by Paul Comben

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Introduction

In the increasingly fractious relationship between Adolf Hitler and his senior commanders, it was the Fuhrer’s repeated complaint that his generals knew nothing about the economic aspects of warfare. They retorted, often just between themselves until the war was safely over, that the Austrian corporal knew nothing about proper operational planning. In March 1945, Hitler launched an offensive to secure the Hungarian oilfields with forces Guderian was clamouring to have on the Oder front.  Alongside the Fuhrer’s refusal to countenance giving up a yard of ground to free up forces, his clinging on to “fortresses” which existed in name only, and his obsession with waving his “mission” in the face of inexorable realities, this offensive by the 6th SS Panzer Army is often presented as yet another of Hitler’s meanderings into the realms of grotesque fantasy.

By Mitch Freedman
cover

Simulations Publications, Inc. 1977
Designer – Rob Mosca

Long before the modern Hobbit craze, long before Peter Jackson, there were some books written by J.R.R. Tolkien, books in which he created his own mythology, dealt with universal problems of good and evil, and looked into the private motives and public actions of the powerful and the meek, the wise and the foolish.

Those actions and motives were really aspects of every human being, of course, and Tolkien did his work so well that the story of the Hobbit grew and grew beloved. His exercise in putting the essence of humanity down on paper – this was long before the films – required him to add dwarfs and elves and even orcs, brightening and polishing the parts of being human which needed a special mirror to see clearly.

For those who were never English majors, think of Spock or Data on Star Trek. Not human, certainly, but more human than most of the rest of the crew.

At least, that’s how I see it.

So, what does this all have to do with war gaming?  Let’s take a look at Sauron and ask some questions. I won’t give you the answer to the final question – is Sauron really a war game – because you should have the fun of figuring it out yourself or, at least, fighting over the answer.

For those who don’t know the game of Sauron – and I suspect that is a lot of people – it travels the same path that more recent War of the Rings games follow, with a full complement of Elves and Dwarfs fighting off Goblins and Orcs and trying to defeat powerful foes outside the gates of Mordor. There are no plastic figures, and no cards to turn over, just some cardboard counters and some dice and a simple map to create the most important battle in the history of Middle Earth.

by Mitch Freedman

Game Design: Paul Fish and Hermann Luttmann

Publisher: White Dog Games  http://www.whitedoggames.com/#!dunkirk/c1qjs

Cover 2Here’s what you need to know before anything else. Games are what they are, and this is a solitaire game.  You aren’t going to outwit an opponent, you aren’t going to cheat anyone but yourself. And your battle is not against a rigidly advancing foe who follows strict rules, but against the luck of the cards.

You also aren’t playing on a hex grid map, but marching up toward the coast on 10 tracks, following a string of boxes the same size as your unit markers. They move up the track in just one direction until you hit the coast, and even after you sail away you aren’t really safe from German attacks until you get to England.  You can’t even throw new reinforcements into a key area and overwhelm the Germans. The best you can do is put your stronger units in good defensive terrain, flood some low lying boxes to slow the enemy advance, and – once a game – use some special markers to let the RAF rule the skies for a turn.

 By Paul Comben

Grand Campaign BoxAs I contemplated writing this article on Dave Schroeder’s massive divisional level treatment of the Great War, several contrasting images came to mind.

The first was of me, sitting in a railway carriage in the spring of 1998, reading the designer’s notes for The Schlieffen Plan and being utterly dismissive of the statement that this was but the first part of a series which would eventually cover the entirety of the First World War. I simply could not see it happening – I had just bought this game as a curiosity more than anything else, and prided myself on having far too much experience of how the hobby had been over years to take grandiose claims of massive things to come at face value.

The second image, or rather, set of images, were those photographs posted from games clubs where the series I was so certain was going to fizzle out after one or two titles, has been lovingly set up in all its stunning immensity by teams of keen players.

By Mitch Freedman

Designer: Frank Chadwick

Publisher: Victory Point Games

Golan Slipcover (Front) v0-4
Days of Battle: Golan Heights cover art. Photos used with permission.

The first time you open Golan Heights and lay out the pieces – the starting position for all the counters is marked on the game board – you might be surprised at how simple it looks. There are just seven Israeli counters on the board – six armor battalions and one infantry brigade – to hold off about 20 attacking units. A separate board to hold reinforcements shows what day they come in, and while there are more Israeli reinforcements than Syrians, it looks like the chance of Israel holding off the attackers fits somewhere between slim and none.

By Mitch Freedman

Designer – Jonathan Southard
Development – Ty Bomba & Chris Perello
XRT Games – 1993

Antietam Board Game Cover Art

As a battle, Antietam was a mess. It was a glorious mess, bravely and badly fought, and as the sun set it marked the end of Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland and cast a long, long shadow that reached all the way to the end of the Civil War.

It’s hard to know, even today, just how much weight to give to the battle of Antietam in the long chain of events which led to the end of the Civil War.  It was a turning point – a big one – but great results can have many causes and what seems significant or inevitable now was not quite as certain or obvious right after the battle.

Nearly 40 and Still Going Strong

By Mitch Freedman

barlev_rv1_title

Why would anyone want to read about a game that is almost 40 years old, let alone write about it?

Well, there are lots of answers. One of the best is that sometimes a game manages to give something that stays interesting no matter how long its been around. And while its not exactly fair to compare Bar Lev to Monopoly or Scrabble, it does have a cult following that has never died. On top of that, its innovative combat systems are still fun to play even today.

Besides, its not quite gone. You can still find copies of Bar Lev (designed by John Hill and published by Conflict Games in 1974) out in the world of E-bay

By Robert DeMaio

Bannockburn 1314 Board Game Review

“The Battle of Bannockburn (Blàr Allt a’ Bhonnaich in “Scottish Gaelic”) (24 June 1314) was …. one of the most decisive battles of the First War of Scottish Independence, and remains one of the iconic cornerstones in the History of Scotland….

Edward (II of England) came to Scotland in the high summer of 1314 with the preliminary aim of relieving Stirling Castle: the real purpose, of course, was to find and destroy the Scottish army in the field, and thus end the war. England, for once, was largely united in this ambition, although some of Edward’sgreatest magnates and former enemies, headed by his cousin, Thomas of Lancaster, did not attend in person, sending the minimum number of troops they were required to by feudal law.

The Omnipresent Magician

By Mitch Freedman

Circus Train Board game review

When you slide Circus Train out of its protective sleeve, the first thing to catch your eye is its garish, poster-bright red cardboard case.

Open it, and you are dazzled by a rainbow of laser-cut cardboard markers that must be  snapped apart to play the game…a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors that will become your clowns and elephants, lions and horses, the human cannonball and the sideshow freaks.

The game is remarkably simple. All you have to do is start your Circus Train out in Canada, then go to different cities