Friday, August 10, 2012

AAR: Weeknight Game Session with Hearts and Minds and Summoner Wars

Last night, Tom Grant of the excellent I've Been Diced podcast came over and we played a couple of games.

The first game we played was Worthington Games's Hearts and Minds. What happened to the components here?  I look at Worthington as the "little company that could," and back when Cowboys came out, they had really upgraded their components. Linen finish on the board and counters and thicker counters were the component highlights of the -- in the end -- underwhelming cowboys. Similarly, Prussia's Defiant Stand, a worthy addition to the block game lineup had very nice components, and the minis in Napoleon's War were a nice addition. But Hearts and Minds' components are a real shame. The map is too small and the control counters are too big. The cards are of the quality of the Jim Palmer baseball card that I tore off my Hostess Cupcakes box back in 1973 (or the quality of the first edition of Talisman, whichever you prefer). Too bad. It is a high profile blemish on what I actually think is a very good game.

There are a number of things going on in Hearts and Minds that I like, but I'd like to focus on the card play specifically. There are two innovations here. A number of games have the "event or ops" choice, with some notable cards allowing both. ALL of Hearts and Minds's cards offer both options. In H&M, you pay some or all of a card's ops (or even, in some rare cases, more than a card's ops, more on how to do this later) in order to activate the event. This in a lot of ways makes the choice a bit harder because now you know you're going to do something with the ops and the question becomes how many do I really need and is this event worth the price paid?

In addition to this is the idea of stockpile ops (in game parlance RPs). You can squirrel away the unused ops of a card in order to use them later. Most of the time you can add only 2 of these ops to enhance the ops of your card. Sometimes, the event of a card (usually in campaign cards) will allow you to spend more of these stockpiled ops. And sometimes, like in the case of the Tet offensive, you need to cash in a number of these stockpiled ops in order to activate the event on the card.

The game also comes with a red deck and a blue deck, with events uniquely advantageous to each side. But, interestingly, H&M also adds a third deck of black cards which are divided equally and shuffled into each deck, making these decks consistently unique.

I also love the "spend ops for combat" rule, which means that you can keep a battle going in the same turn, the ability of enemy units to occupy the same area on the board, and the ability to move through enemy units, paying an extra movement point to do so if the units qualify as hindrances (if they are veteran units).

The game was Tom's first, and my first in a long time (I think over a year). Tom was a novice and asked me about which side to play and, for some reason, I thought the Blue (US and allies) side was the easier to play. Ummm...I was wrong. The Red player just has so many opportunities to cause havoc and responding as the blue player is a daunting task. Needless to say, the Tet Offensive was overwhelming and in our 1967-1969 playtest, I was able to AV in 1968. (Note: another interesting thing about this game is its ability to be adapted. You choose the start year and the finish year and setup and victory conditions scale accordingly. What a clever idea!).

Even with the lopsided results, our play of the game only reinforced my belief that this is one of the best games published recently. I love new ideas and mechanics (or at least new combinations or approaches to these) and I think Hearts and Minds fits the bill nicely. It is definitely in my Hot Ten again and may be moving into my Top Ten in the near future.

Then we played another one of my recent favorites, Summoner Wars. Summoner Wars is another fascinating game. It has the limited units and board spaces of Manoeuver, along with the cards-as-units aspect of Battleground: Fantasy Warfare. I love the unique aspects of each army. My army last night, the Sand Goblins, were able to get to the board fairly quickly and while they were not very powerful offensively, they had very nice hit point values, making it more difficult to kill the little bugbears. Tom's army was the darkness-themed Shadow Elves, which played entirely differently. I would also like to note my personal favorites, the armies of Ret-Talus, the undead army, which plays so differently due to its units consistently rising from the dead. Tom and I split, with me winning the first game in a war of attrition and him completely outmaneuvering then assassinating my summoner in the second game.

Future topic: War of the Ring with my son (being played tonight)

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