Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Kidnapping Pt 2 - A Ransom Note

This is the second part of our Trail of Cthulhu adventure 'The Kidnapping'. <Part 1>

It's easy to be misled by a grieving parent. In kidnapping cases though, the trail often leads you right back to where you started.

Careful First Steps

Jacob Cornelisz met them at the door, inviting them to join Col. Ellis and himself in the drawing room for coffee. He was a cool enough character, but a missing toddler is enough to shake any man and Dr. Mallister noted that he was showing signs of significant stress under that cold exterior. His wife though, a Harriet Cornelisz, stayed offside. Probably for the best, this could get messy.

The Corneliszes
Early details suggested that person or persons unknown had snatched the Cornelisz boy (Adam) sometime in the night. The housemaid, a Polish woman called Olga Lesek, had gone to check on him in the early hours, only to find his bed empty and the window to his ground-floor nursery open. A short-time later the family alerted Col. Ellis who contacted the bureau, counter to Jacob's wish to keep the authorities away. It was vital to keep this one under wraps and out of the papers.

The physical evidence was sparse. A few foot prints outside and no clear signs of a break-in. So as McPhearson checked the gardens, Dr. Mallister and Agent Gibbs questioned the maid to try and understand why the window apparently hadn't been locked.

Olga (left) with her sister
Olga's English was poor, but it was clear from her inconsistent responses that she was hiding something. Finally she broke down admitting that she had helped 'Thomas' and another red-headed man to take the child. The Corneliszes were 'devil-worshippers'. The child was in great danger. She had to do it.'

What she had done was beginning to dawn on her, so she handed over a diary 'from the last housemaid, Maria'. The diary was mostly in Polish and would need to be translated, so the doctor gave Olga a sedative in the hope that some sleep would help.

Agent Gibbs decided not to arrest Olga, at least not for now. There was more to find here and they didn't want to tip his hand too early in the investigation.

Strange spiralled carvings
Meanwhile in the gardens, McPhearson had uncovered some strangely carved flat stones. These stones were dotted around the house and seemed to bare a passing relation to the carvings described in a book found in the infant's room. It's folklore referred to stones marked with spirals being placed at the borderland between the mortal world and the underworld.

McPhearson collected some physical evidence for Agent Gibbs to have tested.

The Ransom Note
The Ransom Note

A short time later a note was delivered to Jacob demanding $50,000 for the safe return of his boy. The money was to be dropped off at the 45th St. train station under the Lucky Strike poster at 5pm that afternoon. McPhearson followed the man who delivered the note, but found him to be a farmer heading into town to sell his produce. He described the two men who had given him the note to deliver...


“I…I.. just delivered a note mister.” “Nothing more ain’t that right Will?” The other man nods. “Yeah, just like he says.”

He goes on to describe a young, stocky gentleman with slicked back black hair and a flat nose. Probably Italian. “He paid me a quarter to deliver it to the big house.” "The other fella had red hair but we didn't speak with him."

Jerry Grant
McPhearson left the two farmers and headed back to the house. He now had a description of the men they were looking for and knew that it was just a matter of time before he tracked them down.

Mr Jerry Grant

Later that morning, having concluded their search of the house and gardens, the investigators were introduced to Jerry Grant, a contact called in by Jacob Cornelisz to handle the money drop. Grant came across as an unpleasant, oily sycophant and they noted that Olga was especially nervous around him.

McPhearson was certain that Grant would have some sort of criminal background and intended to follow-up his hunch by running his name by Sgt Fairfax, a friend of his from the NYPD. For now though, Grant was running the show and would deliver the ransom as requested in the note. The investigators would just be there to observe and provide back-up if needed.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

War In The East - A Paths Of Glory VASSAL Game Pt2

Our ongoing Paths Of Glory game on VASSAL. <Pt1>

Turn #2
Fighting along the A/H-Russia border
Turn two began with both sides reinforcing in the east around Austria/Hungary's (A/H) border with Russia and the two VP locations of Lemberg and Czernowitz. I was trying to put a lot of pressure on the Central Power's A/H forces by moping-up as many of their corp. units as I could. By the end of turn two they had re-grouped back into the mountains at Uzghorod, but still held the strong fortifications at Przemysl. Przemysl would prove to be a thorn in my side for quite a few turns to come...

Russian breakthrough!
Turn #3
The Central Powers pushed their war status to three, just one short of entering Limited War, which would give them access to some new cards. The Allies responded (trying to keep pace) by playing 'Blockade' which game them a war status of two and a -1VP during each subsequent War Status Phase during winter. Our fighting continued in the east and I continued to push the A/H forces back and out of the mountains ultimately taking VPs at Drebrecen and Cluj. VP track is at 7.

Even with the Russian land-grab on the eastern front, I still felt uneasy about my lines of supply. One wrong move could prove disastrous, but both sides kept pushing and jostling for position.
Pig-dog attack into Belfort
Turn #4
All had been quiet on the western front until the Central Powers initiated a sneak attack against the French fort at Belfort. The corp. unit there put up little resistance and in moved the Hun.

No respite either in the east as A/H forces moved to cut Russian supply lines. Was the earlier French feint a distraction tactic?

In response, I moved Russian and Serbian forces to cut A/H supplies around Debrecen only to see the German 9th army heading down the road from Breslau into Martin. Fight!

A/H (circled) have their supply lines cut
I'd been surprised (and happy) to have seen little German intervention on the eastern front up to this point. Dealing with loss factor 3 Germans instead of the weaker A/H (loss factor 2) forces would change my tactics in the east. Although at this point in turn four, I didn't quite realise this yet... 

The fighting at Martin left the German 9th and the Russia 3rd armies reduced. It was the Allied Serbian forces that took a pasting though. First from the German 9th and later from the re-supplied A/H 6th Army.

By the end of turn four my Russians had pushed as far as Budapest and Vienna. The German 9th army had moved into the fort at Cracow and left the recovering A/H 6th Army to take Belgrade in the south. As the Allies I had over-stretched with Vienna in my sights. My supply would be difficult, if not impossible to hold and now I'd also need to take Belgrade back. VP track is at 6.

Eastern front at the end of turn #4
As we move into spring 1915 I'm really enjoying this PoG game. Stay tuned for Pt3. The Germans are coming to save the east!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Archduke Ferdinand to the Starvation of Germany - A Paths of Glory VASSAL Game

Paths of Glory is epic. Our three-turn taster from TableTop day would never be enough, so we've jumped feet first into a full campaign over VASSAL. Stupid? Yes more than a little, but at this stage we can't get enough of a good thing.

The Campaign Scenario - 20 turns!!

The Campaign Scenario ends with any of the following:
  • if a player achieves an Automatic Victory,
  • at the end of the Winter 1919 turn (turn 20),
  • as a result of an Armistice (16.2.1), or
  • in a draw by a player accepting Peace Terms.
There are two Victory Levels for the Campaign scenario depending on whether or not the Central Powers player played the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk event. The space which the VP marker is in at the conclusion of this scenario is compared to the appropriate levels below to determine the winner.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Event Played Central Powers Victory: 11 or more Draw: 10 Allied Victory: 9 or fewer (the historical result).

Germans march into Sedan
No Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Event Central Powers Victory: 13 or more Draw: 10-12 Allied Victory: 9 or fewer.

In our first three-turn game I played the Germans, so this time we've switched it around with GaryB taking the (German led) Central Powers, leaving me with the Allied Powers. 

Turn #1 
The Germans select the Guns of August and power comfortably into Liege using it to brush aside the French 5th army at Sedan. The Allies respond by re-enforcing Brussels with the 1st Belgian army out of Antwerp and by assaulting with the Russian 3rd & 8th armies into Tarnopol on the Eastern Front.

Moving the Austria-Hungary (AH) 2nd army the Central Powers look to protect Czernowitz from the Russian advances. Instead the Russian 8th continues NW to take Lemberg. For a second action running (their 3rd of the turn) the Central Powers manoeuvre their forces, this time into Liege. Trying to tempt an Allied attack at Liege and open the opportunity of a flanking attack into Brussels?

Allies Stretching Their Lines Too Far Too Soon?
Resisting the Allies only move to back-up (Brussels) and maintain their momentum in the East by clearing an AH corp out of Stanislaw and putting pressure on the VP space at Czernowitz.

This was risky. The 3rd, 5th and 8th Russian armies now had very stretched supply lines.

Moving into the final few actions of Turn #1, a few corps are exchanged in Cambai, before a combined German and AH pincer movement besieges the forts at Lutsk and Dubno with some very light corp units.

I knew that I could prevent one of the forts from falling, but the other would be very likely to fall. This sat comfortably with me as I'd already made good aggressive progress in the East and would likely maintain my supply lines by re-securing Dubno.

End of Turn #1

By the end of Turn #1 the Central Powers had broken through at Liege-Sedan, but suffered significant losses to AH armies in the East.

The Kidnapping Pt1 - A Trail Of Cthulhu Scenario

Hot on the heels of the fine Hillfolk RPG we have started a relatively short Trail Of Cthulhu scenario, "The Kidnapping" - from the Arkham Detective Tales.

A young child has been kidnapped from the Corneliszes, a wealthy New York family, and the investigators have been called in to help track down the child.

Our Cast

Rex McPhearson - Rex is a rough, what you see is what you get, private investigator from the heart of Brooklyn (N.Y.) He lives and breathes the place.

Driven by an innate curiosity, Rex has no qualms with taking the odd short cut to get the job done. For him the ends almost always justify the means.       

Dr. Mallister
Dr.Oliver Mallister - A Park Avenue psychiatrist and somewhat of an idealist, Dr Mallister believes that ultimately intellect will triumph and that the innate goodness of man will shine through. He wants to better understand the world around him and to delve deeper into the events surrounding the raid at the Red Hook.

His dabblings into the occult have widened his perspective and brought him into contact with Agent Gibbs through a long-standing P.I. acquaintance Rex McPhearson. Gibbs is a charmless man, but he has excellent access to official files from the Red Hook case. 

Agent Gibbs
Agent Gibbs - Excelling at just about everything he puts his hand to, Gibbs was head-hunted by the F.B.I. who were targeting talented young men to lead their growing fight against organised crime. 

Unfortunately Gibbs' by-the-book arrogance won him few friends in the bureau and he soon found himself working out of a field office in New York City neck deep in files that few others would touch.

Maybe by scooping this high-profile kidnapping case he can kick-start his career.  
A Missing Child

Having pulled an all-nighter, Agent Gibbs was running on a heavy mix of caffeine and nicotine just to keep pace with his backlog of paperwork. Something had to give. As his mind drifted the central phone rang and he leaned over to pick up the call. 

A first he thought it a hoax. A Col. Ellis calling in to report a missing child. Gibbs took down some notes and flicked through his roll-a-dex for a number he could re-direct the man to. Then Ellis mentioned the name Cornelisze... ...and that brought Gibbs back "THE Cornelisze, of Westchester?" Gibbs asked. Col. Ellis confirmed and Gibbs said that he'd be there within the hour. Checking his watch he made it a little after 6 a.m.

The Cornelisze Mansion, Westchester
Agent Gibbs needed to keep the story away from the press and turned to someone he could trust to help with the early parts of the investigation. Rex McPhearson was unorthodox, but usually very effective. "Bring along that doctor friend of yours too, we may need some of his advice in dealing with the parents."

A short time later they met at the Cornelisze's home in Westchester. Approaching the house Rex pointed towards a strange shape burned into the front wall of the building. Gibbs was already beginning to feel a little uneasy about this one...

<part 2>

Monday, 1 April 2013

A bayonet or a machine gun? Paths of Glory.

Headlining our tabletop day at The Black Knight was Paths Of Glory (POG), again by GMT games. We do love you so GMT!

POG is a  is a card-driven strategic wargame which manages to cover the First World War in a surprisingly manageable way. Indeed following a relatively brief learning session last Wednesday evening we kicked off the introductory scenario on Saturday morning with very few hitches. 

The POG map covers Europe, parts of Asia and the Near East with armies and corp set-up along two primary fronts (pictured below). We elected to play the introductory Scenario which lasts just three full turns with the Central Powers trying to achieve 14 or more victory points and the Allied Powers looking to keep it at 10 or less for victory. Anything in-between would result in a draw.

Card play is at the heart of POG and drives everything in the the game. Each player has their own deck which is split into three parts, Mobilization, Limited War and Total War. Each of these cards can be played in a number of ways:
  • For OPERATIONS - To activate spaces on the map for movement or attacks.
  • For the EVENT - To trigger the event specified on the card.
  • For STRATEGIC REDEPLOYMENT - To move units longer distances through friendly controlled territory.
  • For REPLACEMENT POINTS - To provide you with replacements for your depleted armies and corps.
POG Cards

 The short scenario that we were playing would only use the Mobilization cards. I took on the role of the Central Powers and MrB played the Allied Powers. I elected to start with the Guns Of August card (optional at the start of the game) in my hand and lead with it to put immediate pressure on the Allies by destroying the forts at Liege to open up the Western front.

German advances in Belgium
 Play was cagey through the first few turns and focused mostly in Belgium around the gap that had been opened up at Liege. I took Brussels, Antwerp and Ostend along the coast and repelled Allied attempts at Metz. By turn three I had victory in my sights and pushed to get over the 14VP target despite being severely limited by some clever Allied card play through the MOLTKE* event (see below).

 It was not to be though as my hard earned VPs were cruelly taken in the last Allied action of the game where Liege fell and cut-off supply to my troops in Cambrai, Brussels and Antwerp. MrB won with the score at 10VPs. Devastating!

Allies cut German supply at Liege
 A great first game of POG, with many lessons learned. Maybe a longer scenario on VASSAL next time MrB?

3/4 MOLTKE * (BR:1 FR:1 IT:1 RU:2)
May only be played in August or September 1914.
CP Activation in Belgium or France costs 1 OPS per unit (not space) until the "Falkenhayn" card is played.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

KoffeeKlub Evening 17th of March

We didn't quite get the Game Of Thrones expansion A Dance With Dragons played back in January, so giving it another go this weekend. Come on Trevor! ;) #WeNeedSix

KoffeeKlub meet at The Black Knight Gaming Centre every Sunday between 7pm and 11pm.

"Some allies are more dangerous than enemies."
- Tyrion Lannister

Twilight Victory - Born In The USA

It's not often that we get an opportunity to play Twilight Struggle face-to-face, our games are normally VASSAL / Skype affairs that often run into the wee small hours. 

Manual Labour
In all honesty, that's made us a little lazy. Setting up, moving the influence counters and even dealing cards seems like a waste of valuable energy. Energy better spent in contemplating your opponent's downfall or even complaining about the shitty hand you've been dealt. :)

The VASSAL module for Twilight Struggle is excellent, but it's good to play in real life every now and then. 

The Game
It was Bingers' turn to play as the Soviets for last night's game at The Black Knight. a chance for him to avenge his recent online defeat? That seemed likely as the USSR player has won the lion's share of recent games, especially since our attention shifted to the hidden power of the realignment roll as an valuable option when using ops points.

NATO - US Relief
Indeed in the early game the Russians made good progress in Europe by effectively surrounding West Germany and putting France, Britain and Italy in danger. I was forced to play my Europe scoring card early to avoid potentially heavy VP losses in the first turn of the game.

Salvation came shortly afterwards through the NATO card, which effectively protected US influence in Europe from Soviet coup and realignment checks. Phew!

From turn three onwards the global balance of power shifted gradually towards the US as two key scoring cards (Asia and the Middle East) both landed in the Soviet hand at a critical time. We both knew who had them and I, as the US player, took good advantage from this swing in fate.

De Gaulle Leads France and later Willy Brandt gave the Russians hope in Europe as both France and West Germany were now no long protected by NATO.

De Gaulle / Brandt - Saving Russia?
An epic struggle for control of West Germany ensued, the Russians coming out of top. It all came too late for Bingers though as he had lost ground elsewhere in the world and was left to bemoan a late poor hand. :) In the end a full VP score in South-east Asia took me to 17VPs and shortly after a US victory.

White Stars Rising? Not great in a Soviet hand...
Final Thoughts
Twilight Struggle is an amazing game, made even better by having an excellent opponent. The gauntlet has been thrown down MrB!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

KoffeeKlub Evening 10th March

Rex: Final Days Of An Empire is one that hasn't growled since the last days of Arkham when KoffeeKlub was spelled with Cs and The Black Knight was still just a Python sketch. 

Well it's back this weekend at KoffeeKlub, who meet at The Black Knight Gaming Centre every Sunday between 7pm and 11pm.

"We love to boogie." - T-Rex

Lancaster vs. York, another game of thrones of sorts...

I was first introduced to Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York a few years ago during Baycon, a board gaming convention near Exeter, England. 

Baycon was four days of solid gaming. It was difficult not to feel a little overwhelmed by the experience and although I haven't yet returned, I do consider it every year.

Green, but not so pleasant lands
Wars impressed me at the con, it was nice to look at, it had nice components and we had a pretty cool room to ourselves in the hotel to set it up away from the busy main hall. A good gaming experience all-round. Roll on a few years and I finally got my hands on a copy courtesy of NikTheRake, a friend from my time at BGA.

Wars is a 4-player game and that posed an early barrier for us as on KoffeeKlub evenings we typically have 5-players. I wanted to get this one played again and agreed to host/cover rules for a match-up between GaryB/ChrisG (House Lancaster) and AndyA/DavidB (House York).

There Can Be Only One
Although this is a semi-cooperative game, I reminded them that there could be only one winner. At some point they would need to turn their attentions towards their kin.

Could they revive the bitter English civil war rivalries between the Royal Houses of Lancaster and York?

The first turn saw House Lancaster's GaryB pull well ahead on the victory point track, but money was going to soon be in short supply for them as House York plotted to use French support and equip their armies.

Final Planning For Dave
Scoring in the second turn saw a big shift towards House York (AndyA & DavidB) as they took control of a number of Lancaster assets by force. Wales and the south-west being particularly fruitful.

A brief respite in turn three clawed back some of the lost ground for House Lancaster (GaryB & ChrisG), but by the end of the fourth turn House York had once again established control of the throne with DavidB holding a slight victory point lead heading into the final round.

Last ditch plans failed to swing power back to the Lancasters and the lack of a killer instinct meant that Richard III (AndyA) couldn't catch-up with his son Edward IV (DavidB) ...a horse, a horse...
117 DavidB (York)
110 AndyA (York)
92 ChrisG (Lancaster)
80 GaryB (Lancaster)

Well played DavidB!

Final Thoughts

Wars is a light Euro-style strategy game with nice components and good level of player interaction. Each turn breaks down into a few key phases; select new cards, collect money, secret planning, resolve plans and scoring. player co-operations is limited to making sure that their particular house has more votes when influence in each of the regions is tallied up during scoring. (coming out on top rewards players of that house an extra 5VPs for that turn).

The options to swing influence in each region through card selection, movement, bribery or combat are the real meat of the game. So as long as there isn't too much downtime during the planning phase each game turn should run quite quickly.

I enjoyed the game, but would probably classify it at around the Arkham Horror level. It's a game that I'm glad that I know own, but that will probably only see a few plays per year.

AndyA of York gave battle in vain - "We had a run of War of the Roses tonight at tonight at #KoffeeKlub  and I have to say its really good fun. I came to a close second with 110 points to DavidB and his 117. Although its a nice game, I would not rush to play it again in any time soon, there are others I would like to play before this again."  

Thursday, 28 February 2013

KoffeeKlub Evening 3rd March

Freshly plucked, The Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York is on show this week at KoffeeKlub. Wars is a 4-player game covering the bitter English civil war between the Royal Houses of Lancaster and York.

The KoffeeKlub meet at The Black Knight Gaming Centre every Sunday between 7pm and 11pm.

"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." 
- Richard III (Shakespeare)

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

1989: Dawn Of Freedom, the wall between us...

On another 2-player Sunday I got to try out 1989: Dawn Of Freedom vs. MrBingers. 1989 is a follow-up of sorts to Twilight Struggle and uses a very similar system, this time focusing on Eastern Europe and the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin wall.

After a roll of the dice I got to pick sides and chose the Communists. They were the way to go for early Twilight Struggle games, so I figured it couldn't hurt much to start again with them. My brief was simply to try and maintain the status-quo across the eastern block countries and prevent the gradual power shift towards democracy.

We have both played a fair bit of Twilight Struggle, so the rules were straight-forward enough, with only a few queries around the new power struggle mini-game, which is an excellent addition in my opinion. The biggest barrier here would be experience. We needed time to get a feel for the new event cards and the new map. Who would crack first...?

Apparently I would, as an early democracy card bogged me down for three turns and before I knew it Poland was scored and power had swung over to the democrats. GAME ON! 

This was my first surprise about game-play, not just the points loss, but the removal of the Poland scoring card from the game. That took us back a little and MrBingers especially was left with a lot of seemingly useless influence in Poland as our focus shifted to the next scoring countries likely to feature.

Berlin under Communist control
Early year cards are predominantly red and I took full advantage to shore up Hungary and Czechoslovakia racking up A healthy VP lead. A mistake in the south lost me Bulgaria, but a second scoring in Hungary was enough to push me over the finishing line in turn 6.

I felt comfortable with 1989, it's like Twilight Struggle in many ways and consequentially very accessible. The cards are tough though. I don't know the history well enough and many of the cards cover obscure events which seem to fade into the background when compared to a Cuban missile / Iranian hostage crisis.

So, first play down and I'm not feeling it. Yet there's enough in there to have another go or two. I wanna love you 1989, but your older sister is so pretty.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

New Games For KoffeeKlub - Andean Abyss & Wars Of The Roses

I've added two new games to the KoffeeKlub to-play pile courtesy of a friend selling on some of his collection. The first is Andean Abyss, by GMT Games.

Andean Abyss
Andean Abyss is a card-driven board game depicting insurgent and counter-insurgent conflicts in Columbia during the 1990s and 2000s. It is played out through four factions, the Government, the Cartels, the Marxists (FARC) and the paramilitary forces (AUC). Reviews online are mixed, but I'm eager to give this one a try soon.

The other game is from Z-Man Games, Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York. Wars of the Roses tries to incorporate the military, political, economical and religious conflicts that exists in this period of English history. I played it once back at Baycon in 2010 and enjoyed the intrigue the game managed to create. 

Both games can host up to four-players and are not an immediately obvious fit to our KoffeeKlub sessions since we normally have five-players. Still, I'm sure we can work something out and get them both to that table.

Wars of the Roses

KoffeeKlub Evening 24th February

Featuring this week at KoffeeKlub will be 1989: Dawn Of Freedom and Twilight Struggle, both strong two player games as we breakaway from the lighter games played over the past few weeks.  

KoffeeKlub meet at The Black Knight Gaming Centre every Sunday between 7pm and 11pm.

"Tear down this wall!" - Ronald Reagan (1987)