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Feb 18 12

Axis Empires

by Eric

I haven’t blogged about boardgaming on here in a LONG time.

That doesn’t mean I’ve quit gaming (though I honestly don’t remember the last time I played a miniatures game), but I’m down to three or four sessions a month. Those sessions generally get blogged on the blog I share with Myk Deans, Two Sides to the Coin.

There is one game I’ve been playing, though, that hasn’t been covered on that blog. And that game is Axis Empires: Totaler Krieg!. (Yeah, the exclamation point is part of the title.)

TK is a grand-strategic game covering the entire European theater for the entire duration of WWII. And I mean all the way back to 1937. Given that it does this on only two full-size maps gives you an idea of the scale: Counters are usually full armies, and each hex is about 60 miles. There are nine turns per year and, depending on how things shake out, the game could carry all the way to 1949.

Decision Games recently released an updated version of the game that links to a partner game: Axis Empires: Dai Senso. DS covers the Pacific theater. You could play a massive combined game if you really wanted to. And I’m sure I eventually will.

This kind of game has always intrigued me. I’ve got a copy of John Prados’ Third Reich and its partner game Great Pacific War, but I’ve never managed to get those to the point of pushing counters. I had known about the prior edition of TK, and had toyed with the idea of tracking down a copy, but heard that a new edition was in the works and decided to wait. I toyed with picking up GMT’s A World at War, but it just seemed to be too much for what I wanted in this sort of game.

I’m glad I went this direction. AE:TK is turning out to be an absolute pleasure to play.

This all started in late November. I’d found a cheap copy of TK online, and pinged Doug to see if he was interested in playing it. It seemed right up his alley. I hadn’t realized that at nearly the same time, he had started blogging his experiences going through the training scenarios. I caught up to where he was and he came over one afternoon to go through the Fall of France scenario (the third training round.) I was hooked. This game seemed to have everything I wanted, including a pretty damn good rulebook. (Not perfect, but it’s close.)

Doug blogged that session, and a couple weeks later Chuck decided he wanted in on the act. As the full campaign is designed as a three-player game (Axis, Western Allies, and Soviets), we were set. In mid-January, we all met at my place and started the campaign right at the beginning in 1937. Doug took the Germans, Chuck the Western Allies, and I took the Soviets.)

We spent about six hours playing (seven hours duration including an hour for lunch.) That got us through the Fall of France, pretty much right on the historical schedule. The political machinations took a decidedly different turn, however. In this game, Finland, Denmark, Norway, the Baltic States, and Poland all became Soviet minor countries by late 1940.

At that point, we called it a day, and I spent a couple hours that evening entering our positions into Vassal. We’ve continued on with the game, and are now just finishing the summer of 1942 (and the tail end of Barbarossa: Doug delayed invading the east for a year).

The mechanism that really makes this game (besides the counter density: 40-ish counters for the Russians during Barbarossa? Yes, please) are the seasonal cards. Each faction has a deck of cards they use to drive the game. These cards do all kinds of things. Add new units to your forces, provide replacements, generate political events, launch offensives, open up other cards for later play, etc. Every seasonal turn (every other turn is a seasonal turn with an extra non-seasonal turn during the summer) you expose a new card, and commit the card you’ll play the following season. This latter bit slows the reaction time down, and can sometimes force you to guess what your opponent has already committed to do the following season.

Your card deck is somewhat like a tech tree, and playing certain cards can open or close other paths through your deck. It is not a randomizer. Your hand is the entirety of what’s been opened up to you at a particular point in the game, and you can choose from pretty much any of those options. The wonderful thing about these cards is they provide the narrative to the game. Every card is tied to an historical event (or a plausible alternative event), and you could write a book about your game using these cards as a guide. The fact that many of these cards generate political events rolled from a table means you’ll never see things fall out the same way in two different games.

Combat is pretty straightforward: a standard ratio-based CRT with a handful of things providing column shifts. The CRT results are a bit interesting, though. There’s usually both a retreat and an attrition result, and at no point is the attacker guaranteed of not losing a step during a combat.

The turn sequence is:
1. Seasonal Card phase (seasonal turns only)
2. Admin
3. Movement
4. Combat
5. Reserve Movement
6. Conditional events (these could come from cards or permanent things in the game.)

The Axis does their turn first, then the Western Allies, then the Soviets. There’s a brief admin phase around those three player turns that provides for VP checks, turn track manipulation, etc.

I could go further into the details, but Doug’s done a lot of that on his blog. Read those articles for more specific information.

The rulebook is fantastic. We’ve only run into a couple situations that weren’t clearly covered. The game gets great support on Consimworld, so posting a question there usually had us an answer within a couple hours. Plenty fast enough when you’re playing this via email. The one catch to the rulebook is that sometimes you have to piece together bits from various locations to get the full picture. But, once you get used to this it’s not a problem.

I’ll go as far as to say I put this rulebook up with Combat Commander, Here I Stand, and OCS as among the best I’ve used. Play the training scenarios in order, then read the whole rulebook again, and you’ll be pretty prepared for your first campaign. You’ll still be looking things up for a while, of course, and there’s little situational rules you’ll forget from time to time, but this game’s worth the effort.

If you’re curious how our game’s shaking out, follow Doug’s blog. He hasn’t updated it in over a year of game time, but I’m sure that’s on his to-do list once Barbarossa fizzles out. (To give an example: even though the Axis didn’t attack Russia en masse until the summer of ’42, there were only five or six hexes of difference between our position and the historical one. The biggest difference from the Soviet perspective, is that Hungary and Romania are both still neutral: this has significantly shrunk the front and let me concentrate my forces. Even though we were quite close to the historical positions at the start of summer, by the end the Germans were knocking on the doors of both Moscow and Rostov. In our game, I still control Minsk but Kiev fell during Operation Typhoon in the fall of ’42. So, I think I’ve got to consider my defense to be a success at this point. We’ll see where things go as I rebuild my forces and commence ejecting the Germans from Russia.

I’m certainly enjoying the ride to this point, in any case.

Jan 3 12

Reading stats (caution – numbers ahead)

by Eric

Two years ago, I got a Kindle as a combined birthday/christmas present. It has fundamentally changed my reading patterns. I’m reading a lot more now than ever before. The Kindle nearly eliminates the friction from reading. I’ve since moved on to a Kobo Touch as my primary reader, but that’s an implementation detail: ereaders make reading easier.

Now, if the publishers can fix the pricing problems, it’ll be even better. But that’s for another post.

What I’m doing here is comparing my reading in 2010 to 2011. Number of books, sizes, etc. I’m including audio in this, as well. Also, non-fiction books are being labeled “novels” here for simplicity.

First, the big picture. In 2010, I completed 48 separate items. These break down as six audio books, 41 novels, and one shorter work.

In 2011, I completed 83 separate items. These break down as 12 audio books, 47 novels, three graphic novels, and 21 shorter works.

Obviously, everything increased in 2011. However, we all know not all novels are created equal. The Passage is a heck of a lot longer than The Colour of Magic. Yet, they count the same there. So, let’s look at lengths. As most of the reading I’ve done has been on the Kindle, I’ll use the Kindle’s locations metric as my judge of length, and duration for audio books. I’m going to ignore the graphic novels in these calculations.

Novels

year count locations average over 10k avg pages
2010 41 220794 5385 2 371
2011 47 285524 6075 7 393

(Some of the books I’ve read are electronic only and don’t have page counts – they’re not included in the average pages stat.)

Audio Books

year count length (HH:MM) average (HH:MM)
2010 6 68:49 11:28
2011 12 169:18 14:06

 

I read more things, and longer things. This is definitely an improvement.

Including shorter works, Goodreads thinks I finished 47 things in 2010, and 71 things in 2011. (Some of the shorter works I’ve read do not have separate entries on Goodreads.) I’ve signed up for the 2012 Goodreads Reading Challenge at 60 items. Five per month. As I intend to read fewer shorter works in 2012, this should end up being slightly more than what I read last year. There’s a widget on the right that will show my progress throughout the year.

My previous goal of finishing off series holds. So, expect to see a lot of Honor Harrington, Miles Vorkosigan, and various Discworld personages. I’m also going to be doing Hugo voting again this year, despite my disaster in not picking a single winner last time around.

Off to 2012, let’s see where it takes me.

Dec 19 11

Progress on those unfinished series

by Eric

I’ve been making a lot of headway in my goal of finishing off series I’ve started.

So far, since I first posted about the problem, I’ve caught up with or finished the following series:

  • Old Man’s War
  • The Clockwork Century
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Laundry
  • The Magicians

I’m probably going to finish Westerfield’s Leviathan series next, then I’ll start something new. It’ll likely be one of The Parasol Protectorate, Tales of the Ketty Jay, or Monster Hunter International. But you know how moods are…

Dec 15 11

Best reads of 2011

by Eric

This post is inspired by another “Best Reads of 2011″ post, and I thought it was a good idea. What follows are the ten best books I read (or listened to) in 2011. I don’t do re-reads, so all these were first-time experiences. (As of right now, I’ve got 63 entries on Goodreads that I completed in 2011, so ten is a pretty good sampling.) This listing is in the order I finished them.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

(Audio) The stunning story of Louis Zamperini, former Olympic runner turned WWII airman. This book will stretch what you believed the limits of human endurance to be. Recommended to everyone, not just WWII buffs.

The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

One of the best examinations of what might happen when humans finally encounter another intelligent species out in space. While “shoot first” is brought up, it’s not wholly discounted, and the drawbacks of secrecy play a major part. A very engaging story.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

You could almost look at this as a religious parody. It does, however, force you to look at how much we really know about prior civilizations. The conclusions drawn about the meanings of pre-apocalyptic artifacts sometimes nearly cause you to laugh out loud until you consider the downstream effects those conclusions cause. Then it almost becomes chilling.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

After his parents are murdered, Nobody Owens (known as Bod) is raised in a graveyard by the ghosts. Oh, and a guardian that doesn’t seem to belong to either the world of the living OR the world of the dead. That, and a mysterious man named Jack, the murderer of his parents, is out there waiting for Bod should he ever leave the graveyard. Imaginative, adventurous, and magical. A must read.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

You could also call this “The Autobiography of Kvothe, volume 1.” The near-mythical Kvothe tells his tale to a chronicler. And, oh what a tale it is. The best epic fantasy since The Song of Ice and Fire.

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

Another examination of what might happen when humans discover another intelligent species. Two catches in this one. First, humans have been exploring space for centuries, and this is the first non-human intelligent species they’ve discovered. The also happen to be just at the point of discovering space travel. Second, the species’ closest earth analog are spiders. BIG spiders. Oh, did I mention that this discovery is made by two separate human factions essentially at war with each other, and this war exhausts their resources to the point they’re stranded in orbit around the alien planet. A deep, rewarding read.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

The book from which Bladerunner was created. As good as the movie is, the book’s better. ’nuff said.

The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

(Audio) This series delves into interactions between the devine, semi-devine, and mortal in ways no other fantasy series does to my knowledge. What does “love” mean to a nearly-immortal godling used to seeing humans die all the time? I voted in the Hugos for the first book in this series as best novel, and I think the second book’s better.

Ganymede by Cherie Priest

The Clockwork Century is about the best Steampunk out there, and Ganymede is the best of that series. It ties together many of the characters you’ve met in the first three stories in ways that make complete sense. A fun adventure on top of all that. Mostly set around New Orleans, with bits in Seattle.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

(Audio) This series (of which The Magician King is book 2) has been called “Harry Potter for adults” and that’s not far off the mark. It can be a bit depressing, and Julia is a true tragic figure, but after having gone through the first book and 90% of the second, the ending to book 2 comes as a huge twist. I can only imagine the long term effects coming in book 3. (Which, sadly, isn’t even written yet let alone published.)

Dec 15 11

User purge

by Eric

To the small number of actual, authentic, users on here: I’m deleting your account. I apologize for this, but I’m currently being it with a huge wave of spam posts. (Over 300 per day. My filters are catching them, but it’s pointing to a problem with how I have the user/comment system structured.)

Thanks for your patience and understanding.