Monday, October 24, 2011

From Virginia to the Bismark

As often happens, real life took center stage this weekend and I was unable to get any hobby time other than a few games of Overland and Sink the Bismark! Neither would be considered much of an intellectual challenge but I could play them while sitting on the living room couch, brain dead from being up early to give my girlfriend a few well deserved baby-free hours of sleep, holding my sleeping two month old son in one arm and rolling dice/moving counters with the other.

Overland, according to the designer, is "a SMALL solitaire game of the 1864 Virginia campaign. Player controls the Union forces, with a simple reaction/retreat system controlling the Rebs." The rules are simple (just 4 pages, generously spaced and with examples of play). The campaign map is one page b&w with most of the rules you need to remember printed on it.

There isn't much to the game in terms strategy. Mostly it falls to the luck of the die roll, and, while there is an opportunity for player choice, it seems to have little effect on the outcome. So, essentially, it's just die rolling and pushing some counters around that could represent any army in any time period. The BoardGameGeek reviews are pretty poor, so perhaps it was the sleep deprivation and the dullness of my mental faculties as a result, but I found it surprisingly addictive in spite of its flaws.

The real value to me is the game board. I think the campaign mechanism could be put to use as a simple solo campaign system for use with miniatures. Rather than determine the outcome of engagements by a single roll, the battles would be fought on the table top instead. The enemy reaction mechanism is not complicated and makes a reasonable starting point for an operational level "ai", although further tweaking seems necessary.

Sink the Bismark! was decidedly more fun and I ended up playing it several times even after my brain was well rested (or as rested as it's been since my son was born).

According to the designer: "A simple solitaire dice based game where the player takes on the role of the Anti Air coordinator on board the battleship Bismarck, while under attack by the British Swordfish aircraft."

The game incorporates randomized enemy placement and randomized (but logical) enemy movement. For your part, you attempt to "lead" the target with your anti-aircraft gun by predicting (guessing) where the planes will move. As the game goes on, if you've shot poorly early on like I seem to do, the sky is filled with planes. Hitting one gets easier as a result, but more will get their torpedoes through and the inevitable sinking of the Bismark will begin in earnest. This is not a "what if?" scenario. You will sink, it's all about how long can you prevent it. I admit that even knowing this, I felt a good deal of stress as I tried to hold off the enemy attack.

Points are awarded for each plane and torpedo you hit. Since you can't save the Bismark, consequently, the game has an arcade style feel to it, where your ultimate goal is to get a high score and to beat your previous best.

For a simple print and play game it does a good job of creating tension. I 'll definitely be playing this on my lunch breaks. Worth the download and printing.

Both are available for free from BoardGameGeek.

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