Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Returning from Madison

Last weekend I travelled to Madison for some quality role playing. Rather than go over the results of the session (we started two wars, and got a commendation rather than a court martial-- I'm still flabbergasted about that), I'm going to discuss my trip home, and the skill roles executed.

(If you're unfamiliar with the GURPS system, they use three six sided dice, for rolls between 3 and 18. Lower being better and higher worse.)

I had planned to leave early that afternoon, but the weather was poor. Snow, sleet, bits of hail, scattered storms and high winds. Not pleasant driving conditions. I elected to wait a bit of time to see if the weather improved. This decision, amongst others, leads me to believe that I failed to take the [Common Sense] advantage. The weather failed to improve, and seeing as I had to be back Monday morning, I had to leave as it was getting dark.

Driving roll: 9- Success
Despite the sleet I did not crash my car. Driving rolls will continue to be made throughout.
Navigation: 12- Success
I manage to escape Madison with a minimum of fuss.
Area Knowledge (Wisconsin): 12- Failure
My windshield wipers need replacing. I don't find an open store that carries them on a Sunday night. Imagine that.
Driving: 11- Success. I successfully make it to the next town, despite the right side of my windshield being partially obscured. This town also gives me the opportunity to make another check for windshield wipers.
Area Knowledge (Wisconsin): 10- Success
Despite a false start, I manage to find some wipers in a Wal-Mart
Mechanic (Automobiles): 4- Critical Success!
Despite previous failures in this department, I manage to replace my windshield wipers in inclement weather without fuss. Huzzah! This roll is actually a default off of Driving; I don't have the Mechanic skill myself.
Driving: 13- Success
The roads aren't pleasant, I have to take extra time, but I manage to drive.
Health: 11- Failure
Driving in poor condition requires quite a bit of attention, and I'm worn somewhat from a marathon gaming session. I'm required to pull over and take a short nap.
Driving: 5- Success
Just a success, not a critical success. My driving skill isn't that high.
Health: 10- Failure
Again I have to take a break before I can continue driving.
Navigation: 12- Failure
I attempt a new route passing through Eau Claire. I get my exits confused, and take extra time.
Driving: 16- Failure
The local roads I have to return on are covered in snow. Deep, too. Someone is stuck on the other side of the intersection. When I stop, I can't start again.
Mechanic: 16- Failure
Luckily, as I get there the other guy had summoned help, in a guy with a truck and a tow cable. Unluckily, the first attempt takes off my makeshift bumper.
Mechanic: 14- Success
The second attempt pulls me out
Strength: 7- Success
We push t'other person's car out of the snow.
Will: 13- Failure
This is a self control roll, as apparently I have the disadvantage [Overconfidence] Against my stated intentions and better judgement I try taking the next road over back home. It is also covered in snow. Driving conditions are abysmal, I'm forced to make driving rolls every minute here. Skipping ahead to
Driving: 15- Failure
I manage most of the distance on this road, but get myself stuck again, right in the middle of the road.
IQ: 16- Failure
Despite the obvious presence of winter and the bad conditions, I failed to plan ahead and provide myself with a snow shovel.
Driving: 14- Failure
I don't manage to extricate myself from the middle of the road. After some time, a truck arrives behind me and lends me a shovel. I get to roll again
Driving: 11- Success
After some shoveling, and some shoving, we get my car moving again. I pull it over to the side. I decide to leave my car here, to retrieve it in the morning.
IQ: 6
I remember to retrieve my bottle of Coke from the backpack, preventing it from freezing, exploding and melting all over the GURPS sourcebooks. Tragedy averted.
Survival (Winter): 10- Success
Having decided to leave the car where it is and walk the next two miles, I make it home with no more ill effect.

Breaking out of the skill roll narration, in the morning we retrieved my car, and I made it in to school on time. If I had taken four hours less traveling, like I would have in clear weather, I could have spent some time studying. Then maybe I wouldn't have had to default on my IQ for the essay questions on the test.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tales of RISK

While poking through older files on my computer today I found this account. It tells of an unusual game of RISK, which predates the blog. Rather than, y'know, do actual work and write something up, I'm going to post it here. I'd say the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but there's a rather large assumption there. Matter of fact, I'm not entirely sure why the names have been changed.

The thing about RISK, it’s all about the cards. You might think that taking one extra country to deny Steve his fourth army next turn is sound strategy, but it hardly matters when Steve turns in cards, takes out John, turns in his cards and gets an extra seventy five armies. Even if he says “There’s nothing that can stop me now!”, well, there’s not much you can do to actually stop him.

I played in an awesome game of RISK today. Y’see, the guy in North America had to leave, so he went on one final rampage, which pushed me out of South America and weakened me in Asia. Since Napoleon was going next, and didn’t have to worry about that other guy anymore, he took me the rest of the way out. This put him up to eight cards, forcing him to turn in in the middle of his attack. He turned in cards, and got four armies. Four armies-- it was the first set of cards of the game.

Maybe I should start from the beginning.

There were four of us playing RISK. It’s been a while since we’ve played, having generally moved onto other games. I suppose a dramatis personae is in order. To my left is Barbarossa, I’ve known him from High School, and we’ve played many, many games of RISK together. Across from me is McClellan, a highschooler himself and currently an unknown quantity. To my right is Napoleon, so named for his proficiency at this game in years past; when in high school we organized a RISK tournament, Napoleon emerged victorious. Lastly is me, Havoc Jack, a man who talks entirely too much. Four players, thirty armies, shuffle and deal the cards, four piles of eleven. I got a pretty bad mix of countries; five in Asia, two in South America, two in Europe, Ontario, and one wild card. Barbarossa to my left got two in Australia and Siam, so he went the Aussie route. McClellan, after him had four or five in North America. Napoleon had North Africa, Egypt and East Africa, so he was building up in that continent. I put in enough to make sure I could take South America, without leaving so much in there that I’d lose if either of my more powerful neighbors wanted to take me out. The rest I spread over Asia and Europe.

When people first start playing RISK, they tend to go for continents. Two extra armies per turn buy you a significant advantage in the early to middle game. But these extra armies are dwarfed by the card turn ins that happen later in the game; two armies each turn for ten turns only nets you twenty armies, while a single set of cards late game is worth thirty, forty, fifty armies. So later on in their strategic development, people focus on staying alive, making sure nobody can gut them for their sweet, sweet cards. This game was odd in that, since people weren’t really worried about the number of armies that continents generated, people nobody did much in the way of continent breaking, so people actually got to use those extra armies.

See, I was in a pretty bad position; South America is a death trap. In the first turn, I took South America, Barbarossa took Australia and Napoleon took Africa. Naturally, I was the only one who didn’t manage to hold their continent. McClellan consolidated North America over the first couple turns. With strong North America and African neighbors, South America really doesn’t have the wherewithal to defend itself. The other option, taking Asia one neglected backwater at a time, mostly doesn’t work. For one thing, you’re not getting the whole continent. Australia always holds it’s army in Siam, and you won‘t lever them out of it. And you don’t want each and every player eyeing your seven armies a turn and deciding that you are winning. But the continent bonus isn’t the objective, the objective is to stuff yourself into enough nooks and crannies that you’re annoying to root out, and maybe hold enough countries to get four armies a turn. It’s possible to succeed with that strategy. It doesn’t help if you’re legitimately weaker than each other player, and that they’re all eyeing you to see if they can carve off a slice.

In the first couple turns, neither Africa nor Australia were strong enough to break into the other person’s continent and deny them the bonus armies, so the continents held. When McClellan finally unified North America, Napoleon decided he wasn’t going to play world police and unduly weaken himself by denying McClellan armies. Napoleon owned the most armies, and he was factoring in McClellan’s relative inexperience with the game (which, sad to say, by that point was obvious.) Barbarossa in Australia took a poke or two at America, but he couldn’t unseat McClellan. In the second round I had lost a significant force in South America (six armies without getting one kill!), and more armies in Asia just trying to get a card for the turn. I went from pretending to be weak so people would look the other way to actually being weak and desperately hoping that people look the other way. Not a good place to be. Still, I had my options.

When you’re in the position I was in, odds are you’ll be able to keep South America, less Venezuela or Brazil. Y’see, it’s in both Africa and North America’s best interest to leave you there; you provide a buffer against incursions by the other side, and having a little pocket of your guys there hedges against your annihilation. Since you obviously don’t threaten their empire, they’re in favor of that, since they want to knock you out and steal your cards yourself.

Then McClellan had to leave. Since it was his last turn, he went on one final rampage, kicking me out of South America and weakening me in Asia. Napoleon went next, and he had enough forces to take me out. So I handed my four cards over to him, bumping him up to eight, mandating a mid turn reinforcement, getting his four armies. All this had happened within the first five turns, that was the first card turn in. If he had gotten forty armies, he’d have taken out Barbarossa and won it right there, but he didn’t have the resources.

At this point Napoleon controls all of Africa, half of Europe and most of Asia. Barbarossa controls Australia, and Siam. More importantly, he’s got an army of about twenty units there, and four cards. McClellan controls Americas both north and south, some in Asia and the other half of Europe. Since he left, his forces degenerated into an inactive neutral side. Barbarossa can’t turn in cards, but he conquers into Africa.

What followed were a series of attempts by Barbarossa to break Napoleon in one or two turns before Napoleon turned in too many cards, and a series of attempts by Napoleon to try to break Barbarossa in one or two turns before Barbarossa turned in too many cards. Barbarossa would push Napoleon mostly out of Africa, Napoleon would push back at Australia, only to be stymied in Siam. In one memorable battle, Napoleon easily took down four of Barbarossa’s troops, but lost ten trying to pick off the last one. Ten! Roughly speaking, the odds of that happening are six in a million. If it hadn’t been for the escalating card values, it’d have settled down into a steady state of warfare eerily reminiscent of 1984. We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia.

In the end, it was the card reinforcements that ended the game; the incursions got deeper, the comebacks more dramatic. Napoleon got up to five cards, turned in, pushed Barbarossa back to one territory in the Australian outback, with one soldier left to defend it. One soldier attacking one soldier; Napoleon rolls a six, Barbarossa rolls a six! The day is saved, temporarily. Barbarossa turns in cards, rolls back Napoleon as far as Great Britain. Napoleon turns in cards, drops down to zero left, and rolls Barbarossa all the way up.

The final battles were dramatic, and this was one of the most memorable RISK games I’ve ever played, but the thing I keep coming back to was how little a difference the cards made for such a long time that game. Napoleon held Africa for four turns, netting him twelve armies, which outshone all but the last two sets of cards. The little things like taking that twelfth country so they don’t get a fourth army really did make a difference.