ConsimWorld Expo, Part 3 of 3

Playing EuroFront II (and EastFront) at MonsterCon this year really drove something home to me, and this is the tension between “competitive” and “experience” games.

For me personally, one reason to play a game like EuroFront or Europe Engulfed is to experience the entire war. Each phase has its distinct flavors: the desperate early years for the Allies, the titanic mid-war clash of arms on the Eastern Front, the cat-and-mouse games in the desert, the logistics of the big amphibious assaults, and the Soviet late-war steamroller. If I play a strategic WWII game, I sort of want to experience all these different phases. Even if I just play EastFront, the whole war goes through a lot of different flavors (as I mentioned in my last piece), and I’d like to experience them all.

However, in a game of skill, we expect skillful play to matter, preferably a lot, and we would be disappointed if a brilliantly-executed Barbarossa didn’t convey a decisive advantage, or if mistakes in ’42 didn’t come back to haunt us. Between equally-skilled opponents, a tightly-contested game may well go right to the end, but it is far more likely that our own quality of play will derail the gaming experience at some point: the skillfulness of the game has made it more likely that we won’t be able to “experience” the flavor of the entire historical war.

Compare EastFront or Europe Engulfed to Here I Stand, which is a game that leans heavily towards the experience rather than skill end. In Here I Stand, skillful play is unlikely to pull you ahead because the other players will just beat you back. The system provides opportunities to thread the needle and come out temporarily ahead, but it also provides more than ample opportunity for the luck of the draw and the dice to dominate skill. And so everyone just goes along, hoping to make incremental improvements in their position, experiencing the flavor the game has to offer. A masterful Hapsburg player is not going to derail the experience of the game for everyone else by doing something so unseemly as quickly winning through his masterful play.

Like many of these hypothetical gaming trade-offs, calling it a trade-off is slightly deceptive. One can of course improve simulation value by removing rules and also improving playability, as games like Grant Takes Command and Breakout: Normandy demonstrate. And likewise, there are games that, it seems to me, manage to both provide a competitive environment while still giving you an excellent experience game: Paths of Glory, Barbarossa to Berlin, Hannibal, Republic of Rome, Middle-Earth: The Wizards – maybe that’s why some of the card-driven games are so highly-coveted.

Regardless, the take-away message for me here was simply to recognize EastFront and EuroFront as the skillful games they are. It seems like such an obvious thing, but so many big or more complicated wargames these days are non-competitive, either because balance was considered secondary to historicity, or because they are definitively experience games, or because playtesting was inadequate, or because they’re so long that very few people can ever really become skillful with them. EastFront, though, is not like these games. So when tackling larger games in the Front system (i.e., trying to play more than 12 months), it’s so easy to be sitting at the end of Summer ’42 and having a desire to experience ’43, but in reality, once you get behind the 8-ball in this game, it’s overwhelmingly likely that you’re done. I think the smartest thing is to take it 6 months at a time. Check the victory points; if it’s close enough to continue (and the ranges in EastFront are usually reasonably generous), press on, otherwise, call it a game. It would be nice if a lot more of these bigger games had checkpoints that you could look up after 4 hours of play time or so and do a sanity check to see if the game has decisively swung one way or the other.

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ConsimWorld Expo, Part 2 of 3 – EastFront

Having gotten my fill of EuroFront on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I split off on Friday afternoon to play a good, old-fashioned game of straight EastFront. When I play one of the Front games at home, what I’d usually do is play a 6-month scenario – I like Summer ’42, Winter ’42, and Summer ’43, about in that order. These are pretty manageable to play (4 hours or so), are fairly well-balanced, and are all good situations which present both sides with interesting opportunities. They also tend to be pretty stable, in that barring all but the most egregious errors, an interesting game should result.

But this is MonsterCon and time to try something different. In casual play, I’ve always avoided the Summer ’41 scenario, the initial invasion of Russia, because it’s so unbalanced. By this, I mean that the Germans are brutalizing the Soviet armies, and the Soviets will win by escaping complete catastrophe. This just doesn’t seem that appealing. But I’ve now played enough EastFront that the fact that I had never (before yesterday) played Summer ’41 seemed like a hole in my experience of the game, and if you want to play EuroFront in all its grandeur, you need to how to deal with that initial invasion. So we played EastFront starting in Summer ’41, and instead of just playing 6 months, we decided to go until a decision was reached one way or the other.

I ended up enjoying the ’41 scenario more than I expected. It is a much more exacting game than the later scenarios – forgetting to cover a critical hex two spaces behind the front lines can have bad consequences for the Soviets – but it’s not as unforgiving as, say, The Russian Campaign. There is a substantial tactical element, but it’s not as hyper-tactical as most hex-n-counter games. Heck, it’s not even as hyper-tactical as Caylus. It’s still mostly about picking your spots, making sure your headquarters are in the right place at the right time, and using your rail capabilities to get your critical units (tanks and shock armies) where they are needed.

Still, that said, Summer ’41 is still largely driven by the Germans. They will pick objectives (Leningrad, Moscow, the Ukraine) and try to take them. The Soviets will desperately try to oppose them where possible, but mostly just try not to get wiped out. But when you link Summer ’41 to Winter ’41, things get interesting, because in Winter, the Germans are hosed. In Winter ’41, the Germans are especially hosed. Their headquarters are all disrupted and cost extra to build, all their units are slowed to the speed of tanks in mud, and their offensive capabilities are near-zero. Meanwhile, the Soviets are virtually unaffected, and receive an influx of fully-built Shock Armies. For all the abuse the Germans dished out during the Summer, they are now set for a hammering. I’m not sure I’d play either Summer ’41 or Winter ’41 as a standalone, but as a pair, I think they have a nice symmetry, and were pretty entertaining.

In the event, the Germans weren’t able to make decisive progress in ’41, and the winter counter-attack was pretty brutal – not in terms of ground, but in terms of casualties. My big lesson learned was that, as the Germans, nothing you can do in ’41 will be worth it if your tank arm gets mauled. Make sure to keep them safe and mobile over the winter, which means not letting them get tied down in battles. You need to be inflicting enough casualties on the Soviets to keep them off-balance in ’42, but you can’t do that at the cost of suffering too many casualties yourself. Those 70-ish production points won’t go nearly as far as it looked like they would from the safety of Poland, and you cannot afford massive tank replacements.

We called it a game in Summer ’43, when things had cascaded to make things very rough on the Germans. Playing the long game was cool, but in future, I’d recommend using the standard semi-annual scenarios as checkpoints. Each six-month season has a handicap, and you can see who is winning at that point. If one player is ahead by, say, 10 points, I think it’s time to call it and move on to another game. EastFront is a game where small advantages accrue from season to season to become big advantages, and if you start ’43 significantly behind the historical pace, it’s going to be exceptionally hard to win. So rather than sitting down and deciding to play the “whole war”, I think checking every 6 months of every year against the victory conditions until someone gets ahead makes a lot more sense.

Anyway, the Front games remain amongst my very favorites, and playing them intensively for 4 days mainly made me want to get them out more regularly.

ConsimWorld Expo, Part 1 of 3 – EuroFront

You can see my Flickr album of ConsimWorld Expo photos (and some commentary) here.

I got involved with monster games sometime in 2000 with The Gamer’s OCS series, starting with Burma (well, actually, I had played campaign games of ASL’s Red Barricades and Kampfgruppe Peiper well before that, but for some reason they don’t count in my mind as true monster games, perhaps because they seem so clearly within the bounds of sanity). I am not naturally a monster gamer. I like playing lots of different games, and so the huge time commitments required for monster games is generally not avaiable. But I like monster games in theory. To experience the continuity of a whole campaign played out over a long period of time is attractive. And OCS specifically is a great game system.

When this theory ventured out into the cold, harsh world of reality, however, I found my attraction to the “real” monster games to be unworkable in practice. There are just too many obstacles to be overcome: finding the time, finding the players, finding the players you can stand to spend that much time with, and finding the game situation that can plausibly stand up to the amount of attention you are planning to lavish on it. That last one is a particularly tricky bit, considering that one game of Guderian’s Blitzkrieg or Enemy at the Gates, played to completion, would theoretically consume more time than all the games of Puerto Rico I’ve played, ever. By at least a factor of two. This was driven home to me when I played Guderian’s Blitzkrieg at MonsterCon 3 years ago: the game is so freaking huge, you need 6 players just to manage all the counters. But the Germans have only enough supply to keep maybe 1.5 of these players active and engaged. So you end up with a couple folks sitting around most of the weekend with little to do. This is clearly not acceptable. I’m still quite fond of OCS, but when I play anymore I play Burma, Korea, or DAK, the entries in the system which need only two players and have a wealth of good shorter scenarios.

These difficulties were why I was only a sporadic attendee for the first few MonsterCons (I went to 1, 3, and 5). I would get excited about the concept, go, have a mixed experience, take a year off, get excited again… but then last year I felt that enough was enough, I was going to play something practical. So I went with EuroFront, which is one of my all-time favorite games (EastFront) taken to its logical extreme. Arguably, beyond its logical extreme, I suppose. Plus, I got in a side of Europe Engulfed, another tremendous (and playable) game. For the first time, I really had fun at MonsterCon, so I broke my odd-numbered-year tradition and went back again this year.

The con started a day earlier this time, on Tuesday, so the early arrivals (Craig Besinque, the designer, and Tom) started in 1939 without us. When I showed up a day later, on Wednesday, I gave them a hard time for not starting with the Spanish Civil War scenario from MedFront. They seemed unmoved. Joining the game in-progress was fine with me; I don’t find the 1939-40 situation all that interesting to game, so I was happy to take over the east front Germans just as Spring ’41 was kicking off. That said, the game did see some wild and crazy early-war stuff up north: when Germany invaded Denmark, they chose not to invade Norway immediately. This prompted the British to pre-empt them by invading Norway themselves. This, then, resulted in a catastrophic but highly-improbable series of diplomatic die rolls which ended up with Sweden and Finland becoming full-fledged Axis allies, which allowed us to both secure the legendary Swedish Ore and seriously threaten the Murmansk and Archangel lend-lease routes. As I mentioned in last year’s write-up, I really like the NorthFront extension. The battle up there isn’t a lot of blocks, but it can consume significant resources, it makes a real difference in the EuroFront game, and there are meaningful decisions. I’ll be curious to see if the extra map areas adds anything to EastFront or WestFront when played standalone.

After cleaning up Yugoslavia, the make-or-break season for the Germans comes up: Summer ’41. In order to have a legitimate shot at winning the game, the Germans have to have a successful Summer ’41 campaign. If Summer ’41 is a bust, no amount of beating up on the British is going to help you. I decided to go for the full-bore Moscow strategy, pounding down the traditional Napoleonic invasion route and making just a token effort in the Ukraine.

The problem with this strategy, which I realized afterwards, is that is really has to work. If you fail to take Moscow in Summer ’41 (a definite possibility even with good German play), you have little to show for your efforts – just the 1PP in Minsk and Riga. The choice industrial areas are in the south. And the terrain in front of Moscow, a lot of forests and swamps, is lousy for your panzers.

In the end, I came very, very close. I got adjacent to Moscow in the west. Powerful German spearheads occupies Yaroslavl to the northeast of Moscow with the intention of cutting it off. But the landsers never actually entered the historic city, and with the early onset of winter, we simply ran out of time.

What then followed was the most burtal winter counter-attack I’ve ever been subjected to. The Winter ’41 rules for snow weather are very tough on the Germans, as they should be, and the historic winter was, I’m told, particularly bitter. That was definitely my experience. On the random weather turns, we saw the absolute maximum of snow turns, and the German army got beaten remorselessly. I was not pushed that far back, in the end, but the casualties suffered had been prohibitive. In my drive to get Moscow, I had been exposing my panzers to a fair amount of risk, leading with them almost exclusively to get as much punch as possible on the front lines in my headlong dash. This meant that when the bill came due that winter, I just didn’t have enough tanks to make a credible push in Summer ’42. I gamely tried, and took over much of the Ukraine, but it was a losing battle.

The difference-maker here could have been our allies in the north, and in retrospect if I had used the Finns and a German expeditionary force more effectively, things could have been very different. The forces were certainly available to take Leningrad, Murmansk, and Archangel, and this would have been a big chunk of Russian production – comparable in total to completely clearing the Ukraine – but I was never able to marshal and coordinate them, partially at least just because of inexperience with the NorthFront. It probably wouldn’t have been enough to compensate for the tactical error of my somewhat over-aggressive use of the expensive panzers, but it would have made the whole Moscow-first strategy more plausible and the game a lot closer.

By contrast, the MideastFront additions (Turkey, Persia, Syria, etc.) really didn’t seem to make that much difference. I don’t know if there is a plausible MedFront strategy for the Axis which involves bringing in Turkey in ’41 maybe and doing Barbarossa in ’42, or going straight for the oilfields, but in the two EuroFront games I’ve played this year and last, the Mideast has been a non-factor. If I play the axis again next time, maybe I’ll give it a try. If not then, then maybe in 2008.

When this was combined with disaster in North Africa (not my fault!), we called the game an Allied Victory in Spring ’43, and tore things down and set it up again using the historical Summer ’43 start lines, which was a good plan I felt. The Germans got their ’41 offensive, the Allies got some good counter-punches in, the Germans were not going to win at this point, so re-starting in ’43 gave everyone a chance to play an interesting game again. By this point a few more players had arrived, so Tom and I set up our own game of EastFront, while everyone else (most of whom had not played much, if any, of the Front games) played EuroFront. This worked out quite well; I enjoyed my EastFront game (more on this in the next installment), and the new guys had what looked like a really exciting and enjoyable game.

We got to play our game on a pre-production copy of the new versions of the games, and I have to say I like them. The new maps are crisper, cleaner, and significantly clearer (no more puzzling out the terrain in Georgia). I think the new higher-contrast labels are slightly less aesthetic than the originals, but definitely more functional. But the good news for existing EastFront players is that there is no reason to feel forced to upgrade if you don’t want to. The game appears fundamentally unaltered (the only change I noticed is that anomolous mountain hex near Moscow has been replaced with “hills”, a new terrain type), and while you’ll get Finland, most of the VolgaFront map, and an overall functionally superior product if you upgrade, you’ll still be playing the same game as everyone else if you don’t. Anyone who has any aspiration to eventually play EuroFront will probably want to get the new package, though.

All in all, I have very much enjoyed my games of EuroFront these past two years, and this is the sort of monster game I can actually do. It’s playable, there is little downtime, and the whole war can be completed over the long weekend by reasonable players. There are plenty of checkpionts in the game where you can look and call it if things are not going well, and the fact that the game gives you starting points for every summer of the war gives you a wide range of options, and I really liked that we could quit a lost game in ’43, restart with the historical deployments, and still get to experience the whole war without having to start from scratch. The ’42 and ’43 scenarios are quite interesting in and of themselves, and the late-war plays very well with 4 players. And of course the component parts (EastFront, WestFront, and MedFront) are all tremendous games in their own right, and highly playable.

Consimworld Expo 5.0 – Part 2 of 3 – EuroFront II

P6090005Craig Besinque (he’s the one on the far lower left) was kind enough to bring 2 pre-production copies of the EuroFront map set and North/MidEast Front expansion to MonsterCon, and I was excited to give them a try. I’ve never actually played an entire game of EuroFront – I’ve done the 42/43 scenario once at ConQuest, and I’ve played a bunch of East and WestFront. EuroFront is a monster, but it’s a playable monster; I think you could do the whole war, 1939-45, in under 35 hours. That may sound like a lot, but compare to World in Flames and it’s a walk in the park, and while it’s definitely longer than A World at War, it’s not vastly longer, and it does have a quite a lot fewer rules than either. While it’s true that there are a lot of details for the various standard political issues (if you ever run into a game with clean rules for the Vichy French, let me know), on the other hand the core EastFront system is quite clean, and the diplomatic event rules for things like bringing in the Axis minors, unrest in the Middle East, and reforming the Soviet Army all work simply and cleanly.

I played the Western Allies. For me personally, the good news was how comparatively easy it was to go from being quite comfortable with EastFront to playing EuroFront. The MasterFront rules are scarily longer than EastFront, and while there are more details to track, it’s no worse than you might expect and not overwhelming. It’s a lot of “look-up” rules that you check out when relevant: when the MedFront opens up, you read about allocating production and shipping losses and it’s pretty straightforward. When things are grim in France, you look up the surrender rules. The same tactical techniques you learn in the East apply pretty well to defending France and fighting the Desert War, and while the margin for error for the Brits in 40-41 and the Soviets in 41 is small, it’s also not so exacting a game that you can’t just play. Since you don’t deal with U-Boats or other strategic warfare, it’s not the nightmare that playing the Brits can be in Europe Engulfed in the ’40 timeframe. Despite very limited experience with the Desert War and no experience with the Fall of France, I was able to slip into the game quite comfortably.

P6090008The new NorthFront map allows you to play out the invasions of Finland and Norway that are abstracted by Diplomatic Events in basic EuroFront. These are almost micro-games within the main game, as players decide how many units to commit (typically no more than a handful) and then send them off. I actually decided not to intervene in the Norway campaign, but it was a nearly-run thing. As always with the British, everything is a trade-off: you can keep the lend-lease routes open and harass the Germans, or you can save your guys for the desert. The desert seemed a more critical area to me, so I saved. But Norway offers some cheap options for making the German’s life rather difficult, mainly by interdicting the Swedish ore, and if you can actually keep the Germans from conquering it, you will gain permanent Naval Supremacy, a huge albeit rather unlikely win. I thought NorthFront was a nice and interesting little expansion, and since the Germans are more or less obliged to invade Norway, it’ll always see play and present the Allied player with options, while the Diplomatic Event route of the basic games seems to make things a little pointless for the Allies. Nothing earthshattering, but as I say, a nice micro-game, and if I was going to go the effort of playing EuroFront, I’d want to have it. Plus, it gives the Soviets some blocks to push around in the early war as they fight the Finns instead of just waiting and waiting for the Germans to invade. I should say too it was nice to see all the far northern locations included in the game – you can actually walk from Oslo to Archangel through hexes and transit boxes. It’s so far away it even feels cold.

P6090010

I was able to hold out in France through mid-1940, which was a bonus, and was able to do so while keeping the BEF basically intact. This bode well for the Desert War. A lot of that work was undone, however, by the fickle dice. The Desert War is a wacky business. First, you have to pre-allocate your limited production to the theatre. The Brits have about 24PP total. They have to decide how many of these (usually 10 or 15) to allocate to the Desert, an allocation that can then be changed only at intervals and/or with some pain. Secondly, that production doesn’t even automatically arrive: shipping losses mean you only get to roll one die per 5 points sent, and that’s how much you get (not to exceed the amount sent). This, combined with the greatly increased costs of building and maintaining guys there, makes for a fluid situation (I should say, I think all this is a good thing). A little bit more fluid than I would have liked, because I proceeded to get absolutely hammered on my shipping losses for the first few turns, while the Axis rolled quite well. As a consequence, the Western Desert Force was pushed back to the Nile. There they stayed, however, as the fact that British losses in France had been so light began to tell. I think there was an opportunity early for the Germans to push on to Cairo if they had been willing to commit heavily (including, crucially, more armor) and take some risks, but once it passed the rapid British build-up made things tough. Eventually, my counterattack devastated the Afrika Corps.

P6100030Meanwhile, things were not going so well in the East. I don’t know if I can take any credit – if it was ultimately the large amount of cash sucked down by the desert for little purpose that made the difference – but the German push into Russia was not strong enough in ’41. The Winter ’41 counterattack was nasty, but nothing compared to the encirclements of German units that occurred the following Summer. I think the Germans made the mistake of spreading their effort to broadly instead of packing their armor into one powerful stroke. Regardless, things did not end well for the Wermacht, and it went south pretty quickly. Like in Europe Engulfed, the Germans have to have a laser-like focus to get stuff done.

Our game did not see any action on the NearEast front board, but I was tantalized by the possibilities. Now, unless the Germans try a Mediterranean strategy, the board won’t see play. On the other hand, the options down there are rather tempting. You can foment revolt in the British and French colonies, go after the big oil points, and potentially bring in Turkey and take a shot at the Soviet “back door”. None of this is going to happen a lot, but if you really focus on it, it seems like you could make a serious game of it. I think our German player had some of these options in mind, but if you’re going to go this way, you can’t mess around – you’ve got to go all out, taking out the Balkans right away to enable the various near-east diplomatic events (I should mention as an aside here, I like how the Greek events work – as happened historically, the Axis are likely to be forced to deal with Greece, rather than the elective conquest they work out to be in most games).

Although our game was a bit short, ending in German collapse in ’42, I enjoyed it. The action is a bit less dense than in Europe Engulfed; you spend more time waiting for your turn or waiting for your front to open, and EuroFront really requires 3 players (and 4 would be ideal in 43-45) – one of whom is not going to be fully engaged for chunks of time in the early war. But the win is that you get a much more interesting set of political events, somewhat greater latitude to try different things, and of course the Front system is to me tactically and operationally much richer. Due to the time investment, Europe Engulfed is a game I can at least play semi-regularly while EuroFront is always going to be an occasional indulgence. Luckily, the component games are tremendous and playable games in their own right, so you can play EuroFront only occasionally and still play competantly. Having now played once, I’m looking forward to trying it again.

I should say too, it was a great pleasure to meet Craig Besinque. A nicer guy you could not ask to game with. In a hobby that seems to draw more than its fair share of wingnuts, it’s always great to run into the genuinely nice guys. In fact, it was in general a very good crowd for EuroFront, and this was by far the most successful monster game I’ve played at MonsterCon. I’ve been only an every-other-year attendee, in large part just because of the great difficulties in pulling off such huge and involved games. Now, though, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back next year.

EastFront

A fellow-gamer from Silicon Valley Boardgamers was looking to learn to play EastFront. EastFront being one of my favorite games, I was willing to help out.

Usually when I teach EastFront, I’m playing with people who have wargaming experience, so I’d start with the Summer or Winter 1942 scenarios, which are pretty well-balanced, interesting for both sides, and show off the game more than the more minimalistic Edelweiss intro scenario. But they are also pretty big, and since Dave hadn’t played much in the way of wargames, I went back to the rulebook and checked out Edelweiss, which I actually had never played.

It looked OK – it’s the push to the Caucuses by Army Group A in Summer 1942, alongside 6th Army’s ill-fated trip to Stalingrad. It’s got only one “combat” HQ and one “supreme” HQ per side, and a handful of units; but it does cover much of what you need to know. It’s got most of the terrain (including a river, the most important terrain type), it’s got all the important unit types, it’s got weather, the Germans have some blitz opportunities on turn one, the rail net is awkward out there so you have to worry about supply a bit, and there are enough production points involved to make things interesting.

It played OK too, even if it’s not going to really “sell” the game the way a great introductory scenario should. The Soviets lack any teeth in this scenario, so they’re just holding on – the Germans have all the firepower. With only one “real” HQ per side, your options are rather limited compared to the bigger scenarios, especially 1942 and 1943 where there are real titanic clashes. And I may be influenced by the fact that I played the Soviets and lost, but I really don’t see how they have any chance to win this scenario. The Germans just have to take exactly one city, Rostov (which is right on their start line, and the Soviets are anemically weak at start), then not lose any units (not an issue given that the Soviets have exactly one shock army – not even in play at start – and no armor) to force a draw. It seems like the Germans might need a bit more of a handicap in this one, although it was my first play of the scenario and I may have missed something.

Critically, though, we played in only about 2 hours, including talking through rules. OK, so the scenario isn’t great, but it does convey a pretty good feel for the system, and it plays quickly. So I think it works. But move on to 1942.

Every time I play EastFront, I am impressed by the game. It’s such an incredibly clean system for a medium-complexity wargame; having played Europe Engulfed just a couple days ago, a game that I quite like but can be a touch fiddly, the more streamlined play of EastFront stood out. Maybe EastFront doesn’t quite have quite the compact design elegance of Rommel in the Desert, but EastFront is also a grander, more dramatic game.

HomerCon West 2004 Day 1

I showed up at HomerCon West in sunny Lodi, California at about noon on Friday. I roll my eyes a bit as I see as I see the three games being set up are The Gamer’s Omaha, This Terrible Sound, and Guderian’s Blitzkrieg II. My friend Paul, with whom I have a Europe Engulfed game set up for Saturday, is the one setting up Omaha. I give him a bit of a hard time about whether he’s going to be able to even finish setting it up (turns out that’s not such a big deal), and then see who’s available who isn’t in on the GBII or TTS. Turns out there are three of us, one of whom is a walk-in who really doesn’t have much wargaming experience. So we settle on the only really good 3-player wargame I know, Napoleon from Columbia games.

We choose the Columbia 3.1 version (I actually have both editions in my one box, but third edition is a little more interesting for 3 players I think). I’m the French. I’ve played before fairly recently, while the Allies haven’t – which is balanced somewhat by the fact that a French win is pretty rare in any edition of this game. Games are often close, but I haven’t seen many French wins. Last time I played, as the French I went after the Prussians first and came up short. This time I went right down the middle and then hooked left to go after the Anglo-Allies. This worked pretty well when the Prussians dithered a bit and failed to properly concentrate or link up, so the French went on to victory.

Everyone else is still setting up their games when we’re done, so I look over my box to find another game we could do 3-player. Europe Engulfed is an obvious choice, but I was nervous about playing a game with a 20-page rulebook which I hadn’t played before with a new guy with little wargaming experience. So we settled on EastFront, the other Columbia game I had brought. There are of course a fair number of units in EastFront, but this actually did not work so well 3-player. Problem is of course that on any one turn you’re not doing a huge amount – the big decisions are which HQs to activate and once that’s done, there aren’t a lot of units to move and it’s hard to share the burden. So, what happened was that I took the Germans and ran them for the first month to teach the game, and then moved on to set up Europe Engulfed while the others finished EastFront. I hear it did not end well for the Soviets, with the Germans occupying Moscow. When I asked Paul if he had remembered to take his double-fire, double-defense in Moscow, he told me that it actually hadn’t been garrisoned at the time. Ooops. Great game, too bad I didn’t get to actually play it that much.

Everyone else was still setting up, so my next game was Europe Engulfed, the 1942 Tournament Scenario which is pretty short and an excellent introduction to the game. Normally with a game this substantial, I would try to solitaire a couple turns to get a feel for it before playing face-to-face, but this time I had prepped by just thoroughly reading the rules through a few times as I felt it would be reasonably straightforward. While I actually got going with the game pretty easily, there were a number of tactical details I hadn’t quite grasped. As the Germans, the game got off to a bad start – I assaulted the Don river basin on the first turn to try to do the historical Case Blue, but I woefully under-committed and when Paul used his Special Action to reinforce, things started going down hill. I subsequently tried to dig in on the Eastern Front while pursuing an aggressive strategy in the Med and a defensive one in the east, buying up U-Boats and Interceptors … but the Soviets become an avalanche if you don’t maul them during the Summer. Those Winter Offensives are brutal. I managed to not get crushed in the East, but Italy collapsed and the bombing campaign was not going well.

So, chalk it up as a learning game … probably the right thing to do would have been to restart after I had misjudged the Eastern Front on my first turn, but I hate to do that sort of thing – I prefer to live with my mistakes, for some reason. Still, I enjoyed the game and can see that it’s got a lot of challenges for the player. I like the Special Action chit mechanic quite a bit, it presents tough choices and adds tension. I like the production system, unlike some WWII games there are real, important choices about what to buy and at least twice as many things you desperately need as you can afford. The real costs of major offensive operations seem very nicely reflected. And like EastFront, the block really do add some great uncertainty and real tension to the game.

So, with the learning game out of the way, I went back to the hotel and immediately read through the rules again, and after that everything became pretty clear in my mind. So that was good. EE is not rules-light, but the core rules for Strategic War, movement, combat, and Special Actions are quite straightforward and it’s just a lot of the typical WWII ETO special rules (rules for Soviet production, Vichy, Axis Minors, Italy, etc. – the usual suspects) that jack up the page count. Still, I was very comfortable with game after only one play, and a “Chris’ Wargame Complexity Metric” of 1 is quite good for a big game. Looking forward to playing a “real” game on Saturday.

By the time I left, the other games had in fact finished setting up and for the most part had started actually playing.