's unlikey GMT will ever reprint them. So if I like the series, I should get them while I still can. If I don't like the series, I should get rid of the ones that I already have to save shelf space.
Before the con I had arranged to play with Paul Arena, a friend from previous CSWE's who lives in the area and teaches at ASU. He had to bow out earlier in the week because his dog Cyrus was seriously ill. Fortunately Cyrus was doing better now and Paul was able to get in some gaming. We got about half way through our game that evening. The position was even and could go either way. I had another game scheduled for the next day but we were able to leave Saratoga set up till we could get back to finish it.
The following day I played Trajan, a game on (one of) the war(s) between Rome and the Parthian Empire, an ancient kingdom centered in modern day Iraq. Ok, Saratoga was a little bit of a stretch to fit my counterinsurgency theme for this post but this game doesn't fit at all. But I love ancients and this game is the first of the Ancient Wars series from Decision Games. Originally published in Strategy and Tactics magazine, the games were popular and a boxed version with revised rules and lots of additional scenarios was released. I have always wanted to try the series so I was anxious to play.
I had arranged the game online with Tom Swidell, someone I hadn't met before. We had a good game. I lost as the Parthians but it was a learning session for me. I had fun and I liked the game. I'm hoping to get a chance to play Trajan or one of the others in the series again soon. I would like to learn the system much better.
The next day Paul and I were able to finish our game of Saratoga. I won as the Americans. This time I was the lucky one as Paul lost not one, but two British leaders, Burgoyne and von Riedesel, to rifle fire. Paul was lamenting that it seemed like my one rifle unit, Morgan's Rifles, had won the battle single handed. A friend who was watching our game and is very experienced with this system, Bruno Sinigaglio, said "Yeah, that's pretty much what really happended".
That was my last game. I played wargames for eight days straight and had a great time. I have to admit that I wasn't tired of it. I would gladly have kept playing. What I was tired of was spending every night staying up late studying the rules for a new game the next day. It might be a while before I read more rules. So in a way I was ready to head home.
Of course there is a lot more to Consimworld Expo than just playing wargames, so I'll do one more post on my experiences at CSWE this year.