I recently picked up MMP's WHAT PRICE GLORY? a game that covers the strategic aspects of World War 1 on the western front. Here are a few reasons why I wanted to see this game:
• Tetsuya Nakamura is one of my favorite designers.
• I have enjoyed the Area-Impulse mechanism since I first encountered it in Avalon Hill's Turning Point: Stalingrad, which is a lovely game. So I was wondering how Tetsuya would modify this mechanism to make it fit in a strategic WW1 game.
• Finally, knowing that Tetsuya always produces Design for Effect games, I was anxious to see what his D4E approach to WW1 would look like.
I'll just say up front that WHAT PRICE GLORY? is fun, but since I like Area-Impulse games this isn't an unbiased assessment.
WPG? covers all of WW1 in the west in 10 half-year turns. The scale is a form of abstracted corps-level; the game does not include every corps that fought. Actually, the game contains less than half the corps historically available, probably a result of counter-mix limitations. I'd almost describe the units in this game as representing two or more corps, tied to specific historical designations.
The cards in WPG? are pretty, pretty flimsy that is. I found I had to sleeve them to be able to play, even though the cards are never shuffled (more on this later).
The game's map covers northeastern France, Belgium, and the German border. Surprisingly, most of Switzerland dominates the southeast corner of the map. Unsurprisingly, Switzerland may not be entered. The map also features VP and turn tracks, as well as various card and unit holding areas along the perimeter.
There are only 6 pages of rules (!) plus 2 pages covering card interaction explanations. How MMP can get away with such a short rules set is probably because the game system has been around for more than 25 years and many (most?) buyers already know the system. Hence, a kind of "short-hand" is used in the rules. I know exactly what is meant because I have played Turning Point: Stalingrad, Breakout: Normandy, Storm Over Stalingrad, Breakthrough: Cambrai, and many other games using the Area-Impulse mechanism. I had no trouble understanding these incredibly short rules. However, a person who has had no experience with this system might have some difficulties, especially with the question of why players might want to do things or why the rules force you to do certain activities. Thus the rules may not be "novice-friendly."
Each player has a deck of 16 Battle cards and 8 Event cards. The Events are added one card per turn from turn 3 to 10. When an Event card is used as its Event, it is permanently removed from the game. Each turn is composed of a series of impulses where the phasing player plays a card and proceeds to carry out the action described. Some cards allow for the play of additional "linked" cards so that several cards can possibly be played during an impulse (max. 5 cards).
In order to move units or attack, a Battle card must be played, but any card can be played as a simple unit move or attack. After a unit is moved or attacks it is flipped to its "spent" side and may conduct no further actions this turn, although some card play may cause them to become "Fresh" again.
Now let me describe game play in terms of The Good, The Bad, and The Bizarre (cue Ennio Morricone soundtrack music).
First on the list has to be that the game is fun to play. The rules are fairly straight-forward, and an interesting evolution of the Area-Impulse mechanism. Game play feels both unusual and familiar at the same time.
Cards are colorful and attractive, while the text is pretty explicit about what each card does. More information is detailed in the rules if needed.
Players do not draw randomly from their decks, each turn -- they choose exactly which cards will be in their hand! This introduces a hefty dose of skill in the game as players build their hands to achieve specific goals.
The cards interact in unusual ways, and the order in which linked cards are played can radically alter the outcome. A player's impulse therefore has a puzzle-solving aspect to it that is quite unusual for a wargame. Players can actually craft specific plans of action for their upcoming impulses. Of course, enemy actions can derail those plans...
And finally, being only 10 turns long the game has the potential of having a relatively short playing time -- if players go about their turns in a brisk fashion.
Since players build their hands every turn, and since the various cards interact in convoluted and non-obvious ways, it is quite likely for the game to bog down into Analysis-Paralysis. Since the order in which cards are played is incredibly important, it can be confusing for a new player. Here's an example:
Esprit de Corps reads "Select one area and activate a group of units. That group of units may perform an action and then immediately perform a second action. At the conclusion of the second action, all activated units are flipped to their spent side."
Battlefield Coordination reads "Select two areas and activate a group of units in both areas. Each group may now perform an activation. Finish one activation before you start the second. At the conclusion of the activation, all active units are flipped to their spent side."
Both of these cards allow for the play of one or more additional cards. Depending on the order in which they are played, the effect can be dramatically different:
Esprit de Corps followed by Battlefield Coordination: Choose a group, perform a simple action, perform a second simple action, then choose another group and perform a simple action.
Battlefield Coordination followed by Esprit de Corps: Choose two groups, perform one simple action, perform a simple action with a second group, then perform a second action with the same group.
The order of card play provides a surprisingly different variety of outcomes and can have a very different effect on the mapboard. This can be frustrating to parse during play. And that's just one simple card interaction. Other cards could also be played, in any order, which would further alter the effects. I found this to be quite difficult to grasp during play and my buddies also felt this level of card interaction seemed too cumbersome.
Machine Guns cards feel like a heavy-handed design fix for the problem of blunting the offense. I cannot imagine Tetsuya choosing such a brute force "pounding-a-square-peg-into-a-round-hole" method, so these cards must be the developer's fault. Essentially, Machine Guns stop the phasing player before he attacks! The non-phasing player attacks each unit instead and the phasing player's turn ends with all active units flipped to their spent side. It is analogous to a "Lose a Turn" card in a child's game! And since both players have two Machine Guns cards at their disposal... Let's just say I find that method of depicting the power of defense to be very crude and unconvincing.
Since WPG? is a Design for Effect wargame -- only the final outcome is modeled. The journey from A to Z is never addressed, there are no interim steps of B, C, D, etc. You go directly from A to Z. This manifests in an incredibly artificial, almost abstract, quality in play. More often than not, this focus on the outcome (final effect) with no regard for how you arrived at that outcome, is distasteful to me. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I wouldn't call WPG? a simulation in any sense -- it's just a game. However, since I feel the same way about Paths of Glory perhaps my opinion is not worth much?
Then again, consider the following:
There are no fortresses in WPG?! But then again, it's not like the fortresses at Verdun and Liège had any influence on the war, right? (/sarcasm) Again, I cannot imagine Tetsuya choosing to ignore one of the most important aspects of the war; it's got to be the developer who opted for this little bit of "streamlining." In my opinion, any game on the western front of WW1 that does not include fortresses obviously has little or no simulation value. Incidentally, this is when I started calling the game WTF? instead.
As I wrote earlier, Event cards are added one at a time every turn from turn 3 to 10. As the game progresses, players have increasing opportunities for playing Event cards. These Events, though, are crazy. Here are some examples:
The High Seas Fleet and the Grand Fleet can cause VP adjustment every turn until Jutland occurs. It takes away from one of the player's opportunities to move or attack, but it is a very good way to rack up VPs if your opponent doesn't have the "antidote" Event card in his hand. All well and good, but I just don't see why naval sorties would affect operations on the frontlines (which is the way VPs are gained or lost).
The German player can play French Army Mutinies (if Verdun is German controlled or the Nivelle Offensive has been played), which causes the substitution of five reserve French corps with crippled "mutiny corps" which may not advance into an area with enemy units (but may attack if enemy units enter their area). What? The German player gets to control that?
By the way, the Nivelle Offensive is an entirely good card for the Entente player (just like in history, right?!?).
The two Trench Warfare cards allow a player to place a Trench marker in an area, making it harder to attack, and then the cards are removed from play. So only two areas of a frontline that is eight areas long can be entrenched? In a game on WW1? Considering this game has no fortresses, I guess I should be thankful there are any trenches at all.
The Germans can engage in Unrestricted Submarine Warfare as soon as they get the Event. This reduces the Entente player's hand by 2 (usually from 6 cards to 4). This wildly overstates the effects of USW, at least according to the texts I've read. To “balance” that out, the Entente can bring in the US at any time after USW is declared. However, US units go into the general reserves pool and are drawn randomly as Reinforcements so you never know when they'll pop up, could be immediately or never. Incidentally, US units cannot retreat and cannot be rebuilt so they are quite brittle and actually almost a liability!
It's not just some of the card effects that are off-the-wall. Some truly weird stuff is baked into the design itself. For example:
The first French turn is simply a mess. The French are forced to pass on their first impulse. Perhaps the pre-war French doctrine of Attaquer à outrance is all a figment of my imagination? Perhaps historically, the French just sat there and waited patiently for the Germans to attack! Or perhaps not. As the Entente player, I just love sitting there totally powerless as the German player does whatever he damn well pleases (/sarcasm). This is just bad game design (or more likely poor development), in my opinion. "Idiot rules" are bad enough, but idiot rules that fly in the face of history...
There are way more Belgian corps in this game than in history and most start in Ypres. Belgium is mostly empty. There's one corps in Antwerpen and two in Ypres. Other than that, Belgium is a wide-open autobahn just waiting for the Germans to drive across. Not terribly historical deployment, but it gets worse. Just like in most WW1 games, the BEF is composed of supermen. But this time, there are two BEF corps. That's bad enough, but the entire British 2nd army sets up on the coast of France -- six months too early! Essentially, the entire O/B is a fantasy created to make the game work. Just like something out of a 60s style Avalon Hill "classic."
Even units operate in funky ways. For instance, cavalry moves no faster than infantry and in fact functions just like infantry! That's two bizarre concepts in one -- slow cavalry that fights like infantry. Also, tanks are faster than infantry or cavalry. Yes, you read that right, infantry and cavalry move 2 and tanks move 3. This makes a huge difference since it costs one extra MP to enter an area containing enemy units. Historically, tanks were, at best, no faster than infantry. Here tanks are budding blitzkriegers!
Since you either move a unit or attack with it, units often face the enemy from an adjacent area -- thus there will be large sections of the front where opposing units are not in contact with each other. This is really where WPG? completely fails to simulate a WW1 experience.
Victory Points are tracked on two separate tracks. One track is labeled Victory Track and the other is the Area Control Track. Each area has a VP marker in it which flips to the other player's side when he conquers the area. It sure clutters up the board and as areas change hands, players must always adjust the Area Control Track or risk losing count and having to count them all up manually. Entente Control minus German control equals the Area Control Number. Add together the Area Control Number with the Victory Points on the Victory Track to find the actual VPs. Negative VPs indicate an Entente victory, positive VPs mean a German victory and 0 means a draw. Why all this needless fiddly accounting? Why are there no gradations of victory (a +1 German win is equivalent to a +10 German win)? This system of determining victory seems needlessly convoluted and quite off-putting to me.
There is only one scenario! The campaign game is all that there is! It seems a missed opportunity that they didn't include a few late-war scenarios. Comparing the one scenario in WPG? with another game covering the same ground, To the Last Man! which has 49 campaign scenario possibilities, 6 post-1914 scenarios, as well as the free set up option, the difference is all the more shocking.
In summation, while WPG? is a fun and challenging game, in no way does it come close to simulating WW1. That's not a knock, just the way it is.
My favorite part is probably the hand-building aspect where players imagine a plan and then choose the cards to carry that plan out. This unique mechanism adds a good deal of brain-burning goodness to the game and gives players a sense of being in control even though they're not. I think Tetsuya's innovation here is quite remarkable.
I can recommend WHAT PRICE GLORY? to anyone who's interested in a novel twist to the Design for Effect Area-Impulse mechanism. It's an interesting evolution of this venerable game system.
I'm definitely glad I bought the game.
(edited for grammar and style)
- Last edited Sun Aug 9, 2015 11:24 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Aug 4, 2015 2:02 am
this geek loves strategy games
this is an old photography of the young man
Great review - thank you!
I wrote some words in german about the game.
- Last edited Tue Aug 4, 2015 10:06 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Aug 4, 2015 10:06 am
"...the art of manoeuvering armies...an art which none may master by the light of nature. but to which, if he is to attain success, a man must serve a long apprenticeship." -- G.F.R. Henderson
History-themed wargames (as opposed to historical wargames) do seem to have their place and we often see them using area-movement mechanics. One hopes that such games might get people interested in the period and more "meaty" simulation-style titles. But if they don't, that's fine too!
Time will tell if this particular title is a "player"--that is, it's a good competitive game. Fun is one aspect of it and it sounds from your review that it checks that block. Play balance is another. Guess we'll see over time about that as people figure out the card sequencing strategies!
In summation, while WPG? is a fun and challenging game, in no way does it come close to simulating WW1. That's not a knock, just the way it is.
I actually think this game does as fine a job of simulating the rapid advance in the first weeks of the war - definitely better than PoG, and I'm not sure I've seen any other game that can get the Germans to where they advanced historically. It is definitely design-for-effect, but the effect is real. What "simulation" has done better?
I agree that the cards and card interactions can cause some A/P and can sometimes be a little confusing.
Anyway, nice review, glad the game got some attention, definitely worthwhile.
Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
You might want to look here for some information about the differences between the Japanese and English versions of this game.
My understanding is that the game was designed as a collaboration between the two parties, and then diverged for publication within their own languages.
- Last edited Wed Aug 5, 2015 7:16 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Aug 5, 2015 7:16 pm
In my opinion, any game on the western front of WW1 that does not include fortresses obviously has little or no simulation value. Incidentally, this is when I started calling the game WTF? instead.
Thumbed up because of this line