BOMBER COMMAND Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
The last Night-Bombing game I played, Duel in the Dark, didn’t live up to expectations so I went into playing Bomber Command with an open, but slightly critical, mind. I was pleasantly surprised.
To begin with the rules are considerably briefer than one would normally associate with a war game and then the maps and counters are top quality and easily recognizable for what they represent. The game is for two players who enjoy a lot of cat and mouse, seek and destroy, bluff and tactics. I particularly like the fact that LBW hasn’t forgotten that the Germans didn’t just sit and take it, they followed the bombers home and attacked them as they landed - there are rules that cover this aspect and the German player is free to use them.
Naturally this may be an expensive tactic but it may also be a surprisingly good strategy. There are two major scenarios for this game. The headliner is BERLIN and that is what the rules are mainly written for and the direction the game is aimed towards. The other scenario is for the more advanced player who has already played and discovered all there is to know about BERLIN.
BOMBER COMMAND is well balanced and makes for an intense head to head for the 2 players involved. There is, as you would expect, a fair amount of secret play. Then there is Bombing accuracy. There are many factors that decide this, it is not just a case of pointing to a hex and saying the bombs will land there, then rolling a die to determine a hit or a miss. There is visibility - cloud, haze, fog (plus of course it’s at night). The mechanic for bombing is fairly complex. It involves placing bomb markers to designate the areas, then the markers can be moved by the German player who determines which to move and where through a number of possibilities and finally the AirForce Commander may be able to move some markers back, again depending on a number of variables.
Victory Points are awarded according to the outcome of each bombing raid with the British player having to secure more than 18 points (19-27) for a Victory or 28+ for a Major Victory. It is, as I say well balanced. It is the responsibility of the German player to ensure his opposition do not reach either of their targets.
URBAN SPRAWL, designed by Chad Jensen, is a deviation from his usual involvement with GMT Games as Chad is better known as creator of the Combat Commander series for them. This is more like his Dominant Species game which has recently gone into reprint, showing just how well other-than-war boardgames can be accepted by the loyal fans of GMT.
Urban Sprawl could be called the ultimate building game as it takes into mind more factors than any other building game I have played, in fact it probably takes into account virtually all of the factors from every other building game I have played.
The game is played using ID coloured wooden blocks, a lot of cards, and many interesting and thoughtful decisions.
The game can last over 3 hours with a full compliment of 4 players and will generally last at least an our and a half with 2 players. For time we have found that three players is the optimum, otherwise a game takes between 45-60 minutes per player.
Using an Action Point game mechanic the players (2-4) set out to build a Metropolis, a thriving, living, breathing City of Dreams. Naturally they don’t just lay a few blocks and the Metropolis rises from the dust of the building area. The game takes it slowly building a small Town to begin with and then growing (sprawling) and expanding it into a large City and from there to the required Metropolis.
Like all building, corporate and political games there is a fair amount of organised chaos, maybe even more than a fair amount (like an unfair amount perhaps?). The player’s decisions are all important and should be carefully considered, not made without spending time weighing up the options and the possibilities your actions will open up for the other players.
There is an element of the rich getting richer and the game leader staying in the lead. This can only be countered by players not letting it happen. I know how that sounds but if the players don’t look carefully for the potholes they will fall in to them.
Definitely best with 3 players maximum.
This game from GMT Games is a nominee for the 2011 Golden Geek Best Wargame with 52 voters to date casting their votes. It is what is commonly known as a 4X game, these X’s being eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate.
Playable by 1 - 4 players at roughly an hours playing time per person this is quite a simple game both as the Basic and Advanced versions. The rules have been kept to a minimum, 8 pages for the Basic and only 3 additional pages to bring it up to the Advanced.
There is also an expansion : Space Empires: Close Encounters - An expansion that adds Empire Advantages, Ground Troops, Alien Technology Cards, Unique Ships, Flag Ships, Boarding Ships, and much more.
There are a lot of good things and few not so good things about SPACE EMPIRES which is about how most wargames with lots of counters can be summarised. I stopped enjoying playing (I cannot stop playing as I review all manner of games) games where you get stacks of counters in single hexes a long while ago when my memory started going. I need to continually check counters in stacks.
SPACE EMPIRES has a lot of stacking and a lot of counters so I was rather concerned about playing it.
I needn’t have been though as there are all manner of possibilities for playing and winning. You can win by defending, building small colonies in deep space , and picking away at your opponent’s forces and colonies, gaining VPs as you go.
Or you can build a massive and powerful fleet (an armada ?) and leave your home system and colonies virtually undefended to attack your opponent’s home system - a dangerous tactic but wholly satisfying if you’re successful.
This is a game about building, researching technologies and the most enjoyable of all, deceit. Until the very moment when necessary, players do not have to reveal anything they don’t want to. This makes for a good game of bluff which can, when played out thoughtfully of course, make your opponent(s) rethink their strategies.
Occasionally the game may outstay its welcome, (as in length of play), but in general it moves along at a reasonable pace.
COMMANDS & COLOURS ANCIENTS Expansion: 6 SPARTANS
When I read the contents for this expansion to the amazing C&C Ancients I was, for a moment, slightly disappointed, for I had expected 300 Blocks (as in 300 Spartans) instead of the 258 (including spares).
COMMANDS & COLOURS is the major player in the Block war games market. The expansions are growing it into a viable history of the Ancients era but you must have the original C&C game to play all of the expansions. This includes the latest addition, expansion, #6, The Spartan Army. To play all 26 scenarios in this expansion requires the map from the first game and the special dice, Command cards and Foreign Armies from Expansion #1: the Greece and Eastern Kingdoms.
Commands & Colours is card driven like its contemporary game Battle Cry and similar to Memoirs ‘44. The Order/Command card that you play determines which units move and/or battle. The positioning of the blocks, blank side to your opponent, means that you can bluff and strike in ways the Spartans would have been proud of.
The Spartans have always been one of the most exciting armies to ponder and study. Whether in movies, books or games they are always involved in colourful battles such as the `300’ Spartans at Thermopylae, and like the British in battles like Balaclava, many of these colouful battles ended in glorious defeat.
The scenarios here can be played campaign style from 669BC when the Argives defeated the then bullying Spartans at Hysiae, through to Megalopolis in 331BC where King Agis fought to the bitter end against the Macedonians lead by Antipater, Regent to Alexander. Controlling the Spartan army is often akin to taking a minnows football team into a cup draw against Manchester United, the conclusion is foregone but the getting there is the best part of the journey.
Given a complexity level of medium and a playing time of around 60 minutes per battle, the Spartan Army is possibly the best army to have fun with whilst keeping with the strategies and tactics of the time.
Each expansion brings with it some new rules pertaining to the titled army (or armies) but for the main the rules remain the same, giving players the opportunity to express themselves through the forces available to them.
GMT are now the leading publishers of tabletop/board wargames, yet because of their intense desire to please gamers they are constantly revising, updating and bringing new ideas to the table. Reading up in SEKIGAHARA I discovered it was one of the most important battles in Japan during the 17th Century (actually right at the turn of the Century - 1600). The battle at Sekigahara is between two factions, ruled by Ishida Mitsunari and the current master of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who took power of Japan some two years after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the man whose Capitol City EDO was to become known as Tokyo.
When one thinks of fighting and Japan the first thing generally that comes to mind is honour, the Japanese are always renowned for their honour towards each other. Honour is then linked to loyalty which is another famed Japanese trait. Finally we link honour and loyalty to the last and most fun (at least to play) trait treachery. Matthew Calkins has managed to incorporate every one of these traits into his game.
This is not just another GMT block based war game. Yes it uses blocks, gold and black (each has a sticker of information on it), and yes it uses cards (one specific deck for each of the two sides) but it doesn’t use dice. There is a large, four-fold, map board on which the battle is played out. Unlike many wargames this map is not overlaid with hexes, instead the unit stacks move along roads between the locations, dropping units off so they can obey other orders along the way. Illogically though, stacks cannot pick up units on their journey. I could understand this if the unit to be picked up had just moved into position for the pick up as it would be exhausted, but if it was already at an en route location there is no reason why it cannot join the march.
Another rule to mention that makes sense in reality but may cause awkwardness in play is that no road segment may be used twice in the same turn. The blocks are designed so that they can stack, literally, one on top of the previous, with all information facing the player. After movement the opposing player can play a Loyalty Challenge Card (this is the treachery part I mentioned earlier) but this can be blocked itself by a loyalty card. The author really has captured the essence of this 17th Century Japanese conflict. The battle was over 7 weeks and the game is over 14 turns, taking roughly 10 minutes per turn.
Matthew Calkins wanted to design a game that had substance, some complexity, but that could be played in one sitting of around 2-3 hours. He managed this with the only random part of the game mechanic being the card decks, much is placed on the skill and tactics of the players themselves.
Feudal Japan has never been one of my favourite historical periods, but even with my ignorance of the era, being allowed the freedom for strategy and tactics this game gives makes for great challenges with different opponents.