- Brett BayelyUnited States
A good war game, indeed. You might see a block game and think of it as something similar to Commands & Colors: Ancients, it is not. You may have read Genes description of it as "something new",(http://www.gmtgames.com/p-473-fields-of-despair.aspx) which it is. You might dismiss the Fog of War as a gimmick and again you'd be wrong as it is at the heart of the game. Finally you might poo poo the fact that a war game about WWI would be boring, difficult to simulate Trench Warfare and with no room for maneuvering become just a math hammer and dice rolling experience. Again it failed all these expectations in the playtest, and won over a couple of drinking, smoking gamers to the Wargaming side.
Playtime took a total of 4 hours out of the box to play the first scenario. This included set up of all those wonderful pieces, The game is gorgeous even as a prototype and could easily be sent off to the printers without too many changes. Learning the rules, which are already clear and concise enough for the players whose backgrounds are in RPG's, Euros and Axis & Allies to sit down and play through. By the last turn they were running the game with nary a word being said from me.
The scenario ended just as trench warfare was starting, which has a very elegant rule change to simulate this, after the Schlieffen plan had failed at the miracle on the Marne. The German player was able to grind his way through Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, while making effective use of his deception blocks to bluff the French player from fully committing to his counter attack in the South. A major defeat on the Eastern Front shook him up a bit and encouraged the Germans to commit more of their logistical supply there to prevent the odds of this happening again.
Fields of Despair: France 1914-1918 Germans breaking through Belgium
The Germans again using their deception blocks, were able to strategically reorganise their front lines to counter attack the French Plan XVII and push them back into France in the South. However by robbing his armies in the North of their men and punching power, and leaving key captured fortresses in Belgium & the Netherlands unguarded to do this. The French player was able to make good use of his cavalry and infantry on his Northern flank to seize the opportunity and recaptured several key VP locations and even cut off the supply routes of the lead German elements. The German player countered with an early start to Unrestricted Submarine Warfare which, while making the entry of American forces more possible, allowed him to rob some of the strength of the BEF arriving in the North to help in the French counter attack. By the end of this dynamic scenario the French player won based upon his ability to hold onto key strategic points while facing the German onslaught which was terrifying to see wielded.
Both players have requested to play again and amongst the smells of pipe smoke, cigars and warming beer (whistle) the players talked of what tactics they might employ next time, what they did wrong this time and reveled in their use of bluffs and counter bluffs. It all become rather groggy and I think these gamers could be easily converted to the dark side of war gaming. I think I'll hit them with a full campaign next time.
The game runs as a game, but magically the rules allow it to simulate actual history if you let it. The rules and scenarios are variable so you aren't done in one play but like backgammon or chess there is a huge amount of replay to be wrung out of it, unlike Axis & Allies. You are allowed to develop your strategies and tactics without the constraints other games give you where you have to wait for a dice roll or a certain action card to be drawn to allow you to strike out at that vulnerable flank. The game doesn't bog down into a morass of rules and exceptions like other wargames trying too hard to simulate history. The balance of complexity versus ease of play and manageability of the game is struck very well. It doesn't resemble a ridiculous game of Case Blue which will take days to play and masses of paperwork to manage, but it isn't D-Day dice, if that makes any sense. Its gamey without being a Euro, like GMT COIN series, and is a simulation without losing you in its own rules reality, like maybe (don't shoot me, I like it really) ASL.
Hopefully thats a good enough summation of the game to either turn you off completely (in which case I apologise), or whet your appetite for more (and like me put in your pre-order on GMT's P-500).
- [+] Dice rolls