Monday, May 16, 2011

My weekend at the Stack Académie Con

It has been over a month and I have not had the chance to write up about my experience at the Stack Académie Con, held April 15-17th at the Comfort Hotel and Suites Downtown. The location was very central, located just minutes away by foot from one of the hubs of Montreal's busy metro system (Berri-UQAM) , as well as the main intercity bus terminal (Gare d'autocars de Montréal).

The convention was devoted to old style paper and hex wargames. Some other games were in evidence along with what appeared to be Magic: The Gathering CCG. There were no miniatures or RPGs at this event. The con opened Friday April 17th at 9:00 AM. For people staying at the Comfort Inn, breakfast was available in the dining room located in the bottom floor of the facility. Otherwise the kitchen was closed and participants had to seek meals offsite 

The con was held in two meeting rooms located near the dining room. The dining room was undergoing renovations and it was clear that the washrooms near our meeting site had been newly renovated. I took some pictures of the sink that I sent to my roommate who writes a blog about public washrooms.  They may yet appear on her blog.

I would describe the site as very intimate. When filled to capacity (60 participants) the rooms were loud and it was difficult to freely move. Refreshments (juice, water, soda) were available and the price had been included in the registration fee. The concept behind the con was open gaming. Bring a game you want to play and find a partner.

The Montreal Boardgame Meetup Group was holding a 16 player Twilight Struggle Tournament which started in February. Once Jason Matthews, one of the designers of Twilight Struggle was confirmed as Guest of Honour, it was decided to hold the semi finals (if possible) and the finals at the con. Marc Guenette who beat me in our quarter final match (see April 13th posting) , won his semi final match but lost the tournament's final game to Edson Tirelli. I think this was the only semi-organized event at the tournament.

I'd also like to congratulate Marc Guenette on his hard work and success in organizing this con. He was able to convince the many sponsors to donate products so everyone in attendance won a door prize. I won a copy of Battles Magazine No 5 with its White October Game. Some items that were available included some of the very latest games from GMT Games such as Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Infantry Division and Dominant Species to older issues of Vae Victis Magazine, a French language gaming magazine.

Friday I arrived about noon and I was able to get three full games in. Stan Myszk and I started with Combat Commander: Battle Pack 2 Stalingrad. I did not record which scenario so I cannot add details. I am pretty sure Stan won. He and I then paired off in a game of Storm Over Stalingrad. This is a 2-player wargame simulating the Battle of Stalingrad from October to November 1942. One player plays the German army, and the other is the Soviet army. Play continues through 6 turns, at which point the winner is determined. It is a area movement game with cards used to influence and control events. Stan won the Storm over Stalingrad tournament at Cangames last year and wanted to get some practice in. It was my introduction to the game and I'd play it again. Comrade Stalin would not be happy with my performance on the Volga.

My third game of the day was against Jack Stalica a gamer from Ottawa. We played Rock of the Marne. This game covers both the final attack of the German army in July 1918, and the Allied counteroffensive that produced the battle known to Americans as the Second Battle of the Marne. The Germans believed they could launch an offensive on both sides of Reims, which would pinch out an Allied salient and draw in Allied reserves, and thus possibly produce a breakout across the Marne leading to the final drive to Paris. We played an introductory scenario with a 6 turn limit. I was the Germans. Being familiar with the Standard Combat Series of games by The Gamers I had no problem picking up the mechanics of this game. As the German player I had to gain territorial objectives, including a number of towns and the French trench line for points. I had no problem achieving my goals.

An interesting feature of the game was the supply rules. A unit has to be within the supply radius of its Corp HQ, or the Army HQ to make an attack. Once used to provide attack supply the Corp HQ has to resupply before it can provide attack supply in another turn. This is done by rolling a 6 on a D6, during the resupply phase. I was very lucky when it came to resupply. It gets harder as the game advances. It is impossible to roll a 7 on a D6. The allies have the same problem. The solution lies in the overrun rule. You make overrun attacks as part of movement. They do not require attack supply, but in order to achieve results you must be willing to be bled white.

I later learnt that Jack runs the Storm Over Stalingrad tournament at Cangames and brought a play test copy of Storm Over Normandy with him to Stack Académie Con. I was content with my Friday results and headed home at about 11:00 PM .

Saturday I knew was going to be a long day. It turned out that I only got two games in. The first was against, Andrew Nick, another visitor from out of town. We played Combat Commander Mediterranean Scenario 24. I was the Indians and he played the Italians in the battle at Tug Argan Pass, Somaliland August 12th, 1940. August 12th is my birthday and it proved to be a good omen for the game. This match took us almost 3 1/2 hours to play and was very intense. It was a good workout of the system and in the end I won a major victory. I am enjoying the exploration of this game system.

My second and final game of the day was an old favorite of mine. I hoped that I'd run into Bill (AKA Chinese Gordon) at the con and we could get a game of Panzergruppe Guderian under our belts. I knew that Bill was an aficionado of the game, having played it many times at the World Boardgames Championships. I met Bill through the Montréal Wargame Meetup Group.

According to Boardgame geek "Panzergruppe Guderian is a simulation of the German campaign to capture Smolensk in July, 1941. The game is played in twelve turns: each one represents 2 days of time on a map scale of 10.5 km/hex. The game is famous for its innovative use of "untried" Soviet units. The Soviet combat counters are face down, their combat strength unknown to either player, until they are involved in a combat. The game also models the effectiveness of German operations by allowing them a full movement phase both before and after a mechanized movement phase after combat, while the Soviets only move prior to combat. If all a German divisions regiments attack or defend in the same hex, their strength is doubled, by a so-called divisional integrity bonus. The German player scores victory points for capture of cities and the Soviet commitment of forces from the Southwestern Front. The Soviet player scores for recaptured cities and destroying entire German divisions (which possess several steps of strength)." PGG is always a surprise. 

German Position at the End of Turn Two

I drew the Germans and at the end of my second turn I had managed to get a Panzer Division into Smolensk. Bill was down cast and only continued to play to be a good sport and let me have some fun. Turn three is when the main onslaught of German forces is unleashed against the untried Soviets holding the front. I had no doubt that I'd have reinforcements up and in Smolensk within two turns. It was not to be. I could not crack Bill's front line. It seemed to me that there were no 0-0-6 Russian Infantry in front of me, nor was any of the Soviet armour, when flipped a 0-10. At the end of my mech movement phase on turn 6 I had failed to break through. The Panzer Division that was holding one hex of Smolensk suffered it's third step loss and was about to be overwhelmed. I knew that I would not win. It was still one of the most amazing games of PGG that I ever played.

Failure to Break the Soviet Line at the end of turn 3

Due to the nature of the con, I didn't take too many pictures.  They would have only offered a view of a cramped meeting room with players hunched over their tables. It would not offer any of the colour and pageantry that miniatures provide.

Bill and I went out to eat. I bring this up as a footnote on the recent Canadian General Election. We walked passed the Headquarters of Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois. I was truly amazed that with just over two weeks to go in the election campaign, that his HQ stood empty and deserted at 7:30 on a Saturday night. That fact alone told me that the Bloc was in trouble. I know from my personal experience working past election campaigns for the NDP downeast that our HQ would be hopping. After eating I decided that I had enough for the day. I had two very intense games against two very able opponents. It was time to head home to catch the final two periods of the hockey game. Montreal won the second game of their series against Boston. Still it was not an excuse for the Bloc HQ to have the lights out. They could have had game playing on a TV in the corner.

Sunday was the final day of the con. Things were winding down. Gamers from NY and Vermont were on their way home. I arrived in time to get a spot in a game of Founding Fathers. The following description of the game is by Dirk Knemyer and is part of a review he posted on Boardgame Geek.

Founding Fathers is the newest game from Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews, the co-designers of 1960: The Making of the President. Matthews was also the co-designer of Twilight Struggle. Again dipping into U.S. history, Leonhard and Matthews have created a game about the authoring of the U.S. Constitution. You play one of five of the Founding Fathers of the United States, attempting to be the primary influencer of the document in order to be recognized as the "father" of the country.

Play centers around three primary mechanics: voting on issues, deciding issues in committee, or having the most influence in debate across the four factions in the game (Federalists, Large States, Small States and Anti-Federalists). Each of these are largely straightforward in their mechanics. Similarly straightforward are the four actions each player can take on their turn: to have a delegate vote "Yea" or "Nay" on the current issue, to commit delegates to the debate tracks for the four factions, to use the Action on the card of a delegate, or to jettison your delegates and redraw. Each player starts with three delegates in their hand: the Founding Father they are playing and two other delegates. These cards have flavour text, action text and clarify which state and faction they are affiliated with.

Players earn victory points based on how successfully they commit delegates to winning issues, how well they do in the debates at the end of the game, and based on special actions on the delegate cards. Thus you are trying to come in on the "right" side of issues - yea or nay - while steering the faction control behind the issues and debates in a way that proves advantageous to your debate equity at the end of the game. Nice, clean, simple

I was the fifth player to arrive and we were walked through the game mechanisms by Jason Matthews, the co-designer of the game. His presence helped keep the game flowing and provided a clear guide to the rules. He talked of his interest in politics and started to explain some of his views on the problems of the American federal state at the time and stopped. "You guys are Canadian I don't have to explain that to you." Unsaid is that we were a collection of Canadians (a mix of French and English) living in the province of Quebec, which has its own unique view of the Canadian federal state. He sort of joked that he might be interested in designing a game about the Canadian political situation.

The game is limited to six turns. each turn an article of the constitution is introduced to the convention.  On the reverse of the card is an article written in such a way to oppose the meaning of the actual article.  Players vote, and commit delegates, pro or con. The first side to reach 7 votes wins. Each state may only have one vote. If player A votes yea with his delegate from Georgia, player B may reverse the vote if he controls two delegates in his hand from the Georgia and have them vote Nay.  Otherwise you cannot use your Georgia delegate to vote on the floor of the convention. A state may only have one vote and is marked off on the list of states on the board.

You gain points by being on the winning side of the vote.  Losers go to the Committee room, where they can influence articles that fail to pass convention. You gain points in committee by getting a resolution into the constitution. The final way to gain points is have the most delegates in one or more of the four available factions in the debate room. Founding Fathers is an easy game to play. I don't think it would provide as much interest for me as Twilight Struggle. Who would have thought that you could turn articles of the constitution into a game. People started to drift out for lunch and I was content to leave.