Sunday, May 15, 2016

NRIF Turn 1 Weeks 3-4

Let's get this turn finished up.

Week 3 sees the supply situation for the Brits the Sam, with one unit out of supply. The US left their mech unit on its reduced side, which doesn't have the extra SP symbol, to allow them to have all units supplied.

The Brits take the airport and move to flank the HG panzer unit. They get one Reserve Point back. The Us units will try to reach the coast east of Palermo to force the 15th PG unit to have to retreat toward Messina, then they will try to take Palermo in the next turn to cut the Italians off and get the Axis Italy marker to the Armistizio! box. It will be very difficult to destroy a German square unit, although the 15th is in a bit of a pickle.

Here is the board state, including combat markers.

 

No CBs placed by the Axis, which keeps them from using their big CB Shock marker.

The first attack on the Italian unit east of Palermo results in an EX/CR result, which eliminates the Italian but loses on US step and leaves the 15th PG with an escape route! The other US attack results in a CB result, so the Axis got lucky on the US side of the island.

The Brits want to channel the HG unit to the west, so they start with the attack on the untried Italian. A DR result pushes it back up the coast road, and the 46th British follows it. The big battle is against the HG, and the Allies throw in their last Blitz marker as well. The result is a D, but the Axis would like to prevent units from blocking the supply road on the north coast, so they throw in their Veteran NCOs card to force a reroll, which gets the exact same result. HG loses a step to stay in place, and the shock/target marker requires a UK step as a result. The Canadians take the hit although there are better units to supply the 50th for next turn.

No second combats, and no units from the Reserve box for the Allies. Here is the map post combat...

 

The Axis are all in supply, as is the UK 50th North now that the Canadians aren't hogging all the petrol. The Axis sees the writing on the wall and pulls back while leaving a spoiling force in Palermo.

There is no combat, as the Brits choose not to use a CB against the FJ unit and the Axis wants to just slow the Allies down. Sicily is lost, but maybe the Italians can hold out in Palermo for the final week and mess up the US supply situation.

 

The Allies draw another useless card, spend one US reserve to draw a second card, which is immediately discarded without any effect. The US then uses a second reserve to draw a third, but it too is useless. The US used its reserves because Palermo will give them two more reserves without running into more than they can stockpile. This is seven cards, but the US will burn one to improve the 3rd. The Germans also draw a useless card as Forts aren't available for a couple more turns, and choose not to burn any reserves in what is already a losing cause. They burn one card as well to improve HG. On to week 4 and the last player turns of July 1943.

Everyone is in supply now for both sides. The US wants to take Palermo to give them port supply. They would be OK with using Catania, but it only supplies five SP, so better to take Palermo if they can. The U.K. Forces won't push as hard this turn, they just want to set up to try to sidestep the German units if necessary. An advance in either hex would put two German units out of supply, so worth the minor risk. No UK units attack, hoping th German burns CB to avoid the Mointain penalties.the Germans use the shock/CB marker to force combat with the slightly weaker Brit units on the SW flank of Etna.


Saving the best for last, the US first attacks the Italian adjacent to the 15th PG, receiving a DR that pushes it back to the coast road. Note that it has to retreat through the 15th PG but since stacking isn't enforced until later, this is legal as long as they aren't stacked at the end of the Results Step, this is permitted.  

The UK units use one Combat Supply Point to give them an extra combat factor, lowering ASP to 24, plus a shock marker, making this combat a 1-1. The result is a EX/CR, not the result they wanted. They can counterattack, not a great choice, or they can accept a D result by replacing the unit with a KG. If they do that, it moves the Axis Italy marker to Armistizio!, but the other option may give the Allies an advance to the coast to cut off the 15th. They figure that Palermo is falling anyway, so they place the KG. With Kesselring in command, they will get their LW unit back fairly cheaply, and they will have a junk card to burn anyway. 

Finally, the fate of Palermo, still important to the US forces. The defender is shattered and the US takes the town. Sicily is, for all practical purposes, Allied, and the Axis Italy marker flips. The Italians will capitulate when the Allies invade the mainland, so we are moving at a very historic pace.

 

I improve all of the Allied units that are reduced as I won't be able to keep those cards anyway.

The Axis Italians in the SW part of the map are now out of supply, so they are eliminated. Everyone else is in supply. The Germans prepare to move across the Strait of Messina next turn, or more likely be moved to their reserves. No combat, and no units moved from reserves.

For the Final Supply phase, there are no units or Landing markers in LZ hexes, and no No Combat markers, so nothing happens here.

As I look more closely at this rule, it seems clear that it occurs each week, which is a bit of a surprise. That means a couple of units would not have been in play for the Allies, although I would have been improving units instead. I choose to put the two OOS units, the 82nd and the 50th North, into the Surrendered units box for now. The second part of the phase is skipped until now. This is not at all clear from the example of play, which doesn't mention the rule at all, but I figure it wasn't going to be a big deal in this play through.

This ends the first full turn. It was a long one, and a bit of confusion around supply, but all in all successful, especially for the Allies. The next turn should be fairly easy, although we will discuss advanced game supply and possibly Attrition. This is the time for the Allies to set up for their mainland invasion, which I plan to perform at the historic site at Salerno on Turn 3 once I've gotten most of the units back to Reserves.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

NRIF HistCam, Turn 1 Week 1 Axis Move through Turn 1 Week 2

Back to the game. Let's see how far we get!

I set the Germans up more or less as they were in the EoP, with one near Palermo and the HG unit at the airfield. 

Some limits to the Axis this turn, no road bonus, no units coming in as Reserves. Nothing huge. However, they only have a single Blitz counter and their leader-generated CB marker is useless, so the key will be to avoid setting up a good Allied CB while creating a line that will be tough for the Allies to break through.

Also, just learned that I paid for Allied Port Supply (APS) in the first turn, but the Major Offensive is free so there are 25 points in the bank. This takes some pressure off of getting that second port in play the first full turn. We will look at the supply process in more detail at the start of the next turn, as sequencing will be important.

During the Supply phase, one Italian unit is OOS and is eliminated! Normally, a unit would get an out of supply marker, but since it's a round unit is is immediately eliminated and returned to the Italian draw cup. All other units, including the Allies, are in supply. I should note that APS does not play a role here, we are simply tracing a supply line to the Beachheads, and beach hexes are considered to have roads for purposes of a supply line to a Beachhead.

Here is a picture after Axis movement:

 

I decided to preserve as much Axis strength as possible, and even kept the HG unit at the airport as the line is so brittle. Once the Germans can deploy a couple more units next week that won't be such an issue, but for now it's critical to keep the airport in Axis hands. Note that I have kept a Italians in a couple of ports to prevent an easy grab if the Allied player happens to have the Naval Outflank card.

The Axis does not place any target markers, and the Allies used all of their targets, but the do get a free CB from Alexander, so they use it to force battle between the UK commandos and the Static unit north of Siracusa. That means the Italian NW of the US paratroopers gets a pass this phase. No cards, but the Italians play a Blitz marker. The rules are not crystal clear about which CRT the Italians use, but the term "player's CRT" is used at the start of the combat rules, so I will use the German table for them even though this seems counterintuitive. The odds are 1-2 up to 1-1 for the Blitz marker, no TEM because of the CB. The result is a counter attack, which happens at 2-1 with no modifications. The result is EX, and no way for the Allied player to improve that. Commando goes off to Destroyed Units, Italian static is removed. 

There is no reserve phase for the Axis, and no Second Combat, so off to the Weekly Prep. Allies draw a useless card, Germans get lucky. Allies use on Reserve point to draw an extra card which won't be useful until the next turn. Allies burn their useless card to improve the US 1st Mech, decline to improve the 82nd. Axis burn a card to flip the Italian next to the 82nd, allowed because it is a two step unit. The Allies decide against rebuilding the commandos for now. The week advances, and we return to player turns.

Here is the map after week 1:

 

Most units are in supply. One interesting wrinkle, the port is not acting to generate supply, and there are 7SP of US units and 7 SP of UK units, and the beachhead units have to supply one or the other. That means one unit of each faction will be OOS. Note the US commando is on the coast, so he's ok. I choose the US 82nd and the U.K. 50th North to be OOS for now. If there are losses there won't be a problem next turn. I just didn't count closely, I guess.

The Allies choose to press for Palermo with their US forces, with a screening force to protect their beachheads. The UK forces will press up the coast as there is little in the way to Catania. Once that is taken, the HG unit will need to decide if holding the airfield will be worth it. There are no good spots for that extra invasion yet, hoping to have US units closer to Palermo. 

Here is the map post Allied Move.

 

In combat, the 15th PG holds its position while the US loses a step. US attacks on Italian units result in no advances, and the British attack in the East results in the elimination of the Italians and the chance for a second combat, which they decline. HG is in some trouble, as is Catania and even Messina, so the Axis needs to reform their line in the east. Fortunately, they will get some help. The Allies choose not to place more units on the map, they have too many as it is.

Here is post combat for Allied Week 2:

 

Things have gone well in the west, but not so much in the east for the Axis. They will bring a couple of units on, but HG is at risk. The 82nd is back in supply after losing an SP step, but the UK unit is still OOS.

The Axis continues to pull back, trying to save as much time as possible. Here is their position post move:

 

The Allies put a CB on the 1st Canadians near Catania, but no other attacks. The static unit is a 0, so the Canucks get a free 6:1 attack that eliminates the unit and they move into Catania. This shifts the Armistice marker to the Viva Il Re box, and restores one UK reserve. The Canadians can't get a second attack as they advanced into a port. Still, they advance to threaten HG and the Axis may be having to consider abandoning Sicily after a very effective Allied invasion. 

The Germans bring in the reduced FJ unit from reserves, placing in the mountains near Etna.

Weekly prep sees the allies draw their card plus one more, both useless. The Germans do the same! At least they can use it for improving units.

Allies improve the 82nd, no others to keep in the Supply limit for the US. Axis improve the 1st FJ, the Italian west of the airport for a two value card discard. Allies rebuild the UK commando.

Here is the end of week 2:

 

Should be able to finish the turn in the next installment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No Retreat: Italian Front Historical Campaign, Turn 1 Week 1, Allied Turn

Back at last, just didn't have the time or energy prior to my surgery to do much on this front. I'm through recovery, eight weeks out of surgery as of today, and pretty much back to my normal routine.

After spending a bit of time trying various games out, I've settled on giving No Retreat! The Italian Front my attention for a long term game I'll do a prolonged session report on. The game has gotten some negative buzz due to what I consider unrealistic expectations from the gamer community, and as such is lacking in an extended example of play or tutorials on some of the less obvious subsystems, so I figure I can help with that through a combined session report/clinic.

Note that this is my first play through at this level, I'm sure to make many mistakes, but will note when I've done so and will rewind where realistic, leave on the map where not. 

I am playing the Historical Campaign to limit some of the choices I would otherwise make, and I think this is a better option for solo play anyway. I will be playing both sides to the best of my ability, but focusing on decisions for the aggressive side at any given point, randomize for card plays for the defensive side if there is ambiguity as to the best course. I will be using all of the advanced rules.

The first turn give a clinic on how to do an invasion, so I'll cover that now. First, you'll want some gas in your tank, so it's a good thinking that you start with a lot of supply, 25 points. That's really good, as you will need 20 just to cover four weeks of campaigning this month. The other five can be banked or saved up for the future. I think saving those five is a great idea, the alternative would be to spend it on Combat Supply. I will go into much greater detail on how Allied Port Supply works in a future post, just know for now that I'm being conservative with what I have.

The first thing we do is draw cards, and I get some good ones for the Allies, mainly the Naval Supremacy which gives all invading units one shift to the right in all combats. I'm not sure if this includes the US paradrop, I played it as if it was not invading. They also get the Naval Outflank card that allows for an extra surprise invasion hex later in the month.The Axis get a hand of crap, and end up giving the Operation Shingle card to the Allies, although they do get a replacement card and a Reserve point, so that's good. About all they have is one battle card that allows a reroll,

Alexander doesn't use his redraw ability at this point, as the first card is worth keeping. 

This is an excellent time to discuss the way the rules are written, how that makes learning the game both more and less difficult, and how best to approach a game with a given rules philosophy.

The No Retreat franchise started at Victory Point Games, Alan Emerich's small publishing imprint. Anyone familiar with Totaller Krieg, Alan's magnum opus, knows that he likes rules that are laid out to follow the sequence of play. This allows a gamer new to a title to simply follow the rules as the game progresses without needing to necessarily read them in advance, although it's always good to at least take a gander at the sequence of play ahead of time. Where this philosophy falls down is when there's a lot of chrome and/or systems that affect multiple phases of play. The remedy, as seen in TK, is to provide learning scenarios that introduce you to some of the more elaborate mechanisms. With NRIF, the remedy is bothe the Huskey scenario and the extended example of lay that takes you through a couple of weeks of the first turn, as well as another example that details assaulting a strong defensive line, as will occur occasionally in any game on the Italian Front.

NRIF uses this exact rules philosophy, which is no surprise as the designer, Carl Paradis, has a high opinion of Alan's work, and also published his first game with Alan as developer. As such, the rules layout is extremely similar to that of TK, almost note for note. I am good with this, but it does mean a certain amount of pain while learning the game. To be fair, any complex system such as a war game, especially one with such a unique system as NR, is going to have some conceptual pain, you just work through it to get to the play. In this case, the biggest broad spectrum issues are Invasions and Allied Supply. I will cover the Invasion issues here.

For Huskey, there are no requirements to start an invasion, which is defined as units coming in from the sea. For every other invasion, you need to play an event card that has the silhouette of a combat ship on it. There are other limitations on invasions which I will not go into here, it is enough to understand that you can't just land units up and down the coast when you feel like it.

You also can't land where you feel like landing, you have to choose Landing Zones, identified by all sea hexes with arrows in them. You need to bring both CW and US units to the party, as everyone wants a piece of the glory. You also need to define up to two areas of contiguous LZ hexes. The example in the playbook shows the two zones and I stuck with those for my play through. 

To start the invasion, you also need to have Landing markers available. The Allies have seven of these at the start of the game, and so can have up to seven LZ hexes involved. The example uses six with the idea that maybe you can make an extra invasion later in the month as a surprise, and in fact my Allies got an event card that allows that. You place your Landing markers on your LZ hexes in the Deployment phase, when you are moving units in and out of reserve boxes, but you don't place actual units just yet. I used the spaces used in the example.

The next step happens during the Movement phase. You can "move" units from the reserve box to LZ hexes with Landing markers at a cost of three MP, and if not in an EZOC they can continue moving onto land as normal. If the LZ is in an EZOC, you have to leave the unit there. So long as you are not in the final week of a month, these units may end up sitting at sea if the EZOC isn't eliminated, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Units fight as per the usual combat rules, and may or may not advance onto the beaches. Note that you cannot move or deploy a unit into an LZ hex unless there is a Landing marker in it.

You can also drop paratroops or land commandos as well during invasions, I won't get into those systems at this time.

Once units have fought, during the Reserve Phase the Landing markers can be moved onto the beach hexes their arrows point to and flipped to their Beachhead side to provide supply for the units on land. You don't need to supply units still in LZ hexes, and you don't need to have a  Landing marker in an LZ to keep a unit there until the end of the month, but you do need the Landing marker there to move a unit from Reserves during the Movement phase. You will generally want to convert Landing markers unless they would be vulnerable to an enemy attack. Also note that units in LZs tend to be more vulnerable to attack as well.

At the end of the months, during the Final Supply Phase any remaining unconverted Landing markers go back to the holding box and any units still on LZ hexes go to the Shattered Units box, so be sure and get everyone on dry land before the month ends.

On to the actual game!

I don't have a pic from the initial invasion, but it was very similar to the example in the playbook. By and large, the Allies had an excellent first week, with the US mech unit even getting a second combat opportunity and the US paratroopers surviving their drop. The British commando unit even managed to take Syracuse, although the Italian unit there wasn't brittle and could have take a step loss instead on the D result and prevented advancing. As we will see later on, it is critical for both the US and UK to take a port hex in order to gain Port Supply for the next turn. I'm a bit confused as to whether or not the Port Supply requires each faction of the Allies to have their own port, as in the standard rules, or if one port can supply both Us and UK units. 

Here is a pic of the end of the Allied turn, I have left the deploying units that came on in the Reserve phase on LZs to better show the converted beachhead markers. Once there is sufficient port supply, these will deploy back off of the board for use in the next invasion. Not shown is the Itslian Armistice box, which is on the Finito Benito space as the Allies have taken a Port.


 

The Axis will be on the defensive, trying to prevent the Allies from taking a second port or from getting closer to Messina. Ideally, the Allies should take the island in two turns at the most, the sooner the better so that they can get their landing markers back and prepare for Avalanche on the mainland.

Next up, I'll move along a bit more quickly as there won't be a lot of things to explain, and we should get through a good part of the month.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

OCS, The Learning Curve Pt 1

For no other reason than I own Reluctant Enemies, which is supposed to be a good starting point as it has an extensive walk through. I've decided to start the learning process with this product. The game covers the Commonwealth invasion of the Vichy held Levant (Syria and Lebanon) in response to some French and German shenanigans in Iraq in 1941. The counter density is low, at least for an OCS game, with obvious objectives and relatively light special units, such as air. 

The game comes with a four page overview of the system, which first runs through the sequence of play, then goes into some detail on specific systems, then finishes with some play tips. It is useful primarily as a primer for the extended example of play that covers the first turn of the game, the other component targeted at new players. When first published, the EoP lacked specific info on some unit placement, at least without doing some detective work, but an updated version is available on the MMP website that shows initial placement (although not the commandos or CW trucks, which you will locate when it becomes necessary). Perhaps more important is the document that adds in an index of the rules referenced, although this is mostly included inline in the example, and also the full second turn. OCS requires an example of this scope because there are so many moving parts.

And none of those parts feels like it moves more than supply. Mein Gott, but this game makes you count a lot, and most of it has to do with supply. You need to get supply to pretty much everyone you can, with occasional exceptions, and getting it there is a little crazy. You start with an offmap supply source or an on map supply dump, which consists of supply counters, then trace five truck movement points, which means ten road hexes, to the unit in question, or if there is an HQ in range of the dump it can throw the supply more movement points, which may or may not be truck movement points, to the unit that needs it. You can also use truck units (which are not the only units that use truck movement points) to extend throws and direct draws. This happens when you check trace supply, when you move units that have tracked or truck movement factors, during combat, when you refit air units...

It's a lot of counting. The map does include "mileposts" along the main arterials some locations that typically house supply dumps, such as Haifa or Damascus. But it's still a lot of counting. Did I mention that trucks have 45 MP? I'm starting to think fondly of vehicle MPs in ASL. 

Making matters worse is that supply is measured in points. Wait! That doesn't sound like a problem! Of course you have points, because most of the things you need to trace supply for also require you to spend supply, so that makes sense. Supply is really an on map currency. A currency that has dollars, but also quarters. Because the base unit of supply isn't the point, it's the token, which is a quarter of a supply point.

That always works out well, using fractions that use a different but related metric. So instead of 0.25SP to activate a unit, you use 1T.

I'm sure this came from the original game and a desire to keep at least some backward compatibility. The rules are in version 4.1a as I type, and my guess is that there were no tokens originally, but as the game started to branch out to areas other than Southern Russia they needed a smaller unit to include battalion level units and possibly a finer detail for refitting aircraft. Who knows? Who cares? 

If anything will keep me from enjoying this system, it will be this aspect. Oh, I get why it's there. OCS is all about demonstrating operational tempo at this scale. Most wargames let you move everyone with no thought as to where your tanks fuel up other than to assume the gas cans can get to the tanks. Not here, where you need to build up supply in order to move and attack, and you need the supply network in place and of sufficient mass to do that. And, as we all learned in kindergarten, professionals know logistics. 

It's not like this is a surprise for me. I have actually played OCS, once, some years ago with my good friend Myk, who I think had different letters in his name at the time. We played a scenario from Tunisia, long considered the entry level OCS game until RE. I did read the rules, but I was the Axis defending Tunis from the advancing Allied forces, and most of my supply was there to keep my air force functioning and for defense. I didn't need to do much shuttling around of bullets and beans other than via air and sea, so I never really got a good sense of how involved supply was. That said, let's just say I knew the job was dangerous when I included OCS in my list this year.

Consider it me giving it the old college try. 

How much do I love love love supply economics that use fractions? I gave my copy of Fire in the Sky to a friend because the Oil point system was so incredibly annoying, and it didn't even up have supply points on the map. You tracked them via a numeric track, keeping fractions by rotating the counter to a different orientation. I suppose you could use counters, but after swapping supply counters in RE for an hour, and that was just the first third of the EoP for the first turn, I'm not sure I am cut out for this kind of bean counting. 

Don't get me wrong. The operational tempo system used in Unconditional Surrender is similar, although a point is a point there. Same goes for the Holdfast system. Triumph and Tragedy uses action cards to generate operational tempo at a very high level, and it's effective. I think it's a valuable thing to simulate in a consim. I'm just not sure I will have the patience for it. 

This doesn't mean I'm abandoning the system. I have most of the games, all but Hube and Sicily, and really want to like it. I'm unlikely ever to play an eight map Case Blue campaign game, but there are a lot of scenarios out there and a lot of people whose opinions I respect that like it. So I shall plod along and see if I can't figure it out, although it's clear that a game of this complexity is going to require more than just me pushing cardboard around by myself. Plus, MMP has announced two redux titles for Tunisia and Sicily that are supposed to be, again, smaller and thus introductory games to the system. It's just that having what is essentially an extra game system that is so tightly integrated and central to the series will require someone to tell me I'm doing it wrong.

Perhaps the trick is to just put a lot of small denomination markers down for supply and avoid too much change making, which is where I got a little discouraged. I could see getting distracted at a bad time and forgetting where I was in the process. This is normal for wargames, but this series seems to be fraught with peril in this regard. Identifying those gumption traps will make the process easier (a relative term) and keep my head in the game better. However, knowing as I do from seeing games in progress that there can be a very high counter density in critical sections of the map in larger games, I am concerned that this may be a supply dump too far. 

So personal morale check passed, but barely. I do intend to get through both turns and then decide if I want to continue with OCS for now, or shift to GOSS. At least OCS has tried to make the system approachable with these kinds of products, whereas GOSS gives you an introductory scenario, let's you hunt and peck through the rules, then sends you off on your merry way.

Like ASL, though, it's always better with two.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Triumph and Tragedy - Best Sandbox Evah

2015 was a pretty good year for wargames, with some excellent titles published. Even with two excellent John Butterfield titles, D-Day at Peleliu and Enemy Action: Ardennes seeing publication, the big winner for me has to be Triumph and Tragedy. 

Anyone familiar with "block" wargames will recognize the name Craig Besinque. East Front was a brilliant design that has stood the test of time, and while some might argue that Columbia Games, which has built a business out of publishing block games exclusively, has not been particularly successful in recent years with their games, that hasn't stopped the concept from being successful and moving in new directions.

Some of the charms of block games are,
  • Fog of War,
  • Elegance of design,
  • Relatively small number of units, and
  • Stickers!
Ok, maybe not the last one for everyone. Me, I'm comfortable with my inner seven year old.

T&T is a game based on WW2 European Theater of Operations (ETO) at a very high level scale, as is Craig's EuroFront, an extension of the original EastFront system to the entire theater. Europe Engulfed, another block game, tried to cover the same topic, as has the very recent Victory in Europe. Personally, I believe the ETO to be a very difficult topic to simulate well, largely because of the complex, and some might say, unlikely, set of conditions that led to the conflict. Diplomacy alone following the Fall of France in 1940 is difficult to cover, but trying to also cover a massive war of interdiction on Western shipping, two different air campaigns, and the difficulty of supplying units in the less developed parts of the theater such as North Africa makes for a daunting design challenge. Every one of these situations usually results in a complex subsystem that increases playing time, rules complexity, and a map that takes up the entire table. 

This doesn't even touch the problem of how to make a game that doesn't need serious scripting to work. The obvious way to address more choices is to allow the same layers to game the pre-war period. Games like Totaller Krieg do a good job of  giving the different players alternate paths, although even with TK each faction is going to have a limited number of real choices in a strategic sense because of the sequencing of the event cards. You can choose a path, but it's two or three and once you are on that path your strategy has been set. 

I'll note here that I really like the idea of a counter-factual basis for the ETO, as it allows designers to remove any strictures they might put in place to force historical events. The issue is that often you can end up with a pretty unbalanced game, and putting hours into the pre-war period only to end up with unfun for the next 25 hours is not only unappealing, but a complete non-starter when time is such a factor for most gamers. That doesn't stop people from playing Days of Decision or The Gathering Storm and continuing on into World in Flames or A World At War, but it is an incredibly unlikely scenario in my own life.

And then, there was T&T.

Straight off, no matter what me is going to confuse this game with a historical simulation, any more than Axis & Allies is. The chances of pulling off Barbarossa is, frankly, so unlikely as to be pretty much impossible. Just having Poland end up as a country under Western protection is in serious doubt. If that makes this game a non-starter for you, stop reading now. You'll miss out on a great game, but different strokes for different folks. However, if you like a handful of elegant and effective mechanisms that create a historically themed game with a lot of possible paths to victory, one that plays in an afternoon, that is relatively easy to teach (corner cases will always be part of this hobby), and that rewards long term planning and hoping for the best while expecting the worst, you will find a gem that we rarely see in the hobby.

I dislike reviews that cover mechanisms and rules then give a three sentence conclusion, so I'll stick to the systems and why I like them. I will present these as they appear in the sequence of play. I assume you have a passing familiarity with wargame mechanisms in general and block games specifically.

Economics and Production

One thing that is virtually guaranteed to make me avoid an ETO game is a complex economic system. Different point values for different units may work for some people, and I'm not afraid of math at all, but I find these complex systems to be Drags on what I'm really interested in. A&A is a particularly convoluted system in this regard, out of balance with the rest of the system. In T&T, economics is simple - every thing costs a production point, from the ability to effect diplomacy to tech advances to investments in infrastructure to operational tempo to even the usual suspects: treads, boots, and anchors. Want to add a pip to a block? It's a buck. Want place a new one point unit on the map? A buck. Card draws for anything else? A buck a card. Production takes a few minutes most turns, but the game preserves an excellent sense that you do not have enough hours in the day to do them all. 

And where do these points come from? Here is where the design veers into mold-breaking territory, as you determine Production based on the Population you control, the Industry you've created, and, once hostilities start, the Resources you have access to. Which ever one of these has the lowest value is your Production value. And it's probably under 10 at the start, and doesn't go much above mid-teens the entire game. Quick, elegant, but yet allows each player to determine their own strategy while still retaining a unique flavor for each faction through the starting values. For example, the West has great Population and Resource numbers, but needs to heavily invest in Industry immediately. And, because Industry does not require conquest or diplomacy to increase, the pacifism of the West is adequately presented elegantly and cleanly. 

But having resources in, say, Iraq, do you no good if you can't get them to your factories, so once you're at war you need to keep supply lines open. The Blockade mechanism does an excellent job of giving the Germans good reason to build subs and the West good reasons to build fleets. The ramifications are not immediately apparent, but the way the game simulates this aspect by simply requiring supply routes after the summer campaign season that must be restored by year end if you want to keep access, along with the Med Blockade element is about as elegant as you could hope for, if perhaps the most opaque system in the game. Simple rules, far reaching implications.

This is a good time to mention that the game uses two decks of cards, one to represent both diplomatic effort as well as the infrastructure to move and fight (Action cards) and one to represent technology, spycraft, and investment in infrastructure (Production cards). It is the latter that allows Industry to be built, while Action cards will allow factions to gain the benefits of trade, alliances, and conquests, that provide Population and Resources. 

Diplomacy

The Action cards either give you a choice of two minor countries you can apply diplomacy to, or more latitude based on faction, adjacency, or countering previous opponent efforts. The mix of countries does a great job of showing why some countries joined in readily while others were much more likely to sit on the sidelines. Persia is an excellent example, with few cards calling out that country but more that allow the West and the Soviets more opportunities because they are in the general area. Effect without administration. The downside? You are drawing cards, and often the cards aren't interested in helping you in the ways you want. The Soviets took Persia in a recent game, while I as the West was unable to draw a Persia card to save my life. What I was drawing, and spent to try to get the U.S. In on my side early, were Intimidation events that allowed me to place influence on adjacent countries. I never even considered Persia, but of course it's right next to Iraq, which is a Western controlled area in the game, so I may have been better served keeping the Russians out. In fact, they went after India and won the game as a result. Yep, the Axis was at peace the entire game while the West and the Soviets were at war. The Soviets won by a point over the West, btw. 

Throw in the necessity of maintaining supply lines and trade routes once you are at war, and the costs of military actions when violating neutrality or declaring war on your Rivals, and choosing where to put your diplomatic efforts becomes a very satisfying sub game. 

Technology

Perhaps no other conflict saw so much change in technology over the course of a war other than WW2. The Great War came close in terms of radical change, but the improvements in aircraft, tanks, tactics, amphibious and airborne operations, and even force organization (not to mention the Bomb, which you can create in this game and even win just by having it) was incredible. An army in 1936 was a very different thing than in 1945. Every power focused on different things, from heavy bomber, mechanization of leg forces and anti sub tactics in the West, to rocket artillery and heavy tanks in the USSR, to fighters and subs in Germany. 

The game models these ideas in two different ways. The first is the ability to create various technologies using Production cards. Get two matching cards and play them (even secretly) and you gain an advantage, often the ability to fire first in combat. Get all four Atomic Weapon techs and have an air unit in range of a Rival capital and you outright win. Production cards, assuming they don't have covert actions, have two tech choices on them, along with some semi-wild cards that make it easier to get some of the rarer techs. Atomic weapons in particular are difficult to get without dedicating part of your oh so precious hand limit to saving up the later progressions and wilds you will need, not to mention the offset for keeping them secret, which counts against that hand size. 

The other way tech focus is modeled is through the block mix. Germany has a lot of subs, for example, while the West has a lot of fleets. Russian tanks have a maximum of 3CV, while Germans can build up to 4. That's not to say you can't build aircraft carriers as the Germans, just that the block mix will limit this in appropriately historical ways. 

Combat Operations

Unlike most wargames, you don't get to activate whoever you want whenever you want. To even move a unit from one space to another you need to use an Action card for its Operations. There are three seasons in every turn, four if you're the Russians although that fourth is limited to the Motherland. By 1939, you need to be carefully considering whether you have the cards to do both diplomacy and operations, and produce accordingly. 

Additionally, each operations card is for a specific season, and allows a different number of units to activate, not to mention when in relation to the other factions. A Z 10 card is fantastic if you want to go last and move a lot of units, but it has to be played in that season or else it will severely limit what you can do. Not only does this force difficult decisions, but also makes Action cards useful throughout the game after diplomacy has more or less fallen by the wayside late and the reverse in the early game. 

The result is a need to plan your turn based on your cards in hand while keeping in mind that after you have played cards for diplomacy, techs, industry and possibly espionage, you have to discard down to your hand limit. By game end, I was struggling to have any cards in hand at all by the end of the turn. With only 2-10 units moving every season, there are hard choices to be made.

Combat is largely similar to most block games, although sequencing is by unit type and different units are more or less effective against others. For example, Fleets are very effective against other fleets, less so against subs and air, and not very effective against land units. Land combat is a single round, naval combat can go for several rounds, subs can escape and continue to block supply routes, ground units are required to maintain other types in contested land areas, and combat is mandatory under certain conditions. If you are familiar with block games, you will grasp the system quickly.

I especially like how naval transport is handled, you just move land units on their own but they are particularly vulnerable, and have limited use when they invade.

And, of course, you will be absolutely sure your opponent is going to go after that area with all of the 1CV units you are bluffing with.

The other thing I really like is that it is difficult to get units from one end of the board to the other. You build everything but fortresses in your home country, so the West has to make a concerted effort to get units to North Africa. Once they are there, you can build them up normally, but no new units. Keeping cadres intact far afield is a critical element of play for the West.

Conclusion

Elegant subsystems, check.

Plays in 6 hours, check.

Wide range of game situations, check (although France will always be with the West, Italy will always be with Germany, and the U.S. Can only become allied with the West).

Tough decisions, check. 

Covers all of the basics for an ETO game without deep chrome, check.

Complex gameplay without complex or confusing rules, check.

So what are the downsides? 
  • Randomness. From the Peace Dividends to the card draws, it is possible to get completely screwed on this game through no fault of your own. I think it's unlikely, and to be fair pretty much every wargame has this possibility. Also, the chaos seems to come largely in the systems where you would expect it. Still, this is not a game for control freaks.
  • Requires three players. It will play with two, although I haven't tried this variant yet. That said, there aren't many good three player games of this ilk that play in this amount of time, so this might be a plus.
  • Not great if you want to replay WW2 from a historical perspective.
  • Very high level of abstraction will turn off simulation enthusiasts.
Downsides aside, and many of those are matters of taste, I will close by noting that I have played this game four times since I purchased it in early September of 2015. That's about a play per month, extremely unusual for an easily bored wargamer like me. At BottosCon in November, I saw about seven games being played over the weekend, and I had to miss the Sunday session. We will play two games at our upcoming wargame group nanocon in late February. Every person I've played the game with, with a single notable (but predictable) exception loves this game. It is deep without requiring constant rules lookups, although there are some subtleties you will need to get used to, such as when you gain control and where. 

Most of all, it's good fun. My last game was exceedingly close, and I very nearly came back for the win after losing most of India to the Soviets by invading every Axis trading partner and minor I could after coming very close two turns in a row. Every time I've considered the game time well spent, and being able to play with two friends is just icing on the cake.

This and Enemy Action are a dead heat for wargame of 2015 for me, and they serve very different purposes. Thank you, Craig, for a brilliant and innovative design.