second chance games

Search This Website of delight

Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts

878 Vikings: Invasions of England is as a descriptive game title as you could ever wish for.  However, it is not until you play the game tha...

878 Vikings: Invasions of England by Academy Games 878 Vikings: Invasions of England by Academy Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Europe


878 Vikings: Invasions of England is as a descriptive game title as you could ever wish for.  However, it is not until you play the game that you appreciate the weight that those ‘s’s are lifting.  Yes, there are lots of Vikings, and yes they’ll be lots of Invasions, on most turns as it turns out. 


Incongruously the rule book states that it is the year 865 however there aren’t many people who could split such small hairs or understand the nuance between the years 865 and 878.  I am not one of them despite regularly falling asleep to the British History Podcast (BHP) which covered this period for me about 3 months ago.  (I’ve got quite a backlog).



However let’s get back to the game, which is a team-based game for 2 to 4 players.  One side takes on the two factions of the Angles (thank you BHP): the Housecarls and the Thegn. The other team takes over the Viking Norsemen and Viking Berserkers.  The game plays out over at most 7 rounds or until the conditions are overwhelmingly in favour of one team.


Gameplay


This game reminds me of a simple COIN game; there are asymmetric faction powers and the play order changes each turn and it is a (wait for it) … card-driven game.  Feel free to disagree with me. One of the simplest aspects of this game is how the turn order is decided – by drafting faction-coloured cubes out of a bag.  Unlike most variable turn order games, this is not predetermined completely at the start of the turn but revealed as the first phase of the next players turn.  This is such a simple design choice but adds a delicious amount of tension (and involvement) from the very beginning and it only ramps up throughout the game. If the ‘English’ defenders go first then their opportunity to react to the Viking invasion is stymied.  If the Vikings go first they can deny the English important reinforcements later on. A double whammy of both team factions going before their opponents can be an opportunity for either side.


On their turn each faction will receive Reinforcements, activate their Leaders (this is mostly for the Vikings as the English don’t get a Leader until the 5th Round), Move their armies, Fight in regions where there are both enemy and friendly troops and then draws cards back up to 3 cards. Each player completes that sequence until either the end of the 7th Round, Treaty cards or overwhelming force end the game.  Both treaty and overwhelming force require a certain amount of control markers to determine if the English or Viking team won.


The first Viking Reinforcement phase lands the Great Heathen Army (i.e. the Vikings) into Englaland. And you might be forgiven for thinking that there would be no way the defending factions (normally one or two defenders in a region), could deal with the invading horde of 17 Norsemen and 8 Berserkers during the first turn.  However, it always seemed to be quite finely balanced by the end of each round despite the Vikings having a seemingly overwhelming force.  The wise Viking player will not spread themselves too thin; there is a strong desire to rampage and pillage with their superior forces but they are quickly whittled down.  A good Viking player should prepare and plan for significant reinforcements in later turns.



The core of the gameplay is driven by the cards played by the active faction, which will either be an event card or a movement card.  The movement cards dictate how many armies and how far they can move.  Movement is a simple affair, there is no unit drop off or pick up, and armies must stop when in a region with the enemy.


The battle phase is streamlined and quick to grasp and another area where this game shines with its design choices.  Each faction is colour coded and has its own battle dice.  The controlling player will roll as many dice as they have units available in the battle.  The berserkers are the strongest faction but also the most fragile.  The Norsemen and Housecarl are equivalent and the Thegn are a bit battle shy.  Any time a battle occurs in a region containing a city then the Fyrd are raised which are basically cannon fodder and play an important role in protecting the stronger Housecarl and Thegn from absorbing too many hits early on.



The use of colour to differentiate the battle dice and different factions really help to streamline the battle phase and it can be taught and grasped in a few minutes.  The simple and quick playing battles present a real ebb and flow that you can see across the board as the Vikings invade and are pushed back, a little less, each turn. The event cards may add a little wrinkle here and there to the overall flow of the game but all their game-changing rules are clearly presented on the cards themselves.  


The active faction player is allowed to ‘command’ the pieces of their teammate and move them and battle with them freely.  However, any decisions where to apply the hits and, I would argue where to move them, should be freely discussed and agreed upon within your team.  It is this discussion space with your other team member that allows this fast-paced game to breathe and enhances the overall experience. I have played it with 2 players (with my son) and with 4.  Despite my son enjoying the game and asking to play it again, I am a bit disappointed that he has not experienced it with 4 players yet.  When lockdown eases hopefully I can remedy that situation.

Components

This review was written with the recently published second edition of the game.  The artwork across the cards and throughout the game is lovely.  I am also a sucker for maps, especially ones of England, and this one is beautifully uncluttered and functional. 



The rules are excellently written, and there is an abundance of examples and colours that at first glance looks confusing, but which are extremely useful when you’re reading to learn the game for the first time.  Because of its relative simplicity and presentation of the rules, I imagine returning to the game after a few months or more will be a very quick affair.


The leaders in the game come with Standees that tower above the army units.  They really serve to focus your attention, particularly for the English factions where there is a concentration of force, if it is not abundantly clear by the sea of black and red plastic surround them



My favourite part of the components has to be the Historical Overview at the back of the rulebook. I love Academy Games (and any other publisher that does) for allowing designers the space to add some context to the game they’ve designed.  There is also a line or two of flavour text on the cards themselves which is interesting to read. 

Criticisms

Academy Games have provided tiny miniatures in 15mm scale on little round bases.  Keeping these upright (and in line with my OCD tendencies) is more trouble than it’s worth.  At 15mm you can tell that they’re soldiers carrying axes and spears but beyond that, the detail is a bit lost.  The size isn’t the issue, any bigger and the map would drown in plastic, but I would have preferred simple cubes which can be easily formed into a good looking shield wall, but this is a minor complaint.



Another minor complaint is around the card art – I’ve already said that the art is lovely but I would have liked to see more unique examples of it.  Event cards with the same function and title have the same art.  Again, this is a very minor criticism and arguably it may be a design choice to keep consistency across cards that have the same effects. 


The most significant criticism I have is that the game feels quite different with just two players.  This is a shame because that is the only version my son has played. There is an added level of ‘je ne sais quoi’ with the full complement of four players.

Conclusion

I have read this game described as Risk+ but I think I would prefer the term COIN-lite. I understand the Risk+ comment but this is so much more than Risk.  If someone can handle the rules-complexity of Risk and enjoys the direct conflict in that ‘game’ then 878: Vikings can provide a much more rewarding experience in a much shorter time with marginally more rules.  I think that non-gamers suggesting a game of risk is pretty much apocryphal these days, but if you ever find yourselves in that situation, say no, go out and buy this (or any of Academy Games’ Birth of America series – 1812, 1775 or 1754) and insist that they try this instead.  However 878: Vikings is probably easier to get hold of due to the recent reprinting.


Although the rules are simple there is enough in here, especially with 4 players, to keep even the most experienced of Grognards entertained.  Even if they consider it as a simple 60-minute filler – my game of this went closer to 90 minutes plus a bit., I guarantee that they will enjoy it.  As will anyone else who has experienced any type of modern hobby games, or dare I say it again, Risk… 


With the almost constant Viking invasion forces, each turn really does feel like a battering against a meagre force of defenders that somehow seem to keep things on a knife’s edge throughout the entire game.  The game is finely balanced and seems to always come down to very small deciding factors that decide the entire game.  Being on the right side of that decision is where the best player (with wit and a small amount of luck) will find themselves.


I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store; which need all the help they can get at the moment.


Designers: Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, Jeph Stahl
Bgg page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/204516/878-vikings-invasions-england
Playtime: 60 mins - 2 hours
Players: 2 - 4



Does anyone else think the Queen looks like Cersei? Crusader Kings may be familiar to readers of this blog from a computer game of th...

Crusader Kings Crusader Kings

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Europe

Does anyone else think the Queen looks like Cersei?
Crusader Kings may be familiar to readers of this blog from a computer game of the same name.  Free League Publishing and Paradox Interactive have tried to distil the essence of the long, expansive, crunchy computer game into a much shorter a play-in-an-evening board game.  Have they been successful? Read on…

The title ‘Crusader Kings’ is a bit of a misnomer for this game.  The whole Crusades aspect of the board game is largely abstracted away into a progress track at the bottom of the board.  What this game should be called is Family Fortunes – Medieval edition.  Your prime focus is making babies, marrying off your heirs and spares and expanding into rival territories, through subterfuge or direct conflict.

Four Player set up

At the start of the game, each player is given a historical family and King to rule over, for example, The House of Normandy led by William the Conqueror.  Managing your King and their children and siblings’ Traits (positive and negative); i.e. making sure your Dim-witted daughter marries the Lustful Son of an opponent, differentiates this game from the crowded medieval Europe dudes-on-a-map archetype.

Gameplay

The game is played over three Eras, each comprising three Rounds, which again have two turns…  This is fairly standard fare for most Euro gamers but is a bit of a departure from a wargamers UGOIGO experience.  In a turn, one Action Card per player is resolved and it is the selection and playing of these cards (during a Turn) which really drives the game forward.  The game will normally end after 18 turns for each player or if any player reaches the Jerusalem space of the crusade progress track before then.
The Crusade Track in all its glory...
The slowest part of the game, but arguably the most important, is the beginning of each round, where each player attempts to make a marriage for a member of their family and chooses two of the eight action cards in their hand to play on their turns.  They must also choose the order in which they’re played during the turn, which does have significant consequences.  Once all players are familiar with the different actions there is little down-time between your turns as every other player's Action card may also affect you in some way.  

Your starting King and family will have specific traits, but thereafter every character in the game, has a randomised trait that is either positive (green trait – example: Strong, Honest, Pious, Scholar etc.) or negative (red trait – example: Imbecile, Deceitful, Lunatic, Lustful etc.) which will gradually feed into your trait bag and are used to check whether any attempted action throughout the game is successful or not via a Trait Check.
5 Player - 2nd Era, things are getting busy

Trait Checks are the unique selling point of this game and provide the jeopardy and a lot of the story which this game tells.  A Trait Check is where a player draws traits from their bag hoping to draw a green (success) trait in order to complete the chosen action.  Every action also has a Critical Trait – if that particular trait is drawn during the check then a green trait is actually treated as a failure and red as a success. 

For me, the addition of Critical Traits provides thematic immersion and also an element of strategic thinking.  For example, if am attempting a Build Action which has Critical Traits of Humble (Green) and Ambitious (Red) and I draw any green except Humble I am successful and can plonk a castle down in a territory I control. If I draw Ambitious, which on any other Trait Check would fail, I can still build my castle as it is the Critical Trait for Build.
Invest to draw an extra Trait.  Lucky that a Critical Trait (Deceitful) was drawn

Aligning marriages to reflect the traits and critical traits that you want to further your families influence is where the strategic piece comes in.  Often you are desperate to make sure your ruler has an heir that any marriage will do, but it is a sweet feeling when you’re able to snag first player (by successfully crusading) and marry an available partner with the Cruel trait.  Although this is a negative trait it is considered critical for Crusading and Invading and you can choose more of those actions in future knowing you’re more likely to succeed.

I like games where I don’t have absolute control of the units in my command.  It seems fitting to me that even if I order something to happen in my territories, it doesn’t necessarily occur.  I wouldn’t appreciate this aspect in an economic game but where I am trying to control a lunatic son or imbecilic daughter as part of my dynasty it feels apt.  Often in this game, it is the memorable failures that develop the story of your dynasty more than an automatic Tax action for example.
Child  #1 needs to die

During each Era, every player will play 6 of their 8 actions cards.  The action cards are drawn from 5 decks and there are a specified minimum and maximum number of draws for each deck.  For example, you can’t just draw 8 Realm cards that allow you to Build/Develop on your turn.  The only mandatory card draw is at least one from the Crusade deck (which incidentally is a good way to kill your Drunkard King in favour of his Brave son).

Aside from the Crusade Deck, the other Action Card decks are the War deck (moving and invading with your army), Intrigue Deck (Plotting and Overthrowing other players control of territories), the Realm deck (building castles and giving your dynasty additional powers) and finally the Tax deck, which are the only action card which don’t require a Trait Check and provide the main source of income in the game. 
The box all packed up. Game will start in 30 minutes...
Each Action Card also has an event which will be triggered after the chosen action has been resolved. Generally, the events on the Realm, Intrigue and Tax cards are bad for the acting player or good to the other players.  Whereas the Crusade cards events are generally good for the acting player and bad for the others.  However, the risk of going on a crusade shouldn’t be underestimated. Your ruler could easily be killed triggering a succession, or crisis if there is no heir (a terrible outcome for your dynasty).
The 5 Action Decks
There are a variety of pitfalls in this game for the novice player and it does definitely reward repeated plays.  The game manual has even gone as far to advise new players not to crusade without an heir – which was something I didn’t appreciate on my very first teaching play through and immediately failed on a crusade.  I learnt not to do that again and we all agreed to reset the board state.  Don’t be like me, a Succession Crisis is not something you can come back from.
4 Player Initial Setup
In my very unsuccessful attempt to play the computer Crusader Kings II several years ago, I realised how important Casus Belli was in order to attack another kingdom.  The same is true in this game and War is an exercise in politics and logistics before actual combat, which is unfortunately abstracted out of the game to a quite disappointing Trait Check.  Albeit one in which the affected player(s) will invest in an attempt to sabotage the check.  In the plays I’ve had of the game, direct conflict almost seems like an after-thought.

The game provides six scenarios, the first five loosely describe a chronology of some of the notable crusades from history.  The sixth scenario is a tournament scenario designed for four players whom each starts with Casus Belli against another player.  This is designed for more direct conflict and succeeds to an extent but resolving battles feels almost as light as vanilla-Risk and consequently unsatisfying.
Rules book - is a little loose

Components

This game has come through a successful Kickstarter campaign and subsequently, all of the components and art look top quality.  I think the board and card art aesthetic is spot on.  The player boards are of normal card stock but are perfectly fine. The miniatures, although they are almost superfluous, look good albeit a bit large for my tastes.  And you get 6 good-quality drawstring bags in individual player colours. The level of quality in components is largely indicative of most Kickstarters these days in all but one area…
Lots of tokens and bits to play with

The tokens throughout the game were impossible to get out of the counter sheets without some tearing.  Some of the counter sheets were better than others but I had a distinct problem with two of the five sheets.  Even in the good sheets there was some tearing.  This was disappointing but I’ll put it down to a bad batch – glue running out, or punch out tool needed sharpening as the cause. As the rest of the components, even the insert, were of a high quality.

The rules provide a bot player to use when playing with fewer than 3 players.  Although I am pleased to see the inclusion of a bot for solo or 2 player use, due to the light tactical element and story-driven narrative I can’t see myself using or enjoying playing against the bots.  I just don’t think there’s enough mechanically to justify the time.  The game is best with three of four other opponents around the table and I hope that I can explore a bit further in those circumstances.

Criticisms

Mechanics are a little loose for my tastes and the combat is a bit disappointing.  I really like the theme and the story is, as other reviewers have suggested, really where this game shines.  The publishers have by necessity condensed the crunch and tactical weight of the computer game down into 2-½ - 3 enjoyable hours that can be easily finished in one sitting. 

The main strategic element of this game is building your trait bag.  This is a fun element and significantly drives the narrative, e.g. choosing the right spouse and murdering the wrong spouse to find a more suitable match but the strategy is limited in other areas of the game.  The crusades are more of a game timer than a viable strategy, although a successful crusade does provide additional powers.
Nice bags
The miniatures feel a little tacked on as well.  I imagine these were a stretch goal of the Kickstarter campaign, but in reality, the Control Tokens -represented by a large cavalry miniature serves to distract a little from the foot-soldiers of your actual army.  

Conclusion

This is a game that borrows my favourite mechanic from a wide variety of other games and remixes them into an enjoyable but less-coherent experience.  It takes the dual-natured action cards from Gloomhaven, the bag-building and chit-pull mechanic from Quacks of Quedlinburg, the pre-programmed movement from Colt Express and the theme of medieval European wars from so many other games.  If I had to pick a favourite element from those games then Crusader Kings has borrowed them all but unfortunately, it’s not quite the sum of its parts. 
Uggh - tear down is a right pain
The narrative arc that is played out is as good, and often as funny, as any I have experienced playing board games.  I will come back to this game and will enjoy subsequent plays of this for the story and inter-relationships that happen between mine and my opponents’ dynasties.  However, if I’m looking for a crunchy, tactical, bewildering experience that I experienced when faced with the computer game then this isn’t it but I am looking forward to seeing what the next video-game to board-game adaption is.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a plethora of board games be converted into digital form and come with companion apps, it is not so common for a computer game to make the transition into the cardboard world.  From recent memory, we’ve had Doom, XCOM the most successful mover has been This War of Mine.  However, I think we’ll continue to see more fusion between the two formats and I’m excited to see what that blending will look like in 5 years time.

Publisher:  Free League
BGG Page: boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/253574/crusader-kings
Players: 3-5
Designer: Tomas Härenstam
Playing Time: 3 hours


Strategic Command WWII -- War in Europe Board Game Precursors Let's face it, certainly one of wargamers' most beloved si...

Strategic Command WW2 - War in Europe PC Game Review Strategic Command WW2 - War in Europe PC Game Review

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Europe


Strategic Command WWII -- War in Europe



Board Game Precursors

Let's face it, certainly one of wargamers' most beloved simulations has been strategic command in World War Two, especially in the European theater. Some must admit cutting their teeth on Avalon Hill's 1974  Rise and Decline of the Third Reich or possibly its 1992 successor, Advanced Third Reich. In fairness, let's not forget Australian Design Group's 1985-2007 World in Flames series and also Decisions Games card-driven  Krieg! World War II in Europe and its successors in 1999 and 2011. Another recent entry that scores good marks is GMT Games' Unconditional SurrenderThere are other board-games. too, but these are those the reviewer finds deserving of memorable accolade.

That's Old DNA; Get on with the PC Stuff!

Fair enough, just giving a taste of where all this originally debuted. The purpose of this article is to review the most up-to-date PC title of the Strategic Command Series, the latest being released by Slitherine on November 17th, 2016. 

Interestingly, this is a PC game that has a development story of its own. Just like board game players, PC players want more detail, performance and better graphics as the years go by. 

These sequences are money-makers for the gaming companies and we don't begrudge this. Most recently, I had purchased the last version of this game from the previous publisher, Battlefront: Strategic Command WW2 Gold Bundle. Amazingly, just after that, Jason asked me to review games at A Wargamer's Needful Things, so before I had ever played this older version, I was in the thick of looking over Strategic Command, WW2 in Europe.

The original developer, Fury Software, has moved to work on with Slitherine/Matrix. Fury has been culturing this series since 2007 and have made a splendid choice to continue to do so with the new publisher. Fury's craftsmanship and TLC approach is enhanced in this new iteration of the game; I can attest through gameplay that you will see a devotional level of attention and detail.


Let's Take a Look at the Manual

Before you start your PC engines bent on terror and destruction of the AI enemy, you'll need to check out the gaming manual. The document has excellent structure and detail, so you won't get lost.

The thing is, the AI, even on the novice level, will put you through your paces and won't pull any punches. This is one game where you will want essential understanding regarding the mechanics of:  HQs, supply, morale, purchases, rebuilds, reinforcements, scripted events and combat mechanisms for land/air/sea. You'll find everything you need in the manual, and it's worth paying attention.
Trust me, you'll 'feel the need'!

This is a PC wargame with the complexity of Advanced Third Reich; you'll need to understand how the systems work, while the computer program takes care of the implementation. To put it another way: if you plunge into the game, as I did, with only rudimentary comprehension, the AI will spank you here, there and all over if you let it. I lost half the Kriegsmarine in the early parts of the game for lack of preparation, for example. 


Essential Elements in the Manual

Where to begin? The good news is the manual is comprehensive and well-organized; the bad news, if any, is that you can't afford to skip it. 
One of the first choices you'll make

One of your easier decisions is choosing unit icons: silhouettes or NATO? I started with the former but eventually switched to the less glitzy but more utilitarian NATO view (showing my age, no doubt). 

Note: there is a lot of information you'll be shown on these icons, and the symbol meanings are not immediately obvious. You'll need to refer to the manual to know why units are flashing or not, why some have white dots on them, etc. Honestly, I never mastered all of this while playing the game but I'm convinced it was detrimental not to have done. 
these predictions are very helpful but there's more to the story...

The reason I failed to explore the details thoroughly can be blamed on too-heavy reliance upon onscreen combat predictions to make decisions. Players familiar with Panzercorps (for a review, click herewill easily recognize this helpful, if not comprehensive, feature. 
A must read; put it alongside your copy of of Baron de Jomini

Keep in mind that combat is conducted by individual units. Therefore, to defeat an enemy unit, it's important to attack sequentially with powerful assaults. For example: medium bombers can first defeat entrenchment levels, tactical bombers (e.g. stukas) then reduce the strength of the enemy, panzer units attack twice to punch through, infantry armies attack more effectively than infantry corps, and so on. Since all hexes have a stacking limit of one for all types of units, organization on the ground is a major factor of success. For example, one infantry unit can attack, then move away and make room for the panzer unit to finish it off. I found the AI was very efficient at this ( esp. compared to me!). 
Don't skimp on the research funds or you'll find panzer IIs fighting Stalin tanks! 

Success is also dependent upon the research and level upgrades the player decides to purchase for unit types. There are a lot of decisions to make with difficult-to-foresee long-term impact on the game. When you do see it, it could be too late! 
There are plenty of detailed reference tables
Be mindful of your political aspirations then pony up!
Not only will you need to research for weapons, but other countries may or may not join you depending on how much money you spend to influence their direction. During my game, I was able to manipulate both Spain and Turkey into the war. The former was much more important to my Axis focus on the Western Allies as it enhanced the U boat war (easier repair and resupply) and set up the loss of Gibraltar thereby allowing my Italian fleet infiltrate into the Atlantic (Stay tuned for some images of the battle over Portugal!) 
Did you forget to read this? 

Yes, I did read the strategy guide and it's very useful to keep in mind, but the part I didn't read up on sufficiently was this:
These decisions are made throughout the game and significantly impact strategic direction

In the case of my game, I thought I had to figure out how to invade Norway with the Kriegsmarine; as a result, I lost a few ships before a decision announcement was made by the game that I could pre-pay for an invasion of Norway. 

Oh, really?? 

At first, I thought this was kind of hokey, because inevitably in most strategic games, the simulation of the Norway invasion is not a bright bulb in the design. 'Here we go again' crossed my mind. 

Later, I was sending stuff over for the invasion of Egypt when I received another strategic decision point, and was asked if I wanted to invest in the Africa Corps or not. I said 'dummkopf what does it look like I am doing' as I had send a panzer division, additional corps and other air units already! 

As it turns out, these are the game's mechanisms to simulate funding for alternative operations that you may not want to spend money on. 

Because I had loaded up on units in Africa, I swept the British from all of the middle east and with Spanish help, I took Gibraltar. On the negative side, Barbarossa wasn't so hot, due to my heavy investments in the U boat war, naval capabilities and efforts versus the Western Allies. The strategic choices are the player's to make, but don't think the AI won't do something to counter your decisions. Meanwhile, it's making decisions on special scripts as well!
It's a double feature!
Before going into examples of gameplay, I mustn't neglect to mention that the designers have provided a thorough guide on the ability to product your own simulations with their gaming engines. To be honest, I did not have time to fully explore this, but if this portion is anything like the rest of this high-quality product, I'm sure  MOD wizards will be very happy indeed!


Gameplay Analysis - Axis


Late 1940 Highlights

Readers, I started the analysis from late 1940 because there is plenty of coverage out there on how to handle the Axis for the Polish and French campaigns. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that transferring units across the front takes a lot longer than you might anticipate. Strategic operation is quite expensive and digs into the pocketbook every time it's used. So make sure to start marching those units in Poland back to France at the earliest opportunity because you'll feel yourself unprepared to launch an incisive attack on France. It took me too long to conquer both countries.
Occupied France

Early on, get used to making sure the partisan centers are occupied: compare above image with that below:
Partisan centers in France. Why these spots need to be occupied.  
U Boats 1940 
Late 1940: the U Boats start to prowl more freely once the French fleet is no longer a factor. Note how AI has sent some Light Cruisers in and were ambushed by the wolfpack. CLs aren't too bad against subs, but CVs and DDs are better. 

The U boat war is important for Germany. The player needs to get the subs out there using 'silent mode;' then, once on top of the (red) convoy lanes, put them in 'hunt' mode to sink the merchant ships. This is represented abstractly (as in most strategic WWII games) as loss of money (or MPPs). 


June 1941


North Africa. The Axis will go on to overwhelm Britain here, in spite of Colonial reinforcements

A lot of Axis units were placed in North Africa due to a scripted decision that brings in Rommel and buddies. As previously mentioned, I had already sent a bevy of  reinforcements as soon as Italy entered in mid-1940. All these assets proved too much for Britain and her Pacific allies -- but the AI put up a valiant fight.
Diplomacy: Germany invests heavily in Spain and Turkey; ultimately they both enter the fray! 

Malta had been a problem interdicting supplies to North Africa, consequently slowing down my attacks. In turn, an effort was made to bring Spain in, so as to cut off supplies to Malta.  Eventually, the Germans got close enough to Alexandria to have air units hunt down the British Fleet, and after a series of heavy battles with naval air units and the Italian navy, The British force was KO'd, including a valuable carrier. The Commonwealth forces put up a stiff fight and a lot of money points were spent repairing naval forces and sending reinforcements to the Africa Corps ground units. Consequently, none of that money made it to the Russian front. 

One note -- it's a bit too easy to repair fleet units. Even if down to one point, it takes just one turn (usually two weeks) to sail them to a port, one more turn to repair them to full capacity (depending on how close the port is to a full supply source or home waters) and then they are back in action at a full 10 strength points. Of all the systems in the game, the naval system seems to be the most arbitrary -- not that it isn't fun! That's the balance to be found -- boring naval battles or fun ones. A difficult design decision and I am not unhappy with how Fury has gone about doing this.
This strategic view shows the forces for Barbarossa and the mass of units serving Rommel!
Just before Barbarossa: above is the strategic view of the situation. Notice how the units icons are clearly indicated for each of the nations. Shown are German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian units on the East and Baltic fronts. A few Italian troops have made their way East.  The Russian are weak at start, but based on my experience, I hadn't enough quality German units facing the communist foe. You can see that The Italian fleet is cautiously positioned in the Taranto area.

1941 -- End of the Year

North Africa

Disaster in Egypt -- Demoralization for the UK

The U Boats

The small strategic dots in the water areas show U Boat packs threatening the commercial fleets of the Western Allies and convoys to Russia. Note that Spain has just entered the war. The Italian fleet is poised to enter the Atlantic. You can see  the weather areas, grey and white showing winter. 
Iberia with neutral Portugal and Axis Spain. 
Gibraltar will be taken and the Italian fleet unleashed! 

But in Russia....


Close approach to Moscow but that is as close as I'll get!

Due to lack of an HQ in the area (uselessly sent to Finland) I could not and never did capture Riga. It also took a long time to reduce Pripyat marshes, again, due to insufficient HQ support. The Germans needed at least two more HQs and probably about 10 more armies in Russia. But I had spent the money on U boats and North Africa. There are trade-offs, and the AI knows about them! 

September 1942 -- USA in the War

U Boats and Raiders terrorize the Atlantic

1942 started out grimly for the Western Allies. Readers can see the extent of U-Boat operations, including an Italian Caribbean raider in the lower left corner.


Italian and German surface fleets poised to intercept potential Allied operations in the area

Massive funds had been spent in the West and naval superiority (or at least parity) was achieved for the moment. But as a consequence, the war in the East is a bit frightening for the Axis because not enough effort has been devoted to handling that front properly. 


September 1942: Disorganized Germans pushed well back from Moscow and beyond Smolensk.

December 1942 -- The Hinge of Fate?

Stabilizing the Russian lines and fending off the invasion of Portugal!
Detail of bitter fighting in Iberia; Axis fleets searching for and finding Allied troop convoys: 
The Bay of Biscay is now known as Ironbottom Bay
The war in the East had started to resemble WWI fighting, with massive attrition casualties on both sides. Meanwhile, the Germans continue to send heavy forces to beat down the late 42 incursion into Portugal and Spain. Heavy tanks have been sent to counter USA armored corps in the south. But once again, the Germans fail to send enough HQs to the front -- evidently another will be needed in the south. Players need to take care of this -- supplies and support from nearby HQs can make all the difference. The Spanish performed poorly, even on home turf, until the Franco HQ was sent back from the Russian front in early 1943. 

April 1943

A good turn for Germany and friends!

1943 is a stabilizing year for the Germans as I finally get my act together on managing the Russian hoard, which is not to say they are fully leashed by any means. And in the West, some nice counterattacks sink the Hood and destroy some valuable American land forces. Note that this Combat Summary is received every turn something is destroyed -- of course, sometimes the news can be pretty bad!

More vicious fighting in Portugal. That carrier hovering north of Spain will be located next turn and sunk by wolfpacks returning from raiding the Atlantic! The Axis are able to cycle their naval units for repair in southern Spanish ports and specially built-up St. Nazaire in Brittany. This is devastating for the Western Allied AI as it struggles to get a foothold.

More Axis units fighting to control the channel. 
By now the WA have lost 5-6 carriers due to aggressive operations

In general, the AI does a fair job handling the naval units, but losses are a bit more random and dramatic than what is usually seen on land. Once the carriers expose themselves and fail to hide after some rounds of attacks, they are exposed to counterattacks by surface vessels or U boats in range. I'd say the AI suffered more than it gave in these battles. But it is fair to keep in mind that the Germans invested heavily in U boat numbers and repairs. Most definitely the Axis were fighting a western front strategy in this game. 


June 1943


WA invasion is in trouble. Many Western Capital ships have been lost. 
The WA can't get supplies or air units through,

Strong USSR forces can pound the minors. Romania is getting nervous! 

Gameplay Observations


Readers, due to time constraints and commitments, I needed to finish this review before completing the entire war, but I do feel as if I can make some valid observations about this fine computer simulation. 

Overall

First and foremost, the game and scripting (that is, decision events) build a sense of tension for the upcoming campaigns. Additionally, these provide some structure for novice players, such as myself. Note that I did play this on the novice level and felt sufficiently challenged by the AI. 

One could make the point that scripted events are also a kind of way for the designers to 'get away with' not simulating difficult aspects of the game. But this is not unusual in board games that cover the strategy of WWII. Norway is notoriously difficult to simulate. The designers decided to cover the invasion with an abstract decision to do so or not. If the German player decides to do it, the invasions of Norway and Denmark are automatically successful (don't waste time and resources doing a land campaign in Denmark like I did!). The same is true for a scripted decision -- or not -- to send Rommel to North Africa. While I haven't played the Allied side yet, I'm sure the same scripting is conducted in  various situations on their end. One I witnessed, that was not historical, was the British occupation of Irish ports to facilitate Atlantic operations. 

Finally, I must point out that one seriously enjoyable element of the game is how seamlessly intertwined game actions can be conducted. One can start moving around some subs, then move on to the east front, then make purchases or reinforcements, stop doing that and conduct diplomacy then come back to land attacks. Nothing is phased in any sort of rigid sequence of events. That's all handled by the program after the player pushes the 'end turn' key. 

Land, Air and Naval Systems


Obviously crucial to any simulation of WWII in Europe is how land maneuvers and combat are handled. The game avoids the mechanic of gathering forces for odds-based attacks, instead simulating combat as sequential attacks by individual units. I haven't made up my mind if I like this or not. It can be difficult to manage and predict how units are to be organized on the ground for an upcoming series of battle attacks to destroy enemy units for breakthroughs. My conclusion is that my inexperience is a factor. But not even the AI did much in the way of breakthroughs. Combat seemed to be more 'attritive' and 'WWI-ish' than what reminded me of the bulk of WWII maneuvering combat. Certainly, there were cases of attrition and stalemate in WWII, but I'd like to see that as more of an exception in this game. Perhaps with more experience playing, I would indeed be able to see more battles of encirclement than sequences of head-on attacks. 

The air war is simulated pretty well, but again, highly based on attrition and reinforcement. The sequence of how air attacks are handled is at first abstract and then later simply becomes a bit repetitive in how it is represented in a series of pop-up windows. More exciting would be a series of animation screens. 

The naval war simulation is likely to generate the most controversy. Naval units, like any other units, cannot stack. Therefore, it is impossible to represent the fleet as based in a single port, such as Scapa Flow or Taranto. One ship can be in a port, the others are going to be floating around at sea unless they find another haven. However, the fog of war makes up for this, as ships cannot be seen unless scouted by the enemy with air or other fleet units. And it can be a bad idea to get surprised at sea by running into a vessel, ambush is very possible. Personally, while I had my doubts about the naval system, in the end I rather enjoyed it. Moving a naval unit is fraught with tension! Will I discover an enemy carrier I can send my battleships after? Or will my sub run into a barrage of depth charges by finding a DD unit guarding the sea lanes? 

Overall, I'm very happy with the combat systems in the first playing of this game; I'm sure, as a newbie, I missed some very important nuances about all three forms of combat interactions. 


Production, Research and Diplomacy Simulation


These elements seemed to work well. Players should keep in mind that production is not immediate, nor are diplomatic results. The same is true for researching new capabilities. It's important to remember that for some research, the breakthroughs still require upgrading the units in the field to the better weapons! I definitely struggled with this trying to push to the East. You can't fight if you are upgrading and reinforcing. 

My only bone to pick with the game is that it's much too easy -- or seems so -- to reinforce naval units that have been severely damaged. They are back up and running withing a couple of turns, and this is simply not how quickly naval units can be refitted. I do think this is something for the developers to look at in the next go-round.


National Morale Level Simulation

Of all the elements, I found this the most murky. Perhaps I needed to read the manual on this in more depth. But why does Poland's morale stay on the display after it is conquered? Or France's? One thing the software does mostly well is get rid of or hide unnecessary data,  but not so this. Also, when your national morale level is, for example, 99,248, then a player gets an additional 300 +/- morale for sinking the Hood, well, so what?  It's shruggable. Why 300? Why not 1000? Plus the game doesn't tell you how much morale the British have lost by losing the Hood. This is one simulation area that could use a bit of fleshing out to become more meaningful for the player. 

Recommendation for Purchase

By all means! Especially if you enjoy strategic simulations of WWII, you won't be disappointed and the game feels as if it is highly re-playable. Take note that there is a more than moderately steep learning curve for this PC game. The manual is digestible, but not in one reading. This is a game that will take time to master, especially until multi-player is available (enabling teaching situations). Right now the quickest way to learn the game is to play it, in spite of the helpful videos out there. There is that much to take in, so if you are looking for beer and pretzels, this might be a bit much. Otherwise, enjoy the banquet! 


PixelPLaybox.co.uk