Battlefield Chaos

February 23, 2010

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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Inside the Box – World at War: Eisenbach Gap

August 12, 2009

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

I think it was the attack helicopter on the cover that caught my attention. The Hind made the  10-year-old GI Joe-collecting boy in me go crazy. So, if I sound a bit excited when describing the tanks and helicopters in World at War: Eisenbach Gap, I hope you can forgive me.

Eisenbach Gap Contents

Eisenbach Gap Contents

The box itself is very appealing. It constructed of white cardboard and the printed cover is subtly textured. The benefit is a box with the resiliency of a glossy cover without the glossy look. Lock ‘n Load Publishing claims it’s beer resistant, but I haven’t tested that. Something about wasting beer and risking my signed box cover doesn’t sit well with me. The box is also large enough that expansions like Death of the 1st Panzer easily fit inside.

One last comment about the box; I love the artwork. The old photos are subtly manipulated  with color to create a high contrast piece that really works well.

Inside the box, there is a letter from Mark H. Walker–the game designer and publisher–rule book, two player aids, four dice, two sheets of punch out counters, and a mounted map.

The letter is one of those personal touches that I always appreciate. Mark vouches for the the game and asks for any feedback you may have. He also hopes you have great fun with the game.

The rule book is printed on fairly think paper with a heavy-stock semi-gloss cover. Despite only having ten pages of rules and six scenarios, the rule book feels solid. It definitely is something you can open, pass around the table, and know it isn’t going to fall apart. Inside, illustrations are kept to a minimum. They consist of blow ups of the counters for reference.

The writing style if refreshing. This is perhaps the only rule book I’ve read in the last year that has make me chuckle. The rules themselves are fairly clear and can be adjudicated using common sense, but it is passages like this that make me smile:

Any ONE unit within range of a helicopter, […] can opportunity fire on the helicopter after the helicopter conducts its attack, but before the damage is assessed. Both units […] then assess the damage simultaneously, allowing them to destroy each other in a true Hollywood moment.

However, I have two complaints about the rule book. First, there is no example turn. The game doesn’t necessarily need it, but it is always helpful when learning the game for the first time. And, second, it doesn’t give a counter manifest. Considering the number of games out in the World at War series, it would be nice to know which counters belong to which game and know you haven’t lost any.

The two player aids are double-sided and printed on the same heavy-stock, semi-gloss paper as the rule book cover. On one side it lists all the terrain modifiers. The other lists moving fire modifiers and helicopter line of sight. The tables are big, easy to read, and use shaded rows to good effect. The only thing I would add to the aid is a sequence of play chart.

Also inside are four squared-edge white dice. There’s not much to say about the dice. They are of standard quality and get the job done. However, it would have been nice to see two more. There are enough situations where six dice are rolled in one attack or defense that the extra two would have been really handy.

According to Board Game Geek, there are 136 5/8″ counters. I haven’t counted them, but it sounds about right. Here’s where the artist, Olivier Revenu, deserves a pat on the back. The counters are great to look at. The AFV (armored fighting vehicles) are surprisingly detailed without being messy looking. The numbers, despite being small, are easy to read in part because they are outlined in a contrasting color.

The counters are double-sided. There is a full-strength side identified by a tan band and a reduced strength side marked by a white band. The contrast between the two is great enough a player can tell unit strength at a glance. And despite being red-green color blind, the Soviet red and American green is different enough I haven’t had any problems telling the two apart.

Still, the counters aren’t without fault. The game could have used more status and artillery markers. I hear this problem has been rectified in Blood and Bridges so at least it is good to see a publisher learning from past mistakes. Also, punching out the counters can tear at their corners slightly. If I get another World at War game, I’ll use an Exacto blade to score or cut through the corners to get cleaner counters. As it was, I just used a finger nail clipper to clean up the counters and they look pretty good.

The last item in the box is the mounted map and it is great. The board that the map is mounted on reminds me of a very dense foam board. It creates a thick, stable playing surface–no need for a sheet of Plexiglass to cover the surface and hold it flat. The terrain is easy to identify and, except for the shadows that point to the Southeast, instead of Northeast, (this is the Northern hemisphere after all), it is very attractive.

My map did have one flaw. There was a thin streak of what look like dried adhesive, creating a line in the open plains South of Eisenburg. I tried rubbing it off, but just removed some of the green ink instead. Fortunately, the printing flaw and my rubbing don’t affect the ability to use the map in play.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the artwork, design, and production values of World at War: Eisenbach Gap. Opening the box and setting up the game has made me excited to command infantry, tanks, and helicopters in a 1985 Cold War gone hot.