Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Bang!
Card game set in the Wid West is of the "take that!" family. Its brilliant idea is to borrow from Cosmic Encounter the idea of each player having a unique power and to combine with it the secret roles from games like Inkognito. Sheriff, deputy, outlaw and renegade are the roles that up to seven players can portray, the sheriff being the only one whose identity is public. The roles are meaningful as well because the lawmen win by eliminating all but themselves while for the outlaws it is the opposite. Only the renegade wins alone, probably a difficult job in a seven-player outing. But everything is quite difficult as there is plenty of chaos in card draws. Unfortunately it is not ameliorated by the hand size, which is always four or less. Were it larger a player could try a strategy of building up a strong hand. But this is really a bluff and tactics game and must be played as such, quickly and with gusto, or it will not be enjoyable, not least because players do get eliminated before it is over. There also seems considerable advantage in sitting immediately right of the Sheriff because of the ability to gather data on opponents' behavior before having to act. Perhaps someone can come up with some extra rules to address this issue. There should be considerable replay value because the variable characters, roles and combinations keep matters fresh. Thematically, it's a little bit weird that deputies should be secret (in the second edition it is explained that they have just arrived in town), but pardonable in the first outing for a fresh idea which would appear to have plenty of room to expand to other themes as well. The artwork is fairly attractive – why does the mistress (in the second edition called Cat Balou [sic]) look like a schoolmarm? – and the traditional card markings remind of saloon Poker. The English-Italian production goes halfway towards internationalizing the cards by use of iconic symbols, but sort of admits their ambiguity by also printing separate legend cards in English. By the way, the inventor appears to have been partly inspired by Wyatt Earp in the rules around "draw the top card" to see if an action succeeds or fails. We tend to play with the following variant: at the start deal each player two characters. Each gets to decide which one to play and which one to use as the scoring card. [Take That! Card Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Emiliano Sciarra; daVinci/Abacus; 2002; 4-7 [daVinci]
Barbarian, Kingdom & Empire
Multi-player wargame set in ancient Roman and post-Roman periods. Fascinating idea has players begin as barbarians, reach critical mass, transition to a whole new set of rules and units as a kingdom, then transition again into an empire with another new set of rules and units, then when this becomes decadent, re-cycle into a new barbarian horde. Players can go all day long and see who has done the best during a single cycle. There are also more structured scenarios which depict more historical situations. Map employs area movement and includes cities and income. Roads confer a movement bonus. Very satisfying overall. Later re-done independently as Rise and Fall. [analysis] [scenario chart]
Barbarian Kings
Diplomacy, set in a mythical fantasy island continent, i.e. a negotiation wargame with simultaneous written orders. The system has been jazzed up with multiple unit types (Orcs, Elves, Whales, etc.) and variable purchase and maintenance costs. Includes rules permitting buying counters out from under someone. Leaders who specialize in either combat or magic are also included. There is too much negotiation and backstabbing in this style of game for my taste, but otherwise the "world" and systems are nicely realized. Sequential public rather than simultaneous secret turns might have saved it for me. The need to write out orders may also be a turn-off for some. [summary] [chart] [errata]
Barbarians [Keith Poulter]
Wargame with a huge set of maps and a series of scenarios on various Roman campaigns against their neighbors and invasions of the Empire. Quite similar to Eagles. Some scenarios are better than others, both in terms of balance and rules clarity. Grognards criticize the game a bit for not having enough detail, but the maps look wonderful regardless of possible inaccuracy and it is a good introduction to the topic. [summary]
Battle for Germany
Very simplified wargame about the US and USSR advances to Berlin at the close of World War II. Germany is divided longitudinally and the German forces west of the line are played by the Russian player to slow down the US forces while the German forces east of the line work at stopping the Russian forces. The US may have a slight advantage due to its speedier trucks. The three-player version with one person playing all German forces should be avoided in most cases because this player by shifting forces over the line and playing better or worse for one side can become a kingmaker.
Bin'Fa (Hexagony)
Abstract for up to six players about moving around on a board of triangles and surrounding enemy checkers to remove them from play. There are some interesting concepts – especially stacking up armies which lets more move faster, but puts them more at risk – but much strategic planning seems defeated by the vagaries of the dice – a turn can end at any time with an unfortunate roll of the dice. Early player elimination is another problem. Better-developed rules for the placement of mountains and vortexes would also help. The rules on stacking also seem unfinished and there does not appear to be any reason to ever reduce a stack to just one chip. Some special rules to balance matters for five players would seem to be a good idea. However, movement on a board composed of triangles has more challenges than one might think. Hexagony is the earlier, slighly different form by by Avalon Hill, the main difference being that that version did not permit stacking higher than three. Roll-up board and wooden pieces are nicely made.
Bismarck
Two-player World War II wargame depicting the short career of the German battleship. There are several scenarios which permit various combinations of German ships and submarines. Players each have their own secret map in this double-blind situation and call out search locations to the other in order to meet in battle on a hexagonal battle board. Ship combat is very elegantly and satisfyingly rendered and I have spent hours simply engaged in that activity totally out of context of the rest of the game, which can be a bit too detail- and logistics-oriented at times. In particular avoid the advanced weather systems which although they look interesting, take a lot of time and care to mess with and give the German player an altogether too great an ability to predict and therefore hide out in bad weather. Otherwise a fairly balanced and interesting system. Possibly even better if it is possible to recruit a third party to act as referee. At least some editions also include a completely different miniatures-style game using the same counters which I have not tried. [combat restrictions] [convoy chart] [land search summary] [movement chart] [surprise attack summary] [tactical start position]
Bitin' Off Hedz
A simple race game that lets you use your own plastic dinosaurs for pieces. Dinosaurs can throw rocks at each other to knock the other guy back to Start, and they can accomplish the same thing by "Bitin' Off Hedz" (landing on the other fellow's square). You win by being the first one to get to the volcano and throw yourself in! It's a very simple game, which is usually short, but it can become interminable if too many players get on-board.
Black Hole
Tactical science fiction wargame (microgame) for two depicting warfare on an asteroid shaped like a torus (doughnut). This crazy map arrangement allows missiles to exit one side of the board and come on to the other. Features several different types of units which is reminiscent of Ogre a slow-powerful unit, moderate units and light, fast units. All fire either lasers or missiles. Victory seems to go to the player who can figure out the strange map and strike the enemy first.
Blackbeard (Barbe Noire)
Piracy on the high seas, not just of the Caribbean, but also in the Gold Coast and Indian Ocean. Pirates may even relocate between oceans in this war game of great atmosphere which sometimes irks players because the turn order is random and they feel they have to wait too long in between. I have studied this empirically however and it turns out that the number of turns each player gets is almost identical. If possible, buy or make a second deck of cards so that when it comes time to re-shuffle, you will already have another deck ready to go. Beware first edition board (which lacked line of demarcation between Atlantic and Caribbean) and rules (later improved). Includes solitaire rules which are supposed to permit the player to operate two dummy pirates. Unfortunately the player is left rather at sea by rules which fail to indicate in which direction the pirate should sail to search for new merchants. More irksome are the many delays that really make matters take much longer than necessary such as vagaries of the dice, restrictions on how much can be done in a turn, limitations on being able to search right out of port, tiny prize ships, etc. etc. etc. There can also be a lot of irritation if one does not have decent luck in card draws or dice. Compensations are the difficult tactical and strategic decisions one is frequently forced to make in terms of positioning, which nations to enrage, how much risk to take and when to move one's pirate vs. moving a King's Commissioner to threaten an opposing pirate. This is a good reminder that a game need not be fair to have good decisionmaking. Play this if you love the topic and atmosphere and have several idle hours. "Barbe Noire" refers to the title of the French edition. [summary] [Pirate Games]
Blood Royale
Multi-player medieval wargame is very nicely-made with interesting concepts, but a bit long and logistically challenging. Features trade, combat, negotiation, marriage and genealogy. A computer aide which handled all of the genealogy would be a great help. More detail in the resource production subsystem might make trade more interesting. Event cards do not seem to work well and were added over the apparent objections of the designer. The quality plastic coins are quite useful for other games and prototypes. [more] [analysis] [names] [errata] [famine chart] [notes]
Blue Moon
Reiner Knizia's take on the two-player collectible card game isn't really a CCG in that it avoids the collectibility aspect, but it is played in the mode of these games. The base game includes a board laid out between the players and two 31-card decks. Cards come in four types: basic combat, booster, support and leadership. A player begins a conflict playing just a single card after which the opponent responds with up to three in three types. The original player then responds likewise, covering over his previously played combat and booster cards, but not leadership or supports. The hand is continuously replenished. A game consists of a series of such combats until the decks run out. Winning a combat earns one of the three plastic dragon figures or moves one from the opponent back to the board. The ultimate winner is the one with the most dragons on his side at the end. One deck is themed around fire with easy-to-pronounce card names, the other themed around earth with names that are much more difficult. Non-linguists should try to play the fiery side. Combat thus occurs in either one theme or the other, each card being rated for its strength in both earth and fire, the type being set at the start by the initiator. The basic game using a random deck is of middling value at best, with most decisions on the obvious side. The real interest is in pre-programming the deck, trying to constantly have the advantage and plan for all contingencies. This is a good alternative to the economic downsides of the CCG world – the player who buys the most cards wins, though it's too bad the cards don't tie in to any existing novel or mythos. The artwork by the estimable Franz Vohwinkel who never disappoints is once again first rate, certainly up to the level of other CCGs. Has since been followed by nine different expansion kits including new decks, one of them themed around water. Blue Moon City is a board game based on the same fantasy setting.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Reiner Knizia; Kosmos/Fantasy Flight Games; 2004; 2 [Buy it at Amazon]
Book of Medieval Wargames, The
Oversized 1984 book by Nicholas Slope contains board and pieces for four different medieval wargames. Fifty-five pages detail history of the medieval knights while the remaining eight comprise rules for four games: joust, tourney, mêlée and battle. Rules are simple, but sometimes presented in an unbelievably complicated fashion. No special mechanisms here and luck with the dice won't hurt, but interesting because of the nicely illustrated jousting green complete with grandstand and stand up figures. [chart]
Bohnaparte
boxcover
There's a certain danger for both players and publishers in a long string of expansion kits. Each appearance of a new one is a kind of statement on the entire game series. Is it still working, still going strong, or is it out of gas? Such was the case with games in the Bohnanza series when there appeared Bohnanza La Isla Bohnità, which was so disappointing that many just gave up on the entire series. But for those who did, it turns out that that was too bad since subsequent efforts have improved considerably. This particular entry is rather surprising, being a mild conquest game. Added to the existing base set of cards are a set of place cards which are laid out like brickwork to form a sort of map. Each player begins in his own corner with a pawn denoting ownership of that card. The game is played as normal with the addition of a conquest phase at the end of each player's turn. Initially and for quite a while players are mostly conquering unowned territories. These combats are resolved by comparing bean cards, the player's coming from his stock of cashed in beans, the neutral's from the top card of the deck. Significantly it's the higher-numbered card which wins, giving more value to the usually less valuable cards. Players who take over a particular land can purchase a munitions dump into which they can store any type of card. Other lands confer other advantages, including one which gives a cannon that can be used to break ties. Inter-player combat isn't a big portion of the game, but it certainly occurs in the final third. But it is limited enough that petty diplomacy problems usually are not much in evidence. Thematically it's a bit odd to have a war driven by bean farming, but it all works and in the right amount of time to have an enjoyable outing. So if once upon a time you bailed out on this series, it's time to let Agricola be your signal to come back to the bean. By the way, next time the bean masters make a game like this, I hope they set it in ancient Rome. One of the most famous Roman families were the Fabians, as in Fabius Maximus. Their name is derived from the Latin word faba for the broad bean, an important food crop in Roman times, something the Fabians apparently grew when they were not conquering.
Uwe Rosenberg & Hanno Girke; Lookout Games/Rio Grande/Amigo; 2003; 3-6
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7 [Buy it at Amazon]
Borderlands
Wargame by the same team that created Dune and Cosmic Encounter is set in a barbaric dystopia and is something of a predecessor to The Settlers of Catan in that the setup is always random and areas always produce the same type of good. Collecting goods in combination permits purchase of something more valuable. Combat is similar to that of Diplomacy with enhancements to make situations more volatile. As in Risk, it is usually possible to take at least one territory as the advantage is with the attacker. Unfortunately can be rather subject to kingmaking as there is a major dependence on other players to sacrifice their chances in order to play defense. Really only balanced with four players. Two expansion kits don't seem to be too necessary, the first added remote islands (which no one wants) to support up to six players while the second is rather over-the-top, including temples, universities, and blimps.
Bounty Hunter
Two-player gunfighting booklet game after the style of Ace of Aces and Lost Worlds. Concept is intriguing, but probably the least successful of all of the games of this type as the lawman and outlaw skulk around the small town trying to find one another. Eventually someone gets bored and crashes through a window or door tipping off the other. From there it is mostly a matter of luck who gets the drop on whom and who is lucky at shooting. Various codes at the edges of the town indicate several expansions were planned but to date have never been published.
Brawl
Wargame with cards in which players compete by playing cards from one of several special decks in real time. Ostensible theme is personal combat between two cartoon characters. Real-time element destroys virtually all possibility for strategy.
Britannia
Light wargame set in the British isles from the Romans to the Normans. One of the first and best games of this type, this is a game which really rewards several replayings as players can develop their strategies and counter-strategies to determine the best approaches. But even then nothing is certain as the dice can always be rather cruel. Either way, it's an epic sweep that's quite enjoyable for for the history fan. Requires four players and about as many hours. [playback] [summary] [Britannia-style Games]
Broadside
Set in the War of 1812. Board depicts a bay with bisecting island containing two forts. The map is a grid which is traveled on its intersections. Both sides have ten ship hulls but the British have five more masts than the rebel Americans, who also have four immovable merchants; six buoys, half of which are mined; and four forts sporting cannon. Players alternate moving one ship at a time in a straight line. Encountering another ship permits firing a broadside which removes a mast. "Crossing the T" of another ship is ideal as no return fire is permitted. A de-masted ship goes to Davey Jones' locker. Game of position and lookahead has little to do with combat as it was actually fought, or any actual battle for that matter, but works fairly well as a positional system à la Nine Men's Morris. Likely the best of the American Heritage series of the 1960's, the others being Civil War (later re-titled Battle Cry which is not be confused with the Battle Cry released by Hasbro in 2000), Dogfight, Hit the Beach and Skirmish. Features a dramatically-illustrated board and attractive plastic ships, though the masts are a bit fragile. Interesting historical background booklet accompanies.
Brotherhood, The
John "Squad Leader" Hill design from the wargame publisher GDW in the early '80's (first edition previously by Conflict appeared in 1972), apart from the violence, looked forward to the German-style game renaissance. Here godfathers of criminal families try to make as much money as they can by trying to control various neighborhoods. Features nice strategy dilemmas between diversification and concentration and how much one wants to try for the more lucrative but more targeted areas. Plenty of flavor is included, such as thugs, hit men, political influence, police, grand jury investigations and even gunplay. Game mechanisms include secret allocations and negotiation.
Byzantium
Martin Wallace game for up to four chronicles the struggles against the Arabs with Bulgars thrown in to generate interest on the other end of the map. As in a previous effort, Liberte, the player's sentiments are intriguingly ambiguous as each controls forces on both sides. Also leveraged is Princes of the Renaissance with its ability to choose various enhancements. The combination is presented in a game in which players seek to maximize combined scores for efforts on behalf of both sides. Points come from claiming and holding citadels – represented by stacked cylinders – and by taking them from the enemy. A player has a single force in each army which on his display is represented by cubes in three boxes: main army, elites, movement ability. Movement cubes are expended to advance one city on the point-to-point map. The others indicate the number of dice to be rolled in combat, each hitting 50% of the time and are also taken as losses. Actually army-to-army combat is uncommon. It's usually wiser to attack where the army isn't, but also wiser for the defender to run away, there being little for a defender to gain and the castles being fairly strong in their own right. A defensive strategy is probably a good idea in general since holding citadels provides not only points, but valuable income. A player can enhance his defense by adding cubes to his levy area which strengthens all his citadels, but the cubes are un-thematically reduced when just a single one of them is attacked. So there are some strategic possibilities amid this mostly tactical milieu. One could go all out for attack or invest heavily in defense. The ploy of weighting everything in favor of the Arabs, or against them, is more problematic however because of the special rule negating one of your scores if it is less than half that of your other. You're given 10 points for each side at the start and it seems wise to keep all of them. A sort of funny sideshow aspect is the early ending afforded by the ability of the non-player Bulgars to conquer the capital at Constantinopolis. Although not easily done – it has perhaps a 1 in 3 chance – it addounds to the benefit of the player having the most Arabic points – the capture itself providing a substantial 5 of them. When it happens this kind of victory feels rather unfair to those players unable to affect it. Theme is well-served by a beautifully-illustrated board (by Peter Dennis) and lots of wood. The towers are appropriately purple for Byzantium (purple was the color exclusively reserved for the Imperial family) and white for the desert clothing of the Arabs, making an attractive if somewhat fragile display. As our British friends might say, there are a few too many "rolly bits". But theme is not served by the fact that there are so many independent commands and that they never return home for the winter. The crusades or the Russian civil war might have been better choices. There is rather more ambiguity in the rules writing than desireable – getting to be a Warfrog habit, unfortunately – and not enough effort in the communication design as players at first need to keep checking the rules to explain icons and for costs. In this regard, it might have been wiser to make coins worth 3 rather than 5 as the former valuation is so frequently employed. The overall feel of the game is of scarcity as both cubes and money are insufficient for all one wishes to do. Turns tend to end when all armies have run down to nothing. Duration is two hours or more, depending on player desire to play out the turns. As in Princes of the Renaissance, the use of the dice is objectionable, being both too influential and too little used to permit the law of averages to take effect, though some players are willing to give this up for the drama of the rolling. This is more meant to be played with beer in hand than as a calm study, like, Euphrat & Tigris to pick another example from the same part of the world. For many duration will be too long for such a game, however. The two-player version has a serious problem and is not recommended.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Martin Wallace; 2005; Warfrog; 2-4
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