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Subject: A little gem of a wargame! rss

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Sandy Petersen
United States
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I wrote the first-ever Lovecraft game.
Decision Games has done the whole wargaming community a big favor by reprinting this gem. It's one of the best little wargames out there. The basic game, which is the best offered (though there are various scenarios, what-ifs, etc.), pits the Western Allies vs. the Soviet Union.

The basic game is similar to many other wargames. Units have three stats (attack, defense, movement). Zones of control are locking - if you enter an enemy unit's ZOC you are trapped and can't continue moving. The table of combat is only moderately bloodthirsty, but if you're forced to retreat but can't, due to ZOCs, you die (this is the way most units in the game are killed).

Set-up is fixed at game start. I went ahead and drew the starting spots onto my map to help setup. The map is kind of boring and monochrome, but gets the job done. A big line down the middle of the map separates the East Germans from the West Germans. Cities are important for victory points.

At the start of every turn you get replacement units, chosen from among the troops killed last turn. If none of your units were killed, then you lose your replacements. In practice, this can only happen to the Western Allies player, and only if he's new to the game. Soon enough he learns that his replacement level of "2" means that he can afford to lose 2 units a turn - and if he doesn't, then he's not maximizing his power! Unless you're the Western Allies player, you have to pick the units with the lowest attack factors to be your replacements for that turn (Western Allies can pick anyone they want).

The turn structure follows the conventional (1) get replacements (2) move all your units (3) attack.

The Western Allies units are all first-rate units, solid and useful. They come in three flavors (the 4-8-6 infantry, 6-6-7 mech, and 7-4-8 tank), but several colors (Canadian, American, etc.)

The Soviet Union's units consist of 6-4-6 tank corps, 7-7-4 mechanized corps, and the terrifying, unkillable 8-20-3 fronts. They also have a smattering of trashy lesser/allied units (Romanians, Poles, etc.). Their mighty 8-20-3 can occasionally be trapped, surrounded, and forced to retreat (and thus killed) by the Germans, but this is rare. Mostly they get to have their own way. However, the Russians have to post one of these behemoths in every major city they capture (Prague, Warsaw, etc.) so their numbers diminish over time.

The German units are a pathetic mishmash of differing factors, ranging from mighty SS tank armies (very few of these) to nigh-helpless Volksturm (heaps of 'em!).

You win the game by capturing cities, each of which is worth 1 victory point except for Berlin, worth 10 points. Most games are determined by who captures Berlin, of course. The Germans "win" if they manage to keep Berlin till the end (this does happen on rare occasions).

The brilliant conceit of the game is that both players get to be the mighty, unstoppable steamroller, plus they both get to be the dogged defender, clinging on by his fingernails. One player acts as the Western Allies & the East Front Germans. The other is the Soviet Union and the West Front Germans. So, for instance, if you are the Western Allies/East Front player, you both get to drive Patton's armored spearheads towards the Ruhr, plus (as the East Germans) hurl schoolboys and retirees into the gaping holes in your front line, trying desperately to hold back the Red Army's onslaught.

The two sides feel very different. The Western Front has a big fortified line reinforced with rivers & mountains, and lined full of solid German defenders. The East Front only has wide open spaces for the Russian tanks to run riot over. On the other hand there is a lot of that wide open space for the Germans to retreat through before they get too near Berlin.

Most games see the Western Allies pound away at the Westwall, growing increasing frustrated as they see the Russians advance steadily turn after turn. But then, 3-4 turns into the game, just when the Western Allies are ready to give up hope, the line always cracks and the lightning-fast British & American armies pour through into central Germany, gobbling up cities like popcorn. Then it's just a matter of making up lost time.

My experience is that the Western Allies have a slightly harder job of winning than the Soviets, but it's a very close game. I once played as the Germans vs. two new players and pulled off a win, but I wouldn't recommend the experience as anything near balanced!

In all this is one of the best wargames ever to come down the pike. It doesn't take too long to play (a couple of hours tops), is fun, fast-moving, and like I said gives both players an interesting experience.
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