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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Eating an Elephant

After reading Dave's post yesterday, I found it interesting that we're heading two completely separate directions on how we want to spend our limited gaming time. Dave goes for the half turkey sandwich, and I go for the four-course meal. Probably explains our physical shapes, as well.

As I alluded to last week, I spent a good amount of time this past week attempting to learn OCS. It was difficult to find more than 45 minutes or so to really dig into it, but I gave it my best. It didn't help that our older car threatened to die completely on us last Thursday. We took the opportunity to trade it in for a new Scion xB. Needless to say, I was a tad distracted by that for a good chunk of the weekend.

Anyway, here's some of the techniques I used to attempt to learn this game.

  1. Punch out all the counters for the scenario we'd be playing and set them up.
  2. What on earth do all these colors on the counters mean? Time to study the counter symbology. (OCS uses four different colors of numbers and backgrounds in their unit ratings to indicate a variety of things. All important, of course.)
  3. Find the terrain legend. (What is it doing on map A, anyway? What do you mean it's not on a separate reference card?) Examine the lay of the land to find choke points. The scenario is played on one full map, and the hexes are five miles each. However, since the turns represent half a week, a unit can cover a LOT of ground in one turn, particularly if it's on a primary road. I still am having trouble wrapping my brain around the scale.
  4. Okay, I'm playing the Italians, what forces do I have? What are the objectives of the scenario? What's the supply situation?

That was one night's worth. Probably an hour or so of just orienting myself to the physical components of the game.

Then, I started reading. I didn't read the rules in order, but skipped around reading a major section at a time – I covered air power a couple times. Had trouble getting that to stick in my brain.

Monday night, the day before we were supposed to play, I set up the scenario again, and starting mocking out plans – nothing really concrete, just an idea of how the game would flow. The British have a LOT to do in two short turns, but it definitely seemed plausible. I didn't work through any mock combats, though. Just reread the detailed examples in the rulebook.

I arrived at Keith's place earlier tonight feeling like I was about to explode my head. He had the scenario set up (as he always does – he's a great host) and after a bit of chat we got right down to things.

Keith had rather bad luck in this game, but we were simply using it for a learning experience. We only played one of the two turns in the scenario, but we learned more in those 90-105 minutes than the entire previous week. There's absolutely nothing that can top simply sitting down with the game and working through the situations to see what happens. You really get a feel for the big picture that you can't get pushing counters at home, or playing the games solo.

I do feel I prepared as well as I could have, however. There's just too much in the rulebooks to remember it all your first time out.

I'd go into a lot of the lessons we learned, but that really doesn't matter, as there's probably no more than one or two of you out there that cares about trace supply and when it's checked – it's the process of learning a big game that's important here. Given how things laid out, here's how I'd approach it next time (and this assumes my opponent is learning the game as well):

  1. Familiarize yourself with the physical components first. Only refer to the rules when you want a definition for something on the counters or map.
  2. Read through the rules, front to back. Don't worry if you don't "get" something.
  3. Mentally walk through the sequence of play for a typical turn. This is particularly important in games where supply takes a major role. Learn when supply comes into play.
  4. Scan the table of contents. Reread sections where you don't think you have good grasp of what's going on.
  5. Pick a scenario (assuming there's more than one) and set it up. Look at the victory conditions and think about what each side needs to do.
  6. Play a dry run. This is what Keith and I did earlier tonight. Play through with the intent of going after the victory conditions but don't try to optimize. Don't worry if three stacks of units suddenly disappear because you didn't understand the supply rules properly.
  7. Write down questions as you play.
  8. Reread the rules as soon as possible to try to catch things you didn't get the first time. This is where I go next. I'm sure I'll run across a lot of things that we missed or did wrong. I'll log them all, and we'll give it another go.

We're trying a larger scenario next time, and we'll only plan on doing one turn a night. Two if we're lucky. It's nine turns, and we meet every other week, so we should be done in, oh, late September or so.


For the other half of my "big game" fix, 18FL arrived today. Can't wait to get this on the table. John Tamplin (Deep Thought Games) does a fantastic job on his kits. His work is highly recommended.


  • At 8:56 AM, Blogger Tim said…

    Don't know much about OCS . . .

    But I just wanted to concur with your comments about John Tamplin / Deep Thought Games production values for the 18xx "kits", they are spectacular (and far better than the "kit" moniker might make you think).

    These are pricy, but well worth it, I think, as the components are excellent (and he's been getting some interesting, smaller 18xx's published that might not otherwise have seen the light of day - I'm hoping he get's the rights to 1851 one of these days)!

  • At 8:00 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    Eric said: "I do feel I prepared as well as I could have, however. There's just too much in the rulebooks to remember it all your first time out."

    No matter how well you read and retain information, it is nearly impossible to get all of the nuances down the first time. Even Euros, especially the recent crop that seems to be translated by autistic monkeys, are tricky to understand with a single reading. As such, it's almost better to simply use the time you'd spend running a solo game to actually play with an opponent instead. With two people, you are much less likely to "lose" rules in the mix.

    What also helps with learning a game are well-crafted and comprehensive player aids. Silent War is an excellent example: On the one hand, you have the search/contact process, which is reproduced on both the map and a reference sheet (which is actually a bad idea if you ignore other info that could be used in that space). Were there mention of the effect that an Ultra area has, it would be perfect.

    What Compass screwed up was reference material for transit events (better to put the modifiers on the map/reference card, another duplication, than the entire freakin' rule) as well as the full combat process, of which the half is on a reference card only.

    A much better organization would have been to leave the transit events (with mods) and search/contact processes on the map, and then put the entire combat system on one side of the reference card. There should also be a sequence of play on the map, there is definitely room along the bottom edge where there is yet another drawing of a submarine.

    As it was, it took halfway into my third playing (of mini-campaigns that only use part of the map) before I got all of the combat system down, and I still need to look up modifiers. Of course, I could have come up with my own reference sheet, but that should be done by people familiar with the game.


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