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TO THE LAST MAN From the modern world of Urban Operations, the most recent simulation from Nuts Publishing , we 're moving back ...





From the modern world of Urban Operations, the most recent simulation from Nuts Publishing, we 're moving back to one of their earlier products, To The Last Man.    Unlike their recent game of tactical warfare with its significant innovations and a fair degree of complexity, To The Last Man features WWI on the Western Front and paints its canvas at the strategic level with simple broad brush rules.

The box art which is continued on the rule and scenario booklets is stylised in an appropriate poster artwork for the historical period without being hugely eye-catching.  But I have to say that for me the immediate impression of the map was one of drabness.  
I liked the area movement style, but the effect made me think that the mud of Flander's fields had been too liberally applied to the map's palate of colours.  The outlines of each area are easier to see here in my photograph than when viewing them on the gaming table.  Fortunately there is only a small amount of essential information printed on it, as I found what there is even harder to discern.  Added to that, the Army counters [the triangular shapes] are equally dark and too close in colour for comfort.

By contrast the tracks that border the edges are very serviceable and clear, though maintaining the overall dour effect.  However, just as I have found strange some gamers' criticism of maps that I have thought excellent, I know that others have praised this one.  The physical element I've most enjoyed has been the hidden Army displays, though once again the colours are very severe
The camera shot of the counters above doesn't do justice to the quality of their visual features.  Whereas these taken while still in their sheets are much more accurate.

Note how the counters have no numbers on, as each represents a single unit point.  The bottom rows of units are all infantry while the top rows hold assets such as the ones in the picture: cavalry, artillery and siege guns.  Later in the war, a very, very limited number of tank and aircraft assets start to trickle in, while some German infantry can be converted to strosstruppen. 

However, I challenge anyone to not find the cards some of the finest pictorially - in full colour, every card [54 in all] has a unique illustration.
Just a few of the quality cards
Glorious and visually individual though these cards are, do not expect a wide range of effects from them nor the historical insight that we tend to expect from the Events playable in most, if not all, CDG games.  The reason being that these cards are all generic in effect.  Many are either Offensive cards allowing you to move and attack with all units or Limited Offensive cards allowing you to move with all units but initiate only a single attack.  In fact, except for a few individual card plays, there are only two choices of Action on your turn: play one of these two types of Offensive card or Pass.

This simplicity is a keynote of the game.  Movement is almost exclusively a single area, except for cavalry that can move two areas.  Both sides have a minimal rail movement capacity - it's worth mentioning that there are no rail lines, as at the scale represented all areas are considered rail capable - which allows three areas to be traversed.  In addition, only the Entente player can move a couple of units any distance from one friendly Supply source to another.  In itself this doesn't sound much, but bear in mind that potentially this can happen every time you play an Offensive/Limited Offensive card in a turn and that the "unit" could be an Army containing up to six individual pieces!  Suddenly that opens up some interesting prospects both for attack and defense.
Combat too is a very easy process - mainly a question of rolling one die per individual unit.  As the rules themselves proclaim, it's the BOD [buckets of dice] method and they do offer an optional rule for a method to average out results in case you're the type that can't cope with rare swings of luck!  But as most units only score a hit on a 1 roll on a D6, many results are misses.

Mixed in are a few nice variations: cavalry only fire on defense, siege guns can only attack forts and forts themselves are the most powerful hitting on 1-3 [though the latter benefit is balanced by the fact that they cannot receive replacement points, as they are reduced by hits]. 

The sequence of an attack is interesting as the Attacker's artillery fires first, then all the Defender's units and then all the Attacker's units [including the artillery that have already fired!].  Beyond this and the occasional ability to play a card such as Poison Gas, it is remarkable easy.  Personally, I did find that the many rolls with limited numbers of hits over the course of playing the whole war did become a little tedious. 
Taking the lead from many block games, hits have to be taken from the strongest unit and if that is an Army then from the most numerous type of unit in that Army.  Inevitably the infantry naturally takes the brunt of this. 

However, a fine idea is the inclusion and use of Ersatz cards [as illustrated above].  These may be played as a form of taking hits.  So, an Ersatz 2 card will replace 2 hits and an even neater touch is that any card may be used as if it were an Ersatz 1 card.  Talk about a rock and a hard place!  It's rare that you can afford to spend one of your cards in this way, but the option is there and just sometimes it may be what you've got to grit your teeth and do.

A more familiar element is the use of Build Points - again another very well handled aspect providing difficult choices.  Especially taxing is the demand to replace eliminated units or buy cards.  At the beginning of a scenario each player gets a set number, but from then on any further cards have to be bought and without cards you can't acquire those essential Offensive ones.  The strangest item you can spend build points on is Entrenching.  I'm not sure that I can conceive of any convincing rational for this other than that it adds to the agony of choice, especially as an entrenched unit when it moves must be flipped back to its mobile side and so lose its entrenched status.

The rule book is short and the rules are easy to understand and few enough to largely hold in your head.  I strongly recommend the main two Advanced rules: Hidden Army Templates and Bidding for Initiative that appear in the Theatre rulebook.

This is another very good part of the package.  It adds a range of small historical rule elements and scenario variants, a very good section providing set up for scenarios starting in each individual year of the war and a section I particularly like that contains four pages of variant historical German and French plans, two pages of Examples of Play and sadly only a brief side bar of Designer's Notes.

Ultimately for me it is just this side of too simple, but as an intro level simulation it fits the bill, unlike GMT's Fields of Despair on the identical topic which registers on the opposite end of the complexity scale.  There are so many good ideas drawing both on tried and trusted measures and fresh ones too.  There is much that I like and I received this game to review with much excitement. Yet for me somehow the gaming experience falls short of the sum of its parts.  I will continue to play it, but not with the zeal that I pick up Nuts Publishing's most recent offering, Urban Operations.

Apologies for the weird gremlin in the system that simply wont produce the correct consistent font size, whatever measures I take to correct it!}