Stuff from Fred

Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for July 2013

Seizing the Tactical Initiative In the Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage Board Game

leave a comment »

By Fred W. Manzo

 

                

 

Hannibal board game, war game Strategy

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 
– Sun Tzu

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” 
– Yogi Berra, American philosopher


Overview

While there are many ways to turn incremental advantages into winning positions in Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (HRC) some of the more dramatic occur during small scale struggles to control a single province.

However, deciding on just which province to flip is something of a problem. Basically, players should view the situation through three layers of analysis before determining their target: the strategic, the operational and the tactical.


Strategic

First, players should check the strategic situation. That is, where is each side’s main army? Is Hannibal in northern Italy and is Scipio Africanus in Spain or North Africa? Then players need to decide if they will attempt to attack this main army head on or if they would rather use an oblique approach and “hit them where they ain’t.” For example, working Hannibal out of Fortress Cisalpine Gaul is a difficult but possibly a war winning strategy. It does, though, require the complete resources of the Roman Republic for most of a turn late in the game. Basically there are two methods to accomplish this: by repeatedly involving Hannibal in low odds battles (say battles where the Roman Republic has a 35 percent or better chance of winning) and then depending on the attrition die rolls to whittle down the Carthaginian army to such an extent that even if Hannibal does survive he will be so weakened that the Carthaginians voluntarily re-cross the Alps. Or, if Hannibal is too strong in Cisalpine Gaul to attack directly then the Carthaginians might just be too weak in Hispania or North Africa to defend them adequately. Obviously, attacking Hispania can in itself draw Hannibal out of his Cisalpine Gaul redoubt in order to rescue the two or three provinces that may fall to the forces of the Old Republic. Unfortunately such a strategy will usually take two full consular armies and early in the game that leaves much of the Roman world undefended.

As for the Roman Republic, its main strategic problem early on is that it has only three field armies but four areas of responsibility. Namely, it has to defend northern Italy, southern Italy, Sicilia and Sardinia, so at least one critical area simply can’t be easily defended.


Operational

Second, players should check the operational factors of the region in question: specifically, players must take into account the physical landscape involved, such as the mountain ranges, straits and especially the particular political situation surrounding a battle space. Because if a battlefield is surrounded by countryside friendly to the attacker or if an enemy army is backed up against a physical boundary, any loss could result in its elimination. In cases like these a player might consider attacking even if he has a less than a 50 percent chance of victory as he is risking little and the defender is risking much.

Players should also check the general political situation. Including the number of allies your opponent will recruit and the number of PC (political control) markers each side possesses over and above those needed to control politically important provinces. This last factor is particularly important as it is a measure of how much stress a side can absorb.

In addition, if Hispania is the region under consideration, Rome would be well advised to consider first invading Gallia Transalpinia. While this region was not politically important at this time, controlling it does confer advantages: it produces local allies if a battle is fought there, it’s a place to “store” surplus Political Control markers needed to absorb future political loses and it’s a good jumping off point for an invasion of Hispania. For, if the Hispania invasion goes badly, a retreat into Gallia Transalpinia by the survivors instantly generates 2 additional allied combat units for Rome when both provinces there are friendly and it instantly decreases their pursuer’s numbers by the 4 Spanish allies Carthage has to leave behind.


Tactical

Third, it is only at this final layer of analysis that players should turn to the actual tactical situation. That is, it is only after a province has been picked for operational and strategic reason that the relative size of the forces involved should be considered, along with the strategic and battle ratings of the generals concerned and how easily each side might draw in reinforcements. Now, not all battles will meet all three factors, but it is a fair estimate that a majority of the tactically important ones will.

A. Under normal conditions there will be a guard army in Hispania, north Africa, northern Italy and Sicily. So players will in all likelihood have to fight a large army before taking control of an opponent’s province. This in itself should not discourage a player.

Sometimes there is also a guard army in Sardinia. But that is a special case as that island has been known to be a trap for its defenders as well as its attackers. First, it’s hard to get there and then it’s hard get out. Plus any army defeated on the island risks eliminated. It’s fair to say that caution is always called for when campaigning on Sardinia.

B. Next, players should check the battle ratings of the opposing generals, as this is normally THE critical factor in estimating how well the battle will go.

C. On the tactical level, however, a battle is judged by more than who has the better general and what the terrain looks like. In other words, it’s now time to take into account the relative size of the armies involved and who is attacking. In order to convert these general considerations into winning and losing percentages its best to check the matrix Brandon Einhorn has posted to Grognard.com. When that is impracticable it is possible to use an equivalent rule of thumb system. Basically, total up the number of cards in each players hand and subtract the smaller from the larger number, then convert this number into percentages at an 8 to 1 ratio. (e.g., 2 extra cards are worth 16%). Next, give the first attacker 4% and Hannibal 8% for his special abilities. And lastly add these percentages to a base of 50%. The final figure is the attacker’s chances of victory in a fair fight to within 5 or 6 percent.

Now, normally, I need something around a 60 percent chance of victory before committing to combat, unless there were special circumstances, but that’s really up to each player.

Hannibal War Board Game - Sample Combat Win % Calculations

So in a typical battle of, say, Nero attacking with an army of 6 CU against Hasdrubal with an army of 2 CU defending in Hispania, the battle hand size would be Nero, a 2 battle rating, plus a 6 CU army for a total of 8 cards against Hasdrubal, with a 3 battle rating, plus 2 combat units plus 4 allies or 9 cards. The final total being -8% (in Hasdrubal’s favor) due to the card situation, but + 4% to Nero for attacking = a total of -4% (i.e., in Hasdrubal’s favor) plus 50% for the base figure or a 46% chance of Nero winning.


The Einhorn System

How accurate is our system? Well, taking Brandon Einhorn’s approach as an accurate representative of the facts on the ground this basic version should provide players with a rough and ready percentage in any battle involving more than a few cards per side. In this particular case Einhorn generates a 40% chance of winning. So we were off by 6% (but see below).

So, for example, if a player attacks, in Sardinia, with a 3 BR general, 5 CU and one ally against an equally good 3 battle rated general and 4 CU. That would be a 2 card advantage to the attacker or +16% plus a 4% edge for attacking first plus a 50% base figure or a 70 percent chance of the attacker winning. The charts Brandon Einhorn on Grognard.com produced say he has a 73 percent chance of winning.

Or, further, say a 2 battle rated general with 6 CUs attacks a 3 BR general with 3 CUs. That would be a 2 card advantage for the attacker plus attacking first or 16% + 4% = 20% added to a 50% base equals a 70% chance of winning. Brandon Einhorn also says the attacker should win 70 percent of the time. (Again, see below).

Or say a 2 BR general with 8 CU attacks a 4 BR general (not Hannibal) with 3 CUs, which produces a 3 card advantage or 24% plus the 4% advantage for attacking first or a 78% winning advantage. However, Einhorn says there is really only a 65 percent chance of victory for the attacker. I guess that’s why it’s call a rule of thumb system. But, even as it is, it’s still handy in the heat of battle. It does, though, tend to break down at the margins, such as when lopsided positions are involved or when very low card totals are involved, as one side or the other could simply hit an empty position on his first try or, as in this case, when one general is better in combat than the other.

Hannibal War Board Game - Einhorn Calculations

In fact the advantage of having a battle rating (BR) greater than your opponent distorts the system to such an extent that, for those willing to do a little extra math, I’d give another 4% for having an Battle Rating one greater than your opponent, an extra 12% in total to a general having a BR two greater than his opponent and an extra 20% in total for having a BR 3 greater than an opponent. With that caveat the above calculation becomes not 78% chance of the attacker winning, but 66%.


The Full Boardgaming Life System

This chart simply provides players with a general overview of some battlefield situations. Due to space limitations it is far from a complete listing of every combination of Attacker’s Battle Rating, the Defender’s Battle Rating, the effect of attacking first and the number of cards each player may possess. The percentages produced are the chances of the attacking player winning these particular battles, as calculated by both systems within the parameters listed.

  Number of Battle Cards (Attacker vs Defender)
  10 – 7 16 – 14 6 – 8 15 – 18
Attacker’s Battle Rating vs Defender’s Battle Rating TBLS BE TBLS BE TBLS BE TBLS BE
1 – 2 74% 71% 66% 62% 34% 38% 26% 20%
1 – 3 66% 65% 58% 52% 26% 30% 18% 13%
2 – 3 74% 73% 66% 63% 34% 37% 26% 21%
2 – 4 66% 65% 58% 56% 26% 28% 18% 16%
3 – 1 90% 90% 82% 86% 50% 57% 42% 48%
3 – 4 74% 74% 66% 62% 34% 35% 26% 21%
4 – 1 98% * 92% 90% 91% 58% 62% 50% 58%
4 – 2 90% 87% 82% 84% 50% 52% 42% 42%
* Any result over 95% just means it’s so lopsided a battle that you are unlikely to need math to arrive at the results.
  TBLS = The Boardgaming Life System BE = Brandon Einhorn’s System


As a side note, it’s also important to check the total number of generals in play and where they are concentrated, as it usually takes less effort to accomplish something of value in a region where one side has more field armies then the other. It’s also helpful to check their strategic ratings, as this is a measure of how easily they will respond to the changing circumstances generated by multi-general operations.

Certainly, players would also be wise to review which cards are still in play this time through the deck. That is, how many revolt cards have already been played from the deck. And in particular, by whether or not the Messenger Intercept card will come into effect. As one of the critical factors in judging when to act will undoubtedly be who plays last in a turn and how many uncontested cards will he then play.


Game Day Cheat Sheet

Calculating The Boardgaming Life System win percentages:

  • Attacking first is worth 4%.
  • Each card that a player has in excess of the opponent’s hand size is worth 8%.
  • Choose only one of the following percentages:

    * General’s Battle Rating 1 better than opposing general = 4%.
    * General’s Battle Rating 2 better than opposing general = 12%.
    * General’s Battle rating 3 better than opposing general = 20%.

  • Hannibal is worth an extra 8%.
  • Subtract Defender’s total from Attacker’s Total and add base figure of 50%.

Note: Percentages are capped at 5% and 95%

Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Fred.

Powered by: StateSide Software, Inc. © 2010-11
ShareThis Copy and Paste

– See more at: http://theboardgaminglife.com/ArticlePages/hannibal_st5.aspx?GameID=32#sthash.Dan6vO6L.dpuf

Written by Fred W. Manzo

July 14, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Power Grid – Board Game Review of Rio Grande Games’ Power Grid

leave a comment »

By Fred W. Manzo

 

                

 

Power Grid board game review


We’ve played Power Grid, one of the top 5 or 6 most popular games on Boardgamegeek, a couple of times now, and while that’s not enough to make us all experts, it is enough for us to form opinions.

Power Grid was published, or perhaps I should say re-published, in 2004 having first come out as Funkenschlag in 2001. As is apparent by its original name it’s a Euro; with players building independent power grids across the US (or if you want, Germany, as the mounted map’s reverse side can be used to change locations).

The cities on these maps are connected by pre-priced routes, representing the fixed cost of building power lines between them. The game itself is divided into three phases: the first, which runs from the start of the game until someone gets 7 cities connected and powered, the second and then the third phase, where in a four player game the victor is the first player to connect and power 15 cities.

Each phase of the game allows an extra company to wire any particular city to a grid, so, for instance, New York, which starts with one power company, would eventually move up to having two or three companies running lines through it. This limitation allows players who were not careful to be penned into one corner of the board. In these cases, their company would then face the difficult choice of paying double (or triple) prices for the long distance power lines they need to expand beyond their competitor’s system or waiting until a new game phase kicks in when the cities in their opponent’s network will allow more power companies to build lines through them.

Basically, power company networks consist of power stations, cities and the high-powered lines used to connect them, with players competing to control and then power the biggest power grid in the country. Bigness being measured by the number of powered cities in a company’s grid. Player interactions are restricted to the reach of their grid on the map and the bids they place for the power plants that comes up for auction.

The decision either to bid on these plants or not then becomes one of the most important factors in the game as each plant is restricted to using coal, oil, garbage, nuclear or wind power as fuel. One of the many nice touches to the game is that you may only use three plants to power your entire network. So you have to balance your need for cheap but lower powered plants early in the game when you have few cities against your eventual need for big and expense plants when you have over a dozen to power. And all the while you must take into account the types of fuels you and your opponents will be locking yourselves into.

That is, plants may be both expensive to set up and expensive to run or they might start out economical and become expensive to operate, because fuel costs will vary as the game progresses. For example, if everyone piles into building cheap coal-fired plants, the limited supply of coal and its increased demand will cause its price to sky-rocket.

But while fuel prices may fluctuate, wind power is “free.” So why not go all wind powered? Well, wind power turbines start out expensive and only go up from there as your opponents try to outbid you in order to lower their own fuel bills. So the decision to construct a particular type of power plant must take into account the changing needs of both you and your competitors.

In a chicken-and-egg approach to expanding, the money you’ll need to pay for all these raising costs is generated by the number of cities already being powered by your grid. So the more cities you power up the more money you have but, on the other hand, the more money you’ll need to pay your running costs. You see, unfortunately, your income doesn’t increase proportionally with your expansion. Instead, it’s set to a sliding scale in an effort to reduce any run-away leader problems. So as the game progresses your problems get tougher.

Accordingly, we’ve got a game of wheels within wheels.

But how does it play?

Well, while we aren’t experts, from a grognard’s point of view I’d ask “where is the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat? So Power Grid is never going to replace Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage or Victory Games The Korean War on my table. But that’s me. If your group doesn’t suffer from paralysis by analysis and is looking for a high-quality “connect the cities, manage your resources, do math in your head but don’t hurt your opponent’s feelings” game, this is it.

Written by Fred W. Manzo

July 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Brawling Battleships – Steel Card Game Review

leave a comment »

By Fred W. Manzo

 

                

 

Brawling Battleships card game review


Brawling Battleships was published by Lost Battalion Games back in 2003. It was designed by Bruce Kohrn and the late S. Craig Talyor (of Wooden Ships and Iron Men fame) and is still available in a deluxe edition as Brawling Battleships – Steel.

Just think of it as the World War I version of Mag-Blast.

In it from 2 to 6 players can compete against each other or in teams to sink their opponent’s battleships. However, I’d recommend playing with no more than 4 people, due to down-time and game length problems.

Each player in a game controls one international squadron of World War I era battleships. So, for example, you might have a squadron made up of a random assortment of U.S., British, German, Greek, Italian, French and Japanese battleships, as might your opponents. There is no “British Fleet” vs. “German Fleet” action here. This is not a simulation of the Great War at Sea, it’s an abstract game and a light one at that.

Brawling Battleships Card Game - Open Fire Cards

In any event, the ships in your squadron are rated for Victory Points and the side that sinks the most points wins. There is some skill involved, but it is a heavily luck based game. Though I would say, if you like the controlled chaos of Mag-Blast, you will like Brawling Battleships – Steel.

There are, of course, differences: instead of each ship having different colored turrets, each ship now has different size guns, which are indicated by having their “to hit” numbers inside square, pentagon or circular shaped symbols.

The ships themselves can take floatation, bridge or engine hits. Lose too much floatation and your ship sinks, take a bridge hit and the number of cards in your hand decreases, take an engine hit and some Random Events may come into play. However, there is no maneuvering in the game and there are no ship models involved. But I must say the cards are of a high quality, both physically and conceptually, and that’s especially important as there is little else involved. This is a strictly card and dice game.

As for how it plays, well everyone, in the 4-player version, started off with 6 random ships. They then received a card for each functioning bridge in their squadron. The cards are of two types: Special and Regular cards. The special cards involved things usually outside the control of the squadron commander, things such as “good” and “bad” leadership, spies, dudes, Zeppelin and Float Plane spotting etc. The regular cards are divided into two sections: “Open Fire” and “Random Event.” The “Open Fire” section allows from one to three ships in your squadron to fire at the same time if they have the right caliber of guns. The “Random Events” section allows such things as submarines, destroyers, cruisers, coastal fortifications, Motor Torpedo Boats, straddling shots and mine-fields to attack or such defensive devices as minesweepers, confusion and booms to be employed. Most regular cards do not allow both of their sections to be used at the same time.

Brawling Battleships Card Game - Arizona Ship Card

So, for example, your squadron might start off with a large battleship, like the U.S. Arizona, which has a value of 8 Victory Points. It can also take 7 floatation hits, one bridge critical hit and one engine room critical hit before sinking. It is armed with all big guns and its’ “to hit” numbers are “1-3,” “2-1” and a “5 -1.” This means that once its authorized to fire by the “Open Fire” section of a regular card, you would roll a pair of dice and check the results against these numbers. If your dice produced a one or above on a red die and a three or above on a white die, (I.E., you roll 1+ and a 3+), you start to inflict floatation damage on your target. (In this case, reaching the first “to hit” number creates the equivalent of 2 hits due to the power of the Arizona’s big guns.) If this same roll was at or above the “2 & 1” level this ship would have scored another hit and if it was also at or above “5 & 1” it would produce yet another hit. Now, not all ships score two floatation hits when they first fire, so broadsides may produce from 0 through 4 floatation hits based on one card and one roll.

And that’s not counting any possible “Critical Hits,” generated by the “Open Fire” portion of the card used to activate the ship. So a really effective barrage from a powerful ship might knock out an opponent’s bridge or start a fire in his engine room with a Critical Hit and create enough flooding, with the help of some special cards (like “Straddle”), to sink one of your opponent’s smaller ships in one go. Of course, not every ship has large caliber guns, or is so lucky, so, they might only hit a time or two per broadside.

In any event, only a few of your ships fire per turn, and sometimes they don’t even do that much, what with players being restricted to playing one regular and any number of the much rarer special cards in a turn. So, if you want to repair your ships or try to get reinforcements for your squadron, which would require the right Random Event being activated and possibly the right die roll, your squadron won’t even be firing that turn.

In our last game we sank about 8 ships from one team and about 6 from the other throughout a 2 hour game that ran through the deck once. While cycling through it two or three times is also possible, I’d recommend against doing so, as even a fun game, like this one, can get tedious once you hit the 3 hour mark.

Like Mag-Blast, this is a Beer and Pretzels game. But if that’s what you are looking for, it’s a good one.


Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Fred.

Powered by: StateSide Software, Inc. © 2010-11
ShareThis Copy and Paste

– See more at: http://theboardgaminglife.com/ArticlePages/brawlingbattleships_rv1.aspx?GameID=122#sthash.XmSROxFH.dpuf

Written by Fred W. Manzo

July 11, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Brawling Battleships – Steel Card Game Review

leave a comment »

By Fred W. Manzo

 

                

 

Brawling Battleships card game review


Brawling Battleships was published by Lost Battalion Games back in 2003. It was designed by Bruce Kohrn and the late S. Craig Talyor (of Wooden Ships and Iron Men fame) and is still available in a deluxe edition as Brawling Battleships – Steel.

Just think of it as the World War I version of Mag-Blast.

In it from 2 to 6 players can compete against each other or in teams to sink their opponent’s battleships. However, I’d recommend playing with no more than 4 people, due to down-time and game length problems.

Each player in a game controls one international squadron of World War I era battleships. So, for example, you might have a squadron made up of a random assortment of U.S., British, German, Greek, Italian, French and Japanese battleships, as might your opponents. There is no “British Fleet” vs. “German Fleet” action here. This is not a simulation of the Great War at Sea, it’s an abstract game and a light one at that.

Brawling Battleships Card Game - Open Fire Cards

In any event, the ships in your squadron are rated for Victory Points and the side that sinks the most points wins. There is some skill involved, but it is a heavily luck based game. Though I would say, if you like the controlled chaos of Mag-Blast, you will like Brawling Battleships – Steel.

There are, of course, differences: instead of each ship having different colored turrets, each ship now has different size guns, which are indicated by having their “to hit” numbers inside square, pentagon or circular shaped symbols.

The ships themselves can take floatation, bridge or engine hits. Lose too much floatation and your ship sinks, take a bridge hit and the number of cards in your hand decreases, take an engine hit and some Random Events may come into play. However, there is no maneuvering in the game and there are no ship models involved. But I must say the cards are of a high quality, both physically and conceptually, and that’s especially important as there is little else involved. This is a strictly card and dice game.

As for how it plays, well everyone, in the 4-player version, started off with 6 random ships. They then received a card for each functioning bridge in their squadron. The cards are of two types: Special and Regular cards. The special cards involved things usually outside the control of the squadron commander, things such as “good” and “bad” leadership, spies, dudes, Zeppelin and Float Plane spotting etc. The regular cards are divided into two sections: “Open Fire” and “Random Event.” The “Open Fire” section allows from one to three ships in your squadron to fire at the same time if they have the right caliber of guns. The “Random Events” section allows such things as submarines, destroyers, cruisers, coastal fortifications, Motor Torpedo Boats, straddling shots and mine-fields to attack or such defensive devices as minesweepers, confusion and booms to be employed. Most regular cards do not allow both of their sections to be used at the same time.

Brawling Battleships Card Game - Arizona Ship Card

So, for example, your squadron might start off with a large battleship, like the U.S. Arizona, which has a value of 8 Victory Points. It can also take 7 floatation hits, one bridge critical hit and one engine room critical hit before sinking. It is armed with all big guns and its’ “to hit” numbers are “1-3,” “2-1” and a “5 -1.” This means that once its authorized to fire by the “Open Fire” section of a regular card, you would roll a pair of dice and check the results against these numbers. If your dice produced a one or above on a red die and a three or above on a white die, (I.E., you roll 1+ and a 3+), you start to inflict floatation damage on your target. (In this case, reaching the first “to hit” number creates the equivalent of 2 hits due to the power of the Arizona’s big guns.) If this same roll was at or above the “2 & 1” level this ship would have scored another hit and if it was also at or above “5 & 1” it would produce yet another hit. Now, not all ships score two floatation hits when they first fire, so broadsides may produce from 0 through 4 floatation hits based on one card and one roll.

And that’s not counting any possible “Critical Hits,” generated by the “Open Fire” portion of the card used to activate the ship. So a really effective barrage from a powerful ship might knock out an opponent’s bridge or start a fire in his engine room with a Critical Hit and create enough flooding, with the help of some special cards (like “Straddle”), to sink one of your opponent’s smaller ships in one go. Of course, not every ship has large caliber guns, or is so lucky, so, they might only hit a time or two per broadside.

In any event, only a few of your ships fire per turn, and sometimes they don’t even do that much, what with players being restricted to playing one regular and any number of the much rarer special cards in a turn. So, if you want to repair your ships or try to get reinforcements for your squadron, which would require the right Random Event being activated and possibly the right die roll, your squadron won’t even be firing that turn.

In our last game we sank about 8 ships from one team and about 6 from the other throughout a 2 hour game that ran through the deck once. While cycling through it two or three times is also possible, I’d recommend against doing so, as even a fun game, like this one, can get tedious once you hit the 3 hour mark.

Like Mag-Blast, this is a Beer and Pretzels game. But if that’s what you are looking for, it’s a good one.


Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Fred.

Powered by: StateSide Software, Inc. © 2010-11
ShareThis Copy and Paste

– See more at: http://theboardgaminglife.com/ArticlePages/brawlingbattleships_rv1.aspx?GameID=122#sthash.zbEho88y.dpuf

Written by Fred W. Manzo

July 11, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Duel of Eagles: Mars-la-Tour 1870 Board Game Review

leave a comment »

Duel of Eagles: Mars-la-Tour 1870 Board Game Review

By Mark D.
 

                

 

 


 

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review

 


 

Overview

For the last two weeks, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Hermann Luttmann’s latest design, Duel of Eagles, which features an August 1870 battle between the French and Prussians during Franco-Prussian War in the vicinity of the town of Mars-La-Tour, France. Two Prussian Corps went up against the entire French Army of the Rhine, commanded by Marshall Francois Bazaine. The Prussians were victorious.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review

There are conflicting stories regarding Marshall Bazaine’s performance during the battle. He, by all contemporary accounts, had an unblemished reputation up until that point and is still regarded highly by the French Foreign Legion where he held his first commission as an officer. Some say that he inherited a situation beyond repair, was unable to trust his junior officers, and had no confidence in his troops.

The designer chooses to believe another possible scenario. That of indecisiveness and bizarre behavior on the part of Marshall Bazaine which lead to ultimate defeat and disgrace. The French high command of the time certainly believed this, as he was court-martialed and found guilty of surrendering to the enemy before doing all that duty and honor required.

We will never know exactly what Marshall Bazaine did or did not do during this battle. What is beyond doubt, however, is that the performance of the French Army of the Rhine during the battle was poor.The French had numerical superiority as well as superior weaponry and, given a little less timidity, surely could have won the day.

The game initially appealed to me for several reasons:

  • The battle of Mars-La-Tour began as a meeting engagement, with Prussian cavalry stumbling across the vanguard of the French army. The Prussians thought they were seeing the rear guard of the French army. The French thought they were encountering a far-flung Prussian reconnaissance unit. Thus, the fog of war was thick and, in my opinion, that always makes for interesting gaming contests, assuming the game is able to successfully model “fog of war” without introducing too much complexity. More about this subject later.
  • The French outnumbered the Prussians, at times as high as 5-to-1. They should have won the battle, but did not. It really got me thinking about exactly how this happened, and I wondered again if the series of events leading to the upset could be gamed successfully.
  • The historical defining moment of this battle was the “death ride” cavalry charge by Prussian Major General von Bredow’s 12th Cavalry Brigade. It was unusually successful and earned the brigade a slice of immortality. I love a good cavalry charge.

This battle has not received much attention from board game designers over the years (I could only find one other game on BoardGameGeek), so Hermann has really carved out an unexploited niche, and it’s possible many gamers may rush to fill the gap in their game collections.

So, I was primed to play. The next step was to set the game up and actually play it. Let’s find out if it really is necessary for gamers to “rush to fill the gap in their game collections”.

 


 

Game Map and Counters

When reviewing a recently produced game, I normally don’t spend a great deal of time talking about the quality of the map or unit counters because all the major game companies generally put out top quality maps, units, charts, etc., and Duel of Eagles is no exception. I have not yet, however, seen a game with thick laser-cut counters like these. I’m told the laser-cutting will become the standard at Victory Point Games and I think that’s great. The equipment they use to cut the counters will totally eliminate any prior limitations on counter shapes and sizes. The thick counters are easy to handle and, fortunately, there’s not a lot of stacking in this game, so you won’t see any 3″ high unit towers.

As I expected, the counter and map art-work are top notch. The map hexes are roomy and everything is clear and well-differentiated, even the different colors for terrain elevations. Another thing that I’m seeing for the first time (maybe I just don’t get out much) is color-coded hex center dots that also indicate the elevation. So, if there’s any confusion about the shading of the hex itself, you can check the color of the center dot to know for sure.

Finally, this is the first product I’ve seen from Victory Point Games that actually comes in a box. No zip-lock for Duel of Eagles!

 


 

The Rule Book

I always look carefully at the rule book and game setup instructions. Nothing irritates me more than vague or confusing setup instructions. If you can’t get the game started without a hassle it does not bode well for the actual game play. So, I was quite happy that a separate setup card was provided, with French and Prussian setup instructions and reinforcement schedules clearly defined. In about ten minutes I was set up and ready to play! Perfect.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Rule Book

The rules are mostly clear and concise. Of the twelve page booklet, only about six pages actually contain rules that must be learned in order to play the game. The remaining pages are packed with useful information about the game:

  • Detailed Event Chit descriptions – Because the Events are so important to the game, these extended descriptions help put them in context and make it easier to remember what each event does. I found this “history behind the chit” info useful and informative.
  • Designer’s Notes – Covers all the salient points of the actual battle and links the historical events with game rules and events.
  • “Important Points to Remember!” – This bulleted list summarizes many of the small rules that often get forgotten or misinterpreted during game play. For example, I kept forgetting the rules governing movement eligibility for units that fired during the Fire Combat Phase. One of the points on the list says, “Note that Infantry units can fire during the Fire Combat Phase and still move during the subsequent Movement Phase. Horse Artillery can only fire half and still move. Foot Artillery that fires cannot move.” A quick glance at this list now and then usually furnished the reminder I needed.
  • Comprehensive Example of Play – This two and a half page example was truly “comprehensive”, covering the pull of five Chits and following the resulting action for each one. The example contained a mixture of formation Activation Chits and Event Chits, exactly as players would encounter in a real game.

The only thing I might have done differently, from an organizational point of view, would be to keep everything for a particular category grouped together. For example, rather than having separate rules sections for “HQ Orders and Command” (11.0) and “HQ Units and Combat” (13.9), my preference would be to have everything about HQs under one rules section and reference that section in other areas of the rules. Others might prefer to have everything about combat under a universal “Combat” section so you don’t have to flip back and forth in the rule book. It’s just a matter of personal preference and not a big deal at all.

At least a half dozen times during play I came across an odd situation that I was sure would not be covered in the rules. Each time I was wrong. As you play, you’ll see what I mean. Every little “gamey” thing that I attempted to use to gain an advantage was addressed in (and forbidden by) the rules or the Event description. And, as I said, there’s only about six pages of rules (plus the Event Chit description cards), so I was impressed.

It’s my opinion that the Rule Book just radiates craftsmanship and pride of ownership. You can tell that the designer doesn’t just want you to BUY the game, he wants you to PLAY and ENJOY it as well.

 


 

Fog of War

The game uses a “Chit Pull” system, which means that neither player is ever sure who will have the opportunity to make the next move. In the context of this game, “Chit Pull” means that each formation (Corps or Brigade) has an Activation Chit that is dropped in a cup at the start of the turn. These Chits are randomly selected from the cup one at a time, and the players are allowed to activate only the formation whose Activation Chit was drawn.

If an Event Chit is drawn instead, the player who owns the Chit may perform the actions specified for that particular Chit. All Event Chits fall into one of two categories: (1) actions that take place immediately or (2) actions that can be executed at a later, hopefully more opportune, time.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Chits

Any game that attempts to simulate or model 19th century warfare has got to incorporate “fog of war” effects as much as possible. In truth, 20th and 21st century warefare simulations require “fog” as well, but in the age prior to instantaneous communications, it was especially “foggy”. A Chit Pull mechanism is outstanding in this capacity. How so? Well, let’s say that both armies are rushing toward a particular objective, and both are within striking distance of the objective. The order in which they move is a critical distinction and will determine who gets there first and, quite possibly, who wins the game. This simulates a situation where a orders did not get through to a subordinate commander, or were misinterpreted… or were just ignored! So, Chit Pull is used in many war games.

The Chit Pull system has one major flaw, however, that dampens the effect. After a unit or formation is activated, you know that it will not be activated again until the following turn. This can lead to odd situations in which your opponent dances around your activated formation, which lays there like a lox, powerless to interfere. Duel of Eagles addresses this flaw by means of the Event Chits, which leads us to a discussion of Events.

 


 

Events

Events in Duel of Eagles are definitely not an afterthought thrown in to give the game period “flavor”. They are one of the core elements of the design. As Hermann Luttmann describes in his Designer’s Notes, his greatest design challenges were those that involved the unpredictable and often bizarre behavior of the French commanders. We can speculate that Marshal Bezaine had some type of nervous breakdown during the critical days leading up to the battle (he was wounded as well), but what is certain is that the actions of the units under his command were so misguided and wrong they may as well have been issued by the enemy. (At this point, I can almost picture a light bulb appearing over Hermann’s head!)

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Bazaine's Malaise Event Chit

To model this, one of the Prussian events, appropriately titled “Bazaine’s Malaise”, affords the Prussian player an 83.33% chance of preventing the activation of one French Corps. Yes, you heard right. The Prussian player may select a French Corps that he wishes to prevent from activating and, assuming he rolls 1-5 on a six-sided die, will prohibit its activation. “Bazaine’s Malaise”, along with every other Event Chit, may be drawn once for each of the twelve game turns. So, depending on the timing of the Chit pull, a French Corps could theoretically be prevented from ever moving during the entire game. In reality, this is not likely to happen, but the power of this Chit should not be underestimated.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Feu de Bataillon Event Chit

Another Chit, belonging to the French player, is titled “Feu de Bataillon”. The French player must assign this Event to one of his Infantry Corps and the effects are implemented immediately. It shifts the Corps to an extremely defensive posture which improves its firepower for the turn but, most importantly, limits each unit’s movement allowance to a single hex. This effectively prevents another French Corps from being able to maneuver freely. At least the French player is allowed to choose the Corps, rather than the Prussian player, but the net effect is just as damaging. (Note that this event must be assigned to an Infantry Corps that has not yet activated, if any. Sorry, but the designer already anticipated that trick…)

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Prussian Aggressiveness Event Chit

Of course, it’s not completely one-sided. The French have an event called “Prussian Aggressive Tactics” that allows them to direct the movement of a single Prussian Infantry unit that is within two hexes of any French non-HQ unit. What this does is allow the French to goad an overly aggressive Prussian unit into making a bad decision (“Hey, let’s charge that artillery battery over there on the other side of the wide open field!”). Of course the French player must exercise caution that the “bad decision” doesn’t backfire and end up in a successful Prussian attack!

Let’s return to the major flaw in the Chit Pull system, mentioned in the “Fog of War” section, above. As I mentioned, the flaw is the fact that, once a formation has activated, both players know it cannot activate again, which clears up the fog a bit. And that’s not the desired result. So, rather than devise any complicated or goofy process to ameliorate this, the designer once again turned to the Event Chits.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Auftragstaktik Event Chit

Several of the Event Chits allow a unit to fire and/or activate out of sequence, even if they’ve already activated. For example, Prussian event “Auftragstaktik” permits the Prussian player to move any two infantry units of the same division (even those that have already activated for the turn) up to half their movement allowance and then, if in position, to engage in Assault Combat. This is no minor annoyance as two powerful Prussian divisions can wreak havoc on a French formation that’s not prepared to withstand an assault.

Likewise the French “Mitrailleuse Fire” event gives the French an immediate Fire Combat action with any Mitrailleuse equipped (e.g. with an “m” on the counter) artillery unit, even if the unit has already activated.

These powerful events help put the “fog” back in “fog of war” because neither player can ever be sure that the units facing them are truly spent for the turn.

For all the reasons listed above, I reiterate how important the Events are to competent play in Duel of Eagles and urge you to take the time to read the “French Events” and “Prussian Events” charts carefully as well as the “Event Chit Descriptions” (section 17.0 in the Rule Book) and etch them into your brain before starting the game.

 

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Death Ride Event Chit

The most famous action during this battle was the legendary “Death Ride” cavalry charge of von Bredow’s brigade to silence French artillery and forestall a French cavalry charge. von Bredow’s statement that “it will cost what it will” was surely borne out, as the brigade suffered nearly 50% casualties. But the charge itself was a success and is sometimes credited with giving “cavalry” a new lease on life, and perpetuating the existence of horse-mounted warriors for another 40 years.

 


 

Activation Example

Nothing imparts a “feel” for a game like seeing it in action. I’ve put together a brief example that will give a fair sense of how the game plays. The movement and combat mechanics are both pretty simple, leaving you free to concentrate on strategy. We pick up the action in Game Turn 4. The French II Corps under the command of Frossard is in position to defend the town of Flavigny, one of the secondary objective cities. The Prussian III Corps, commanded confidently by Alvenslaben, are moving into position to contest the town. Neither formation has been activated yet this turn. The Prussian 12/6 Infantry unit in hex 1317 has a Low Ammo marker, accrued during an earlier turn.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Example #1

The next chit drawn is the French II Corps. Frossard sees the powerful Prussian Corps closing in on him and decides that he must take some preemptive action to blunt the assault before the Prussians get all their artillery in line and trained on the town. Accordingly, he moves to the first phase of the turn, the Fire Combat Phase.


II Corps – Fire Combat Phase

First, the “Corps Hvy Fld” artillery in hex 1712 fires at the Prussian “Div Fld” artillery unit in hex 1816. The middle two numbers on the right hand side of artillery units list the normal range and extended fire ranges. In this case, the French unit’s normal range is 3 and the extended range is 5. The Prussian artillery unit is 4 hexes away which is outside the normal range of 3 hexes, but still within the extended range of 5 hexes. So the artillery unit must apply a -2 die roll penalty to its Fire Combat roll. The Combat Factor (aka firing strength) is the top right number, which is a “7” for this French unit.

You can follow along with the combat action by looking at the Duel of Eagles Combat Charts

 

There are no blocking units or terrain features so the fire combat may proceed. Frossard rolls a 6 on a six-sided die, subtracts -2 for the Extended Range, and consults the Fire Combat Table. None of the other modifiers below the table apply so he checks the “4” row of the “6-7” column and sees the result is “SH”, which means the target unit is Shaken (more about this later). A “Shaken” marker is placed under the Prussian unit and Frossard continues with the Fire Combat phase.

The French “Div Fld” artillery unit, in hex 1513, fires at the Prussian “Corps Fld” artillery in hex 1715. Again, no special modifiers apply and the die roll is 2. The firing unit has 8 combat strength so the “8-9” column of the table is checked. A roll of “2” yields an “MT” (Morale Test) result which normally requires the target unit to perform a morale check comparing a die roll to its Combat Factor. Since the Prussian target unit has a Combat Factor of 9, it can’t possibly roll a higher number on a six-sided die so the Morale Test is passed and there is no effect to the target. (Note: The inability of certain units to fail Morale Tests is by design)

Both of the French infantry units are allowed to fire during this phase but both have their line of sight blocked by friendly units, and the unit in hex 1512 is too far away (extended range = 3) to even attempt a shot. So, the Fire Combat Phase is concluded.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Fire Combat Phase


II Corps – HQ Command Phase

Headquarters (Leader) units have a Command Rating located in the upper right corner. This is the number, in hexes, their command range extends. Any of their subordinate units that are outside this range are considered Out of Command and will have their movement allowance halved. In addition, any units Out of Command may not Rally (i.e. have their Shaken or Low Ammo status repaired) during the Rally Phase.

Leaders have varying Command Ratings. The higher the number, the more effective the historical leader was. Leaders also have two sides: an Attack Orders side and a Defend Orders side. Attack orders allow the commanded formation more latitude in engaging the enemy, but the Command Rating number is always lower. An HQ on the Defend Orders side will have greater command range but the units under its command will be restricted (e.g. they cannot move adjacent to enemy units).

Frossard wants badly to engage the Prussians so during this HQ Command Phase, he flips from his “Defend” side to his “Attack” side. Notice that his Command Rating has dropped from “4” to “1”. Any units more than one hex away from him are considered “Out of Command” and are marked accordingly. Only the “Corps Hvy Fld” artillery unit is in this situation.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - HQ Command Phase


II Corps – Movement Phase

The Movement Phase is more than just movement. The non-moving player is allowed Opportunity Fire at moving units that move adjacent to his infantry or artillery units. Continuing our example, the French player decides to be uncharacteristically (at least for this battle) aggressive and announces a Cavalry Charge against the Prussian 12/6 infantry unit in hex 1317. The cavalry unit must have sufficient movement points to move directly into the hex with the Prussian unit (assuming it survives Prussian Opportunity Fire), and it does.

When the French Cavalry gets adjacent to the target infantry unit, the defender takes an Opportunity Fire shot. Looking again at the Fire Combat Table, we see that there are some modifiers for this combat. The target is a cavalry unit (but not a French Cuirassier) which earns the Prussian a +2 to his die roll, but since he has a Low Ammo marker, he accrues a -2 to the die roll. The net result is zero and so no mods will be made to the die roll. The powerful, 8 Combat Factor, Prussian infantry unit fires by rolling a die. The die roll is “2”. Checking a roll of “2” on the “8-9” column of the table shows the result to be “MT”.

The French cavalry unit must roll equal to or less than his Combat Factor of 2 and, amazingly, he rolls a 1! Therefore he is not shaken and the Cavalry Charge may proceed as planned during the Assault Combat Phase.

Shifting our attention to the other Opportunity Fire situation created by the movement of the French 1/1 infantry unit into hex 1615 which is directly adjacent to the potent Prussian Corps Fld artillery. This time, the French are not so lucky as the Prussian player rolls a “5”. A +2 is added to this roll due to the fact that an artillery unit is firing at an adjacent target, so the net modified roll is “7”. Cross-referencing the roll of “7” with the “8-9” column, we find a result of “SH+C” which means the unit is first Shaken and then has a step loss (casualty) applied (i.e. flip a full strength unit over, or eliminate a half strength unit). So the French 1/1 infantry is flipped and shaken!

Note that the French 1/1 infantry may still assault the Prussian artillery in the Assault Combat Phase, but its attack power is now greatly reduced, from “5” down to “2” for being flipped over, and then cut in half again for being shaken for a final effective combat factor of “1”! It may be best for this unit to sit tight for a bit before attacking.

This concludes the French Movement Phase and we now proceed to the Assault Combat Phase, where the close combat situations created by the movement will be resolved.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Movement Phase


II Corps – Assault Combat Phase

There are two assaults pending, but the French player is only obligated to complete the Cavalry Charge in hex 1317 so we’ll begin with that one.

Because this is a “Cavalry Charge”, the French cavalry’s Combat Factor is doubled to 4, but that still makes the Combat Factor Differential -4 (4 factors attacking – 8 factors defending), so the French will be rolling on the “-5 to -4” column of the Assault Combat Table. There are no die roll modifiers so the French need a high roll and, miraculously, he rolls a “6”! (this is my example… I’ll create however many miracles I like)

A quick glance at the table shows a result of “D1” in the “6” row of the “-5 to -4” column. “D1” indicates that the defender must take 1 hit on one of his units in the battle or must retreat all of his involved units 1 hex. There is a special rule however that states the defending unit must retreat at least one hex if the “D” result is caused by a Cavalry Charge. So the Prussian must retreat! Ending a retreat over-stacked is not allowed so the defender retreats over his 11/6 infantry and ends his retreat in hex 1319 (let’s assume for purposes of this example that he was prevented from retreating into hex 1218… work with me, here).

Finally, the charging cavalry must accept a “Shaken” marker. Every unit that performs a “Cavalry Charge”, even a successful one like this, is assessed a “Shaken” marker. The cavalry charge combat is completed.

The only other possible assault is the French 1/1 infantry unit versus the Prussian 9-factor artillery unit. Even a 19th century Prussian military man wouldn’t attempt that one and so the Assault Combat Phase ends rather quickly.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Assault Combat Phase


Next Chit Drawn – French Event Chit

The next chit pulled from the cup is a French Event Chit. One side of the chit shows BattleField Conditions, which is a defensive marker and the other side shows Artillery Barrage. The French player must immediately choose which of the two events he will use and how he will use them.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - French Artillery Barrage Event Chit

“Artillery Barrage” is more appealing right now because it may be played in one of two ways:

  • Immediate Opportunity Fire – Entitles the French to one free Fire Combat with any of his artillery units, even one that has already been activated this turn (as both the French artillery units have).
  • May be held for future use as “Interdiction” fire against any moving Prussian unit, at any time during the turn, that is at least two hexes away from the firing artillery. Includes a +1 fire modifier for this one shot only.
  • May be held for future use as “Return” fire. Allows immediate return fire from any French artillery unit that is fired upon by the Prussians during the turn. Also allows a +1 modifier.

Frossard opts to hold the “Artillery Barrage” chit for future use and announces this to the Prussian player.


Next Chit Drawn – Prussian III Corps Activation

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - III Corps Activation Chit

The next chit drawn from the cup is (not surprisingly) the Prussian III Corps Activation Chit. Note that there are 5 two-sided Event Chits for each player and all ten of those chits are mixed into the cup each turn. So, at least in the early part of the game, there are more Event Chits than formation Activation Chits. It would not be unusual to pull multiple Event Chits in a row.

But, for purposes of this example, let’s say we’ve pulled the Prussian III Corps Activation Chit. Let’s proceed to the first phase of the Prussian activation which is the Fire Combat Phase.


III Corps – Fire Combat Phase

The Prussians have two infantry and two artillery units that are in position for Fire Combat. He chooses to begin with the infantry, and is determined to make the French Cavalry pay for their charge last turn. Both the 11/6 and 9/5 Prussian infantry units may both fire at the French Cav unit, but they do so one at a time.

First the 11/6 infantry will fire. Combat Factor is 8. Die roll modifier is +2 because the target unit is cavalry. The first Prussian die roll of the example is “2”. Add +2 for the modifiers and then check the “4” row of the “8-9” column of the “Fire Combat Table”. The result is “SH” so the cavalry unit is Shaken again. Because the unit already has a Shaken marker on it, it must take a step loss (can’t have two “Shaken” markers).

Now the 9/5 infantry unit fires at the same cavalry unit. Its strength is 9 and the unit is awarded the same +2 die roll modifier. The roll is “3” plus the modifier is “5”. The “5” row of the “8-9” column shows a “C” result. The cavalry unit must take a step loss and, since it is already on its reduced side, it is eliminated. The unit is removed from the map and is placed on the game turn track two turns ahead, when it may be possibly be reconstituted. The daring French cavalry is no more! (You may take this as a cautionary tale about the dangers of charging powerful Prussian infantry)

Moving along to the Prussian artillery units, we see that the Prussian III Corps Fld artillery has the rash French 1/1 infantry unit dead to rights in a wide open field. The only consideration here is that, if the artillery unit fires, it may not move at all in the upcoming Movement Phase (horse artillery may fire at half strength and then use half movement, but foot artillery does not have that option). The Prussian player cannot resist and decides to take the shot. This fire will be executed under the “8-9” column of the Fire Combat Table. There will be a +2 die roll modifier due to artillery firing at an adjacent target. The die roll is “2” with a +2 becomes “4”, netting an “SH” result.

The French 1/1 infantry is already shaken, so the additional “SH” result must be applied as a step loss. The infantry is already on its reduced side, so the entire unit must be eliminated instead. Another one bites the dust…

The last unfired Prussian artillery, the division field (“Div Fld”) unit in hex 1816, is directed to fire at the French artillery that is stacked with Frossard in hex 1513. The friendly artillery in hex 1715 does not block the line of sight because the firing unit is on higher ground. Because it is “Shaken”, it may only fire with half strength (rounded up) which is 5. The die roll will be modified by +1 for “Plunging Fire (from higher to lower terrain level)”. The die roll is “2” modified +1 to “3”. In the “4-5” column of the Fire Combat Table, a roll of “3” nets an “MT” result, requiring the target to undertake a Morale Test. However, the target unit’s Combat Factor is 8 and is therefore immune to Morale checks (can’t possibly roll higher than an 8 on a six-sided die). Keep in mind, however, that if the French artillery was currently Shaken, it’s Combat Factor would be halved for Morale Test purposes as well.

Not only did the Prussian fire not cause any damage, it’s also what the French have been waiting for. Frossard now declares that he is playing the Artillery Barrage Event Chit to “Return Fire”. According to the terms of the chit, he may immediately issue fire against the enemy unit that just fired on it. The “Artillery Barrage” chit is set aside in the pile of used chits for the turn, and the French artillery returns fire.

The normal range on the French artillery is 3 and the extended range is 5. The Prussian target unit is 4 hexes away so the French die roll will suffer a -2 for using extended range. However, the terms of the “Artillery Barrage” chit grant a +1 die roll modifier, so the net modifier is -1. The French player rolls a “4” which is modified to “3”, which applies an “SH” result to the target Prussian artillery unit. Because the target is already Shaken, the result becomes a step loss. The target unit is flipped over to its half strength side. This concludes the Prussian Fire Combat Phase.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Prussian Fire Combat Phase


III Corps – HQ Command Phase

Notice how much better a leader Alvenslaben is than Frossard. Even on his “Defend Orders” side, Alvenslaben still has a HQ Command Range of 4 and so all of his units are considered “in command” for the game turn. So leadership does play an important role in the game. If any of Alvenslaben’s units were “out of command”, their movement allowance would be halved and they would not be eligible for “rally” at the end of the turn.

 


 

This concludes my brief example of the game turn sequence. The game rule book itself contains an excellent 2+ page example of play, as I mentioned above. It is far more detailed than mine and gives you a really good feel for the flow of a game turn in Duel of Eagles.

 


 

Summary

Ever played a game where you think you’ve got everything under control, and then one turn later it seems that everything is falling apart? This is one of those games. You’ve really got to stay on your toes, because if your opponent gets hot with the dice, and the activation chits go his way, the entire tactical situation can be turned around very quickly.

The tactical situation is somewhat static because the two sides are fighting over the same victory objectives in every game. But I give it high marks for replay value, due largely to the Chit Pull system and the Event Chits. Additionally, the Victory objectives themselves are quite clever and add to the tension of the game. Each player has two cities that they must control in order to achieve any level of victory. For the Prussians they are Mars-la-Tour and Puxieux and for the French, Rezonville and Bruville. These cities are closer to the starting locations of the respective forces and therefore should be easier for that side to control.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Victory Objectives

Assuming that both players control their “must have” cities, the contest becomes a battle over three other secondary objective cities near the center of the play area (VionvilleTronville and Flavigny). To win, a player needs to control his “must have” cities and two of the three secondary objective cities. These secondary objective cities can, and will, change hands a few times before the game ends, which creates tremendous tension and makes the game very exciting.

Players are not constrained to any particular course of action by the rules, and are free to focus on any objective they wish. For example, I may decide on a strategy of denying my opponent one of their “must have” cities which will preclude them from achieving any level of victory. Even if my plan does not succeed, it may catch my opponent off guard and throw him completely off his game.

As if that’s not enough, there are also instant victory conditions! For the Prussians, it’s control of the city of Gravelotte. For the French it’s control of three road hexes (0920, 2021 and 2221) on the edge of the map. Instant victory objectives are, understandably, difficult to attain, but not at all impossible.

 

I actually witnessed my opponent’s infantry unit “run the guantlet” of four of my powerful artillery units and walk right into a city that I had left ungarrisoned because I thought he’d never try to walk that road. True, I needed to roll four 1’s or 2’s in a row for that to happen… but it absolutely happened. And once a full strength unit is ensconced in a city, it can take a full turn or two to dislodge them. Word to the wise: don’t leave any objective cities ungarrisoned.

 

The game is relatively easy to learn and play, but it is definitely NOT a “beer & pretzels” game. You will not win based on a few lucky die rolls (unless those lucky rolls come right at the very end of a long, hard-fought game). The game is a bit lengthy (5-6 hours) for some, but it’s that length that provides protection from the “lucky roll” victory. Any luck with the dice will be balanced out over the duration of the game. Nonetheless, I think that some shorter scenarios could and should be devised to reach that “three hour limit” demographic. 

(I have some ideas for shorter scenarios and will try to get them tested and published when time permits. In the meantime, please feel free to let us know if you come up with alternate scenarios you’d like to share with other gamers)

The game is finely balanced; a result of considerable play testing and subsequent design adjustments. I believe that insufficient play testing is the most common reason horrible board games make it to store shelves. I’ve experienced many games that, with a bit of tweaking, could have been turned into great games, but ended up mediocre at best. So it was refreshing to see that a decent amount of time had been devoted to testing and fine tuning.

I’m not a fan of the period, and didn’t know much about the Franco-Prussian war, so Duel of Eagles really came to me with a disadvantage. I was prepared to not love it. But I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the game and it has sparked my interest in the period and the war. It’s got it all: desperate cavalry charges and infantry assaults, withering artillery fire and flagging morale. I think that Duel of Eagles just gets it right. There’s plenty of action, and the game is often undecided until the very last turn. That’s the mark of a well designed, well developed game.

I give Duel of Eagles two thumbs up and would like to thank Hermann LuttmannWhite Dog Games, and Victory Point Games for a job well done.

 


 

Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Mark.


Notes

Full disclosure: I know Hermann personally. But I would not hesitate to write a negative review of one of his games if I really didn’t like it. He knows this and still we remain on good terms. If some day I have to slam him with a bad review, I’m sure he’ll take it like a man. Although I suspect he will retaliate by naming a particularly hideous character in one of his Zombie games after me.

– See more at: http://theboardgaminglife.com/ArticlePages/duelofeagles_rv2.aspx?GameID=117#sthash.rjmkJ2vK.dpuf

Written by Fred W. Manzo

July 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Duel of Eagles: Mars-la-Tour 1870 Board Game Review

leave a comment »

By Mark D.

 

                

 

 


 

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review

 


 

Overview

For the last two weeks, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Hermann Luttmann’s latest design, Duel of Eagles, which features an August 1870 battle between the French and Prussians during Franco-Prussian War in the vicinity of the town of Mars-La-Tour, France. Two Prussian Corps went up against the entire French Army of the Rhine, commanded by Marshall Francois Bazaine. The Prussians were victorious.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review

There are conflicting stories regarding Marshall Bazaine’s performance during the battle. He, by all contemporary accounts, had an unblemished reputation up until that point and is still regarded highly by the French Foreign Legion where he held his first commission as an officer. Some say that he inherited a situation beyond repair, was unable to trust his junior officers, and had no confidence in his troops.

The designer chooses to believe another possible scenario. That of indecisiveness and bizarre behavior on the part of Marshall Bazaine which lead to ultimate defeat and disgrace. The French high command of the time certainly believed this, as he was court-martialed and found guilty of surrendering to the enemy before doing all that duty and honor required.

We will never know exactly what Marshall Bazaine did or did not do during this battle. What is beyond doubt, however, is that the performance of the French Army of the Rhine during the battle was poor.The French had numerical superiority as well as superior weaponry and, given a little less timidity, surely could have won the day.

The game initially appealed to me for several reasons:

  • The battle of Mars-La-Tour began as a meeting engagement, with Prussian cavalry stumbling across the vanguard of the French army. The Prussians thought they were seeing the rear guard of the French army. The French thought they were encountering a far-flung Prussian reconnaissance unit. Thus, the fog of war was thick and, in my opinion, that always makes for interesting gaming contests, assuming the game is able to successfully model “fog of war” without introducing too much complexity. More about this subject later.
  • The French outnumbered the Prussians, at times as high as 5-to-1. They should have won the battle, but did not. It really got me thinking about exactly how this happened, and I wondered again if the series of events leading to the upset could be gamed successfully.
  • The historical defining moment of this battle was the “death ride” cavalry charge by Prussian Major General von Bredow’s 12th Cavalry Brigade. It was unusually successful and earned the brigade a slice of immortality. I love a good cavalry charge.

This battle has not received much attention from board game designers over the years (I could only find one other game on BoardGameGeek), so Hermann has really carved out an unexploited niche, and it’s possible many gamers may rush to fill the gap in their game collections.

So, I was primed to play. The next step was to set the game up and actually play it. Let’s find out if it really is necessary for gamers to “rush to fill the gap in their game collections”.

 


 

Game Map and Counters

When reviewing a recently produced game, I normally don’t spend a great deal of time talking about the quality of the map or unit counters because all the major game companies generally put out top quality maps, units, charts, etc., and Duel of Eagles is no exception. I have not yet, however, seen a game with thick laser-cut counters like these. I’m told the laser-cutting will become the standard at Victory Point Games and I think that’s great. The equipment they use to cut the counters will totally eliminate any prior limitations on counter shapes and sizes. The thick counters are easy to handle and, fortunately, there’s not a lot of stacking in this game, so you won’t see any 3″ high unit towers.

As I expected, the counter and map art-work are top notch. The map hexes are roomy and everything is clear and well-differentiated, even the different colors for terrain elevations. Another thing that I’m seeing for the first time (maybe I just don’t get out much) is color-coded hex center dots that also indicate the elevation. So, if there’s any confusion about the shading of the hex itself, you can check the color of the center dot to know for sure.

Finally, this is the first product I’ve seen from Victory Point Games that actually comes in a box. No zip-lock for Duel of Eagles!

 


 

The Rule Book

I always look carefully at the rule book and game setup instructions. Nothing irritates me more than vague or confusing setup instructions. If you can’t get the game started without a hassle it does not bode well for the actual game play. So, I was quite happy that a separate setup card was provided, with French and Prussian setup instructions and reinforcement schedules clearly defined. In about ten minutes I was set up and ready to play! Perfect.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Rule Book

The rules are mostly clear and concise. Of the twelve page booklet, only about six pages actually contain rules that must be learned in order to play the game. The remaining pages are packed with useful information about the game:

  • Detailed Event Chit descriptions – Because the Events are so important to the game, these extended descriptions help put them in context and make it easier to remember what each event does. I found this “history behind the chit” info useful and informative.
  • Designer’s Notes – Covers all the salient points of the actual battle and links the historical events with game rules and events.
  • “Important Points to Remember!” – This bulleted list summarizes many of the small rules that often get forgotten or misinterpreted during game play. For example, I kept forgetting the rules governing movement eligibility for units that fired during the Fire Combat Phase. One of the points on the list says, “Note that Infantry units can fire during the Fire Combat Phase and still move during the subsequent Movement Phase. Horse Artillery can only fire half and still move. Foot Artillery that fires cannot move.” A quick glance at this list now and then usually furnished the reminder I needed.
  • Comprehensive Example of Play – This two and a half page example was truly “comprehensive”, covering the pull of five Chits and following the resulting action for each one. The example contained a mixture of formation Activation Chits and Event Chits, exactly as players would encounter in a real game.

The only thing I might have done differently, from an organizational point of view, would be to keep everything for a particular category grouped together. For example, rather than having separate rules sections for “HQ Orders and Command” (11.0) and “HQ Units and Combat” (13.9), my preference would be to have everything about HQs under one rules section and reference that section in other areas of the rules. Others might prefer to have everything about combat under a universal “Combat” section so you don’t have to flip back and forth in the rule book. It’s just a matter of personal preference and not a big deal at all.

At least a half dozen times during play I came across an odd situation that I was sure would not be covered in the rules. Each time I was wrong. As you play, you’ll see what I mean. Every little “gamey” thing that I attempted to use to gain an advantage was addressed in (and forbidden by) the rules or the Event description. And, as I said, there’s only about six pages of rules (plus the Event Chit description cards), so I was impressed.

It’s my opinion that the Rule Book just radiates craftsmanship and pride of ownership. You can tell that the designer doesn’t just want you to BUY the game, he wants you to PLAY and ENJOY it as well.

 


 

Fog of War

The game uses a “Chit Pull” system, which means that neither player is ever sure who will have the opportunity to make the next move. In the context of this game, “Chit Pull” means that each formation (Corps or Brigade) has an Activation Chit that is dropped in a cup at the start of the turn. These Chits are randomly selected from the cup one at a time, and the players are allowed to activate only the formation whose Activation Chit was drawn.

If an Event Chit is drawn instead, the player who owns the Chit may perform the actions specified for that particular Chit. All Event Chits fall into one of two categories: (1) actions that take place immediately or (2) actions that can be executed at a later, hopefully more opportune, time.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Chits

Any game that attempts to simulate or model 19th century warfare has got to incorporate “fog of war” effects as much as possible. In truth, 20th and 21st century warefare simulations require “fog” as well, but in the age prior to instantaneous communications, it was especially “foggy”. A Chit Pull mechanism is outstanding in this capacity. How so? Well, let’s say that both armies are rushing toward a particular objective, and both are within striking distance of the objective. The order in which they move is a critical distinction and will determine who gets there first and, quite possibly, who wins the game. This simulates a situation where a orders did not get through to a subordinate commander, or were misinterpreted… or were just ignored! So, Chit Pull is used in many war games.

The Chit Pull system has one major flaw, however, that dampens the effect. After a unit or formation is activated, you know that it will not be activated again until the following turn. This can lead to odd situations in which your opponent dances around your activated formation, which lays there like a lox, powerless to interfere. Duel of Eagles addresses this flaw by means of the Event Chits, which leads us to a discussion of Events.

 


 

Events

Events in Duel of Eagles are definitely not an afterthought thrown in to give the game period “flavor”. They are one of the core elements of the design. As Hermann Luttmann describes in his Designer’s Notes, his greatest design challenges were those that involved the unpredictable and often bizarre behavior of the French commanders. We can speculate that Marshal Bezaine had some type of nervous breakdown during the critical days leading up to the battle (he was wounded as well), but what is certain is that the actions of the units under his command were so misguided and wrong they may as well have been issued by the enemy. (At this point, I can almost picture a light bulb appearing over Hermann’s head!)

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Bazaine's Malaise Event Chit

To model this, one of the Prussian events, appropriately titled “Bazaine’s Malaise”, affords the Prussian player an 83.33% chance of preventing the activation of one French Corps. Yes, you heard right. The Prussian player may select a French Corps that he wishes to prevent from activating and, assuming he rolls 1-5 on a six-sided die, will prohibit its activation. “Bazaine’s Malaise”, along with every other Event Chit, may be drawn once for each of the twelve game turns. So, depending on the timing of the Chit pull, a French Corps could theoretically be prevented from ever moving during the entire game. In reality, this is not likely to happen, but the power of this Chit should not be underestimated.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Feu de Bataillon Event Chit

Another Chit, belonging to the French player, is titled “Feu de Bataillon”. The French player must assign this Event to one of his Infantry Corps and the effects are implemented immediately. It shifts the Corps to an extremely defensive posture which improves its firepower for the turn but, most importantly, limits each unit’s movement allowance to a single hex. This effectively prevents another French Corps from being able to maneuver freely. At least the French player is allowed to choose the Corps, rather than the Prussian player, but the net effect is just as damaging. (Note that this event must be assigned to an Infantry Corps that has not yet activated, if any. Sorry, but the designer already anticipated that trick…)

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Prussian Aggressiveness Event Chit

Of course, it’s not completely one-sided. The French have an event called “Prussian Aggressive Tactics” that allows them to direct the movement of a single Prussian Infantry unit that is within two hexes of any French non-HQ unit. What this does is allow the French to goad an overly aggressive Prussian unit into making a bad decision (“Hey, let’s charge that artillery battery over there on the other side of the wide open field!”). Of course the French player must exercise caution that the “bad decision” doesn’t backfire and end up in a successful Prussian attack!

Let’s return to the major flaw in the Chit Pull system, mentioned in the “Fog of War” section, above. As I mentioned, the flaw is the fact that, once a formation has activated, both players know it cannot activate again, which clears up the fog a bit. And that’s not the desired result. So, rather than devise any complicated or goofy process to ameliorate this, the designer once again turned to the Event Chits.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Auftragstaktik Event Chit

Several of the Event Chits allow a unit to fire and/or activate out of sequence, even if they’ve already activated. For example, Prussian event “Auftragstaktik” permits the Prussian player to move any two infantry units of the same division (even those that have already activated for the turn) up to half their movement allowance and then, if in position, to engage in Assault Combat. This is no minor annoyance as two powerful Prussian divisions can wreak havoc on a French formation that’s not prepared to withstand an assault.

Likewise the French “Mitrailleuse Fire” event gives the French an immediate Fire Combat action with any Mitrailleuse equipped (e.g. with an “m” on the counter) artillery unit, even if the unit has already activated.

These powerful events help put the “fog” back in “fog of war” because neither player can ever be sure that the units facing them are truly spent for the turn.

For all the reasons listed above, I reiterate how important the Events are to competent play in Duel of Eagles and urge you to take the time to read the “French Events” and “Prussian Events” charts carefully as well as the “Event Chit Descriptions” (section 17.0 in the Rule Book) and etch them into your brain before starting the game.

 

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - Death Ride Event Chit

The most famous action during this battle was the legendary “Death Ride” cavalry charge of von Bredow’s brigade to silence French artillery and forestall a French cavalry charge. von Bredow’s statement that “it will cost what it will” was surely borne out, as the brigade suffered nearly 50% casualties. But the charge itself was a success and is sometimes credited with giving “cavalry” a new lease on life, and perpetuating the existence of horse-mounted warriors for another 40 years.

 


 

Activation Example

Nothing imparts a “feel” for a game like seeing it in action. I’ve put together a brief example that will give a fair sense of how the game plays. The movement and combat mechanics are both pretty simple, leaving you free to concentrate on strategy. We pick up the action in Game Turn 4. The French II Corps under the command of Frossard is in position to defend the town of Flavigny, one of the secondary objective cities. The Prussian III Corps, commanded confidently by Alvenslaben, are moving into position to contest the town. Neither formation has been activated yet this turn. The Prussian 12/6 Infantry unit in hex 1317 has a Low Ammo marker, accrued during an earlier turn.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Example #1

The next chit drawn is the French II Corps. Frossard sees the powerful Prussian Corps closing in on him and decides that he must take some preemptive action to blunt the assault before the Prussians get all their artillery in line and trained on the town. Accordingly, he moves to the first phase of the turn, the Fire Combat Phase.


II Corps – Fire Combat Phase

First, the “Corps Hvy Fld” artillery in hex 1712 fires at the Prussian “Div Fld” artillery unit in hex 1816. The middle two numbers on the right hand side of artillery units list the normal range and extended fire ranges. In this case, the French unit’s normal range is 3 and the extended range is 5. The Prussian artillery unit is 4 hexes away which is outside the normal range of 3 hexes, but still within the extended range of 5 hexes. So the artillery unit must apply a -2 die roll penalty to its Fire Combat roll. The Combat Factor (aka firing strength) is the top right number, which is a “7” for this French unit.

You can follow along with the combat action by looking at the Duel of Eagles Combat Charts

 

There are no blocking units or terrain features so the fire combat may proceed. Frossard rolls a 6 on a six-sided die, subtracts -2 for the Extended Range, and consults the Fire Combat Table. None of the other modifiers below the table apply so he checks the “4” row of the “6-7” column and sees the result is “SH”, which means the target unit is Shaken (more about this later). A “Shaken” marker is placed under the Prussian unit and Frossard continues with the Fire Combat phase.

The French “Div Fld” artillery unit, in hex 1513, fires at the Prussian “Corps Fld” artillery in hex 1715. Again, no special modifiers apply and the die roll is 2. The firing unit has 8 combat strength so the “8-9” column of the table is checked. A roll of “2” yields an “MT” (Morale Test) result which normally requires the target unit to perform a morale check comparing a die roll to its Combat Factor. Since the Prussian target unit has a Combat Factor of 9, it can’t possibly roll a higher number on a six-sided die so the Morale Test is passed and there is no effect to the target. (Note: The inability of certain units to fail Morale Tests is by design)

Both of the French infantry units are allowed to fire during this phase but both have their line of sight blocked by friendly units, and the unit in hex 1512 is too far away (extended range = 3) to even attempt a shot. So, the Fire Combat Phase is concluded.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Fire Combat Phase


II Corps – HQ Command Phase

Headquarters (Leader) units have a Command Rating located in the upper right corner. This is the number, in hexes, their command range extends. Any of their subordinate units that are outside this range are considered Out of Command and will have their movement allowance halved. In addition, any units Out of Command may not Rally (i.e. have their Shaken or Low Ammo status repaired) during the Rally Phase.

Leaders have varying Command Ratings. The higher the number, the more effective the historical leader was. Leaders also have two sides: an Attack Orders side and a Defend Orders side. Attack orders allow the commanded formation more latitude in engaging the enemy, but the Command Rating number is always lower. An HQ on the Defend Orders side will have greater command range but the units under its command will be restricted (e.g. they cannot move adjacent to enemy units).

Frossard wants badly to engage the Prussians so during this HQ Command Phase, he flips from his “Defend” side to his “Attack” side. Notice that his Command Rating has dropped from “4” to “1”. Any units more than one hex away from him are considered “Out of Command” and are marked accordingly. Only the “Corps Hvy Fld” artillery unit is in this situation.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - HQ Command Phase


II Corps – Movement Phase

The Movement Phase is more than just movement. The non-moving player is allowed Opportunity Fire at moving units that move adjacent to his infantry or artillery units. Continuing our example, the French player decides to be uncharacteristically (at least for this battle) aggressive and announces a Cavalry Charge against the Prussian 12/6 infantry unit in hex 1317. The cavalry unit must have sufficient movement points to move directly into the hex with the Prussian unit (assuming it survives Prussian Opportunity Fire), and it does.

When the French Cavalry gets adjacent to the target infantry unit, the defender takes an Opportunity Fire shot. Looking again at the Fire Combat Table, we see that there are some modifiers for this combat. The target is a cavalry unit (but not a French Cuirassier) which earns the Prussian a +2 to his die roll, but since he has a Low Ammo marker, he accrues a -2 to the die roll. The net result is zero and so no mods will be made to the die roll. The powerful, 8 Combat Factor, Prussian infantry unit fires by rolling a die. The die roll is “2”. Checking a roll of “2” on the “8-9” column of the table shows the result to be “MT”.

The French cavalry unit must roll equal to or less than his Combat Factor of 2 and, amazingly, he rolls a 1! Therefore he is not shaken and the Cavalry Charge may proceed as planned during the Assault Combat Phase.

Shifting our attention to the other Opportunity Fire situation created by the movement of the French 1/1 infantry unit into hex 1615 which is directly adjacent to the potent Prussian Corps Fld artillery. This time, the French are not so lucky as the Prussian player rolls a “5”. A +2 is added to this roll due to the fact that an artillery unit is firing at an adjacent target, so the net modified roll is “7”. Cross-referencing the roll of “7” with the “8-9” column, we find a result of “SH+C” which means the unit is first Shaken and then has a step loss (casualty) applied (i.e. flip a full strength unit over, or eliminate a half strength unit). So the French 1/1 infantry is flipped and shaken!

Note that the French 1/1 infantry may still assault the Prussian artillery in the Assault Combat Phase, but its attack power is now greatly reduced, from “5” down to “2” for being flipped over, and then cut in half again for being shaken for a final effective combat factor of “1”! It may be best for this unit to sit tight for a bit before attacking.

This concludes the French Movement Phase and we now proceed to the Assault Combat Phase, where the close combat situations created by the movement will be resolved.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Movement Phase


II Corps – Assault Combat Phase

There are two assaults pending, but the French player is only obligated to complete the Cavalry Charge in hex 1317 so we’ll begin with that one.

Because this is a “Cavalry Charge”, the French cavalry’s Combat Factor is doubled to 4, but that still makes the Combat Factor Differential -4 (4 factors attacking – 8 factors defending), so the French will be rolling on the “-5 to -4” column of the Assault Combat Table. There are no die roll modifiers so the French need a high roll and, miraculously, he rolls a “6”! (this is my example… I’ll create however many miracles I like)

A quick glance at the table shows a result of “D1” in the “6” row of the “-5 to -4” column. “D1” indicates that the defender must take 1 hit on one of his units in the battle or must retreat all of his involved units 1 hex. There is a special rule however that states the defending unit must retreat at least one hex if the “D” result is caused by a Cavalry Charge. So the Prussian must retreat! Ending a retreat over-stacked is not allowed so the defender retreats over his 11/6 infantry and ends his retreat in hex 1319 (let’s assume for purposes of this example that he was prevented from retreating into hex 1218… work with me, here).

Finally, the charging cavalry must accept a “Shaken” marker. Every unit that performs a “Cavalry Charge”, even a successful one like this, is assessed a “Shaken” marker. The cavalry charge combat is completed.

The only other possible assault is the French 1/1 infantry unit versus the Prussian 9-factor artillery unit. Even a 19th century Prussian military man wouldn’t attempt that one and so the Assault Combat Phase ends rather quickly.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Assault Combat Phase


Next Chit Drawn – French Event Chit

The next chit pulled from the cup is a French Event Chit. One side of the chit shows BattleField Conditions, which is a defensive marker and the other side shows Artillery Barrage. The French player must immediately choose which of the two events he will use and how he will use them.

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - French Artillery Barrage Event Chit

“Artillery Barrage” is more appealing right now because it may be played in one of two ways:

  • Immediate Opportunity Fire – Entitles the French to one free Fire Combat with any of his artillery units, even one that has already been activated this turn (as both the French artillery units have).
  • May be held for future use as “Interdiction” fire against any moving Prussian unit, at any time during the turn, that is at least two hexes away from the firing artillery. Includes a +1 fire modifier for this one shot only.
  • May be held for future use as “Return” fire. Allows immediate return fire from any French artillery unit that is fired upon by the Prussians during the turn. Also allows a +1 modifier.

Frossard opts to hold the “Artillery Barrage” chit for future use and announces this to the Prussian player.


Next Chit Drawn – Prussian III Corps Activation

Duel of Eagles Board Game Review - III Corps Activation Chit

The next chit drawn from the cup is (not surprisingly) the Prussian III Corps Activation Chit. Note that there are 5 two-sided Event Chits for each player and all ten of those chits are mixed into the cup each turn. So, at least in the early part of the game, there are more Event Chits than formation Activation Chits. It would not be unusual to pull multiple Event Chits in a row.

But, for purposes of this example, let’s say we’ve pulled the Prussian III Corps Activation Chit. Let’s proceed to the first phase of the Prussian activation which is the Fire Combat Phase.


III Corps – Fire Combat Phase

The Prussians have two infantry and two artillery units that are in position for Fire Combat. He chooses to begin with the infantry, and is determined to make the French Cavalry pay for their charge last turn. Both the 11/6 and 9/5 Prussian infantry units may both fire at the French Cav unit, but they do so one at a time.

First the 11/6 infantry will fire. Combat Factor is 8. Die roll modifier is +2 because the target unit is cavalry. The first Prussian die roll of the example is “2”. Add +2 for the modifiers and then check the “4” row of the “8-9” column of the “Fire Combat Table”. The result is “SH” so the cavalry unit is Shaken again. Because the unit already has a Shaken marker on it, it must take a step loss (can’t have two “Shaken” markers).

Now the 9/5 infantry unit fires at the same cavalry unit. Its strength is 9 and the unit is awarded the same +2 die roll modifier. The roll is “3” plus the modifier is “5”. The “5” row of the “8-9” column shows a “C” result. The cavalry unit must take a step loss and, since it is already on its reduced side, it is eliminated. The unit is removed from the map and is placed on the game turn track two turns ahead, when it may be possibly be reconstituted. The daring French cavalry is no more! (You may take this as a cautionary tale about the dangers of charging powerful Prussian infantry)

Moving along to the Prussian artillery units, we see that the Prussian III Corps Fld artillery has the rash French 1/1 infantry unit dead to rights in a wide open field. The only consideration here is that, if the artillery unit fires, it may not move at all in the upcoming Movement Phase (horse artillery may fire at half strength and then use half movement, but foot artillery does not have that option). The Prussian player cannot resist and decides to take the shot. This fire will be executed under the “8-9” column of the Fire Combat Table. There will be a +2 die roll modifier due to artillery firing at an adjacent target. The die roll is “2” with a +2 becomes “4”, netting an “SH” result.

The French 1/1 infantry is already shaken, so the additional “SH” result must be applied as a step loss. The infantry is already on its reduced side, so the entire unit must be eliminated instead. Another one bites the dust…

The last unfired Prussian artillery, the division field (“Div Fld”) unit in hex 1816, is directed to fire at the French artillery that is stacked with Frossard in hex 1513. The friendly artillery in hex 1715 does not block the line of sight because the firing unit is on higher ground. Because it is “Shaken”, it may only fire with half strength (rounded up) which is 5. The die roll will be modified by +1 for “Plunging Fire (from higher to lower terrain level)”. The die roll is “2” modified +1 to “3”. In the “4-5” column of the Fire Combat Table, a roll of “3” nets an “MT” result, requiring the target to undertake a Morale Test. However, the target unit’s Combat Factor is 8 and is therefore immune to Morale checks (can’t possibly roll higher than an 8 on a six-sided die). Keep in mind, however, that if the French artillery was currently Shaken, it’s Combat Factor would be halved for Morale Test purposes as well.

Not only did the Prussian fire not cause any damage, it’s also what the French have been waiting for. Frossard now declares that he is playing the Artillery Barrage Event Chit to “Return Fire”. According to the terms of the chit, he may immediately issue fire against the enemy unit that just fired on it. The “Artillery Barrage” chit is set aside in the pile of used chits for the turn, and the French artillery returns fire.

The normal range on the French artillery is 3 and the extended range is 5. The Prussian target unit is 4 hexes away so the French die roll will suffer a -2 for using extended range. However, the terms of the “Artillery Barrage” chit grant a +1 die roll modifier, so the net modifier is -1. The French player rolls a “4” which is modified to “3”, which applies an “SH” result to the target Prussian artillery unit. Because the target is already Shaken, the result becomes a step loss. The target unit is flipped over to its half strength side. This concludes the Prussian Fire Combat Phase.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Prussian Fire Combat Phase


III Corps – HQ Command Phase

Notice how much better a leader Alvenslaben is than Frossard. Even on his “Defend Orders” side, Alvenslaben still has a HQ Command Range of 4 and so all of his units are considered “in command” for the game turn. So leadership does play an important role in the game. If any of Alvenslaben’s units were “out of command”, their movement allowance would be halved and they would not be eligible for “rally” at the end of the turn.

 


 

This concludes my brief example of the game turn sequence. The game rule book itself contains an excellent 2+ page example of play, as I mentioned above. It is far more detailed than mine and gives you a really good feel for the flow of a game turn in Duel of Eagles.

 


 

Summary

Ever played a game where you think you’ve got everything under control, and then one turn later it seems that everything is falling apart? This is one of those games. You’ve really got to stay on your toes, because if your opponent gets hot with the dice, and the activation chits go his way, the entire tactical situation can be turned around very quickly.

The tactical situation is somewhat static because the two sides are fighting over the same victory objectives in every game. But I give it high marks for replay value, due largely to the Chit Pull system and the Event Chits. Additionally, the Victory objectives themselves are quite clever and add to the tension of the game. Each player has two cities that they must control in order to achieve any level of victory. For the Prussians they are Mars-la-Tour and Puxieux and for the French, Rezonville and Bruville. These cities are closer to the starting locations of the respective forces and therefore should be easier for that side to control.

Duel of Eagles Board Game - Victory Objectives

Assuming that both players control their “must have” cities, the contest becomes a battle over three other secondary objective cities near the center of the play area (VionvilleTronville and Flavigny). To win, a player needs to control his “must have” cities and two of the three secondary objective cities. These secondary objective cities can, and will, change hands a few times before the game ends, which creates tremendous tension and makes the game very exciting.

Players are not constrained to any particular course of action by the rules, and are free to focus on any objective they wish. For example, I may decide on a strategy of denying my opponent one of their “must have” cities which will preclude them from achieving any level of victory. Even if my plan does not succeed, it may catch my opponent off guard and throw him completely off his game.

As if that’s not enough, there are also instant victory conditions! For the Prussians, it’s control of the city of Gravelotte. For the French it’s control of three road hexes (0920, 2021 and 2221) on the edge of the map. Instant victory objectives are, understandably, difficult to attain, but not at all impossible.

 

I actually witnessed my opponent’s infantry unit “run the guantlet” of four of my powerful artillery units and walk right into a city that I had left ungarrisoned because I thought he’d never try to walk that road. True, I needed to roll four 1’s or 2’s in a row for that to happen… but it absolutely happened. And once a full strength unit is ensconced in a city, it can take a full turn or two to dislodge them. Word to the wise: don’t leave any objective cities ungarrisoned.

 

The game is relatively easy to learn and play, but it is definitely NOT a “beer & pretzels” game. You will not win based on a few lucky die rolls (unless those lucky rolls come right at the very end of a long, hard-fought game). The game is a bit lengthy (5-6 hours) for some, but it’s that length that provides protection from the “lucky roll” victory. Any luck with the dice will be balanced out over the duration of the game. Nonetheless, I think that some shorter scenarios could and should be devised to reach that “three hour limit” demographic. 

(I have some ideas for shorter scenarios and will try to get them tested and published when time permits. In the meantime, please feel free to let us know if you come up with alternate scenarios you’d like to share with other gamers)

The game is finely balanced; a result of considerable play testing and subsequent design adjustments. I believe that insufficient play testing is the most common reason horrible board games make it to store shelves. I’ve experienced many games that, with a bit of tweaking, could have been turned into great games, but ended up mediocre at best. So it was refreshing to see that a decent amount of time had been devoted to testing and fine tuning.

I’m not a fan of the period, and didn’t know much about the Franco-Prussian war, so Duel of Eagles really came to me with a disadvantage. I was prepared to not love it. But I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the game and it has sparked my interest in the period and the war. It’s got it all: desperate cavalry charges and infantry assaults, withering artillery fire and flagging morale. I think that Duel of Eagles just gets it right. There’s plenty of action, and the game is often undecided until the very last turn. That’s the mark of a well designed, well developed game.

I give Duel of Eagles two thumbs up and would like to thank Hermann LuttmannWhite Dog Games, and Victory Point Games for a job well done.

 


 

Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Mark.


Notes

Full disclosure: I know Hermann personally. But I would not hesitate to write a negative review of one of his games if I really didn’t like it. He knows this and still we remain on good terms. If some day I have to slam him with a bad review, I’m sure he’ll take it like a man. Although I suspect he will retaliate by naming a particularly hideous character in one of his Zombie games after me.

– See more at: http://theboardgaminglife.com/ArticlePages/duelofeagles_rv2.aspx?GameID=117#sthash.IEBqEO4m.dpuf

Written by Fred W. Manzo

July 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review

leave a comment »

 

By Fred W. Manzo
 

                

 

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review title graphic


“A teenager is someone who is well prepared for a zombie attack but not ready for tomorrow’s math test.”

– Anonymous


Zombies are hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. So how hot are they? Well, according to Wikipedia, the cable show The Walking Dead “has also attained strong Nielsen ratings, beating various records for a cable series, including receiving 12.3 million viewers for its mid-season 3 premiere to become the most-watched basic cable drama telecast in history.” In fact it’s become so popular it even has its own talk show “The Talking Dead, which “… features host Chris Hardwick discussing the latest episode with fans, actors, and producers.”

That’s hot! In fact, the only thing hotter these days is Abe Lincoln. I once even designed (but never got around to publishing) a zombie game myself: Zombies in Space. Maybe I should have worked in Lincoln.

So with that in mind what exactly did I find last week when I opened my review copy of Hermann Luttmann’s Zombie-fest Dawn of the Zeds*?


Components

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Zombie counter

Soot and the smell of burnt cardboard.

Anyway, that’s what hit me when I first opened the box. Though for me, these weren’t bugs, they were features. After all, we are dealing with a post-apocalyptic situation here, aren’t we? Now, either to solve these problems or to show us we’re dealing with wisenheimers (or both) the gang at Victory Point Games also included a “Wipes-A-Lot” napkin with the game. In any event, after a couple of days, these problems disappeared.

The effects of laser cutters (and napkins) aside, the box also held two game maps each in two versions, a quick-start hand-out, 2 decks of cards and a 24 page rule book, which has an extensive example of play, the classic version of Dawn of the Zeds (DotZ), a tutorial version and an advanced game with short, medium and long scenarios. The game also came with a four page introductory hand-out, a detailed Player’s Aid cheat sheet, a player’s “Mat” containing all the charts you’d need, new counters and four new Heroes (Wright, Kingman, Wilson, and Carter).

In addition, various glitches from the first edition have been fixed. For example, originally there was a marker shortage (it actually wasn’t a shortage, but some of the little used markers were on the flip side of the always popular Chaos markers, so each time you used a marker to show the effects of Zombies passing through a captured village, you lost the use of the symbol on its reverse side).

“….ZEDS second edition is more than a mere face lift; it’s improved, expanded and enhanced to the best degree that we can make it. If you trust us to deliver the gameplay, believe me there is more now – TONS more – in the new ZEDS; and its better presented.”

– Alan Emrich


The Rules

Dawn of the Zeds is a point-to-point Card Driven Game much like The Fury of Dracula, but with strong wargaming elements that include combat units at the platoon or even the company equivalent level. In it a player is tasked with defending the town of Farmingdale** and its citizens against waves of attacking Zombies. To make matters worse, an epidemic of that dread disease “Z.E.D.” is spreading through the community. While things look decidedly grim for the defenders they are not without hope: they are armed and have some limited supply. They are also fortunate enough to have access to a high-level research facility and a world-class hospital but more importantly they count among their members a number of people with remarkable (but not super-human) abilities. The question is if this is enough to save their day.

Well, it probably isn’t, but what other chance do they have?

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Player Aid

Dawn of the Zeds is played solo, though I can see it morphing into a cooperative game with the right group of people and while the rules are clear and complete, I’d say that on first sight, they do seem dense. This, however, is probably due to there being multiple scenarios and an inclination to overstate important points.

Anyway, what you do end up with is a detailed and theme heavy design, in which every gaming session produces something along the lines of a zombie movie, but with different heroes and a different ending every time you play.

Now, this is only the second design by Hermann Luttman that I’ve examined in detail, the first being Duel of Eagles in which I was a play-tester, but I must say that in both you’ll find an attention to detail that is remarkable. Take, for example, DotZ’s victory conditions. In most Euro-games victory conditions are purely an arbitrary afterthought. You count your victory points and you either have enough to win or you don’t. And why you won with, say, 10 VPs as opposed to 8 or 12 remains a mystery forevermore. Even in the wargame community, victory conditions are usually given short shrift (E.G., capture Berlin by turn 10 for a strategic victory etc. Why it won’t have been just as strategic if it had taken an extra month or two is never explained). In Dawn of the Zeds, on the other hand, not only are you provided with a clear and logical goal to work towards during play, but you are also given the reasoning behind the multiple levels of victory once the game ends. In one instance, due to the number of people you have saved and the research breakthroughs you have developed, you end up being mentioned as a possible U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate and in another the survivors sue you. While you’ve won in both cases, this extra bit of detail helps insure you’ll want to play this game again.


The Map

Basically, we are talking about a map, cards and counter game, in which the player controls the town’s defenders and the system controls the besieging Zombies. As the game progresses the Zombies work their way along four (or in the advanced games 5) tracks leading into Farmingdale and if any of them on the Highway, Forest, Mountain, Suburban or Tunnel tracks manage to reach the Town Center, you instantly lose. While there are outlying villages and various points of interest along the routes leading into town, the game boils down to a matter of either holding Farmingdale or not.

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Game Map


The Cards

With Dawn of the Zeds being a Card Driven Game (CDG) you’d naturally expect cards to be its focus and you’d be right. The game includes 2 decks: the main “Event” deck and the smaller “Fate” deck. Each Event card drawn provides you with all the information you typically need for a single turn, including the sequence of play, any possible refugee and zombie movement, the minimum amount of supplies consumed, whether or not there is a new ZED outbreak, the number of Action Points the good guys are allotted and the random event you must trigger.

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Event and Fate Cards

By the way, these events may occur in any phase and can be pro-player, pro-ZED or neutral. I’d say Events run 2 to 1 against the good guys. Occasionally, a random event or game procedure will also trigger the draw of a “Fate” card, usually in order to determine the location of the event. But no matter what the cause, once a “Fate” card is triggered the additional Event on it must also be conducted, which may generate even more chaos or very occasionally a new hero. This time, I’d say the cards are about evenly split between being pro-Good Guys and pro-Zombies.


Action Points

While Event cards are the engine of the game, Action Points are the fuel that powers it. Action Points are used by the good guys to move and attack with friendly units, forage for ammo and supplies, build barricades, research a cure for Z.E.D., heal hospitalized civilians and even develop a super-weapon. But, as you may have guessed, you’ll never have enough Actions to do everything you want to do.


The Counters

Fundamentally, the game involves information markers and fighting units, with the fighting units further broken down into several kinds of Zombies and various good guys. A closer look at these good guys reveals they consist in the main of Heroes, civilians (think of them as locally organized militia units), refugee mobs and VIP survivors.

While VIP survivors help you with various victory conditions, refugees are un-armed civilian mobs that were released when their outlying villages fell to the Zombies. Until then, they were what you might call “low-information” citizens. Apparently, no matter how many warnings some people get, they just don’t take zombie attacks seriously. Can you believe that?

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Unit counters

Nevertheless, these people are not completely useless, as once they reach the Town Center you have the option of arming them and sending them back to the front or letting them recover in a refugee camp. But the more refugees you arm, the harder it is to achieve the higher victory levels.

Civilian units, on the other hand, are generally poorly armed, but friendly, combat units.

To make matters more complicated, occasionally the defenders run across free-lance Raiders, who unfortunately seem more interested in fighting their way into your town in order to get their hands on your ammo then in rescuing anyone. Though, normally you don’t mind their trying as they will usual expend more ammo fighting Zombies on their way in then they will ever be able to carry away when they do get to you.

But the backbone of your defense will be your fast moving and hard hitting heroes. Like I’ve always said, you can never have enough heroes.


Heroes

It seems to be a little known fact that the Heroes in Dawn of the Zeds are patterned after real life heroes; they are, that is, if you are a New York Mets fan: Seaver, Hunt, Piazza and Johnson etc. Although, in the name of accuracy I must say Hermann got the town mascot wrong. The original Mets mascot was a beagle named Homer, not a German Shepard named Pickles.

Anyway, these ballplayer’s real life attributes occasionally even affect their DotZ’s avatars: Johnson and Piazza were the Mets heavy hitters and in the game they are armed with high powered rifles, Keith Hernandez was a Mets captain and in the game he’s the city’s mayor.

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Hero Cards

Perhaps this is simply Hermann’s way of reminding us that in order to save the situation, something on the order of the Miracle of ‘69 is called for? On the other hand, a real Mets fan would have worked in Marv Throneberry.

So far we’ve covered Zombies, VIPs, refugees, civilians, raiders and heroes and while that’s quite a lot of moving parts for one game, it’s far from being everything, especially in the second edition. For example, and to name only a few, we’ve failed to discuss Rangers, Security Guards, Toxic Zombies, a Mad scientist and his minions, his underground lair, a secret tunnel entrance, a collapsed bridge, a missing Super-Weapon component, a National Science lab, a minefield, a strong-point defense, a ferry, the interrogation room and the catacombs. Combining all these factors with 2 versions of the map, 4 or 5 scenarios and a dozen heroes with varying abilities generates a game with huge re-play value.

And we haven’t even dealt with Combat or Research yet.


Combat, etc.

Combat, Research and Healing rolls are all determined in the game with the help of 2D6 dice and their own charts in a fairly standard manner.

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Zed Head

The Combat Results Table used, for instance, generates a binary result and causes the losing side to retreat. Heroes absorb 2 hits before being eliminated, civilian units 4 hits and Zeds 6, though the game uses an unusual method of keeping track of these casualties: only when you reach the halfway point in hits absorbed is a counter flipped to its reduced side.

So, an 8 strength Zeds counter will remain at strength 8 through its first and second hit. Once it takes a third hit, however, it will be flipped and become a 4 strength unit. And it will stay a four strength unit even after its fourth and 5th hit.

It will only be reduced to zero (that is, eliminated) once it takes a 6th hit. It may have taken 6 separate losses but it only reduced its fire-power twice: once to 4 and once to zero.

So occasionally you will find yourself facing a reduced 2 strength Zombie unit, with 2 casualties, that is attacking with a strength of two. It is something that takes getting used to.


The End Game

In another example of the thought put into this design, the game ends without generating “end of the world” problems. This is accomplished by placing the ‘National Guard relief column’ event somewhere in the last 8 cards of the deck, although even then they may have trouble breaking through to the town. So, no, you can’t game the situation by counting how many cards are left in order to eke out a marginal victory.


Victory

Victory conditions in the game basically boil down to you either surviving or not, as dead ties are impossible. However, your victory level can range across a rather wide spectrum. It all depends on who you saved, how many you saved, how you treated the survivors, whether or not you succeeded in finding a cure to Z.E.D. and if you developed an anti-Zombie Super-weapon.


Game Play

“….If there’s one thing Zeds will do for you, it’s give you narrative. That’s the whole point of the design – to take you on an adventure in a zombie movie or book. … [T]he problem with most Euros is that they are just ‘systems’ that are to be figured out. The theme is secondary (or non-existent). Zeds is the polar opposite – it’s almost all theme!”

– Hermann Luttmann

Now, for how DotZ plays, I’d say just fine and yet I will admit it does take a special kind of gamer to fully appreciate it. After all, we are talking about a tense, defensive struggle that in all likelihood you will lose. But if these characteristics don’t bother you, or if, like me, you love solving tough problems, than this game is for you.


Strategy

Like all good books a first-rate game naturally generates new ideas once you’ve been introduced to it. And Dawn of the Zeds is no exception. Although I haven’t played Zeds long enough to be called adept, there are a few avenues I’d want to explore in future sessions. For example, I’d like to see what effect an excessive use of ammo would have on game play. (While attacks may be conducted either at long or short range, players usually prefer to attack via long range gunfire, due to the fact that any contact with Zombies, no matter how slight, will increase the town’s infection level and thus the chances of generating additional Zombie hordes.) In other words, would a defense centered on foraging for ammo and maximizing the number of long range gunfire attacks be a good or bad idea?

I’d also think setting up as many defense-in-depth positions as possible would help. As friendly combat units can’t stack, it appears the best defense should be a strong civilian unit behind a barricade, backed up by a sharp-shooting Hero, say Piazza or Johnson. Unfortunately, players usually have only three or four Heroes in any particular game and 9 or 10 positions they desperately need them to occupy (that’s 4 or 5 avenues of approach to cover, the town center, possibly the farm and/or the mine for some high value foraging plus the hospital and the lab), so as in all good games players will find many more options open to them then they can possible employ.

In addition, I also want to see how effective it would be to completely clear one track of Zombies and the chaos they generate. I’d think that as the Zombies win by attrition and the ability to overwhelm widely spaced defenders, one obvious counter-strategy would be to clear them completely from at least one track in the hopes of lowering their pressure on your defenses when they do advance. That is, say you cleared the Highway track of Zombies and the Chaos markers they leave in their wake and the next Event card says “Zombies on the Mountain and the Highway track advance.” It seems to me you’ve immediately reduced the pressure of the Zombie hordes by half for this turn. Of course, the card might just as easily have said “Zombies on the Forest and Mountain track advance,” but even in this case clearing the Highway would allow you to concentrate your remaining defenders on the approaches posing the greatest dangers. Now, I know that a “cleared” track will not stay clear for long, but when playing with your back against a wall every little advantage helps.

Dawn of the Zeds Board Game Review - Super Weapon

And in order to pay for these tactics I’d like to explore the possibility of under-funding super-weapon development, as it appears to me that no matter how powerful it is it’s simply not that cost effective. Yes, the resources you poured into research will help in your post-victory spin campaign to win the Vice-Presidency and I realize that during the defense of the town it does help in healing civilian units, but I’m not convinced it’s worth all that much effort when you will in all probability lose the game anyway. From my point of view, if most players are going to lose somewhere between 65 to 90 percent of the time, what real value did they derive from all the resources they poured in research?

Therefore, I’d like to try minimizing R and D funding and see what happens. Say, nothing for the first third of the game, a minimum in the second third and, if things stabilize, only then putting the pedal to the metal in the final third.

Of course, all this is one of the charms of DotZ. You play it and lose and you still have a good time and want to come back for more. In fact, the first thing you’ll say after losing Dawn of the Zeds is “What bad luck. But I’ll win next time.”

As is apparent, I believe this game has just the right level of detail to make it both playable and re-playable any number of times. And it is fun.

In fact, it reminds me of the sort of puzzles you’ll find in some of the harder defensive scenarios in Tank Battles 44 on the I-pad or even in the legendary board wargame Russian Campaign (if you like playing the Russians, that is) or in any situation modeling the 55 Days in Peking. So if your idea of a good time is to fight off waves of bad guys whose only goal in life, so to speak, is to overwhelm your position, give Dawn of the Zeds a try.

But remember, those zombies are deadicated.


Resources

* = In the game “Zeds” stands for “Zombie Epidemic Disease” and in real life for how the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced in British – English.)

** = Farmingdale is a nice suburban town located practically in the shadow of the Mets’ home field, but, as far as I can tell, it has never been overrun by the undead. Perhaps, the Mets do ward off Zombies.

Disclaimer: I know Herman, but anyone who is familiar with me, knows I stand behind every single word I ever wrote. This game is great.

Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Fred.

 

– See more at: http://theboardgaminglife.com/ArticlePages/dawnzeds_rv1.aspx?GameID=107#sthash.267cYl6w.dpuf

Written by Fred W. Manzo

July 11, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized