Triumph and Tragedy – A Boardgaming Life Review


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by Russ Lockwood

Designer: Craig Besinque

Publisher: GMT Games

Leader of the UK House of Commons Neville Chamberlain strode over and kicked Prime Minster Stanley Baldwin right in the Bewdleys. As the PM bent over with a scream, Chamberlain picked up the gavel and smashed it across the back of Baldwin’s head. The PM collapsed as the head of the gavel bounced across the floor.

Neville tossed aside the handle. Grabbing Baldwin by the scruff of the neck, the muscular Chamberlain hauled the disgraced PM out into the hallway and kicked him down the stairs.

“Thank you for your service,” Chamberlain growled. “I’ll show you how to take on that scruffy little corporal and bobble-headed Commie!”

If the above reads more like bad fantasy from D&D than from Triumph and Tragedy (T&T, from GMT), that’s because T&T offers Neville a chance to right some wrongs in 1930s Europe. Consider T&T a cross between the old AH Origins of World War II and Axis and Allies — only cleverer by far.

Triumph and Tragedy Kick-Off

Box

Few three-player games are interesting. Usually, two gang up on one and that’s that. Give T&T credit. It’s one of the few three-player games that seems to work. Sure, the Western Allies (Russ) and the Soviet Union (Dennis) generally mesh together towards a common end since Germany (Joe) has a stronger opening position than either, but concentrate too much on Nazi-bashing and the Commies (or the Capitalists) gain the upper hand. Yes, it’s that balanced.

 

PlayersDennis (left) and Joe (right) threaten Neville (Russ, taking photo) at the start of the game.
It is NOT a four-player or more game. Germany controls Italy and the UK controls France at start, with the US leaning towards the Western Allies, but neutral.

At its core, T&T is a play card and move/fight block game, but that’s not even close to giving the design it’s due. The interaction between resources, production, politics, and war offers considerable dilemmas in pursuing national goals (i.e. the amassing of victory points). You can win without starting WWII. You can win by starting WWII and maintaining the war. You can win by crushing another player to end WWII.

T&T offers Neville a chance to right some wrongs in 1930s Europe. Consider T&T a cross between the old AH Origins of World War II and Axis and Allies — only cleverer by far.

Game Start

The game starts in 1936 (OK, Chamberlain did not become PM until 1937, buuuut….it is an alternative 1930s). Each yearly cycle consists of a Production Phase, Government and Political Phase, and three (four for USSR) Seasonal Command Phases. The interaction of the phases make for deliciously challenging dilemmas.

Map

The Map

Admittedly, my enthusiasm is the result of one game, but I can see the
horizons expand with additional games.  Two decks of cards play a central role — one deck of “Action” political/combat cards and the other deck of “Investment” factories/tech development cards. Too much of one type and you’ll regret not spending enough for the other. Too many cards and you’ll regret not buying armies. Too many armies and you kick yourself for not buying more cards. When a game makes me shuffle priorities in my head, grinding through options and odds, that, to me, starts to be an interesting game. When it clicks with the period, that’s the start of a great game.

Production lets you upgrade armies or buy either type of card. Everything costs one point. Action card? One point. Up an existing Army’s strength? One point. Up a Fleet unit? One point. Build a new Air cadre (i.e. 1SP)? One point. Investment card? One point. That’s simple to remember.

Germany starts with 12 production points, the West with 7, and USSR with 9. I’ll bet a lot of sweat went into those three starting numbers. Germany starts with 14 Action cards (can hold up to 7), the West with 8 (and can hold up to 8), and the USSR with 6 (and can hold up to 6). A variety of appropriate armies, fleets, and air units start across the board. So, you see, Germany starts with an edge, and the West and USSR had better start cooperating in the first year to tamp down German activities before it’s too late.

A Collage of Activity

In short, you buy cards or armies with the production points, play Action cards for political influence (holding where needed for future military actions), play Investment cards to build more factories to gain more production points (need at least two and often three Investment cards to raise production one point) or play them for new Tech gains (you need a matching pair — tough to get sometimes), and then play any Action cards for army movement and combat.  Note: the Action cards have a season printed on them, so you can move a lot of units (about 5 to 9) in that season, but only two units (four for the Axis) if you play a card out of season.

At its core, T&T is a play card and move/fight block game, but that’s not even close to giving the design it’s due.

Combat is the usual block game d6 rolls, defender first, and the increasingly usual unit priority (in T&T: Fortress before Air before Carriers before Subs before Fleet before Tanks before Infantry), with the number needed to hit depending on the target unit.
Yes, in a combat wrinkle (also used in other games) T&T makes you specify the target block. I’m shortchanging the combat rules chrome a bit (OK, a lot), but that’s about it — simple enough to grasp for veteran block players and subtle enough to entice them to try different strategies.

Now to a short recap…

19 – 36 – Austria – Austria – Hut

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Hitler’s on the ball and makes Anschluss happen ahead of history in 1936 with a spectacular placement of two sequential political points into Austria followed by a wild card that makes the Anschluss happen immediately instead of waiting until the end of the political phase. If the West and USSR play their own Austria cards, they can knock out those German political influence markers before the end of the phase, thwarting the Nazis. The wild card pre-empted any such notion.

Alas, a similar move into Poland — remember, Germany starts with a double hand (14) of these political cards — fails as Stalin buffs out one German influence marker and tries for a trifecta of his own. The West doesn’t want Polish resources in either sphere and bashes a Soviet marker.

Norway became a political football passed between West and Germany while the USSR (?!) rapped the German marker in South America and the Germans bopped the West marker in the USA. Turkey proved another three-sided political brawl, with neither player grabbing the country, although Germany were left with a political counter in it.

1937 and 1938

I didn’t take notes, so the order will be a little fuzzy, but all three of us increased our factory production by a couple or three points, bashed round after round of political control across the continent, and upgraded out armies, air, and fleets to greater and lesser degrees. The Germans seemed to have more combat units, but the West and USSR countered when they could.

The Soviets ultimately placed the magical third political marker in Yugoslavia, turning it into Commieland at the end of 1937, placed some influence in Persia, and invaded the Baltic States. The West nabbed the Benelux countries (all one area) via politics and placed two influence markers into Bulgaria (!?). When you have two in a country, the other countries must declare war on you to invade this ‘protectorate.’

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Germany invaded Poland in 1937 (the Soviets had only one political marker there, which does not trigger war). This is termed Violation of Neutrality, which means nothing is worth the paper it’s printed on. The clever bit here is that the West and USSR immediately get three political cards. Woo-hoo! Need those!

The situation at the end of 1937. Poland partitioned. Benelux for the West. Yugoslavia in Soviet sphere.  The Poles lasted more than one turn, as the Germans were not quite as strong as they thought they were.

The Soviets, in turn, also invaded Poland. The Poles were crushed. Not a realistic chance, really, of standing against Germany, much less Germany and the USSR. History happened two years early. The West collected cards for each of these Violations of Neutrality.
Romania and Hungary also became Nazi via conquest, during which the Hitler unveiled the ‘Mechanized Infantry’ technology that allowed their infantry to move three areas instead of two. These invasions gave the West and USSR one more card each. Yes, they do add up.

1939 Barbarossa

Germany weighed its units, took the shot, and launched Barbarossa two years early. Hitler said, “You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.” The Germans grabbed Odessa and part of Poland in the Spring, but otherwise took heavy losses. They should have known better after Poland. Apparently the door frame was stronger than expected.

germantanksbarbarossa

Unbeknownst to them, Stalin’s two-year plan eschewed politics for some good old fashioned manpower. 1937 and 1938 were mostly build-up-the-army years. Credit the double secret probation block mechanic for this surprise.

Then came the Soviet counterattack. They grabbed back the part of Poland they lost and took Romania and Hungary, while giving the Wehrmacht a bloody nose.
The Summer German offensive bled the Germans white, retaking Romania, but being repulsed in Hungary. The Summer Soviet Offensive regrouped and made some attacks, but the Soviets had taken losses, too.   With production at the beginning of the year, war weariness was setting in. Indeed, a giant hole in the USSR lines would allow Germany to send units next to Moscow if they didn’t mind being out of supply during the counterattack.

The West waited. They had little to contribute to the war on either side, but with only a few units in France and Benelux, were too weak to do much more than pass.  The German Fall offensive saw Hitler throw everything into stabilizing his line and tossing the Soviets out of Poland. He stripped the Berlin garrison. He stripped the West Wall. He even managed to stuff the Von Trapp Family Panzer Armee into the attack. The Soviet line bent, but ultimately stabilized.

Neville to the Rescue

Neville Chamberlain had but one Action card left in his hand, a Fall Offensive card, held just in case something happened. Hitler had made a bad mistake — he stripped everything for his east front.

chamberlain

Neville declared war and pounced!

He led one British infantry unit into the Ruhr. He pushed a second into Berlin, whereupon he dragged Hitler out of his bunker and shot him, Goring, Goebbels, and the rest of the Nazis brass.

The West stood triumphant.  Game over.

Snipe and Tripe

Can’t find anything about foreign aid in the rules, so when Germany and the West sent (admittedly small) military shipments to Finland to stave off the Soviets, you can’t do that here. Neither can the US send fleet units, petrol, and garden hoses to the UK. No international brigades to Spain. That sort of thing.

The Atlantic Ocean is two areas wide, which make it easy for submerged U-boats to close off trade and starve the UK (the submarine vs production rules are a tad odd, or so I find, although to be fair, the West was at war for one phase, so we didn’t try them).
The political cards are completely random, so the USSR has just as much chance of securing Austria (politically) as Germany. I can argue that such weird 20-20 hindsight developments are plausible in a decade fraught with global fascist and communist movements.

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Stukas, Sturmoviks, and Typhoons are not very effective. They need 1s to hit ground units — hardly any did. Fortresses hit on 1, 2, 3, and 4s, although they don’t move.
All blocks are created equal, ergo, all units fire at the same effectiveness. Forget tactical or operational doctrine. The Germans failed to dislodge the Soviets because block games are inherently materialschlact-centric. Officer purge? What officer purge? ‘Blitzkrieg’ operations — not in this game.

Verdict

An enjoyable game filled with delightful dilemmas and decision points. Repeat play may induce some repetition as you get familiar with the decks’ contents, but T&T made an impressive first impression. Well worth another go. Betcha Germany keeps the Ruhr garrisoned next time!

About the Author

SoWD_RussRuss Lockwood has been bouncing around the wargaming world for the last 25 years in one capacity or another. Most know him as creator and CEO of MagWeb.com (on-line archive of 162 military history and related magazines from Coalition Web, Inc. from 1996-2009). He appeared on camera on The History Channel (Modern Marvels), ABC, NBC, Fox, and various cable TV shows. MagWeb was also covered by the NY Times, USA Today, and other newspapers, a variety of trade and consumer magazines, and a multitude of on-line sites. He’s given lectures at various HMGS conventions, Origins War College, and various professional meetings and seminars. Although MagWeb closed in 2009, those white MagWeb rulers still appear on wargaming tabletops across the country.

On the prior professional front, Lockwood was Editorial Director of AT&T’s web division, Senior Editor at Personal Computing Magazine, Assistant Editor at Creative Computing Magazine, Telecommunications Editor for A+ Magazine (Apple), tech writer at AT&T, Staff Writer (Financial) NY Times Information Service, and freelancer for PC Sources, Windows Sources, PC, MacUser, Byte, Restaurant Business, Hotel Business, Computer Buyer’s Guide and Handbook, and other magazines. He also hosted a radio show, ComputerWise, for five years, and was an on-line editor for ZiffNet on Compuserve and Ziffnet on Prodigy.

He is currently a freelance editor and writer covering financial and defense news, with a concentration on the retail industry. If you are really interested, go to Linked In, where he maintains a profile.

On the miniatures front, you may have seen his byline in various hobby publications in the 1990s and 2000s. Lockwood is also the author of: Snappy Nappy: Simple, Subtle & Ultrafast Miniature Rules for the Napoleonic Era, and, Hyperspace Hack: Ultrafast Spaceship Fleet Battles with Miniatures (both published in 2009 and available from http://www.onmilitarymatters.com and http://www.caliverbooks.com).  Lockwood is also the editor of the Secrets of Wargame Design series, releasing the fifth volume in 2015.

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