Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Kampf der Gladiatoren (Clash of the Gladiators)
Reiner Knizia's game of gladiatorial teams in Ancient Rome is really an American-style game by this German designer. Players attack whomever they like, prey on the weak, knocking players out before it's over and it's all resolved by simple dice rolling. But the diverse ways that this German fish swims in foreign waters throws the differences into sharp relief. Missing are a long solo phase in which teams are designed, typical stodgy rules controlling movement and inter-team positionioning as well as complicated weapon interactions. Present is a nice team drafting phase and the use of fighting animals to keep the player involved and in chance of victory even if eliminated. Also present of course is the typical high quality German physical design including plastic platforms to hold the team chits and specialized dice that make resolution much easier. The creative mind will enjoy deciding what makes for the best teams, especially considering that they need to work well first against their neighbors and then in the overall. But as the vagaries of dice rolling tend to outweigh these considerations, players wanting a mostly fair contest will want to stay away. Normally this type of situation makes for a good vehicle for adult-child play, but this time the gory topic gives pause.
Kill Dr. Lucky
Simple board game takes up where Cluedo left off, featuring a mansion-full of players not trying to detect a crime, but to kill the owner! This darkly amusing stuff is best for a fairly large group and definitely requires cooperation as murder will occur unless players are willing to expend their Failure cards. What tends to happen is that the player to the right of the murderer gets blackmailed into doing it, but beware as this player may not actually have the cards necessary for the job, in which case everyone else loses. For this reason, probably does not get as many repeat plays as it otherwise might. Reportedly, versions featuring human pawns are very popular at Origins. Appears to be the most popular entry from this publisher, at least as of June 2000. Later efforts include Kill Doctor Lucky: Craigdarroch which is the same game in a new mansion and Save Doctor Lucky.
Killers of the Three Kingdoms (San Guo Sha)
if no image, probably out of print

Amid a flood of counterfeits this is a rare Chinese original. On the other hand, it is a counterfeit in another way, following fairly closely the scheme of Bang!. What's good is the wholly Chinese topic: the 800,000 word novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which Chinese children read much as their younger counterparts do Greek mythology or the tales of King Arthur. It's filled with iconic characters and stirring deeds and is also the topic of the recent John Woo film Red Cliff. What's not so good, beyond the too-close copying of mechanism is that it's not even a good thematic fit. In the original, sheriff, deputy, outlaw and renegade are the roles and upon these goals and activities depend. This version keeps the same roles, but also assigns to each character membership in one of the three kingdoms and the possibility of helping others in their kingdom, which when that player is an antagonist, makes no sense at all. As in the original, there are three basic types of cards: those which hit, those which avoid a hit and those which undo a hit. Beyond this there are a number of specials, but for the most part these are just the originals under new names. There are 25 named characters which feature newly-invented abilities more or less appropriate to their careers. Although most of the novel is about the fighting of large armies, the horses and weapons from the original are still present and affecting attack range, rather incongruously since they are now hand-to-hand weapons like swords and spears. The card artwork is well done,
if no image, probably out of print
including many muscled or mysterious warriors as well and even a few sexy ladies. The majority of the rest of the cards are monochromatic, but look good nevertheless. The thankfully small box is as well made as one has come to expect in German productions and there is a good quality plastic insert. Also included in a VCD, apparently instructional, which probably won't play for most outside China. Curiously, this seems to come in different editions as some copies come in reddish boxes and others in greens. What other differences exist between the two is unknown. Reportedly one of the most popular games in China, this works as well as the original, but of course offers a language challenge for non-Chinese readers. [card translations] [character backgrounds]
MMHL6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6)
unknown; Yoka Games-2008; 4-10 [Shop]
King of Kings
Multi-player wargame has a fascinating set of scenarios, but disappoints in strategy, rules and flavor. [more] [Ancient Egypt games]
Early multi-player wargame with rather unique card mechanics and point of view. Topic is War of the Roses, but instead of the contending heirs controlling supporters, power brokers squabble over heirs, try to put their favorite on the throne and kill the competitors. Not bad, although sometimes can go rather long. The rules need close reading and ambiguities in both them and the board will need house rules before play begins. Suggest avoiding the advanced combat rules, instead use the faster dice tables to see which nobles fall in combat. Using the optional parliament rules should speed up matters. Improved by expansion cards later published by Avalon Hill, which among other things addressed the problem of players sitting out at sea or in foreign climes indefinitely with impunity. Strategically, the key trick is probably positioning oneself to take advantage of a sudden vulnerability of the opponent. Recommended for fans of multi-player conflict with unusual mechanics and those having the ability to play a waiting game. [summary] [analysis] [designer commentary]
Kings and Castles
Wargame on England and her conquests for up to four by the inventors of History of the World. As in that game players control a number of different sides throughout, represented by the individual kings, but here entirely decided by draft before play even begins. Kings vary by the amount of extra force they add and in their primary spheres of activity. Play itself is diceless (and thus reminiscent of Vinci), the core of the combat system being a rather strange and unique form of arithmetic. The active player's forces must defeat the inactive defenders by the minimum possible amount – pieces are rated at value 1, 2 or 3 – but then only the strongest of these invaders remains. The other unusual mechanism is that over the entire course only twenty-five percent of one's forces are guaranteed to be one's own. The rest are drawn from a bag and may be one's own, but are also often the forces of other players, rebellious indigenous groups or mercenaries usable with any of the above. (There are also three levels of fortification.) The need for a player to clear out his force pool for the next set of forces means that the player often goes through unusual gymnastics. For example, he may use other player forces to conquer rebels, then use rebels to conquer them back and finally use his own forces to conquer the rebels. The other unusual feature is that in a four-player game, each player has only six turns and only on half of them may he declare scoring (which occurs for all players). Although not at the classic level of its predecessor and initially unintuitive it becomes more interesting as understanding dawns and finally turns out to be a rather novel challenge that most fans of lighter wargames will want to try. Some concerns may be luck of the draw and possibly long downtime if players indulge too much in analysis. And although most play is tactical, players should find an interesting challenge in trying to design the perfect initial draft of kings. It seems that one should try to pick at least one early king so as to get on the board and counted during others' early scoring rounds and because of the double scoring round at the end, a late king as well. Beyond that it is difficult to say definitively, but possibilities include picking kings which offer more extra forces as well as trying to program around the activities of others. If possible, choosing the last two kings who operate in France appears a sound idea as these points may be relatively undisturbed until the end. Just as in their previous game, the board is no board at all, but printed on a folded cloth. The monotone counter silhouettes are the same for each player, but the colors black, dark blue, light blue, pink and orange often appear annoyingly similar. [Ragnar Brothers]
Kreml (Kremlin)
Struggling for power in the old Soviet Union, players bid on humorously-named (and biographied) politicians much as in The Sigma File (except that bids are not adjustable), attempt to control the Party Chief and keep him healthy enough to wave three times at May Day parades. It is possible to put people on trial, condemn them to Siberia and other juicy activities. The trouble is that all activities start aging the politician in question, and then they take ill. First-time players should beware a quick win by a player who places all influence on the members currently at the top of the pyramid. An expansion, Revolution, added new, historically-accurate politician cards from the Russian Revolution period, as well as more event cards. [summary]
Direct conflict has not been a stranger to games by this publisher, but instead of the usual combat amid the greater milieu, this one places it front and center. On a color, glossy paper hex map, players control robots which come in six varieties: car, tank, helicopter, hovercraft, rocket and giant spider. Each is defined by its own player mat on which the player designs its capabilities by placing cards designating systems, weapons, skins and pilots. Robots operate in a pre-set order, all first moving, then all attacking, though some are able to attack during movement. As the map contains hills, trees and buildings there are fairly simple line of sight rules. Attacks depend on range, target silhouette (which depends on movement speed), defender response and dice whose total must exceed the final silhouette. A couple years ago Perry Rhodan had the rule that results of 1 are added and re-rolled. The same thing happens here, except with the 5, on the special 0-5 dice. Robot components are numbered and the attacker chooses the hit location corresponding to one of the attack dice rolled. Accumulated damage on a component bleeds through to a predesignated next system. Some systems are merely disabled; another possibility is that the target becomes more visible ("painted"). Ten different scenarios are included. Player mats are on glossy, light cardboard. The cards are also of light cardboard and there are ninety-two of them to cut out, meaning this game is worth more "punched" than not. Also included are three dice, a fair number of plastic chips and six plastic robot figures resembling their robots. Play is nicely straightforward without a lot of needless complication, but sometimes degenerates into a stalemate situation in which it's nearly impossible for either side to decisively take out the other. Part of this is experience. Players need to learn that each vehicle should have one weapon to paint the enemy, one to set it afire and one to spray it with chemical weapons. In team situations all of these should be on each vehicle lest one or more be taken out. These design questions are one of the more original and challenging elements. There are also some less edifying aspects. It's possible to be knocked out of multi-player scenarios and left with nothing to do. Provision should have been made for some simple robocops, low-powered neutral participants in the fights that such players could control and thus stay in the action. Another issue is that sometimes damage requires remembering game state. The rules writing unfortunately sometimes uses terms before they are defined. This causes the reader to gloss over the term the first time and not truly understand the rule. Then the definition comes later and one needs to loop back and re-read the rule and then figure out where to resume. This whole looping process leads to confusion and unnecessary extra learning time. Also, with the advent of television pre-programmed robots over the past decade, it's surprising and too bad that there is no programming element here. On the other hand there are three excellent pages discussing the scientific background behind the various systems.
Matt Eklund; Sierra Madre Games; 2008; 2-5
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Kung Fu 2100
Originally a magazine game in a science fiction cum kung fu setting. In a dystopia, a cloning expert bent on personal perpetuity has set up a lab defended by guards and martial artists. Meanwhile three fanatical kung fu experts are determined to break in and destroy the lab. Combat is largely deterministic, being mostly resolved by play of known combat chits. Flows well and makes for a nicely-balanced contest. Mainly a two-player situation, but can be reasonably expanded to four by having a team of three each play one of the kung fu masters. Main limitation is in the eventual repetition of the possible situations which may develop. [analysis]
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