The Pandemic of 1812


So, I’m way behind, like that’s unusual or something.  But last week was real wonky with missing game night and then heading to Denver for some work-related training.  I didn’t have a lot of time to write, but I did actually get in some gaming with a local group there, which I’ll get to a little later.  For now, though, let’s focus on my regularly-scheduled game night from 2 weeks ago and try to catch up starting there…  

Pandemic [BGG]

It’s been way too long since I last pulled out Pandemic, so I not only toted it along, but also recommended and played it as well!  Chris J had never played before, so we went over the rules pretty quickly, and then got down to bid’ness.  

The main thing I got out of our first play was that we were (okay… I was) really rusty at the game.  Really, though, I don’t think there was much at all we could have done the first time around to stay alive, but when we reset and tried it again, we came really close to winning the second game.  We had already cured the four “regular” diseases (or had the cures in hand, anyway), but needed to eliminate/cure the mutation disease as well.  Theoretically, we had a little chance, but the thing we really hadn’t accounted for was the Mutation player card that spawned 3 new locations, and when none of them matched up with cards in anyone’s hand, we were pretty screwed.


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Time:
 41 and 60 minutes
Game 1: Pandemic (5 Epidemics and Mutation) – Win; Humanity (Chip, Chris J*, Norton, Josh, & Kenny) – Lose
Game 2: Pandemic (5 Epidemics and Mutation) – Win; Humanity (Chip, Chris J, Norton, Josh, & Rory) – Lose
Ratings: Chip 8.5, Chris J 7.5, Norton 10, Josh 8.5, Rory 8, Kenny ?

So, Pandemic returned to its normal state of butt-kickiness and reminded me and everyone else of just how gloriously vicious it is!  It’s so much fun, and if we didn’t need to get into 1812 before the end of the night, I would have loved to play another time or two to get a freaking win!

One thing that I’ll also mention is that it’s been a while since I played Pandemic with a new person.  When I play with others already experienced in the game, I tend to discuss my opinions about strategy pretty openly and aggressively, but others are usually doing the same.  In plays like this, however, where Chris J and Rory are pretty new to it, I try really hard not to be “that guy” who dominates and directs the whole game.  But there’s also a balance there, in that new people tend to naturally look to those with experience to know what to do.  This is actually one of the cool things about coop games, because if you’re all playing together, it’s a lot easier to just jump into the game and explain/direct things for the first few turns while they’re getting up to speed. 


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So anyway, what I try to do in this case (and hopefully succeed) is to explain choices rather than direct actions.  I try to pick 2 or 3 relatively efficient things that they could do on their turn and give a little reasoning of why they might choose to do each, but then let the final decision about what to do be up to them.  If they flat out ask my opinion (of which option I’d choose), I’ll give it to them, but then I also try to explain my reasoning of why I think that’s the most pressing priority.

The only time this really sort of breaks down is near the end of the game when we’re coming up with the “big plan”.  In our second game, for instance, we knew that the player deck was about to run out, so we had a 5 or 10 minute pow-wow to get our stuff straight and see if we could win.  Now, it wasn’t just me, because Chip and Josh were certainly right in there as well, and I’d say that we tried to include Rory and Chris J as much as we could as well.  But my hope, at least, is that while they may not feel quite as involved personally in that sort of planning (since they might lack the experience to contribute), they would still see it as a cooperative action of the whole table rather than any one person being all domineering.

1812: The Invasion of Canada [BGG]

For the rest of the evening, we played our Game of the Month! for the last time during its reign.  We randomly determined sides, with Chip and I getting the American side while Kenny, Rory, and Alton helmed the Canadians.

In looking at the game setup, I tended to think that the Americans had a bit more of an advantage both originally and in resupplying the western part of the map, so my first action was to launch an attack at Amherstburg.  It was successful, but I drastically underestimated the Canadian ability to resupply the area, so it was in flux all game long.  We did end up holding it at the end, but it was more because the Canadians decided to focus their energy elsewhere rather than any particular success on our parts.


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The middle of the board had an almost surprising lack of activity for a while, but then we made a big push that drove us into it and even held the Canadian Militia’s resupply area for a short period.  But again, the Canadians side of the map is so much smaller that it was never a problem for them to move troops around and push us out whenever needed.  

PhotobucketSo then on the eastern area of the board, it’s like this inevitable slide towards total Canadian dominance as more and more British Regulars keep pouring into Montreal.  There may have been a point somewhere in the middle when Chip and I could have finagled a win during our big central push, but that wasn’t ever even an option because my Truce card was at the very bottom of my deck.  In fact, someone on the Canadian side also drew their Truce card as their last draw, so the game was destined to go on until at least the 7th or 8th turn.

While Chip and I kept it close, there was no real question about who would win pretty much all game long.  So when the merciful end finally came, the Canadians managed to get the solid 4-2 win.     

Time: 135 minutes
Score: Canada (Kenny – British Regulars, Rory – Canadian Militia, & Alton – Native Americans) – 4; Americans (Chip – US Regulars & Norton – US Militia) – 2
Ratings: Kenny 9, Alton 9, Chip 9, Norton 6.5, Rory ?


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Okay, so I like 1812 just fine.  My first game was very enjoyable, and some of the other plays throughout the month were packed full of stand-up moments and loud shouts of excitement.  But in the end, it leaves me a little empty.  Oh, what the heck, let me just break into a little mini-review then…

Stuff I like about the game:
• historicity – while the game is pretty light and abstract in a lot of ways, it also does a good job of being based in history and conveying at least a basic feel of the conflict at hand
multiplayer – 2-player games are so hard for me to get to the table at game night, and a warish-game like this with 5 intentional factions to play is really cool to involve more of us
asymmetrical sides – in some really elegant ways (composition and number of each faction’s dice, card mix), all 5 factions feel quite different.  And in the big picture, the American vs. Canadian sides also feel very different and require different tactics.
• elegance and simplicity – as I said above, the use of custom dice and unique faction decks make the actual rules of the game very simple.  I like how quickly it plays overall, and how approachable it is for pretty much anyone except the most casual gamers/nongamers.


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What’s not so hot:
• lack of choices – it’s a very tactical game; more about playing the hand you’re dealt than having some grand strategy, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with.  But the issue is more that I felt a number of times that I really didn’t have any choice worth making.  If you only have 1 movement card in your hand (of 3 cards), for instance, then you have to play it.  Of course, you still have the choice of which troops to move with it, but the nature or amount or distance of the movement may not be beneficial for you at all at that time in the game.  And while I really like the idea of a variable game end based on players playing out their Treaty cards, it’s not really a choice is you don’t have the card in your hand at a moment that would be beneficial for you to play it.
• Native Americans are too cool – The Native Americans are really fun to play.  They have some options that are really cool (like the ability to retreat into non-friendly areas), but the problem is that they almost make the other factions boring in comparison.  And in addition, they completely change the way that the Americans have to play in order to cover their backfield a lot more, while the Canadians have a lot more freedom to pull up completely from an area.  Plus, there are some shenanigans (the “Indian Trick” that our group discovered) you can set up with them which seem a little imbalanced to me.
asymmetry becomes imbalance? – As with the Native Americans specifically, the Canadian side seems to have a few too many advantages to really have a balanced game.  Maybe it’s just my (admittedly limited) experience with the game, but it just seems like the Canadians have a distinct advantage in a number of ways.  It definitely seems like the shorter distance they have to travel makes it easier for them to reinforce areas, which also makes fleeing from battle less painful than it is for the Americans.  Having 3 factions on their side is also an advantage, of course, especially if the Canadian players make sure to keep a mixed army in most important areas (letting each player activate them).  The Americans certainly have the ability to make nice inroads throughout the game, but as I said in the report section, it seems like there is a sense of inevitability for a Canadian win as the game gets into the later rounds.  It might be a little more interesting if the Americans were guaranteed to have their Treaty cards whenever they wanted them, so they could maybe better dictate the terms on which the game would end.
length – it’s a pretty light game, but with 5 players and combat and all that stuff, it can also drag on a little too long when neither side draws their treaty cards.  At 4 or 5 rounds, it seems really nice, but 7 or 8 is a good 45+ minutes too long.  

Overall, I still like the game and would gladly play it again sometime if my group wanted to pull it back out, but I’m not going to run out and buy it myself.   

Other Games Played

Alien Frontiers
Time:
 65 minutes
Score: Chris 11, Matt T* 8, Alton 7
Ratings: Chris 8

Army of Frogs
Time:
 13 minutes
Score: Alton – Win; Chris and Chris J* – Lose
Ratings: Chris 7, Chris J 6

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Battlefleet Gothic
Time:
 120 minutes
Score: Kenny (Chaos) – Win, Rory (Imperial Navy) – Lose
Ratings: Kenny 10, Rory 10

FITS
Time:
 22 minutes
Score: Chris 22, Chris J* 19, Matt T* 17, Alton 14
Ratings: Chris 8

Race for the Galaxy
Time:
 30, 30, 74, 45, 30, & 30 minutes
Game 1: Kenny 40, Keith 34
Game 2: Kenny 24, Keith 16
Game 3: Kenny 51, Keith 43
Game 4: Kenny 53, Keith 38 (Draft Variant)
Game 5: Keith 46, Kenny 38 (Draft Variant)
Game 6: Kenny 33, Keith 31 (Draft Variant)
Ratings: Kenny 9.5, Keith 9

Roll Through the Ages
Time:
 26 minutes
Score: Chris 13, Alton 9, Matt 8, Chris J 6
Ratings: Chris 8, Chris J 7

Sentinels of the Multiverse
Time:
 39 minutes
Score: Heroes (Chris – Visionary & Fanatic, Matt – Absolute Zero & Tempest) – Win; Grand Warlord Voss on Wagner Mars Base – Lose
Ratings: Chris 9

To Court the King
Time:
 30 minutes
Score: Chris – Win; Chris J*, Alton, & Matt T* – Lose
Ratings: Chris 8, Chris J 8

* First play for that Person