Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Ace of Aces
Quick, two-player book wargame in which players take on the role of World War I fighter plane pilots trying to shoot one another down. In an ingenious system, each player has at every point of a picture of how things would look from the cockpit and then gets to choose from a wide variety of maneuvers with which to outwit his opponent. This used to be a great game to play while waiting in the registration line at the Origins game convention. The game spawned quite a few more games by the same publisher. In the World War I category, other aircraft were presented in Powerhouse, Flying Machines and Balloon Buster. The series also moved outside of the first world war with Wingleader, Jet Eagles and even further afield with Bounty Hunter (Old West gunfighters), Dragonriders of Pern, Star Wars Starfighter and perhaps the most popular of all of them, the fantasy character combat game Lost Worlds. Titles which were planned, but never published include Patrol, Ground Target, Wingleader: Bomber, Two Seaters. [Balloon Aviation Games]
African Kingdoms
Simple wargame for two or four in partnership by small publisher DPO, Inc. Regions of Africa are depicted on a four-color, mounted map with a double track below. Also included are twelve pawns in four colors with chips to match. Setup is fixed with each player setting up pawns with chips in a similarly-colored kingdom. The chips represent resources and never move. All of the pawns can move one space each turn, plus one can move two spaces, this being shown by flipping over a card. The maximum number of friendly pawns which can be collected in an area is three. After moves comes combat in the regions occupied by opposing pieces. This is merely a matter of both sides rolling a die and adding to it the number of pieces that they have. For one combat per turn, again indicated by a card, the attacker receives +1 (for archers). Ties go to the defender. Any defeated chips are claimed by the winner while defeated pawns retreat, unless having no retreat or beaten by a differential of five or more, in which case they are destroyed instead. Destroyed pieces are placed on the victory track below and when the winner reaches eight, the game is over. There are some strategy and tactics to consider, but they are easily swamped by the randomness of the dice. Presentation is utilitarian and the idea of partnership completely pointless as both partners move and fight at the same time. May be useful for introducing wargame concepts, but nothing more.
After the Flood
This is sort of a resource development plus conflict game set in ancient Sumeria and curiously requiring exactly three players. Just why this limitation exists is mysterious as it doesn't feel intrinsically necessary (for a counterexample cf. The End of the Triumverate). Is it too uncharitable to ask whether this was the only number for which the design worked? Three is also the number of phases in a turn, though not officially so – ATF's chief innovation. Where normally there would be a "place cities" phase followed by an "acquire goods" phase and this followed by a combat phase, here one can perform these in any order desired. The way it works out is that usually actions occur in the above order, but sometimes it's a useful surprise to alter it. It also gives a significance to timing – an early finish to acquisition permits grabbing the best army and even interfering with opponent acquisitions, which depend on meeple placement. Those allocated to grain and textile boxes provide the corresponding commodities, though based not directly on the number placed, but on their ranking. Then various board spaces around Sumeria are used to upgrade these to six other commodities, which are useful primarily for buying the urban status symbols that provide more victory points than anything else, and secondarily for enhancing armies and buying a better place in the turn order. Conquest begins after a player has claimed one of the three armies on offer for the turn, by virtue of a meeple in its start area. Armies have fixed sizes which the player can pay to increase. Their campaign consists of expansion into one new area each sub-turn, the chief goal being to control areas and sometimes to destroy enemy cities. Destroying an opposing army depends on rolling two dice above four if one's army ranking is superior, or above six otherwise. Army ranking is something one can improve by spending at army creation time – a good reason to act last. In this two- to three-hour affair there are five game turns, the even-numbered ones featuring near complete removal of one's meeples (armies are always all removed at the end of a turn), meaning there is little context saved between turns. Probably the reason for this is simply to avoid requiring too many bits, but it certainly doesn't favor long-range planning. There is also a "Tool Makers" box which borrows an idea from Origins: How We Became Human in that meeples here are not expended, but simply toggle between the used and unused states. A similar box labeled "Scribes" permits transferring meeples to new locations, including resetting them if to either of the above two boxes, permitting tricky tactics. The box artwork is as impressive as ever for this publisher, as is the map, though it's odd that in the land of the Tigris and Euphrates that the rivers are not depicted. There are gaps in the communication design. Not only does the text on the island appear to contradict the rules, but small text is buried in many provinces, making it nearly impossible to read and yet still detracting from the aesthetic design. It's as if the goal was the best of both worlds and the result, the worst. The trade table is so opaque that a better one is presented here; using it, certain realities such as the value of trading textiles for gold and tools for lapis leap out where they were obscure before. There is also an odd "tools for metal" trade that does no good and probably wouldn't be in the game at all had a clearer table been present. The meeples – in purple, orange and green – look something like heads and shoulders while the solders are rather larger and mean to represent a spear carrier with a large, rectangular shield. Unfortunately, the wooden pieces can't show the spear and so they end up looking like backpackers, or astronauts. Thematically, the whole thing, perhaps a result of over-development, seems to lose most of the reality. Players represent Sumerian tyrants, but also foreign invaders who take over their own city-states. They send out traders who also recruit armies. They build cities for free and if they wish, destroy them and rebuild again. Supposedly one of the design goals was to avoid the petty diplomacy problems inherent in the tripartite situation, but it hardly does so. The best strategy is to be trailing in points so that the two leaders go after one another. If one is unable to catch up, it's entirely possible to become kingmaker. It is true that probably no one will be completely wiped out and chances are all will be in contention to the end. Considering that going a-conquering is probably the highlight, it's surprising to see this published under the Treefrog rather than the Warfrog label. Was this intended as a Treefrog from the start or originally as a plastic pieces game? If the latter, despite its faults, it would actually be superior to most of that ilk. But it's difficult to see who will be attracted to a plastic pieces game without the plastic.
Martin Wallace; Treefrog; 2008; 3
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5
After the Holocaust
Wargame depicting a United States sometime following a limited nuclear war. Industrial production is considerably reduced and the nation fractured into four: East, Midwest, South and West. The four sides are uneven, the Midwest having greater resources (but three neighbors), the South greater military ability, etc. Features considerable recordkeeping reminiscent of annual tax forms. The emphasis of the game is on managing the economies which are all very precarious. War is a lose-lose proposition. Overall probably too few strategic options to maintain much interest unless considerable variants are introduced.
Age of Exploration
Wargame about the 15th-century European expeditions to and explorations of the Americas. Very much an experience game in which players try to survive amidst extremely straitened conditions. Mostly a game of competing solitaire efforts. Once one has managed to accomplish the major obstacles in the game, e.g. conquering the Aztecs, does not cry out to be played again, largely because of lack of interesting strategic decisionmaking. Graphics remind more of the 1990's than the 1490's.
Age of Mythology
The topic is a purported war between ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Scandinavians and their associated mythical beasts, though not the strangely absent gods. There is no common board, but each player has an individualized mat on which to place resource-generating tiles and buildings. A common Explore action permits each player to draft new terrain while a common Gather action produces resources so long as the supply lasts. Resources in excess of storage capacity are lost at the end of the turn. Sound a little like Puerto Rico so far? Now we diverge, for alongside all this is an involved system of recruiting and fighting armies. These activities, as well as building construction, are conducted individually, each player dipping into a unique supply. Combat uses a Rock-Paper-Scissors approach to assign advantages and then lots of dice to resolve. To the winners go the spoils, one of terrain theft, goods pilfering or building destruction. Victory is earned by point acquisition as each turn players allocate a single point to one of Most Buildings, Largest Army, Wonder or Battle. All but the last are awarded at the end of play while Battle points go to the next player to win one. (This mechanism could be fascinating if points were assigned instead as a side effect of what players were doing elsewhere.) A large number of plastic pieces in a wide variety of shapes are provided – minotaurs, manticores and anything similar you can imagine – and these reveal the game's essence, i.e. plastic combat. The pieces fight one-by-one until all are dead and often there are ties so it has to be done all over again while the uninvolved wait ... and wait. But the worst is yet to come. The serial, guessing nature of combat makes results very random which really calls into question all the strategic play around it. It's like plot in a porn movie – just postponing the "good part". A further problem is the imbalance that develops from being ganged up on with no structural mechanism to keep a trailing player's chances viable. Defenses such as the Wall and Tower quickly become useless so the best such a player can do is recruit more army, but not quickly enough to catch up before being bashed and losing something else important. There is no approach that works without a victorious army and once you lose that it's four plus hours of waiting before it ends. There's also a lot of randomness in the special cards which are poorly balanced and worse, shared between players in a full playing. Thematic matters are not very well handled either. Beyond the gallivanting gods and teleporting terrain, just where are these armies supposed to be meeting anyway? Why do monsters want to help the mortals that usually they're eating? By rights the players ought to be in charge of the monsters of others' mythologies. Battle has no historical sense – there is no point to leading with light or fast forces for example and a lot of pieces have nonsensical advantages only there for type balancing purposes. A degree of overanalysis as well as kingmaking can crop up in the end game as a result of the open victory points. There are communication design issues. Building costs are listed in one place and functions in another. No markers are provided to track the current age. Some pieces, e.g. Greek archers and hoplites, are too similar in profile. Worst of all, the units summary that every player wants to see at the same time is only printed on one double-sided sheet. Player screens for secret deployments are really needed as well. Players looking for Puerto Rico with combat need to keep looking. Those wanting a combat system with fancy plastic pieces should just draft an army, play out the battles and throw away all the window dressing. If, nevertheless, you still intend to try this, at least speed up matters by providing about twenty-five dice and plenty of rolling space so that players in combat don't wait on one another.
Age of Renaissance
Wargame for up to six set in the Renaissance era. A bit reminiscent of Civilization, it is much less convincing as history. The perspective is extremely fuzzy as sometimes the player acts like a country and at other times like a trading company. The competition for spaces doesn't make sense as combat, nor does it make sense as commercial activity. Beyond the theming, there are more problems in terms of ambiguous rules, a strange sequence of play that makes things unintuitive and a Crusades card which often has an unbalancing effect on play. Games of the Italian Renaissance]
Air Baron
Game about controlling American jet aircraft routes. Much of the game is about luck of the dice and psychological positioning.
Air Force
Tactical wargame about World War II aircraft in conflict over Europe. The system works fairly well for small numbers of aircraft and I am unaware of any attempts to better it with newer systems, apart from those which actually use miniature aircraft. (Since I wrote the above, someone has written in to recommend Fighting Wings by Clash of Arms.) Although there are rules for a player's pilot improving ability through experience, it does not really begin to describe an entire larger campaign or do much to allow players to place battles in a wider context. Followed by Dauntless which expands the same system to the war in the Pacific.
Air War
Wargame about air combat in the early jet age, in particular the Korea and Vietnam eras. Each turn represents one second of real time which is rather ironic in that just doing something as simple as flying across the map seems to take forever. A good simulation of the era for air tactics fanatics only. Curiously, supplementing the game's aircraft types with more modern models is not really of much interest as computers, radar and guided missiles have taken over so very much of the human element in air combat. The first paragraph of the rules to that one was a real grabber. If I can recall:
There are 2 ways of evaluating complexity to a game. One is the difficulty in understanding how the rules work. The other is in the strategy of trying to play the game. As an example, Chess would be about a 4 in the first, but a 10 in the second. You can consider Air War to be a 9 out of 10 on both scales.
Alaric the Goth
Light wargame about the invasions of Rome by the Goths. A bit too abstracted to be truly interesting. Companion to Attila the Hun.
Anno 1452
Austrian (Piatnik) game about crowning the Holy Roman Emperor is more involved and has a more wargamesque feel than most German games. Has many textual cards which can be problematic for players without benefit of German. Only the advanced version with its negotiation and alliance features is really recommended as the basic game does not provide the players with enough ability to catch up to a leader. With the above caveats in mind, a very interesting and flavorful longer game. [FAQ] [game tracks chart]
Empire-building game for up to six that wants to recreate the classic Civilization as a two-hour affair – you know, for those who don't want to marry a game, but just have a quick fling. Time-wise the folk at Eggert-Spiele have done it, but oh what was lost on the road to this particular Damascus. Entirely gone are so many of the thematic elements that made Tresham's game great, including city sites, differing land capacities, interrelationships between technology cards, etc. Card trading is gone as well. What we do have is an area map of the Western Mediterranean (the Eastern is on the reverse) with evenly spaced land and water areas – look closely to see that it's actually a distorted hex grid. Each area contains a city site that produces a commodity in one of the three kinds: marble, iron or gold. These are not clumped so that, say, one part of the world has a majority of the gold, but instead are evenly distributed across the map. All three materials are needed to make a city, but each also has a particular use, to wit: gold – advances, iron – armies/fleets, marble – temples (production triplers). Player sides are named (Phoenicians, Persians, etc.) and given starting areas, but have no other differentiation. Instead this is provided by the players as they decide which type of production center to build a temple on and what to buy. There are some choices here: build up all production first and spread out later or spread out first and build up later, but it's not clear that they don't amount to the same thing. Or rather, it depends on whether you can do what you plan without being attacked by others. It is possible to play the entire game without attacking, but this is probably unlikely. Still, it is a logistical game at heart, even if a step down from the company's prior Neuland. Something of that games' "action circle" returns here as the "rondel", the most innovative feature. Now the pieces of the circle each hold a label that dictate which action a player may perform on that turn, choices being things like "produce marble", "recruit soldiers", "move units", etc. The trick is that one's next choice is free if it is within the next three, but costs a resource if more than that. One's natural next choice is always at the opposite side of the circle, i.e. more than three away, so one has the choice to pay and do the obvious thing right away or wait and begin a second interleaving activity. The second option is usually preferable, but imminent other player activities, such as technology cards running out or a large army build-up, make that subject to change. Victory is based on acquisition of a sufficient number of personality cards, which serve no other purpose. Most of these are given for positive activities, e.g. building a multiple of 5 cities or 3 temples, occupying a multiple of 7 sea zones, etc., but one is for enemy temple destruction. The cost, however, to destroy a temple is quite high – a large number of attacking forces will be lost – probably leaving the attacker vulnerable somewhere, so kingmaking should be kept to a minimum. Loss of a single temple might not even be very serious in the second half of the game either, although several would. Overall, matters work all right, but end up being more a logistical challenge akin to Neuland than a Civilization. Those who want historical theme will mostly be disappointed. Tacticians will find average scope for their talents. Like Civilization, this may actually be several different games depending on the number of players and more tests will be needed to figure this out. I wonder how long it will be before folks buy two sets and try putting the two board sides together for one enormous variant. [Periodic Table of Board Games] [Inventor's Comments]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High
[Buy it at Amazon]
Armor at Kursk (Prochorovka)
Wargame (microgame) depicting the single largest tank battle in history, 1943 in Prochorovka, Russia. It is an extremely unusual situation as the battlefield is divided lengthwise into three very separate sections by a river and an 18-foot high railroad embankment. Thus players are essentially conducting three separate battles simultaneously. Rules are quite straighforward without any zones of control and the game plays quickly. The first edition was called Prochorovka and the second, which added errata and designer's notes, Armor at Kursk. Rather satisfying introductory effort, especially for tank fans.
Game about assassins moving about Europe to execute contracts seems to get a lot of bad press, some of it undeserved. It is not a very good game, but neither is it as bad a game as its detractors would have one believe. It seems everyone loves to hate some game or another and this one seems to have attracted much of this residue. With a variant to smoothen card play, it is actually not half bad. Designer Chris Baylis was unhappy about the Avalon Hill modifications and has made his original rules available on the web as well.
Asteroid Zero-Four
Tactical science fiction wargame (microgame). With a Cold War mindset, the United States and Soviet Union hasve each occupied a rock in the Asteroid Belt and are intent on lobbing ICBM's at one another. Mutual destruction is certainly assured, the only question being which is destroyed less in what is essentially a staid, targeting game.
Atlantic Storm
Trick-taking card game translated to a World War II setting where each card is qualified both for a side and a ship or submarine, etc. As a thematic game it makes little sense since players use cards from both the Axis and Allied sides (as did Naval War). As a trick-taking game it isn't particularly playable either as hands are not all dealt out in advance, but instead players get only five cards and then replenish one each turn. This not only leads to a lot of busywork and downtime in drawing and studying cards, but kills virtually any planning. There is even a special feature whereby certain craft are vulnerable to certain other craft, but the game's draw-and-replenish routine kills its own feature as there is almost no possibility of it actually happening. If one wants a trick-taking game, there are many that are much better than this.
Attack of the Mutants
Grade B horror/science fiction movie parody set in a college, for 2 players. This was the title of two different games by the same publisher. This entry describes the introductory version. Mutants, some radioactive, invade the campus of Central State Tech, represented by 25 rooms, defended by robots and 4 humans trying to finish an experiment to escape by warping to an alternate earth. If the mutants reach the control room in 10 turns they win. Interesting atmosphere but very little decisionmaking.
Attila the Hun
Light wargame about the invasions of Rome by the Huns. A bit too abstracted to be truly interesting. Companion to Alaric the Goth.
Awful Green Things from Outer Space, The
Wargame inspired by the outer space horror movie Alien. Very humorous art and situation make for a romp of a game, although the crew are virtually doomed if unable to find an effective area weapon. An amusing coda describing what happens to the crew if they successfully escape is pods is not included in all editions.
Tom Wham
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Axis and Allies
Simplistic wargame of World War II on a global scale at a very macro level. The Nova edition was later dumbed-down in a Milton Bradley GameMaster series edition for the plastic pieces crowd. Introductory at best.
Wargame on Aztec tribes given the European light treatment (published by Tilsit Editions) lasts about two hours or so and offers plenty of opportunity for diplomacy and sudden strikes. The wargame elements are softened by a large number of event cards, hidden victory totals, simple combat, random cup draws for army movements and an uncertain game ending. Components are very numerous and look nice, particularly the game box and four pyramid tokens. Certainly a far more colorful and atmospheric treatment of the pre-Columbian Aztecs than The One World, the sole previous effort on this topic. A concern is whether the red and yellow sides are at a disadvantage due to their central positions, but more plays of this multifarious offering are necessary to make a final determination. In some circles, it may be a concern that it is easy for players to accidentally (or dishonestly!) give themselves more victory points than they actually deserve. Rules questions are discussed on this board. [rules translation] [play outline translation] [cards translation]
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