Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Saga [Kosmos]
Small package Wolfgang Kramer and Horst-Rainer Rösner (Tycoon, 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 Knizia's Ivanhoe 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 Kingmaker, 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 Samurai, Shogun (Samurai Swords), James Clavell's Shogun and the Shogun version Wallenstein. 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 Hanafuda 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 Messiah Games]
Shogun (Samurai Swords)
Multi-player wargame part of Milton Bradley GameMaster series is set in sixteenth-century Japan, i.e. the era popularized by James Clavell's Shogun novel. The name was changed to Samurai Swords when the licensing ran out. Reminiscent of Risk -- 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)
Similar to Kremlin 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 Michael Caine's 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 Stellar Conquest, players are on the honor system for their bidding. [variant]
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 tenuously. 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). [analysis]
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.
Martin Wallace
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