We played two different games of Strike of the Eagle at MidSouth Con in Memphis a few weeks ago. One session was a two-player game (the small intro) and the other was a 4 player using the big map from end to end.
Both sessions were instructive and entertaining. The starter scenario is a very good one to get the feel for mechanics and how things work, with a minimal investment in set-up or play time. Make those mistakes NOW so they won’t hurt so much in a big game.
The big game, Scenario ##, is a ‘rough road’ for the Poles. More about this later. But first, let’s just look at the game.
Just reading the rules gives one the early realization that the card play will be important and that a person will “never have enough” cards to do everything he or she might like to do. While some of the actual events are of only mild interest, others seem magnetic. Getting a certain number in combat (and +1) is attractive, and getting reinforcements to beef those depleted blocks back up seems critical. Then there are “battle event” effects, which can vary from a mild improvement to a WOW- WHAT HAPPENED? But above all, I think, is the notion of adding additional “Ops” to let your troops DO something. Minus a card for Ops, each front will get one (mandatory) recon order and one order for something else. If your opponent is in the same situation, it boils down to “what MUST I do?” If your opponent has 3 or 4 extra Ops outside the 2 starters… being able to only to one thing is a real nail biter.
So we find some players hanging on to their cards and using them mostly for ops. Others will be or irregular, sometimes skipping the ops for an event, or a battle, or replacements.
The cards CAN step in and make a big difference. One Polish counterattack looked like a breeze, fighting against units that force marched into the hex and having a big tilt in their favor… except the Soviet player put down THREE cards for this battle, using both a reaction card and a battle event card that really shifted things and then played another card as his battle number. With all this and the +1 for using a card (and a weak Polish draw), the battle came out a DRAW, meaning the Soviets had held on and the Poles had to retreat. Ah, but with 3 less cards in is hand (at Phase 2!) the Soviet’s position looked pretty grim for the rest of the round. Late in the day, the Poles produced their own 3-card Monte and made a major hit on the far right flank. Both players agreed that this ‘front’ was a solid Polish win. Ah, but that OTHER front… there is where the Soviets had been running loose and driving up the VP track.
Here is the tough stuff for the Poles. Scenario ## gives the Soviets a heavy advantage on the North and ‘encourages’ the Southern Front to shift support. Our Southern Front commander felt like he had his hands full hanging on to his left to keep the two fronts from being separated. (Southern Soviets in the Northern Polish front’s backside would have been a bad thing. He did manage to send only 2 blocks entirely out of his control. One went into the blur of Polish units while the other had a surprising history. The Southern commander realized a ‘named’ city, worth VPs, was empty within a normal march of the Northern Soviet’s left flank—and close enough to the border that even the Southern Soviet might go for it. It was more than points lost—that city would work like a wedge to separate the two Polish fronts. Ouch!
Hoping for little more than a speedbump he forcemarched one full strength cavalry brigade into the city, knowing it would fight as a 1, but hoping that, with card play and luck, it might hold on for one turn. It probably would not have held, except the Soviets were busy elsewhere and didn’t come to that city at all. In fact, reinforced by another weak unit, that city held for the entire game.
Those who want to be able to “move everything” would never have missed that city (as there were ample Soviet units available to take it). Those wrestling with the choices given in Strike of the Eagle may find they pass on such things because their eyes are elsewhere. That is a big part of the joy of this game—it will press you down and force you to make tough choices… without knowing what the enemy is going to do for sure.
In the North, there was a pretty steady pattern of who was attacking and who was defending. In the South, things wavered. The Soviets came on strong at first, threatening to crack the center. Then they paused and seemed to shift the angle of their attack (turns out an Event cards promised much if they could take a certain city…) Both sides had turns where units went into defensive mode, where each expected the other to attack!
In the meantime, the Southern Polish player realized the Soviet flank on the extreme south was open and a small force could get behind the enemy and, perhaps, raise some havoc that would ease pressure elsewhere. It did, as much fighting took place in the south (and far away from the critical north). But in the end, it was not enough and Northern Soviet successes gave their side a significant victory.
In the aftermath, players talked about their tough choices and things they wanted to do but were not able. All four of them agreed that the Soviet starting position was very strong and all agreed even louder that they would love to set up the entire campaign and start from the beginning. We took about 3 hours on the scenario (with beginners, remember, and two of them strangers), but this suggests the big campaign game will require a big block of time. And it was time the players WANT to spend.
By all standards, that makes Strike of the Eagle a real HIT of a game.
I was the Russian southern commander that Kevin cuffed about rather smartly in this session and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Had read the rules and some reviews, but never played the game before.
In addition to the FOW from use of blocks and the variability brought about the (well thought out) CDG aspect of the game, the way the activations were handled added levels of strategy to the game that I only began to dimly perceive after a couple of hours. I thought the integration of these design features of the game was brilliant.
In each round of the turn, after each player had opportunity to "buy" additional activations with cards, each alternately placed activation tokens face down in map locations.....these included force march to, force march from, move to, move from, recon, defend, regroup and maybe others. The activations then took place in set order with force marches first, then recon, then movement, then combat, etc. The gimmick was the that the player with initiative (changeable by winning battles and taking objectives) decided whether he or the other player went first in each of these activation segments. The interaction of these mechanics provided plenty of opportunity to bluff, divine your opponents intentions and foil them or completely mis-divine your opponents intentions and get caught off balance.
A great game and a very enjoyable session. I admired the game greatly, but don't see it as being playable solitaire or PBEM. If you can get four players together though I'd recommend it highly.
Print and Play Gamer
I agree, great game. Just played with a friend of mine, the 3rd or 4th Scenerio and thought we would also play some other games after. Wrong! We played for about five hours, with a break included. boy it was tense. The not knowing what orders are coming where or how to use your cards makes for some great decision making. We had a blast. But you're right this would be almost unplayable via Vassal PBEM.