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  Death in the Trenches The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games  'The Great War', 'The War to End All Wars', these were epi...

Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918 by Compass Games

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


 Death in the Trenches

The Great War 1914-1918


Compass Games

 'The Great War', 'The War to End All Wars', these were epithets that have been used to name the First World War. This war was a first for many reasons: aerial bombardment, poison gas, tanks, and masses of machine guns were used in it. Death and destruction of civilians was not a new thing. It had been happening since the dawn of wars. The First World War just took it to a new and frightfully unprecedented level. The western countries have always looked at it from the mostly static trench lines in France. The Eastern Campaigns usually had more freedom of movement and only stayed in one place for at most a year and usually not even that long. Four great empires were dissolved by the carnage of World War I: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and the Ottoman empires all fell. The horrific loss of life led straight to the devil-may-care 1920s. All of the soldiers who escaped this abattoir were scared by it, whether mentally, physically, or both. In this game the designers have tried to put you into the shoes of the Entente or Central Powers from a strategic viewpoint. You will be in control of your forces across the globe, whether it be in the sky, on the ground, or at sea. 

 Compass Games has once again produced a game about World War I. As I mentioned in another review, they seem to be on a roll as far as games taking place during it. So far, their batting average has been excellent as far as each game goes. Let us see if they can keep this streak going.

 This is what comes with the game:

1 34×22″ map covering Europe and the Near East – Mounted

3+ countersheets (9/16″) of military unit counters, markers and chits – total 400 (double sided)

1 rules booklet (Game System and Random Events included)

6 8½ x11″ color player aid and display sheets

10 six sided dice

1 full-color box and lid set

 This is the hex size and turn length etc.:

Complexity: Medium (about 6 out of 10)

Playing Time: 10+ hours

Solitaire Suitability: Excellent

Time Scale: 1 turn = 3 months

Map Scale: 1 hex = approximately 80 miles

Unit Scale: Army and Corps

Designers: R. Ben Madison and Wes Erni

Artist: Jonathan Carnehl

 This is a blurb from Compass Games that I believe is worth reading:

"Death in the Trenches is a strategic-level World War I game covering the entire war, from the opening shots in Serbia and Belgium to the final defeat (or victory!) of Germany and its allies in 1918. The map, executed by Jonathan Carnehl, is designed to give you a feel for 1914 by using textures and colors featured in atlases of the time. It stretches from the Pyrenees to Moscow, and from Norway to the Sudan, covering every square inch of territory in Europe and the Near East which saw combat from 1914 to 1918, in a manageable 34×22″ format. Colonial battles around the world take place on an additional 8½x11″ map showing Germany’s empire.

The game also features 456 beautifully-illustrated counters depicting all the national armies that fought in the war – from the Germans, French, British and Russians all the way down to the Persians, Montenegrins, Armenians, South Africans, and a host of specialized units (French Foreign Legion, Gurkhas, Italian “Arditi”, Cossacks, Tyrolean Kaiserjäger, Zionists, Bavarians, “Dunsterforce”… even China may send a small expeditionary force).

For the World War I buff, the game’s simple off-map system of Allocation markers fills your world with historical detail: Tanks, Alpenkorps, artillery barrages, flamethrowers, poison gas, Krupp guns, Mustapha Kemal, the Royal Air Force, French elan, Rommel’s mountain tactics and Galliéni’s taxicabs… while the great wartime leaders all leave their mark (good or bad!) on history: Bruchmuller, Haig, Hoffmann, Mackensen, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, Rennenkampf and Samsonov, Sarrail, Von Francois, Foch, Brusilov, Nivelle, Plehve, Putnik and Yudenich. All this detail is added without forcing you to remember special rules.

What other WWI games make ruthlessly complex, Death in the Trenches simulates with elegant simplicity. Face-up units are entrenched; face-down units aren’t! Simple as that. Emphasis is on the fun stuff rather than the boring stuff; there is no bean counting of production points, supply rules and strategic redeployment are easy, and in combat there are no complicated terrain modifiers to memorize – those are baked right into the combat die roll."

 Let us first take a look at the components. The heft of the box is pretty good. However, now that so many games, this one included, come with mounted maps this is no longer a variable denoting gaming goodness (it actually may never have been). We grognards were always sucked in by large and heavy boxes. 

 The map has been judiciously set up to give the player the entire European and Near Eastern areas where campaigns took place, and more, on one normal sized map. That the designers were also able to include the turn record track and some other tables, and a subset map of India, is even more impressive. The map, while appearing plain, has an innate beauty, at least to me. The major cities that did and could have been a part of the campaigns are included. It would seem from the amount of area squished into the map that it would lose something in the conversion. However, at eighty miles a hex it seems just perfect for a strategic view of the area. Naturally, with this large of an area depicted you do not get much of the tactical obstacles, or benefits. The map's muted colors seem to match the somber tones that should accompany this war. There is a one sheet mounted map that has the areas in the Pacific, German East Africa, German Cameroon, and German South Africa that were also fought over during the war. This game is one of the very few that depict these areas. 

 The Rulebook is in full color and is twenty-eight pages long. The type is a bit on the small size. The rules go out of their way to explain that this is not your father's wargame. The game rules etc. have been based on Wes Erni's calculations and his WESCOM (the Warfare Equivalency System and Combat Operations Model). I will have more to say about this later in the review. The Events Book is twenty pages long and has a little color but is mostly in black and white. The first few pages are for the game setup. The next few pages are a complete catalog of what is in each hex. I do not remember ever seeing this in a game before and it is a nice touch. The last eleven pages are of all the events that can take place in each year. The game comes with six hard stock Player Aids. There are two fold out Omnibus Markers Track sheets. One is for the Entente and the other for the Central Powers. Then we have two Special event sheets, one for each side, that both have twenty-five events on them. Then there is a Battle Board and an Attacker Battle Chart. Some of the printing on this is also on the small side. Next up, we have four countersheets. These are adorned with the owning country flag on them. They come pre-rounded and easily come out of the sprues. These would be the most colorful part of the game. A few of them also come adorned with ships, artillery, and planes. The package on the whole is one that your game table will be calling for. 

 Now we will have a blurb from the Rulebook on WESCOM:

"WESCOM (the Warfare Equivalency System and Combat Operations Model) was created by Wes Erni, for the game Absolute Victory (designed in the 1990s but not published until 2016 by Compass Games; the first edition of Death in the Trenches was actually published first). It has been used in several other
games. The principle behind WESCOM is to engage a player’s personality in the Battle system, so that a player’s own level of aggression, or timidity, is vividly expressed in the way that player approaches each individual battle. The key to the WESCOM system is the infamous “Overroll”, where the player rolls as many dice
as he wants to, trying to achieve a die roll as high as possible but without going over a limit; if you go over the limit, you achieve nothing! In this way, the aggressive player constantly risks disaster. While critics who don’t understand the system complain (“What do you mean I rolled all those dice and did no damage?!”), thoughtful players of these games enjoy the emotional roller-coaster that the system forces them to ride. Firepower is essentially an index of offensive power, and takes into account morale, equipment, low-level commanders, and national temperament.

Fortitude is essentially an index of defensive strength, and takes into
account morale, equipment, low-level commanders, and national temperament.

In DEATH IN THE TRENCHES, Fortitude ratings are a little hard to decipher as they have been abstracted to show vast disparities in unit sizes. But the effect is to make every Division worth “one” on attack and defense, which enormously simplifies Battle mechanics for the player compared with the First Edition. Players should note that while Firepower seems like an “offensive” quality and Fortitude seems like a “defensive” quality, both ratings are used by both sides
in a battle, because Battle is simultaneous. While most games have a simplistic "I attack you all along the front, then you attack me all along the front” system, WESCOM accurately represents the intricate ballet of forces on the battlefield."

 Per the above, I hope that I am seen as a 'thoughtful player'.

 This is from the designers describing their thoughts on each country's relative strength:

"The basic unit of force in the game is the “division,” abbreviated “Div”. The exact size of a Div in the game is a mathematical
abstraction, but conceptually you can think of a Div as equaling approximately this many men: AH 20,000; USA 19,000; Russia 18,000; Italy 17,000; France 16,000; Turkey 15,000; Britain 14,000; Germany 11,000. Those numbers are not trivial! The Battle and logistical systems in Death in the Trenches are driven by Wes Erni’s finely tuned mathematical calculations. For game purposes, for instance, an Austro-Hungarian Division is nearly twice the size
of a German Division. This means that an Austro-Hungarian Division has a Battle advantage over a German Division, if only on account of its enormous size. The effect in the game can seem bizarre at first glance – Austrian units actually perform better on attack than Germans do! This is only because they are so much
larger. The flip side of this, however, is that Austrians are much harder to replace, because their casualty rates are so much higher. While this may feel like the Austrians are hard-to-replace ‘élite’ units while Germans are below-average ‘grunts’, the per capita effect is exactly the opposite. Just be aware that this entire system is extremely counterintuitive and takes some time getting used to. "

 Precisely because the system is so 'counterintuitive' is why I have decided to post the designer's words in full. On the outside this game seems like a cross between Axis and Allies and the old Avalon Hill game 'Guns of August'. While the ideas are simple, they do seem to be completely different than almost any other wargame. Most wargames battles are still based on a CRT and a set of modifiers. In simple games it will only be a few modifiers while in others it will be a list as long as your arm. Having a game based upon how lucky or belligerent a player feels means that you get a game where you can have battles like the Somme or Verdun. The battles can be absolutely brutal as far as casualties go. 

 Another interesting concept from the game is Reserve Divisions. These can be used by the player for:

Strategic Redeployment

Building Armies

Special Event Loss

Destroyed in Battle

 I must admit having been taken in by the look of the game. I was not expecting the game to be anywhere near as deep as it actually is. The game mechanics also help with the counter clutter. You do not feel as if you are a God that is using a tweezer to negotiate the buildings of the Manhattan Skyline. The designers have actually gone with a KISS style to the game. The only thing the player needs to do is to open himself up to new ways of thinking about wargames and their rules. Without, hopefully, beating a dead horse, they are counterintuitive. However, they work and work very well to simulate World War I. The game is listed as being as either one or two players. It is also given high marks for playing in solitaire mode. I can agree wholeheartedly with this assertion.

 Some of the Events are:

Achtung, Panzer - Germany's lumbering clumsy A7V tanks attack. This gives +7 firepower to any German attack in a clear hex.

Bruchmüller - Artillery genius, great for surprise attacks. This gives +30 firepower to any German attack

Strosstruppen - This gives +10 firepower to any German attack.

Foch - At the start of any EP pulse, you may "unflip" one stack of French Armies.

Voie Sacrée - At the start of any EP pulse roll three die. The French may add that many Divisions to Armies in any one hex in France.

Smith-Dorrien - At the start of any EP pulse, you may "unflip" one stack of EP Armies (at least one Army must be British).

 This is the Sequence of Play:

2.1 First Random Events Phase
1. Draw one chit to determine what Random Events occur (see 3.0).
2. Divisions are now added to Reserves/Armies by the Events just drawn (3.1).
3. The EP player may now transfer Fleets from Sea to Sea (8.2).
4. The CP player may now transfer Fleets from Sea to Sea (8.2).
5. Players may now challenge Naval Supremacy (see 8.3).

2.2 CP Logistics Phase
1. Each CP unit in a CP Units Holding Box may be built, or rebuilt, by the CP
Player (5.3). You may leave units in the Holding Box if you choose. Armies built at this time may also be reinforced by attaching Divs from Reserves (as in step #3 below).
2. CP may transfer Divs from one unflipped Army to another unflipped Army of the same nationality within 3 hexes (marching distance).
3. CP may transfer Divisions from Reserves, to unflipped Armies (Rule 6.4). This includes the transfer of Minor Forces (4.3) from the Minor Forces Reserve Box to the map.
4. CP may now transfer Divisions from unflipped Armies, to Reserves (Rule 6.4). This includes the transfer of Minor Forces (4.3) from the map to the Minor Forces Reserve Box.

2.3 EP Logistics Phase
The EP player repeats the preceding steps (2.2), using his own Armies and Divisions. Both Players can do this simultaneously if they trust one another.

2.4 Pulse Phase (see 6.0 and 7.0)
[2.4.1] During the Pulse Phase, play proceeds by a series of alternating pulses, kind of like chess moves. First one player goes, then the other player, and back again, alternating until both sides either have nothing left to move, or don’t want to move anything.
[2.4.2] The player who moves first in the turn is indicated on the Turn-Record Track next to the turn number (CP on Turns 1, 2, and 3; EP on Turn 4, etc.)
[2.4.3] During a Pulse, the player who is moving (“the phasing player”) moves one stack of units as explained in Rule 6.0. If this results in the moving stack entering an enemy-controlled Hex occupied by enemy units, the Battle occurs, as explained in Rule 7.0.
Certain Special Events (3.4) are done during, or instead of, movement.
[2.4.4] A player may also “pass” during his Pulse, and hand the right to move to his opponent. If both players “pass” consecutively, the Pulse Phase ends. (So be careful – don’t give the other Player a chance to end the Turn unless you’re prepared to live with the consequences!)

2.5 Unflipment Phase
1. All Armies on the map which were flipped, now “unflip” and return to printed-side-up.
2. Spend Divisions to Repair forts (8.4).
3. Roll for Armenian Massacres (14.2).
4. Surrender Checks (12.0); check Russian “Hammer and Sickle” cities (13.2).

2.6 Second Random Events Phase
1. Draw again for Events, as in 2.1 (every turn).
2. Divisions are now added to Reserves/Armies by the Events just drawn (3.1).
3. Put all Event Chits back into the cup for use during the next year (Fall turns only: see rule 3.0).
This concludes one turn. The cycle repeats until one player resigns, or Fall, 1918 has ended (see 16.0).

 As you can see, deciding to when to 'Pass' during the Pulse Phase is an important decision on the player's part. 

 Another interesting rule is 'Reds' (Partisans). If any Great Power Surrenders (except Russia), the victor places two Reds Armies in the territory of the surrendered nation. These will be commanded by the opposite player. So, if France surrenders, the Reds would be under the control of the Central Power Player. The Russian Revolution has its own set of rules. 

 Thank you very much Compass Games for letting me review this great addition to World War I games. The most important thing about our hobby is to learn things, at least to me. This game does not really teach you that much history, you should already know all of that. It does make you open your mind to learn a new way of thinking toward playing and understanding wargames. A day without learning something is a day wasted. I have really enjoyed playing this game.

 Please remember that Compass Games Expo is coming up on November 10-14, 2022. This will take place at the beautiful Comfort Inn & Suites in Meriden Ct. I hope to see you there.

 It is also that time of year again. Compass Games yearly sale is in full swing. Please take a look.


Death in the Trenches: The Great War 1914-1918:

Compass Games:

Compass Games Expo:

  War for America The American Revolution, 1775-1782 by Compass games  'The World Turned Upside Down' is actually a song from 1640 a...

War for America: The American Revolution, 1775-1782 by Compass Games War for America: The American Revolution, 1775-1782 by Compass Games

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


 War for America

The American Revolution, 1775-1782


Compass games

 'The World Turned Upside Down' is actually a song from 1640 and laments that Christmas can no longer be celebrated due to an Act of Parliament. So, it would seem to be a strange tune for the British to play at their surrender at Yorktown. However, whilst the words have nothing to do with the occasion, the songs title fits perfectly with it. Washington had refused the British the 'Honors of War' (they would have been allowed to fly their colors and normally play a French or American song), because the British had denied them to the  American Army who had capitulated the year before in Charleston. It seems that some historians doubt it was that song, but they are a cantankerous bunch. 

 Strategic games about the American Revolution have had a large growth spurt after around 2000. Before that, there were many battle games/simulation but not that many on the strategic level. This is actually Compass Games second strategic game on the American Revolution. The other is 'End of Empire 1744-1782' which also covers the French and Indian Wars leading up to the Revolution. It is an excellent game on one of my favorite eras for wargaming, but I digress. Trying to compare the two would be like apples to oranges Bart. 

 This is what comes in the box:

2 Map sheets

2.5 Countersheets of 9/16″ and 5/8″ unit-counters (432 counters total)

6 Player Aid Cards

1 Sequence of Play Card

2 Army Organization Displays

1 Setup Card

51 Action Cards

1 Rulebook

1 Playbook

 This is a Compass Games blurb about the game:

Complexity: Medium

Time Scale: Seasonal turns (6 turns per year)

Map Scale: Area point-to-point map

Unit Scale: 1,000 men per strength point, individual capital ships, and leaders

Players: 2

Solitaire: Medium

Playing Time: 8 hours (15+ hours for Campaign Game)

 The game comes with two maps that are each 22" x 34". They show from Nova Scotia to the top of Florida. One has an inset for travel to Europe and the other has a large inset that includes the Caribbean Islands. While these were not important to the Revolution, they were important to England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands after the three latter joined the war. The maps are not just paper. They have a coating on them to help them last. The Action Cards seem sturdier than most cards that come with games. These are easily read and understood. The cards come with small pictures on them of period pieces or other depictions of people and places of the Revolution. There are six separate Player Aid Cards. These are the obligatory hard stock and in full color. They are:

British Reinforcement Chart

Colonial Reinforcement Chart

British - Patriot Start Positions/Terrain Effects Chart

Six Nations Card/Foreign Entry Card

Charts And Tables/Sequence of Play

 The Rulebook is twenty pages long including the Index. It is also in full color. The writing is smaller than I would like, but still readable. There is enough separation between the paragraphs etc. to make it not really difficult to read. The Playbook is twelve pages long. Six of these are for examples of play. The other six pages are comprised of Scenario Setups, Card Check List, Gazeteer of Place Names, Designer Notes, and Bibliography. Physically it is the same as the Rulebook. The counters are square in shape. So, if you are a wargamer who cannot live without rounded counters you will have to do this yourself. They are scored better than you would get with an older game. This means that very little snipping of any excess is needed. The strength points are generic. Most major commanders from both sides are represented by counters. These have small portraits on them. The counters are easily read and not 'busy' at all. The components easily pass muster.

The two Maps together

 The Sequence of Play is:

"Step 1: Reinforcements

  Both players place reinforcements according to their own

Reinforcement Chart. British first. (8.1)

All Turns:

  Both Reinforcement Charts are consulted and reinforcements are


  Units moving from the Europe Box by Naval Transport do not

consume an AP.

  Leaders are Promoted/Demoted/Removed/Transferred.

Early Spring Turns Only:

  Both players position their available magazines (British first).

If St. Eustasius is not controlled by the British, the Colonial player

receives a bonus magazine in the Deep South.

  Cards which have been set aside by year, are introduced commencing in 1776 and shuffled into the Draw Deck along with the cards

from the Discard Deck.

  Each player then draws enough Action Cards to fill his hand to a 3

card maximum.

  If a player already has 3 Action Cards, he can draw 1 Action Card

and then discard any card of his choice.

  The Colonial player rolls on the CLT to raise and place new SP.

Winter Turns Only: 

After both players have moved two Action Rounds:

  Colonials check for Expired Enlistments.

  Both sides check for over-quartering.

  Both sides remove all magazines at turn’s end.

  Six Nations units return to their villages

  If British Withdrawal is in effect, 12 SP must be removed to their

Caribbean possessions.

Step 2: Initiative 

Players roll a D6 for 1st initiative. The player with the higher result 

performs the 1st AP of the Action Cycle.

Step 3: The Action Cycle (9.0)

The player having the initiative moves and has combat with one single 

force from one single space. He performs any ‘free actions’ (9.10) during

this AP, at any time and in any order of his choosing. He can perform 

these at the beginning or end of his AP. It is entirely his choice. When he

has completed his actions, the other player proceeds with his AP in a 

similar manner.

Step 4: Administration Phase

  Check for Victory. (4.0)

  Advance Year/Season markers on the Turn Record Track"

Close up

 This is a big game in both size and scope. It comes with two scenarios: The 1775-1782 full scenario and the 'The French are in 1778-1782' scenario. This is a bit of a shame. With the maps conveniently splitting the colonies almost in half it is a shame there were not smaller scenarios for just the Southern and Northern Colonies. Perhaps a Burgoyne and Cornwallis scenarios could have been added. Do not get me wrong, what the game portrays in the two full scenarios it has it does very well. This is the first game that really adds some strategy to the Caribbean theater instead of just an off map box. The game also shows how seapower was the one really decisive part of the war. Without seapower there is no Yorktown. This not only goes for actual fleet actions, but also for supply. So, the game mechanics really show how the war was fought and what you need to do to win it. 
 The Colonial Militia and its disappearing and reappearing act throughout the war is taken care of simply and elegantly during the battle phases. In the early years of the war the Militia was absolutely needed for any Colonial Army to stand a chance against the British. 

 As mentioned, the game is physically large. You also have to invest a good amount of gaming time to it. The full campaign game can last up to twenty hours or several game sessions. This is not a game where you are going to be able to set it up and play in one night. There is nothing wrong with long or short games for that matter. It all depends on your appetite (thank you Billy Joel) at the moment. Getting immersed or lost in a game is one of my favorite pastimes. I agree that it seems harder to do this in 2022 than it used to, but I still love to do it on occasion. If you are like me in that respect you will be very pleased with the game. 

 The game gives a player so many different strategies to try out. I do not think anyone will ever get bored or find the game repetitive. Each side has its own strengths and weaknesses. This is a recipe that is needed for good gaming. 

 We do have to deal with the elephant in the room though. This would be the page of errata that comes with the game. You can, however, look at this in two different ways. You can castigate Compass Games for having the need of any errata. This mind set is really not something that is useful in the real world. When I was young I had a boss that told me "that is why they have erasers on the end of pencils". We are human and mistakes will be made. Also if you can find any game that was released without any errors at all I would be amazed. You could look at it and thank Compass Games for giving you the errata right in the box when you open the game. This saves you from searching online for the correct wording etc. It also could have been released six months after you bought the game, and you had to download it also (I have seen this more than once). So, I guess errata can be looked at like half full glasses. It is all in the mind of the beholder.

  The only real point of contention between myself and the game is William Howe's Command Rating. I have always had a soft spot for the Howe brothers.

 The games victory conditions are these:

"Three main factors influence the various Victory 
Conditions (VC) which must be met to win the 
• The year victory is obtained
• Before or after France enters the war
• The Political Will of each side
Hint: The British have their best chance of victory
during the early stages of the rebellion before 
French seapower can swing the balance. Victory 
will be much harder to achieve once the
‘Declaration of Independence’ Action Card has 
been played or the French have recognized the 13
4.1 British VC Prior to French Entry
Accomplish either:
• Reduce the Colonial PW/VP to ‘0’ after any 
Colonial AP.
• In 1775, control all the colonies in New 
England while not losing both Montreal and 

4.2 Colonial VC Prior to French Entry
Accomplish either:
• Reduce the British PW/VP to ‘0’ after any 
British AP.
• Cause the surrender of a second British army or 
force of at least 5 SP of regulars at the end of 
any combat.

4.3 British VC After French Entry
Accomplish one of the following:
• Reduce the American PW marker to ‘0’ after 
any Colonial AP.
• Capture all French ports in the Caribbean while 
not losing any of their own, at the end of the 
• Control 4 colonies at the end of the game.
• Control all the following port spaces in the 13 
Colonies in the following chart at the end of the 
game while still controlling Halifax, New York 
City and Norfolk, VA.
Boston, MA Baltimore, MD
Newport, RI Alexandria, VA
New London, CT Wilmington, NC
New Haven, CT Charleston, SC
Wilmington, DE Savannah, GA

4.4 Colonial VC After French Entry
Accomplish one of the following:
• Avoid the British Victory Conditions.
• The British are unable to move 12 SP of 
regulars to the Caribbean for British 
• Capture both Quebec and Halifax at the end of 
any British AP.
• Capture all British ports in the Caribbean while 
not losing any French Caribbean ports at the 
end of the game.
• Capture both Montreal and Quebec while 
preventing British control of New England and 
the Middle States at the end of the game.
• Prevent the British from controlling any of their
possessions in the 13 Colonies at the end of any 
British AP. (The specific cities listed in rule 
• Prevent the British from controlling any of the 
13 Colonies while not losing any French 
possessions in the Caribbean at the end of the 

VC - Victory Condition
AP - Action Pulse
PW/VP - Political Will/Victory Points

 So, the game is essentially cut in two segments once the French become involved. The British should also really push in 1775 to end the war as quickly as possible.

I think it is an odd choice of a picture of good old Banastre. Instead of the usually dashing cavalryman he looks a bit stodgy

 Thank you very much Compass Games for letting me review this very good game. As usual I have been very impressed by the components and gameplay from one of their stable. 


Compass Games:

Compass Games – New Directions In Gaming

War For America:

War for America: The American Revolution, 1775-1782 – Compass Games


HOW THE UNION WAS SAVED: the AMERICAN CIVIL WAR  FROM STRATEGEMATA When Stephen Pole followed up Storm In The East with Storm In The West ...


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






When Stephen Pole followed up Storm In The East with Storm In The West that seemed a reasonable and logical progression and I thoroughly enjoyed the basic system both games employed.  When he subsequently tweaked that same system for How the West Was Saved, I was a shade concerned that he was trying to shoe-horn the system into a very different period and conflict - that of the Russo/Polish war of 1920.  I wasn't over-thrilled with the title either.  However, if you read my review of that previous game you'll know that I was won over.

So, before Christmas when I received How The Union Was Saved: the American Civil War from Strategemata, my immediate thoughts were that, if nothing else, this title was just too repetitive and unimaginative!  But wait... that box art full of drama and action wasn't bad at all.  Opening the box things got  even better.  

A very nicely designed mounted board presented a simplified, but very playable map. flanked by display charts for each sides forces and two solid and beautifully illustrated screens to hide those units.  I was already beginning to be won over.

The map may have more than a little of the simplicity and austerity of early Avalon Hill years, but it is wholly practical for this strategic level of play.

Then three counter sheets follow - one consists almost entirely of leaders, while the other two contain unit strength counters for all three combat arms and plenty of markers for such things as supply depots, activation markers, garrisons and redoubts.  All these are the very solid, thick, laser-cut counters that are familiar now in several companies' games.  Though rather plain and simple, they are all clear and functional, while the leader counters are graced with black and white, head and shoulder photos.  Another plus.

The rule book is a compact 12 pages dedicated to the rules, but with limited illustration and an additional three pages of excellent design notes - though you may want to copy the latter and expand the font size which is microscopic!  Accompanying the rules booklet is a very good 7 page Example of Play booklet.  This is becoming a more frequent feature in game design and one that I heartily endorse, even for a game such as this.  Physically none of these have the glossy luxury of the larger games producers, but are workman-like and very serviceable.

Nor had I been deterred by the fact that this was another iteration of Stephen Pole's major game system.  When I first encountered it for his series of three WWII games, my first thoughts had been that it might serve even more appropriately for the American Civil War. Now was my chance to find out.

As always the central factor is the use of Resource Points [RPs].  Their fixed allocation helps to establish an appropriately historical pattern to all the games using it, but with a simple positive and negative dice mechanism which adds in just the right amount of potential variation.

These RPs are absolutely essential to virtually every aspect of the game.  First of all they are used to set up and pay for  new supply depots and also pay for the maintenance of existing ones.  Next they pay for the placement of all activation markers that each player will use during the current turn.  For me this is one of the best elements in the system. Each player alternately places an activation marker leading to a subtle tension between executing your intended plans, reacting to your opponent's placements and trying to divine from them what their intentions are. Finally, your RPs are used once again alternately to pay for the movement and combat of activated units.  
So far so familiar and working very nicely.

At this point, Stephen Pole has introduced to the mix the single most effective and important new feature: apart from garrisons, the only "units" to appear on the map are the Field Army stands,  each with its Commanding Leader!  Again, this may not be a new concept.  [I'd refer you to Shako's Napoleon 1806 or Napoleon 1807 for a couple of further excellent games using the same concept, but with more conventional blocks.]  Nevertheless, it is the perfect accompaniment to the cat and mouse manoeuvring - and often blundering - of the historical ACW campaigns.  All that you ever see on the map {apart from a few garrison markers} are a maximum of eight Confederate Armies and ten Union Armies designated by an alphabetically labelled base and the counter of its Commanding Officer.

Here you see the opening set up, with each side's Field Armies deployed and their unit strengths laid out on the corresponding charts hidden by a pair of vividly illustrated screens, such as the Confederate one below.

Considering the few Armies involved, I was also pleased to see that Stephen Pole had avoided the danger of massive over-strength armies.  Instead he has provided a combination of ideas that are another reason for my wholehearted praise and enjoyment of this game.  Crucially, a Field Army can only have a maximum strength of 12  points. While at their heart are the Commanders, who are divided into two levels: Senior [3 stars] and Junior [2 stars].  This is all- important for combat. 

A Junior Commander is marked with a crossed sabre and rifle symbol and a number which indicates how many men they may include in a combat. Whereas, a Senior Commander may command both their own unit strength, again indicated by crossed sabre and rifle, and also a number of Junior Commanders, this time marked by a kepi symbol and number.  Below are two typical Senior Commanders.

Thus, in the photo above, Union Senior Commander Halleck can command 1 strength point himself in combat and two Junior Commanders and their unit strengths.  Confederate Beauregard has an edge as he can command 3 strength points himself, plus 2 Junior Commanders and their strength points. 

All Commanders, with the exception of Robert E. Lee, begin the war at Level 1 and many have the potential to be upgraded to Level 2 as the game progresses.  I like this simple way of factoring in the basic overall inexperience as both sides began the conflict.  On the other hand, I'm not so sure that I wholeheartedly agree with the decision to make available from the start a totally free choice of all Commanders, though this is well explained in the design notes.  After more plays, I will probably work on a more historical chart for their availability.  

As with his previous designs, the historical element is further catered for by a series of Event Card decks, one for each year.  Though I rank very highly some CDGs [Card Driven Games], above all the classic Twilight Struggle , I've always been a greater fan of card assisted games as here.

First of all, the choice of the yearly decks ensures that nothing too anomalous occurs and this is further curtailed by each player drawing a single card per turn.  So that, starting from Turn 2, you play just one of your two Event cards held in hand.  For me, this gives just the right balance of a little historicity per turn and a small element of surprise for your opponent rather than allowing a near re-write of history and too much control of how it unwinds!

I also favour the design that the Decks are shared by each player and so each card has a Confederate and a Union Event, as seen here in these four drawn from the 1861 Deck.

The final design feature that works to create the right historical feel is the division of strength points into full strength and weakened ones.  At the beginning of the war both sides Field Armies contain purely weakened ones.  This is visually well handled on the Field Army Display charts in two ways: firstly, each Army's Display is divided into a Full Strength and a Weakened Strength area and this is reinforced by Full Strength counters being numbered in red and Weakened Strength counters being numbered in black. 
Strength Markers for the three combat arms

As the war progresses, starting from 1862, both sides are allowed a number of upgrades both to units and to Commanders at the end of that year's Spring Turn.  Again, I like the basic concept very much, but would like to have had a little less blanket uniformity.  [A slight variation by die roll, perhaps affected by the previous year's losses might be a possible house rule.]

The last area I want to explore is combat which I would describe as the icing on the cake.  As mentioned earlier, a key factor is the number of strength points that a Field Army can actually bring to bear in combat depends on the Commanders' abilities.  It's next affected by whether those strength points are Full or Weakened troops, as in Combat a Full Strength point counts double.  

All that I've described works to blend familiar aspects with new variations retaining an overall clarity of rules that is strongly supported by the eight page Extended Example of Play. 
A typical page from the excellent Extended Example of Play
Having worked out the number of strength points [SPs] that can be committed to a battle, each player chooses the types of SPs from those available on their Field Army display [e.g. Infantry, Cavalry or Artillery and whether Full Strength or Weakened] and places them secretly on the Hidden Battlefield Display.  Once more a very simple process, easily understood and carried out, but introducing another level of choice seldom seen in most games.

A number of modifiers from typical factors like terrain or adjacent friendly units are applied.  Included in this process is another new idea that I strongly applaud: a simple 2D6 die roll by each player which will result in either being able to add 1 strength of any available type to your combat strength or deduct 1 strength of any available type from your opponent's battle strength.

I greatly enjoy the many uncertainties that derive from hidden displays, the alternating activation of individual Armies and the uncertainty of just what composition of units you're going to meet in battle.  This is all achieved through  a very accessible and well exemplified set of rules.  Once again Stephen Pole has given us a design for a highly playable, fast-paced game that deserves to be in your collection. 

Many thanks as always to Strategemata for providing this review copy.


 FIRE IN THE SKY FROM PHALANX From the close-up tactical air war in the Pacific soloing the Japanese in my previous review, we switch to a t...


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From the close-up tactical air war in the Pacific soloing the Japanese in my previous review, we switch to a two player strategic level treatment spanning the whole Pacific War.  This game is a  
re-implementation of the game originally published by MMP.  Inevitably, the comparable artistic qualities of both games have come under scrutiny, starting with the box art.  In terms of solidity and durability, the new edition wins easily, as it is both larger and far more solid.  Other than that it may be argued that all the rest is personal taste.  Having owned the original game, here are my views.

I much prefer the new box art in part because of the colour palate. I really did find the total yellow/ochre background of the original insipid and rather muddy.

While some found the minimalist art work stylish and effective, I prefer the archetypal image of carriers under attack and the dogfight in the skies of the new edition.
The maps too couldn't be more different.  The original was a strongly coloured, striking paper map which gave the feel of a more realistic aerial view especially with the many additional sculpted clouds.  Viewed by itself I rather liked it, but with the images of the bases on the map combined with the many counters, I ultimately found it overwhelming and not the easiest to read or identify locations.

The new mounted map sits at the opposite extreme.  A steely grey, it is both more sombre and more functional.  In the end, I've come to prefer it mainly for the greater ease of being able to read off at a glance where all the key locations are and for how the counters stand out against it.  Considering that this is a very long game to play as well, it's also much more restful on the eye.

Most important is that you can read locations' names when counters are placed on them.

The counters too have drawn mixed reactions, again largely through contrasts with those in the original game.  Once more my preference is for the new style which, like the map, I find easier on the eye.  I particularly didn't like the overwhelming pink of the Japanese counters and the white blossom emblem and the dominating image of the American bald eagle in the first edition.  No doubt if that earlier imagery really pleased you, then the new style may be less to your taste.

Criticism of the new counters has mainly focused on the blue of the US counters - a heavy negative view has been expressed that it is too dark and that the numbers lack distinction and so are hard to read.  As someone with not the sharpest [old] eyes, I considered them neither too dark, nor had any problems reading the numbers or symbols.

The second criticism - some quite vehemently expressed- is that there is a slight imperfection in some of the cutting as the next image reveals.
If you zoom in on the Interpid [sic]  Franklin, you can see what is meant.  Personally, this is no big deal and when on the map it is neither noticeable nor impedes play.  [If I was bothered at all it might be about the misprint of Intrepid!]  I mention this criticism merely for those who might have seen some of the more extravagant outbursts about poor quality control, which I don't think is justified.

For me the major improvement is the decision to make the naval units square, the air units hexagonal and the land units round.  This simple distinction is very helpful during play. Your mix of forces is obvious at a glance, instead of having to work your way through a uniform pile of counters.  Other simple physical aspects that I welcome are the attractive Task Force screens...

and the Battleboard, which continues the more restrained colours of this new version.

The final elements are the rule book and scenario book.  Both are a major step up from the typical average quality paper of the time to today's high quality gloss printing.  Also the layout has been much improved  in the rule book, though the rules themselves are [and here, I'm relying mainly on memory, as I no longer have the first edition] virtually identical.  The significant change is the doubling of Transport costs accompanied by a similar doubling of Transport available. This may seem a pointless exercise, but it does away with the first version's often occurring division sums involving fractions!

Rule and Scenario Books

On the face of it, the basic rules - a mere 16 pages - seem more than accommodating, especially when merely looking at their apparent brevity and well spaced layout, but this can be deceptive.  In part, this is caused first of all by the organisation of the rules into Core Concepts followed by the General Course of Play.  The former are often closely tied to the latter with information in the one being needed or relevant to understanding the other.  This doesn't help either in learning the rules or finding crucial aspects of them again, as you play the game.  

Each turn is based on the seemingly old-fashioned Igo-Ugo system, but the inclusion of a Reaction Phase introduces more interaction than at first appears likely, as does some of the asymmetrical elements of each player's turn.  

In  all, the Sequence of Play breaks down into ten Phases.  What happens and when can sometimes seem strange; for example the first Phase is Economic. In the Japanese player's half of the turn this allows the transfer of Oil Pts and/or DD units, whereas in the Allied Player's half of the turn the Economic Phase is totally different, as the Japanese Player may first undertake anti-submarine warfare followed by the Allied Player undertaking submarine action.  

There is a lot of novelty, both here and elsewhere.  It makes for a unique and fascinating experience, but it doesn't ease the learning process.   The next Phase: Reinforcements, for all its brevity, is not a simple matter and took repeated checking to make sure not only that I understood them properly, but that I realised the consequences of my choices.  Almost all the information pertains specifically to the Japanese player, while the Allied player is left by contrast with a very, very brief and simple set of actions.

Each Player's turn involves no less than five Phases that involve movement of one sort or another. For the Phasing player there are the First [Major] Deployment Phase, the Operational Movement Phase, the Return to Base Phase and the Second [Minor] Deployment Phase while the Non-Phasing player has a Reaction Phase,  which inevitably involves movement.  Each time there are mixes that incorporate different distances and requirements depending on type of unit whether air, naval or land, which Phase it takes place in and different numbers of Transport Points for both sides, while sometimes the cost of movement is paid for in oil but only by the Japanese player.  

Remembering accurately and consistently all the differing factors and qualifications is not only a formidable task, but one which I've found slows the game down considerably.  What I find even more frustrating is the lack of any explanation of the design intent behind many of the actions.  For example, the already mentioned Transport allowance is a very important factor and I appreciate the restraints and limitations that are imposed on both players.  Still I would like to understand better the reasoning behind some of the variations for each player.  Similarly, considering the significantly large distances involved in the sea hexes, I wonder why aircraft exert air zones that impact on and restrict the movement of naval vessels and supply lines.

With Movement itself so complex, it's no surprise that Combat is convoluted too.  Even the Submarine Attack Segment has three steps, before we even reach the Battle Segment.  The latter is divided into:- 
Battle Board Preparation Step
Air Combat Step [broken down into 4 stages]
Surface Combat Step [broken down into 4 stages]
Sea Control Step
Land Combat Step [broken down into 5 stages]
Administrative Step

The Battle Board is certainly both an attractive and useful feature that helps in this process.

This looks even better when units are laid out on it, but weaving your way through the steps and bearing in mind all the nuances of the rules is again a slow and steady process.

Units are divided into Carrier Task Forces and Bombardment Task Forces, while Naval, Air, Long Range Air and  Land units all have separate boxes on the Battleboard, if they are not part of a Task Force.  Fortunately, not all types of units and types of Combat occur in every battle that takes place.  What seems strange is that, despite a fair degree of complexity, air and land combat ultimately involves rolling modified fives or sixes to hit. 

Naval combat demands a different approach, amplifying a very familiar system from the classic Avalon Hill game, Victory In The Pacific [VITP]In this, one player - the one without Air Superiority - lines up his ships and the other matches one for one.  If one player has more ships involved than the other player, they can assign the excess ships in any way they wish. 

However, one side or the other can then choose to withdraw.  Though the player who chooses to withdraw relinquishes the ability to fire, any withdrawing ships that are faster than their attacker avoid being fired on - another feature seen in VITP.  If neither player withdraws, then fire is simultaneous, but unlike air and land combat, the hit number needed is found by cross-referencing Fire Power against Defence Rating. 

Up to this point, I had really liked this part of the system.  It involved no modifiers [hurrah!], yet took account in a simple way of different types of ships firing at each other.  However, now you have to look up the effect of the hits on each ship by rolling two dice plus any possible modifiers and comparing this with the ship's defence rating to see if it is damaged or sunk!

A smaller engagement, though still encompassing all types of combat

To add to all this, you have to calculate the differing effects of damage to carriers, to ships, to air units and to land units.  There are no simple consistencies across your forces as to modifiers, rules for influencing factors or how to calculate them or their effects.  Some damage causes losses to the Transport Pool, some damage causes a ship to be placed on the turn track, some damage causes a reduction in strength and so it goes on ...   

There are many cumulative elements and factors with no logical connections to make remembering them easier.  As a result I found myself checking and rechecking rules and constantly referring to the Player Aid card for modifiers.

The final substantial component of this game, the Scenario Booklet, is intended to help you thread your way through the rules.  As such, it might have been better to present them in reverse order and that is partly how I used them.  The seventh and last Scenario, Battle of Midway is just that.  It needs only the Battleboard and a very small number of units, mainly carriers.  Frankly I would have appreciated similar micro-scenarios designed to practice such things as Naval Combat or Land Combat and Amphibious Landings.  The next shortest [two Turns] is Scenario 6 Guadalcanal Campaign is billed as a short learning scenario too, but suffers from needing an additional series of special rules to explain rule elements that are not used. 

Scenarios 3, 4 & 5 [3 Turns, 10 Turns and 4 Turns respectively] reduce playing time by presenting portions of the whole game.  The latter also shortens play by using only a portion of the map.  Finally, Scenarios 1 & 2 present the war in its entirety, the only difference being that Scenario 1 [classed as the game's main scenario] omits Turn 1 : Pearl Harbour.

These large Scenarios would benefit greatly from Set-Up Play Aids to reduce set up time and help  sort out the many units and where they are placed on the map, along with the position of various important tracking markers on the board.  

Last and by no means least, as it is 17 pages long, is a massive Example of Play. [incorrectly labelled Scenario 2, it is in fact Scenario 1] that takes you through all of Turn 2.  Once again high hopes of its help were not wholly realised.  Despite its extensive thoroughness or perhaps because of it, following the information and understanding it, especially the numerical aspects and calculations, proves a major undertaking in itself.  Much of the time I found myself having repeatedly to sit, rules in hand, to make sense of how  the numbers were derived.

This is not a game for the faint hearted, nor is it one that can easily be taught by a player however familiar with the rules to someone who isn't.  Perhaps, if this were to be your go-to strategic level game for the Pacific war with expectations of frequent play, your efforts may be rewarded, but as yet they elude me.

As always many thanks to Phalanx Games for their kindness in providing a review copy of Fire In The Sky.