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Christopher Donovan
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Bismarck!
One of only three wargames that survived my great wargame sell-off of 2001. Just couldn't get rid of this one. Even in that dark valley of gaming that was 2001 when I sold my ASL stuff, I couldn't let this one go. The cool factor was just too high. It's about a giant German battleship rampaging across the Atlantic ocean, preying on merchant shipping even as she herself is hunted by the Royal navy. Bismarck is a double-blind wargame released in 1980, the second edition of the much earlier game of the same name from 1962(!). As far as I know, this was the first double-blind wargame, followed by Midway in 1964. On first inspection this looks like a pretty complex game, with a lot of charts and "maneuver gauges" to intimidate the wary, but when it comes right down to it Bismark '80 is still a fairly simple game - ships & air units move simultaneously hidden behind a screen followed by each player calling out spaces to search where they have enough "search strength" to overcome varying weather conditions. If contact is made play moves to a tactical battle board where a simple set of rules governs the engagement. I've always enjoyed the strategic context provided by operational systems with a tactical sub-system, SPI's StarForce 'Alpha Centauri': Interstellar Conflict in the 25th Century is another such game I first played in my youth, though it's about as radical a departure from Bismarck as you can get in all other respects. Bismarck's tactical sub-system is just detailed enough for the unique qualities of the combatants involved to come through - the Hood has a tendency to explode, the Bismarck is indeed a mighty foe, and British carrier-based Swordfish torpedo bombers are not at all the deadly striking force you find in the Pacific theater (though they are often just effective enough to tip the scales).

Romance!
The relative ineffectiveness of British carrier-based air power, coupled with the frequently poor visibility in the North Atlantic means the battleship is still relevant to naval combat. You might say the Bismarck's breakout attempt was the last hurrah of the battlewagon and a stark contrast to the Yamato's ignominious demise. A game of Bismarck will typically generate small engagements between just a few ships or a climactic, lop-sided "pounce" on the Bismarck and the accompanying Prinz Eugen. Surprisingly, both are quite interesting to play out, for even an outnumbered Bismarck often has a chance to disengage due to the rules for withdrawal - it takes a Battleship to stop another Battleship from running and if the Germans can slow down the British Battleships with heavy gunfire they can slip away regardless of how many cruisers are in pursuit. The game is quite "swingy", and very often hinges on changes in weather. In the confines of the North Atlantic the German's only hope is to slip through the vast British search net during a few hours of low visibility. It's very exciting and tense, and the narrative is always there. It's a naval epic that can be re-told a hundred times and often you don't even mind losing. It's a game about hope, desperation and guile. And massive battleships clashing in the cold, gray North Atlantic.

Value-added!
Bismarck comes in three flavors of increasing complexity, the basic game is surprisingly easy to absorb, the intermediate game layers on a lot of modular optional rules for destroyers, submarines, alternative weather systems & the like, while the advanced game replaces the tactical sub-system with a detailed Jutland-style combat system akin to tabletop miniatures. All this amounts to an impressive degree of depth if you care to explore it, this game was made in a time when wargamers digested their games more slowly. Even though the strategic situation is usually the same the game has considerable replay value and you don't often see wargame designs nowadays provide you with so many options to tailor & extend your game as you see fit. The advanced tactical combat system could have easily been left out, the fact that it's there if you care to game out each individual volley and compare belt armor protection between different battleships gives Bismarck a lot of value packed into such a thin box.

Should I bother tracking down this out-of-print game?
Definitely worth a look for anyone interested in the Bismarck's attempt to terrorize the Atlantic shipping lanes, you would be hard-pressed to find a better value or a more lovingly crafted game on the subject. Designer Jack Greene would go on to work on such well-regarded naval wargames as Ironbottom Sound and The Royal Navy. Bismarck serves as an ideal entry point into the final act of battleship engagements.

Bismarck & Prinz Eugen prowl the Irish coastline...


Bismarck turns to face the guns...
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Paul O'Connor
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You've still got it bad, don't you.

We Shall Play Again.
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Christopher Donovan
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goldenboat wrote:
You've still got it bad, don't you.

We Shall Play Again.


I guess I do. The biggest hurdle in drawing in my more modern-gaming friends is the awkwardness of the fuel-consumption rules. Those are a little sloppy...that and the lop-sided situation, balanced out only by the VP schedule.
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Todd Bowdish
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Thumb for the Johnny Horton reference. One of my favorite sing-along CDs.
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Zerosum wrote:
Bismarck turns to face the guns...


I love how the board has age spots. This is clearly a much-used and well-loved game.

I fondly recall one battle where KM Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were set upon by 4 cruisers and the HMS King George V. I was pretty confident my British ships would prevail (1:1 battleships; 4:1 cruisers--right?).

But at the end of the bludgeoning, KGV was listing heavily, and glad the Bismarck was disengaging. My four cruisers were sunk, as was his Prinz Eugen.

Good times!

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Paul O'Connor
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Zerosum wrote:
The biggest hurdle in drawing in my more modern-gaming friends is the awkwardness of the fuel-consumption rules. Those are a little sloppy...that and the lop-sided situation, balanced out only by the VP schedule.


No compromise!
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Ronald Hill
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Out of curiosity, what were the other 2 war games that survived 2001?
 
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Christopher Donovan
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Vimy145 wrote:
Out of curiosity, what were the other 2 war games that survived 2001?


We the People, which I never got around to playing and ultimately traded for Magic Realm (this was pre-Washington's War). The other one was Guadalcanal, which I also never got around to playing and ultimately sold at a convention, I believe. I re-acquired it though, together with its sister-game Midway, as I still hope to try them out one day when I'm not playing 2nd Fleet or Pacific War (or Bismarck (second edition)...).

That's the whole sordid story.
 
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Ronald Hill
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Zerosum wrote:
Vimy145 wrote:
Out of curiosity, what were the other 2 war games that survived 2001?


We the People, which I never got around to playing and ultimately traded for Magic Realm (this was pre-Washington's War). The other one was Guadalcanal, which I also never got around to playing and ultimately sold at a convention, I believe. I re-acquired it though, together with its sister-game Midway, as I still hope to try them out one day when I'm not playing 2nd Fleet or Pacific War (or Bismarck (second edition)...).

That's the whole sordid story.


I've never played Guadalcanal, but played Midway quite a bit & enjoyed it every game, both win or lose. I did play Bismarck as a school friend owned it. I never won a game, which was very unusual for me. More importantly I enjoyed it as well. Never winning didn't bother me, it just gave me more incentive to try again & again. Then school ended & my friend went out of town taking the game with him and ended my chance to finally beat him at Bismarck. I liked your review, it is still a strong game, even though I haven't played it in 30 years, I have positive memories for it. Thanks.
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Christopher Donovan
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Vimy145 wrote:
I've never played Guadalcanal, but played Midway quite a bit & enjoyed it every game, both win or lose. I did play Bismarck as a school friend owned it. I never won a game, which was very unusual for me. More importantly I enjoyed it as well. Never winning didn't bother me, it just gave me more incentive to try again & again. Then school ended & my friend went out of town taking the game with him and ended my chance to finally beat him at Bismarck. I liked your review, it is still a strong game, even though I haven't played it in 30 years, I have positive memories for it. Thanks.


It's a great game, very few pieces on the board and not very complicated with just the basic rules. Doesn't take all that long to play, either. All the advanced & optional rules together do get pretty heavy. I remember having fun conducting carrier operations with the Graf Zeppelin. Always wanted to try some of the variable weather system alternatives offered.
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