My very first pre-ordered game has arrived!
I have been itching to play a WW1 game ever since I bought and watched the documentary World War 1 in Colour (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0481303/), so having read through the rules I decided to give it a solo run. I set up for the Galicia campaign.
Clash of Giants is more than a game. It's more like a game system, with four campaigns to date. The first edition contained the battles of Tannenberg and of the Marne. The system has a base rulebook and then a set of special rules per scenario. The game system claims to be simple but not simplistic. A courageous claim! Would it deliver?
The core of the system is the division of the battlefield into four sections. Each player then has four activation chits, one for each section, that are mixed in a cup. One turn consists of the pulling these chits, one by one, and the player whose chit is drawn can activate the units present in that section. So you will be able to activate all units every turn, but you have no control over, and no knowledge of in which order.
What makes this even more interesting is that you can only initiate combat once every turn, so the decision is - do you declare battle early, when just some of your troops are in a favorable position to attack, or do you wait and hope to get more troops in position, risking that your opponent either manages to retreat out of harms way, or worse, get the advantage of the field and strike before you?
Setting up the troops initially was done pretty much from the hip, as I didn't have a clue about the game, and one really can't make any clever masterplans when playing both teams...
The first decisive battles were to take place around Cracow in the west. The Russian troops had set their eyes on this fortifyed town and advanced quickly. Too quickly it seems, as they did so without proper backup. They found themselves outnumbered, overpowered and surrounded just outside the town walls. Being completely surrounded meant they were out of supply and unable to retreat. They were eliminated without delay. As a few more Russian troops met the same fate in nearby Tarnow, the heart and soul of the Russian 4th Army had disappeared into thin air.
At this time I noticed the town Lemberg smack in the middle of the map. It plays a central role in the rail network on which all units are dependant on for supply. I noticed that if the Russians managed to take Lemberg from the Austrians, all units southeast of there, basically the entire Austrian 2nd Army would find themselves out of supply. I set my (russian) eyes on the town and sent in four divisions to take the town. Sadly, they failed miserably. Not only did they not take the town, they too were suddenly surrounded, out of supply, outnumbered and soon-to-be dead.
The Russian hope was the 3rd and 8th Armies advancing from the east. Their progress, however was very slow. On the dawn on the third turn they had reached their first objective town of Czernowitz, defeated the ill-equipped Austrian forces and drank some Vodka to rejoice.
It was at this time I decided I had enough of an understanding about the game system. In the Galicia campaign you don't count victory points until turn four, and I didn't want to have too much of an advantage over my future opponent, so I stopped playing before that... A general retreat was called and all units found themselves crammed into tiny plastic zip-lock baggies. What a fate for the galant troops who fought so bravely for their respective countries.
So what did I think? WOW! I can't wait to get a game going! It truly is simple but not simplistic. Just what I'm after. Games that (1) can be played in a single sitting and (2) doesn't demand so much concentration that you can't have a beer while playing, but still (3) being a proper wargame.
The chit-pull activation system is new to me, and although I feared it would give the game too much of a gamey euro-feel, it did no such thing. Deciding when to declare combat is a brain-burner, even when playing oneself. I can't even imagine it against a real opponent... Using the rail network to check for supply creates an interesting array of key positions which must be defended at all costs. It also means you can't just send troops too far into enemy territory to operate behind enemy lines and expect them to be fully operational.
I guess I should say something negative too.
The borders are a bit unclear. Especially the borders between the different activation sections. They can be a bit hard to spot, as the map features are quite colourful and sharp, and the borders are not the same for the two armies. It's a minor complaint, however. I can't think of how it could have been done differently, and it's probably easier when you only have to watch the borders of one army instead of both. The manual contained some irritating errors, but I expect an errata will be posted shortly to correct these.
I had very high expectations on this game. Being my first pre-ordered game, my first WWI game, my first Ted Raicer game. Well, to put it in short - it delivered!
Having said that I think the game also delivers on the promise of being exceptionally suited for solitaire play. I've never been a fan of solitaire gaming and basically do it only to get in touch with the rules and the system, but for what it is worth - I enjoyed my session!