Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Panzer Armee Afrika
Wargame about World War II tank battles in Africa lacks flavor as counters represent units which neither look nor seem to behave like tanks. Plays more like one of the very earliest generic wargames after having been grafted onto this theme.
Parts Unknown
Longish economic game in a horror setting. In a scene out of Frankenstein, a doctor is wandering about a village ghoulishly collecting body parts. Players take the role of middlemen, trying to make as much money as they can by buying and selling as supply and demand go up and down. The price changes tread quite nicely the tightrope between predictability and chaos. Winning is an interesting challenge. Buyers may be surprised that a game in such packaging can actually last four hours.
Pass the Gas
Multi-player gas balloon racing game for up to six in which the goal is to be the first to ascend above 5,000 feet. Play is somewhat reminiscent of the Cheapass Devil Bunny Needs a Ham (not described here), as is the component quality. Players take turns tossing out ballast cards of varying weights and rise by corresponding amounts. But a throw is also aimed at another's balloon via a "to-hit" roll which if successful gives the ballast card to that player and forces his balloon downwards. In addition, it may hit a crew member, knocking him out and forcing out a piece of ballast, causing the balloon to rise again. Each player also has one dart and one dynamite which may be launched at an opponent instead. With the latter, unless the player happens to have nonflammable gas (the gas cards are passed each turn), the balloon bursts and the team is forced to re-start from the ground. May go on longer than expected since it is relatively easy to knock down others' balloons. Rumors that this was published by Pull My Finger Games are simply untrue. [Balloon Aviation Games] [Fun City Games]
Patton's Third Army
Two-player wargame part of the Victory in the West series depicting battles of the west at the end of World War II. This particular battle depicts General Patton's advance into Lorraine in November of 1944. The Axis are mostly on the defensive, in many places behind impressive terrain. Allied forces most focus on corps cohesiveness. Despite this, fairly balanced with rules more straightforward than usual for games of this type, without being "introductory". Other games in the series are Operation Grenade and Sicily.
Perikles
Multi-player Martin Wallace game on the conflicts of the ancient Greeks before Alexander. Of course the main actors are Athens, Sparta and Persia, but smaller states such as Corinth and Megara also play a role. What's strange are what the players represent, the answer being that even having played I'm stlil not sure. See if you can figure it out. What happens is that via a drafting session players acquire cards for various city-states – no two cards can be the same, but there are wild cards – which confer control tokens in the state. At the end of all drafting the player having the most tokens in each state likely takes control of thst state, but losing influence for the next round in the process. A player who controls nothing gets temporary control of Persia, one of the three best military forces in the game. Controlling a state gives points in two ways. The easier method is the "fame award" which is automatically granted for simply controlling a state for a turn. The downside is that these points are not awarded until the end of the game, but every time the state loses a battle, the award's value decreases. This brings up the second method of scoring – winning battles. These arise not player choice, but as a result of several tiles which are turned up each turn. These battles have historical names and specify and attacker and defender. (Some are a bit ahistorical as not all the historical participants are included or a main antagonist – Syracuse – is not actually in the game.) There is no guarantee that a battle will be fought – it all depends on where a state's controller places the forces. If many of its battles come up in tehs ame round several may end up being ignored, which will be okay if the opposition ignores them as well. It's quite usual for a few battles to be ignored in any case. Controlling players receive all the armies and fleets for their nations and allocate them face down, two at a time, to battles. Timing and being able to place last can be very useful. Non-involved states are permitted to join battles as well. Some battles are land-only meaning that only armies are useful while others first have a naval conflict, the winning of which gives a significant advantage to the land portion. Combat is resolved via "to-hit" die roll for both sides, based on one of the strangest odds calculation tables ever seen. Those who prefer their games more abstract and fair will find some annoyance with this one. Why, they'll want to know is the draft pool so small? Why isn't it just that all states are available? They will probably also be annoyed with the random draw of battles, which can have quite a large effect. By the way, the game doesn't give this advice, but I will: lay out the battles yet to come in plain view so that players have a good idea what may be next. Another valid complaint is that by starting a bunch of battles which he has no chance to win, a player can become a kingmaker. So the system is a bit fragile and won't be to everyone's taste. On the other hand, there are strategic choices such as battles vs. fame, large countries vs. small and many paths in between. This is one of Warfrog's better offerings since Empires of the Ancient World, and Liberte, even if not quite eclipsing either.
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Martin Wallace; Warfrog; 2006; 3-5
Pax Britannica
Wargame about late nineteenth century imperialism for up to eight players. Players expand into the less-industrialized areas of the world seeking to enhance their status and profitability, meanwhile attempting to avoid starting World War I. This very different simulation includes hefty samplings of diplomacy and negotiation. It is difficult to get this many players together for such a long period, but if managed, the experience is quite satisfying. Despite this, there are a few quibbles. The original rules need a lot of help and the rewritten rules that are out on the web are indispensable. Also, the simultaneous placement phase with players racing in real time to accomplish things is really a bad idea in retrospect. It would be much better to have players go around the table placing markers one a time with each player able to see what the others have done. Not to redesign the game, but modern studies have found that in most cases colonies cost their owners more than they earned. While this is sometimes true in the game as well, colonial expansion remains the sine qua non. But wise old heads like Bismarck realized it even then. As he said, "My map of Africa lies in Europe." It's just too bad that the game doesn't permit nations the alternative of investing in economic development at home as was the case historically. In a website, the author admits that he got the plural of the Latin term casus belli wrong; he apparently has not yet noticed that he also go the word "codominion" wrong – it should be "condominium". On the other hand, not many rule sets try to do anything interesting with language in the first place. [more] [notes]
Pirat (Korsar)
Early Reiner Knizia card game about piracy on the high seas offers the promise of an exciting topic, but turns out to be one of the designer's few fairly weak productions. With mechanisms obviously sharing lineage with Digging and Goldrausch, the luck of the draw is too dramatic to provide much fairness. Additionally, it is far too easy for a player to put on not the pirate, but the kingmaker hat as well. 2002 re-release Korsar features much nicer packaging and Franz Vohwinkel card artwork. Other changes include addition of two 7-point and one 8-point treasure ships whereas previously the high value was 6. The pirate ship mix has been changed as well. Formerly: 1x1,3x2,3x3,2x4; now: 2x1,4x2,4x3,2x4. New partnership rules don't work very well because the ability to examine the player's hand takes out all the challenge. But disallowing this would swing things too far the other direction. Untried would be a solution involving not looking, but allowing each player one card trade per turn. Overall result of the new edition is very minor leavening. By the way, one can now see in this the then future Taj Mahal. The earlier Kanzler is also a relative. [Pirate Games]
Piratenbucht
Another entry in one of the most popular game themes – will the market ever tire of one-eyed, one-legged men with smelly beards and pet parrots? "Pirates Bay" uses the tried-and-true "select a location" mechanism à la Adel Verpflichtet, here via a dial rather than cards. The six island locations include one for each of the four different ship attributes (hull, crew, cannon, sails) one wishes to enhance, one for drawing special cards and one for burying treasure, i.e. scoring points. In addition, each island provides randomly-determined free goodies such as gold, treasure and cards. But peril rears its head when players run into one another and either shoot it out by playing cards and rolling plenty of dice or flee – fortunately, flight or defeat still provides a nice consolation prize. On the positive side, all the dice, battle, booty and randomness do feel appropriate for a buccaneering outing. The wooden sloops and very attractive artwork (by Markus Wagner & Swen Papenbrock) add quite a lot to this feeling. Everyone will want to try this one for the first time. But will it be worth repeated plays? Now we sail into more troubled waters. Ignoring the wise precedent of The Settlers of Catan, which featured only five types of special cards, here there is a wide variety, making matters rather unfair for first time players, also for those who tend to go a while between playings. So this is targeted to the wizened gamer. But is this group really going to keep playing when there is so much chaos? This is apparent not only in the dice, but also in special cards which are not very well balanced, some being extremely powerful, e.g. six cannons, but others, e.g. one victory point, being rather useless. The result is a mixed message and at the end of the day, the colorful theme will be the only shoulders on which a sustained audience can be built. The wide variety of card texts presents something of a problem to players not having German. There are some rules ambiguities to work out as well. But the most annoying factor of all may be the boredom induced while waiting for other players to complete their battles. [Pirate Games]
Pirate's Plunder
Card game about piracy on the high seas has players competing to be the first to collect three thousand pieces of eight. First they must steal a ship by rolling six pips or more on two dice. Once they have a ship they are allowed regular turns, otherwise the turn is at an end. During a turn, play exactly one card – save for the "play any time cards" which can be problematic to resolve when races are involved. Then if the player survives another roll, either draw from the treasure (which also contains enemy ships) or combat an opponent by rolling against them. This is pretty much all there is apart from a wide variety of cards designed to hobble one's opponents. Seems to go on much too long considering the small amount of decisionmaking, particularly with more than four players. System has been seen many times before in games such as Nuclear War, Naval War, Enemy in Sight, the publisher's own Plague & Pestilence, and several others. Card artwork is passable, occasionally even eye-opening, but in no way as professional as that produced by the collectible card game industry. If the idea of a pirate card game is still too irresistible, suggest at least moving the draw cards phase to the end of the turn to speed up matters. [summary] [Pirate Games] [Take That! Card Games]
Plague & Pestilence
Essentially a watered-down version of Nuclear War, transported to a medieval setting. The interesting tactic of the anti-missile which changes the turn order as in Mah Jongg is absent here. Monochrome line drawings made to somewhat resemble period woodcuts look nice. [Take That! Card Games] Hillary's Toy Box
Planet Busters
boxcover
Science fiction vehicle, essentially a card game, originally seen in a 1982 issue of The Dragon magazine, this was re-published in 2004 without any apparent cognizance of 22 years of advances in game technology. Cards are drawn at the start of a turn rather than the end. Resources, which depend on luck of the draw from the deck, come in three varieties: ships, fuel to power them and planets (i.e. victory points). A player's only real decision is which opponent to attack. But if the draw inclined too much toward fuel there will be no point in attacking with such a puny fleet. On the other hand, be there too many ships and there's not enough fuel, one unit of which is needed to move and another to attack. An attack itself is a rather chancy affair. The defender lays out his cards face down so that the attacker may assign ships to them without much rhyme or reason. Resolution is via dice as modified by comparing ship strengths. Torpedoes are resolved by a "what number am I thinking of?" mechanism. A successful invader grabs planets which grant more card draws, probably leading to the rich get richer syndrome. Of course the potential for kingmaking is present as well. A unique feature is the cardboard player stand which is meant to hold cards in an upright position. They word so long as nobody breathes. There are a fair number of special cards and everyone knows when someone has got one as a rules lookup is necessary. The Tom Wham artwork, colorful and cartoonish, is a joy to behold, but what's the point in such game? Avoid.
James Ward & Tom Wham; Troll Lord Games; 2004; 2-4
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Plunder [Laughing Pan]
Multi-player card game of the classic Caribbean pirate era is a maddening combination of brilliant and disastrous mechanisms. Starting in Tortuga, players create the map as they go with a very good repeating move - draw - play mechanism. There are rules for buying and selling at ports, discovering treasure, taking merchants, ship upgrades, wars, letters of marque and inter-player combat. This is all quite generous for a card game – in fact it feels like the original idea was to reproduce Blackbeard in card format. There's also a wise rule that a ship can sail as far as it likes, but turn only once, which is exactly the right level of limit. Another probably good one is that a player's last turn act is to send an encounter card to the next player – at least this is much better than the kind of kingmaking that goes on in completely unfettered "take that!" card games. Rounding out the highlights are a great presentation that starts with treasure box packaging and include lots o' cards, attractive artwork and a feel for language and layout that is deceptively hard to achieve. All of these things make one feel great about the game, for the first hour. It's only after that that that old sinking feeling comes on. For one thing, there's the downtime issue. That same good feature of drawing more cards during the turn should have put the cards aside until the turn is over so that the player isn't reading while others are waiting. It's even worse when a player is sunk and must draw a whole new hand and play one. That most of these cards are unique and chock full of text doesn't help. There's also an issue of card balance and power. A lot of cards are rather devastating to others, but at least allow a card play in defense. This is bad enough since playing a game lasting more than an hour implies one is planning and building up to something and having to use a carefully saved card works rather against that. But even worse, some very devastating cards don't even permit a defense and the victim loses just about everything. At that point it's a fair question whether it's the game or the player who is being played. When the maximum four players are trying to wreak as much havoc as they can, this could go on for three or four hours, i.e. much too long for this level of randomness. So it's with a certain wistfulness that I must warn you away from these waters. Alas, it is not even easily fixable as many card texts would need changing. But it sure would have been nice to borrow some Pirates of the Spanish Main minis and have at. One final issue: why is it that Germans can produce such nice, easy to shuffle linen-finish cards and Americans can't? [Laughing Pan Productions] [Pirate Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
Power Play [Task Force]
Card game about trying to take power in a government via coup. Based on luck of the draw and worse, a player who fails the power play is out and must wait for others to finish, which may take quite some time. Very disappointing.
Proroctví (Prophecy)
Fantasy adventure game very much in the mode of Talisman. A reasonable encapsulation of the difference would be while the earlier game used dice to determine both movement and combat, the present one uses it only for the latter. Each player runs a titled character, e.g. Druid, Paladin, Ranger, etc. who does not have any special powers, but is differentiated only by strength, willpower, gender, free guild memberships and starting location. These stand-up cardboard characters in plastic stands traverse a star-shaped board, being able to move one space free, two spaces by paying a gold or teleporting if in the right location to do so. At the start of each player turn a card is drawn to place monsters and artifacts on a type of board space or otherwise change the board state. Defeating a monster gives experience which is exchanged at the five inner points of the star in exchange for a special ability from one of the guilds, which are fighting, monastery, forest, magic and thieves. Collecting one from each gives the basic game victory while the longer game involves defeating demons hanging about the outside. Interaction isn't high as most inter-character combat is probably useless, but there is some in that players may try to defeat a monster or pick up a skill or item before another can do so. The thieves guild also offers an ability permitting stealing from characters. Somewhat unrealistically, but usefully, there are rules limiting the total amounts of gold and abilities a player can amass as well as an annoying card which halves a player's gold. Players quickly learn to spend as soon as possible, especially as other cards reward those having the least gold and health. (Well, being Czech, this game does come from a former communist country.) All of this finishes in a couple hours for the basic game, the longer version probably being closer to three. Downtime is probably too much if the number of players exceeds four. Production and communication design are reasonable if a bit bland (cartoonish in places) and include candy-like gems in several colors. This is not a bad entry for this style of game, especially as it tries to limit length and preserve fairness, but what's lost are the many individual touches which Talisman players have come to love so well. Though it does far better than Runebound, it does not match the grand sweep of Return of the Heroes. But this must be seen as a welcome alternative for those with different priorities. Two expansions are already available at the time of this writing: Prophecy: Water Realm and Prophecy: Dragon Realm.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Prussia's Glory
Traditional tactical wargame for two depicting four battles of Frederick the Great (Zorndorf, Torgau, Rossbach, Leuthen). Treatment is fairly standard going back to the old SPI/AH conventions with rigid and active Zones of Control. Some additional wrinkles include: (1) Stacking is in steps, but only the top four participate in battle; (2) Activation rolls; (3) Command radius; (4) Rout movement; (5) Morale rating and checks. Spillover effects from a serious defeat appear overly strong. Say two or three equally good units are stacked up in a hex. The top unit has an unlucky die roll and gets decimated. Its flipside numbers being quite weak, on the opponent's counterattack this unit gets hurt to an extent far beyond that of its ability to take damage. Under the rules, all of the extra damage is automatically applied to the still quite robust unit stacked under it. Sure, it's as if the line ahead of the second line troops just melted away, but shouldn't the second line get a chance to prove itself? It doesn't even get so much as a morale check. Another rules issue is a failure to fully address complications around multi-hex combat. Then there are the typically wargamish arithmetic gymnastics as every combat involves all kinds of modifiers which must be toted up before the die is rolled. It needs to be asked whether the many conventions of this form are still worthwhile and meaningful. In all of these odds and movement point calculations, are players truly experiencing the decisions Frederick did or are they simply trying to optimize a mathematical situation? The Combat Results Table is forty years old too – isn't it time to come up with something better? Are sheer numerical odds really the most important factor in determining combat results, especially if the difference is slight, as in this game where one is often looking at the difference between a 6 to 6 attack (treated as 1-1) versus a 5 to 6 attack (treated as a much more dire 1-2)? The counters are nice artistically, but it would have been better had the numbers been more clearly defined. While the strength number is nice and large, making its identity clear, it is ambiguous which is movement and which morale. Overall, this will mostly be of interest to fans of Freddy the Great and his somewhat obscure era, of which this is a fine representative, although some of these battles have been done before, (by Clash of Arms, Vae Victis and GDW) of the tactical wargame tradition going back now four decades.
Punic Wars, The
Military game on the Second Punic War has too great a balancing mechanism as it it is possible to play for nine hours and still wind up with a tie. I have always thought it amusing that leaders could walk (alone) across any body of water.

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