"L'état, c'est moi."
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Caution: May contain wargame like substance
Ukrainian Crisis & The Little War
A pair of games for 2 players by Brian Train
Bernard Woolley: What if the Prime Minister insists we help them?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Then we follow the four-stage strategy.
Bernard Woolley: What's that?
Sir Richard Wharton: Standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis.
Sir Richard Wharton: In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.
Sir Richard Wharton: In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there's nothing we *can* do.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it's too late now.
- Yes Prime Minister, S1E6 "A Victory for Democracy"
Hollandspiele's 9th release sees a pair of games from the prolific Brian Train, one about the recent and ongoing Ukrainian conflict that started with the annexation of the Crimea, and the other a border skirmish from March 1939 between Hungary and the Slovakia.
This review will have a look at the former and a postscript on the latter.
The year is 2014. President Yanukovych reneges on his commitment to sign a deal with the EU in favour of signing a deal with Russia. Riots begin in the capital, security forces start shooting, and soon a revolution is underway. Yanukovych flees to Russia. Russia refuses to recognize the new interim government and intervenes militarily.
This is the backdrop for Ukrainian Crisis. The conflict is still ongoing despite it having left the headlines. The Crimea was annexed. Pro-Russian regions suddenly had armed militia causing trouble and more shooting. You can keep up to date through Wiki and various media sources. Google is your friend.
The game has a set of event cards, regular and irregular units for both side (plus special forces for the Russians), and a matching set of resource markers used to help players develop their position.
The map itself shows ethnic Ukrainian spaces (in yellow) and moderately to strongly Russian ethnic/supporting regions in orange. Numbers in the Ukrainian zone represent potential victory points (roughly 1 per million ethnic Russians in the region) for either side should the conflict get, as Brian puts it, "kinetic".
The game is played over 9 turns, and the victory points at the end will be determined either by prestige points (how well did you manage to persuade the world that you were "right") or a combination of halved prestige points (rounded up for a change) plus on board victory points if there was combat on any turn. Point differential will determine the level of victory with 1-10 being a draw, 11-25 being a tactical victory, and 26+ being simply smashing.
Things are warming up.
At the beginning of the game, irregular forces are ready to be deployed, the map is a blank canvas, and regular troops are safely in their bunks not expecting a fight. Players have a set of markers to dedicate minor, moderate, or maximum efforts towards three distinct phases categories: military, information, and diplomacy.
The level of effort will determine how many resource points you'll get for that category each turn. A minor effort will get you 1-4 moderate 2-5, and maximum 2d6 worth with the potential for a critical incident on doubles. Each marker can only be used once and is discarded, so deciding how and when to hold back or press hard in each category is part of the decision making process.
In addition to resource points, each side begins with prestige points as well. These represent, effectively, political capital both at home for the citizens watching events unfold on television and abroad with the international community.
Each turn the players will do the following:
1. Draw event cards. Play of the event is optional unless the text is red. If both are red, the player with higher prestige determines the order (and the Russians always win ties).
2. The Ukrainian player gains resource points for each country that is diplomatically at "intervention" - real foreign aid, as opposed to the four step approach quoted up above. Each player commits chits to the Military/Diplomatic/Information matrix.
As soon as the chits are placed, players have an opportunity to declare that this will be a combat turn (see below). Otherwise it's a strategic turn.
The player with higher prestige determines which category gets resolved first, and also which player goes first. Note that actions may cause the expenditure of prestige points, so the chooser may change between categories.
Military actions allow the deployment of units from reserve to mobilized and mobilized to the map. Deploying a regular unit to the map costs not only resource points but also prestige points.
Diplomatic actions allow players to try and influence countries to become more pro-Ukraine or conversely to make them more neutral and disinclined to help. Resource points and prestige points are spent and then the dice are cast to try to make a shift happen.
Information actions let you increase your prestige, try to drop your opponents' prestige, or try to neutralize enemy units on the map.
During a combat turn, the set of actions changes. Military determines the number of action segments, Diplomatic is about trying to get a ceasefire, and Information is about attempting to neutralize units.
It's about to get hot in here.
The game is a cat and mouse area control game, where the Russians are trying to keep their prestige up in the international community while helping to "stabilize" the region by annexation, thus reuniting the people with their "real" homeland. The Ukrainian player starts with half the prestige of the Russians so will be pressing the diplomatic front hard at the beginning to get help from one of the seven nations that directly and indirectly interested, while the Russians really want to keep those countries sitting on their hands and using armed persuasion to absorb what they can while they can.
During combat, there's a lovely mechanism to mitigate the inclination of a full on invasion - you do get to shoot with your units, regular and irregular, but excess hits above and beyond what it takes to neutralize or eliminate them will cost you prestige points.
According to the designer notes, Ukrainian Crisis was designed "in the middle of the crisis itself, over a weekend in March 2014." As the ongoing conflict has entered its fourth year, this game has ongoing relevance and the rules have room for adjustments in the setup to adapt to any ongoing changes.
This game is as much an intellectual challenge as tool to understand the unfolding story. As such, I highly recommend this one for anyone who's interested in modern 21st century conflict.
The Little War
Ukrainian Crisis can stand on its own, but Brian and Hollandspiele have given gamers a bonus game inside the box in the form of this border skirmish between Hungary and Slovakia in March 1939.
I honestly knew nothing about this little skirmish before reading the rules to this game. I'll save the history lesson for the moment, and suggest those who are curious check out online sources if you don't already have a dusty tome in your personal library.
A possible set up.
The map has several areas with a red number on them, representing their VP value. At the end of the game, the victory level is determined by how many the Hungarians hold. 0-2 and the Slovaks win, 3 is a draw, 4-6 is a Hungarian victory.
The game uses a deck of ordinary playing cards to regulate movement, combat, and special actions. Each player gets the face cards in their colour (clubs and spades for the Slovaks, hearts and diamonds for the Hungarians), and the remainder of the deck (including jokers) is shuffled.
Each turn, six cards are drawn and the cards are given by colour to the respective players. Clubs and hearts are for movement, spades and diamonds are for combat. Jokers cause an event. Players alternate turns, starting with the player that received the most cards, and the turn ends when both players pass.
The game lasts seven turns.
What makes this game interesting is the use of ordinary playing cards to create a framework for a relatively straightforward small scale wargame. The scale is small, there are only 30 counters in the game, there are air and ground units, there are objectives to reach, and sound WWII strategies to follow. It's all in the cards.
For the price, having two games in the same box is a fabulous deal.
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 favourites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph, Unhappy King Charles!
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Thank you for the nice review Roger!
The game in its original form was indeed designed over the weekend that the people of the Crimea held the referendum that, legitimate or not, prompted a sharp spike in the level of tension over the issue.
It looked as if an overt Russian incursion, if not outright invasion, was distinctly possible and I thought it would be a good idea to try and make a simple "pol-mil" game on it.
I've kept it up for free PnP on my personal website ever since, at
but adjusted the rules slightly over time to focus the game on the first six months or so of the crisis, a phase which ended with the adoption of the first Minsk Protocol... which did not last long, but put a bookend on the period of time when overt Russian action was most likely.
I'd also note that the Ukrainian game is playable with a set of ordinary playing cards, in case players do not want to go to the trouble of rolling dice and deriving the Resource Point values of each chit as it is played.
In fact, this gives a somewhat more high-powered game than the chit version, as the total amount of points available is higher than the expected value from all those die rolls.
The inclusion of the Hungarian-Slovakian game was a happy accident: Hollandspiele could not make cards for the effort markers as originally planned, so we went to chits instead and there were about 30 blanks left in the (176 counter) sheet.
I said, here, I have this mini-game with a small map and short rules that uses 30 counters and a deck of ordinary playing cards, so they put it in and there - no wasted blanks!
I'm thrifty that way, whenever possible.
- Last edited Tue Jul 4, 2017 6:12 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Tue Jul 4, 2017 2:39 am
Ooooh this looks nifty.
Ooooh this looks nifty.
Trust me, it is! :laugh:
Ooooh this looks nifty.
Trust me, it is!
Better be, I just dropped a wad of cash on Hollandspiele for a copy. :-)
Means a bit of valuta for me...and fun for you.