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Published by: Udo Grebe Game Design     Designed by: Arno Maesen & Frederic Moyersoen
Cover Art: Andrea Tentori Montalto          Artwork/Illustrations: Karsten Schulmann
Planned for Kickstarter on September 29th 2020

This is a numbers versus numbers card game played across 3 fronts of each of 20 named Battles of World War I - two of which, Doggerbank (the 5th) and Jutland (the 10th) being fought at Sea. 

The components are a highly coloured, glossy paper map on which the Battles are colour-coded into 5 Rows of Four Battles for each year of the war from 1914-1918. There is a Tug-of-War style track along the top of this map on which one of the counters (there are two with the game) is positioned at the start of the game. As Battles are won and lost the counter moves one way or the other and eventually ends up in the central area (a draw), or for one or the other side, a Small Victory, a Major Victory or a Total Victory. The other counter is used to show which Battle is currently being fought.

 

Battles offer bonuses to one side or the other - clearly marked on each - and also win bonuses such as the drawing of additional cards and Victory Points. Victory points are how the counter on the Track moves, each VP edging it by one space towards victory.

All Battles, Land and Sea are played out over three Fronts (called Zones for Sea Battles), and each is played in similar fashion, with the exception that Support cards cannot be played for Sea Battles.

There are many games that pit card value against card value, with bonuses from various different items, equipment, characters etc, there is nothing new in this mechanic. However the affects on many of the cards, the additional strengths depending on which units are in which Battle, and the use of the Special cards (which can be played at the start of a round) that have some interesting and combat changing effects, all combine to make this simple mechanic just enough less simple for it to be like new.

 

I am playing with a pre-production game which has 54 cards that make up the combat units for each side. The Allies:
23 Army cards valued 1-4
16 Support cards (including Lawrence of Arabia)
10 Specials (including Recon Flight, War on Serbia etc)
5 Fleet cards valued 1-5
The Axis:
23 Armycards valued 1-5
15 Support cards (including Manfred von Richthofen and Paul von Hindenburg)
12 Specials (including Submarine Warfare, Mata Hari etc)
4 Fleet cards valued 2, 3, 4, 4

 

At the setup for the first Battle each player deals themselves 9 cards from their personal deck (which has already been thoroughly shuffled). They never draw up to 9 cards again as only 4 cards are added to their hand at the beginning of each new Battle - not withstanding Bonus cards that may be gained during play. Note that whenever a player has over 9 cards they must discard down immediately, although they are given time to decide which 9 cards to keep.

If a player has less than 9 cards after drawing 4 cards in phase #4 of the Aftermath (the game is played in 3 Sections; Preparation, Combat, and Aftermath) then they only have that many cards to play the next Battle with. If they have more than 9 cards after phase #1 of Preparation (drawing extra [bonus] cards) then they must discard down to 9 cards before moving on to phase #2. When it comes to the second Section - Combat - they may never have more than 9 cards though they may have fewer.

 

Starting with the Attacker (as decided by the Battle space) players have to fight on three fronts if they can. If the cards in their hand do not allow this then they must leave a front open; the opposition can play against the empty space and thus win that front unopposed. Special cards played do not count as part of one of the Battle Fronts, but Army and Support cards are. I have set out one Battle below in cards and text as an example.

Sea Battles are fought the same as Land Battles with these exceptions: a) No Support cards can be played and b) Fronts are called Zones.

The chances of winning a decisive Sea Battle are virtually nil, unless you have been lucky (I would personally say unlucky) to have 3 Fleet cards in your hand when a Sea Battle is the next fight, and also that you have foregone winning several land battles to be able to keep a hold of those Fleet cards (unless you happened to draw them in the 4 cards drawn at the end of the previous Battle.

 

With 54 cards in each deck the Allies have just over a one in ten chance of drawing a Fleet card whereas the Axis has odds of 2 in 27; so neither side has a really good chance of drawing three Fleet cards at the correct time in the game.

I questioned the authors on this and they said that with extensive play-testing over many years this has never been a problem. They agree that there are not going to be Sea Battles every time you play but they opine that Sea Battles weren't particularly effectual in WWI. So having a Sea Battle or not doesn't alter the course of the game, but that when you do manage to have a Sea Battle it is something extra-special. Playing as per the rules we virtually gave up on Sea Battles unless we were lucky enough to draw Fleet cards in the penultimate or actual turn prior to a Sea Battle phase. This was because holding Fleet cards while playing up to 7 cards at times in a Battle made our side too weak in the Land Battles. If you have Fleet cards they can gain you a VP or two but this is a balance against Land battle results.

I came up with a couple of suggestions for enhancing Sea Battles, one involving allowing certain Support cards (like Aerial and Submarine support) and another where we removed the Fleet cards from the deck and then made a separate hand of random Fleet and Land cards for Sea Battles only. We tried both of these ideas and they worked okay for us, at least we had regular Doggerbank and Jutland Battles, but the authors, quite rightly, stuck to their guns and decided their own rules did exactly what they want them to.

 

My wife is not a wargame fan, in fact I can rarely get her to play anything that mentions War of any kind, even War of the Rings, but we sat down and played this once, then again and again etc.... 

There are times when the cards you draw into your hand are not good enough to make a decent fist of it as far as a battle goes. This is why the third phase of Preparation, after playing a Special card if you wanted to, is to exchange up to 3 cards from your hand, and you really should consider doing this even if it means discarding a useful Special or Support card. 

At first the card balance seems a little lop-sided with 23 Army cards and 31 'other' types of card, especially when you need 3 Army cards for most battles. You cannot always depend on your dice rolling to get you out of the Trench you have dug for yourself by not managing your cards better. Only one die can be placed on each Battle column and then only 1s, 2s and 3s count (though they do count at face value so a 3 adds 3 Battle points to your attack or defence) and 4s, 5s and 6s are discarded as of no use.

COMBAT:

 

Invasion of Belgium:

Combat example: First Phase  (above)    Combat example: Second Phase (above)

1. Axis Attack Allies play one card at a time, Axis counters each Attack card one card at a time
2. Allies play Support cards one at a time (face down) Axis counters with Support cards

3. Dice are rolled and placed one die per column where possible. 1-3 results only (4-6 don't count)
4. Armies are valued per column. Army + Support + Any Bonuses + Die

Highest value points (per column) wins the battle. Defender wins ties.
Victory = Best of three battles. Decisive Victory = Win ALL three battles. 

Combat example: Third Phase (below)   Combat example: Fourth Phase (below)

 

How the above Battle pans out:
Axis (left column) 3 (Army) + 2 (Battle) + 1 (Support) + 1 (General) + 2 (die) = 9
Allies (left column) 4 (Army) + 1 (Support) + 3 (Battle) + 1 (General) + 1 (die) = 10  winner
Axis (centre) 3 (Army) +1 (General) +3 (die) = 7
Allies (centre) 2 (Army) +1 (General) +1 (Lawrence) +3 (die) = 7  winner (defender)
Axis (right column) 2 (Army) +1 (Support) +1 (General) +2 (die) = 6
Allies (right column) 2 (Army) +1 (General) +1 (Lawrence) +3 (die) = 7  winner
The Allies win the Battle but not by a Decisive Victory as they drew the Central column Battle, thus they don't get the Decisive Victory Bonus VP.

The LONGEST TRENCH is an intriguing name for what is in effect a value versus value game dedicatingly attached over a WWI theme because it does inflict on the mind the fact that many millions of young men, my grandfather among them, died in muddy, bloody, fields, often in hand dug trenches of mud and rain. The columns for each Front are imagined as the Trenches, though being the Longest doesn't automatically make it the best.

At present I have no indication of what the rrp will be as the Kickstarter is just over 2 weeks away and thus no prices have been indicated. The rules mention that the base game has 40 card decks and that one of the Stretch goals is the addition of 14 cards per side, but I have a feeling that the base game may well begin with 54 card decks as my review copy has. Other goals include Extra Bonus cards, Standoff Counters and Alternative Battle counters, but we must wait for the Kickstarter to see which of these make it to the off.

This is a good one versus one game, though it announces on the box it is for 2-4 players and there are variant rules for 3 or 4 players; basically it is 2 versus 2, or 2 versus 1, with some draw and play variations. For me it is a 2 player game. It is thus a War game, but I wouldn't recommend it as a 'starter' game for anyone looking to begin tabletop wargaming because it has almost nothing in comparison to a GMT or similar historical game. I would however happily recommend it as a good 2 player card game.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015