Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pursuit of Glory - Second Look

I've had a little time to look at the rules for Pursuit of Glory, run through the sample game, and run a few turns on my own. Like Paths, this will be a game where you learn considerably by playing others, so I'm looking forward to the VASSAL module when it comes out.

After looking at the rules, this is clearly a case of the rules writer preferring to repeat rules in the book rather than referencing them. This is usually a mistake that happens gradually - a rule gets added in one place, then the rules get bigger, and it gets harder to wade through them easily. Having rules in multiple places makes it much easier for a rule to be stated incorrectly in one spot but not in the others (or to miss places to make changes). With some discipline, more concise and focused writing, and stating rules once, I believe this ruleset could be shaved down to 30 pages or less. 

If you have played Paths of Glory before, Pursuit won't be difficult to pick up. If you look at all of the changed sections of the rulebook, there seem to be tons of places where things were changed. Because of the loose writing style, however, it's not as bad as it looks. My recommendation if you're a Paths player: Skim the Advanced Quick Start Guide, ignoring the sections on references to the rules. Then set up the sample game in the playbook and run through it, looking up *any* rule you didn't expect. Note that I found several actions in the sample game that were either impossible because the unit wasn't in the space (or because they'd forgot a unit was in a space), or misrepresented a rule (Severe Weather roll for a Tribal unit, placing reinforcements in a non-railroad space when the card called for it). By reading the rules carefully as you go, you'll get a much better idea of how things work. 

Next, read the Player Notes as a starting guide for what card plays are important if you wish. I find this sort of thing to be most worthwhile early in the learning process, as players will debunk most of the strategy tips within a year or so, so might as well use it now. Also skim through the rules, reading sections that you find interesting (such as the rules on Jihad and the Russian Revolution). Then set up the starting game and roll with it for a while.

A few notes about the counters: I'm told that the designers found that there were plenty of Fort Destroyed counters, but if the Churchill Prevails event goes well you could use up seven of them in no time at all. If the Fao fort in the Persian Gulf falls on the first turn, that's eight of the twelve counters, and the only other ones are on beachhead counters that you might need later on. I also have severe doubts that the control markers will be enough either. Most surprisingly, there are *no* counters for more than a handful of events, and those are ones you track on the board. When you play, say, Pan-Turkism, which is a prereq for several cards, you have to simply remember you played it by placing it on the table or simply using your memory. I can understand that they needed a lot more markers for this game (my God, there are a lot of little cardboard pieces on the board when you start) than usual, and they simply didn't have space for the event chits. A minor nit, but I always liked putting them on the turn record track as the game went on to see the story as it unfolded. 

All in all, the game is not any harder to learn than Paths, although there is definitely as much if not more chrome. Turkish Withdrawal; Severe Weather; limited placement of LCUs, both in the various "restricted" areas and TU/TU-A/BU units in swamps; irregular and tribal units; uprisings; limited Turk RPs; the Galipolli map; dozens of special units; it's a lot of chrome. I think it's necessary for a historically accurate game, but it's a lot of chrome and it speaks volumes as to why the theater hasn't seen a lot of strategic treatment in the past - Great War in the Near East struck me as problematic because there didn't seem to be a lot of reasons to behave in a historical manner (why not build the Sinai pipeline in 1914?), this game puts a lot more restrictions down, but mostly they are encapsulated and can be learned as you encounter them. 

Is it a fun game? So far it looks very promising, and the fact that there are two shorter scenarios that can ostensibly be played in an evening (4 hours) is a good thing. Knowing that the Russian Empire will fall at some point (and it will) is also a good thing, although allowing the Allied Player to delay it is a nice touch.

One huge nit that I'm astonished made it into the game. One of the biggest complaints I have about Paths is the attrition rule: at the end of the player actions, OOS units are immediately permanently eliminated. That's not a huge issue in and of itself, but it gives a large advantage to the player who plays a card last because they always have a chance to extract themselves from a bad position, while the starting player can get into trouble on the last player's card play and have no recourse. That puts a non-design burden on the player who plays cards first. I asked the designer of Paths about this, and he said it was *not* something he put into the game intentionally to gimp one side or the other. It was simply there to force players to keep a solid front of units. However, the reality is that the last player can take a low odds risk to cut off the other players units - I know, it's happened to me, and not because I wasn't set up well. It required a 6/1 dieroll, and the player got it, and I lost the game when he cut off three GE armies on the Western Front early on that I wouldn't see back. The shoe is on the other foot now, with the AP going first, but that's hardly a balancing mechanism - there is no connection between the games other than trying to keep the rules as similar as possible. Given that there is quite a bit of new material, that's kind of a specious argument. I use the Barbarossa to Berlin rule, where attrition for the starting player is figured at the end of *their* last card play, which makes the rule fair while maintaining the design choice's logic. 

I get shouted down a lot by people who disagree with me on this as it's been argued to death, but the simple fact is that the rule as written gives one side an advantage that was never intended as a balancing mechanism. That Ted Raicer never changed the rule speaks more to his ideology of changing as little as possible in the game once it's published, and I always play with the modified rule when my opponent allows it. After the last eight years in US politics, I think we now understand that ideology should never be the last word in anything. 

It's a nit, but it's the nits that can be visibly demonstrated and aren't fixed that really bug me. Obviously. 

All of that said, I'm still excited to give this a try, and that says something with *so* many titles competing for table space and time right now. I just got another *five* wargames from GMT for their big end-of-year clearance sale. If anyone can recommend a good psychiatrist, that might help.

1 comment:

Mike said...

> If anyone can recommend a good psychiatrist, that might help

And pass their name onto me.... :)