Winter Quarters is a week behind me now. I’ve caught up on my sleep, my game hand isn’t cramped anymore, and my ass spasms from hours planted in a plastic chair have subsided. I think I’m ready to write about it.
Raw numbers first. Gaming started on Friday afternoon around 2:00, and wrapped up on Sunday night at about 9:30 PM. We had ten gamers pass through the garage, playing sixteen sessions of eleven different games. We ate a cow, drank our weight in beer and soda, and carbed out on bags of chips. Two folks slept over for all or part of the weekend. Two Kings of Games were in attendance at this “Geekend” event, including our reigning King. No women came near this place, save for my lovely wife, Rita, who enjoyed (to a point) playing den mother to a garage-full of graying man-boys.
It was the visit of Chris Donovan, of course, that set off this madness. He’d previously visited for Le Petit Geekend, but regretted being a no-show for the Geekend proper; Winter Quarters was held in his honor and as an attempt to redress the gaming lost when Chris couldn’t make our June event.
I collected Chris from the airport, and after a stop for In & Out and propane, we dug in under my garage roof for a game of For The People, the Avalon Hill/GMT card-driven wargame about the American Civil War. I’ve played this game about ten times now, but never mastered the rules (let alone the game itself). I like it plenty but every time I play it feels like the first time — I just can’t break the back of this game’s rules, particularly the river control and cavalry brigade stuff. If ever I was going to get this thing figured out, it was now — I had played two games with Andrew just a week or so previous, and now here was Chris, all boned up on the rules himself, and eager to have a go as the Union (although I suspect his own personal loyalties were more seccessh).
Did we figure it out? Sort of. We managed two games over the weekend, both quite good, all laden with narrative and sudden reversals of fortune. Neither of our games was completed in one sitting — the first game was abandoned on Friday when the crowd started to arrive, then completed on Saturday morning. The second game began almost immediately thereafter, and concluded on Sunday. Both games concluded in Confederate victories, and I’ll take credit for both victories, but the truth is that I think the Union side is a lot harder to play in this game, and as the (slightly) more experienced player I was likely taking advantage of an overmatched Federal player. Both games were full of rules gaffes but we didn’t let that get in the way of the fun.
Mostly, I was just glad to be alive. The more I studied the FtP rules, the less I seemed to understand them. By the end, Chris was running the rules all by himself, and I was just kind of thrashing around with my Rebs, lashing out in rage-filled raids in Missouri or Pennsylvania or Ohio because I’d forgotten some critical rule, or lost a state to a clerical error, and was convinced the war was lost so I might as well go down swinging. And in both cases, those spasms of vengeful raiding and burning won me the game (in the second game, Lee took Washington and raided all he way down to Atlantic City!). Through no fault of my own, I found that aggressive raids against the North can be an effective CSA strategy, given the damage they inflict on Union “Strategic Will,” to say nothing of the opportunity cost the Federals must pay to corner the Rebel raiders and restore order in the North.
It’s a good thing this option was open to me, because Chris was grinding me up with his Northern war machine, particularly in the second game, which saw him seize control of the Mississippi early on, then start treating the river as his own personal invasion highway to burn my resource cities in Tennessee. Despite my raiding Chris might still have won that second game, had he not overextended into Texas and had an army put out of supply and destroyed at a critical juncture … still, Chris was an able opponent, deftly mastering those difficult naval rules and vastly improving as a player from Friday to Sunday, kind of following a reverse parabola to my own descent into rules confusion and crankiness.
Still we had a great time with this game. The details of the two games run together, but I remember Lee and Longstreet both dying in meaningless skirmishes (Lee because I didn’t want to pay the political cost of putting him in charge of an army, where he’d be a bit more safe). I remember one of Chris’ lesser Union generals — Pope or Price, can’t remember which — becoming a master of amphibious warfare, striking everywhere at once and panicking the entire South, before leading that army into doom in trackless Texas. I remember Stonewall Jackson force-marching across three states to attack the U.S. Congress … in Springfield, Illinois. Yeah, we had some fun.
But Winter Quarters wasn’t just about Chris D. and I playing wargames in the garage! Day turned to night while we were struggling with the War Between the States and the crowd began to drift in — Tiege, Chuck, Keefer (aka H.R.H. What If?), Ron, Dave, Mike. Games of Dominant Species and Macao broke out, the sight of which gave me a severe case of cube-aversion, so I conducted a retreat under cover of helping Rita bring in the groceries.
Those games ground to conclusion in a couple hours. I think the birds beat the spiders at one table, while cubes got shoved around in bewildering fashion at the other. Somehow Can’t Stop got to the table, with Chris D. involved (despite his “no fillers!” fatwa); even more amazing, I won the damn game, which might be a first.
Guerilla is notable for having even more incomprehensible rules than For The People — all of the Greenwood with little of the underlying Mark Herman elegance, for you Avalon Hill fans scoring at home. Having played the game once before, Chris was tasked with teaching it to us cold, and he pulled it off, relying on a vernacular translation of the actual rules, referring to the real manual only when absolutely necessary. The game lurched along, in fits and starts, until 2:00 AM, a harbinger of things to come. I think Chris’ mercenaries won this first game (yes, there would be another, but that’s a story for my Saturday report). Tiege soldiered on in good humor but clearly didn’t care for the game; Mike played his usual crisp game and I think finished second; Keefer was happy to be anyplace other than work; while I had a good enough time but most of it came from making funny voices and creating false narratives around Major Dominquez, who went from corrupt, fat pig to revolutionary hero in the glare of an exploding television station.
So, not a great game, but great friends, a theme that would be repeated on Saturday (about which more in my next post).