Monday, October 20, 2008

Pursuit of Glory - First Look

Few games have been as anticipated (by me, at least) as Pursuit of Glory, the "sequel" of sorts to Ted Raicer's Paths of Glory. Like Paths, it's set during The Great War, but focuses exclusively on the southern Balkans and through the Middle East. While Raicer did not design this one, he did give it his "blessing" to use the Paths system as much as possible. Paths was arguably the first "big boy" version of the Card Driven system pioneered by Mark Herman and later brought to maturity by Mark Simonitch in Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. Paths took the CDG system into the 20th century with lots of combat units (rather than one or two armies and a few loose CUs scattered around the board), a CRT rather than Battle Cards, and multiple fronts. The game suffered a bit from trying to include the Near Eastern theater, which almost required a different set of rules - my guess is that more than half the chrome in Paths was needed for that very reason.

As such, I was very excited that Pursuit (thanks, guys - PoG is now ambiguous. Nice work.) because all of the chrome would be directly in the system and not in just one area. Plus, it's a subject rarely covered in any detail in wargaming. The Great War in Europe Deluxe, another Raicer title, did feature a map devoted to just the Near East, but again there were so many extra rules and nothing really driving political and thus game behavior that it felt kind of strange. 

This is strictly a first look at the game and it's components - I have not yet gotten through the rules (and what a surprise *that* was) or even set the counters up on the map. This is in no way a review or judgement of the game as a game, strictly as a listing of what's in the box and my initial impression of it.

The map itself is surprisingly dense, almost to the level of For The People. Once you realize that this is less than one panel in the Paths map, now blown up to 8x size, it seems a little strange that there's so many places there. Of course, this *is* the cradle of civilization, but it's still a bit disconcerting. Places that didn't leave a lot of room for maneuver (the Caucasus, for example) now have some options, but places like the Sinai and the route along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from Basra to Baghdad are still going to be fairly channeled. The colors are occasionally garish (there's a little purple in the mix on the background), and I have to wonder if the registration came out differently than they expected. They certainly made good use of space, with boxes and information tucked into every corner. A triumph of function over form, which is not altogether a bad thing in my mind. Of course, there is an inset for the Gallipoli area, as well as some extra rules governing movement and combat there. We just can't get away from the chrome. 

The counters will be very familiar to Paths folks. There are still LCUs and SCUs, but now the SCUs can be formed up into LCUs (and broken down if you use the optional rule). This dichotomy of scale is the differentiating factor in Paths over previous games, and the thing that makes these titles work so well. You can have small units holding the line while larger units do the fighting, a very elegant way to implement concentration of force, and it comes into it's own here. There are also many counters to remind players that various events have taken place, as you would expect. Surprisingly, there are quite a few Indian counters, something that was limited to a few events in the earlier game. ANZAC units and Turkish-Arab units are also broken out from their parent countries/militaries. Finally, there are also irregular and tribal units, which are pretty limited but can cause headaches in your backfield if you aren't paying attention. Like the MEF in Paths, they are almost better as a threat in being rather than actually getting played.

The decks are about what you'd expect, and very similar in construction to Paths. Each side has its own deck, subdivided into Mobilization, Limited War, and Total War groups. The pictures are grayscale as before (the entire world was grayscale up into the 1930s, you know, and before the camera everyone consisted of oil-based paint), and the earlier typography and iconography is in place - X/y number to denote Ops/SR, and in roughly the same distribution. The events that seem to be really critical in this game concern the spread of Jihad throughout the Muslim world (even into Afghanistan - the more things change, the more they stay the same), the construction of the Berlin/Constantinople railroad (and the follow-on into Baghdad), and getting Lloyd George into command in Britain so that he can unleash Allenby out of Egypt. 

There is a lot of paper in this game, more than I would ever have imagined. There is a folded cardstock sheet giving quick descriptions of the game for both new players and for experienced Paths players (although make no mistake, you aren't just reading this thing and jumping into your first game - there are extensive additions to the system). Other cardstock sheets repeat information on counters, good rules to keep in mind, setup information (yay!), and the standard charts and tables (although there is only one of these, GMT typically makes these materials available online and it is very easy to print your own second copy). The CRT is very similar to Paths, although the SCU table appears to be a bit more deadly than before. 

It is the rules that are the biggest surprise. Paths had perhaps 16 pages of rules in a fairly good-sized font. The Pursuit rules take up a full 48 pages of fairly small type. There are the usual counter/marker pictures (a must for games like this - they act as a localized table of contents when you are wondering about specific rules), illustrated examples, but make no mistake - this game has a lot more rules than Paths, or at least they spend a lot more time covering minutiae. Fortunately, the "new" rules are clearly marked so that old-hands can read a subset and get going. A casual glance through the rules suggests somewhere between 30-50% of the rules are new or modified, so again, this is not a game you should just set up with your buddy and start playing. Regardless, this is far from a "first" wargame - given the rules density, I'd put it at something like one to two points on a ten point scale above Paths, perhaps a 6 or 7. I felt that Kutuzov did similar things to the Wellington system. Not a bad thing by any measure, but just something that buyers need to understand.

There is, thankfully, a playbook as well - this is a lot of material for a game like this, more like I'd expect in, say, a Vance von Borries East Front game. The playbook adds some optional rules (AIEEEE!!!! More Rules!!!!!!), as well as repeats of the setup info, a sample game that runs for two turns, strategy guides for all sides and nationalities, and (thankfully) detailed descriptions of the various card events in the game, which include some clarificiations. This is nice to have up front, although having materials I need to access during the game in the Playbook is something I find a bit annoying. Maybe they're on cardstock somewhere and I've missed it. 

Thankfully, the designers included a handful of "critical use" cards that they recommend you either hang onto until the time is right, or play immediately once you get them. Most CDGs have cards like this (in Shifting Sands, you could be punished for *every* card you didn't play because of the huge number of cards that kept getting added to the game), but it's nice to know that from a design perspective, some are more important than others. The game may end up ignoring their advice, but at least we understand that there are some fulcrums of history that were crucial to what followed, and this game tries to honor them appropriately.

Both the Playbook and Rules are printed on stock that seems like it will not last very long. Given the huge amount of paper included, this isn't a huge surprise - you have to cut costs somewhere. Comparing the stock to that of the game-specific book from MMP's new SCS title, Rock of the Marne, there's simply no comparison. Pursuit's book's paper isn't as bright, is more translucent, and just feels flimsy. However, given that most people will print out a new set of rules (although at 48 pages, this is not cheap for the end-user in ink or toner), I guess that it's a logical place to scrimp. Hard to fault that. I do recommend that you print out a new copy of the rules to keep yours looking nice as soon as they are available, and these days that means about a week or three. 

Finally, there are three scenarios that come with the game, a welcome addition for those of us who can barely get through half a game in a day. The first scenario runs from 1914 through Spring of 1916, and focuses on the initial moves, the rail line to Berlin, the war in the Caucasus, and the introduction of Bulgaria and the defeat of the Serbs. In historical terms, this was the period marked by the Mobilization and Limited War events. The second scenario picks up where the first left off, and continues through the rest of the war - the building of the infrastructure in the Sinai that allowed the British to press into Palestine and Syria, the collapse of the Russian Empire (in this game it is a given, as it should be, although exactly when it collapses is pretty important), and Romania's entrance in the Balkans. Of course, there is also a campaign game that covers the entire war. Given that the timeframe and turn length are the same as Paths, I'd assume that this game will take about the same amount of time to play once you've gotten a little experience. 

I'm still very excited to get this on the table, but getting a rulebook that looks to be *more* dense than OCS really has me wondering. I'm hoping that the bulk of it has to do with Gallipoli, Jihad, and other chrome (the "other" rules section takes up seven pages), and that most of the changes are more minor than they appear. Still, this is not what I was expecting at all, which goes to show just how much of a compromise the NE portion of Paths was. On the plus side, like all CDGs this title looks to spur interest in a topic that has been more or less ignored by most wargamers, and now it will be much easier for our community to have some starting points for further study. 

I will post further comments once I've actually pushed some units around. 


Mike said...

> I do recommend that you print out a new copy of the rules to keep yours looking nice as soon as they are available, and these days that means about a week or three.

In fact they were released a couple days back. Fire up the printers! (My copy arrived today, along with B:KtR.)

Eric said...

Doug, if I make it to WBC-West (which, if it's in late spring is likely) then I've got dibs playing this against you.

Eastern front WWI is just fascinating the hell out of me these days. It's so under-represented.

Dug said...

I ran through the sample game over the past couple of days. There are about ten errors that I found, which I am not going to post here because I think it's better if you find them yourself. Really. About half of the errors are simply units moving places they can't because there's an enemy unit there already, or the sample "forgetting" that a particular unit in a given space moved out and a new one moved in. There are a few rules errors, though.

What I was doing was running through the sample, then reading the relevant rule when I came across something I wasn't expecting. I found this to be a pretty good way for me to pick up the new rules, although I still will need to run through the rulebook.

Like all CDGs, this one will require a certain amount of time learning the subtleties of the decks. I vaguely remember feeling this overwhelmed when I first saw Paths, but several dozen playings of that particular title eventually got me to the point where I knew the rules pretty well (except for all of those damned NE exceptions for everything).