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  WE ARE COMING, NINEVEH FROM NUTS! PUBLISHING The front of the box lid Where to start?  There are so many avenues to approach with this gam...







The front of the box lid

Where to start?  There are so many avenues to approach with this game. Well, my starting point is going to be a personal one - recently I was at PunchedCon, a new three-day convention of board wargaming launched last year and located in Coventry.  One of its two sponsors is Nuts!Publishing and so I had the greatest pleasure to meet Florent Coupeau, the head of the company, who I've been communicating with for several years, whenever I've had one of their games to review.  That pleasure was doubly compounded by the opportunity to play a ftf game against Florent himself of their newly published We Are Coming, Nineveh, which I had already received to review.  He was a great guide through the game, as we played, and just the nicest person to meet.  So, it's a huge thank you to Florent for providing my review copy and for the time spent gaming and talking about games with me.
My prior reading of the rules helped and I was already enthusiastic about the game just from that and viewing the components;  I left the table absolutely certain that I will be playing this game repeatedly.
The next avenue I need to explore is the topic and history being presented in the game.  This is a major issue.  Recent and, in this case, very recent warfare always raises questions about whether they are suitable for the gaming table.  I won't rehearse in detail the arguments for and against that I touched on in reviewing, early in January this year, FITNA [also published by Nuts!Publishing].  For some, including a few I spoke to at the convention, it will be unlikely to be their choice.  However, considering the huge success of the game, Labyrinth: The War on Terror, I'm sure this will not be a bar to the game being a success, for reasons that I hope will become clear in my review.
What we're dealing with is the last battle to retake Mosul and the intriguing title, We Are Coming, Nineveh - some I've met were baffled by it - is the name of the operation launched in 2016 to overcome Daesh or what many know better as ISIS.  As the game uses the word Daesh, that is what I shall use throughout my review. This was a brutal conflict and no individual encounter more so than this last appalling battle.  Some games on modern conflicts have been criticised for how little the historical facts are dealt with.  That cannot be said here, as the separate Design Notes booklet devotes the first eight of its eleven pages to the historical background alone.  These I found to be a serious and well presented section, well researched and referenced.  The remaining section begins with that very consideration of the ethics of gaming modern warfare and then explains the gaming decisions taken to fulfil the objectives of modelling this battle.  I have to say that during my game with Florent, he devoted plenty of time to exploring and developing my knowledge of this side of the game.
Aspects of this will be expanded on, as I look at the components and the games system.  I hope I can do justice to what there is to see and read and play in the game and to what Florent told me.
On the surface visually, We Are Coming, Nineveh [WACN for short from now on] is an area movement, block game.  The mounted map, like many other images used in the game, is viewed as an aerial picture of West Mosul depicting the open areas [dark brown], urban areas [light brown] and The Old City [dark grey].  These are the colours ascribed to the areas in the rule book.

Here's the full board and I would call those open areas and urban ones dark tan and light tan.  Doesn't make any difference, but I'm just anticipating someone commenting on my inaccurate colour palate! 
There is an unusual addition to area movement type games, I would say unique if I could be 100% certain that there wasn't another game lurking out there that might have this terrain feature.  This unusual feature is the important addition of the use of major roads - marked in light yellow along with key road junctions marked with a yellow circle.  These are very important for ISF movement.  For historicity, district names are written in block capitals and a number of individual buildings are picked out and labelled.  There is none more important than the Grand Mosque of al-Nuri in the Old City where the leader of Daesh declared the establishment of a caliphate in 2014.  
The units are the very familiar wooden blocks with the equally familiar sheet of stickers to be detached and placed on the blocks: black ones for Daesh and green ones for the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF for short].  I'm glad to say that they fit well on to the blocks, unlike some games I could mention! The number on each edge of a block is the "to hit" value, ranging from 2+ to 6+.  So, for 2+ you'll hit on any number except 1, but for 6+ only a roll of 6 will hit.  A slightly different twist on the usual procedure and you'll need to be very careful that you rotate them correctly, as we're so used to seeing numbers decrease as we take hits.  As the special HQ blocks do follow the normal pattern of decreasing in number as a point is used and increase as you resupply them by one point each turn, these need even more care.  On first play, I found myself initially rotating them in the wrong direction!  In the photo below, you can see on the left and bottom right the stickers and top right shows the very few carboard markers needed to play the game.  Unit density, as can be seen from the number of block stickers, is low and adds to speed of play.

Other vital components are several decks of cards which I shall introduce and discuss when I move on to discuss the rules and game system.  Lastly there are the two booklets, the Rules book and the Design Notes books.

This whole game was designed as a university  project by two students for their wargame design class. In the process, their Professor, Rex Brynen, provided some design advice.  However, the two students, Juliette Le Menaheze and Harrison Brewer are the creators of this impressive game and writers of the Rules Book.  Later in the process and after Nuts Publishing had appreciated the quality of their design and signed the game up, the well known designer, Brian Train, entered the project, advising and working as the final proof-reader.  After some initial work by Brian towards a solo mode, the final solo design incorporated into the game was the work of Rex Brynen, while the Design Notes book was a collaboration of thoughts and ideas from all four participants and written by Rex Brynen. 
So, that's the genesis of WACN.  Now it's time to look at the game in action and immediately encounter  a major aspect of WACN that generates its individuality, its variability and above all its high replay value.  Before play starts, each player takes an identical deck of three cards seen below.  He/she secretly chooses one of these three victory determinants which will be scored on the three tracks on the edge of the map board.

Time is obviously dependent on when the game ends: there is maximum of 12 turns, unless the ISF player automatically ends the game by eliminating all Daesh units in the Old City.
Collateral Damage tracks the amount of damage done by the ISF. 
Casualties tracks the number of unit blocks lost by the ISF player.
Finally, the scores on these tracks may have small adjustments made to them at the end of the game.
What I like about how this is developed is that there are two ways of assessing victory at the end of the game. 
[1] Competing Narratives.  For each of the three Tracks there are a series of written descriptions of what this level of victory means for each side.  
[2] Victory Points. At the end of the game, the points on a track chosen by a player are doubled and if both players have chosen the same track they are trebled.  All the adjusted points are then totalled and compared to a victory point table: the lower the total the greater the ISF victory, the higher the total the greater the Daesh victory [even if such a victory may be very much considered a pyrrhic one].  
No doubt the real combatants might disagree about the statements made, particularly on Method One of judging victory and perhaps the players too may choose to argue about it as well!  [How like more peaceful real life events. Just think about any sport or competitive occasion!] 
Next each player takes their core unit cards that will remain the same in every game.  These cards tell each player how many of these units they receive and the specific capabilities of the particular type of unit.
The ISF player receives: Headquarters, 9th Armoured Division, Counter-terrorism Service [CTS], Emergency Response Division [ERD] and Federal Police units.

In the right-hand column are the core ISF unit cards
The Daesh player receives: Leader, Veterans, Militia, Rumours [in most games these would be simply called Dummies] and IEDs, large IEDs, and VBIEDs [vehicle-borne ideas].  These last three may be one difficult element of the game for some, because of the images they immediately arouse.  Yet how many board wargames involve hidden mines or minefields from North Africa in WWII, to caltrops in ancient battles, to barrels of gunpowder in siege warfare, to Spanish guerrilla tactics in the Napoleonic Peninsular campaign...  Not to mention the many films, novels, history books et al.  It is an issue only the individual can resolve.  All I can say is that this game treats it with seriousness and due respect. 
The next step of preparation, Additional Units & Capabilities, also introduces another and perhaps the strongest feature to give the game its high replay value.   Both players have a Capability Deck, 25 cards for Daesh and 18 cards for ISF.  They provide a mix of extra units and special abilities and each card has a purchase price.  Each player has 30 pts to spend on purchasing whichever cards they want up to that limit. 

Typically the cards break down into supporting the three victory determinants I've outlined.  So, generally players will select from amongst those that best support their chosen path for victory.  At first, your choices may seem a little overwhelming and you might feel that it slows the game down for you.  Don't worry, the designers have taken care of this by providing a prepared selection of cards tailored to fighting the campaign according to its historical terms.
In fact, it was that selection that was used in the game I mentioned against Florent Coupeau. 

The front of each card in the Event Deck

This whole aspect of the game introduces so much of value to the game play and for me is a very strong element, admittedly one among many other reasons, for adding this game to your collection.  It is original and a very interesting stage of the game, which  provides extra factual knowledge and understanding of this battle and modern warfare in general.  Each card is kept secret, until you first use it.  A rare few are single-use only in the whole game, but the majority can be used each turn, with the familiar turning the card at right angles to the board when used or you can employ my preferred alternative of putting some handy marker [a blank counter, coloured bead etc] on them.  There is a whole little game within the game of trying to divine your opponent's victory determinant from their capability cards and the potential for introducing an element of bluff or deception through your game play.  Like it! 
The Event Deck too adds equally strongly to the replay value and the tension of game play.  In total there are 71 Event cards and though some several cards of the same event, there is a very wide range. 
Each card has either a 1 or a 6 printed on the front and so whenever a 1 or a 6 is rolled in combat, if the matching number is on the top card of the deck it is turned over and the event carried out.  This generally deals out a high number of events from my experience and, if you want a massively eventful game, the rules suggest carrying out an event every time a 1 or 6 is rolled, never mind what number is on the top card!
ISF approaching the Old City, but still  a lot to achieve

So, you are now ready to set-up all your core units and any extra ones you purchased on the map.  The ISF player places his green wooden unit blocks first and the rule for this was one of the only two rules that caused me a moment's hesitation.  The rules state that the three set up areas are marked with a star.  Looking at the map, the three areas on the south edge of the map are very, very obvious, but are marked with the symbol of a white bird on a green background.  Looking more carefully, I realised that there was a very small star on each bird symbol.  Slight doubt over.
The Daesh player sets up second and has the more thought-provoking decisions, as these black wooden block units can be placed anywhere on the map following stacking limits.  The choices made will strongly influence the game.  I have some personal opinions on placement, but nowhere near enough plays to judge their value. I look forward to forthcoming views on this and even more on that eternal knotty question of play balance. 
The Turn Sequence is very straightforward: an IGO-UGO system with the ISF player going first each turn.  Each player carries out three Phases.
Support Phase
Considerations of supply are dealt with and these are very simple and limited.  Generally, each HQ regains one step to each block and the most significant action may be those which result from any Capability cards that can be activated in this Phase.
Movement Phase
The rules are very clear, with the ISF having the advantage of the ability to use Fast Movement using the road system, while very few types of Daesh units can.  Other than Fast Movement, moving is one area at a time.  No surprise that all areas of the Old City with its narrow alleyways provide a slow grind forward for ISF as they try to clear it and end the game before turn 12.  Also, though the ISF 9th Armoured are very powerful and are the only units that have a saving roll against hits, they can only operate outside the Old City.  So, it's important to preserve your strong Counter-Terrorism Service forces for that crucial and difficult task.  Very simple differences like this and the differing Capability cards for each side build to create the distinctive feel of each side and the flow of the game.  
Combat Phase
Combat is mandatory when you enter an enemy area and is handled very effectively. After a single round of combat, the defender decides whether to retreat.  If they don't retreat, the attacker must retreat, but with the option that very specific units [Veterans for the Daesh player and Counter-Terrorism units for the ISF] may remain for a second round of combat.  After this second round, if any defending units still remain, the attacker must retreat.  So, each individual combat ends either with one side having retreated or one side having been eliminated.  Modifiers are few and all rules easily learnt so that, like every other step in this game, they are quickly assimilated and rule book referring to is seldom needed.
Should you find yourself without a partner - and I realise that solo play for some is preferred or forced upon them by lack of players where they live - Brian Train's solo mode rules are equally short and manageable.  However, you can only play solo as the ISF player, as  the Daesh player is handled by a deck of cards labelled Military Council.  Not being a lover of BOTs, whose rules I find may often be cumbersome and can produce long-drawn out turns, the Military Council cards and the ability to make sensible decisions when necessary provide a satisfying alternative.  Still, there's nothing like the challenge of a live opponent!
The low unit density of the game makes for quick moving turns and, through the combat system and actions that may happen as the ISF enter Daesh held areas as well as the effect of Event cards, both players feel involved the whole time.  The game play, the rules system, the tension, the multiple decisions, the replay value, the immediate enthusiasm generated from reading the rules and ftf and solo play - all have added We Are Coming, Nineveh to my list of favourite games.  Learning to play the game is easy and playing either side is rewarding and enjoyable.  It's the sort of game that you want to set up as soon as you finish it, just to try out one new combination of cards or one different approach.  It's also safe to say that the short nine core-pages of very well written rules contribute to this.  Over the years, I have come to value highly conciseness, clarity and the ability to play a game with barely any need to refer to the rule book after a few plays.
Still having seen one large group dedicate one out of three days at the convention to setting up Death Ride Kursk, all I can say is "each to their own taste!"  WACN is definitely to my taste and I highly recommend it to yours.

1 comment :

  1. Another excellent review about another excellent Nuts Publishing game. Can't wait to play this wargame