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Subject: Nevsky, SPAM and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020 rss

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David Dockter
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Background: I'm Always Looking for the Next, Best, Non WW2 Operational Strategic Game...

From gallery of Herr Dr

My Hallowed Dozen and Half Op Strategic Games: To Be Saved in the Event of Zombie or Nuclear Apocalypse

There are not many decent non WW2 operational strategic games. Way too few. A fraction of the multitude of Bulge, WW2 tactical or WW2 Eastern Front games. I am always on the look out for a new one.

When I heard about Nevsky , designed by Volko Ruhnke , developed by WIF Wendell and play tested by First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society my interest was piqued: great topic (not covered by the hobby), solid game designer (Wilderness War is fantastic) and likely a solid/rich game.

Mark H indicated he had played it with the designer, Volko Ruhnke recently; meaning Mark H could teach me the game (woohoo). Both of our copies had just arrived. A cold JAN day...a great day to play games with a good mate.

Board Game: Kingmaker

Kingmaker

Back in the day, I loved playing Kingmaker. Spent many an afternoon in high school with gaming with a good friend, battling Yorks and Lancasters. Really liked outfitting the nobles and waging war. I really like medieval/crusades operational scale campaign games.

Hoping to recreate gaming in the Middle Ages, I Picked up Onward, Christian Soldiers and All is lost save Honour a few years ago. Sadly, neither has yet hit the table. Did manage to play some Kingdom of Heaven: The Crusader States 1097-1291 a few years - which we really enjoyed. KoH AAR here: Debacle at Tiberias, but deliverance at Jerusalem

Anyways, picking up a copy of Nevsky was a no brainer given the subject and scale.

Board Game: Onward, Christian Soldiers


Board Game: All is lost save Honour


Board Game: Kingdom of Heaven: The Crusader States 1097-1291


A Bit About the Game

From gallery of Herr Dr


So, what's the pedigree of Nevsky? What does it play like? Not like anything I recently recall, given a prime focus of the game: logistics. There is some understandable similarity with Wilderness War of course. But other than that, no other game springs to mind.

From gallery of Herr Dr


From gallery of Herr Dr


I don't know much about the 13th century campaign in the Baltics/Russia. Mark H had managed to secure an Osprey title on the subject (which he kindly lent to me). Essentially, the campaign being modeled in Nevsky is one of raids and sieges. Mark H indicated, "Dr: it is unlikely we will have any field battles - so, cool your jets". I always enjoy a good game of maneuver even without a lot of smash mouth fighting.

The game. Each side has up to 6 nobles, which are basically formations of forces and whatnot. Each side kits out their formations as they see fit. Logistics is a hefty part of Nevsky; something else I like to see in an op strategic game. Players plan out their action phases by selecting cards that activate this or that noble. Cards are then revealed U Go I Go. Combat is a little funky. There is a tactical board. Your don't really roll to hit an opponent, but rather roll to avoid being hit. VPs are primarily generated by taking territory and ravaging.


What's to Like (major)

Theme/Immersion

Board Game: Nevsky

Bits

From gallery of Herr Dr

Gorgeous game

From gallery of Herr Dr

Really gorgeous...

Fabulous art in this game. The map is one of the best I've seen in the hobby. Love the bits. Besides the map art and bits (wood), Nevsky also gives some love to other components. The nobles' "mats" are well designed and have manly thick cardboard.

Something I've previously harped on is that wood - color, shape and size - could probably replace most of the unit counters we've grown to love in the hobby. Don't get me wrong, I love a good counter. However, I think we could utilize wood for most of the troops and utilize counters as accent: needed to provide our beloved chrome.

Take Paths of Glory for example. Armies in the game for a particular country have the same values - with the exception of usually one unit (for example, the BEF, Army of the Orient or CAU armies). Same with corps. So, given there are eight major powers, eight colored larger blocks to represent the armies, eight smaller cubes to account for the corps. Over 95% of the units covered by a few blocks. Back to Nevsky.

The impact of the art is to immerse one in this conflict. Which, of course, is the only goal of great game art. Hats off to the graphics artist and the game designer: immersion is what draws and keeps many of us experiencing these stories by playing these games.

Board Game Publisher: RBM Studio

Nevsky is definitely a "Wave 5" game: GREAT look, GREAT bits

Logistics/Planning

From gallery of Herr Dr

Nobles mat

You've got to really plan out what forces you want to field, how to manage supplies and how to maintain said forces in the field. Given the efficient ruleset, nothing is onerous: this isn't Operational Combat Series (not saying that onerous, but, it does take some staff officer skills to play ).

You've got to pay attention to insuring your troops have both enough supplies and the correct type of transport to conduct campaigns. We did NOT find that a distraction or worse, "fiddly". I can't say we had fun moving forces, but, it did cause us to confront logistics questions often woefully absent in most op strategic games. And, since it was just a trial run of mechanics, we probably missed some of the subtly of game design.

Tempo/Scale

The tempo/scale in Nevsky, I like. It's you go, I go - cat and mouse - and involves either seizing the initiative or responding to your opponent. A clean system.

If you would have liked to see more friction in activating and moving formations, you'll need to look elsewhere. There are no mandatory offensives, random events (unless we missed them) or political directives ("STAND FAST/NO RETREAT") to do something stupid. Of course, more friction requires more rule overhang; not something everyone digs.

Small footprint

The map is small, but still allows plenty of avenues of operation. This is good.

Levy

I really like games that allow players to determine the make up and capabilities of their forces. Nevsky does that. Reminds me of a computer game from back in the day: Sword of Aragon

From gallery of Herr Dr


On to a few items that did not tickle my fancy...

A Matter of Taste: I like Spam; Not Everyone Does

From gallery of Herr Dr


From gallery of Herr Dr

Spam is good

Combat

Didn't really like the combat resolution system. I like SPAM; not everyone does (if you're from god's country - specifically Minnesota - you do). Combat resolution, like spam, is frequently a matter of taste (assuming that it's not fatally flawed).

I'm not a fan of tactical combat boards (in fact, I always hate them). Sadly, for me, Nevsky has a tactical board. And, with Nevsky, you're not rolling to inflict losses (unless we messed up the rules), but rather to avoid losses. I much prefer the thrill of shaking a die and causing my opponent agony instead of rolling to avoid my own pain.

Again, Mark H had cautioned me that, "Dr - this is not knock down combat. Sides did not seek major battles.". In Nevsky, you can avoid combat and basically get away with all your stuff (food, loot, transport). No brutal cav pursuit or complete panic in this game; no real downside for fleeing like a little girl. I'm guessing this is historically accurate (a strategic will model didn't exist at this time, since, well, a leader had divine right), but, it takes away some of the delicious tension always apparent in our best wargames. NOTE: we played without the player screens that would have added some decent tension to the game. We'll definitely play with player screens next time.

After the game ended, I checked out rule 4.4.3: Ending the Battle and 4.4.4 Losses. It appears that a girlie mon that concedes during battle (I'm looking at you Mark H), suffers some penalties: loss of loot, excess food and a hit in term of service. However, it appears girlie mon nobles avoid those penalties if they simply flee before battle. I would have really liked to see an avoiding battle die roll mechanic - with a big cost for failure. Oh well.

Siege mechanics

Siege Mechanics in Operational/Strategic Wargames

Like naval rules, siege mechanics almost always suck. Siege mechanics are VERY difficult to do: getting that correct combo of play value and something historical relevant. I'd have to say the Nevsky siege mechanics - probably due to the tactical board and the combat system - left me...underwhelmed. I thought Wilderness War did a great job for the siege given the conflict it was modeling (fab in fact)...and Kingdom of Heaven. Also really liked how Berg handled it with Carthage: The First Punic War. (I love everything about that game!). Unfortunately, I didn't get that siege glow with Nevsky. Bummer.

Outfitting the Nobles: Card Capabilities

Board Game: Kingmaker

Kingmaker : Kitting out the nobles, from a game back in the day...

One other nit: kitting out the nobles. Again, I really like the ability in wargames to determine composition of forces. However, I had an issue with how Nevsky's approach. Essentially you select from cards and assign capabilities to your team. There is a tradeoff: you can assign a particular capability to a noble or chance that the capability card shows up as an event card. Sort of a short term vs long term tradeoff.

I didn't think it quite worked for me; the tradeoff. I thought maybe it would work better with some pot of money for each side and using that pot to select capabilities, with random events handled in their own deck (just for that purpose). Anyways, another non show stopper.

Enough with minor gripes, on to the play session...

Start: Let's Wimp Out & Play the Intro Scenario

From gallery of Herr Dr

Start your engines

Mark H Kindly walked me thru the rules. As always, he did a great job of explaining the game. Took us only about 15 minutes to have enough to begin pushing wood. The rulebook to the game checks in at 24 pages: just the right size for a middle weight beefy wargame. Mark H said, "You take the Prussians; you've got some of that blood in your veins. And, you get to attack.".

We wimped out (stressed for time). Uncharacteristically, we decided to play a 2 turn scenario (instead of the full enchilada) : I believe the intro scenario. Would recommend it as a way to learn the mechanics and get a taste of Nevsky.

Turn 1: Two Teutonic Army Groups Head East

From gallery of Herr Dr

T1: Germans

From gallery of Herr Dr

T1: Start Russian

We both worked through our nobles; mustering, assigning transport and what not. I went for two army groups: Hermann and the Danes.

From gallery of Herr Dr

Danes attack

From gallery of Herr Dr

Storm the castle

I sent the Danes to Koporye. Russians responded with a move by Gavrilo. Danes continued their offensive and successfully completed the siege of Koporye. Gavrilo utilized their next two turns to ravage and ran back to mother Russia. I then sent Hermann on a mission in the center to storm another castle. We took a quick break.

I popped outside for some fresh air. To my surprise, laying on the ground was ... a sword. A small blue sword. I immediately decided Hermann the Noble may find it be quite useful. Tossed it in my pocket and ran back to the game table.

As we began siege resolution, I tossed down the blue sword (now called the Sword of Aragon) on the tactical battle board. It seemed to make the difference: another castle fell to Team Teutonic. The Russians Domash and Vlad did some maneuvering. The turn ended with a VP score of Teutonic Order 3 VPs and the Russians with 2 1/2 VPs.

From gallery of Herr Dr

Sword of Aragon

From gallery of Herr Dr

Storm Iz

From gallery of Herr Dr

End of Turn 1

Turn 2: Russian's Ravage. Showdown at Pskov.

From gallery of Herr Dr

Start of Turn 2

From gallery of Herr Dr

T2 German Muster

From gallery of Herr Dr

T2 Russian Muster

Turn 2 began with the death of the Pope; some bad news for the Germans. Teutonic Order also suffered the loss of Yaroslav through negligence (should have raised some coin to pay the bum!).

From gallery of Herr Dr

Danes attack again

Germans dispatched the Danes to Neva and Hermann to Pskov. Vlad took the opportunity to take back Koporya and ended up improving the walls to prevent against further incursions. Danes ravaged. Russians responded by retaking Luga.

Teutonic Order decided to go for glory and assault a tough nut, Pskov (a level 3 fortification). The odds were long, but, I tossed the Sword of Aragon into the mix. When the dust cleared, Russians still held the castle. A couple of more raids ended the scenario; one by the Danes and one by Gavrilo.

The scenario ended with 5 Russian VPs (3 from raids, 1 they begin with and 1 from the penalty the Germans incurred by having Yaroslav leave early) and 4 Teutonic VPs (2 1/2 from raids and 2 from conquest).

From gallery of Herr Dr

Storm Pskov

From gallery of Herr Dr

End of turn 2

Wrap Up: Thumbs Up

From gallery of Herr Dr


Found a good new bar recently; Tiki Chick. I've always liked me a good, "authentic" Tiki bar: especially one that serves a mean SPAM sandwich like Tiki Chick.

We liked Nevsky: a well crafted game. There a few items I didn't care for (evidently not everyone likes SPAM either); the ease of avoiding battle and apparent no cost for doing so (we might have missed a rule). And, the tactical board. But, like SPAM, you can't pick out the various parts of "the meat" you don't like; just toss more pineapple on the sandwich and enjoy it for what it is. The scenario had given us a good taste for the capabilities of the game - and we liked the flavor.

The overall game does feels like the conflict being modeled. You can tell the designer went out of his way to give us story that is faithful to the history: hats off to Volko. We also did not find one rules issue show stopper: tip of the hat to the Nevsky designer, development and playtest team.

Given we had only played the short scenario, we came away wanting to give a full campaign a go. The maneuvering we did was only to test out the game. Would be great to witness the whole arc of a campaign. Hopefully, sooner than later. Should be fun.

In guild First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society

Link to other 1st MN/Sawatdee/Herr Dr AARs: 1st MN/Sawatdee/Herr Dr Session Reports
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Jim F
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020

Thanks for another session report. Always worth reading, always thought provoking.
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Volko Ruhnke
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
Thanks David!!

Interesting idea putting the units rather than the Lords onto the Battle board or just arraying the Lord mats - I have never seen that.

What don't you like about battle boards, out of curiosity?

Volko
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David Dockter
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
I think it's the mix of tactical boards with op strategic scale. There was one I enjoyed: Alexandros .

If I've got to resolve battle with something other than a single die roll(s), I love the card ( 1776 ) or the chit pull ( Empires in Arms ). Both seem to produce much more angst and game drama than I've experienced with tactical boards. Tactical boards also take away from time spent maneuvering (something I'd rather be doing).
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
David, we played correctly. For the record I paid good Coin during the Disband phase to pay back the Service time lost to avoiding battle. Also, I only had to avoid one battle.
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David Dockter
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
MarkHerman wrote:
Also, I only had to avoid one battle.
Once an avoider, always an avoider. Will meet you on the field again soon arrrh
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
That is ONE comprehensive review. Thanks!
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
There is a penalty for the person who runs away from a battle, they also get slapped with a MOVE/FOUGHT token, and have to spend Provender at the end of that card. It's a good tactic sometimes to chase someone around, especially if they don't have a ton of food.
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
Both sides have an Ambush event card that can force battle on a would-be avoider. If your opponent is holding an event card, you can never be sure if you can really avoid battle.

Also, there was a mistake with the Treaty of Stensby capability. It's not "this lord" but a "global" capability, even though it affects only two lords.
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David Dockter
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
Thanks guys for the clarifications. Like the idea of the Ambush card: will hold it for Mark H next time devil
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
And you really have to play the longer scenarios, the angst and tension of just keeping your troops on the field is great. And the planning ahead for Winter and positioning yourself just right for Spring, because it's hard to do shit in the mud.

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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
patton55 wrote:
it's hard to do shit in the mud.

Words of wisdom.
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
I actually like the bits you don't, so maybe I'll write a review to explain why.
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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020

Hi David,

Very entertaining review, full of good-natured humour as always. I really enjoy reading your reviews. You have a distinct signature.

This game makes me think of an old time computer game also: "Lords of Midnight". I was crazy of it when I was adolescent.

Actually I set-up the game myself and itching to play.

A question:

Is playing a short scenario suitable to discover the very forte(s) of an operational game such as this?

Honestly, my theoretical perception is, Volko made distinctive effort to demonstrate feudal liege system to raise an army as well as logistical/feudal law puzzles to keep that army up and coming to the point of climax we call battles... ... wouldn't it be more-fitting to play a campaign game to get the measure of it?

(No Freudian slips there, all intentionally naughty ..but the question is real!)

P.S: Speaking for myself here, Here I Stand is the best multi-player ever in my opinion, but if I go to individual mechanics within, there is nothing to write home about. May Nevsky be of similar nature if we look at the big picture it paints? Actually, just like you don't agree with battle-boards, I hate playing short scenarios of a campaign. Mind-you, I played 100+ FTP campaigns, never a scenario in it!

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Re: Nevsky, Spam and Sword of Aragon: 1st MN Gives Nevsky a Go: Thumbs Up: Jan 2020
ThierryM wrote:
I actually like the bits you don't, so maybe I'll write a review to explain why.
I look forward to it Thierry.

Sir Turquine wrote:
Honestly, my theoretical perception is, Volko made distinctive effort to demonstrate feudal liege system to raise an army as well as logistical/feudal law puzzles to keep that army up and coming to the point of climax we call battles... ... wouldn't it be more-fitting to play a campaign game to get the measure of it?
Agree: I'd definitely go with the full campaign. I think we missed some of the charm of Nevsky by not going thru a few seasons. Would really be cool to see how investments in positioning pay off.
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patton55 wrote:
There is a penalty for the person who runs away from a battle, they also get slapped with a MOVE/FOUGHT token, and have to spend Provender at the end of that card. It's a good tactic sometimes to chase someone around, especially if they don't have a ton of food.
Did that also, we played correctly. I knew he would go after my raider force and I ate the loot, was unladen, and I had coin.
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From gallery of Herr Dr

End of turn 2



Jesus, did you guys really have all your lords by themselves scattered like that throughout the whole game? Or did you group them up at any point? Did you do any Lieutenants or have your Marshall drag along other lords in a big group?

One of the distinct advantages in a longer campaign is to group up some of your guys into a Death Star. I usually try quickly to get a group of three lords together and then go on a terror parade.

(Ask Wendell of our crazy exploits and huge swings in momentum in our longer games. I remember one game where I blitzed into Rus and took Rusa and threatened Novgorod, before I ran out of steam).

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patton55 wrote:
From gallery of Herr Dr

End of turn 2


One of the distinct advantages in a longer campaign is to group up some of your guys into a Death Star. I usually try quickly to get a group of three lords together and then go on a terror parade.

I question the strategical wisdom of Death Star approach in a game where logistical difficulties are accentuated and enemy can avoid battle automatically and may make more moves with separate lords to ravage your territory in retaliation faster than your Death Star can move.

... a Death Star with a ticking clock to its own service time. ...searching for an enemy it will never be able to engage.



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It seems to me that a maneuver group is OK if their combined transport allows it to gather multiple provender per Supply command, so it can move as fast as a single lord.
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rtaylor wrote:
It seems to me that a maneuver group is OK if their combined transport allows it to gather multiple provender per Supply command, so it can move as fast as a single lord.
Perhaps, but how many cards do you have to activate them?

More importantly, what does the Death Star do when their supply is cut off (because facing a sensible enemy, cut-off they will be)?
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Sir Turquine wrote:
patton55 wrote:
From gallery of Herr Dr

End of turn 2


One of the distinct advantages in a longer campaign is to group up some of your guys into a Death Star. I usually try quickly to get a group of three lords together and then go on a terror parade.

I question the strategical wisdom of Death Star approach in a game where logistical difficulties are accentuated and enemy can avoid battle automatically and may make more moves with separate lords to ravage your territory in retaliation faster than your Death Star can move.

... a Death Star with a ticking clock to its own service time. ...searching for an enemy it will never be able to engage.



Having a Death Star allows you to move 3 lords with one command card, versus trying to move around 3 different lords with 3 different cards, especially in Winter, that is simply not feasible. Also, it's easier for several lords together to pool their carts/sleds, to get more food. In Winter you can only have 4 cards total in your command pile, having multiple lords running into your territory during Winter to Ravage? they'll all get stuck in enemy territory at the end of the turn.

One lord moving 3 guys, means that Marshall will play 3 cards, you can blitz into enemy territory, ravage, conquer, and then get the hell out of there back to safety.

Now, you're right there are advantages to both, if I plow deep into your territory, then I am leaving myself open. But with my Death Star I'll be able to knock out Stronghold after stronghold.

Usually in a game, once I got 5 lords out, I'd create a Death Star, and then try to leave my other lords in defensible positions.

One of the things I liked to do when you have a 4 or 5 card Command pile, is to have the other lords who are just along for the ride, have them play a card to get Provisions, and then use the Marshall's 3 command cards to make a deep plunge into enemy territory. Of course, since you have 3 command cards for your Marshall, means you can be flexible, if I see you making moves toward my side I can change direction.

That's what I love about this game, is trying to time your move perfectly, not to move to quickly, or give your motives away too early.
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Gordon J
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Sir Turquine wrote:
rtaylor wrote:
It seems to me that a maneuver group is OK if their combined transport allows it to gather multiple provender per Supply command, so it can move as fast as a single lord.
Perhaps, but how many cards do you have to activate them?

More importantly, what does the Death Star do when their supply is cut off (because facing a sensible enemy, cut-off they will be)?
Cutting off a supply route is muted a little if you can take an enemy stronghold, then at least you have a friendly space for the Levy step, also you can always Ravage for more goods, or just high tail it out of there in the next campaign.

But yeah, if you get stuck behind enemy lines without food, ouch baby.
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Tolga CORAPCI
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patton55 wrote:
Sir Turquine wrote:
rtaylor wrote:
It seems to me that a maneuver group is OK if their combined transport allows it to gather multiple provender per Supply command, so it can move as fast as a single lord.
Perhaps, but how many cards do you have to activate them?

More importantly, what does the Death Star do when their supply is cut off (because facing a sensible enemy, cut-off they will be)?
Cutting off a supply route is muted a little if you can take an enemy stronghold, then at least you have a friendly space for the Levy step, also you can always Ravage for more goods, or just high tail it out of there in the next campaign.

But yeah, if you get stuck behind enemy lines without food, ouch baby.
Swedes, French, Germans... ? Mother Russia loves optimists like you. Being in OOS is not an IF question it is a WHEN and how OFTEN question.

The way I understand the rules, your ravaging Death Star will get only 1 (one) Provender. Good luck sharing it between your Lords. Hunger awaits you behind the enemy lines.

Taking out all 5 lords is another dilemma. It may leave you very exposed even when it is feasible.

...but hey, the game is young to discover for all of us.
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Yeah, if you go in with the Death Star, then you got to have a bunch of food from the outset, but having 3 lords means you should have 8-12 sleds/carts/boats pooled between them, meaning 8-12 food as well--that can last you long enough to do damage.
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Tolga CORAPCI
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patton55 wrote:
Yeah, if you go in with the Death Star, then you got to have a bunch of food from the outset, but having 3 lords means you should have 8-12 sleds/carts/boats pooled between them, meaning 8-12 food as well--that can last you long enough to do damage.
Imagine you have 12 food in your Death Star. How many move does this last?
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