Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Congo - First impressions of the rule book

My group plays a lot of games in the colonial period, but most tend to lean toward the VSF genre.  So, when one of my friends told me about Congo - Adventures in the Heart of Africa, my interest was peaked.

I decided to throw some money at the book (which seems to be fairly pricey) and see what I thought.

The book has been delivered and I've been reading through it's glossy, color pages and I like what I see.

I thought I would share my thoughts on the game before I get to play it and then see how that works after I actually get a few games in.

To start with, I want to say that this is a game about the stories of the adventures during this period.  It isn't a commentary on the actions taken by the Colonial powers and the abuses that were carried out in that period in this area of the world.

Book Quality
The book is very nicely printed.  It is full color throughout and it seems to be bound pretty well.

The artwork is great throughout.  Lots of pictures of painted models that look fantastic.

The cards are also nice and should hold up well over time.  I don't see a requirement to sleeve the cards, but I probably will regardless as I tend to sleeve most cards.

The tokens and measuring sticks are decent quality.  I'm hoping that someone makes custom wooden measuring sticks like are available for Saga.  They will hold up better and I can easily get extra sets that way.

Book Layout
Parts of the rules are written as if they were a letter/instructions from an early explorer of the African continent.  Some people may not like this, but I found it to add some humor to the rules and to help "paint the scene" of the game you are about to play.

Overall I feel like the book is laid out fairly well and the rules are presented in a logical way.

There is no index in the book, but there is a table of context.  The lack of an index will make it more difficult to look up specific rules during the game, but we shall see how big of an issue that is.

The game allows players to choose from 4 different factions: the White Men Expeditions, the Sultanate of Zanzabar, the African Kingdoms, and the Forest Tribes.  Each allows for a different selection of characters, auxiliary, and units types.

Unit Stats and Success
Each unit as a list of stats: Shoot, Combat, and Bravery.  These are represented by a die type from D6 to D10.  The unit also has a starting size, weapon type, and some units have special rules.

When taking some actions in the game (like shooting or combat), a unit will roll die based on their skill and the number of models in the unit and count successes.  You need a 5+ on each die for it to count as a success.

Game Mechanics
The game offers some different mechanics than I've seen in most other games and I like that.  I'm not sure how these mechanics will work in the game, but nothing seems to complicated, so I'm hopeful things will work well once I get a full understanding of them.

Actions are dictated by cards that you play.  This isn't a random draw of actions like Command and Colors, but instead you get a hand of seven cards (8 if you have magic) with various actions on the cards and an initiative number.  Each player, chooses 3 cards to play that turn and then chooses 1 for the first activation.  The first cards of each player are revealed together and whichever has the higher initiative number gets to go first.  That player carries out the actions listed on the card and then the other player takes their turn.  Each card has between 2 and 4 actions each and some allow different types of actions while others offer a single action to be taken multiple times.

The game uses stress tokens to represent moral.  A unit gets tokens in a couple of different ways during the game; going to ground when being shot at, Terror attacks by the enemy, close combat, and being shot at by units with certain weapons.  A unit is limited to having 4 stress tokens at most.  The stress tokens can have a specific effect on the unit as well.  Some reduce possible movement, reduce shooting or combat, or can make you more susceptible to Terror attacks.

Each unit can only be activated once in each action phase, but since there are 3 phases a single unit can get multiple activations during a turn.

The possible actions are move (which can get you into close combat), shoot, and influence (which can be used to rally or cause terror).

Moving allows a unit to make a normal move, but they can also pick up the pace as long as there are no enemies close by.  A unit can also use a move to engage an enemy in close combat.

Each unit in close combat will fight.  Both sides roll die for the number of fighting models in the unit.  The number of successes from each side are compared and a table is resulted to see the effects.  This can be retreating from the combat, taking wounds, and/or taking stress tokens.

Shooting allows a unit to fire upon an enemy.  This is done by rolling a number of dice for each model in the unit.  You roll the dice and look for successes.  The defender is given a chance to avoid the shot with a defense roll.  It is assumed that the open areas of the board still have bushes, trees, and rocks to hide behind, so the defender gets a D6 per hit to defend in the open (this gets better when in terrain) and can choose to go to ground by taking stress tokens which allows him to roll an additional D8 for each stress token taken.  Each success on the defense roll removes one success from the shooting.  Any hits not avoided cause a casualty.  If there is a character or auxiliary attached to the unit, there is a chance that they may be the casualty.

Finally, we have the influence action.  This can be used to either Rally your own units (hopefully removing stress tokens) or cause Terror on an enemy unit (hopefully adding stress tokens to the unit). When Rallying your troops you roll one die (of the appropriate type based on the units bravery skill) for each stress token the unit has.  Each success allows the unit to discard a stress token.  When making a Terror attack on a unit, you will automatically suffer one hit on the unit, plus one hit for every Terror stress token on the target unit.  The target unit will then take a die (based on their Bravery skill) for his hit.  They can avoid one Terror hits with each success rolled.

Totem Cards
Each player also has a deck of Totem cards that allow a variety of bonuses during the game.  The scenario will dictate how many cards the players start with and how they get additional cards.

These cards allow for things like an extra action card to be played or additional dice to be rolled during an attack, combat, or bravery test.

While these aren't game changing, they do offer a bit of added variety and possible surprises in each game.

The game is based around scenarios and there are 8 included with the book.  Each side puts together a force within the limits set forth in the scenario (probably around 30 models per side) and then sets up the table according to the scenario.  Each scenario provides conditions for victory points that can be earned during the game and a turn limit for the game.

The 8 scenarios provided should allow for quite a bit of play, but I think it will be easy enough to create additional scenarios for your games.

Overall Thoughts
My gaming friends already play a lot of games in the colonial era, so we have quite a collection of models between us that will work for this game.  Since we are already fans of the theme, this game seemed like a no brainer.  While the cost of the book is a bit high, in my opinion, our positive experiences with SAGA helped to convince us to give this game a try.  After reading through the rules, I feel slightly better about paying the cost, but would like to get a few games in before making a final decision on that front.

The rules and mechanics are interesting and different enough from other games that I am looking forward to trying this game out.

I've a game planned with Randy (he already has all the models we need painted and ready to go) and we will be playing the first scenario in the book.  I'll be sure to take pictures and post an AAR as well as my additional thoughts on the game once we've played.

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