I’m always a bit amazed at how fast time goes at one of our group’s retreats. It seems you walk in the door, blink, and its nearly a week later when you open your eyes again. Of course, that phenomenon is accentuated when the game you’re looking forward to most is near the end of the week.

RCG Con grew out of our long weekend retreats to Sunriver 20 years ago, which gave rise to our ironically named World Boardgame Championships West (which began with Chuck and I stuck on a tarmac in Baltimore waiting for yet another thunderstorm band to finish terrorizing Wyoming), which went from five days to a full week within a few years. We sold the Sunriver property nearly five years ago, but between Chris’ Salishan property and the newer rented venue, we’ve kept up the tradition. For most, euros and heavy strategy games are what they enjoy, but I like a good wargame in there somewhere, and with me not having to do nearly as much prep as I did with the WBC West events, it’s nice to get to share a wargame I’ve grown very fond of.

Grand Tactical System grew out of the old Victory Games title Panzer Command, published back in the late eighties or very early nineties. Using a chit pull activation system, the game has enough chaos to make it an excellent solitaire choice, but it also lends itself well to multiple players because of the tight command and control system that forces units of the same formation to be near each other or suffer a loss of operational flexibility. If the game has an issue, it’s that it takes considerable table space, especially if you get into the campaign games of the majority of titles released thus far.

The series started out with two BIG Market-Garden games that combine into a Case Blue sized monster. At least you don’t need a suspension rig to get to the units in the middle of the map with an MG game. The system worked pretty well, but the designer, Adam Starkweather, likes to tweak, usually for the better, and when MMP published the first of three D-Day games (this one on the Commonwealth beaches), the 2.0 rules were released. Sort of, they went to publication as part of the Exclusive rules for the title. Thank god for Living Rules, or I never would have picked this up and learned it.

And then, of course, Adam got bored, left MMP, and has gone on to three different but similar systems, all seeming to use the initial releases as public betas. Even the first of his CSS games aimed at amphibious invasions in the PTO saw the first ruleset get changed for the second game, but no update to the first ruleset was forthcoming and players are expected to get the second game ruleset and puzzle it out from there. As such, I hope MMP continues to publish the Normandy games at the very least.

The Greatest Day is a great game, but there’s a lot going on and it can be difficult to learn the naval subsystem, or deal with all the ranges and mobile armor units, especially with the ridge network that makes line of sight and movement tricky. And I had no desire to teach Devil’s Cauldron and then turn around and teach changes down the road. MMP did put out a very static game using the system, No Question of Surrender, but it did not get good reviews.

Operation Mercury keeps the basics, adds as few special rules as possible, and has very few vehicles or ranged fire. The unit count is also much smaller, only four divisions in the entire game, where often there will be four divisions on just one of the many maps in TGD. There are nine or ten small to medium sized scenarios and three campaign games using varying drops or a smaller portion of the full map.

For our learning game, I chose Dancing at the Gala, which covers the two days the New Zealanders and CREFORCE defended Canae and Suda, the main ports near the Maleme airfield before their morale broke and they withdrew from the island. It has all four divisions active, an interesting situation where the CW can win the first day, but once the Germans take Galatea the best they can do is tie, but they need to keep the ports and not let their morale drop too much. Since morale is largely based on losses, that means the CW needs to attack as well. Other scenarios deal with the drops in the specific locations of Heraklion, Rethymnon, and Maleme, as well as just focusing on the Maleme sector in the different stages of the fight, even including a fighting withdrawal scenario that follows the Gala scenario chronologically after the CW morale collapsed.

There was never going to be a full game played, and in fact we noted that our turns were taking about two hours, which is hilariously also how long each turn represents. So real time play! We got through three turns, maybe a bit more, with about an hour of explanation. While only Chris and I actually played, KenC came up and largely kept us company.

There are a few things that take some getting used to with this game, such as opportunity fire triggered by units moving out of an enemy fire zone, many activations where units aren’t allowed into enemy fire zones, to attack, or to assault without spending Command points. Command is also used to keep units from becoming Suppressed, which in this game is Very Bad. You can get Formation chits, which cost hard to come by Dispatch points, which activate a lot fewer units than divisional chits, but don’t require Command points to make your units more effective.

I gave Chris the burden of the attack, so he got to learn about good use of combined arms to try to barrage hexes, lower the cohesion of enemy units, and finally assault to take the hex in question. Learning the Command/Dispatch dance is also very useful. Chris made some decent progress early, while I brought up some units and tried to get in my licks as I could. By the third turn, things were very much in flux and it was anybody’s game.

And then I went downstairs between turns to grab some food, came back up, and started drawing chits. Chris’s chits were coming up one after the other, and he’d invested heavily in formation chits, and it looked like the Galatea line was doomed. And then I noticed that there were only two chits left to draw, none of my divisions had been activated, and there were still two random event or direct command chits left in the cup. And then I noticed that my divisional chits were on my divisional displays with my Formation chits, where Chris had helpfully put them thinking they were Formation chits.

And so we stopped. We did learn that one side getting a ton of activations in a row is very effective! I got a lot of mileage out of the incident, and felt much better about hitting the wrong button on our first medal round, where Chris had been in the lead. Not the Chris would ever do that on purpose…

Here’s the saddest picture ever, although this is the end of the second turn…

The Olympic event the night before (which I failed to document in the last post) was Guesspionage, where players guess at a percentage and everyone else guesses how wrong they are. Hilarious, but Friday’s event, Trivia Murder Party, was my personal high point. And I don’t say that just because even being dead, even without one finger, I came from behind in the always awesome Escape round to take the lead, lose the lead, then sneak in for the win at the very end. Ba. Boom.

I felt so good, I even played a round of Sieben Siegal, also known as Zing! and at least one other name. This is my favorite serious trick taking game, and my Bridge experience serves me well for card counting and understanding card play. I managed to win on the last hand, and had mostly interesting hands to play.

And so ended the sixth day.