Candice HarrisUnited States
War Chest and the Undaunted series, I consider David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin to be a top notch designer duo; I'm automatically interested in anything with either of their names on it, and it's an insta-buy when I see both of their names together on any board game. Thus, I'm incredibly excited to share some details on General Orders: World War II, a new, two-player, worker placement wargame, which will be available from Osprey Games in Q4 2023.
General Orders: World War II combines the dynamic tactical gameplay of a traditional wargame with the cut-throat decision-making of worker placement games. As an added bonus, it's very accessible and plays in under an hour. Let's face it, they had me at "worker placement wargame", but I'm appreciative that I got the opportunity to virtually hang with David and Trevor to actually play a game of General Orders on Tabletop Simulator.
In General Orders, you and your opponent each take on the role of a general competing in two different World War II theaters – the alpine terrain of Northern Italy and the islands of the Pacific. Each game is played over a series of rounds, where you alternate deploying/placing commanders (workers) on the board to take actions, and then after both players are out of commanders and/or have passed, you recall your commanders from the board and move on to the next round. You win the game immediately if your opponent loses control of their HQ land area. Otherwise, at the end of the fourth round, the player with the most victory points on land areas they control and supply wins.
General Orders includes a double-sided game board, beautifully illustrated by Alex Green, which allows you to play two different game modes, either Alpine or Island. The Alpine side of the board represents the mountains of Italy, and the Island side represents the islands of the Pacific. The Alpine game mode is recommended for your first game, so that's what David set up for our game together. Meanwhile, Trevor watched from the sidelines and provided some entertaining commentary as we played.
The map on the board has a bunch of land areas – hex spaces and a few double hex spaces – separated by solid black borders. Each space has one or more icons representing actions you can take there, and some spaces have pink star icons which are victory points you score at the end of the game if you control that land area. There are also spaces with a section to place an area bonus token, which gives the controlling player access to some helpful special ability.
Players start the game with a bunch of troops (discs) and five commanders (hexagonal cylinders) in their reserve, along with troops on the board. The game is fairly abstract considering we don't represent specific countries, but instead we are simply the blue faction and yellow faction duking it out in a tug-of-war struggle to control a crucial World War II battlefield. Therefore, players can come up with whatever narrative they feel as the play each game.
Before you start the game, you flip the round marker to determine which player starts with the initiative and gets to go first. On your turn, you place one of your commanders from your reserve into an unoccupied action space and resolve the action based on its symbol. Then your opponent does the same, and you alternate taking turns until both players pass, typically from not having any commanders left in your reserve.
Control and supply are important concepts in General Orders and should be defined before delving into the actions. You control a land area if you have troops in it, and a land area is in supply if you control it and it's connected to your HQ land area through an unbroken line of areas you control. In order to perform most actions, you must have a supply path back to your HQ, so a key strategy is to try to interrupt your opponent's supply line, while you also protect your own.
The Advance action, which is available on just about all spaces of the Alpine map, is how you move troops into a space where you don't already have troops. When you Advance, you place one of your available commanders into the area you wish to move into, and then you can move one or more of your troops from adjacent/linked areas that you control and supply. However, you cannot take the last troop from a land area, so at least one will have to hang back. If you moved your troops into an area controlled by your opponent, you resolve a land conflict.
The Barrage action allows you to bombard an area up to three areas away by rolling two dice and then removing troops based on all of the hits you rolled. There are custom six-sided dice in the game that have a blank side, four sides with 1-hit, and a 2-hit side. Don't worry though, there's actually minimal randomness in this tense, "little" strategy game. This is only one of two occasions where you actually roll dice.
When playing on the Alpine board, there's also a Paradrop action where you can place two troops from your reserve into any area on the board except the 2 lake areas that have a "no-paradrop" symbol. Similar to the Advance action, if you end up with your troops in an area controlled by your opponent, you resolve conflict.
Resolving land conflict is very straightforward, just like the actions in this game. First, the defender rolls one die and removes a number of attacking troops equal to the total rolled. Then, if any attacking troops remain, both players simultaneously remove troops from the area until at least one player has no troops in the area. There are occasions when the attacker will swoop in and take over an area, other times when the attacker is unsuccessful and the defenders hold the area, and even some battles when both players are completely annihilated and that area is left uncontrolled. I'm sure you're wondering why the attacker wouldn't just bring in enough troops to make sure they control the space even if the defender rolls a 2 and kills two troops before the battle attrition occurs. Sounds like this is a good time to mention something spicy about General Orders.
In addition to the map actions I've mentioned so far, there are also two actions available on the support board, which is a small board next to the main game board. The Reinforce action allows you to place a number of troops from your reserve into land areas you control and supply, such that there are no more than five troops per land area. There are two action spaces for reinforcing: one allows you to add six troops, and the other allows you to add five. Each player can only take each support action once per round, so in this case it's always best to take the "six troops" space if it's open. It seems like such a slight difference, but placing that extra troop can be crucial. This is an action you'll want to do every round, and hopefully beat your opponent to the optimal action space too.
The Plan action is also available on the support board, and it also comes in two flavors. The first Plan action space allows you to draw two cards from the operation deck, while the other space only allows you to draw one card, but you get the initiative, if you don't already have it. This is the only way initiative changes throughout the game, so it's always a tough decision whether you want to go for two cards, or gain/maintain the initiative. After all, this is a worker placement game, so turn order can be super important.
When I mentioned the spice, I was referring to the operation cards in General Orders. I think this game would be great if it didn't have these cards, but it's so much spicier with them! There are thirty cards included in the game, some are specific to the game mode you're playing (Alpine/Island), but the bulk are played in every game. Each card clearly explains its effect and when it can be played. Or alternatively, you can discard any operation card to re-roll all dice whenever you're doing something that involves dice rolling. Not only is the variety of cards awesome, but it's also great that the operation cards are flexible and give players more than one way to use them.
There are Ground Assault cards that allow you add up to two troops from your reserve after the move in step of the Advance action. There are Mobilize cards that allow you to place up to two additional troops when you take the Reinforce action. I had a lot of fun surprising David with Anti-air cards when he paradropped his troops into spaces I controlled. Anti-air cards allow you to roll two extra dice for your defensive roll before battle attrition when resolving land conflict. If I recall, he dropped in four troops to an area I controlled with only one troop, and I surprised him playing an Anti-air card, then I made what I'll refer to as a "skilled roll" and rolled 2-1-1, which killed all four of his troops before the battle popped off. It was a glorious moment!
There are also Blitz, Ambush, Artillery Strike, and Counter Attack cards which all have different, useful effects. Perhaps what's even better than the cards themselves, is your opponent not knowing which cards you actually have and conversely, you not knowing what they have. It lends itself to lots of mind games and moments where you'll be stressed and sweating, or trying to make your opponent feel that way.
I also mentioned some spaces have victory points on them. Some of the VP spaces have bonus tokens too, so there is lots to fight over. If you don't manage to force your opponent out of their HQ within four rounds, then it's all about points. Our game ended after four tense rounds and it was anyone's game until a pivotal moment at the very end where I was able to prevent David from trying to take my victory points away from me while I was in the lead. We had such a fun time playing, and that was on Tabletop Simulator. I can't wait to play the physical version in person!...and I'm sure David will be looking for a rematch.
There aren't many worker placement games specifically designed for two players, and there certainly aren't many worker placement wargames to my knowledge. This makes General Orders stand out off the bat. After playing a game, I was really impressed with what I saw and how I felt.
First off, David explained the rules in about five minutes and we were off and running. All of the actions are straightforward and easy to understand, which makes this game very accessible. You can play it with just about anyone and have them into the game in no time. The excellent graphic design by Gareth Clarke helps a lot too. Then once you get going, it takes less than an hour to play, which is another nod to its accessibility.
The game itself feels tense and thinky. As we were starting our game, and I was thinking through what I wanted to do for my first turn in response to what David did since he had the initiative, Trevor said "the opening can feel chess-like", and I completely agree. If I do XYZ, my opponent may respond with ABC. You're always trying to think about what your opponent is going to do and it feels tense as the game develops. Then you also have the worker placement struggles. I need to do "this" and "that", but I can't risk them blocking that space. There's so much you want to do, but it's tricky figuring out the timing of when to do it because you don't want to miss out on an opportunity.
There were many moments when I felt my forces were weak, and I was nervous David was going to march his troops in, so I struggled with the tough decision to reinforce then, when I really wanted to secure another space. Then you are also always trying to find clever ways to cut off your opponent's supply, while also trying to protect your own. There is a lot at play here for a game with such simple rules.
I took a peek at the Island board too, and that game mode opens things up a hair more complexity wise and makes the game slightly asymmetric, plus it adds a few different actions, as well as aircrafts. So in addition to troops, you have aircrafts you'll be flying around and managing on the board. I feel like there was a lot of game to be explored with the Alpine mode, and the included Island mode is sure to beef up the game even more. It seems like it'll really have its own feel while packing more variety into the game box.
I think it's safe to say, the Undaunted duo has done it again. First they successfully created an awesome hybrid deck-building wargame with Undaunted: Normandy in 2019, and now they've created an awesome worker placement wargame. General Orders really evokes the feeling and tension of playing a 2-player wargame, with an added layer of tough worker placement choices. I thoroughly enjoyed my first play of General Orders: World War II and I'm already hype to play it more.
Here's the official announcement video from Osprey with some additional info and visuals on General Orders:
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Game Preview: General Orders, or The Spicy Two-Player Worker Placement War
15 Mar 2023
Subscribe Wed Mar 15, 2023 7:00 am
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