Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, August 9, 2013

WBC 2013 Saturday: Wooden Ships fleet action and semifinal

Saturday at the World Boardgaming Championships was the day I'd been preparing for - the Wooden Ships and Iron Men fleet action and, if I qualified, the semifinals with a goal of reaching the final and competing for the championship.

My fellow Dutch players, Admiral
Ron (l.) and Commodore Tim H.
Wooden Ships fleet action
Tim Hitchings always puts on a great fleet action at WBC.  This year, the scenario involved a meeting engagement in the Dogger Banks between a British fleet of six ships-of-the-line and six frigates escorting nine merchant vessels against a similarly outfitted Dutch fleet.  The goal of each fleet was to escort its merchants safely off the opposite side of the board.  I served as the rear commodore of the Dutch fleet, with the ship-of-the-line Holland and a frigate under my command, as well as three of the merchants.

Our objective was to exit the Dutch merchants off the north edge of the board.  Unfortunately, we started the scenario beating upwind against a northerly breeze.  Our Admiral Ron had us started in a tightly packed formation on a starboard tack beating northwest, as we'd sighted the British sails to the northeast and wanted to keep the merchants as far from those British guns as possible.

Dutch fleet in the upper left; my two ships are turning to face the enemy.  British warships in line in the center, British merchants in three columns to the right.  (Top center is the Mermaid of the Wind.)
The British had formed up their merchant fleet in a very orderly square formation of three files of three ships and sent them on a southeast starboard broad reach.  Their three ships-of-the-line formed a line abreast ahead of them, and their three frigates continued that line to the south.  Under full sail, the British warships raced ahead of the British merchants and threatened to cut off our Dutch fleet, with the British ships of the line turning northwest to parallel our course while the British frigates maintained a southwest reach to cut off our rear and set up a crossfire.

The British commanders, with
Admiral Malcolm in the middle
Since I was in the rear position of our escort fleet, I was in the most immediate position to thwart the British advance, so I brought Holland and my frigate about.  The six British warships were nearly upon me, and I barely had time to take down my full sails, rig for battle, and get lined up on a southern run with the wind at my back to confront the enemy.  Admiral Ron by now had reversed course and begun to bring his van back along the edge of the Dutch merchant formation as the enemy opened fire.

British frigates (foreground, yellow hulls) mixing it up with
the Dutch.  My frigate (third from left) attempts to fall in
line behind Admiral Ron's SOL.  The Holland (fourth from
left) brings up the Dutch rear and is in danger of rake.
I started to take heavy damage but was grateful for the arrival of Admiral Ron's reinforcements.  I tried to fall into line behind him, but the British had turned the corner on my rear and put Holland under a succession of rakes.  The British focused on Holland's rigging and with a series of heavy broadsides knocked down one mast after another until she was completely immobilized.  Once a British ship-of-the-line raked her bow, the captain of the Holland struck the Dutch colors rather than risk the lives of any more brave sailors.

We had successfully engaged the British warships, however, and Commodore Hitchings came down from the northwest nearly unmolested by the British escorts and intercepted the British merchant fleet single-handedly.  Just then, the Little Mermaid of the Wind smiled on us natives of the Netherlands, as the wind backed to a southwestern breeze, perfect for our merchants to turn down to a port broad reach and make haste for the north.  Admiral Ron meanwhile grappled, boarded, and captured a British frigate that had come alongside his ship-of-the-line.  Our frigates turned east and gave chase to the British merchants that had turned south and then southeast in attempt to disengage from us.

In the end, Tim awarded the victory to the Dutch for having captured a British frigate, immobilizing a British ship-of-the-line, and successfully escorting the merchants to safety at the cost of only one struck ship-of-the-line.  Although I took more damage than I dished out, in the final analysis, my participation in the fleet action in combination with my actions the previous day placed me sixth overall in the tournament.  Tim, as the Game Master, disqualified himself from the semifinals, and Malcolm Smith, the British fleet commander, elected not to advance.  So I squeaked into the semifinal round as an alternate.

Wooden Ships semifinal
As the bottom seed in the semifinal round, I faced Jeff, the top seed.  Tim gave us each an option of three orders of battle, and I selected three British 38-gun frigates, one with an elite crew and two with crack.  Jeff had chosen two American 44-gun elite-crewed frigates, and so I found myself in a very similar situation to that of the semifinal last year against Evan Hitchings, having an extra frigate against American superior crew quality and gunfire.

Unlike last year, however, I was less successful in maintaining the integrity of my line.  Jeff was masterful in
American frigates (foreground) concentrate fire on the
lead British frigates, while the third British frigate at the
rear is unable to catch up and engage the Americans.
his maneuver, and we danced around each other for 12 turns before I finally started shooting.  He employed my favorite tactic of shooting for the rigging to gain a maneuver advantage first, and he did it better than I could have done myself.  I lost a rigging section on all three frigates and trailed one of my ships just far enough downwind of the action that she never fired a shot after the 15th turn.

From that point on, it was essentially a two-on-two battle, and the American superiority in crew and gunfire took its toll (despite Jeff's atrocious dice luck).  After the tournament regulation time and three overtime moves, neither of us had achieved a clean victory, so it came down to points based on damage.  Jeff won by the score of 60 to 52 and so eliminated me from the tournament.

I learned later that in the final, Jeff would face Ron, who had commanded the Dutch in the fleet action and who beat last year's champion Dale "Dan" Long in his semifinal match.  (We knew it wasn't going well for Dan in the semifinal when he turned from his table briefly and asked us, "Either of you guys know how to handle a ship on fire?")  Ron would go on to beat Jeff in the final and win the Wooden Ships tournament as the new champion.

Open gaming
There was plenty of evening left, but my friends Keith Ferguson, Brian Greer, and I decided to forego the late tournaments and go straight to the open gaming room.  We opened with World Without End, something of a sequel to Pillars of the Earth based on the Ken Follet novel (although very different in gameplay).  I liked this Euro, another variation on the genre of accumulating resources to build things and acquire victory points while satisfying taxes and other burdens.  It was pretty close until the end, I think.  I'd like to play it again.

We got a larger group together to try out the hot game of the convention, the newly-released Space Cadets: Dice Duel and the first of three Stronghold games we would play that night.  This real-time team-vs-team game has each player manning one or more stations on his team's starship.  An engineer rolls energy dice and when the right numbers come up, allocates them to the workstations around the ship.  His teammates in turn roll specialized dice to build up shields, assemble weapons, activate sensors and countermeasures, and move the ship around the board to gain position to fire on the enemy.  It's a fun, frantic game, and we didn't even take advantage of some of the other features like tractor beams, mines, and crystals.  I look forward to playing more of this.  [Keith's recap of that night reminds me that designer Ben Rosset (Mars Needs Mechanics) made an appearance, but he had lost his voice and so was unable to participate in SC:DD.]

Yesterday I mentioned that I'd seen Panic on Wall Street (originally Masters of Commerce) in action, so now Keith, Brian and I were able to get Tim Hing and Eli Persky to teach it to us and play a round.  I absolutely love this financial investment game.   Players are divided into two categories - investors and managers.  The game centers around the fluctuating prices of four stocks ranging from conservatively stable to wildly speculative.  Managers first bid on shares of those four stocks to control, and then negotiate with investors to sell what amount to futures on those shares.  Investors meanwhile are speculating on what the prices of the stocks will do and try to negotiate low enough deals with the managers that they will make a profit.

But of course the number of shares is finite, and investors may outbid each other among the managers to try to gain those futures.  Managers likewise are trying to maximize the return on their shares by selling as high as possible to investors, but they are competing with each other for the investors' business and so can't price themselves out of a market, either.  All negotiation in each round happens under a five-minute sand timer, so there's a lot of yelling and arm-twisting and walking away and coming back.

It's great stuff, very exciting, and then when all the deals are made and the time runs out, dice are rolled to resolve the price of each stock at which the investors will sell.  Then they pay off the managers from whom they purchased the futures at their mutually negotiated contract prices.  Finally the managers pay an overhead to maintain the stocks they own.  This process repeats for several rounds, and then the investor with the most money at the end wins among the investors, and the manager with the most money wins among the managers.  So there are two winners in each game.  I definitely got the hang of this game (or perhaps I just speculated on the right stocks) as an investor, and won with a pretty substantial profit.

Next we recruited Tim and Eli to play Article 27, our second Stronghold game of the night, one which we'd discovered at PrezCon last February.  This negotiation game makes for a great late-night session of influence bribing and secret agendas.  The power of the secretary general has to be managed just right, as do the bribes that get thrown around.  I was mystified at how every round I would end up with no more influence than I started with, as though I was bribing too excessively.  And when I was the secretary, I couldn't attract enough bribes to gain any substantial influence.  Eli, on the other hand, got a pile of bribes in his term as Secretary General and ended up winning by a wide margin.

Brian, Keith, and I made the mistake of trying our third Stronghold game, Code 777, in a sleep-deprived state.  I really like this logic game, but we were so brain-dead relative to the mental acuity that this game demands that we kept screwing up and had to restart two or three times.  I just wouldn't give up until I'd solved my code at least once.  By the rules of the game, we should have kept going until someone had three points, but Keith and Brian were so discombobulated by this point that they declared me the winner so that we could move on.

We wrapped up with our tried and true favorite, Citadels.  I think I've said it before:  This Bruno Faidutti masterpiece is a brilliant game of second-guessing and counter-moves.  We really get inside each others' heads on this game, but sometimes we manage to sidestep the assassin or the thief and pull off something unexpected.  No matter how late it is, we're bound to play this one every opportunity we get.

1 comment:

  1. Designer Aaron Honsowetz asked me how Panic on Wall Street (nee Masters of Commerce) compares to the game he and Austin Smokowicz are working on, "Post Position." I thought that was a great question in comparison and contrast between two investment strategy games.

    I think one thing that "Post Position" has over Masters of Commerce / Panic on Wall Street is that in voting for which horses will advance and by how much, the players determine which shares gain value and deliver return on investment. And because of that, there's some second-guessing that happens as to which horses you think will attract votes based on how many shares are outstanding and how many people hold an interest in each horse. I think that group psychology aspect makes "Post Position" a lot more interesting in terms of how to expect shares to perform.

    Panic on Wall Street depends on die rolls to determine the actual return on each stock, so the valuation is based more on expected value in the conventional probability sense. The neat thing about PoWS is that the managers and investors have a mutual interest in the success of a share, but they have to negotiate the management contract - and the investor assumes all the risk. Of course, he also has upside potential return, whereas the manager's return is negotiated and fixed. That's the appeal of PoWS: How much value do you place on the opportunity vs. the risk? How much of a discount on the expected value should the investor expect from the manager, given that there is no risk to the manager? That's what makes the negotiation fun in PoWS.

    So I see them as games that both make strong contributions in the genre of negotiation, speculation, and risk management but that pose very different problems and require different approaches in the gameplay.