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Game Preview: Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683, or The Intense Cannon and Mine Duel

Candice Harris
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From gallery of candidrum
Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683 is an accessible, 2-player, fully asymmetric, card-driven wargame that plays in 60-90 minutes, from Robert DeLeskie and Capstone Games. This is a game filled with deep hand management decisions and tense moments similar to card-driven historical board game hits such as Watergate and Twilight Struggle. Siege of Vienna is a SPIEL ‘22 release currently available for pre-order, which I've had the pleasure of playing on a review copy provided by the publisher.

In Siege of Vienna, one player takes on the role of the offensive, 100,000-strong Ottoman army, while the other player represents the Habsburg defenders in one of the most dramatic sieges in history. Each player has a unique set of strategy, tactic, and troop cards, along with different challenges and victory conditions. The Ottoman player wins immediately if they control the Curtain Wall, or if they control both the Ravelin and the Burg Bastion. If the Ottoman player does not achieve victory before the end of the 5th round, the Habsburg player wins the game. Additionally, either side can also win immediately if they eliminate all of their opponent's troops, or if their opponent's morale reaches the bottom of the morale track.

The map for Siege of Vienna is comprised of big, chunky hexes corresponding to specific historical locations. Some hexes are seeded with wooden cannons and fortifications during setup. The Habsburg side (yellow) has 10 cannons, 7 beefy structural fortifications, and control of several hexes, while the Ottoman side (red) occupies and controls a single hex with 6 measly cannons. The Ottomans might not have as many cannons as the Habsburgs, but they have 20 troop cards which are stronger than the 12 weaker Habsburg troops. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the asymmetry in Siege of Vienna.

Both players start the game with 5 randomly drawn tactic cards, strategy and troop decks, and a number of dice corresponding to their cannons. There are also player aids for both players, which appear very wordy on the surface, but are awesome and thorough. After you read the rulebook and play a few rounds, just about everything you need to know is on the player aids for reference: the sequence of play, victory conditions and actions for both sides, and the battle sequence.

It's worth noting that I played Siege of Vienna exclusively with the premium playmat that Capstone offers as an add-on, not the standard game board. Both are very similar game functionality wise, but the playmat is slightly wider to accommodate spaces for discard piles and control tokens. It's not necessary, but it is a nice upgrade for those who might prefer it.

From gallery of candidrum
Let the sieging begin!

Siege of Vienna is played over 5 or fewer rounds. Each round, players alternate playing strategy cards from their hand to either take one of their available actions or to trigger the event on a card. As with most card-driven games, the hand management decisions are challenging and tense. Both sides have their own decks of strategy cards with different types of events and response cards that are all powerful and helpful, especially when timed well. It is a constant struggle to decide when it's the right time to play a card for the event versus saving it for later in the round, or discarding it to perform an action.

From gallery of candidrum
My Ottoman hand of strategy cards

From gallery of candidrum
An entrenched Glacis hex
As far as actions go, the Ottoman player can Entrench, Assault, Mine, Fortify, or Bombard. When you Entrench, you advance and take control of an uncontrolled Glacis hex adjacent to a hex you control by placing your control token and 2 improvised fortifications (wooden sticks). You may also move any number of your cannons into the newly controlled hex. Then you increase Ottoman morale and lower Habsburg morale by 1. However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows for the Ottoman army. The Habsburg player doesn't appreciate you inching towards them, so they fire all of their cannons by rolling dice for each of their cannons, eliminating your troops on any results of 6, to a maximum of 2 eliminated troops. When troops are eliminated, your opponent randomly picks cards from your troop deck and places them in your eliminated pile. Fortunately for the Ottomans, they have more troops in their deck, so losing a few is sad, but not completely detrimental.

Bombarding allows you to choose a Habsburg-controlled hex that is adjacent to a hex you control, then roll 1 die for each cannon you
have adjacent to it. If you roll 2 or more 6s, you get to remove 1 structural fortification (wooden arrowheads) from the hex. For another aggressive action, you can assault to attack a Habsburg-controlled hex that is adjacent to a hex you control. I'll cover how battles work after I describe the other actions.

From gallery of candidrum
4 Habsburg shovels = trouble for the Ottomans
Both the Ottoman and Habsburg player can perform Mine and Fortify actions. The Fortify action allows you to add an improvised fortification to a hex you control, noting you cannot have more than 2 fortifications on a given hex. Fortifications are helpful to defenders because they limit the amount of troops the attacker can leverage for strength in battles.

The Mine action is probably my favorite action in Siege of Vienna. When you take a Mine action, you draw a tunnel token from your draw bag and secretly peek at it to see how many shovels are on it. Then you place it face down on your tunnel space, so your opponent has no idea of its value. Now, if there are 4 or more shovels in total among all of your face-down Tunnel tiles, you may reveal them to trigger an explosion to remove some of your opponent's fortifications. Although there's not necessarily a huge dramatic impact from a mine explosion, you can't help but feel nervous when your opponent is drawing a tunnel token from their bag. You'll nervously wonder if this is going to be the one that triggers, or if you're still safe. It's always suspenseful which is why I dig it.

In addition to the Fortify and Mine actions, the Habsburg player can Barrage to attack Ottoman troops with their cannons by rolling dice similar to the Ottoman Bombard action. If they're feeling brave, the Habsburg player can also Sortie to gain 1 Morale and then attack an Ottoman-controlled hex that is adjacent to a hex they control.

Battles are also very suspenseful and tense in Siege of Vienna. First, both players choose troop cards from their respective troop decks and place them face down to the side of the game board. The troop cards each have a strength value ranging from 1 to 3. The Habsburg player can only ever play a maximum of 3 troop cards, while the Ottoman player can potentially play up to 6 troop cards for adjacent controlled hexes if they have a traceable supply line back to their camp. That being said, I've never been able to play more than 4 or 5 troop cards as the Ottomans, nor have my opponents, but hopefully I can pull off 6 cards for a battle next time I play.

After both players have placed their troop cards face down to represent their front line, starting with the attacker, players may play a tactic card face down. Then each side reveals their tactic and troop cards and resolves the effects of the tactic cards simultaneously. At the beginning of the game, each player randomly draws 5 tactic cards from their side's deck of 10 cards to use for the entire game. You never know how many battles are going to occur in a given game, so you need use your tactic cards sparingly and wisely. The process of deciding your troop cards and your tactic card, should you choose to play one, is so challenging. There might be some battles where you go in super strong as the attacker and waste your effort on a battle where your opponent plays weak troop cards, and/or no tactic at all. Every battle is such a gripping mind game in Siege of Vienna, especially the ones in later rounds when there's a lot of pressure on both sides. It's great!

From gallery of candidrum
Examples of tactic cards

After you reveal troop and tactic cards, you apply the effects of the defender's fortifications. This is something you're aware of going into the battle, but you never know the impacts of your opponent's tactic card and how it'll affect the rest of the battle resolution. When it comes to fortifications, the attacker must move troops from their front line to their rear line for each fortification on the attacked hex: 1 per improvised, and 2 per structural fortification. Any troops in the rear line do not contribute strength to the battle, so you really want to try to get rid of as many fortifications as you can before you attack a hex, but you're also up against the clock as the Ottomans, so you often just have to deal with it.

Then there's a casualties phase, where the Ottoman player rolls a die for each of their cannons on or adjacent to the attacked hex, followed by the Habsburg player rolling a die for each of their cannons anywhere. For each 6 rolled, your opponent eliminates 1 random troop from their front line with a maximum of 2 eliminated troops. This can be brutal for the Ottoman player, but that's more reason for them to attack Habsburg hexes with cannons to try to take them out. Either that or play tactic cards to influence the casualties phase in your favor when possible.

From gallery of candidrum
Battle resolution in progress...

Finally, you compare the battle value of troop cards in each player's front line only. The higher battle value wins and the defender wins ties. If the attacker wins, they get to take control of the space and remove any cannons and fortifications that belonged to the defender. Plus the attacker's morale is increased by 1 and the defender's morale is decreased by 1. On the other hand, if the Habsburgs win as defender, the Ottomans lose 1 Morale.

After players have alternated playing their strategy cards for a given round to either perform actions or trigger events, you draw back up to 5 cards to start the next round, unless it's the end of the 5th round, in which case, the Habsburg player would win.

From gallery of candidrum
Prepping for battle at the Curtain Wall

Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683 is a solid 2-player, card-driven wargame. Every decision you're faced with in the game is juicy and meaningful. It feels like an excellent next step in Capstone's historical board game lineup after Matthias Cramer's Watergate. It's a hair more complex and takes a little longer to play than Watergate, but it has a similar type of tension when you play it, which I really enjoy. You're faced with tough decisions from the very start of the game, and the deeper you get, the more the tension grows, whether you're playing as the Ottomans or the Habsburgs. Although it is a wargame, it's very accessible and thus likely to appeal to a variety of different types of gamers. In fact, one of my good friends who is not into wargames played it with me, and she enjoyed it a lot and wants to play again.

There is definitely some luck in Siege of Vienna when it comes to rolling dice for your cannons, but majority of the game is in your control depending on how and when you play certain cards. The combat system is clever and interesting and doesn't revolve strictly around dice rolls, which is a plus. I love the way you choose your troop and tactic cards secretly in battle, and then reveal them simultaneously. It feels like a mini game within the overall game, and it's always suspenseful.

From gallery of candidrum
Down to the wire...we were both sweating!

The rulebook and components are excellent, and Donal Hegarty did a tremendous job with the art and graphic design. There's even a beautiful illustration inside the box lid which reminded me of inside the box lid of Pax Pamir. I also love that the game includes a separate booklet with historical details and designer notes so you can learn more about this interesting part of history.

I've played and enjoyed Robert DeLeskie's The Wars of Marcus Aurelius from Hollandspiele, and I have Stilicho: Last of the Romans on my "shelf of opportunity". While there's more for me to discover with these 2 solitaire releases from DeLeskie, I'm very excited to play more Fire & Stone: Siege of Vienna 1683, and I can't wait to see what he designs next.
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