Battle for Baghdad: Board Game Review

Opinions heard ’round the table: Battle for Baghdad

We’ve been giving this game quite a workout out here on Long Island in NY. Most opinions are generally positive, but not all. Each quote block, below, is an (anonymous) comment heard around the gaming tables. I thought that gamers looking for information about this game might find this useful even though it is not a formal or organized review.

Each player has to buy more Arms Bazaar cards in the beginning to insure they possess the offensive and defensive cards to protect their command cards and hopefully neutralize the enemy command cards before fighting a crucial battle. Also, by collecting more Arms Bazaar cards someone is more likely to have the Collateral Damage card and the other event cards that can negate the play of a particular offense and defense card. This puts the US player in a bind because he can’t afford to buy back his nuetralized Command Cards as they will simply cost too much. It also puts the other factions in a bind because they can’t guarantee they will win a particular battle!That’s why I think we should play it more and see how we can develop various strategies. I suspect that the game is not imbalanced once we discover all the subtleties of the system.

I think it’s too chaotic to be a good game. By that I mean that I think the game is too influenced by the cards you draw and there’s too much of a luck element. What it looks like to me is that they created the very nice map and sent it off to the printer, then created the very nice cards and sent them off to be printed, and finally started working on a set of rules to tie the whole thing together but ran out of money and/or time before they could finish the job. So you’ve got some strategic elements–occupying areas and then building infrastructure to allow you to build up security–but you don’t really have the time to do any of that. It matters more what cards you draw than what moves you make.The combat system is interesting but I think the command cards are too powerful vis a vis the forces involved and getting your command card knocked out by an attack card is too devastating and too random (since it’s based on what cards you’re able to play).

The game seems to want to be a beer & pretzels type game but also wants to have some simulation elements and I think it would have done better to just go for the b&p.

Actually, I think the chaos in the game is about right for Baghdad. I believe the combat system would work if players had the patience to develop a hand of appropriately powerful cards before rushing in to combat. We really didn’t even get down to half of the Arms Bazaar deck!There are many cards that can negate a perfect attack and defense card combo. I also think that each faction has to adopt different strategies and be as subtle as possible so their strategy is not obvious to the other players. We tend to stress the combat aspect too much and don’t utilize the politics of the game as much as we should.

For example, I realized playing the US that your only real asset is the proficiency of your forces. I could occupy areas and actually try for the standard win (120 total Political Points, with each controlled zone counting as 10 points, plus the sum of the Political Point markers held) if I could hold 8 or 9 areas. In doing that I had to make sure I didn’t accidentally separate the Sunnis and the Shities, which would trigger a victory for the Iraqi Government player. I also had to try to grab 40 or so Political Points. Attacking a nice big juicy group of Sunnis or Shiites is a great way for me to gain Political Points. So the other players should try not to form big stacks. Or they should wait to get the Collateral Damage card and then use that against the USA (causing all Political Points won in the battle to be transferred to the loser instead of the winner).

I really think each player has to find his own strategy to victory. I also have begun to realize just how important the Arms Bazaar cards are. They are probably more important than any onboard maneuvering until you make your move to win. Players have to patiently build a hand that is useful to their strategy. You also have to manipulate the cost of the cards with astute Initiative bids to lock out the players poor in Political Points so they can’t afford to buy Arms Bazaar cards. Also going first or second to get an early pick of the Arms Bazaar cards and also know what’s out there for the other players to select can be important.I still don’t think we have figured out all the possible strategies for each player and I doubt whether a given “go to” strategy is even possible for each player because of the richness of possible player interactions and the variety of possible card interactions.

I really think this game has amazing variety which really leaves it open to a multitude of potential strategies. It also means it’s replay value is very high. Having said all of that, I feel we still have only scratched the surface!

It may be true that the game would be different if we played it out to the bottom of the Arab Street deck but I don’t know if that’s likely to ever happen. I think that would require some stability in the positions on the board, with players mostly building up their strength and expanding into open areas. But once a big battle or two takes place or someone decides to try for the win, the situation becomes destabilized and people will start attacking each other. Then, all strategy & tactics disappear. They’ll either be trying to stop the leader or jumping on someone who has become overextended or weakened. Someone will always be threatening to win.One of the problems with the game is the combat system, which has some good ideas in it but which I don’t think works very well. The main question in any combat is: how many units do you commit to the battle? That sounds like a very interesting question with a lot of ramifications but it’s actually simple enough to reduce to a formula: n + x = y + z + 1 where n is the number of units you commit, x is the value of your Command card, and y and z are the number of units and the value of the Command card your opponent commits. So on the one hand, this is a really simple decision, but on the other it’s impossible since the values for x, y, and z are completely unknowable! You don’t even know the value of your own Command card since it could get neutralized. So it’s at the same time simplistic, but there are so many possibilities that it amounts to a wild guess.

And so having the loser discard his played Arms Bazaar cards while the winner retains his seems unduly harsh. Losing a battle can be devastating but since it’s more luck dependent than skill dependent the consequences can seem unfair. I think I’d rather see the Command cards be harder to neutralize, have both players discard the Arms Bazaar cards they use, and have them retain at least some of their units after the battle.

Get to know the Arms Bazaar card deck very quickly and very well. I would have played things much differently had I known there was a card that could nullify my victory (i.e. the Global Media card).Ignorance of the Arms Bazaar deck is no excuse.

I agree that this is not a game for perfect intelligence and optimal combat tactics. However it is realistic and does provide for some tense, difficult decisions in a battle. The possibility of getting your Command card neutralized must be weighed with the potential benefits of a victory ( in game terms this probably means garnering Political Points). Thus there is a real risk to participating in combat and the potential for reduced fighting abilities in the future. Therefore combat should not be entered into lightly. Also, one must “prepare” the battlefield by making sure he has strong offensive and defensive supporting Arms Bazaar cards to play in combat before the decision is made to have a battle.In all, I think this system is much more clever than a system of adding up combat factors and rolling a die on a combat results table. Both methods have randomness to them but I think this system requires more planning and provides more tension and fog of war.

While the Arms Bazaar cards are important, they are also pretty random. In a recent game, I moved last almost every turn and so never really got a choice of what Arms Bazaar card I was going to get. I was just handed the last card each turn and that was it. Despite that, I somehow wound up with an almost pat hand of offense/defense cards! I had two different cards of each type along with a fifth useful card for most of the game. This wasn’t skill on my part, it was just lucky card drawing and I don’t think it’s a surprise that the two winners of the game had the best combat cards.Despite having good cards, I still needed luck to win battles. One of my defense cards blocked Terrorist Attacks & Raids while the other blocked Precision Munitions. So any battle would come down to a 50-50 chance of my choosing the correct defense card for what my opponent was using against me. Since if I lost the battle the cards would also be gone, that would really damage my future combat strength if I made a bad random choice of defense cards.

The most interesting game I’ve played in a long time! Congratulations to MCS Group for dreaming up this gem! I’ve played the game six times so far, utilizing 4, 5 and 6 players, and every game has been completely different than all the rest. Lots of replay value.

My bigger gripe about the game is not the victory conditions, but more the card mechanics. For a CDG I think the deck design is very poorly put together. The Battle Cards are a random mix of offenses, defenses, special effects, some battle related, some not, and, I don’t know what. Combine that with the need to buy cards and I think the system is way out of kilter. Without Political Points to buy cards you are all but certain to not have enough ooomph to win any conflict, and that means no way to obtain new Political Points. Admittedly I had the low faction on the totem pole (The Jihadi), but I saw it with others to some extent as well. On the other end of the spectrum, once you can collect a decent amount of Political Points, you can keep buying cards, discarding the cards you don’t want or need, until you have a tailor made hand. So at the two ends you have players with almost no new card drawing ability each turn, hoping that the luck of the draw gives them a good card with their one free draw versus players that can buy 10 cards at a pop, dumping the dross and ending up with a tailor made hand. Not much fun there. And I am at somewhat of a loss how the ability to buy cards is tied to victory points.

One comment

  1. I haven’t played this game yet, but the rules borrow heavily from Dune, and I have played the FFG remake of that, Rex. Diplomacy and manipulating the other players is the most important aspect of games like this. Yes, your own battles matter, but if you aren’t using every edge you have to influence the decisions of other players then you are missing the point, I think. Wouldn’t you agree? In Rex, even if you get locked out of an alliance and are going solo, you can still help one alliance or the other depending on who is winning and bide your time, and can often use your special abilities to influence what they do.

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