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BATTLES FOR SPAIN from AVALON-DIGITAL This is a substantial package covering four major battles from the Spanish Civil War.  In e...





This is a substantial package covering four major battles from the Spanish Civil War.  In essence, this provides a conventional wargame format of area movement with the digital equivalents of the cardboard counters of the board wargames that I love.  Even in that world of physical components the number of games on the Spanish Civil war are relatively few, so I was very enthusiastic to have the chance to review Avalon-Digital's presentation, especially as three out of the four battles have received treatment in magazine games that I possess.

All four of the scenarios listed below can be played as either the Republican side or the Nationalists against the computer A.I.  Also it's possible to hot seat the first three scenarios by choosing player mode for both sides.  Though on the whole I prefer my two player games to be ftf over a real game board on my table, to offer this option is always an added bonus that I welcome. 

The only battle that doesn't follow this pattern is the final battle, the Ebro.  Here, it's notable that the size of this battle is such that a separate scenario has to be chosen for each side to play against the A.I. and no hot seating is available.

Guadalajara    1937
Teruel             1937
Merida            1938
Ebro                1938

Each scenario has its opening outline of the historical situation and then the next screen details your objectives for winning.

What I particularly like is that each scenario offers a significantly different situation.  In Guadalajara, the Nationalists are attacking to take control of a major road that runs from west to east.  They have to clear a specific portion of the road to win, while the Republicans have to hold on long enough until reinforcements arrive and then try to eliminate enough Italian units for victory.

At Teruel, it is the republicans who're on the offensive, attempting to take the city.  This is very much a battle of encirclement and staving in the defence.

The third scenario, Merida, was the only battle with which I was totally unfamiliar.  We're back on the Nationalist offensive, attempting to close a pocket.  Though sharing some similarities with the previous scenario in its element of encirclement, the nationalists here start from a position where they have far more ground to cover and do not have a focal point to capture.  As a result it plays out quite differently.

Finally, the Ebro is a massive battle with a front line running the whole way from north to south.  It is the major scenario in the foursome and the longest to play.  I've got to say my personal favourites are Guadalajara and Teruel because of their situations, but all four games offer substantial rewards.  In part, this is because the system offers what is the near perfect presentation of all that I look for in a board wargame, but translated into computer format.

Armour, infantry, artillery and air rules are there and even a nod to naval in the Ebro, though this is only in the form of boats for crossing the river! In addition, card play has a significant role without being overpowering.  Each turn you will have a number of cards that you may or in some cases must play.  For example, reinforcements come by card play and are the first phase of a player's turn, weather too tends to be a compulsory play and often there will be at least one card that you will choose to play as it either boosts you in some way or hinders your opponent.  

Typical instances are cards that allow a softening up bombardment or prevent some of the enemy units from moving.  Inevitably some cards will give you bonuses in attack or negative factors on your opponent.  These are features I love to see in games and work very well here to add to the replayability and the uncertainty of every game.

The game sequence is typical IGO/UGO and follows these familiar Phases.

Draw Cards
Naval Movement [Ebro only]
Air Movement [Offensive]
Land Movement
Battles [and possible Breakthrough]
Second Air Movement [Defensive]
End of Turn

Most of the game's computer functions are fairly logical and most can be picked up by trial and error. [I say this as someone who is not by nature led to understanding at a glance computer games.]  However, there is a very good online rules manual that comes to 81 pages which I took the trouble to download and print out.  It is hugely comprehensive to the point of over-repetition at times and lavishly illustrated with screen shots accompanying detailed examples.  Much is largely unnecessary, but it is an excellent back-up for getting into important aspects like combat.

The presentation of the latter on screen is very well executed with both sides units lined up, the Attackers on the left and the Defenders on the right, with a 10 sided dice occupying the centre.  A single roll is compared with each unit's strength and hits and routs duly allocated.  Most combat lasts two rounds, but weather and card play may limit you to a single round.

Here you can see a typical battle showing the details of the leader and the top of the screen and his units lined up below.  A single die is rolled when you click on it and provided the score is equal to or lower than a unit's fire power a hit will be scored or if a one a rout will be the result.  It's worth pointing out that the roll applies to both acting units and defending units.  So though you want to be scoring low, you're going to be taken hits too.  Hence the need to send in strength against weakness, as here where you can inflict up to five casualties as opposed to your opponents one. 
As this illustrates, breakthroughs can also be achieved, as here where the enemy has been totally eliminated.

Always one of the finest aspects, as with any computer war game, is that all the fine details of rule requirements and especially those for combat is handled without you having to do all the maths or check that you've remembered all the rules and any exceptions or special circumstances.  As a result combat flows very swiftly and smoothly. 

By contrast, movement is a much more cumbersome affair and here I would love to have seen the function that I welcome most in all my favourite computer battles, namely that highlighting a unit/s causes the map to illuminate where you can move to.  In Battles for Spain, when you click on an area containing your units, you have first to open an onscreen box to check what units you have.  This is a time-consuming process in itself, though usually unavoidable in games that allow stacking. 

But having to find by trial and error where units can move to does add considerably more time and effort to play.  Fortunately, except for the final Ebro battle, the number of stacks is fairly manageable and so not too onerous.  It is also exactly what I'm used to experiencing in the physical world of board wargames that I'm usually immersed in.

A much simpler phase of the game is the movement of your air units prior to Land Movement.  Rarely do either side have many air units, but I like the additional touch of detail that their inclusion gives and the feel of flying out to engage the enemy.  Air defence is also handled well, as at the end of your turn your planes are automatically returned to base and can then be flown defensively to areas which you judge are likely to receive attacks.

The game offers a nice sense of planning your attacks and making appropriate thrusts against weak points in your enemy's line.  The uncertainty of how your A.I. opponent will respond is a great factor in the game.  Though I certainly haven't played any scenario often enough to comment on replay value, just playing each scenario from both sides has provided more than enough enjoyment to make this a worthwhile buy.  For me just the opportunity to play out and experience these four major battles from the Spanish Civil war is frankly reward enough in itself and so it's thanks too to Avalon-Digital for providing me with that opportunity.

Below is a link to the company's website.