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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Madagascar 1942
A game for solitaire play designed by Gary Graber.


“[I] should get my money's worth out of it even if I only play it once or twice.”
― me


Introduction
Madagascar has always held some fascination for me because back in grade school when we were learning all the continents I always wanted to go visit that big island off the east coast of Africa.

It turns out that Madagascar is a really cool place. It has lemurs among other odd and exotic flora and fauna, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet. It's a major exporter of coffee and vanilla. Like Canada, it has two official languages, theirs are Malagasy and French.

The reason for the latter is that during the period of European colonial expansion, it was absorbed into the French colonial empire (they eventually gained independence in 1960).

After the fall of France in World War II, the Vichy regime was nominally neutral although it collaborated with the Axis powers, including allowing Japan to occupy French Indochina.

The Japanese were a threat to the Allies in the east, and one spot that the British feared would be captured and used by the Japanese navy was the deep water port of Diego Suarez.

The situation in 1942. From the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

Thus was born Operation Ironclad, a plan to seize the port from the Vichy French, and the topic of this little solo game. As major topics for World War II go, this is at best an obscure chapter in a little corner of the big picture.

The game came to my attention via this geeklist and when I saw that it was relatively cheap (under $10 delivered to my home), I decided to take a chance. How bad could it be?

The Components
This game was originally published in Panzerschreck magazine in 2008, and then reprinted as a ziploc game in 2012.

Even back in 2008 they had colour printers, and I know they did in 2012, but this game is pretty monochromatic. The rules are black and white photocopies and the map is a sheet of green card stock with graphics that I will charitably call bland.

The counters were also an instant hit of nostalgia that took me back to my early days of hand cutting the pieces for my microgames from Metagaming, save that these days I have better craft tools. They, at least, are in colour.

A cutting mat, cutting guide, and sharp craft knife. Vital for any grognard.

Nevertheless, despite any gripes I may have about the components, the rules are clear and easy to follow - no mean feat!

Game Play
The game begins with a random set of French units placed face down in each of the objective hexes on the map. They are the enemy that must be defeated!

The setup.

The seven British units begin with the Royal Navy in the western landing box, and there are five turns to seize control of the island.

This game isn't very complicated, and there aren't a lot of pieces, so there has to be some kind of hook. Here it is. You, the British player, will not know your victory conditions until after the game is over. Yes, you read that correctly. There are nine objective hexes, and you may overwhelm and seize eight of them, but lose because the last one that you bypassed was one of the key locations needed for the win.

When I first read that, I smiled. It's simple, uncomplicated, and deviously clever. There are a few key spaces amongst the objectives that fit several of the possible victory outcomes, but there aren't any that guarantee anything.

Did I win? Yes, I did. This time.

The game itself is simple enough. Each turn, the Royal Navy marker can move one space. As it begins in the Western Landing box, you can invade on your first turn, but you have an immediate decision to make - do you split your forces and try to grab objectives from both sides, knowing the earliest you can land in the east is turn 3, or do you go for it and hope you can race across to all the spaces you hope you'll need?

After the naval marker has moved, the British units move. The terrain is flat and plain (or at least, that's what the map suggests and it's never stated otherwise) and there are no zones of control. On the first turn that British units invade, they move to a coastal hex and hope they don't get damaged by coastal batteries and may have to fight right away by landing in an objective hex.

This brings me to combat. Combat is again really simple. Flip up the French defenders. Roll under you combat factor to hit, roll greater than the defender morale value to eliminate them. But there's a catch. You can only do battle for three rounds, and if you haven't won, you must retreat. In my very first game, I was completely overconfident that my superior forces would sweep away the coastal opposition, especially as I encountered a 0-2-0 outpost unit. However, I didn't roll for beans and I had to retreat.

And retreat I did, into a vacant sea zone space because my navy was busy moving the other half of my forces to the east for a landing there. Which meant they were eliminated. Farewell Royal Commandos, posthumous medals for all.

There isn't enormously more to this game. There are events every turn that can cause a variety of problems. French reinforcements may arrive. The weather may prevent landings. You may receive a die roll modifier that will make the victory conditions tougher at the end. A specific objective might become required in addition to whatever the game end conditions are. There's a nice variability to the events that will add flavour to the game.

There are also optional rules to make the game more challenging.

Conclusions
I will confess to being pleasantly surprised by this game. For all that the components and graphics are uninspiring, and the rules simple, the game play itself is quite engrossing. It's a race against time, and if you're unlucky in combat, the delays in seizing the objectives you need to win may well cost you the game.

The uncertainty of knowing which objectives you need to win is really the key tension generator in the game. You might need to seize the airport, you may not. Why take the chance? Some of the French units are dreadful and easily overwhelmed. Others can be pretty tough, and they might shoot back and make you retreat, costing you precious time.

The game plays in about thirty minutes, which is short enough that you'll want to play again right away.

I would have loved to see better graphics, but for $10 I've already had my money's worth playing this game, and I'm going to keep it and play it some more when the mood strikes.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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E Butler
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I was just looking at this on the Minden site the other day. Think it might be a good .pdf buy.

I have been impressed with the games from Minden - simple but not simplistic and playable seems to be the theme.


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Martin Smith
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Interesting ...! Thanks for the informative review.

What is the historical or real-world rationale for not knowing the victory conditions until the end?
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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smithnewz wrote:
What is the historical or real-world rationale for not knowing the victory conditions until the end?

None, other than the game would be dreadfully boring otherwise. All of the objectives had some value (the airbase, the port, the two fortresses, the coastal gun emplacements), but if you knew going in which ones were valuable, you'd just walk by the ones you didn't care about. This way you care about ALL of them and do your level best to capture all you can.
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Martin Smith
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... So, it's ultimately like a die-roll to see if you win, but you have to do some (potentially counter-productive) stuff first?

And that's what generates the excitement?


(Maybe I'm just being too negative)
 
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Yes, you're being too negative.

Look, there are 7 British counters, and 11 French on the board to start the game. You can see the setup in the photo above.

The table for victory conditions ranges from you need to control DS + ANT (on a 1) to needing to control at least 8 objectives (7+ - a drm is possible due to events).

Is the game going to be that much more enjoyable to you knowing you only need those first two objective hexes? No, you'd waltz there in the first couple of turns and do a little mental victory jig and say "Huh. That was dull."

You either have the capacity to suspend disbelief and accept you won't know how well you did until after, or you don't. But the game works as is.
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Martin Smith
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OK. I have a few Minden games. Maybe I'll give this one a go - for something a bit different ...
 
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ozgur ozubek
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checked minden's site but neither Madagascar (http://minden_games.homestead.com/Madagascar.html) nor Panzerschreck Anthology is available cry
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Wendell
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Si non potes reperire Berolini in tabula, ludens essetis non WIF.
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Great review, Roger. Sounds like an interesting game.

But I must admit, I was stunned to learn that one of the two official languages of Canada was Malagasy. I thought it might be English and French instead. Still, live and learn.

leroy43 wrote:
Like Canada, it has two official languages, Malagasy and French.


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wifwendell wrote:
Great review, Roger. Sounds like an interesting game.

But I must admit, I was stunned to learn that one of the two official languages of Canada was Malagasy. I thought it might be English and French instead. Still, live and learn.

leroy43 wrote:
Like Canada, it has two official languages, Malagasy and French.




Who knew we were speaking Malagasy all this time, eh?

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Brian Train
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Thanks Roger, nice hook!

I've been playing around with the idea of variable and at least partly unknown victory conditions in some recent (as yet unpublished) designs, under the concept that doctrine can be a set of blinkers.

A while ago Volko Ruhnke, Mark Herman and I were on one of David Dockter's Guns Dice Butter podcasts. We were discussing the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, during the "advisory period", some officers in the US Army realized that a strategy based on pacification might have been the way to make headway against the National Liberation Front guerrillas, and said so years before the commitment of large numbers of troops in 1965. But doctrine, and the senior leadership, called for big battalions, large sweeps, and massive firepower to reduce the enemy by attrition, so that was how it was done in 1965-1968. Later there were changes, but not necessarily because the Army knew they were doing it wrong; the point was they were playing "the game of the Vietnam war" but didn’t know, and couldn’t have known, the true victory conditions.

Brian
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wintermute wrote:
checked minden's site but neither Madagascar (http://minden_games.homestead.com/Madagascar.html) nor Panzerschreck Anthology is available cry


Perhaps I bought their final copy! What's it worth to you? whistle
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ltmurnau wrote:
I've been playing around with the idea of variable and at least partly unknown victory conditions in some recent (as yet unpublished) designs, under the concept that doctrine can be a set of blinkers.

I agree. I recently played War Stories: Red Storm, and it was really neat knowing what my mission objectives were, but not knowing what my opponent needed to win. I could make some educated guesses based on my objectives, but no guarantee.

I personally prefer games where there's some uncertainty. It's why I prefer Combat Commander to a squad level game where I have total control and a god's eye view of the field. It's much more interesting to me to have some uncertainty about how well I'm doing. A reason I suppose I enjoy block games too!

Quote:
the point was they were playing "the game of the Vietnam war" but didn’t know, and couldn’t have known, the true victory conditions.


Ain't that the truth!
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Brian Train
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I'm glad we agree Roger, but I suspect that for each one of us, there are 1.2 gamers out there who aren't even sure they like the idea of random events tables.

Brian
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This was already on my wishlist. Your review confirmed my value in the game and your link gave me the opportunity to order it.

Thanks Roger!
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rockindoug wrote:
This was already on my wishlist. Your review confirmed my value in the game and your link gave me the opportunity to order it.

Thanks Roger!

You're most welcome! Thanks for the kind words.
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Kevin Fitzpatrick
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A good review, thanks for posting. I have played this game several times over the past few years and find it to be an excellent one. It is compact, well designed, on an obscure topic, plays fast and is fun. It has a good replay value in that you don't know the Victory Conditions until the end and sometimes you win, sometimes not so much. Yes, graphics are a bit lacking, but that does not affect the play of the game and it goes very smoothly. It is certainly one that I highly recommend as having great value for the price.
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