Spotlight on Games
1001 Nights of Military Gaming
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- Saga [Kosmos]
Small package Wolfgang Kramer and Horst-Rainer Rösner
Nicht die Bohne)
game of medieval warfare is basically, a surprisingly unremarked-upon,
German war game from no less than Kosmos. There are similarities with
as well since players spend cards trying to capture common
target cards. Each confers a victory point plus some special
power or bonus. Players each begin with decks which are equivalent
in power, but differ in colors, color being critical to launching
an attack on a castle. Resolution of an attack is not subject to
chance. The player simply adds a card each turn until he exceeds
the defense strength, the cards used setting the new defense
strength. It's a wise system in that a player who owns a lot of
points also has a lot committed in cards and so fewer options
and less ability. Deciding how much to commit to an attack
becomes a major decision that's difficult to perfect. Much of
the game is actually about finding the most effective way to
proceed through its continual gain-loss-gain cycle, not the
least being to stand in the gain position at game end. But some
of the problems inherent in a multi-player war game march right
alongside. It's necessary to work together against a leader,
but not all may take their responsibility seriously. Kingmaking is
possible. An early leader can afford to recruit additional armies
which can lead to a rich-get-richer situation. The card artwork
is generally well done with several female armies included --
nice to see some Amazons for a change. The most innovative thing
here is that it is a war game at all. A little known secret is
that many of the more serious German game players, surrounded
by society games, secretly enjoy American-style war games in
the privacy of their own homes, much in the same way that wine
connoisseurs occasionally indulge in a bit of beer or brandy.
New German military game makers like Phalanx and Histogame and now
Kosmos are finally starting to give this group some attention.
This game is for them. For Americans then, this may seem a bit
bland. Of them, logistics experts will appreciate this, as will
some theme fans, but others will most likely look elsewhere.
[Holiday List 2004]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High
- Saga [TSR]
Micro wargame set in the world of Beowulf and other great heroes of
the northern lands. The color map depicts all of northern Europe and the goal
of the players is to to be the best at slaying fearsome monsters. There
is more opportunism than strategy here and almost no difficult decisions
to make, but it has at least some feeling of fun.
- Samurai [Avalon Hill]
For the most part, a realization of
but set in medieval Japan. Unfortunately color and pageantry are rather
lacking here as the illustrated cards have been replaced by small,
drab chits. Rules permit players to engage in attacks so serious
that both are fatally knocked out long before it is over.
This multi-player war game set in feudal Japan follows in the
wake of many similar affairs such as
Shogun (Samurai Swords),
James Clavell's Shogun
and the Shogun version
Some will be interested by the eighteen plastic samurai
figurines though some other versions have offered similar
as well. The more innovative feature of this one is the set of
168 cards. Some of these are owned by the players from the
start and represent either their military alliance or their
hostages. The other cards are in
style and can be received each turn for each province held.
Collecting enough of these cards in particular groupings
confers advantages, mostly victory points which are the actual
goal of the game, rather than conquest and elimination.
Points can also be earned for being silver-tongued enough to
collect the colors of all of the other players.
Each turn there is a negotiation phase in which all of these
cards get traded around. These can have consequences for the
combat portion of the turn. For example, if you attack someone
who holds your hostage, you lose a couple points. The combat
phase first has each player using a chit to program what each
of his provinces will do. Then the leading player points at
province after province upon which the owner reveals the chit
and takes the action. Significantly, a move/attack action does
not have to be decided in advance but can go anywhere, i.e. to
an adjacent province or if coastal, to any other coastal on
the same sea. Combat is resolved via special dice which show
the crests of the six player sides. This is where the military
alliance cards come in. If a player produces one or more, not
only does he get to count dice results showing his crest, but
also those of allies. This was a nice attempt to model, in a
simple way, the complex notions of honor and alliance in the
period being depicted, but like so many which have gone
before, fails to solve the petty diplomacy problem inherent
in the situation. Not every situation, even if realistically
handled, makes for a good game and the possibility here of
someone losing most or all of their territories due to ganging
up is hardly edifying, and certainly not if they need to hang
around for nearly two hours before it finishes.
Serge Laget & Bruno Cathala; Asmodée Editions; 2008; 3-6
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 4
[Buy it at Amazon]
Multi-player game which purports to be about raiding and
trading in the Renaissance Mediterranean ("Serenissima" is an
historic name for Venice), is swamped by military issues and
by the end turns utterly into a wargame. It seems a shame as
there is a nice trading subsystem which never seems to be used
or matter. Instead whole rule sections such as those which
permit players to negotiate with one another over commodity
prices can be safely thrown out as they are never used.
Games of the Italian Renaissance]
[Traveling Merchant Games]
- Shanghai Trader
The corruption in Shanghai's International Bund during the
early part of the 20th century. Players represent a national
side, one of Americans, British, French, Germans, Russians or
Japanese. Players attempt to dominate different areas of the
city which gives special moneyraising powers, including the
ability to extort money from other players. Often players are
required to practically ruin other players with amazingly high
cash demands. It is not surprising that the game often turns
into a bitter shouting match. In addition, not only do players
need to make the most money, they must get out to the airport
and hope they can roll well enough to escape alive, an endeavor
that needs a fair amount of luck. Each side has special powers,
but if playing with more than three, these should be omitted
since they are not balanced.
Microgame wargame is an "evolutionary" battle of wizards using
shapeshifting magic to transform into a number of different
animal forms and thereby destroy their opponents. Mostly a
matter of bluff. [Fat
- Shogun (Samurai Swords)
Multi-player wargame part of Milton Bradley GameMaster series
is set in sixteenth-century Japan, i.e. the era popularized by
novel. The name was changed to Samurai Swords when the licensing ran out.
-- including some of its worst features -- e.g.
that a player's setup is randomly determined and that he
can be knocked out of the game long before it is over.
The basic system is jazzed up by a lot of blind auctioning and
economics, but by far the aspect that gets players going is
impressive appearance of all of the colorful plastic armies on the map.
However, as usual, one doesn't find good food at a restaurant with a view
and one does not find satisfying play here.
James Clavell's Shogun
is a different take on the same subject.
Two-player wargame so simple that board and rules appear on a single
side of a sheet of paper. The topic is a laser-armed
space shuttle attempting to cross
a field of opposing satellites. Some are movable mines, some have lasers.
Worth a play or two.
- Siege [Iron Bear]
Card game in which one player defends a castle and the other tries to
take it. Like a real siege, seems to present a balanced game only with
difficulty. Either the attacker manages to penetrate the walls quickly
and easily or he doesn't get the cards he needs and the handwriting
appears on the wall long before the game is over. Rules on the use of
food and famine are a bit vague.
- Siege of Constantinople
Richard Berg-designed two-player magazine wargame about the 1453 battle between
the Ottoman Turks and remaining Byzantine "empire". Generally the Turks
manage to break through and the game is over almost immediately or else
they don't and it goes on forever. The design had its (sea) legs cut out from
under it when all of the naval rules were deleted for magazine format.
These rules have since appeared on the Internet, but I have not yet had a chance
to see how much play is improved. Perhaps it is a lost cause since the topic
of siege in general with its long waiting periods is not all that interesting
to simulate, or at least as done by everyone thus far.
- Sigma File, The (Agent, Casablanca, Conspiracy, Dossier X)
in the sense that players make secret bids
(here on spies) and in the Cold War theme that both share. The game
has agents working for four players trying to steal a file (think
The Ipcress File)
and deliver it to the player's
capital without getting killed. Plenty of subterfuge, but can founder
if players refuse to operate defensively. Can also be anti-climactic
if the bidding goes awry. As in
players are on the honor system for their bidding.
- VI Caesars
Lawrence H. Harris light wargame in which at least six different would-be
emperors contend over the ancient Roman empire.
Area map is divided into the historical provinces of the empire as
it stood in Trajan's time, i.e. including Dacia.
Pieces include caesars, generals, infantry, elite infantry, catapults,
cities, capital cities, fortified cities, short roads and long roads.
Players choose their capital from one of Hispania, Italia, Macedonia,
Galatia (south Asia Minor), Egyptus and Numidia.
The sequence of player is Income, Move, Combat, Purchase.
Income is produced based on values printed on the board.
Movement is by land or sea, one or two areas per turn, except that
one may travel infinitely by road.
Combat is resolved via tactical display, the winner in each column
being the side with
the highest die roll added to the number of combat factors.
The overall strategic situation is apparently meant to reflect that
of the period just prior to Constantine's rise to power, but very
Roads and catapults are overly powerful.
The roads that players build would have already existed.
Island provinces like Sardinia-Corsica are much too valuable.
Good points are that the rules are all of two pages, the map does
provide all of the historical names of the various provinces and
the game flows well with a fun feeling.
Later re-published with plastic pieces as
Conquest of the Empire,
part of Milton Bradley's GameMaster series (not described here).
- Sixteen Thirty Something
Game set at the time of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) does
not have a great deal to do with the actual war apart from
naming all of the main states. Instead players each secretly
favor a few of the conflicting countries based on cards randomly
dealt at the outset. This alone can cause problems if the cards
are not all dealt (e.g. in a five-player game) since those
holding states for which not all the cards have been dealt are
at a distinct disadvantage as fewer players are trying to prop
them up. Suggest that a hidden, random nation be omitted when
the number of players dictates this situation. Beyond this,
has operational difficulties such as frequently running out
of cards due to depletion of the deck when it it is time for
players to replenish. Also, the game seems to go on too long as
every player's secret wishes are obvious long before the game is
over and because every nation inevitably ends up either at the
very top or the very bottom of the scoring track. Thus the game
outcome is rather plain long before it actually arrives as it
is practically impossible for devastated nations to ever recover.
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