Tag: Modern Combat Games

War games pertaining to the post-Vietnam era.

Days of Battle: Golan Heights – A Board Game Review

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. Continue reading “Days of Battle: Golan Heights – A Board Game Review”

Andean Abyss: Board Game Preview

Preview of GMT’s upcoming title Andean Abyss

By Mike Owens

Andean Abyss Board Game Preview


Overview

Andean Abyss is the forthcoming game in GMT’s new COIN [Counterinsurgency] series. Designed by Volko Ruhnke, Andean Abyss is a one-to-four player game simulating the political, military and economic struggle for the control of Colombia in the mid 1990’s. The game represents that era of Colombian history just after the Cali cartel was smashed. During this period the Government was attempting to stabilize the country, while the various guerrilla factions were rushing in to take advantage of the vacuum. Players control one of four factions: the Government of Colombia; the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo), known as FARC; the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), known as AUC; and the Colombian drug Cartels. Each faction has its own powers and victory conditions.
Continue reading “Andean Abyss: Board Game Preview”

Aegean Strike: Player Aid

Player Aid for Victory Games Aegean Strike

Player Aid – Game Info Tracking Sheets

By Mark D.

The Aegean Strike Player Aid sheets provide a convenient location for tracking of the following important Aegean Strike information:

  • Special Forces – Warsaw Pact – There are 30 Spetsnaz detachments to keep track of (for 30 full game turns), which is a considerable part of the force management the Soviet Player must perform. There are two sheets used to manage these detachments. Both are identical except that the first sheet tracks game turns 1 through 15 and the second sheet tracks turns 16 through 30. Space is provide to record the mission and, if required, the location of each detachment for each turn. For example, to indicate that 3 detachments are on a “Raid” mission in hex 1316, starting with turn 6, simply enter “A-1316” in the boxes next to the “1”, “2”, and “3” rows under the “GT6” column.
  • Special Forces – NATO – Space is provided for up to 30 Game Turns of missions for all 9 Detachments of the U.S. 2/75 Special Forces Group unit. The coding is the same as for the Soviet Spetsnaz detachments.
  • Missile Depletion and Replenishment – For the U.S. CV-69 Carrier and Battleship, this sheet allows you to “X” off ASM fires as they are used. Same for the Soviet CGH and CVH units. Boxes are also provided for tracking the maximum ASM missile replenishments allowed to Naples for the U.S., and Odessa, Sevastopol, and Fedosiya for the USSR.
  • Naval Movement Determination – Each Action Stage (i.e. 3 times per Game Turn) the U.S. and Soviet players must roll dice to determine how many naval units may be activated that Action Stage. This section allows users to record the number of allowable moves each Turn/Action Stage.

Click here to download the Player Aid sheet in PDF format.

Battle for Baghdad Rules Questions

Designer Responses to Battle for Baghdad Rules Questions

Responses by MCS Group

Questions by Harvey Mossman and Mark D.


Q: What are the Political Point Values of the Zones used for? They are mentioned in the rules in passing but nowhere in the rules or Example of Play are we told what their use is.

A: This is the number of points you place in a zone when an Arab Street card calls for it.


Q: Can a player play his Collateral Damage card to affect a battle he is not involved in? The card wording just says play “after a battle” but does not specify that you must be a participant in the battle to play it.

A: No.


Q: If I play the “Oil Ministry” card, which requires each player to pay me 2 Political Points, can I immediately play an InfoWar card that doubles income from any “source” to increase my income to 4 Political Points per player?

A: Yes, but the extra PP are drawn from the bank. You get double the points, but your opponents would not pay double the price.


Q: Another question involving InfoWar cards that double income – Can I play two of them back to back and quadruple my income? Here’s a specific example that occurred in our game tonight:

1. U.S. player wins a battle, killing 17 Shiite units for a total of 17 Political Points earned.
2. U.S. player plays an InfoWar card which doubles income; collects another 17 Political Points.
3. U.S. player plays a second InfoWar card which doubles income; collects 34 more Political Points.
Total Political Points Won by U.S. Player: 68

Is this correct? Can you play two of these in a row? If yes, should the second card have netted him 34 additional points or only 17?

A: That sounds like the US crushed the entire Sadr army in an epic battle, and had CNN and Al-Jazeera to sing its praises. Yes, there is a Santa Claus, and you were given Baghdad for Christmas.


Q: If Initiative is won by means of the “Surge/Jihad” card, what is the cost for an Arms Bazaar Card on that turn? Would it be 1 Political Point? Or would it be the highest bid that was made before the “Surge/Jihad” card was played?

A: The relevant rules read: “The player may also purchase the top card from the Arms Bazaar deck at a cost in Political Points equal to the number of Political Points bid by the winning player for Initiative. If no players bid for Initiative, then the cost per card is one Political Point.”
Thus, one Political Point, because the player who won Initiative paid zero (first paragraph), and the cost is one PP when the winner pays zero (second paragraph).


Q: Is the following sequence of events allowable?

a. Player plays InfoWar card to double political points for winning a battle.
b. Player then immediately plays “Back Alley Deal” card to retrieve the InfoWar card just played.
c. Player than immediately plays the InfoWar card again to double points again.

A: “a” and “b” are legal plays. “c” is not.
As soon as the Back Alley Deal card is played, the link between the battle and further card play, like the recovered InfoWar card, is lost. The Back Alley Deal is a new “effect stream”, and only one effect stream can exist at a time. The existence of one effect stream permanently breaks players’ abilities to interact with all previous effect streams.
If a Command Control was played by another player to cancel the Back Alley Deal, then that effect stream would not exist, and players could then interface with the previous effect stream at the end of the battle.


Q: Spawning rules – does “uncontrolled” really mean “non-enemy controlled”? We had a situation where the Jihadi player spawned an Infrastructure unit in the University zone while it was completely empty (and hence, uncontrolled). On the following turn, it was technically no longer “uncontrolled” because Jihadi himself controlled it. Is he still allowed to spawn new units there?

A: A Faction can spawn forces in the following Zones:
* Infrastructure in any Zone the Faction Controls that contains the Faction’s Security forces.
* Security in any Zone the Faction Controls that contains the Faction’s Infrastructure forces.
* Any Zone and conditions explicitly described on the Factions screen.
So, yes, the Jihadi player could Spawn Security forces in the University Zone on the following turn. If some of the Security forces remain, the Jihadi player could spawn additional Infrastructure on subsequent turns.

Battle for Baghdad: Board Game Strategy

Strange Bedfellows – Sunni/Shiite Cooperation in Battle for Baghdad

For both the Sunni and Shiite players in MCS Group’s Battle for Baghdad strategy board game, survival is a minute by minute struggle. Faced with an aggressive U.S. player, both had better be ready to bury the hatchet (somewhere other than in each other’s head) if they are to have a chance at victory. This article discusses a cooperative technique that can be employed by the Sunni and Shiite players, acting in concert, to inflict maximum irritation on the U.S. player while increasing their own chances of survival… and victory.
Battle for Baghdad - Title graphic


The Situation

Part of the Victory Condition requirements for both Sunni and Shiite players is to have at least one Infrastructure unit in an Iraqi National Government (ING) Affiliated Zone. With that in mind, let’s turn to our hypothetical situation. The US player has been wrestling with Al Qaeda in the southern areas of Baghdad and has therefore been unable (or unwilling) to respond to the considerable buildup of Shiite units in Shaab and Hurriyah zones. The Sunni and Shiite players have been having intense, secret discussions during the “Coalition” phase of each turn so, when the Sunni player moves into Baghdad Central, the US player assumes this to be part of an encircling move against the ING Ministries zone.

The ING currently has its hands full trying to maintain control of the Presidential Palace North zone, near Baghdad International Airport, and the Rasheed Int’l Airport zone in southeast Baghdad, both of which are still under ING control, but lightly defended. Seeing that the ING is in no position to withstand a coordinated Sunni/Shiite assault, the US and ING players have decided to allow the US to assume responsibility for defending the ING Ministries zone. Coordinated moves between the US and ING leave a strong US force controlling the Ministries zone, and the ING force has choppered back to the Presidential Palace North zone to avoid conflict with the US (remember that if the US and ING share a common zone at the start of the Combat Phase, they must fight).

Battle for Baghdad - Positions at start of 2nd turn
Figure 1

The next turn begins with forces arrayed as in Figure 1, above.


Required Conditions

Although I’m about to present a series of game actions that absolutely could take place in Battle for Baghdad, I want to point out that I’m only presenting one of an almost limitless range of possible sequences. I find this to be one of the most compelling and interesting aspects of the game. The sequence that I will present is only possible if the following three conditions are all true:

Battle for Baghdad - Required conditions

  • The Sunni or Shiite player gains the Initiative, which will allow them to determine who moves first.
  • The player seating order, going counter-clockwise, puts the US player after the Sunni, but before the Shiite.
  • The Sunni player is in possession of either the Terror Spectacular card or the WMD Arms Bazaar card.

Once all the pieces are in place, the Sunni and Shiite players put the plan into action.


The Plan

The heart of the Sunni/Shiite cooperative plan is the agreement that they will not attack each other’s units, and that they will make a major push to clear ING zones of any US or Iraqi National Gov’t units, thereby clearing the way for one of them (or both of them) to soon be able to declare victory by occupying the required number of zones plus one ING zone.

During the Move Step of the Sunni Player’s Action Phase, he makes one move: a single Security unit moves directly into the American occupied Ministries Zone.

A single Sunni unit moving into the heavily defended Ministries Zone should immediately start setting off alarm bells in the American ranks (see Figure 3). They’ll immediately suspect the Sunni player is holding either the WMD or Terror Spectacular cards.

Battle for Baghdad - The plan
Figure 3

The objective is to either force the US units to abandon the Ministries Zone during their Move Step, or allow them to stand and die there. The American player may suspect that the Sunnis are bluffing, but that’s a hell of a chance to take. If they’re wrong (and we know they are), the end result will be the destruction of eight powerful US Security Units and a reward of 16 Political Points for the Sunnis (since destroying US Units nets the victor double the political points). Since the US player moves before the Shiite player, he’ll have no knowledge of what Shiite plans are.

The Shiite plan is to move his large force of Security units south to the ING Rashid Int’l Airport zone, thus providing a second simultaneous attack on the ING zones critical for victory to both Sunni and Shiite players. But this movement will not take place until after the US player moves. (see figure 4)

Battle for Baghdad - Shiite moves
Figure 4

American Response

What are the US player’s options?

    • A) Helicopter the hell out of there, possibly back to the Airport or Green Zone – At first glance, the safest option. But keep in mind that abandoning an ING zone to either the Shiite or Sunni player can cost him the game in short order. And what if, he wonders, the Sunni is bluffing and does not actually have the WMD or Terror Spectacular card? He’d feel awfully stupid getting bluffed out of a key position like that. On the positive side, with his US units out of the way, he gets to watch the Sunni/Shiite “allies” turn ugly and tear each other to pieces. (figure 5)
Battle for Baghdad - Helicopter out!
Figure 5
    • B) Move aggressively into adjacent, enemy occupied zone – Determined to make the Sunni player pay in blood for the attack, the US player may choose to move into the Sunni affiliated Azamiyah zone. A wise US player will also leave one unit behind in the Ministries zone, so as to insure that the Sunni must play the WMD or Terror Spectacular card in order to guarantee the zone will be cleared of US units. Don’t want to just give that zone up without a fight! (figure 6)
Battle for Baghdad - Aggressive Shiite moves
Figure 6
    • C) Call the bluff and sit tight in the zone – Hope that the Sunni is bluffing and does not actually possess the WMD or Terror Spectacular card. A bold move requiring nerves of steel… and the move the Sunni is desperately hoping for. (figure 7)
Battle for Baghdad - WMD option
Figure 7

The Aftermath

If the US player chooses option “A”, the turn will most likely end with Sunnis and Shiites in control of two out of three Iraqi National Gov’t Affiliated Zones. If the Terror Spectacular/WMD card is actually played, the Shiites will control one ING zone and another will be completed vacated due to the major terrorist attack. Not a good outcome for any of the other players since it may put both Sunni and Shiite uncomfortably close to their victory conditions.

If option “C” is chosen, not only will the outcome be much the same as option “A” results, but the US will have sustained large casualties from the WMD or Terror Spectacular attack, filling Sunni coffers with Political Points to boot.

So, we’ll have to assume that the US player will choose option “B”. And let’s further assume a truly aggressive US player. He sends three Security units into Azamiyah to attempt to take out the Sunnis there. Four additional US Security units are sent into Shaab to punish the Shiites. And one US Security unit is left in Ministries so that the zone is not given up totally without a fight. (As a matter of fact, it will be quite difficult for the Sunni player to win this battle without use of the WMD card due to the fact that US Security units count double in combat and due to the superiority of the US Command Cards)

Following the US moves, the Shiite player decides to stick with the plan and moves all available Security units south to Rasheed Int’l Airport. (see figure 8 for final dispositions after movement)

Battle for Baghdad - Actual game events
Figure 8

Moving into the Combat Phase, let’s assume that the US player defeats the Shiite player handily in Shaab, and that the Shiite player is able to overwhelm the lightly defender Rasheed Int’l Airport zone and assume control there. I believe it would be best for the Sunni player to shift play of the WMD/Terror Spectacular card to Azimiyah, thereby eliminating 3 US units and, more importantly, picking up 6+ Political Points (2 each for the US Security Units destroyed + the value of the US Command Card played, if any). Even though all Sunni units are destroyed in the attack, the Political Point reward will more than pay for replacements.

At turn’s end, we find the US player still in control of the ING Ministries zone, having defeated the single Sunni unit there, and now in control of the Shiite affiliated Shaab zone. The Sunni affiliated Azamiyah zone has been completely cleared by the WMD/Terror Spectacular event. Finally, the Shiite player is now in control of the ING Rasheed Int’l Airport zone, after having lost 3 units fighting the ING defenders there.

On the surface it may appear that the US player is the big winner, since the US still has 5 units remaining of the original 8, while the Sunni player has lost 5 units and the Shiite player has lost 6 units.

Battle for Baghdad - Aftermath of fighting

The counterpoint can be made, however, that the US player was not in control this turn, but simply reacting to enemy actions. The turn ended with the Sunni player accumulating enough victory points to rebuild his losses and then some, and the Shiite player in control of a critical Victory requirement zone (Rasheed Int’l Airport). The following turn will once again find the US player simply reacting to events as he attempts to recapture Rasheed Int’l Airport and reinforce Ministries before someone else attacks the lightly defended zone.

Summary

It’s true that in Battle for Baghdad the US is not often defeated on the battlefield. But, as a North Vietnamese Colonel once said, it is also irrelevant. Cooperative play, not just between Sunni and Shiite, is essential to counter an aggressive US player.

The sequence of events described in this article is just one of a myriad of possibilities that may occur in an actual game. The turn might have proceeded in an entirely different direction if:

  • The players were seated in a different order.
  • The Sunni player did not draw the critical WMD or Terror Spectacular card.
  • The US player withdrew from Ministries to Rasheed Int’l Airport, thereby denying that zone as a target for the Shiite player.
  • The Shiite player decided to double-cross the Sunni player and moved units into Azamiyah to attack the Sunni units there.

The replay value of Battle for Baghdad is likely the most outstanding aspect of the game. Although I have touched upon the game’s variability in this article, you must play a full game to truly comprehend it. The allowance of shared victories (i.e. more than one player can possibly meet their victory conditions in the same turn) will absolutely make for “strange bedfellows” from time to time. There are no “standard” moves or alliances that work all the time… or fail all the time… and that variety is what keeps me interested in playing.

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.
battleforbaghdad_rv2_fig1


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.

Battle for Baghdad: Initial Impressions

A Different Mindset: Playing Battle for Baghdad

Having just a handful of Battle for Baghdad sessions under my belt, this article can only provide some initial impressions of the game. I’ll attempt to provide a good summary, mainly useful to someone who has not played the game before, and provide some opinions of game features including examples for clarity. This review will be revised and expanded in the future as my mastery of the game increases and my opinions fluctuate.

Battle for Baghdad Review - Title Graphic

It’s true that Battle for Baghdad is definitely not a standard war game. But it is definitely not a “Euro” game either. It’s extremely interactive and competitive, generating quite a bit of combat each turn. In fact, any time two or more factions end the Recruit/Move phase in the same zone, there MUST be combat until only one faction is left standing.

My first bit of praise for the game stems from the fact that competent play requires a mindset totallly different from any other game that I have played. That’s a good thing, in my opinion. The game comes complete with extended examples of play as well as strategy tips for each faction. The strategy tips were extremely helpful. It probably would have taken hours and hours of game play (and mindset adjustment) to learn those lessons on my own (not that learning from experience is a bad thing…).

FYI: For some reason the downloadable rules on the MCS Group web site are not the final version of the rules that shipped with the game (at least when I last checked the site on 5/29/2010), so be aware of that.

Factions

The game can be played by 3 to 6 players, with each player representing one of the following factions: U.S., Sunni, Shiite, Iraqi Government, Al Qaeda and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). With less than 6 players the NGO, Al Qaeda, and U.S. players (in that order) are ignored. Each faction has strengths and weaknesses. Some have special capabilities. For example the NGO player is exempt from the forced combat rules and may “coexist” in a zone with any other player. As another example of factional differences , the U.S. player is allowed to make 3 “moves” per turn, while the NGO player can only make 1. A big part of the game is knowing the capabilities of your opponents.

Each faction also has unique reinforcement “spawning” location restrictions. Some factions have special movement capabilities (airmobile, tunnel, etc.). In addition to a generic victory condition, each faction retains its own unique victory condition (more about this later).


Cards

It’s not a “card driven game”, in my opinion, because you don’t need cards to move or fight. You could theoretically play the entire game without holding any cards. But you won’t win too many battles without supporting Command Cards and Arms Bazaar Cards. So it’s true that the cards are an extremely important component of the game.

  • Arab Street” cards represent the needs of the city’s inhabitants; a need that should be met by one of the factions, or a power vacuum that must be filled. Each card assigns “political points” to one or more city zones. Each faction that feels capable will then compete to control those zones, thus collecting the political points.
  • Command” cards function much like combat units in that they have a combat strength, but also have a command type (Conventional vs. Unconventional) that,when compared against opponent’s cards, may result in some type of combat benefit or hindrance (more details on this in a forthcoming strategy article).
  • Arms Bazaar” cards may be the most important cards. They are not revealed to other players until used. They can provide offensive or defensive benefits, versus the oponent’s Command card. At times, they represent literal events and other times they represent abstract capabilities. For example, there is a “Desertion” card that could force X number of enemy units to switch factions at the start of combat, and can be played against any player, including the U.S. player. I don’t think it’s meant to represent U.S. units literally defecting to Al Qaeda, but rather a nasty surprise upon discovering that your enemy had capabilities you were not aware of, or that your own units were not as proficient as you anticipated. The Arms Bazaar cards also have secondary functionality that allows them to be played in certain combinations. I’ve only scratched the surface in learning how to best utilize these combinations, but they seems quite interesting (see the “Arms Bazaar Cards” section of the rules where they briefly describe these combinations).

Combat

Combat occurs when more than one faction occupies a zone, and is always a contest between exactly two factions. So, for example, if three factions occupied the same zone, two of them will fight to the death, and then the remaining two will fight a separate combat. The order in which the combats are resolved is determined by the player turn order. In a three way contest between U.S., Sunni and Shiite factions, if the U.S. player goes first in the intiative order he will select either the Sunni or Shiite as his opponent. In any case, there will only be one faction left standing in the zone at the conclusion of the turn. (not considering the special NGO exemption).

The combat sequence requires a bit of adaptive thinking. Each player secretly chooses a “Command” Card (if he still has one) and secretly commits zero or more of his combat units that are currently present in the zone. This constitutes the players’ “force” for the combat. In addition, he may assign one Offensive and one Defensive “Arms Bazaar” card to the battle. After comparing cards and applying the effects (players may be able to “neutralize”, or eliminate, the opponent’s Command card), which ever side has the largest force remaining, wins. Here’s the unusual part: The loser of the battle loses EVERY ONE of his combat units, but the winner only loses the number of units he secretly committed. So, if you commit zero units, you don’t lose anything! Here’s a practical example:

U.S. Combat vs Sunni Player

  • U.S. player has a 6 point Command card and 6 units in the zone.
  • Sunni player has a 2 point Command card and 3 units in the zone.
  • The U.S. player could take a gamble and commit ZERO combat units and just rely on his 6 point Command card to win the battle.
  • Assuming the Sunni player commits all 3 of his combat units and cannot neutralize the U.S. Command card, the U.S. player would win the battle since his 6-point Command card is greater than the sum of the Sunni Command card (2) + combat units (3).
  • The Sunni player would lose all 3 of his combat units and the U.S. player would lose none.
  • The winner is entitled to a variable number of Political Points.

Of course, the unpredictability of the “Arms Bazaar” cards could turn this battle completely in favor of the Sunni player, and it could end up being the U.S. player who loses his entire force. To completely turn things upside down, there is a “Collateral Damage” Arms Bazaar card that takes the Politcal Points away from the winner and grants them to the loser instead!

As interesting as it is, I’m still not convinced that this combat system will stand the test of time. It seems to heavily favor the U.S. player, which makes perfect sense. But if there’s just no possibility of defeating the U.S. in combat, then why even have the combat sequence? Why not just abstract it out and make the game a purely political strategy game? At this point, I’m perfectly willing to concede that this is just a side effect of my inexperience with the game. For now.

Review Update: I have seen the U.S. player defeated in battle on more than one occasion, so it is possible. Add the “Terror Spectacular” and “WMD Attack” Arms Bazaar cards into the mix and any of the factions is capable of clearing any zone on the map, including zones occupied by powerful U.S. forces. These two cards cause ALL units, both friendly and enemy, in the zone to be eliminated, with the player who played the card awarded the Political Points for enemy units killed. Makes the U.S. player quite cautious almost to the point of being paranoid. Although I have to agree that it’s is a bit unnerving to see a single Sunni unit just march into the Green Zone while it’s chock full of U.S. units. Of course he could be bluffing…….


Winning the Game

The game ends in one of two ways:

  • The last Arms Bazaar card is drawn.
  • One of the factions meet the general or specific victory conditions.

I particularly like the way Victory conditions drive player behavior. There’s a universal victory condition (120 political points, I think) that represents total dominance of the city. So far, in the few games we’ve played, only the U.S. player has come close to that.

In addition, each player has a unique victory condition, which makes the game truly interesting. For example, the Iraqi Government player’s unique victory condition is to create a situation where no Sunni and Shiite units are in adjacent zones. That’s it. Just separate the kids so they can’t fight… and he wins! Of course that’s easier said than done. I actually pulled it off in the first game I played, but that was because none of the other players were sufficiently familiar with the victory conditions to see it coming. Not likely to happen that easily again…

It’s still too soon to tell if the victory conditions are balanced or not. I’m just dying to see a game where the NGO player wins! The designers have given this some thought, apparently, since the rules state that if no one meets their victory conditions by the time the Arms Bazaar deck is depleted, then the NGO player wins. If there’s no NGO player, the Al Qaeda player wins by default. So, these players have the most incentive to insure that no other factions succeed.


Player Interaction

There are no restrictions on player negotiation and overt or covert deal-making. As is common in multi-player games, everyone tends to gang up on the current front-runner. If a player can control the initiative and set himself up to be the last player in a given turn, he can arrange a sequence of combat actions and events that can decide the game in his favor quite quickly. In other words, it does not appear to be one of those multi-player games that just goes on forever.


Summary

Battle for Baghdad has all the elements of a great game. Now it’s up to the gaming community to determine if all the element mesh into a coherent whole. So far, this game has completely grabbed my interest and I’ve enjoyed every minute I’ve spent playing. I also suspect that the replay value will be off the charts, which is super important nowadays when games like this are quite pricey.

Some gamers have a problem with some of the game mechanics, like the aforementioned case where U.S. troops could “defect” to Al Qaeda, or just the general concept that an NGO might actually have “troops” and engage in combat with other factions. I have no problem at all with these abstract representations and don’t think they detract from the game at all. I recommend you give this game a try.

After a few more sessions, I’ll update this review where I think it necessary.

Aegean Strike: Review

Introduction

The central scenarios of Victory Games Aegean Strike are hypothetical World War III contests, pitting the mid-1980s U.S. military against the powerful conventional forces of the Soviet Union, specifically covering the eastern Mediterranean theater of operations. The second tier combatants in this game are Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. There are scenarios that cover other potential situations in the region, such as a war between Greece and Turkey, a Soviet attempt to remove NATO Pershing Two missiles from Turkish soil by force, and a scenario that links up with Gulf Strike. The situations described in the scenarios are interesting enough to attract gamer attention.

Aegean Strike Board Game - Title Graphic

Victory Games Gulf Strike is such a favorite of mine that I had a positive bias before even opening the Aegean Strike box, making the writing of an objective review difficult. But, not so fast… even though both games share a common rule set, Aegean Strike is a very different game with a very different feel and tempo.

Components

Overall, the game components are excellent by 1980s standards. The map is clear and legible, as are the unit counters. Some common complaints:

  • Airbases, and associated Air Defense units, are printed directly on the map – In Gulf Strike, airbases were distinct counters. Each airbase counter had a corresponding box on the Airbase Display. It was a bit difficult to keep track of where all your air units were based, but not excessively so. Aegean Strike has the airbases printed directly on the map. The Airbase Display has a box for each Airbase on the map. The first problem is that the Airbase display, in most cases, doesn’t even show the name of the city; it only shows a hex number. It would be so much easier to see “Larisa” on the Airbase Display, rather than just seeing “1615” and having to look on the map to find out that the city of “Larisa” in Greece is located in hex 1615.
  • Unit counter colors – Everyone I speak to expresses a problem with the choice of colors for the unit counters. Nobody likes the red U.S. units. Why would the U.S. army be red and the Red Army be yellow? I suspect one of the Victory Games suppliers was running a special on red card stock…
    Aegean Strike - The Red Army is yellow?
  • Marker shortages – The number of informational markers included in the game is inadequate. Many of the scenarios list units that start the game with hits already accrued (i.e. units that are not fully “mobilized”). Division sized units will have 6 hits accrued, but there are insufficient “6” hit markers to cover all the divisions that require them. Because a “7 turn” (or “20 turn”) game means 7 turns (or 20 turns) after hostilities actually commence, the game could use a marker to indicate this turn of commencement. “Undetected” markers commonly run out early in the game (before the Soviet navy is decimated). Also, it would be helpful to have markers to indicate successful Close Air Support missions, Declared Combat situations, and Interdiction markers, rather than having to use markers from another game. No markers are provided to identify Turkish Strait hexes that have had their Bombardment Rating permanently eliminated. There are other examples of markers that I had to devise on my own, but I don’t want to beat the subject to death. Suffice it to say that a business decision was likely made to save costs by reducing the number of counters. Fair enough.

Rules Organization

Aegean Strike - Game Box Cover

Like Gulf Strike, the rules are excellent. There are remarkably few omissions and ambiguities considering the complexity of the game. The “Charts, Tables and Examples Insert” provides a good range of examples for some of the trickier concepts and the charts are mostly understandable.

One notable exception is the “Troop Quality Effects Matrix” which probably doesn’t really need to exist. The matrix attempts to cover all possible combinations of troop quality (Elite, Line, Militia) for the attacker and cross-references that with all possible combinations of troop quality for the defender. The cross-reference then shows the final column shifts (+ or -) to be applied to the combat. A quick analysis of the matrix shows that it can be simplified to a comparison of the “worst” troop quality present among the attackers and the “worst” troop quality present in the defending stack. In other words, if the attacking stack contains both Elite and Line quality troops, the resulting column shifts will be the same, for each defender troop quality combination, as if the attacker only had Line quality troops. Spend a minute looking at it, and you’ll see what I mean.

A good case can be made that many of the Optional Rules listed should have been incorporated into the main rules set as they are always used in actual play. In particular, the “Variable Aircraft Speed” optional rule that debuted with Aegean Strike should be part of the core rules set for Aegean Strike and Gulf Strike, since it adds such value to the simulation. This new optional rule takes into account the differing speeds of the aircraft represented in the game. The idea that a Mig-29 just couldn’t seem to be able to catch up to a C-130 that had a 3-hex (i.e. 84 kilometer) head start always seemed kind of odd, so the new rule was well received and widely implemented.


Setup

Zoom in on Istanbul

As always, my #1 pet peeve is games with confusing Setup instructions. In this category, Aegean Strike scores very well, with the following exceptions:

  • Turkish Order of Battle (All Scenarios) – Several references to “within X contiguous land hexes of Istanbul” really shouldn’t include the Turkish mainland, because you would have to cross the Bosphorus Straits to get to the mainland. I guess the bridge might make it contiguous for ground unit movement purposes, but it would have been nice to have some clarity (i.e. “within X contiguous land hexes of Istanbul, considering the two hexes on opposite sides of the Bosphorus Straits to be contiguous”).
  • Soviet Order of Battle (All scenarios) – Several references to “any Soviet hex”. It’s not clear if that includes Soviet satellite hexes, such as Libya and Syria. The legend on the Strategic Map identifies red hexes as “USSR/Allied use”, but is that the same as a “Soviet” hex? The large Soviet ground reinforcement contingents that begin appearing on turn M+5 are directed to appear in “any Soviet Strategic Hex”, which leads me to believe that “Soviet” hex in this context means hex in the Soviet Union proper because I find it hard to believe that the Soviet 19th Army would be allowed to mysteriously originate in Syria. But, if “Soviet” does mean USSR proper, then would this apply also to Soviet naval units? If so, then it would make the Libyan and Syrian ports available only to Soviet naval units that can get through the Turkish Straits before the war breaks out. As a final word on this subject, Soviet Air Units are directed to appear on “any airbases on the Soviet Air Display”, which would clearly include Syria and Libya. Can you blame me for being a bit confused?

I know these are not really big deals, but I just despise even the slightest ambiguity in game Setup instructions.


Examples

There are many good examples in the rules book itself and the “Charts, Tables and Examples” insert (a 16-page insert that contains about 16 illustrated examples of the main game concepts); movement, detection, combat (air, naval and ground), supply, and amphibious operations. The charts provide quick reference for most of the frequently used information and the combat table is easily comprehended.


Playing the Game

Here’s that bias creeping in again, but it has to be noted that Gulf Strike is, in general, a better game. For several reasons which I’ll enumerate when it makes sense to do so (don’t want this to become an article about Gulf Strike!) but I suppose the main reason is that it lacks the sweeping grandeur of Gulf Strike (that’s right… I used “sweeping grandeur” in a sentence), where Soviet Armies maneuver over vast open areas of varying terrain, lay siege to major cities, and direct massive air armadas at enemy armies and navies.

Aegean Strike, by contrast, can be described as “Gulf Strike in a phone booth”. It’s a much more congested space, and the map becomes very crowded very quickly. Not that there isn’t any room at all to maneuver, but the victory conditions in the major scenarios channel all the combatants towards Istanbul; the center of the phone booth. In short order, Soviet and Bulgarian Divisions (and there’s a ton of them) find themselves tripping over each other to get near Istanbul.

However, Aegean Strike adds some elements that are not found in Gulf Strike, such as the uncertainty of knowing when the war will actually break out. This uncertainty factor should be given credit for adding a lot of replay value to the game. You’ll never know how many reinforcements will get in theater before hostilities commence and what shape your mobilization units will be in either. It’s actually one of my favorite aspects of the game. Some of my gaming colleagues see this differently. They say that if the war breaks out very early it favors the U.S. player because there will be more time for them to establish positions before the Soviet armies even arrive as reinforcements, and vice-versa if war breaks out late. Their complaint is that the winner is really decided by this luck element. I guess you’d have to play quite a few games in order to prove or disprove this theory.

The unusual terrain feature provided by the Turkish Straits also adds an interesting operational consideration to the game. How much of the Soviet Navy can get through the Straits and into the Aegean and/or Mediterranean before war breaks out and the Straits are closed?

Naval Operations

There isn’t a whole lot of cat-and-mouse action in naval operations in Aegean Strike. The Soviet subs try to position themselves to inflict maximum damage when war breaks out. The Soviet surface fleet makes a run for the Turkish Straits and hopes to not be trapped there or in the Black Sea when the music stops. But, in most cases, the U.S. Navy makes short work of the Soviet fleet. It’s just a matter of how much pain they inflict on the U.S. fleet before they go down. But it’s fast, furious naval combat. You have to like that.

Air Operations

The air war is also quite intense in this game. In Gulf Strike, actual air-to-air combat happens a lot less frequently than you might think. There’s a huge amount of air space to maneuver in. Since ground combat actions occur on several widely separated fronts, even most close air support missions tend to go un-intercepted. Aegean Strike is a totally different kettle of fish. It’s air combat in a phone booth as well. No sooner does an air unit go “wheels up” than it is immediately detected and fighting for its life. Again, the action is intense.

Ground Operations

The ground war is where the game bogs down. You literally end up with Russians and Bulgarians tripping over each other to get at the Turks and Greeks. In both Scenarios 2 and 3, the larger scenarios, control of all the Turkish Strait hexes is a prerequisite for victory. Which leads to… you guessed it… ground combat in a phone booth. Scenario 2 has a “Short Game” (7 war game turns) and a “Long Game” (20 war game turns). In the long game, control of either Ankara or Athens is a second prerequisite for Soviet victory which widens the game out a bit as the NATO player cannot be sure towards which direction the Soviets will make their major push. But there will also be lots of crowded, intense ground combat in and around the Turkish Straits. Get your game tweezers out, unless you’ve got tiny fingers because there’s not going to be a lot of daylight between those units.

All of this phone booth combat makes for a slow playing game (relative to Gulf Strike). I don’t mean that as a negative at all. It’s just a fact. If you prefer a faster moving game, then Aegean Strike may not be for you. You’ll spend a lot of time looking up detection ranges for various aircraft and naval units, and varying standoff attack ranges as well. It’s too much to remember off the top of your head, but some are worth remembering. For example, U.S. strike aircraft using their ASM rating can fire at Soviet surface naval units from 4 operational hexes away; Soviet surface naval units can’t try to detect enemy air units until they’re within 3 operational hexes. Write that little tidbit down immediately before you forget it, U.S. player.


Special Forces

Aegean Strike Board Game - Special Forces unit

Another key, but often overlooked, aspect of the game is Special Forces. The Soviets have an overwhelming advantage here (30 Spetsnaz detachments compared to only 9 U.S. Special Forces detachments). But it comes down to resource management again. Running Special Ops is like a full time job in Aegean Strike. You must stay focused on where your detachments have been assigned and to what task they’ve been assigned.

Without going into a detailed explanation of how Special Forces work, let’s just assume you’ve got each of the 30 Spetsnaz (Soviet Special Ops) detachments assigned to Ambush missions. There are no game counters to represent these detachments, but there is a “Warsaw Pact Player Record” where you will write down the 30 hex numbers to which these detachments have been secretly assigned. Then you have to watch every movement of enemy units to see if they stumble into any of your Ambush hexes. It’s really quite a job to stay focused on this while simultaneously managing all the other aspects of the game. But Special Forces can make the difference between victory and defeat, so you must focus.


Play Balance

On one of the gaming sites (maybe ConsimWorld?), I saw a post by Mark Herman (the designer) where he said that he never gave a thought to play balance. He was just trying to create a great simulation. If that means one side or the other get stomped every time, then so be it. You’ll find, however, that the realism of the game system puts the burden of success squarely on the shoulders of the players. Just as in real life, it won’t matter how high tech U.S. weapons systems are, if you put a bungling U.S. commander in charge against a very competent Soviet commander. The Soviet commander would still wipe the floor with him. So it is in this game. If you can manage your resources better, and devise a better operational plan than your opponent, you’re going to win.

The rules suggest reducing available supply points as a handicap when players of differing skill levels play, which should work well as it makes it tough for even a great manager to allocate resources. But, ultimately, the great planner/manager will end up with the win.


Scenarios

A quick summary of the available game scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: Battle for North Africa is definitely worth playing since it’s a bit more interesting than the average mini “learning” scenario, and it’s actually quite competitive. This is not a strategy article so I won’t go into detail, but the initial setup positions in this scenario are really critical, particularly for the U.S. player. It will also give new players a good feel for the Naval and Air movement and combat systems.
    Aegean Strike Stragegic Map
  • Scenario 2: World War III, Southwestern Theater of Operations is the heart of the game. If the game could only have one scenario, this would be it. Much of this review is based on my play of this scenario.
  • Scenario 3: Turkish Missile Crisis is much like Scenario 2 except that Greece is neutral, leaving the Turks to their fate against the Soviets. Probably a much more realistic scenario, but I have not actually played it.
  • Scenario 4: The Greco-Turkish War is your “taken from real world headlines” scenario (much like Gulf Strike’s scenario portraying the Iran-Iraq War), where the Greeks and Turks slug it out with each other. The “Game Length” paragraph is comical: “The game continues until both sides agree to a draw or either player achieves his victory conditions.” I’ll leave it to you to figure out how the scenario ends 99.9% of the time. Without Superpower assistance, nobody’s winning this war. There’s a bit of uncertainty in that the breakout of hostilities is randomly decided, as is the setup order (i.e. who has the disadvantage of having to set their units up first). Play this scenario to gain insight into why these two nations (both NATO allies) have not fought a war even though there’s such animosity between them. The Soviet Union may be long gone, and the Cold War may be over, but Scenario 4 is just as topical in 2010 as it was in 1986.
  • Scenario 5: World War III is a scenario that links Aegean Strike with Gulf Strike. I have not played this scenario, but I’ll bet it’s a monster. So, if you like monster games, Scenario 5 is for you, I’m sure. If anyone’s actually played this Scenario, we’d love to hear from you at The Boardgaming Life, to get your feedback, scenario notes, series replay… whatever, for posting on this site.

Summary

Overall, Aegean Strike an interesting game to play, but I would stop short of calling it a “fun” game. Victory Games was just not able to re-capture the magic of Gulf Strike. It also ranks pretty high on the complexity scale so if that puts you off, then you should definitely look elsewhere. It demands attention to detail and lots of planning. You need to be a great manager, book keeper and general to play well. Again, if that’s not your cup of tea, then you won’t like Aegean Strike.

For those who have played Gulf Strike and don’t mind this type of challenge, you shouldn’t feel that, since you already own and have played Gulf Strike, you don’t need to bother with Aegean Strike. As mentioned earlier the two are very different games and you’ll find that you need a completely different mind-set (and battle plan) to succeed in Aegean Strike. Just because I didn’t find this game as engaging as Gulf Strike doesn’t mean that you won’t. Just have your game tweezers ready.