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PUBLISHED 2018
DESIGNERS William Terdoslavich and Scott Muldoon
DEVELOPER Kevin Bernatz
MAP ART Terry Leeds
COUNTER ART and RULES Charles Kibler
PRODUCERS Gene Billingsley, Tony Curtis, Andy Lewis, Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch

Overview

“Cataclysm” is sub-titled “A second World War”. Note the indefinite article. This is not a game about the second world war. It is more a study of the political, social and military conditions which obtained in the 1930s & ‘40s and how the various nations and ideologies used and were affected by these conditions to maintain or improve their lot.

A game of Cataclysm can throw up very similar circumstances to those that arose historically – sometimes at similar points in history but, otherwise, at quite different times. Another game could generate a whole different chain of events with civil wars occurring out of sequence, nations collapsing unexpectedly and military campaigns giving a-historical outcomes. The game is in how the players deal with these events to protect or progress their ideology’s interests. It is most unlikely that any two games will be the same – either in result or progress.

Components

The box is up to GMT’s very high standards – graphically attractive, physically sturdy and with much relevant info. Inside, there are maps, die-cut counters, small wooden cubes and quick-reference sheets with a rule book and play book that provide a full explanation on game play. Downloadable from the GMT website are a number of useful items including an errata sheet and instruction videos (although the last are based on the P500 playtest rules and equipment). A visit to Boardgame Geek will provide yet more explanations, discussions and comments.

In general the components are of good quality and fulfil their functions adequately. My only disappointment was that the maps are not mounted, being just printed paper which is likely to suffer from constant folding and unfolding. I strongly recommend a Perspex overlay or checking out the P500 offer of mounted maps on GMT’s website.

Playability

The game is for 2 – 5 players.  The optimum number is probably three where each player controls an ideology -Fascist (Germany, Italy & Japan); Democratic (UK, France & USA) and Communist (USSR). However, semi-cooperative play is possible by adding a player to each of the Fascist and Democratic factions to play powers within that ideology. Solitaire play is eminently possible because of the way the game mechanics operate. In this context, I would recommend downloading the solitaire rules and associated “robot” files offered on Boardgame Geek by contributor “Argothair” which allow the solo player to operate as a nation with the other powers & factions operated by “Argothair’s” system.

One word of warning: the 38-page rules deal with some very specific situations that may or may not arise during play. This makes certain rules easy to forget and, initially, constant reference to the Sequence of Play sheet will help ensure you apply the appropriate rules to the situation in play. The rules aren’t difficult to understand but are pretty comprehensive and the situations thrown up during the game require some fairly specific regulation. All this relates to the unpredictability and excitement engendered by play and the rules will become familiar with use.

I would recommend starting your first learning session by reading the play-through of one scenario at the beginning of the Play Book. You will learn more from doing this than reading all the rules and then setting up and playing a scenario. It very definitely points up the need to follow the Turn Sequence carefully.

Main Game Driver - Politics

In Cataclysm, the main driver of game play is the “Action Cup”. This is a cereal bowl, small game bag or other opaque container into which various counters are placed and drawn randomly. Each counter provides its owner with a chance to undertake political or military actions or it might affect or provoke a civil war on the map; it might, equally, require a power to check its stability with a dice roll or might indicate a random “crisis” occurring somewhere in the world that can affect specific powers. Players may hold a counter in their “Reserve” box that they can use to interrupt the Action Cup draw and try to prepare for whatever might be coming out. This counter draw determines what options are open to the players and what circumstances they need to react to.

Mention of dice rolling leads me to talk about the system used in Cataclysm. Depending on its “Effectiveness” level (determined by various factors pertaining at the time) a power can determine the outcome of its political actions by making an Effectiveness dice roll using 1, 2 or 3 dice. Success is indicated by rolling a 5 or 6 (there may be modifiers applicable). If rolling more than one die, if one die indicates a success, any additional 6 rolled gives a +1 modifier to the 5 or 6 rolled on the success die.

Military outcomes are determined using a similar dice rolling convention.

Military Actions

Some of the counters supplied with the game represent military formations: armies, naval fleets and air formations. These can be utilised to further a power’s military ambitions. However, the outcome of military actions is far from certain. The mechanism for military combat outcomes first determines air superiority which confers an advantage to the superior force and then armour superiority. These aspects provide the superior power with extra dice to roll during combat resolution. A variety of other conditions also affect the outcome and various adjustments are made to reflect these.

Once the number of dice to be rolled by each side is decided and the adjusted rolls calculated, the same convention is used for the result as in Effectiveness dice rolls. However, a slightly different outcome results depending on the amount by which one side’s score exceeds its opponent’s. This affects losses and the level of victory/defeat. For an extreme defeat result this could mean a stability check for the loser – possibly leading to collapse of that power.

Dice play a substantial part in these determinations and players should manage their activities bearing this in mind. Unless fighting total war, military adventures may not be as attractive as the appear.

Winning the Game

As part of the political and military actions employed by a player, he can gain control of areas of the map and this is indicated by placing a cube of the player’s colour in the controlled area. Each such cube gives its owning power one victory point. The total of each power’s VPs at any time indicates the VPs gained by the ideology to which the power belongs. The highest scoring ideology wins the game at its end and, if there is more than one power in the ideology represented by a player, the individual power VPs are used to determine the overall winner.

Conclusions

Until now, my favourite boardgame was Twilight Struggle. Cataclysm is rapidly catching this up. I have now played three solitaire games (and lost all three!) but it’s a concept and style that I love and will come back to again and again. Hopefully, I shall shortly try my first competitive game (and maybe even win???)

Review by Michael Oliver

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© Chris Baylis 2011-2015