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BACCUM    presents  GENERALSHIP a game for 2-4 players aged at least 14 years old that takes around 2 hours to complete

 

The front cover of the box and the rules-book proudly proclaims "from the 4th Century B.C. to the 19th Century" and therein lies the first possible misapprehension of what to expect. So many people I have spoken to have thought that this is going to be a "History of the World" type of game because of that proclamation. The impression it gives is that you play your way through the Centuries from the 4th to the 19th whereas you don't; instead it is the Generals who are from the 4th - 19th Centuries and you do not play through the eras; this doesn't affect the game itself but it does represent a possible mind-shift prior to playing which is why it is worth mentioning.

This isn't the only thing that you have to get your head around concerning the Generals. You begin the game with 5 Generals cards from which you select one as your (current) Leader and one as your (current) political leader, meaning, for example, that you might have Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) as your Leader with the Duke of Wellington (1769 - 1852) as your Political leader; which wouldn't be an ideal choice because the two Generals are diametrically opposed, but at least they are from the same era. It is just as possible to have a pairing of Hannibal Barca (247-183 BC) and Prinz Eugen (1663-1736); see what I mean about requiring a mind-shift? You can also "capture" opposition Generals and use them for Political agendas.

So before I get into the game itself let me tell you about the product itself. The box art shows 26 of the most famous Generals in history in a brown, white and grey check which gives the game an immediate "adult appeal". It is also very heavy and once opened all the pieces are in good heavy card stock, good playing card stock (though not laminated or not laminated well as the cards are hard to shuffle and deal) and the army pieces are round (wood or mdf ?) with imprinted and painted with military symbols (some of which are a mite faded and hard to see clearly under house light). The ships are either Galleys or Galleons, obvious from their depiction on the counters, plus, and I openly admit my lack of knowledge, I discovered that a group of ships too small to be regarded as a Fleet are actually called a Squadron, which is what they are known as in GENERALSHIP. Until now I had only thought of Squadrons as a group of planes - live and learn! The board is quite large and is actually extended/augmented by using the bottom of the box which has been imprinted with what is called the "Main Board"  - this is where all the status charts are, plus the special Events are placed here also.  What I would have called the "Main Board" is actually a randomly created map/warzone, designed using the Army tiles (3 for each) plus a number of terrain tiles from the shuffled face down stack.

The number of players determines the shape of the Map board. With two players there are 9 tiles, 3 for each country and 3 that separate the forces. With three players there are the 3 countries (9) plus 6 tiles = 15 and with four players you use the 12 country tiles and 9 terrain tiles, the rules book shows the exact way the tiles are set out. The Countries involved in GENERALSHIP are: Austria (small population but good defence), Byzantium (well co-ordinated population and geography ? not sure how you co-ordinate geography) France (everyone's favourite; large population with an army that moves easy) and England (small population but an island). The Armies are Light and Heavy Infantry, Light and Heavy Cavalry, Large and Small Ships (known as Squadrons), Musketeers, Archers and Artillery in Light and Dark Brown.

As well as all of the aforementioned pieces there are round tiles for Food (2 sizes) and Metal (2 sizes) and numerous wooden cubes and cylinders in the player colours and white neutral, plus there are three decks of cards; General, Tactic and Technology. All of this is described and detailed in the large 24 page full colour (not glossy) rules-book; and this is also why GENERALSHIP is for hard core gamers rather than players who buy a game off-the shelf  because it"looks good" - this isn't for the casual player.

  

The publishing company is BACCUM and they are based in Seoul, South Korea and it feels like the game has been translated from its original language into English because reading through the rules is hard going. The first paragraph sets the flow for the remainder of the rules book. "You will compete for generalship through 49 highly famed generals in Europe from the 4th century to the 19th century. You may play with 2-4 players based on the political power as you run the internal political system by increasing population, developing a new technology and the external politics by training army and managing relationship with an alliance". That is not the most promising or impressive first paragraph of a game's rules that I have ever read. I realise it is down to translation but surely when you are putting out a game of this magnitude a games pertaining rendition, rather than a literal translation should have been used. Here's another sentence that needs clarification: "Players may understand commanders' characteristics and skills. Be cautious of exceptions during the game by commander". I am not trying to undermine the game in any way, not at all, I am simply pointing out these anamolies in translation, which continue throughout the rules because I want players to understand that they will need to take time and have patience for their first game as they decipher the true meanings of virtually every section in the booklet. If they were just spelling mistakes I wouldn't have cared but they are in places grammatical nightmares to comprehend at first, and maybe second and third reading.

With three and four players the five Action boards are placed on display (no Alliance board in a 2-player game for obvious reasons) and the choices made by the first player from these boards determines how each turn is played. "Each turn owner executes the selected action, and other players then perform the action in order of the turn order, which completes the turn". So when it is your turn you select one of the possible orders, activate it and do what is necessary and then in turn order all other players follow suit , although in cases where there is a choice of action on the card the following players all have to select the action that wasn't the choice of the first player. 

The choices that you make have a very real effect on your Realm and situation. You need men to formulate your army, food to fill their bellies, population to grow your army, technology to advance your civilisation and squadrons to move men across the huge lakes that divide the land, although you generally cannot move men onto a ship, move the ship and then move the men off in the same turn, so you always have to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each situation before proceeding, much like a real General would.

Each nation has a population order, generally 1-6, which must be maintained to keep production at a maximum. If an army who you are not allied with manages to occupy one of your Nation map tiles (one of the first three) then your production will be dramatically reduced.

  

GENERALSHIP is a game that forces players to think of every move and decision they make. It does not flow easily but more like decision making in real life. It has many components that need to be fully understood for the game to continue in an orderly fashion, which makes it an ideal game for the technically historical minded rather than the astutely historically minded player. The components work well despite being all either Dark Brown or Light Brown (Black ship squadrons)  because you have enough pieces in your colour to claim them and make them visually obvious to which alliance they belong. Alliances are like they are in reality and every game that uses them, they are made to suit one player and be broken sooner rather than later.

Combat is a very important aspect in GENERALSHIP and it has been approached in a fairly unique manner. It is not a matter of rolling dice or anything quite so random. It is down to players to begin a combat by deciding if one wishes to withdraw; this would be the one who was already in the space just moved into by th aggressor. It is not a friendly withdrawal though, more a political decision and it costs a political power card to back away. If Combat ensues then tactic cards are drawn, Land or Naval depending where the fight is to take place. If no players withdraw the aggressor may decide to make their attack an ambush, which is a phase just prior to actual combat. Generals in the same Battle that are directly opposing, as noted on their cards, cannot use their special skill sets - each General card shows one or more qualities a General has to offer depending on the situation.

Combat is on Land or on water and is basically down to ATK (Attack) Value versus DEF (Defence) Value, though that is summarising it a little over easily. Players use cards that determine the strength of their attack and defence. The difference between the two is the damage, loss in military, that the loser suffers; the different types of combat use similar mechanics. Combat is usually quite brutal and defeat is hard to recover from so unless you are supremely confidant of a win or a very narrow defeat it should be avoided if you can. This sounds unusual as GENERALSHIP is about control through power, but political power can be equally as effective as military power. Maintenance and Supply are extremely important and must be kept up for units and countries to be able to operate. You need to pay food according to the troops, squadrons etc that you have but you may relinquish any number of these units prior to paying their maintenance cost. "Thanks, but you're now surplus to requirements, you can go home!" Where the units are situated may determine whether you pay their maintenance as isolated units are most likely to cost more.

 

The number of VPs required to win is just 10 but winning them can be painstakingly slow, especially in a 4-player game, which is why there is  a suggested time of 2 hours for playing a full game. At each count up, after every player has completed two turns, anyone holding three or more Map Tiles gains a Victory Point. Technology also gains you VPs while combat gains players VPs in an indirect manner through gaining control of Map Tiles.

 

We have played GENERALSHIP with regular games players, trying 3 and 4 player games, and we have found it quite difficult to actually enjoy. It doesn't have a hook to keep it interesting nor does it have logic behind its theme. If it were, for instance, to be about how Generals from different eras would fare against each other using their unique skills, strategies and tactics, plus weapons, armour etc of the era, then it would be very interesting. As it is, hardly any of that comes into play, especially any of the uniqueness that made these outstanding Generals, outstanding. Each player's turn requires a serious amount of thought before action which should mean the other players witing on their turn can be planning but as you need to know what the players prior to you have done before you can act/react this isn't the case. It is a long, long game .

Tabletop miniature games players who enjoy playing historically inaccurate wargames may find this game to thier liking, but in my opinion the regular tabletop or board gamer, especially families who play boardgames, will find it too heavy going. There are English rules available on Boardgamegeek.com should you wish to read through them before purchasing so you will know what is expected of you and your players.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015