- J. R. Tracy(jrtracy)United States
(this is a re-posting of a blog entry, published here for folks interested in learning more about the game)
We had six players Tuesday night, and decided to try Scott's playtest copy of Cataclysm: A Second World War with a full table and all the trimmings.
Cataclysm is Bill and Scott's attempt to build a game that covers global conflict from the early 1930s all the way to 1950, depending on how things play out. It's not necessarily *the* Second World War, but rather, as the subtitle says, *a* Second World War. Outcomes are open-ended but the starting point and subsequent capabilities are grounded in history.
The game structure is very straightforward. Each turn is two years, and opens with a production phase. Force pools are limited at the start, but expand as a given power moves to a war footing. Production efficiency improves as industry tools up. Assets are 'bought' with resources and set aside for use in the coming turn, or in two turns with naval production. You can build surface fleets, infantry units (approximately army groups), and tactical air units. Turning them into carrier groups, armor units, and heavy air respectively requires upgrade chits, also available for purchase. Submarine units are available for strategic warfare. You also buy Offenses at this point - you don't need them to attack but they improve your options.
Peace in our time (these are playtest components courtesy of Scott's homebrew production skilz)
After production is complete, the action phase begins. New production chits are tossed into the cup along with the all-important flags. Flags are multi-use chits that represent a power's diplomatic, political, and policy focus, and each player has a small allotment (two to four) based on his economic stance and actions on the board. When your flag is drawn you can perform a diplomatic action (pull a neutral to your side), change your economic posture, conduct propaganda (which shores up home front Stability), interfere in civil wars, or launch limited military operations. More precisely, you may *attempt* to do these things - generally you need to roll to initiate any activity, usually by getting a five or better on a d6. The number of dice you throw depends on your effectiveness, a function of economic posture and nationality. Bonuses occasionally apply, such as a +1 die roll modifier if you failed on your last attempt at the same action.
When assets are pulled from the cup, their owner deploys them to a friendly territory. Upgrades allow you to convert an existing unit to its improved form. Offensives only enter your force pool when you're on a war footing, but they allow much more effective military activity, either by activating two spaces for attack or by adding a bonus to a single space's activation. Once a power begins to move to a war footing, its Home Front chit goes in the cup - when drawn, it forces a Stability check, which might slide from Steady, to Wavering, to Unstable, and ultimately to Collapse. Collapse is as bad as it sounds - it triggers a surrender roll if any territory is enemy-occupied, and otherwise permanently damages a country's capabilities. Finally, there are always four Crisis chits in the cup - pulling one prompts a draw from the random event deck (which will be roll on a table in the published edition). Random events are split between wartime and peacetime events, and range from painless to double-ouch, but nothing game-breaking.
Alarming reports from the Marco Polo Bridge
Draw order is crucial - pulling an offensive chit before you've upgraded your infantry to armor is quite a bummer, I can assure you. Similarly, your opponent might get the jump on you diplomatically depending on the luck of the draw. Mitigating this somewhat is the Reserve Pool - powers can assign a chit to the Reserve, and use it any time during the turn to pre-empt a given draw. In case two players want to pre-empt at the same time, an order-of-precedence table sorts out the order of action. Thus I can be sure to commit an upgrade, or improve my civilian morale, before dependent actions or events occur.
Combat is resolved by competing die rolls. Each side starts with two d6; an armor unit removes an enemy die. If air units are involved on both sides, air superiority is resolved in a separate battle and the winning side gains a bonus die in the subsequent land battle. Terrain and fortress units may add die roll modifiers and/or cancel armor effects. The highest (modified) die is that side's score. The losing side loses a unit (armor formations are reduced to mere leg units) or retreats, unless the winning roll is a multiple of the loser, in which case more steps may be lost. Ties inflict losses on both sides, a nicely attritional touch. Simple enough in execution, but a successful campaign demands a lot of planning, including production decisions several turns in advance.
The Fascist sinews of war
As the only player with prior experience, I took Germany. Steven ran the USSR, Maynard ran France and the US, Mark had the UK, and Antipodean Paul ran Japan and Italy. Scott floated above the table on a majestic hoverthrone, directing the proceedings. Our first turn ('33-'34) was over almost before it began, as the Crisis chits poured forth in quick succession. The events hit France hardest, but I suffered most as I was unable to get Germany's economy into gear. The smart play would've been to use my reserve flag right away to move to Rearmament, but I was asleep at the wheel.
In '35, I got my act together and the Wehrmacht began to build. I kicked France out of the Ruhr, picking up a little production but giving the Western Allies some extra flags in the process. Any on-map peacetime provocation typically grants flags to anyone with local interests, allowing them to respond diplomatically or by ramping up their own economies. Italy and Germany also formed an alliance, allowing more efficient cooperation. The USSR fleshed out its army, mostly in the west but with a couple units keeping an eye on Japan's growing presence in Manchuria. The Spanish Civil War came and went, a blip in history with no net effect on the game.
No Vichy for you
Germany moved to Mobilization in 1937, allowing me to toss an upgrade chit into the cup as panzers finally started rolling off the assembly line. Italy fleshed out her forces as well, and Japan began making political inroads in China. France built the Maginot Line as storm clouds began to form in the west. The British people were not keen on rearmament, failing their first Stability test to drop them to Wavering. I was shocked to discover my own people preferred butter to guns, with German stability dropping as well.
I finally got my war on in 1939. Though initially stymied on the frontiers, Germany eventually overran France without much loss. I didn't quite have the juice to take the Low Countries, unfortunately, so I'll have to save them for a midnight snack. The UK Home Front slipped another notch to Unstable, closely followed by Germany - apparently a lightning conquest of France just isn't good enough for some people. I spent a flag on Propaganda, steadying things a bit at home.
Poland under pressure
We spent the '41-'42 turn setting the table for serious action. German forces headed east, confronted by a formidable Red Army. Japan has her eye on China, still in the throes of civil war, but the sleeping giant on the other side of the Pacific finally stirs. Britain is getting her war production on line. As Germany, I feel I am behind the clock, but fortunately so is everyone else - except for the USSR. Mother Russia looks to be in pretty good shape, and we should see an epic struggle in the east over the next couple turns. We stopped here and will pick up in 1943 when we return to the game.
So far, no great surprises - we're not exactly on script, but nothing nutty has occurred either. The narrative is developing in slow motion, however - one of the tricky bits of Cataclysm is making sure you get your production rolling while you're taking care of business on map. We're not as tooled up as our historical counterparts were at this point, and the map positions reflect that. It's easy to let a turn slip by without giving your economy its due - with limited actions and so much to do, the opportunity cost looms large over every decision. On the flipside, an aggressive build-out leaves you vulnerable to domestic discontent - the more war-oriented your economy, the more likely you are to fail a Stability roll.
Ein shaky Volk
Having watched it take form over the years, I'm happy to see Cataclysm in a mature state. Play is very smooth at this point, and we got a lot done in three and half hours despite four newbies at the table. Any hangups were due to the novelty of the approach rather than any difficulty with the inherent concepts. As a five player game, the action is a little uneven; I had plenty to do as Germany but a couple other seats don't enjoy much excitement. Fortunately the turns zip along before the balloon goes up - I reckon a three player game easily wraps in an evening and a five player game should be five hours or less with experience.
The game should be up on GMT's P500 list soon if it isn't there already. Cataclysm offers a unique take on the war with a balanced look at political, economic, and military decision-making at the national level. It appeals to me because the scope suits the player-role, with a commander-in-chief feel to the actions and level of detail. I also appreciate the playing time. Modeling the entire conflict in a single evening is a rare treat. Check it out!
- [+] Dice rolls
- Kevin Bernatz(kbernatz)United States
Awesome report guys...thanks!
And Scott's DiY skills are going to make mine look shoddy ...guess I should send an apology to all those that get MY Cataclysm-made playtest kits!
- [+] Dice rolls