Battlefield Chaos

The past five games I have played have all been from the World at War series. I’ve enjoyed my immersion in the game as it has allowed me to learn the rules, be a better players, teach the game, and develop sound strategies.

For me, one of the defining characteristics of the War at War series is the activation method. Formations are activated based on a blind chit pull. Soviet formations get one activation chit, while NATO units get two. This is meant to represent the better training and initiative of the NATO forces; the force multiplier, so to speak. However, Soviet formations are larger than NATO formations. Also, into the blind pull go end-of-turn markers. The number of markers is based on the scenario, usually two, but pull two end-of-turn markers and the turn is over.

Random activation makes for a wild experience and a grand departure from the normal turn taking in all the other games I’ve played. Proper deployment of your forces at any moment is vital. To me, the combination of random activation and positioning strategy meshes well with my idea of modern warfare.

In this game, the player isn’t some general pushing blocks around a map in an air-conditioned room. He’s the commander in the middle of a raging battlefield desperately defending a city, while trying to mount a counter-attack and convince HQ to sent him some air support for once. In this game, players must accept that some things are beyond their control.

The Blood and Bridges expansion adds to this turmoil by adding a Battlefield Chaos marker and air support to the blind pull. The Battlefield Chaos marker represents everything from weather to air cover to the situation elsewhere and HQ pulling or lending support. It is an interesting mechanic and one that can totally change the nature of the game.

This was the case when I played as the British in the defense of Dattenburg against John’s Soviets. I had forced John’s units into single bottleneck approach to the city. The 1st King’s Regiment had take up a defensive position in the city and provided overwatch for the Royal Lancers who had moved out to harry the Soviets approach. And a Royal Tank Regiment was on their way to provide reinforcements and the heavy punch to keep the Soviet from crossing the Rhine. I was quite happy with my position when the Battlefield Chaos marker was drawn and a think fog covered the area. Suddenly, all my fighting ranges were reduced. The Royal Lancers’ ambush couldn’t go off. And even worse, the overwatch couldn’t cover them any more. Suffice to say, the Soviets made quick work of the Lancers and my game went down hill from there.

I know for some players, this would be unacceptable. A perfect plan ruined by a totally random event! But, I placed myself in the role of the beleaguered Brit commander trying to defend West Germany against the totalitarian forces. At the end of the day, Dattenburg was lost and it was best to retreat with the remain forces and live to fight again another day. Perhaps it is the fictional nature of this game, WWIII started by a Soviet invasion of Germany, that allows me more leeway when playing this game. Or perhaps is an understanding of history and how the tides of battles were often changed by weather or the smallest events.

But, I keep coming back to this game, because it is fun (randomness included), plays fast, and offers surprising depth.

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7 Responses to Battlefield Chaos

  1. John says:

    Yes, I agree with your assessment of the mechanic here. It’s a simple way of portraying NATO’s better training, and it puts you in the position of “shaper of chaos.”

  2. Rick says:

    In the first scenario I played with Russ, there were 8 turns and the Soviets had one ‘turn’ before the game started. In an unlikely, but possible scenario, the NATO forces could have 16 turns to the Soviets 5! Also, since the NATO forces were defending (in both of my scenarios) they get the advantage of having firing opportunities on the moving Soviet forces. This is like having 3 turns to the Soviets 1! (Maybe I’ll figure out the odds of that happening…)

    I think that’s my only complaint of the game though. It’s pretty fun. There’s lots of firing at each other, lots of strategy and interesting scenarios and units. I look forward to some more plays.

    • Russ says:

      One of the questions this game asks is “Can you make due with what you have?”

      Honestly, I like that question and how it fits into the theme of a fictional WWIII. That’s also why your worst case scenario of 16 to 5 doesn’t really bother me. With that said, I would like to see a linked campaign where decisions and random factor in one scenario play into the next. Hopefully, this would balance out some of the craziness.

      Just for reference, and if you do try to figure out the odds, for a 3 to 1 turn to happen, the Soviet chit must be drawn before both NATO chits. And, in this time, only one of the end-of-turn markers can be drawn.

      • Rick says:

        Odds NATO gets 3 ‘turns’ to the Soviets 1 : ~14%
        Odds NATO gets 2 turns and the Soviets get none: ~10%
        Odds NATO doesn’t get a turn: ~4%
        Odd Soviets don’t get a turn: ~17%

      • Russ says:

        Never mind my math here, I was messed was using the two end-turn and nato markers wrong. But this point still applies:

        This also neglects the entire idea that if the soviet player allows himself to take op fire when there are still two NATO activations, then he’s set himself up for failure. This isn’t something that’s intuitive on the first play. You must block line of sight or find defensive positions to move through.

    • John says:

      Under version 1.2 of the WaW rules (included in Blood and Bridges), if *one* of your formations doesn’t activate in a turn, you are allowed to hold onto an end turn marker next turn until *all* of your formations activate.

  3. Joe says:

    So is this your main game these days?

    Cool.

    I will say that I found it an amusing game with some depth and possibilities.

    Does it strike me as a realistic representation of modern warfare? Not so much. Our technology and training was overall slightly better than the soviets . . . but could the west have actually stood against a soviet onslaught? Not likely. Not without tactical nukes. Our continual upper hand in the nuke race was our true ace in the hole.

    It’s a game though, and games are supposed to be fun. And it was, and I only played one smaller scenario . . . one time.

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