Florent Leguern Conciergerie Easylife
France
Crolles
France
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No man's land was something I didn't plan to get, at all. I actually don't really know what sparked my interest on the WWI subject, but it lead to obtaining this game on a whim. As it is, I don't regret it at all !

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Well, for starters, there's no box : didn't expect that, but it doesn't really matter, I have counter-boxes to spare, and I can tinker myself some storage device for the game. Less funny, the absence of dice, which were listed in the manual. There again, no big problem for me, but that's another misstep. There's a manual, a player aid card with charts, a double-sided map and the counters.



At first, I was afraid the different nationalities would be hard to distinguish on their respective counters, but they are actually quite clear. All the counters are really clear, with some keywords (the game has a manual either in french or in english, depending on your choice ; the counters are all in english : alas, there's no correspondance to those english keywords in the french manual ; not really a problem, but again, a little bit frustrating), they're small, but remain easy to manipulate.

The map is well designed : there are charts and boxes to store counters useful for a mission, a big "wind" hex, and some tracks that will evolve during a mission. There are boxes to put some "status" counters too. But the colours on the map are not that well chosen, and the counters become quickly lost on it. As it may seem rather historically accurate for the no man's land battlefield to appear so bleak, it might hinder the player.



The manual is, at its core, well designed. The reading flow is rather logical and clear. But it's incomplete, and the errated version here on BGG is mandatory to really comprehend the nuances of the gameplay. That latest version is very clear and, to my taste, stands as the definitive version of the manual that I'd expected in the game. Good points, there's a summary at the beginning ! I bought a handful of wargames those last couple of months, and I didn't expect to read so many manuals without even a summary or an index... some don't even have a list of the components !

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There seem to be a bunch of little problems to the game that might seem bigger when aggragated, but my first play-test went on for three hours, with me asking some question to the designer, and participating in the errata of the rules in real time laugh That's how much the game hooked me from the start : the first reading of the rules didn't show any lack of details, so the gameplay and the mechanics struck me as really good. Not overly complex, but smart enough to lead us through those four terrible years of war, with each early scenario introducing some new concept to grasp.

The artillery is, for instance, really powerful. It can grant some huge advantage, and sometimes, be totally ineffective. But those results are not immediatly apparent : in the case of barbwires, the attacker has no clue as to their status until one of his units comes close to one. A test (with the corresponding chart) will reveal it either intact or damaged, or even breached ! This simple rule shows how anxious the soldiers might have felt when rushing through the no man's land. Artillery also has an incidence on the start of the assault : thunder, smoke and explosions have left the defenders confused, and the assaillant has approached close enough to not be bothered by ennemy fire.

The ennemy, though, is hidden. You can see where they are, but not exactly how much. So there's the reconnaissance, by plane, or balloon. There are pilots that fight over the battlefield ; survivors might even engage the soldiers on the battlefield later in the game. That's one way to detect the ennemy. You can also get close enough of him of course, but if they fire, they reveal themselves ! So is the defender waiting for the attacker to get close before making himself a target ? Or does he count on his artillery and the fact he's hidden in a trench, and the attacker not ? As long as it remains hidden, a unit cannot be targeted by ennemy fire...



Gaz attacks are rendered too ; there are rules for different types of artillery barrages, pillboxes, camouflage, the devastating power of the machine guns, close combat, some tanks... And lots of charts. That's something I'm not really used to, but they were really easy to use, even with sometimes many possibilities for modificators. But those conditions are firmly grounded into the theme : a hit has a chance to be influenced by wether the target is in a trench or not, by the size of its unit, by smoke, if the shooter is under the influence of gaz or not... The battlefield evolves rapidly, and the firefight can be quite tense every turn of the game.

And then there's the Elan track, the abstraction of the momentum of the attacker. Each turn, counters are drawn from an opaque cup, and are going to influence the tactics and efficiency of the attacker. He will have chances to reroll, get some modificators on his dice rolls, and others to his rally tests. Units can become pinned due to heavy fire, and not move because of that. Officers have some control over this, but that Elan track too. And as each turn passes, the less favorable the modificators are in favor of the attacker. So, as the attacker, you have to be swift and rapidly asses your objectives. Usually, the recon and the barrages are a huge factor to those decisions.

There are a lot of really nifty rules in this game. Theme and mechanics are craftly intervowen together, and as an "amateurish" amateur on the subject, I thought it led to some educationnal gameplay. The game looks a bit scripted, but that's really fine with me.

The scenarios follow the war and its solutions to the entrenched hell. The possibility to get rid of barbwire without artillery ; specialized units, tanks, gaz-filled shells, more precise barrages, mortars, flame-throwers...
All those concepts are really well integrated in the game. The wind was especially is a good idea : gaz attacks may backfire ; flamethrowers leave smoke, which can also be affected by wind, and thus hinder the shooting units.

I played most of the game alone, but seeing how much pleasure I had playing it, I'm in no doubt that with a mighty opponent, it will get better ! cool

E So, out of ten, what should I give this game ? Somewhere between 7 and 8. The manual is really something to be adressed even before the first reading. If there are reprints or expansions, extra care has to be given to this. But the theme and the gameplay were very solid and pleasant. What seemed really clever when I punched my counters and read the manual was the fact that all the counters were not to be used readilly, but instead had their purpose at different stages of the game. The narrative appeared to me then as an integral part of the experience, and that's what grabbed my attention from the start.

So for a surprise auto-gift, this was really a big hit ! I'd probably have to take a little step back later, once I've mastered the strategies - and played against someone ! - but I doublt if would shift my appreciation lower ^^
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mark taylor
Scotland
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Great write up Florent.
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