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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 ...

HOW THE UNION WAS SAVED HOW THE UNION WAS SAVED

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

Strategic

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 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...

FIRE IN THE SKY FIRE IN THE SKY

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

Strategic

 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 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.









WarPlan by Matrix games     WarPlan is a slight misnomer, although hopefully all countries and generals hav...

WarPlan by Matrix Games WarPlan by Matrix Games

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

Strategic





WarPlan

by

Matrix games





  
 WarPlan is a slight misnomer, although hopefully all countries and generals have them. They are almost always chucked out the window after the first contact between enemy forces. As Clausewitz wrote, "Friction is the concept that differentiates actual war from war on paper", and those surprises that make "even the simplest thing difficult". Though your plan for the next campaign might be completely sound, it is still at the mercy of the enemy, weather, and your own commanders etc. About the game's cover, why Rommel? Bradley is totally understandable as a general. However, looking at the scope of the game, maybe it should have been Marshall? There are so many choices for the Germans instead of Rommel. This game is a strategic and operational one of World War II in the European Theater. The first question is why? There are so many that have been done, and a few that are very good. Let us look at Matrix's blurb to see what you actually get on your computer screen:

 "WarPlan is a game designed and coded by Alvaro Sousa, from Kraken Studios, creator of Strategic Command 2 products (Assault on Communism, Assault on Democracy, Brute Force, Strategic Command 3 Image Importer).
Developer Kraken Studios places their emphasis on games that are easy to use, hard to win. WarPlan employs one of the best interfaces to lower micromanagement as much as possible so players can focus on playing and thinking.
SCALES
The game's scale is massive, covering 70 different potential countries, in a map large 30 miles / 50km per hex using a Peters map scaling (which better represents real distances). The land scale is 15k - 60k men, air scale is 300-400 aircraft and naval scale is 2 capital ships + support ships.
COMBAT SYSTEM
Combat takes place on Land, with multihex attack based on operation points allowing for multiple moves and attack tactics allowing for frontline breakthroughs, on Air, where you can attack selected targets and may automatically support land attacks, and on Sea, where fleet and raider modes affect detection. Night action, Surface, Sub, and Carrier combat are available. Use the Zone of control to restrict the movement of the enemy.
20 different units with 15 different attributes, 17 different technological advancements, 5 different specialties. Each country has their own units with their own attributes. Additionally, units can be impacted by: Breakdown - Land units can be split or reformed, corps may detach a division, armies may split, Formation – Small formations may be grouped into larger ones, Generals - Each player comes with their own generals that affect combat, mobile attack, and retreats, Support pool Units - 11 different support types. Naval units stack in fleets. 1 land, 1 air, 1 fleet per hex. Land units have the capacity of having a specialization. This is an attachment of equipment, elite trained units, or gear. With advancements, this allows for 120 different land unit configurations.
COUNTRY MANAGEMENT
Production takes into account oil, manpower, logistics, strategic resources, trade agreements, convoy zones. The system allows you 17 different advancements and each unit has at minimum 2 advancement choices. You can have 47 different unit configurations. The supply system is based on cities, rail, ports, headquarters, and distance from railways. The supply system more accurately represents the North African Campaign. From a diplomatic standpoint, players may declare war, influence, attempt a coup, or negotiate a surrender. Each country has a loyalty score and an entry-level. Actions in-game may alter the entry and loyalty of various countries.
MAP
The map is Hex based, with 15 different types of terrains subdivided in to sizes with each different features including motorized and non-motorized movement, airfield capacity, and defensive bonuses; 12 different resource types, 5 different strategic resources. Realism is enhanced by the presence of Fog of War, with detection levels that determine information of units. Moreover, 5 different weather conditions make the whole gameplay more challenging."






 Well that is a bit of a mouthful. Let's take a look under the hood and see how many of the above statements hit the mark.

 One of the really big differences with WarPlan compared to other games is the inclusion of a working interception/interdiction mode for the units. Supply in the game is also innovative, as seen below.









 The map is large, actually very large. I really like this in games. It makes the sweep and size of the operations come to life. Of course for every plus there is a minus in computing. The larger the map means more units and decisions. So, a large map with a lot of units make it much more difficult for a designer to create a competent AI. The map itself tends more toward functionality instead of artistic beauty. This is fine, because I am going to play it, not take a screenshot of it for my wall. You can easily tell one terrain from another. If your old eyes are having a problem, there are numerous levels of zoom available for the budding general. The counters also tend toward function and are easily distinguishable from one another.
 




 The game comes with six scenarios: 1939, 1940,1941,1942,1943, 
and 1944. These scenarios start not at the beginning of the year in question, but at the date where important operations are going to take place. Thus, in 1943 the date the scenario starts is July sixth. The player does not have to wait until the middle of the year for the Battle of Kursk or the Normandy Invasion to take place. Conversely, this means that the player does not have the chance to change anything before these operations take place. The game is strategic in scope at all times so it does not have scenarios that condense the map and allow the player to play out separate important battles in WWII. This is not a knock on the game, but I do like it when games include them as a choice.  






  Okay, so now we come to the crux of the game. How is the AI, and how effective is it? With most polls showing that eighty to ninety percent of players only play computer games solo, the AI in games is a big deal. So how is this one? It is a bit of a mixed bag. The AI on the operational scale is very good. It will defend and attack with units in a very competent manner. On the Strategic side, not so much. However, with the game being situated in the European Theater of WWII, there are much more times for the AI to shine rather than not. The designer actually has stated that he really likes to work on the AI routines of the game. So this bodes well for future upgrades of the AI to make it that much better.







 One of the game's strongest points is its attention to supply. Unlike many games of its ilk in this one supply actually matters. Most other games abstract it or only really use it for the construction of new or replacement units. In this game, supply matters at all times. For the Axis player, it means that you will have to pay much more attention to supply than you are usually used to. It also means that the game plays more historically correctly than most others. In this game, you cannot make non historical or ludicrous decisions. Take North Africa; because of the lack of supply historically the amount of troops in North Africa had to be on the small size. Some other games allow you to build a huge Panzer Armee to conquer the Middle East. In this game, supply forces the player to play within historical limits. If there is one thing I love about the game it is this. Sandbox games are all well and good, but only if they make sense historically. 






 The rulebook is over 100 pages long. So you know this is not a 'lite' or 'beer and pretzels' game. The rulebook is laid out well and allows you to instantly look up whatever you need. The fact that Matrix allows you to download the full manual helps immensely. Putting it to your phone or tablet allows you to play and look up  the rules at the same time. It also comes with an editor that allows the player to change almost anything he wants. You could also create your own scenarios pretty much from scratch if you wanted to.



1939 Start

 The naval war in strategic games are usually the weakest part of the game, especially because it is usually abstracted to an incredible degree. When I play these games I usually ignore the naval aspect completely. In this game the naval war actually means something, and though it is still somewhat abstract, it makes sense. 



Trying to Save Army Groups Center and North

 So what is the final verdict? I would say two thumbs ups. For the minutiae lover it has all of the bells and whistles. For the player who only has time to get in a few turns before dinner or bed it is a good game also. The designer is already talking about what he wants to implement in WarPlan II. Do not let this make you  think that this game will be abandoned; it has already been upgraded once and the designer is involved as much as he can be with any questions or problems. Thank you Matrix for allowing me to review this excellent game. It is especially good for a first time endeavor, and I look forward to many other games from Kraken Studios. Below will be some links.


Matrix Games:
https://www.matrixgames.com/

WarPlan:
https://www.matrixgames.com/game/warplan

Robert

Paths of Glory Deluxe Edition by  GMT Games   Paths of Glory started out as a book by Humphrey Cobb. It was then ...

Paths of Glory deluxe Edition by GMT Games Paths of Glory deluxe Edition by GMT Games

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

Strategic

Paths of Glory Deluxe Edition

by

 GMT Games








  Paths of Glory started out as a book by Humphrey Cobb. It was then turned into a movie, by none other than Stanley Kubrick. Both in their own right are hailed as one of the best anti-war pieces in their own milieu. Here is a quote from the book: "the paths of glory lead but to the grave". World War I saw the advent of killing in Western Europe on an unprecedented scale. Machine guns, terror bombings, the chemical warfare, to name just a few, come during the years 1914-1918. So it would seem a little incongruent for one of the best games on World War I to use the same name. I must digress for a moment about wargamers and our hobby. We seem to be painted with a brush that condemns us as warmongering geeks. The actual reality is as far from that as possible. In our reading and playing, we get to glimpse the worst and best side of man. We emulate battles as a mental game, much as Chess was in its infancy. I will now return the soapbox to its proper place. The First World War led directly to the Second and helped transform our world into what it is today.


 The games name notwithstanding, it has been one of the most popular WWI games since its release in 1999. This review is of the deluxe edition released by GMT Games in 2018. Here is list of what comes with this edition:


  • One 22" x 34" double-sided mounted mapboard (Classic Simonitch Map and the new Historical Scenario map by Terry Leeds.)
  • 316 full-color die cut counters including the optional counters first released in the POG Player’s Guide in 2002.
  • Updated 2017 Edition Rule Book incorporating prior rulings and errata.
  • 110 Core Strategy Cards & 20 Optional Cards from the POG Player’s Guide.
  • Updated Two Player Aid Cards
  • Two six-sided dice 


This pic includes the old map


 The game uses point-to-point mechanics for movement. Each game turn represents three months. As was listed, this edition comes with a two-sided mounted map. There is a new map for this edition by Terry Leads, and the reverse has the classic map by Mark Simonitch. The new map represents players' inputs through the different editions. The Rule Book is thirty-nine pages long. It is in color and has an adequate amount of illustrations of game play. This being the sixth edition of the game, the rule book has red diamond markings on new rules or significant changes. There are four scenarios that are available to the player. The Introductory Scenario ends after three turns. The next is the Limited War scenario that ends at turn 10, or the end of the 1916 summer turn. The Campaign Game ends at the end of 1919. Of course, there are many ways of winning an automatic victory in all of those. The Historical Scenario is described as "Refined over hundreds of playings, the historical scenario is a finely balanced match suitable for competitive and organized matches. The new 'Deluxe' map uses the historical scenario conditions and these rules are aligned with the historical scenario used in tournaments." The player is free to try the Schlieffen Plan (the plan and its authorship is now in debate by historians), or turn Germany's attention to Russia. 


 
New Map

 The game is played through the Strategy Cards the players receive. To quote the rule book "In Paths of Glory, the Strategy Cards are the heart of the game. The players initiate all actions, including movement and combat, through the play of Strategy Cards." The cards are all based on actual events, or strategies etc. that occurred in WWI. This is the sequence of play:

A. Mandated Offensive Phase
B. Action Phase
C. Attrition Phase
D. Siege Phase
E. War Status Phase
  E.1. Check the Victory Point Table
  E.2. Determine if Automatic Victory has occurred.
  E.3. Determine if Armistice has been declared.
  E.4. Check War Commitment Levels (not on Turn 1).
F. Replacement Phase
  F.1. Allied Powers Segment
  F.2. Central Powers Segment
G. Draw Strategy Card Phase
H. End of Turns





 The counters used in the the game are either Corps or Armies. Corps units are 1/2" sized, while Army units are 5/8" sized. As in most games the front of the counter represents full strength while it's obverse is reduced strength. 






 War Status is one of the innovative concepts that is in the game. The three different War Statuses are Mobilization, Limited War, Total War. This mechanic shows how the different nations moved from what they thought was going to happen in the war to the reality they were presented with. All of Europe headed down the rabbit hole and didn't look back. The War Status mechanic gives the player more strategies to use, but it is a double-edged sword. The higher the War Status the more cards, etc. your opponent can use to block your moves and make his own path to winning. The players are also able to add optional cards to the game. These cards are numbers 56-65. Some of these are:

The Sixtus Affair
Paris Taxis
Prince Max
Stavka Timidity



 From when it burst on the scene in 1999 and won a Charles S. Roberts award, this game has only gone from strength to strength. Many people consider it their favorite Wargame and now I know why. Its pull is not just on gamers who like WWI, gamers who are just looking for one of the best wargames are pulled into its orbit. It is certainly not the flashiest of wargames, but it works visually very well. As far as gameplay, you would be hard pressed to find a better designed game. This is why it is so popular in tournament play. GMT also has the 'Paths of Glory Player's Guide' for sale. This is a treasure trove of information acquired by players after many games. It also has new scenario setups for each year designed by Ted Racier, the game's designer. I will list some links for the reader below. Thank you GMT Games for letting me review this classic/new game.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… the thriving Empire of Lazax dominated the universe from their capital on Mecatol Rex, the ce...

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition Twilight Imperium 4th Edition

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Strategic


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… the thriving Empire of Lazax dominated the universe from their capital on Mecatol Rex, the centre of the galaxy. A great number of different races were part of their Empire, where trades and technology developments were flourishing under the peaceful rule of the Lazax.  As time passed, greed and apathy grew in the heart of the people which thrust the entire galaxy into a state of war.  The once mighty Lazax Empire was no more and the Lazax Emperor and his people were wiped out thrusting the entire galaxy into a war of succession, the Dark Years. The conflict raged and caused many civilisations to collapse and dwindle into a shadow of their former selves. Years later, as hope and pride started to return, the surviving races began to again aspire to the throne of Mecatol Rex and impose their rule upon the entire galaxy.

You are the leader of one of these races and you're competing to elevate your power and influence upon the entire galaxy and to occupy Mecatol Rex as Emperor once more.

You can watch my poor attempt at an unboxing video below:


Gameplay

The main objective of the game is to be the first player to 10 victory points.  'Just 10 !', I hear you say...well that paltry amount will still take the best part of 10+ glorious hours. These VPs come by fulfiling a variety of objective cards as the game progresses.  At the beginning of the game, public objectives are randomly selected and just two are revealed for the first round.  Each game will have five Stage I objectives (worth 1 VP) and five Stage II objectives (2 VP each). One more objective is revealed at the end of each round.
Ready to go...this game is a table-hog.
Each round has four phases, the Strategy phase, the Action phase, the Status phase, and in this case, the best has very much been saved till last, the Agenda phase.

There are eight different strategy cards in the game which are available every round to the players.  During the Strategy phase, players choose their strategy card and receive its benefits for the remainder of the round.  Each strategy card has an initiative number, and a unique primary and secondary ability. The initiative number of the card determines the turn order for the round and like many other games cards that weren't chosen has a bonus, in this case, a trade good placed on it for the next round.  I really like this mechanism as at some point those low initiative strategy cards are too tempting to turn down.  Adding a bonus onto unplayed cards also reminds me of one of my favourite gateway games that I introduce new players to 'modern' Euros - Puerto Rico.
All the strategy (cards) ...
There are many different types of objectives in this game and the gameplay between experienced players reflects which objective cards have been revealed.  I did find that during the first few rounds of my first game, I completely ignored the public objectives to my detriment.  When the revealed objectives require technology boosts or aren't combative, then you may wrongly surmise that most players will remain peaceful during the turn and try to improve their tech or other aspects of their civilisation to meet those objectives. However, players are also given one secret objective at the start of the game which score VPs in exactly the same manner as public objectives.  

The two main reasons I no longer play Puerto Rico with experienced players, is first I normally lose, but second, you can largely work out what your opponents will do by the board state, Puerto Rico is too prescriptive. The same definitely cannot be said here, there is no way, for me at least, to work out or even in some instances, understand what my opponents were doing.
The Winnu claim Mecatol Rex
During the Action phase, players take turns to do either a tactical, strategic or component action. A tactical action player activates a system (hex shaped tile) and moves their units into it. If there are enemy forces, a battle will ensue. If the battle is won by the invading force then their ground forces will start a ground battle on the planets which is a particularly bloody affair, ending only when one side is eliminated. 

A space dock in the system will allow you to produce units there.  When a system is activated by a player, they must place their command token on that system.  This prevents you from activating the same system later in the round. This mechanism is also found in Star Wars Rebellion and provide a measure of inter-turn strategy that must be considered when moving your forces around the galaxy. You can generally only move a unit only once in the round. 

Command tokens are used to do pretty much everything in this game and like all FFG games, this one comes with the standard plethora of tokens, only much more so!   However, these are a limited supply and you'll soon be crying out for more command tokens - using the secondary ability on other players strategy cards, that will be one command token please; want to increase the fleet size in a system, one command token.  You get the idea, give me more command tokens!
Space Lions player board.
During the Strategic action, the player plays their strategy card and uses its primary ability. Alongside the initiative numbers, the main purpose of choosing a particular strategy card is to get its primary ability.  For example, Strategy Card 2 (Diplomacy) prevents other players from attacking one of your systems and lets you re-use those planet’s resources again in the same round. After you’ve used the primary ability of your strategy card then all other players are given a choice if they want to use its secondary ability.  They must spend one command token and can revive two planes which they have previously spent on its resources. 

The Learn-to-Play book has a very handy chart in the back for new players to match up the best strategy card with their immediate tactics. Want to research more technology? choose Card 7.  Do you occupy Mecatol Rex? Card 8 should definitely be your choice. Every time I picked a strategy card my mind was doing gymnastics trying to work out the convoluted permutations of the secondary abilities for each other player. i.e. trying to minimise their bonuses effect to my empire.  I love the hard decision space this game gives you which is quite unlike any other I have tried.  Although I wouldn't recommend playing this with AP-prone players, for obvious reasons.
Rules, Learn to Play and the Lore Compendium. 
A Component Action is an action in which you can play an action permitted by the components (cards) in front of you. This may also be a race-specific ability.  This is a kind of an optional action and can be used to (smash your opponents) delay using your pass (ending your entire round) manipulating the player order and having the advantage of moving last in the round.  I really like games that allow you to manipulate the turn order to either move early and strike first, or react to your opponents moves. Whenever I manage to pull off such a move in any game; TI4, Empire of the Sun or any of the COIN games spring to mind, I get a huge sense of accomplishment. Although it is usually shortlived because I forgot to anticipate my opponents' next move.

After all players have passed in the Action Phase, players score up to one public and one secret objective, if possible in the Status phase.  One public objective is newly revealed, and players draw some action cards, collect and redistribute their command tokens on the command sheet etc. etc. Basically, you're getting the game board in a fit state for the next round. However, if someone occupies Mecatol Rec, then the Agenda Phase follows.
The battle for Mecatol Rex rages on.
If you've played Diplomacy you'll almost know what to expect in the Agenda Phase, blackmailing,  bribing, lying just like politics today...  The Galactic Council sits in session, chaired by the current speaker and each race is represented to discuss important issues in the galaxy. If you've seen Star Wars I, it's that, but much more interesting... An Agenda Card is drawn, and players vote Yay or Nay using their influences generated by their planets. There are many different agendas in the game, some seemingly irrelevant and some utterly devastating, easily changing the game.  Which is why the debate over and around the table can get so animated, especially when one player is struggling to get their 10th VP. The Ministry of Peace agenda, for example, allows a player to cancel their opponent’s aggression in their system one time.   Even if you are playing a weak race (not all races are created equal), or your planets are not very rich, you could still win the game by manipulating the vote in the Agenda phase. 

Combat is a surprisingly simple affair, you roll one 10-sided die for each ship in the space combat and if you roll greater than the ships combat value (shown on the faction sheet) it's a hit. Each hit kills an enemy ship which is chosen by the other player.  The big ships, dreadnoughts, flagships, and war-suns have the ability to sustain damage meaning they'll take two hits. However, you've got to destroy all of the fighters and frigates defending them before you get a chance to actually hit/destroy the big ships. It is very important to have many cheap fighters as fodder to protect big ships - again, this was not appreciated by yours truly in the first few rounds of the first game.  There are some nuances to this combat, for example, if the enemy has a lot of destroyers, your fighters may be wiped out in an anti-fighter barrage before the combat round begins, leaving your dreadnaught defenceless and an easy target. 
Everybody wants some.
In order to occupy planets, you'll need to bring ground forces with your vulnerable carriers. They are not powerful units (combat value: 9) but can be the most important in your fleet. If you win the space combat, you can land ground forces on the planet.  If the enemy has a planetary defence system (PDS) then they get shoot your troops before they land.  However, if you're Dreadnaught or War Sun have survived the space combat they can bombard the enemies ground troops beforehand.  These variable abilities require you to strategise over every move/destroyed unit and it provides a lot of fun, and also added intrigue in the Agenda Phase.  'You want to deal and you attacked me last turn! That's going to cost you, buddy!'.  Great fun.


Components

This game is a monster. Its box is rather bulky and contains tons of miniatures, cards, system tiles, various tokens and so on but the box is well designed and deserves the space it takes up.  The organiser is well thought out and functional, which is rarely a thing I say about FFG games. However, I really feel that this game is a beloved property of  Christian Petersen (FFG CEO) and it really shows in the fourth edition. A lot of care and attention has been paid to every single component. If you want to see an excellent making-of documentary check out Shut Up and Sit Down's Space Lions documentary.  If each player knows what they're doing setup can be completed inside 20 minutes, although you could argue that building the galaxy is an integral part of the game and not really setup.
It is done...
Each race has a Faction Sheet showing each unit’s parameters, race-specific abilities, and history of the race on the back. In the box, there is a lore guide which can be treated as a piece of Science Fiction in its own right.  This history was very well written and I enjoyed reading through it all.  The detail that has gone into the history shows the amazingly high level of production in this game. FFG normally have stellar production values and they've even surpassed those in this game.

You can (or you should) role-play during the game after reading the history and unique capacities of your chosen race. The seventeen races in the game are all unique and have strength and weaknesses.  For example, the space fish...are physically weak but very intellectual. They suffer -1 drm in combat, but develop technologies rapidly. Then there are the Hacan (space lions) who are purely motivated by trade. and gain trade goods (which is a kind of currency) easily, giving them the ability to build large fleets from the early stage of the game.  Trade goods are power.
The big box is full.
Each kind of shop has a distinctive miniature and the sculpts are excellent. There are fighters, destroyers, cruisers, carriers, dreadnoughts, a flagship, and war-suns. Their combat abilities are all listed on your Faction Sheet. Researching technology can improve units which permits you to place a tech card onto your faction sheet. This is a really effective way to see at-a-glance how powerful (or not) your fleet is.

Apart from unit upgrades, there are 4 categories of technology in the game, Biotic, Warfare, Propulsion, and Cybernetic. There are 4 levels of technology in each and you must research them in order.  One game takes on average 6 to 7 rounds and you will not be able to fully explore the tech tree in one game.  Planning my upgrades and deploying my fleets according is a great game which I enjoyed immensely, but so often ruined by my opponents. Developing Propulsion first and then upgrading your carrier so that it can move 2 hexes is a nice ability to move your troops out into the galaxy, or you may want to concentrate on Warfare techs and try to build a War-Sun early in the game with the ability to literally annihilate an opposing fleet.



Criticisms

The only criticism I can think of this game is that it takes a very long time to play.  It is difficult to find 3 or more opponents who don’t mind committing 6 or 7 hours in one go, but this game has such a reputation in the hobby that almost all gamers want to try it, at least once. But let me reassure you that those hours pass very quickly it is so much fun to play this game.  Afterwards, you will be exhausted but you will have created an amazing experience with your friends I guarantee will have built a stronger bond for sharing this experience.  Look for opponents, and go for it!


Conclusion

If I had to describe this game, I would say that it is seductive yet elusive. I want to play it more, I love the game, I want to try every single race, and experiment with every technology, but it's very difficult for me to get it to the table. I have a young family and losing 10 hours on a weekend so that I can move plastic and carboard counters across my kitchen table is not a position I can defend often. However, given the opportunity, the time and the right opponents, this game is always welcome at my table.  It tells a grand, epic story of battling races and powerful armies clashing across the stars. The mechanics are simple enough to grasp relatively quickly but the layers of strategy are very difficult to master. After 2.5 games (which represents over 24 hours of play time...) I feel that I understand the game well enough to be able to strategise but not effectively. There are so many racial combinations and variances from game to game that I'm relegated to a reactionary play style. 

This game won't be for everyone, but if you like wargames of any kind (if you're reading this blog then I can surmise you do) then you owe it to yourself to play one of the very few seminal games in this hobby. Track down a friend who owns it or plan a game at a convention, weekend gaming retreat (we all do that right?) You won't be disappointed.

Many game-stores will have a copy of this game in and you can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to find your nearest in the UK or support them using their online web stores if you can't make it in person.

I'd like to thank Asmodee for sending this game and permitting me to review it; if only I could play it some more.  I would also like to thank my war-gaming partner of many years for helping me write this review.

Publisher: FFG
Website: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/twilight-imperium-4th-ed
Players: 3 - 6
Designers: Dane Beltrami, Corey Konieczka & Christian T. Petersen
Playing time:  Ha ha ha
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