Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Tactical wargame follow-on to Air Force includes the planes which fought in the Pacific theater during World War II.
Days of Decision
Multi-player wargame on the era prior to World War II, beginning at the German re-occupation of the Rheinland and continuing to the outbreak of war. Playable as a setup system for the complementary World in Flames or standalone. Players each hold a number of cards which represent historical or might-have-been-taken actions. These actions affect industrial production; ability to play future actions; and minors, whose current attitude toward the major powers is reflected by their position on a track. Players use production to build up military forces. Smaller wars including a possible Spanish Civil War are resolvable via an abstract combat system. A fascinating idea, especially because many interested in re-fighting World War II often fault Germany for starting the war when it did, preferring for example a greater prior naval or air build-up. The game mechanics are very well-conceived as well and even show influence of the elegance of the German-style games. Unfortunately the ideas did not go far enough to achieve good realism. There should be more options available. Minors should not shift between just Axis and Allies in a binary way, but in fact between all major powers, especially since the Soviet Union was not close at all with the Western Allies in this period. And the abstract combat system needed much more development. This was particularly evident in Japan-China conflicts where, because all of a nation's military got lumped together, Japan could in effect use its large navy to win a major land war in China. Some skimping was done on physical components as well as cards were printed on large sheets using both sides. The game would have worked much better if each card had been printed separately. This would permit players to immediately see which was available for current play, which already played and which not yet available. (It's worth it to make your own photocopies to achieve this yourself.) Rules have a fair amount of errata/need quite a bit of clarification. [options summary] [playback] [rules notes] [status chart] [coup chart] [Germany options] [Commonwealth options] [France options] [Italy options] [Japan options] [Russia options] [US/China options]
Days of Decision II
A major remake addressing many problems. Instead of a track the minor powers are on a large hex grid, as are the major powers which may also decide to move between the regions of capitalism, marxism, dictatorship or neutrality (the last of which seems a rather dubious possibility). There are now an almost amazing number of actions to consider and the previous three-hour game has become much longer, leading some to name it "Months of Decisions". Abstract combat has been improved. The issue of the card production is completely changed now that many options are made generic and thus re-usable. Now also designed to be continuously playable even after the war breaks out. Unfortunately, no longer has any victory conditions as now it is required to resolve the game using World in Flames. Must be considered an improvement to the first edition, but the need to consider a very much wider set of options almost makes it better as a play-by-email experience. It is now also more difficult to reconstruct as history since many of the activities are of the more minor sort (trade agreements, etc.) that do not really register in the major writing about the period. Amidst all this complication and genericization, some of the sense of fun may be lost as it is more difficult to relate what happened in story terms. Also, rules are problematic in many ways and endlessly revised by errata. Box is identical to the first edition, so let buyer beware. [major power force sizes] [minor power force sizes] [minor power hostilities] [pbem summary] [pbem start conditions] [production multiples] [seas list] [ships]
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Light wargame in which the Romans, Huns, Goths and Vandals wage war and conduct economics over Europe. Very nice, elegant concept, but flawed due to near-perfect strategy for the Romans and almost no chance for the Vandals. Interesting ideas include the Huns having the best units, but are unable to stack them. Huns increase strength via plunder while German tribes do so by spreading out, but if four 1-point units stack up they become worth 5. The Romans are playing a completely different game as well, concentrating on city taxation and cutting costs. There are even rules for their hiring barbarian mercenaries with the chance of having them go traitor. [chart] [errata] [strategy]
Deep Space Navigator (Star Fighter)
Tactical outer space wargame. Rather unique as all movement and firing is represented by drawing on a sheet of paper dotted with asteroids. This is accomplished by a rather complicated clear plastic template which handles movement, including course changes, and firing of four different types of weapons (including missiles which travel on their own). Feels a bit drab without any components, but on the other hand is playable in strange spaces such as planes, cars and trains; can be paused without difficulty and provides a written history of the battle. May still require some cooperation on behalf of the players as it appears that a ship could spend all day hiding behind asteroids and never be caught. It must be admitted that the template introduces a dexterity/"fiddle factor" level unacceptable to some. Star Fighter is an unauthorized Italian knockoff which changed the template and certain rules.
Pure abstract for two with a gimmick: two built-in LASER projectors. The model here is Chess, as players take turns moving a single piece. What's new is that pieces contain mirrors on at least some sides and capture is done by activating the LASER which emits straight out from the owner's back row at the rightmost column. Red LASER light is reflected in all cases at 90-degree angles, but should it end on the non-mirror side of a piece, it is captured and removed. Should one's pharaoh piece – yes, there is a slight ancient Egypt theme – the player has lost. All of the pieces move in the same way, being able to travel one space or make one rotation, except the very powerful "djed" pieces which are all mirror and may swap positions with an adjacent, weaker, opposing piece. At least in the beginning setup, playing defensively is highly encouraged as one can migrate two of these djeds right in front of the pharaoh in the back row and flank that row with outward pointing mirrors to make an impregnable position. It's hoped this is not so significant a problem in the advanced setups. Components are fairly large and the gold ones are coolly translucent. Actually the LASERs are not strictly necessary to play and their fun doesn't last so very long, but this is the main feature raising the game above the ordinary. Deducing where they will shine is a learnable skill so this might work well as a classroom novelty. Otherwise, fans of pure abstract capture games will be the main audience and even for them there may not be enough here to distract them from the games they already have.
Strategy: High; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low
1959 wargame with very simple combat rules and few pieces is mostly about negotiation and, via simultaneous written rules, betraying one's agreements. While ostensibly set in World War I Europe, there is a great deal of abstraction and could easily be set anywhere, as is attested by the huge number of home-brewed variants. Although much ink has been spilled on various strategies, e.g. the Lepanto Opening for Italy and the Wicked Witches of the North and South (England and Turkey respectively), still basically comes down to negotiation and backstabbing. Not very satisfying in the endgame either as most stalemate into a blocked situation. Incredible these days to think that it was once a commonplace that players should sit around for hours doing nothing with absolutely no chance to win. These days, should definitely be limited to play-by-email play only, if at all. Machiavelli was a later version by Avalon Hill, transported to Renaissance Italy and gimmicked up by sieges, assassins and random events. Other published variants include Colonial Diplomacy and to some extent, Africa 1880. Is also the title of a limited edition precursor which appeared in 1958 (design by Allan Calhamer had begun in 1953) and had a different map (more spaces in most of the countries, Switzerland a supply center and other changes) and different rules (most notably, slower convoys). [Calhamer profile]
Not much strategy is available in this rather simple-playing movie tie-in, and perhaps no one remembers the 1981 film anymore either, even if it was of some fantasy cult-type interest. (Amazing to realize that starring as the lead apparentice wizard was Peter MacNicol, Ally McBeal's John Cage character.)
Dschingis Bohn
"Genghis Bean" is an expansion kit for the original Bohnanza. It is similar to Bohnaparte in using cards to provide a map on which players use the proceeds of their bean harvests to fund attacks, first on neutral territories and eventually on each other. Conquered cards provide special benefits. While quite similar to its predecessor – there are fewer lands and fewer types – it departs by offering what the English translation calls "rider cards". Maybe "Mongol horde" might have been more appropriate. When a player earns one of these cards, he automatically has quite a high number for every attack he attempts, except for those on forests and cities, and even if this fails, can make the attack again using a card from either his hand or the deck. The import is that this ends up becoming a more aggressive and combative version. Which ends up being better ends up a matter of personal taste. But best of all may be to acquire both this and Bohnaparte which permits creation of a larger map and up to seven players.
Hanno Girke; Lookout Games; 2003; 3-5
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Duel in the Desert
Two-player magazine wargame covers World War II battles in North Africa. The map includes the area from Benghazi to Alexandria. Turns represent one month of real time from Rommel's first major offensive in May of 1941 up to the Torch landings in November 1942. The game is "double blind" both players have their own secret copies of the map and know for sure only the locations of their own units. As they move forward past known regions they call out hex numbers to gradually grow the known area and eventually run into forces of unknown size which engage in combat. There is a tendency for both forces to stick close to the coast, but it is always tempting to send a fast strike force deep into the desert in an attempt to outflank and possibly even roll up the enemy's rear. This could never work if players shared a map, but becomes an interesting possibility with this system. Rules are fairly easy without being too introductory. Moves along fairly well becoming accustomed to the uncertainty of enemy locations being the chief difficulty for new players.
Dune [Avalon Hill]
Unusual multi-player wargame based on the Frank Herbert novel was designed for Avalon Hill by the Eon team which also created Cosmic Encounter. The Eon style is evident in that each side has very strongly defined individual powers and in three cases special victory conditions. Event cards play a prominent role and special combat wheels are used to secretly dial in strength levels. The result is a game with plenty of flavor and chicanery, but which sometimes runs a little longer and more repetitively than one might want. Rules have some serious problems which most groups have long ago addressed with proper house rules. Two expansion kits, Spice Harvest and The Duel were later published and all three were later combined in a French edition. [variant] [errata] [chart] [player aid card]
Dune: Spice Harvest
Five-turn "prequel" to Dune creates a game something like Junta during which players scheme to gain the most advantageous starting position for the real contest. An engrossing and amusing expansion, it is too bad that it cannot be played as a game in its own right. As it is, it adds too much time to the total game experience as well as being random enough to frequently lead to a rather unbalanced starting setup.
Dungeon Twister
Fantasy dungeon combat game for two. Each player enters from opposite sides of a long, maze-like corridor formed of face down room tiles, four characters, drafted from an identical set of eight. Available are the traditional warrior, thief, cleric and wizard, but also some unusual types like the wall walker. Sword, wand, rope and treasure are just some of the items to be found, but consistent with the German game paradigm, a player may only pick up his own items. Of course, it's perfectly legal to make them harder for the opponent to reach. One of the easiest ways to do this is to rotate the entire room/tile. Each one has somewhere in it a control space permitting the player with a character on it to twist it by one turn, (providing the unfortunate title which makes Americans, at least, think of the party game). Opposing characters often fight, the result depending on their respective strengths, items and, in an oft-used mechanism, a simultaneously played card. The main goal, however, is to escape the dungeon on the other side, having acquired enough points, whether from treasure, combat or combination. Not surprisingly then, the main requisite skill is navigation, figuring out what twists, jumps and rope uses will get your characters in the ideal positions. As such one is mostly concerned with detailed practicalities, though there is some need to guess what the opponent is planning. The time for this tends to be very short, however, since after the initial shock of meeting, moves become fairly obvious. More novel mechanisms and strategic possibilities were needed to raise this above the tactician, fantasy audience, who should, however, be well pleased. Production is attractive, characters being represented by stand up cardboard figures and the dungeon suitably dark, though some of the illustrations take getting used to from a communications design perspective.
Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Dungeons and Dragons: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
The distilled form of what is probably the most popular role-playing game ever. Although this is the RPG, marketed by the Dragon magazine, that really caught the imagination of the public, it has always also had its detractors. Some supplements such as Deities & Demigods were way over the top and simply encouraged the plethora of unrealistic characters which often plague the genre. Things like Armor Class working not to reduce damage but to make a character harder to hit lead to unrealities like a character being shot by a cannon a foot away and not being hit. Of course, in D & D at the end of the day everything is at the whim of the Dungeon Master and in some sense the quality of the experience has more to do with the people involved than anything else. If the DM is fair and has a sense of story and the players are willing to forget themselves and instead truly try to act the role of a medieval hero, these rules are more than adequate for everyone to thoroughly enjoy themselves. By now there must be hundreds of supplements in existence. One not-much-remembered aspect of the role-playing game revolution is that it created the dungeon master. A middle ground which was not strictly-speaking a player, but also not the publisher became an outlet for considerable personal creativity which is unfortunately absent from other types of board games.
Dungeons and Dragons: Basic Dungeons and Dragons
Later, introductory version is worthwhile for letting new players understand the fundamental concepts. Players won't want to stay with this long however as there is insufficient flavor and detail for sustained play.
Dwarven Dig
Game for up to four about dwarves mining for golden treasure. Suppose you had just this information? If it were a German game you would imagine smooth, simple mechanics and strategic dilemmas inspiring creative thought. If it were an American game, you would be sure of lots of meaningless complexities and even though the topic doesn't require it, inter-player combat. As you have guessed from the title, what we have here is the latter. The basic storyline is similar to Wiz War in that all players are gunning for the same treasure, the winner being the first to escape off the map. The contest begins by a lengthy, complicated setup of the hexagonal tiles which seems to serve no real purpose except to make progress as difficult as possible. It would have been much better just to make every tile difficult to traverse in every direction and just set them up randomly. These tiles by the way are easily jostled and don't lie flat – we have already had one playing ruined by a number of them getting upset by a passing shirt sleeve. A plexiglas sheet holding them all flat is a good idea despite the occasional take-that card which involves a tile rotation. The tiles are also small, often too full for the many mono-colored metal figures (each player has four distinctive ones) plus cardboard counters plus play information that they must hold. The characters (miner, warrior, elder, engineer (artificer?)) are burrowing their way to the central gold station. It's funny that they need to burrow by the way as they already have a complete and detailed map of how everything is laid out and where every other party is. Anyway, the burrowing technique is to check the many possible rock thicknesses of the two tiles involved – information only available on the player aid card, only one of which is provided – and make a single die to-hit roll. This works and the player further crowds the tile with a breakthrough marker or fails and the player gets a grit token, which appears to be pewter chunk left over from miniatures casting. These grits are given virtually every time a roll fails except when they're not and good luck remembering which is which. Anyway, their use is to augment future die rolls at the rate of one pip per grit, but disappointingly, are usable only before a roll occurs. There is quite a lot determined by just a few die rolls, including the possible death of your characters and early elimination from this two-plus hour game. Apparently in an attempt to address this, even more rolls have been added so that if a character has just died, he can still make a luck roll so that actually the death did not occur at all. It's as if having taken the wrong road, the design repeats it some more trying to get on the right track when it shouldn't have been in a car in the first place. Anyway, the groups dig, try to deal with menaces and play event cards containing icons that never seem to mean much. Although there is an option to leave the elder behind to collect grit, the best thing to do is just keep the group together and forge ahead as a lone elder just gets targeted by monster cards. All the groups tend to reach the center about the same time, using someone else's digging work preferably. This triggers the second half, a running game of "who's got the football?" There seem to be a great many complexities around who is holding the treasure, what causes it to be dropped and when it can be moved – constant rule lookups are the norm. There are also more thematic surprises as a dwarf can run right by an entire group of hostile ones without being hindered in any way. It's also strange that the first to get the treasure out wins, but why this is any better than getting the second out remains unclear, as is why the game should be played out to determine the second anyway. But no player should be all that upset about losing as often it comes down to turn order which is entirely determined by die rolls and worse, only rewards the highest roller with the rest going clockwise meaning that the second highest roller might be going fourth. Other issues here are that reference card is not well designed, being too busy to be easily used, without providing all the information one really wants. There are aspects of the game state which must be remembered by the players, e.g. shockwaves. And there are ambiguities like what to do if you run out of monsters. I suppose that this theme and bits will be embraced by role-playing fans, but this has done nothing to lift American games out of their small ghetto of violence and randomness and will not help to expand the gaming market, curious since its inventors run a gaming convention which seeks to do just that. [Kenzer]
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