Hundred Days 20

Overview

Hundred Days 20 is the latest release from Victory Point Games in their Napoleonic 20 series. The 20 represents the maximum number of counters on the field. This is no Great War in Europe. Hundred Days 20 is meant to be played in a single sitting. This game features two battles: Waterloo and Tolentino.

Components 

I have no idea how Victory Point makes their counters, but they remain one of my favorites from any company. They are really thick and have great color. The game does include one of the most unique additions to a war game, a napkin. That’s because the counters do have some soot that will wear off them. The counters don’t seem to be effected by this, but the first play through may get some soot on your fingers. As for those counters, they are well illustrated and simplistic. Each unit has just two ratings: strength and movement. The maps are in two sections, but they take up very little table space. Yet, the hexes themselves are pretty good size. This is nice because the game doesn’t feel cluttered when battle fronts start forming. The rulebook is one of the best I’ve read. It’s full of examples and illustrations. It took me just one play through to feel comfortable with this system. Nearly everything you’ll need for the game is included either on the battle map or the chart. The game also comes with a sturdy set of event cards and various counters. Overall, it’s a pretty impressive package.

Score: 9

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The Iron Duke is ready to be a thorn in Napoleon’s side again.

Gameplay

Like most war games, Hundred Days is played in alternating turns. In the Waterloo campaign, Napoleon must race across the map to capture Wavre and Waterloo by the end of June 18. Standing in his way is a maze of rivers and forests that hinder his armies ability to move or give bonuses to the defenders. Add in the armies of Wellington and Blocher, and Napoleon’s task is daunting to say the least. The Little Emperor has a lot to think about as the French make their push. Units that come into the enemy’s zone of control must fight. Even if that unit is touching three enemies, he must fight each of them simultaneously. Attacking with more units allows you to disperse the attack. This means you really have to set your battle lines and attack in masse. It also will require you to make some interesting decisions. Instead of fighting two battles at 1:1, do you sacrifice one confrontation at 1:2 odds to gain 3:1 somewhere else on the line? Event cards add to the tension at the beginning of each player’s turn. Event cards can be a double edged sword, giving bonuses or causing attack penalties. Nothing ruins an offensive more than pulling the card that requires you to roll two dice and take the worst result, but it’s a neat feature that helps simulate some of the problems the French had in this campaign.

The meat of the game centers around morale. You may find the game ending before Napoleon meets his Waterloo because the game ends immediately if either side hits zero morale. Morale can be gained during night’s rest of by routing the enemy (or lost by the opponent in the same battle!). However, morale is also used to boost the effectiveness of a unit in battle, gain die roll modifiers when rallying troops, or force march units to the front line. I really like this as it adds to the anxiety of whether to use your waning morale to make that last push into a key objective. Tolentino uses morale equally effectively as the Neapolitan player has to contend with wavering troops.

Once the basic game is mastered (which won’t be long), there are some great optional rules that can be implemented. The leaders are optional, but add a command radius to the game. Units out of range suffer attack penalties. Fatigue markers can be used to show the wear of troops as the battle progresses. Finally, weather can also play a part in the game if you wish. Players can use the historical weather chart on the map or roll for random weather. My only true gripe of the game is that the weather chart wasn’t included with the other charts.

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Blocher’s slowing of Napoleon at Ligny helped the Coalition when my first play through.
Score: 10

Replay Ability

Unlike previous editions of Waterloo, this 3rd edition starts on June 15, allowing players to play the entire campaign. Maybe you want Napoleon to cut north to help Ney capture Quatre-Bras. Maybe the Coalition meets up earlier in an effort to counter the French advance. I like games where you can play out some “what-ifs’ and this game does that. Tolentino also has some similar options.

Score: 8

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Wellington’s rout of Ney pushed French morale to zero. Napoleon never made it to 100 days.

Balance

There’s no denying that the aggressors (France in Waterloo, Napoli in Tolentino) are on an uphill climb, but there loss is hardly preordained. The earlier starts and ability of the French to pull in the guards allow a French victory to be plausible. His brother-in-law has a massive force that could also end victorious if their resolve is not broken.

Score: 9

Overall: 9

This is my first game in any 20 series, and I must admit I’m quite impressed. The system is easy to learn, plays smoothly, and provides a nice tactical challenge. The quality components and fantastic rulebook just add to the value. There’s no shortage of Napoleonic games out there, but this is one that’s worth a spot on your shelf.

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1973 Replay: Washington Survives San Diego Scare 40-36

San Diego Chargers 36 at Washington Redskins 40

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Billy Kilmer’s fourth and final touchdown pass helped the Redskins overcome a fourth quarter deficit to the upstart Chargers, allowing Washington to escape with wild 40-36 victory. The day started off well enough for Washington. They marched down the field on their opening drive before Kilmer capped it with a 34 yard strike to Roy Jefferson, but the the extra point snap was bobbled. The quirky play would be a foreshadowing of the day’s events. The Chargers rookie passer, Dan Fouts, answered very quickly. His first ever NFL pass went 79 yards and led to a Jerry LeVias touchdown and a surprise 7-6 lead. After a Redskin field goal, the Chargers were forced to punt, and it looked as if the Redskins could start creating separation. However, Coy Bacon tackled Kilmer in the end zone, tying the game at 9. Again, the Redskins shot out in front, with Kilmer hitting Charlie Taylor from 13 yards out. Fouts responded by tossing a 43 yard touchdown to Willie McGee.

“Everything we did, they had an answer for,” Washington’s George Allen told reporters.

The trend continued till halftime. The shockingly pass-happy Redskins scored again off Kilmer’s arm only to see the Chargers run a trick play and score from 65 yards out on a LeVias option to Gary Garrison. Redskins 18 yard field goal from Curt Knight as time expired gave Washington a 26-22 halftime lead.

The Chargers had to wait through the intermission to answer this time, but did they ever. Ron Smith caught the second half kickoff from his own five and raced 95 yards for a touchdown giving the Chargers their first lead. Kilmer’s lone mistake, a costly interception at the Washington 30, set up another Charger score. Cid Edwards’ 5 yard run gave the Chargers a 36-26 with just a few minutes left in the third. The upset was in the hand, but the Chargers suddenly crashed back down to Earth.

“We have a lot of new players on this team, and it’s going to take time to meld it altogether,” an upbeat Harland Svare said after the game. “You hate to see one slip away, but we will learn from that. We did a lot of good things out there today.”

The Chargers suffered from a lack of consistency. Their three offensive touchdowns resulted in 58% of their yardage. Needing to milk the clock, the Chargers managed a paltry 58 yards on just 20 carries for the afternoon.

Costly turnovers didn’t help. The first was the result of an overthrown screen pass from Fouts. Dave Robinson snagged it and ran 14 yards for a touchdown cutting the San Diego lead to 3. Just three plays later, Cid Edwards fumble ended a promising San Diego drive. This time, the Redskins couldn’t capitalize and were forced to punt. The Redskins dominated play, running 82 plays to the Chargers’ 49, but seven Washington drives ended in punts. After scoring 26 first half points, Washington managed just seven in the first 25 minutes of the second half.

But Kilmer wasn’t done. He lead a late drive using his arm to save the drive on three third down attempts before finally hitting Charlie Taylor again, this time from 21 yards out with just over five minutes left.

The Chargers twice had a chance to take the lead but both drives were stymied at midfield. In the end, it was Kilmer, the day’s hero, kneeling to seal the win.

Stats:

Passing:

WASH: Kilmer 22-34 279 4-1 SD: Fouts 11-29 266 2-3.

Rushing

WASH: Brown 25-65; Harroway 10-33; Thomas 2-9; Kilmer 1-(-1). SD: Edwards 12-41-1; Garrett 8-17.

Receiving:

WASH: Jefferson 7-126-1; Taylor 4-57-2; Brown 5-43; Harroway 2-6; Hancock 1-14; Reed 1-14; Grant 1-12; Smith 1-7. SD: Garrison 4-111-1; LeVias 2-87-1; Garrett 2-23; McGee 1-43-1; Holmes 1-4; Norman 1-4; Holliday 1-(-6).

Defense:

WASH: Interceptions: Robinson (TD), Bass, Fischer. Sacks: Sistrunk. Fumble Recoveries: Hanburgers, McLinton

SD: Interceptions: Smith. Sacks: Bacon.

Victory in Europe

Victory in Europe Review

Overview

Victory in the Europe is the latest offering from Columbia Games. Released early in 2015 after a successful Kickstarter, Victory in Europe is a strategic level block war game covering the European theater of World War II. It’s touted as playable in 4-6 hours, quick fast for something covering the entire European war.

Components 

As the norm with Columbia Games, the blocks are top notch and the stickers detach from the sheet easily and fit well on the blocks. Once stickered, the game is a joy to look at. The Kickstarter allowed for each major player to have its own colored blocks. Stickers for the blocks are also country specific. The cards have great illustrations that reflect the special ability of each card. The map is bright and colorful. My only gripe here is the map feels a bit flimsy and is small when the fighting is around Germany early or late in the war. The rule book is short and sweet. The errata from the rule book was quickly addressed and updated rules are already available.

Score: 8

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By 1940, the Germans had easily blitzed through the Low Countries and France.

Gameplay

Both the Axis and Allies get their own deck of cards. Within the deck, there are cards for each year of the war. Players draw part of this deck to determine their hand for each year. It’s a neat way of giving some flavor to each year of the war. The Germans are understandably strong early, but the Allies have overpowering cards in the war’s later years. Each card has an operations number. This number determines how many attacks or strategic movements are allowed. A player can always make standard moves for all their units. Both sides have something to think about during their turn. Cards are color coded. The Axis have black (German) and green (Italian) colors. The Allies have red (Russia) and blue (Western Allies). If your card has an even number, you must split your operations up evenly between both major groups. So playing a 4 means both the Russians and Western Allies can make 2 attacks. But if a card has an even number, then the extra attack goes to the color that corresponds to that group. A blue 5 would mean the Western Allies get 3 attacks and the Russians 2. The cards really add a lot of strategy to the game, forcing you to prioritize your attacks.  Once you make your attacks, the game plays like any Columbia block game. Letters on the blocks determine the order or battle and hits rotate the block until the unit is eliminated. Players also have the option each turn (until the US joins the war) to influence neutral countries. This is done by a dice roll. There are advantages to your roll if you own territory next to the neutral but beware. If you miss, your opponent now has bonuses on a roll on the same country. It may not be completely historical, but it adds some neat playability to the game.
Score: 9

Replay Ability

Ok, so it’s a World War 2 game. Germany romps early, and the Allies romp late. Rinse and repeat, right? Not exactly. The card deck can add a lot to the game. I’ve played the game three times, all with Germany, and have managed one victory. The Germans can either win outright by capturing certain objectives or by simply holding on to Berlin by the end of 1945. In a three player game, the Allies don’t have to win as a team. The winner is who reaches Berlin first, making the Russian-Western alliance as tentative as it was in real life. Throw in the random influence chances, and there are a ton of replay possibilities. For a World War 2 game, it’s refreshing. It also helps that the quick game play means it’ll make it to the table much more often.

Score: 9

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By end of 1944, the Allies had capitulated. At one point the Germans owned Cairo and Moscow.

Balance

Again, balance in a World War 2 game is relative. Germany should roll over Poland, the Low Countries, and France. The German war machine will slow down some. The Allies should win most games, but the game is winnable for Germany as I’ve seen. That’s good balance for a World War 2 game.

Score: 9

Overall: 9

I’ve played many Columbia Games, and this is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. It’s got a simple rule set, good components, and lots of replay ability. Years ago I enjoyed a simpler World War 2 game called Hitler’s War. Victory in Europe is like a much better version of that game. It can be played in a relative short amount of time and provides a great strategic experience. Now, if they would just make that map a bit bigger…

APBA Football Review

Overview

When it comes to football simulations, the two names that most people have heard of are Strat-o-matic and APBA. APBA has been producing football games since the 1950s and is alive and well today. There’s a huge following for both games. I’ve played Strat-o-matic many years ago, but this is my first look at APBA. I’ll be reviewing the 1980s Master version though I did play through a 1973 set of cards as well as looked through a more modern set.

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My first run through the game featured a 1973 contest of the Rams vs. the Cowboys.

Components

Opening either a pre-1982 version of the Master version, it’s impossible not to notice the charts. They are massive. (Note: APBA reformatted the charts into spiral book form just a few years ago, but the principle is the same) Every result is derived from a particular chart so you’ll become quite familiar with them as you play the game. Also included are a set of cards for each NFL team (the newer basic version comes with just two teams). Players have three columns of numbers that are used for rushing, passing, and kicking. The cards are printed on sturdy card stock and come in a team envelope. I was impressed at how well the cards in my 1973 set have held up. Colored dice, a serviceable board, a football, and first down marker are also included. The master version I got included a dice cup. The older game is well made although not exactly eye catching. The modern version seems to have added color to the charts at the expense of quality which leads me to preferring the older, albeit uglier, charts.

Score: 7

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Charts? Yeah, we have a few charts.

The Players

As mentioned, key players from a season get their own cards. The cards host a seemingly endless array of numbers, but only one gives you any sense of a player’s effectiveness. Next to the players position(s) there is a rating. The higher the rating, the better the player is at that position. Player rating may change if they can play multiple positions and defenders can have splits depending on their strengths against the run and pass. Looking at the cards, there’s no denying this is a sports simulation. Repeated play might shed some light on players that excel due to numbers that relate to good results on the charts, but it’ll be awhile before they look like anything other than numbers.

Score: 8

Game Play

The core of the game focuses on your offensive and defensive platoons. Once you’ve selected your 11 man line-up, you calculate the rating for each player in the position they’re playing. The difference between the offensive and defensive ratings determines which part of a chart you look at to determine results. In my first run through, the Ram’s offensive platoon equaled 42 as did the Cowboy’s defensive platoon. This meant that I looked at the “C” column, The defense can further influence by play by declaring either a standard, down field (pass), or ground (run/screen) focus. Dice are then rolled to determine a number on a player’s card that is then used to refer to the actual result on the play charts. So, yes, you look up one number to refer to another chart to get another number. If it sounds tedious, it is. The charts are unwieldy. Perhaps the modern spiral book streamlines this some, but the two step process to determine results isn’t as smooth as other systems. Add in rare plays, interceptions, fumbles, and penalties can result in three or four look-ups. Other games that use this system do a better job of cutting down the number of times you need to check the charts or add narratives to make the experience more enjoyable.

The reality is I can deal with the charts. I like simulation games so that isn’t what put me off. The real gripe with the game is the lack of impact of non-skill players. A sack specialist defensive end or a shut down corner, other than impacting the defensive platoon total, has no bearing on the outcome of a play. None. Simulation football is about exploiting weaknesses whether that be running behind the strong side of your line or picking on a weak corner. That can’t happen in this game. Other than the passer or the runner, the only position that slightly impacts the play is the receiver whose rating may change the offensive platoon total. When you couple this issue with the repetitiveness of the double chart system, it really detracts from the game.

Score: 5

Stats

The research put into this game is evident. There’s a reason this game has a strong following. The stats seem to work out pretty well, and at least in my plays I didn’t see a high number of rare plays occur. As you would expect, strong teams will be able to move the ball effectively against bad teams, but upsets can happen. It is a dice game after all!

Score: 9

Solo Play

For a game with such a long and loyal following, it’s interesting to note that there really isn’t a good solitaire system out there. The game recommends playing both teams to the best of their ability. There are some complex systems out there made by those dedicated to the game, but it’s nothing you can simply pick up and plug in to get going.

Score: 4

Head-to-Head:  The game may have been designed for head-to-head play, but it doesn’t present itself that way. With the emphasis on platooning, there is no formations to set up. You only need to have your 11 man team in front of you. Since there’s no “coaching” strategy, your play calls would end up being based on down and distance and playing the percentages. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is the limitation of the game system designed for head-to-head play.

Score: 7

Replay Ability:

With a strong emphasis on statistics, APBA lends it self well to a replay system. But the game is not a quick play, making a long term replay a deep commitment. However, with the plethora of seasons available, there’s not a scenario from the last 60 years of the NFL you couldn’t recreate.

Score: 8

Availability: The game is still available and recent years can be ordered. APBA also has retro seasons available that they have reprinted, and eBay is never without past seasons for sale. The problem is the game is not cheap. Even getting current seasons can be pretty pricey and old seasons often exceed $100. It’s one of those rare cases where the game is out there, but it’s a steep commitment for a game that may or may not interest you.

Score: 7

Final Score (not an average): 6

One one hand, I see why APBA has such a loyal following. The game is statistically deep which makes it an interesting play. So many seasons make for nearly endless possibilities.  It’s a game that’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a long game that may appeal more to the statistical gamer than a football strategist. I could see using APBA to replay a season that’s not available through another system, but there’s quicker systems that provide the same experience or games that add a greater element of strategy. In that regard, APBA falls just a little short.

Pizza Box Football Review

Overview

Pizza Box Football was a game released by On the Line Game Company in 2005 with updates printed until the 2008 season. I had originally given this game a pass as it seemed popular among casual gamers, but I’ve since learned through games such as Masters of the Gridiron that casual games can be just as fun as the hardcore simulations I play. I eventually snagged a copy with the 2006 expansion (real NFL teams) and got the game on the table.

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There’s a lot packed into the box, including tons of dice!

Components

With the base game, you’ll get nearly a dozen dice, some generic charts, a football field board that folds and fits inside the game box, and pegs to use with the field. The dice come in difference colors and are used by both the offense and defense to not only resolve plays but call plays as well. The fact that the football field fits into the folded out game box is a cool feature, though the peg board design can make it difficult to tell exactly what yard marker you are on. The base game charts are for a simple offense. The expansion cards, which I highly recommend adding for variety, read the same as the base game charts. All charts are laminated which is a nice bonus from simply using thick card stock.

Score: 7

The Players

There are no individual players in the game. Instead, each NFL team is rated from 1-3 (3 being strong) in the areas of run, short, and long passes and the defense of the same. The generic team has no such rating. For example, Pittsburgh’s 2005 card has a pretty impressive rushing chart, while Indianapolis can throw the ball around quite effectively. Defensive strengths can allow extra die to be rolled that may improve the defense’s chances of succeeding on a play. It doesn’t take long to see exactly where a team’s strengths and weaknesses lie so finding teams comparable teams to play is pretty easy. In a way, the team charts a slightly reminiscent of Paydirt.

Score: 7

Game Play

Once you’ve picked teams, you use the generic chart system to determine the kickoff and return. From there, the defense secretly selects particular colored dice. These dice determine the defensive play call: run, short pass, or long pass. When using expansions, the defense can additionally call aggressive versions of those by calling run blitz, jump routes, or QB blitzes. The offense then also selects run, short, or long pass, but they also have the option of adding strategies to each such as draws, screens, and play action. Once both sides have selected, the calls are compared on an advantage chart. This chart determines which defensive chart is used on the play. The defense rolls and the result may be a modifier that is used on the offensive chart. The offense then rolls and adds or subtracts any defensive modifiers. The end result will determine the success (or failure) of the play. It’s an extremely easy system, and I can see why casual gamers may see this as an approachable game. The charts can all lie easily in front of you, so there’s no page flipping or chart browsing to determine the play. A few chart checks, and you’ve good to go. If you choose to use only the basic game, then you’re teams will be even, and it’ll come down to strategy. Even with the NFL teams, the bad teams will have chances to win with smart play calling though even correct guessing may not stop the offense from moving the ball effectively if the dice are on their side. The downside to the easy game play is that it does feel a bit repetitious after a bit due to the limited options available on both sides of the ball.

Score: 7

Stats

You’ll get team stats instead of individual ones, but the stats generated are pretty spot on. Scores tend to be fairly realistic with this game. There’s some subtleties that come out. When pressured, Pittsburgh’s card will tend to have the quarterback run more while Indianapolis’ card will have the quarterback throw the ball away. This is a good reflection in the difference between their respective quarterbacks. It still won’t keep you happy if you like to see individual stats, but the game engine works pretty well in generating realistic results

Score: 7

Solo Play

Solitaire play calling charts can be found on the game’s website. This enables you to play against a complete opponent using the solo charts for both offense and defense. Charts are based on general tendencies like most solitaire play calling systems. With just a handful of offense and defensive choices, the guessing game can be somewhat limiting. Other games have more in-depth solo experiences.

Score: 5

Head-to-Head:  Like Paydirt, playing defense comes down to guess work and figuring out your opponents tendencies. However, there are less options here than with Paydirt. In fact, playing a vanilla defense (run or short pass) may be your best as statistically you are more than likely going to have no more than a slight disadvantage on a play. On the other hand, being aggressive can backfire as often as it succeeds. This may end up taking something away from a head-to-head experience.

Score: 5

Replay Ability:

With only three seasons available, no individual stats, and a fairly simple system, I’m not sure there’s enough here to keep a replay enthusiast enthralled for any length of time.

Score: 3

Availability: Though the website remains up, it doesn’t look as if On the Line is still in business. Only 3 seasons were ever made, and there’s no system for making your own teams. Luckily, the versions that are out there are pretty inexpensive to get.

Score: 6

Final Score (not an average): 6

The game is fun, quick, and not very complex. For that, Pizza Box Football is a pretty accessible game for someone just getting into football board gaming or just looking to play a light football game. Those wanting more of a challenge can find it without sacrificing simplicity. Both Paydirt and Second Season have similar guessing styles of game play, but Paydirt has more choices than Pizza Box Football while Second Season provides more immersion. Still, if you want something that’s simple and inexpensive just to try a football game out, Pizza Box is a decent bet.

Solitaire Football Review

Overview

Solitaire Football is a print and play game that’s self-published by Mike Keeley. I discovered this game by chance while reading through the Front Office Football forums on the Operation Sports site. I also read some information about the game on the Delphi Forums. Just goes to show you that football sims are definitely a niche game, and you’ll be surprised what you get by visiting forums and looking around.

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A look at the 1950 Cleveland Browns team card, led by the formidable duo of Otto Graham and Marion Motley. Above that are the FAC cards which drive the game play.

Components

When you print out your components, you get a set of Fast Action Cards (FACs), a set of team cards, rules, and some minimal charts. The rules are clear and include several examples to help understand the game play. Team cards show skill players on offense, return mean, and defenders that may intercept the ball. It doesn’t take long to get the game’s terminology down and understand the wealth of information on the FACs.

Score: 7

The Players

Skill players on offense are given ratings for average gains and production. Production values are used to determine both effectiveness and stamina. It’s a simple system that allows you to quickly see who your best skill players are. Defense, though, is rated simply by team numbers. Even then, the numbers are broken into five letter categories. Once you learn the system, you can understand how effective your defense can be, but it’s fairly abstract. The only defensive players included on earlier season cards are players that may intercept the ball (and then their ratings are based on returning an interception, not their ability to defend a pass). Later editions have a system for determining who got a sack, but again, you get no sense of who your strongest pass rushers are.

Score: 7

Game Play

I have to give Mr. Keeley some credit for coming up with what may be the most complete set of FACs in any game I’ve played. Everything comes from them. As a solitaire player, you can control what the offensive play is and who will be handling the ball. From there the FACS determine how the defense reacts and the result of the play. A play can be resolved in as little as two card flips if you call your own plays. Penalties, interceptions, and sacks add to the number of cards used, but it’s all down fairly quickly. The biggest obstacle will be learning the abbreviations of the cards. It took me awhile to get through the first half of my test game, but after that the second half flowed very smoothly. The issue is in the game’s core. The FACs don’t just drive the game. They really control it. There’s no “guessing right” for the defense. The FACs generate a random letter (A to F) that determine how strong the defense will play. You have no control over whether the run defense will react with a negative modifier or no modifier at all. For example, Marion Motley has a 4 rating for his rushing average. (Note: This wasn’t his actual rushing average in 1950, it’s just the average used in the game) The Giants have run modifiers of -3, -2, -3, -1, 0, and 0 for A to F respectively. When running with Motley, you flip a FAC to get the defensive letter rating for the play. Say it was D, which is a -1. The result of the play on the next FAC is “Ave +2”. Motley would gain 5 yards (His average of 4, minus the 1 for the defensive adjustment, plus the 2 for the card result). There’s nothing you can do to improve your defense’s reaction. The FACs control that. Offensively, the impact of your line is abstracted added into your runner’s average. Again, the FAC can simply determined whether your runner gained, lost, or broke away for yardage. In reality, you can allow the FAC system to control the entire game, including calling the plays. Again, Mr. Keeley has done a neat job of installing an offensive play call system, but the entire system has the feel of watching a game on TV. Your participation in the decision-making is minimal at best.

Score: 6

Stats

At first I was a bit concerned that the control of the FACs would skew the stats. I was wrong. The stats in my test game between the Browns and Giants was pretty spot on. Otto Graham was a bit interception prone early throwing three picks as the Browns dug themselves a 21-7 hole, but he settled down and ended up a respectable (for the time period) 10 for 19 for 180 yes and a touchdown. Motley rumbled for 95 yards on 17 carries. The Giants running back committee grounded the ball 40 times for 170 yards. I compared my results to actual season results and was pleased with what I saw. Again, the research that went into the FACs to make sure the game was statistically balanced is evident. The true strength of the game is its ability to statistically simulate a game.

Score: 9

Solo Play

With a name like Solitaire Football, you know it was built for the solo player in mind. In that regard, it reminds me a lot of Second Season. Simple team ratings unfold to produce a statistical accurate game. However, where Second Season tells a narrative of the game as it produces scores and stats, Solitaire comes across as an exercise in recording statistics. Thankfully, I enjoy number crunching, but a solo player looking for decision making or story telling may feel a bit let down.

Score: 7

Head-to-Head:  Considering defensive calls are taken out of a player’s hand, there’s no chance for any sort of interesting game between two players here.

Score: 0

Replay Ability: This is a very good replay system. Anyone who enjoys matching up teams for what-if scenarios or replaying seasons will be satisfied. Unlike other games, there are no injuries in this game. Frankly, that doesn’t bother me as I tend to minimize injuries in replays so I can see how teams would perform at their best. If that bugs you, that may take a little out of the game for you. Even stat freaks may be a little annoyed at the lack of defensive statistics to be kept. Overall, though, it’s a smooth and relatively quick system for generating replays. Bonus here that a some of the years offered aren’t offered by any other game (such as the 1950 set I purchased).

Score: 9

Availability: Unlike most games that have websites, this game is purchased through direct contact with Mr. Keeley. From there, you’ll meet a friendly guy who’ll give you a list of the couple dozen seasons available (a scattered mix of teams from 1950 up to present day). Prices are cheap. I got two full seasons and multiple sets of FAC cards (to add variation) all for under $40. You can be up and running with a season and facts for half that.

Score: 7

Final Score (not an average): 7

On one hand, I greatly appreciate what Mr. Keeley did here. He created an entire system that runs smoothly from the opening kickoff, generates great stats, and provides a solid football experience. However, the game is so smooth that you lose a lot of control of the action. It’s not meant to be as deep as 4th Street or Fantasm, but it also feels more limiting than simpler games like Second Season or Inside Blitz. Football sims are playgrounds for solo gamers. With a few exceptions, most football games are either built with the solo player in mind or have a dedicated fan base that creates solo play charts. Solitaire Football is a game that showcases Mr. Keeley’s love for the sport. It’s got the smoothest game engine I’ve ever played. But other games provide a little bit more immersion.

The Kaiser’s Pirates

Overview

The Kaiser’s Pirates is not a new game. This card/war game about surface raiders of WWI from gaming behemoth GMT was released back in 2007. But the box sat in the purgatory of my unplayed collection until the relentlessness of winter gave me the opportunity to bust it out. I then proceeded to spent the evening reading the rules, skimming the rules again, looking on BGG to clarify the rules, playing a mock-up two player game, and then finally diving into a solo conflict. Then I played again. And again. Normally, one run through gives me a pretty good impression of a game. After three plays, I’d have to say I’ve never had more mixed emotions about a game.

Components

Inside the extremely spacious box sits four decks of cards: a thick action deck, a slightly smaller merchantmen deck, a still smaller raiders/warships deck, and the comparatively minuscule solitaire deck. You’ll immediately notice the great details of the ships on each card. The rule book even mentioned GMT’s efforts to recreate each ship faithfully, and the result is simply magnificent. All cards are printed on extremely good card stock. So good, in fact, that shuffling the stiff cards becomes a bit of a challenge. That’s a good sign for the longevity of the cards, but I would still sleeve them as quickly as you could. First, you’ll find that sleeving them actually makes shuffling easier. More importantly, you’ll be shuffling these cards a lot, especially if you play solo at all. Also included in the box are a great set of dice: 2 each of D10s, D8s, D6s, and D8s that serve as double D4s. Different ships have different attack and defense values (merchantmen get their attack values from action cards). There’s also wooden markers for damage and supply.

Score: 9

Kaiser

My opening play started off well with a prize captured and an enemy ship sunk. 

Gameplay

One of the first things you need to wrap your head around in this game is the fact that you aren’t playing a single side. In most war games, you play one side versus another. Here, you are playing as both the Germans and the Allies. Confusing? Not really. Instead of playing a particular power, you get the job of both defending your ally merchantmen from other players (or the AI if solo) while using your own raiders/warships to attack other players’ merchantmen. To do this, you use a 6 card action deck. Each action card has two options. You can use it to intercept (attack), or you can use it for a special action such as attacking multiple merchantmen at once or exposing a hidden raider to attack. These cards can be combined to great effect. For example, you can combine your intercept with a special surprise attack card that gives you a +2 DRM to your attack dice. That’s a great combo to use against an exposed raider or one of the more powerful merchants. This is also where the game can become frustrating. You will find that you often need multiple cards to perform a critical attack, or you spend a card to counter an attack from your opponent. However, you only get to draw one card as replacement at the end of your turn. It’s not long before you find yourself with a small hand of cards and little options. You always can pass, gaining a card to build your hand back up, but the cost is a lost turn.

The solo game is played against a phantom player run by a solitaire deck. This is the deck that is shuffled after every phantom player turn, so it’s the first deck I would protect with sleeves. Every solitaire card has a ton of information on it. There are 4 choices for the phantom player on his turn. The one that happens depends on a die roll. This means that a phantom player’s turn can last for a considerable time if you roll in their favor. The card also has possible responses to your attacks as well. The solo game feels more thought out than most. There’s legitimate decisions to be made, and you are trying to be an opponent rather than just besting a high score. Still, it can be frustrating to see the phantom player go on a long run because the dice are against you.
Score: 7

Replay Ability

Regardless of whether you play solo or with the maximum of four players, you never use the entire action deck at once. This creates a fog of war element that you’re never sure which cards will show up. Still, there are some general strategies that will present themselves. I found that I wanted to keep playing to improve on the strategies from earlier or to make up for a rotten dice roll. That’s replay ability in my book.

Score: 8

Balance

The unique system of playing as both the Germans and Allies makes the game extremely balanced. While you might get occasionally stuck with more warships than raiders (warships can be attacked from the beginning, raiders have to be exposed first) or get stuck with the weak sailing ship merchants, everything balances out over the course of the game. One of the most well-balanced games I’ve played.

Score: 10

 

Overall: 8

At first, I really believed this game was a 7. The luck factor, present in all dice games I know, seemed to overpower the game, especially playing solo. But then I realized it was just bad luck (Like getting hit with air recon on the 2nd turn and playing catch up the rest of the round back luck), and I kept playing. In the end, I found a game that valued card management and decision making over luck. In my final solo run through I survived two 7+ card phantom player runs to still win the round thanks to well-timed attacks against wounded warships. I believe this game would shine even more against human opponents. I would definitely recommend picking this game up, especially if you enjoy playing a sold solitaire system.