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Ragnarok
Two-player SPI wargame about the struggle of the Norse gods versus Loki and associated evildoers at the end of time. Nicely-illustrated hex map shows the rainbow bridge, a wide plains area and a bit of Asgard, home of the gods, including the walls. The system is typical of SPI pre-gunpowder efforts, rating each unit for combat, morale and speed and resolving battles via combat results table. Zones of Control are included under the rubric "engagement". Characters having special abilities include Odin, Thor, Heimdall, Freyr, Tyr, Midgard Serpent, Fenrir, Garm and Surt. Most of these have combat modifiers for killing their mortal enemies. Strangely, despite all of the chrome, the game never truly seems to match the power of the story on which it is based, instead seeming just like yet another cookie cut from the SPI medieval-style game. Probably would have been more interesting had all the armies been mostly or fully dispensed with and even more effort put into the interactions between the "stars".
Raider!
World War II wargame about Indian Ocean merchant shipping. Hidden movement. Rewarding, short combat game which is mostly about search. The combat system is a bit too abstract to be of interest. One of the Album Games. [variant] [chart]
MHMM7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7)
Michael C. McDaniel; Yaquinto-1981; 2-6
Red Empire
Frank Chadwick card game by GDW set in the Kremlin. It's a good joke on the old Soviet Union that if a crisis is solved the president gets the credit, even if he did absolutely nothing about it. On the other hand, often even if he wants to, the president is completely unable to solve anything, and the other players have little incentive to help. This results in the unfortunate president player being knocked out of the game and can even result in it ending with no winner, a little-used feature shared with Republic of Rome. But here there is too large a reliance on luck of the draw, particularly with respect to who is able to acquire the valuable new leader and hero cards. In addition, sometimes a player will go through the entire game – thirty minutes or less – having done virtually nothing due to being restricted to a single leader color and never drawing actions of the corresponding color. Mostly uninspired card artwork and a great deal of information missing from them add to the problems.
Reich
Wargame of nineteenth century German unification for two or four put out by Chaosium of all people. Players represent the leading German states trying to control all the rest in a system based on Diplomacy. New wrinkles are added via event cards which "break the rules" in various ways. Probably really should have had a five player option to work correctly as four is too balanced. Significant rules problems inhibit play as it is unclear what was intended in several key areas. As in Diplomacy, it is likely that some players will be knocked out before it ends. Cover, board and textured surface cards are nicer than average. [errata]
Personal Rating: 5
Jonathan Michael; Chaosium-1979; 1-4
Renfield
Trick-taking came based on a horror theme from Parts Unknown does not seem to add much to the genre. With relatively few card plays per hand, the emphasis seems to be on luck of the draw rather than skilled card play. Title after the name of Dracula's bug-eating assistant, of course.
Republic of Rome (Res Publica Romana)
if no image, probably out of print
An Illuminati-style influence game with a negotiation and shared empire building game layered on top. Thus it is three games in one (with a probable duration to match). Intrigue in unending complexity with subtleties probably unrealized by most players. Very historical. Brilliant idea to put a small, non-functional map on the board – it's as if you're in the ancient Roman war room, planning the next conquest. The instructions are rather difficult to understand, a problem I sought to address in The Republic of Carthage.
[playback] [analysis] [errata] [Roman timeline] [Carthage timeline] [summary] [war summary] [variant] [background]
MHHM10 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 10)
Richard Berthold & Robert Haines; Avalon Hill-1990/Valley Games-2010; 1-6
[Buy it at Amazon]
Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648
This is a depiction of the latter stages of the Eighty Years War, the end of which overlapped with the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Certainly the struggle for the people of what are today the BeNeLux nations to free themselves from Hapsburg rule deserves more attention. Too often the later American and French revolutions are depicted as the world's first with no notice of this predecessor. And is it any wonder that much of the American revolution was funded by Dutch bankers (via loans expertly negotiated by John Adams, on which he did a very good, if little known, job). This is a game for two through five, with different sides being depicted. With two these are the Catholics and the Protestants. With three the Nobility are wedged between them. With four the Nobility are out, but added are Burghers and Hapsburgs. The Nobility then return for a five player outing. Designer Francis Tresham has overlaid the situation with many of the ideas from his famous Civilization. Just as in that game, the player's square pieces are reinforced each turn in accordance with the number already on the board. Similarly, the mechanism of flipping pieces over to represent buying power (and creating dilemmas over the ideal mixture) is buying power (and creating dilemmas over the ideal mixture) is retained. (Perhaps this mechanism inspired the similar one in Uwe Rosenberg's Bohnanza?) Here the square pieces represent not tribes, but something rather more nebulous, influence levels. Still, these "battle" and also "occupy" cities/strongholds. There are also genuine armies which occupy not provinces, but a few special boxes which border multiple provinces and are connected via long lines to one another. Combat is also the same as in Civilization: symmetrical reduction with the smaller side starting first. Army combat is within a box, opposing sides cancelling one another out. There are also a series of special offmap boxes which players can invest in to enlist additional forces when needed. Finally there is a binary influence board which lists the chief cities along the left hand side and across its width shows the current religious leaning of each. Toward the end of each of the five turns players can deploy funds in these tugs of war, trying to pull cities to one side or the other. When enough is spent to get the cities to one extreme or the other, the successful player gets to convert enemy pieces to his own type. This nice mechanism, reminiscent of the one from Days of Decision, is not without its problems. For one thing, a player's strenuous efforts can backfire, as for example when Hapsburg spending is so successful that it not only takes control away from the Protestants, but also from the Hapsburgs. This makes sense in terms of the game, but raises doubts thematically. Perhaps more seriously, players do not allocate funds simultanously, but sequentially, meaning that those acting later have a remarkable advantage. The latter problem also afflicts on-board deployments, where the later-going players can avoid the enemy concentrations and easily pick off stragglers in important locations (since no side has enough pieces to cover everything). Since turn order is determined by current victory points standings, this setup constitutes an important catchup mechanism intention, but one that too often gets out of hand. So powerful is it that the path to victory can reasonably described as "be sure to be in third place on the last game turn". This is unfortunately not the end of difficulties. For example, the map, a glorious period reproduction, is ill-suited in size and color for the pieces. Mistakes about which pieces are where abound, especially where neighboring provinces are nearly the same shade. Thematic unity is another challenge. While Civilization is pretty much a believable closed system surrounding the Mediterranean, the claim here is that everything affecting the region is limited to the region, thus dramatic influences from England, the German states and especially the ups and downs of Imperial Spain which was sometimes getting amazing revenues the Americas and at other times suffering immense losses like that of the Armada. There are also some rules ambiguities, especially regarding the forces overflowing into other regions. Overall this should count as a noble attempt with some splendid parts and intentions, but one which doesn't quite add up. At some three to five hours of time to complete, probably attention is better directed elsewhere. If for some reason there is determination to play anyway, probably the three-player version is the best bet.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Francis Tresham; Mayfair Games/Phalanx Games; 2004; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Richthofen's War
Tactical air combat wargame set during the first world war. Play number of hexes one needs to move and then adjust matters to achieve this. Later an expansion kit called the Richthofen's War Maneuver Cards was added which greatly improved matters as now there was much more unpredictability in movement. In addition, it allowed planes to escape hopeless situations as well as adding a great deal of flavor in maneuvers such as the Immelmann, Barrel Roll, etc. In short, these cards are indispensable to enjoyment of this one.
Rise and Decline of the Third Reich
Multi-player wargame of World War II in Europe is a very typical entry in the Avalon Hill style. One of the chief features is an artificial one that has nothing to do with simulation: the ability to manipulate the score in order to reverse the turn order thereby achieving two turns in a row. Rules have a lot of problems if pushed, e.g. the Western Allies decide they do not wish to cooperate with the Soviet Union. On the whole no longer state of the art due to more advanced designs such as World in Flames. Since superseded even its own vein by Advanced Third Reich (not described here).
Rise and Fall
Multi-player wargame is an unauthorized reworking of Barbarian, Kingdom & Empire. The idea of progression from barbarians to kingdom to empire is preserved, but now there are considerably more units and much more dicerolling. Combat is simplified, being tased on the "to hit" roll rather than a combat results table. Presentation is much nicer with larger, nicer counters and a mounted board. While the basic scenario is set in the ancient Roman era, there are others that cover later periods. Vikings are included for example. This version is probably more accessible while the original more historically-accurate. Either one is an stimulating experience. Works surprisingly well for solitaire play. [chart] [analysis]
Rise of the Luftwaffe
Card wargame about individual air combat during World War II. Popular with those enthusiastic about this topic, does not seem to offer much strategy, or even flavor, feeling more like a draw luckily and play by rote experience. Note that I have not played the campaign game version which may offer more possibilities.
Risk, Édition Napoléon
French reworking of the French game Risk exclusively set in Europe, including "historical" scenarios from the Napoleonic period, is an attempt to correct the original's perceived misfeatures. Fortresses now can be used to make areas much more defensible. Mobility and attack power is limited by the need to hire a general. Reinforcements derived from cards do not grow as time goes on, but are fixed depending on the cards. The result does not bring matters any closer to simulation, but probably doubles the duration, a bad bargain, especially when players can be eliminated long before it is over. Not that the slow seesaw is so exciting for those remaining either. Hidden victory conditions in the form of secret mission cards are less certainly unwise. Nice plastic pieces in five colors and three types soldiers, cavalry and cannons are colored and formed differently for each nation. Unfortunately some of the territory names do not match between cards and map. Later expanded by Extension Empire Ottoman as Turkey is not playable in this edition.
Risk: The Lord of the Rings (Lord of the Rings Risk, Herr der Ringe Risiko)
Yet another reworking of Risk, this time to tie in to the Tolkien films, is intended for a curious ages 9 and up. Besides the map, additions include leaders (add +1 to the highest die when involved in battle), stronghold spaces (act like leaders on defense), event cards and game length based on number of turns rather than player elimination. There are two good things to say: (1) the largish troll pieces are fairly nice and (2) it's unlikely for any player to be eliminated. Otherwise, it's as if Sauron's evil has seeped into the games industry. First, the most likely point of interest, the theme, is almost entirely absent. Sure the map is there, but it lacks the two most important theaters, Gondor and Mordor (probably saved for future expansions). Initial setup is entirely random just like in ordinary Risk and has no basis in the novel at all. There are two good and two evil players, but they are not further identified and in fact fight their own type as much as the other. They just try to amass as much territory as possible without much, if any, regard for important sites such as Lorien or Rivendell. Beyond the theme, there has been no real attempt to fix the problem of whoever draws a few good cards (lots of skill there) gets the most reinforcements and tends to do best. (The event card deck is rather unbalanced as well.) In fact, things have gotten worse because in addition to extra armies, the variable time limit may well grant some players extra turns and these can very easily be the same players who received the extra armies. These extra turns depend on nothing more than one or two die rolls. You would think that players who are not on an equal reinforcements basis would at least be the ones to receive these turns, but you would be wrong. The creators may have thought that they could gloss over all such issues because the other players should target such a lucky one, but when he takes a monster last turn of the game, it's literally impossible. Beyond all this, even some little things have gone wrong. Getting a leader to a place of power space qualifies for an event card. As this happens in nine out of ten turns without the player trying, the complication is needless. There are map glitches. The ring's path wends its way through provinces, but at one point dips back into an already visited one, but so marginally that it's unclear whether it was intended or just a production error. The region of Mithlond is bisected by a ship illustration in such a way that it appears to be two spaces. Not to be outdone, the rules offer their own ambiguities, in particular about getting leaders to places of power and about what happens to an eliminated player's cards. Note that there are two versions. The one sold under this title includes a gold tone ring whereas the other, The Lord of the Rings Risk, offers a cardboard token instead. Yeah, it's got plastic pieces and it's based on Tolkien, but even if you're mainly into it for those reasons, the pieces are frankly not that great and the Tolkien connection couldn't be thinner. Being that Gondor and Mordor are missing and that this novel doesn't present a plausible war in the first place, it's not even fit for tinkerers who want to design their own games. The only imaginable audience are those who simply must own every Tolkien-based game in existence. [more]
Risk 2210 A.D.
A modernization of Risk, which followed Risk, Édition Napoléon, but preceded Lord of the Rings Risk. Additions for the version set in the 23rd century include five types of leaders, five types of corresponding event cards, and new locations – underwater and lunar. Trips to the moon are facilitated by the lunar leader and headquarters pieces. This leader and the others – land, sea, nuclear, diplomat – usually get to roll an eight-sided die rather than the usual six. These leader figures are considerably larger than their armies and seem designed to appeal to action figure collectors. The concept of gaining cards for territories and turning them in is gone. Now as well as earning armies based on the number of territories held, players earn power points which can be used to buy leaders, HQ's and cards (at most three per turn). In addition these points are used to blindly bid for choice in the turn order. Yes, turns, because now there are at most five, limiting entire length to about three hours, less if not all players are still on the board by then, still a distinct possibility. Each game now begins with a large number of open areas, anathema in all previous versions. Players may spread to such areas freely making it a mostly meaningless activity, but at least one which does not consume a lot of time. Worse are the widely unbalanced event cards. For example, one might accidentally buy on turn 1 cards granting three victory points only at the end, a very weak purchase. Another is the card granting 7 points for controlling the entire moon – if one has that much power who really cares about the 7 points. Still another card makes a player lose 50% of all of his force in a space. This may sound fine prima facie, but the most likely target of such a card is the player who has fallen far behind and had to amass all of his forces into one small space in an attempt to win his way back into the game. It is unimaginable who thought that this is the game position that should be punished. Catching up with a big leader is already a big problem and a card like this just makes it much worse. The decisionless waiting time between turns is long, exacerbated by having players buy and read their cards while everyone else is waiting. German-style games like Lost Cities and even this game's predecessor had this efficiency figured out long ago. The table space requirement adds another sort of flabbiness. With a separate moon board and a large chart the footprint is quite large. We already know that Johnny can't read; this chart doesn't seem to serve any purpose other than to suggest he can't divide by 3 either. There are some nice card graphics, but otehrs appear to have been shrunk down so far that significant lines disappear and the tiny illustration becomes a difficult to decipher blob. The decorations favor a decayed, damaged look that exposes the inner wires, but this damage is symmetric on both sides of the frame. Are we to suppose aesthetic vandals? This is another attempt to sell you a game you already own, wearing different clothes. With more state-of-the-art designs available, even in the light wargame category, it's hard to see any reason to waste time with this one.
Ritter Ohne Furcht und Tadel
Light, dice-rolling game about jousting medieval knights and their ladies, somewhat reminiscent of The Book of Medieval Wargames. That game's detailed knightly combat is here abstracted down to simply differentiating between knights which are either horsed or not. Nor is there any board to permit maneuvering tactics. There is more intricacy in the bestowing of favors from the ladies as each has her attributes and each knight his preferences. So not only do the knights compete, but also the ladies as one who is more pleasing to a knight's eye can oust another. The tournament is held over four days and players can heal and train in between. There are a number of problems. The most serious is probably the randomness of the dice which tends to defeat any strategy, not that there are any significant strategic paths in the first place. That players can be knocked out of the game a long time before it is over exacerbates this. A third difficulty is that when players wish to resign from a combat, there is no rule about which must decide first. Since it is frequent that both wish to do so, or else be killed, this can lead to a Mexican standoff and play just stops dead in its tracks. Admittedly this often turns out less serious than it seems since even if one resigns, the winner is often so weakened that he will be easily defeated by the next challenger, but it can make a big difference if it happens on the last combat of the day. A nice variant rule might be that on his first challenge of the day a knight must challenge someone who has not already fought on that day (if available). Another problem is unfairness for players who are dealt ladies favored only by knights not in the game. Poor graphic design makes re-assignment a difficult, slow chore as one must pattern match around the table on small, italicized words, which unfortunately for non-German speakers happen to be in German. A pictorial representation in this area would have seemed both more natural and practical. The scoring tracks are not very practical either. Not only is it easy for the small cubes to fall off the card edges where they are precariously placed, players are expected to somehow track two different numbers – points scored for the day and points scored overall – on the same track. Players interested in this sort of thing will probably do better to play Knights, although it seems that this motif has yet to be successfully realized in the board game format. Proverbial title means "Knight Without Fear or Reproach."
Rivets
Science fiction wargame about programmable robots was one of the earliest microgames. Each of the humorously-named robots has a different set of capabilities, but can only be programmed to attack one type of the enemy, until brought back to headquarters for re-programming. Layered atop this large game of rock-paper-scissors are also movement and odds considerations.
Robo Rally
Multi-player wargame for up to eight in a robot setting. Players "program" their robots to move over terribly tricky boards by placing randomly-dealt cards face down. It is not entirely clear what the rationale of the random cards is as it would seem that each player holding the same deck would be more likely. In any case, seems to work fairly well so long as there is overlap to the flags which the robots must visit this permits the laggards to shoot at the leaders and perhaps catch up to them. Deep strategists may be disappointed as there is often too much luck of the draw – yes it is possible to be dealt nine cards and not have a single "Rotate" among them – as well as in who gets shot. It is also possible, although not so likely, to be eliminated before it's over.
Rommel's Panzers
Introductory wargame for two in small format by Metagaming, in 1980 the first of their historical series. Designed by Roger Damon and developed by Keith Gross. Set up is tank-to-tank tactical combat for two players. Paper hex map depicts no specific location, but indicates roads and ridges in two colors. Includes 126 counters which are rated for attack, defense and movement. Scenarios are Dawn Attack, Charge, Mixed Assault, Tank Commander's Dream, Open scenario and Sidi Rezegh Airfield in two parts: Desert Sandwich and Airfield Assault. The Die Roll Modifier table is poorly-organized, but fortunately the last two pages of the rules are wisely left blank which permits the player to write in this information. Not particularly flavorful, but at least rather quick. Tactically, there are four points to keep in mind: (1) If able to close within five hexes of a target, it is worthwhile to move in; (2) Never park trucks or anti-tank guns next to tanks; (3) Try to get around the sides of the enemy; (4) Remember that the Matilda is an exception to the weak-on-the-sides rule. [chart]
Runebound
Multi-player fantasy game in the mode of Talisman, including player characters, drawn encounter cards, multiple abilities, character improvement and inter-player combat. The clearest visual difference is the map. Where Talisman uses the Monopoly-style circular track, Runebound offers a hexagonal map. No doubt this was to address one of the most common Talisman critiques: that after rolling the movement die there are only two choices, right or left. Of course, critics always ignored that by acquiring a horse, movement rate can be adjusted considerably. But even more importantly, these critics must not be getting all they can out of the game since a good move also takes into account the next move and even the one after that. Still, a map is nice to navigate – even if it does force the lost of most special spaces – and traversing it is via a unique means. One still rolls dice, 4 or 5 of them, but they are specially marked with icons of the various terrains and thus dictate the types of spaces over which a player can move. So no longer are high rolls uniformly good and low rolls uniformly bad. On the other hand it adds time to calculate the move, although this lessens with experience. Most players can speed it up by reversing the process, knowing where they want to go already, they see if the dice fit rather than trying to calculate all the places they could go, a job for a computer. The actual encounter cards are color-coded for four levels of difficulty, a nice balancing feature. There are imbalances also, however, like the way the first player can run to many of the cities first and gather up the experience chips. These chips are problematic in another way too – should a character die, half of them are lost. OK, so death takes a lot out of you, but these consequences are so harsh that a player is often left totally out of the contest, certainly a dire prospect in a 150 minute game. Actually I don't know why experience chips were even introduced as the technique of collecting monster cards to turn in for improved skills worked just fine. It could even be an interesting subsystem if players were limited to choosing just one form of experience from each card. But flavor, one hopes, will save matters. Well, there is certainly a lot of it – a couple of sentences on each card. But as it has absolutely no effect on play, it's too bad for whoever wrote them that they are little read. A little-realized genius of Talisman was that it managed to work good lines into utilitarian texts. A card that could have said "You become a toad" instead reads "You are now a slimy, little toad." Another example: it's not the "Imp" but "The Grumpy Imp". Flavor and function are combined and the proof is that I can still recall them despite not having played in over five years. Another Talisman critique was its combat system, first that it could not be avoided when drawing an especially nasty card – a fair charge which is fixed here – and second, that it was too simple. Each player added his rating to a die roll and the high total won. Actually, that simple method only applies at game start which is kind of nice as players don't have to learn too much. Later on it slowly gets complicated by followers, artifacts, and special monsters. But in Runebound, each monster has three abilities and multiple lives so resolution requires a whole series of to-hit rolls. It's more nuanced, but as the choices are pretty obvious, it's not clear anything has really been added, apart from time needed, an issue so big that the game tends to degenerate into the following. One player labors over a long combat; the next has moved, pulled his card and awaits the combat die; the third, having rolled his movement dice, studies their possibilities. Talisman's shorter turns ensure that players pay more attention to what others are doing. When they're not, they can admire the artwork, which often has a more cheerful aspect than this one does, especially comparing the maps. Runebound's cards are well executed, but dark, resembling those found in most collectible card games. There is room for improvement in differentiating the various terrains, both on the map and on the dice. Probably there are too many types anyway. The point of a swamp seems lost if there is not a large group of such spaces to risk getting trapped in. Overall this is really only for those theme fans who love fantasy, but I suspect interest will wane rapidly even for them, unless willing to tinker heavily with the rules. This fresh take on Talisman offers some improvements, but lost too many good ideas in the process.
Martin Wallace
Russian Civil War
Multi-player wargame using area movement covering the period in Russia immediately following World War I. Players have a nebulous identity and control forces of both the Red (Communist) and White (counter-revolutionary) factions. In addition they may acquire (randomly) control of foreign forces as well as ethnic regional ones. Forces are limited in their attacks not by who controls them, but by their colors. Players must first determine whether Reds or White obtain control of Russia and then determine a winner based on which player has accomplished the most within the winning faction. Chrome includes the Politburo, assassinations, the Czar and the Imperial Gold. Generally Russia turns red as this faction's forces are stronger if the White forces are evenly distributed among just two players, White may have a chance. Overall, a bit disconcerting at first, not just because of the schizophrenic nature of the forces, but also because most players find it weird to play a strongly diplomatic situation with a fairly large number of tactical forces. On the plus side, this is a very innovative design which gives the player a lot of negotiative possibilities, although not as many strategic situations as one might like. Most turns are fairly obvious. Strange situations are possible. For example, in one game a player with strong and numerous Red forces, but little Politburo power earned the jealousy and enmity of his fellow Red players. As a result he took his forces to attack the Finns at a risky 1:1. If successful he would probably win the game for destroying such large forces, but if not he would probably be out of the game. More controls on reality would help this game to work better. A bigger problem is that during the first five game turns destroyed forces come back, meaning that most of it can be rather repetitive and pointless and only on turns five and six do matters really get resolved. And too many of these resolutions end in the same way, a couple massive battles in the middle of the board and almost no forces left on the map. Students of the war can decide whether any of the following are problems with the realism: (1) No depiction of cities or consideration of their importance as defensive strongholds; (2) No front lines or supply lines; (3) Due to the ability to trade leaders before the game, the disunity of the White forces is usually not apparent. [summary] [variant]
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