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Subject: An unusual game on an unusual topic rss

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Jim F
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Where the heck did this interest in WW1 come from?
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I was given a play test copy of Toulon to blind test and recently managed to find the time to play it with a willing accomplice.

The game is based on Napoleon's ultimately successful siege of the French Port of Toulon which had been taken over by a pro-Royalist faction after the revolution. They invited the British and Spanish to join them and that's where the game begins - with their arrival.

I thought I'd give an overview of the games components, why the game is unusual and talk a little about my own experience of playing it.

The Map

The playing area is based on a contemporary map and it is a thing of beauty. It was what attracted me to trying the game out in the first place. If that makes me sound shallow, it's because I am. Movement around the map is a combination of area movement and point to point (when using the roads). Each area has a number next to it which acts as a stacking limit. Moving large numbers of troops around becomes something of a puzzle as you try and work out the best line of approach. There are also forts printed onto some of the areas which (if occupied) can slow down an enemy's advance. Since the key for the Allied Player is to seize land around Toulon and hold it against a French onslaught, these are quite important. Two areas in particular (L’Aguillette and Grand Tour)
are key as their loss can threaten the Allied player's control of the sea and the assistance of his ships.

The Playing pieces

The playing pieces represent the usual Napoleonic combination of Infantry/Cavalry/Artillery. As you'd expect each type has a particular role in the game. Cavalry for mobility, artillery makes combat more deadly and infantry are there as cannon fodder and to hold ground. The counters are very simple and easy to read. I'm not sure how close they will be to the final version but I imagine very close to it. Most pieces only have a NATO designation on one side as units are not revealed to your opponent until you get close up and personal. This allows for feints and the creation of stacks which appear powerful but,in reality, contain only a few troops.

So what makes this game unusual?

Movement: The designer wanted to limit movement around the board because the turns are a week long but the distances involved are relatively small. There were two ways he has got around this. Firstly units activate with operation points which are limited on both sides. Costs vary but attacking the enemy is most costly. The second way he got round this is to give troops quality check rolls when they want to move into new areas or those containing enemy troops. This is based on their morale rating and can lead to a certain amount of hair tearing out as they simply refuse to follow orders or accumulate temporary losses (stragglers) that reduce the units combat effectiveness. The closest I've seen to this is the attrition rule in Carthage: The First Punic War. Clever use of good quality troops and good leaders will mollify the effects of this and, once an area becomes friendly, movement into it costs nothing. This makes maintaining interior lines very important.

Combat: Combat is also a little unusual because, rather than having a battle as such, each battle area is split into sub-battles with sub-forces (cue submariner jokes). The attacker can try to co-ordinate his forces using his leaders and gang up on defending units. I assume this represents the defenders giving up mobility in setting up their defence as they are unable to do the same. Nor does the attacker have to take on every defending unit, again another unusual feature of combat in this game. There are potentially two rounds of combat with the chance of the Spanish retreating if things aren't going their way. Casualties caused by the battle can be temporary or permanent (marked by counters).

If the movement and combat sounds complex, that's because it is. Think Napoleon's Triumph and you are in the right ball park. Getting used to how combat and movement work takes time and mental effort. However, this game is produced by a man who clearly loves the narrative of this historical event and everything included in the design is there for a purpose.

Our game

I played Napoleon and my opponent took on the Allies. His initial landings took place in the predesignated zones and he cautiously advanced ashore. However a lack of familiarity with the rules meant a lot of very tired and ragged Spanish and British troops straggled towards Toulon where the Bourbon loyalist troops awaited them. Once he had linked up with his erstwhile French Allies, he seemed to go into Anzio mode. Whether it was the fact that many of his units now had temporary losses or it is in his to be that way, I'm unsure. Certainly, despite encouragement from me to explore further, he kept to the old saying 'wherever I lay my hat...' In this instance the bicorne rested firmly around Toulon and its immediate environs.

This inertia allowed me to gather my forces and cut him off from some of the key victory point locations. Since attacking is expensive in operation points the onus is really on the Allies to force the French Republicans to pay a heavy cost for every advance. The loss of the two key forts meant that he also lost control of the sea and with that the game.

Final Comment

This game is a complex game. It has some truly original ideas but, as with other originals, the mechanics take some getting used to. Once you do get used to them you have a very interesting title covering a rarely covered topic.

(Readers of this review should note that I know the designer Andy Loakes and game with him on a regular basis - and a very nice guy he is too!)


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Andy Loakes
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Many thanks for the review Jim!

If anyone has questions arising from the review, or more general game related questions, I'm happy to respond here.

Thanks

Andy
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Igor Zacharjasz
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Jim - how long was the game?
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Jim F
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Where the heck did this interest in WW1 come from?
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Igorekz wrote:
Jim - how long was the game?


I can't remember the exact timing because it took place over a number of 3-4 hour sessions. I had to fit it in to my 'other job' as a part time teacher and when my opponent was available. It certainly isn't an 'evening' game - more a weekend title. Unless you really cock things up and it ends prematurely

Also, the first few plays are going to be longer as you get used to the system. As I say in the review it is very different to other offerings. If I sound like a cracked record on that one it's because it is one of the most striking things about the design.
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Ron Balla
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Thanks again for the review, Jim!

I'm as shallow as you: I LOVE that damn map! I'm happy to hear that Andy really put a lot of thought into this game. Some games are just rushed out and it's great to see a thoughtful and innovative approach from a designer.

I like the idea of road/area movement; I've personally not seen both in the same game before. This game and the mechanics sound really interesting.

I've preodered on the Legion Games website: they have just about the BEST production quality in the hobby. I encourage anyone interested to head on down to the Legion Games website so they print this sooner, and we all get out hot little hands on this cool game.
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Andy Loakes
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Sinister703 wrote:
Thanks again for the review, Jim!

I'm as shallow as you: I LOVE that damn map! I'm happy to hear that Andy really put a lot of thought into this game. Some games are just rushed out and it's great to see a thoughtful and innovative approach from a designer.

I like the idea of road/area movement; I've personally not seen both in the same game before. This game and the mechanics sound really interesting.

I've preodered on the Legion Games website: they have just about the BEST production quality in the hobby. I encourage anyone interested to head on down to the Legion Games website so they print this sooner, and we all get out hot little hands on this cool game.


Thanks for your kind words Ron.

I've not seen the combined area/road concept before either - though I can't claim it is a first with the same certainty I can claim the game is the first on the battle (boardgame that is - I believe there was a computer game out there).

What I like about the road rule is that it makes roads very important when armies first enter/penetrate a locality. In game terms the roads become less important as control of the vicinity is established. This isn't simulating that the roads are not used but rather that movement within a friendly cordon is safer and quicker.

Andy
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Rob Appleyard
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Great review Jim. Sounds like a really interesting game. I also found the map was the thing that initially hooked my interest in this game. On top of that, for me, it is also a little known/gamed battle and now you're saying there are new mechanics and unusual approaches to movement and combat....this thing just keeps pushing all the right buttons!

The review points out there is some hidden information, with units being inverted, and says that feints and dummying your opponent is part of the gameplay. I wonder how important this aspect is to the game and whether Jim/Andy or other playtesters can comment on the games suitability for solo play??
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Andy Loakes
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robapple wrote:
Great review Jim. Sounds like a really interesting game. I also found the map was the thing that initially hooked my interest in this game. On top of that, for me, it is also a little known/gamed battle and now you're saying there are new mechanics and unusual approaches to movement and combat....this thing just keeps pushing all the right buttons!

The review points out there is some hidden information, with units being inverted, and says that feints and dummying your opponent is part of the gameplay. I wonder how important this aspect is to the game and whether Jim/Andy or other playtesters can comment on the games suitability for solo play??


Hi Rob,

I'd be interested to hear Jim's view on solitaire suitability too.

I don't play solo (I prefer Cyberboard - there'll be a gamebox for this and probably Vassal and ZT too) and so my insight into what you'd be looking for is limited.

There is Fog of War in the game but, IMO, it isn't a big deal if you play without it - playtesting has played with and without. It does add a frisson of uncertainty but to be honest, as a solo player, the fact that stacks contain loss markers as well as units and as units vary a lot in size and quality, you'll be pushed to remember what a stack contains.

I think the Quality Checks will be good for solo play too - you can't assume your units will do what they should.

On the whole I'd probably give solo play a 5/10 - but, as I say, solo isn't my thing.

Hope that helps - at least a little.

Andy
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Mark Sautman
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The description of the game says 2 to 7 players. Can you explain how this works a bit? Is it basically a two-player game where you can use teams?
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Andy Loakes
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Hi Mark,

It is a two team game. Four players is probaly best with two and three VERY close behind. 5+ starts at turn 5 to avoid some players waiting around for the arrival of their contingents. 7 players is possible but probaly not recommended.

There are also rules that allow the Allied Players - there will normally be 1-5 of these - to work out who contributes most their country's interests. This not only allows a ranking to be determined, it also introduces a nice conflict of interests for the Allied playes - much as was the case historically.

Thanks for the question and I hope that helps

Andy
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Andy Loakes
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For those interested, there is now a (draft) example of play available in the files scction on the Toulon, 1793 page
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Andy Loakes
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For those that haven't seen the map yet, her's the final production version:



The game is now in production and will ship this month (December 2014). Don't miss out on the pre-order price: www.legionwargames.com

Andy
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Matt Lehnen
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Based on the map alone I ordered this recently and I started playing it solo today. I have only been Wargaming for about 18 months so I don't have a lot of experience yet but I have bought a lot of games. This is my first Napoloeonics wargame as well. So far I really like this. I have finished turn 1 and I think I'm getting the hang of it. Beautiful map. I just finished To the Last Man which I also bought because of the map so far both games are really enjoyable.
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Andy Loakes
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Hi Matt,

Thanks for the post - and I'm glad you're enjooying the game.

I was going to say it is a brave choice for someone realtively new to wargaming as there are a number of novel mechanics - but perhaps your limited exposure is actually an advantage

Andy
 
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Jorik
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no preconceived notions about area movement etc, will indeed be an advantage I think.
taking your time is an even greater advantage, which is why learning it solitaire is what I'm also planning on doing soon.
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