Chris' Ranking of Strategy Card-based Wargames
Chris Farrell
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Another question I get asked occasionally is what I think of the various We The People-derivitive games. So, here you go ...
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1. Board Game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:275]
Board Game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage
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For the games that are in this genre that are really good, it will often be a matter of taste as to which you think is best. This one tops my list because it combines a reasonably playing time (~4 hrs) with lots of strategic choices, plenty of tension, and a fairly straightforward system. It's definitely meatier than even your average high-end Euro title, but for a wargame it's pretty modest. It's also great because *everything* in the game is significant and important, not like so many wargames that have a fair amount of extranneous chrome. The developer clearly did his job on this one.
 
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2. Board Game: World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:1689]
Board Game: World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin
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Possibly a little unfair to rank this above Paths of Glory when the latter has been good for so many games over the past three years, while this has only been out for what, 2 months, but it's my list B2B is simpler than PoG with fewer chrome rules, the system is cleaner, and it doesn't appear to have the problems that PoG developed over time. It's also not quite so strategically interesting, with fewer fronts, but all the fronts lead to degenerate play in PoG, so it's somthing I can afford to lose. Plus with the tanks and such, the tactis are much more interesting. Highly recommended.
 
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3. Board Game: Successors (First/Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:3628]
Board Game: Successors (First/Second Edition)
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A little hard to compare with the other games since it's 4-player. Still, it's a great game with only a few flaws. It's a bit long, at 5 hours (and longer for your first game or two) and, being from Richard Berg and all, it's got a few too many rules. It makes up for it, though, by being a blast to play. The events are very well designed, giving you opportunities that you have to sieze if you want to win, and solving the problem of "whoever makes their move first loses" many of these games have. Also, the varity of different ways to win really encourages action.

If you can play this game in 5 hours or less, it's well worth it. If it's an 8-hour game in your group, that's a problem; Successors is just not an 8-hour game. The thing to bear in mind is that Successors is a fairly chaotic game which favors historical flavor over game balance (although I wouldn't necessarily say Successors in "unbalanced", it's definitely a game of taking advantage of the swings of fate. Like another favorite game of mine, Republic of ROme, this is decidedly not a game for the timid). Anyway, to enjoy the game you have to avoid the analysis paralysis trap and be concious of the 5-hour limit after which the game will feel too long. Might even be worth getting one of those G8 Game Timers.
 
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4. Board Game: Paths of Glory [Average Rating:8.05 Overall Rank:180]
Board Game: Paths of Glory
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Paths of Glory is a game that I have somewhat mixed feelings on. On the one hand, this is a game I have enjoyed immensely over the past 3 years, and is my most-played wargame in that time frame (even though perhaps it's not quite my favorite). The problem is that in the Guns of August opening, the CP is going to be very hard-pressed to win; the first step in the Russian Capitulation sequence, The Tsar Takes Command, can be impossible to get out if you don't draw it at almost exactly the right time, making the historical approach monumentally difficult and putting the CP at a big disadvantage. If you go for the non-GoA opening, the CP can win, but the game becomes completely boring - the Western Front is completely quiescent, War Status becomes a non-factor and most TW events become unplayable. So, this is a game I've enjoyed a lot in the past but I don't see playing as much going forward. Still, if you haven't played PoG, you owe it to yourself to play it.
 
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5. Board Game: For the People [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:997]
Board Game: For the People
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For the People is a very fine game. It's pushing the limit of what the basic, Hannibal/We The People system can take, but the basic event/ops cards still work great here and provide terrific uncertainty. The events (after the slight tweaking in the GMT version) are well-designed too, with a more subtle feel than Hannibal or Paths of Glory but one that works well. The playing length is just righ too, clocking in at about 6 hours (although like many high-end games, this is discounting your first few games which will take longer - perhaps much longer). I have only two knocks on this game: a) the complexity is significantly the highest of these games. This is a serious, high-complexity game on par with stuff like OCS or EFS (if not higher). I don't consider high complexity in and of itself to be a problem, but For the People I think really wants to be about 20% less complex; b) the CRT and leader loss rules at best counter-intuitive and at worst ... but they do work in the game if you can get used to it.
 
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6. Board Game: We the People [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:1759]
Board Game: We the People
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This is a great game, with a modest playing time (~2 hrs), very simple rules, and yet great flavor and a lot of strategy. If you are not into complex games, this one should certainly be at the top of the list. This is another of the few "wargames for eurogamers", in that it's really on the same order of complexity as the higher-end Eurogames, but it has that more wide-open feel of a wargame. The reason that it doesn't rate higher for me is the battle cards, which simply don't quite work here (it's amazing that the battle cards work so brilliantly in Hannibal, and yet the systems are not that different).
 
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7. Board Game: Wilderness War [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:926]
Board Game: Wilderness War
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In truth, I probably underrate this game. It's got a lot of good stuff: all the different types of troops are very well-designed and help to portray the feel of the period extremely well, even though it can seem a little fiddly (the differences between light infantry, rangers, colonials, and regulars can at times seem a bit trivial, but as an aggregate it works quite well). Similar to Hannibal, there are three major avenues of campaigns (the west, the St. Lawrence, and the Alleghany), and the key decision is where you can best focus your available resources. However, I find myself wishing for 3 more things is this game: a) a little more maneuver. The avenues of advance are very constrained so there isn't that much in the way of tactics. b) a little more flavor in the card deck. The events are often quite generic and don't have that much period flavor. c) a little less complexity. Although Wilderness War suffers from chrome-itis a lot less than many GMT games, it still has a bit of it, and it's just enough to make the game feel more complex to lean and retain than it really needs to be. Don't get me wrong, though, if you don't mind slightly more complex games, you won't go far wrong with Wilnerness War.
 
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8. Board Game: The Napoleonic Wars [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:2838]
Board Game: The Napoleonic Wars
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As of today, there are only two titles in this genre that I do not recommend, and they would be The Napoleonic Wars and Thirty Years War. The Napoleonic Wars gets the penultimate bottom spot because there is a lot of good stuff in it: the different nationalities and their home cards are well-designed, I like the fluctuating hand sizes, and the Napoleonic Wars are a great setting for this sort of thing, what with the everyone vs. France situation. But, The Napoleonic Wars has a *lot* of problems. The Conquest rules are a bad joke, and ruin the endgame. Downtime is very uneven, with France getting to play almost as much as every other player combined. Prussia especially but also Austria are in virtually hopeless positions. The game-end mechanism is very poor and will often result in games that are unsatisfying (if they end in 1805) or take forever (if everyone is aggressive about pitching cards), and this game is decidedly *not* one you want to play for 8 hours. The diplomatic rules are awful and subject to extreme "gaming". And the rulebook itself is a nightmare, opaque, often gratuitously obscure, and poorly-designed. The card deck itself is not well-designed, being too thick with too many events that are too specific, have too low a frequency of play, and/or are too weak - which means there isn't much tension regrading the events. Plus, the events are as a lot more in the "hoser" category than the constructive category, which also helps to make the game feel somewhat unsatisfying. And last, but not least, given the chaos of the game, there are simply too many rules. It took me 4 games (that's over 20 hours, btw) to play this correctly, which is too many for a game that is fundamentally light.
 
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9. Board Game: Thirty Years War: Europe in Agony, 1618-1648 [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:3468]
Board Game: Thirty Years War: Europe in Agony, 1618-1648
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Ah, where to start on 30YW. The rules are a mess, but that's not the main problem. The Aid system clearly has serious issues, but that isn't it either. Too much chrome, victory conditions designed to produce draws all the time, and a wild power swing from early to late game? The poorly-designed event decks? No, none of these things are the real problem. The problem with 30YW is simply that it's immensely boring. What makes the card-driven games so great is that they introduce so much constructive uncertainty - you never know for sure whether your opponent can counter your move, or what exactly your opponent's capabilities are. Well, in 30YW, most of the uncertainty inherent in the system has been stripped out; movement can no longer be affected by weather, interceptions, or evasions; movement capabilities are fixed, and cannot be augmented by campaigns, force-marches, or strategic moves. Battle is pretty predictable, with combat cards that provide only trivial benefits and no possibility to refuse battle or evade. All these options, cornerstones of virtually every other design on the list, are absent in 30YW - and nothing has been sucked in to the vacuum they've left behind. So 30YW is just a back and forth, move and countermove, that feels far more like a game of chess (with a *lot* of excess rules) than like any of the other exciting games on the list.

I have this sneaking suspicion that 30YW was designed with play-by-email in mind. The lack of any ability to interrupt your opponent's turn seems like it must have been a concious choice, the only rational reason for which is ease of remote play (although PoG works without any "interrupt" equivilent, that's because of the stagnant fronts and the fact that single impulses are such small chunks; neither is true in 30YW. At least in PoG, the activation variation - i.e., the number on the card - is quite significant, which it isn't in 30YW).

All in all, this game is a turkey, and the worst game I've actually played in quite some time; usually, I can detect these problems with a read-through of the rules, but until 30YW & TNW I guess I had a blind spot for games that use these systems. Not any more .
 
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