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FAB: The Bulge» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A reality check rss

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Pierce Ostrander
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My friend and I have played FAB:Bulge twice now. We both read, reread and studied the rules before and between plays.

In our first outing we did about 6 turns in 6 hours and in the second outing we made it through the first 5 turns in about 5 hours including setup and a couple of breaks. Granted, we both treated these as “learning games” – we had no one to stand at our side and teach us the rules – every question had to be looked up and every vaguely-remembered exception had to be reviewed. Also note that we are not the type of players who play in a hurry – we relax and enjoy ourselves. On the other hand, neither of us are super-optimizers who stare out the board for tens of minutes before each movement phase. We are experienced wargamers: I was a lifestyle ASL player for nearly 2 decades and that experience was preceded by playing through almost all of the Avalon Hill and SPI classics. My opponent plays a wide variety of fairly complex wargames. Together we have enjoyed Crusader Rex, Hammer of the Scotts, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage and Tide of Iron. That list of 4 games reflects our current tastes: simpler, more playable wargames.

In our second play the German player did much better than in the previous play: there were two major breakthroughs:

- In the North – Peiper with the 3rd paratroopers took Malmedy before getting bogged down defending it against a counter attack

-In the center the 2nd Panzer and Panzer Lehr Divisions broke through and hooked to the south into Bastogne, arriving before the 101st and 82nd Airborne could reinforce.

We called it a draw after the 5th turn because we realized that on the 4th turn we had made a critical rules mistake… In the Bastogne battle the American player had had two blocks: the 7th and the 10th Armored.

The 7th and the 10th Armored are from different higher echelons so the rules do not allow any battle assets to be used in the combat phase in the area where they co-exist. We had erroneously allowed the use of battle assets in the turn 4 combat phase and the American had absorbed the 3 hits inflicted by the German by eliminating three battle assets. As a result, the two units in Bastogne were still near full-strength on turn 5 and the German player was unable to dislodge them in his combat phase. So the American won by sudden-death with 5 VP. Once we remembered the rule and rehearsed the implications we were both a bit deflated. We had invested quite a bit of time in a game that was developing well and ended up truncated by a rules oversight. I think we both felt a bit robbed, and to be fair we were weary of the complexity.

My friend offered to sell the game to me on the spot – he had been making frequent observations about the amount rules “fiddliness” for the preceding two hours. I declined. It’s not a game I feel the need to own.

The realization that the rules had foiled us kind of brought things to a conclusion: this game is much more complex than something we are interested in playing. This is not a “sit-down-and-play-it-after-a-brief-explanation type of beer-and-pretzels war game”. This game has a significant learning curve. We both felt that if we were to play it again it would have to be very soon, and that we probably wouldn’t have a game that played fluently (where we were both sure of all the rules and applying them consistently) for probably a couple of more sittings.

It is a clever system with some cool innovations that we both appreciate. It’s just not fast, nor is it simple. Almost every rule has an exception. For example in the treatment of the three different types of units (blocks, battle assets and artillery) each has multiple layers of exceptions. Each type of movement has layers of exceptions and the overly-complexly-described phase-based system seems like it was created by someone who is more familiar with much more complex wargames.

The actual experience of playing the game felt more like playing ASL than any game I have played since I gave that game up for euros. I’m not saying that it is as complex as ASL, all I’m saying is a rules-driven game in much the same way ASL is. The four games I listed above (CR, HotS, HRvC and ToI) are way more intuitive and significantly less involved than FAB: Bulge and can be played well without first studying and practicing for dozens and dozens of hours.

I believe that FAB: Bulge succeeds as a moderately-complex war game. It’s got some very cool innovations – I particularly like the way the designer made the low-unit-density thing work by giving the players a way to absorb hits without taking losses. That works. The chit-draw asset availability system works. The once-per-turn reusable special action is another cool idea that adds another layer of choice and activity.

Unfortunately these innovative, simple and elegant bits which together could have made a really nice low-complexity system were gummed up with layers and layers of minutia that turned this game into a different animal that it is widely considered to be.
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Bill Herbst
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Thank you for this review. I like to hear about rules complexity in wargame reviews in such a way that I can judge where the game falls. Using other games as comparisions for your preferred complexity level is helpful for me in determining how close your tastes are to mine. This game sounds like one that I would admire but probably not play often enough to be able to enjoy without constantly having my head in the rulebook.
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j b Goodwin

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I'm with you on this. I pre-ordered it, looked forward to it, read ahead on the rules, thought I knew what was going on, sprayed the counters to protect them, and then laid out the game to play the introductory scenario--and realized I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I found that it was not fast or simple at all--I had an easier and quicker time learning to play Europe Engulfed and Asia Engulfed. I haven't given up on it...we will return to it in the near future, I hope. It still looks like it could be a great game...as soon as I figure out exactly how to play it.
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David Brown
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Pierce - Good review and your experience seems to match mine.

Once the rules are fully embedded it does play fast but the rules are not great and it make learning the game very hard. As you say there are exceptions to many rules and they are easily over-looked

It does help that the rule books are split, one booklet for the series and one for the specific game.
 
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William Crispin
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I suppose the name is accurate. It is Fast Action Battles and not Fast and Simple Action Battles (FASAB).

I was not expecting it to be simple but the rules did take a couple of readings before I felt ready to play. It is not a game that you can break out with a friend without reading the rules ahead.

Some of this is due to there being a few different or unusual mechanisms that can throw traditional wargamers off track. It is also a more substantial game than the traditional light wargames like M44, which can throw newcomers off if that is what they are expecting.

That said I think there is a very innovative game engine here and I do not find the rules poorly written.
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Andy Daglish
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fubar awol wrote:
I particularly like the way the designer made the low-unit-density thing work by giving the players a way to absorb hits without taking losses.


this is the major problem with the game. The blocks represent units whose differences are far too great for the block loss method to work credibly. Its already been mentioned that having an elite first step is worth little as its also the first step to be lost. Similarly in play the Germans cannot "absorb hits" past a certain very low number as otherwise they will be overwhelmed as the bulk of the Allies enter. Maintaining your army at that number is half the game.

As for the other half, I found it quick and simple compared to serious Bulge games, whilst sharing their detail. No other game does this. It takes a couple of plays to learn, and the better gamer will be at an advantage.
 
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Dan Poole
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Actually as far as wargames go, this game is really not that hard. The excellent player aids really make a difference. I am very happy with the game overall.

Quote:
Its already been mentioned that having an elite first step is worth little as its also the first step to be lost.


In this situation, one may consider not designating such a unit as the point.
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Jeff Paul
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A good honest review. I was one of the playtesters for this game, and early on, we sometimes called it "Fiddly Action Battles". :-) Course, we felt we addressed that by the end....

True, it did not play as fast as I would have liked. Like Pierce, I was a monoASL player for many years, but have moved to simpler, faster playing, games. However, by the end of the FAB development, I found I could sit down with a newbie, explain the rules to him, and we could play a tournament game in about two+ hours (always giving the new guy the Germans - it is very true - as the Americans you cannot afford to make an early mistake).

As you said...

Quote:
I believe that FAB: Bulge succeeds as a moderately-complex war game. It’s got some very cool innovations – I particularly like the way the designer made the low-unit-density thing work by giving the players a way to absorb hits without taking losses. That works. The chit-draw asset availability system works. The once-per-turn reusable special action is another cool idea that adds another layer of choice and activity.


This is why I find FAB worth it. It is different than other games. It has some unique mechanisms that provide the player with a rich set of agonizing decisions you have to make each turn. As well, it is one of the few asymmetric battle games on my shelf - in which both sides have a chance to win. True, I would love it more if it were shorter, but you can't have everything.

BTW, there are some things you can do to make the game play faster - see my post here http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/292434
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Jeff Paul
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aforandy wrote:
fubar awol wrote:
I particularly like the way the designer made the low-unit-density thing work by giving the players a way to absorb hits without taking losses.


this is the major problem with the game. The blocks represent units whose differences are far too great for the block loss method to work credibly. Its already been mentioned that having an elite first step is worth little as its also the first step to be lost. Similarly in play the Germans cannot "absorb hits" past a certain very low number as otherwise they will be overwhelmed as the bulk of the Allies enter. Maintaining your army at that number is half the game.


Hmm, not sure I understand this. If you use your elite units on their own, then yes, they can be very fragile. But toss in a few assets to protect them, and they are very useful. They can make the critical difference in a battle (as a point unit they get a bonus to hit, and make it harder for the enemy to hurt you...how does this make them "worth little"?)

However, you are correct, as the German you must balance making bold advances vs taking losses. This is, I think, one of the key agonizing decisions in the game. If you just go hell-bent-for-leather, and don't score an instant victory, you will find yourself overextended. But this is the fun part of the game - how far do you push...

Of course, it took us _many_ games to realize this. And I must admit, I am not sure I have learned this lesson well...
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Jim Cote
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The rules are not great (pretty good as wargames go), but surely FAB: Bulge is much less complex than ASL or EE.
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Pierce Ostrander
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aforandy wrote:
Its already been mentioned that having an elite first step is worth little as its also the first step to be lost.


Andy's point is effectively refuted by Jeff - but notice how. Apparently, Andy saw the rule that "the point unit must absorb the first hit" but missed the exception that says: "however, you may also absorb that first hit by eliminating a battle asset instead".

Which I think makes my main point.

In Jeff's other point about ASL - that it is not simple or fast I think he would agree might not be quite right. Once you have mastered the rules, ASL is fast. And to be fair, that is probably true of FAB:Bulge.

So, perhaps the best title for the game series is FAYMIR: Bulge; or, "Fast After You Master Its Rules": Bulge.


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Pierce Ostrander
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ekted wrote:
The rules are not great (pretty good as wargames go), but surely FAB: Bulge is much less complex than ASL or EE.


I agree with you here teddy: I like the rules - I think they are well-written, illustrated and exampled. I like the terse and compact style. I can't speak to EE, but at least in the case of ASL I'm certainly not trying to say that these rules are of equal complexity.

I'm just saying that they both seem to be "rules-driven" games, and actually I'm not sure I can (yet) clearly define exactly what I mean by that. I just know how I felt while playing FAB, and the way I felt was very similar to how I felt when playing ASL.

Similarities:

- you are working down a farily long list of phases during each turn in which certain things happen in specified order. Many of the phases are dual player participation phases.

- there are many fiddly rules and exceptions and frequent rules-book consultations.

- the play feels very detailed and tactical in a way that will benfit methodical players over those who are less methodical in ways that other games don't penalize so severly.

Games like HoTS, CR and Hannibal don't have those attributes.

Perhaps the contrast to "rules driven" is "play driven" in the way most Euros are.

On another issue - I think that comparing this game to the Borg Games (Battlelore, Memoir 44 and C&C Ancients is not a fair comparison. Almost any more-traditional war game is more complicated that those games, so saying “this is more complicated than those” doesn’t really tell the reader much.

Much as in saying "It's not as complex as ASL" is not a very useful statement either.



 
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Borat Sagdiyev
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fubar awol wrote:

Andy's point is effectively refuted by Jeff - but notice how. Apparently, Andy saw the rule that "the point unit must absorb the first hit" but missed the exception that says: "however, you may also absorb that first hit by eliminating a battle asset instead".

Which I think makes my main point.


It's not a question of rules or exception but pure strategy.

I rarely use elite units alone. They are much more effective when escorted by veteran units that I use as the point units, so my elites stay fresh and ready to strike back.

Besides, it's important not to forget that as the attacker you can take just one hit and abort the attack. Again, nothing to do with complicated rules but pure strategy.
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Andy Daglish
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fubar awol wrote:
aforandy wrote:
Its already been mentioned that having an elite first step is worth little as its also the first step to be lost.


Andy's point is effectively refuted by Jeff - but notice how. Apparently, Andy saw the rule that "the point unit must absorb the first hit" but missed the exception that says: "however, you may also absorb that first hit by eliminating a battle asset instead".


Fog-of-war v. intelligence, Pierce? A few minutes staring at the block and countersheet graphics will effectively refute that refutation, especially on turn 1 when everybody will be attacking.

I wonder if Jeff would use an engineer as a protective battle asset? ["Gee, sarge, its another of them bridges"]. Its a fully loaded question.

Not putting the elite first will not get you far in this game. It may be worth doing if the defence is weak enough. A characteristic of FAB: Bulge is its sensitivity to the dice. Some games will end early for this reason, however well you play.

Quote:
So, perhaps the best title for the game series is FAYMIR: Bulge; or, "Fast After You Master Its Rules": Bulge.


Could be. I play clever friends who know them already [but somehow they keep beating me].
 
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Steve
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I don't think the game rules are that dense or overwrought. I do think they are quite unconventional which makes it difficult. The order of play is important and slightly difficult to grasp, but you can do everything you think you should be able to do. A lot like Asia Engulfed, actually, but far easier to follow IMHO. This probably keeps the game from being totally suitable for a first/early wargame.

Nice review.
 
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Timothy Phelps
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fubar awol wrote:
Apparently, Andy saw the rule that "the point unit must absorb the first hit" but missed the exception that says: "however, you may also absorb that first hit by eliminating a battle asset instead".


You're distorting the wording of the rule to make it sound like an exception exists. The actual wording is:

Mandatory Step-Loss: The first hit is always taken either
by having a step-loss inflicted upon the point unit or by
eliminating any one assigned battle asset.


This is not a rule with an exception. It is a rule that provides a choice. A rule with an exception would be something like:

Mandatory Step-Loss: The first hit is always taken
by having a step-loss inflicted upon the point unit, except
for battles involving only armor units attacking infantry units
not protected by field works, in which case it may be taken by
eliminating any one assigned battle asset.

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Jeff Paul
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aforandy wrote:

I wonder if Jeff would use an engineer as a protective battle asset? ["Gee, sarge, its another of them bridges"]. Its a fully loaded question.


As the American, yup. Heck, I usually have a few Defended Road Blocks out there!

As the German, very, very rarely.

Sometimes those combat engineers get a little too close to combat for their own good. :-)
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Pierce Ostrander
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aforandy wrote:
fubar awol wrote:
aforandy wrote:
Its already been mentioned that having an elite first step is worth little as its also the first step to be lost.


Andy's point is effectively refuted by Jeff - but notice how. Apparently, Andy saw the rule that "the point unit must absorb the first hit" but missed the exception that says: "however, you may also absorb that first hit by eliminating a battle asset instead".


Fog-of-war v. intelligence, Pierce? A few minutes staring at the block and countersheet graphics will effectively refute that refutation, especially on turn 1 when everybody will be attacking.


For those readers who don't own the game and don't feel like flipping over to the image section:

I think Andy's point is that there are few German battle assets, especially at the beginning of the game.

At Start the Germans have only 3 battle assets (all Engineers) which are the only Engineers that the German receives during the game and which are way too dear to use to soak-off casualties for Elite units.

However

on turn 2 the German adds 3 non-engineer battle assets to his selection cup
On turn 3, 5 and 6 the German gets 1 new non-engineer battle asset each turn to his selection cup
for a total of 6 for the game – which can be recovered 2-at-a-time by using a special action.

If the German uses a lot of Artillery on Turn 1 then he dilutes the chances of drawing any of these from his cup, however if he limits his use of Artillery on turn 1 and instead uses his Engineers to delete the opposing field works, then he can virtually guarantee that on turn 2 he will re-draw all the Engineers and will also draw all the battle assets. Andy – are your opponents that clever?

However

the Campaign Scenario starts with the German Combat phase of Turn 1 and at start there is only 1 German Elite unit in a combat situation (the 116th Pz in Lutzkampen). The 116th Pz is accompanied by a German non-elite unit, which affords the German player the option to make the non-elite unit his point unit to avoid casualties, which might be the best choice.

So, if I am understanding your point, Andy – you are dismissing the three turn 2 battle assets as unlikely to be available, and are assuming that there will be many more Turn 1 combats involving German elite units than are actually possible?

Please correct me if I am wrong.
 
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Pierce Ostrander
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Asyncritus wrote:
fubar awol wrote:
Apparently, Andy saw the rule that "the point unit must absorb the first hit" but missed the exception that says: "however, you may also absorb that first hit by eliminating a battle asset instead".


You're distorting the wording of the rule to make it sound like an exception exists. The actual wording is:

Mandatory Step-Loss: The first hit is always taken either
by having a step-loss inflicted upon the point unit or by
eliminating any one assigned battle asset.


This is not a rule with an exception. It is a rule that provides a choice.


Timothy - point taken - I am calling something an exception that in the rules is not written that way.

Asyncritus wrote:
A rule with an exception would be something like:

Mandatory Step-Loss: The first hit is always taken
by having a step-loss inflicted upon the point unit, except
for battles involving only armor units attacking infantry units
not protected by field works, in which case it may be taken by
eliminating any one assigned battle asset.



Which isn't that far from the truth and I think makes my broader point: whether they are phrased exactly as exceptions or not, almost no rule in this game is simple.

(edited for clarity).
 
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Timothy Phelps
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fubar awol wrote:
Asyncritus wrote:
A rule with an exception would be something like:

Mandatory Step-Loss: The first hit is always taken
by having a step-loss inflicted upon the point unit, except
for battles involving only armor units attacking infantry units
not protected by field works, in which case it may be taken by
eliminating any one assigned battle asset.



Which is correct and I think makes my broader point?


Well, it would - except for the fact that I made that up.
 
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Pierce Ostrander
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harzal wrote:
It's not a question of rules or exception but pure strategy.

I rarely use elite units alone. They are much more effective when escorted by veteran units that I use as the point units, so my elites stay fresh and ready to strike back.

Besides, it's important not to forget that as the attacker you can take just one hit and abort the attack. Again, nothing to do with complicated rules but pure strategy.


Borat - o.k. you can call it that - but I will call it rules-driven tactical play. The rules reward you for doing those things, so if you are a good "gamer" you will do them.

This is exactly the sort of thing that was encouraged by ASL... I'll use the example of "skulking" on the defense when your units were covered by concealment counters. A person could call skulking a strategy, but I would call it rules-driven tactics.

In my mind a strategy is something like: “concentrate all your artillery and battle assets in one sector with a large number of elite units, forget about Bastogne and and breakout toward Marche instead.”

I would classify the kind of thing you are talking about as tactics. And I believe that in most of our wargames tactics are largely rules-driven. They are put in there by the designers/developers (sometimes unintetionally) and are discovered by players. Then, they are used by all the better players as a larger group of “little things” that add up to a major advantage when playing.




 
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Borat Sagdiyev
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fubar awol wrote:

whether they are phrased exactly as exceptions or not, almost no rule in this game is simple.


I'm sorry but that is not true.

The manual for this game is more clear and precise than many other wargames rulebooks around.

There are a few rules that may seem a little bit convoluted, while in reality are not that complicated. But to say that "almost no rule in this games is simple" is a complete exaggeration.
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Borat Sagdiyev
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fubar awol wrote:

I would classify the kind of thing you are talking about as tactics. And I believe that in most of our wargames tactics are largely rules-driven. They are put in there by the designers/developers (sometimes unintetionally) and are discovered by players. Then, they are used by all the better players as a larger group of “little things” that add up to a major advantage when playing.


Whether you call it tactics or strategy, it seems to me that your real complaint is that you feel that modern wargames reward competent players more other types of games.

Well, it is true. You need to know very well what your units can do or not, and judge what's best for them depending on the timing and the specific circumstances of each game and turn.

Sounds like a decent simulation of the challenges that the generals involved in the real battles had to confront.

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Pierce Ostrander
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harzal wrote:
fubar awol wrote:

whether they are phrased exactly as exceptions or not, almost no rule in this game is simple.


I'm sorry but that is not true.

The manual for this game is more clear and precise than many other wargames rulebooks around.

There are a few rules that may seem a little bit convoluted, while in reality are not that complicated. But to say that "almost no rule in this games is simple" is a complete exaggeration.


I’ll give an example: movement.

Infantry moves 3
Armor moves 6
It costs 1 to move across an area boundary that has a road.
It costs 2 to move across an area boundary that does not.
If you enter an enemy occupied area you must stop

Sounds simple, right?

Except: you are using strategic movement in which case you can’t enter an enemy occupied area (which you can only do once per turn as the German and only by spending a fuel asset)
Except: if you are disrupted or recovering
Except: you don’t use a fuel asset and are German Armor
Except: if there is any unit in the area you are moving into (friendly or enemy)
Except: if it is a river boundary and has an enemy unit on the other side
Except: if the bridge is blown
Except: if you didn’t start in an adjacent area and the bridge is blown while you are crossing it
Except: if you are covered with an “interdict team” counter
Except: you are moving into the area with the German Paratroopers
Except: you are leaving an area occupied by an enemy unit

This is just a quick off-the-top of my head list (I’m sure I missed a few). Granted they are not phrased as exceptions in the rulebook, but in my opinion as I define the term for purposes of discussing complexity in a war game: exceptions.

Compare just the movement rules to the movement rules in a game like HoTS or CR and you will get the drift.

The other example I considered using was the one that has generated the most questions and confusion: The three different types of battle assets that don’t act like battle assets: Garrisons, Task Forces and Defended Roadblocks.

How about Artillery? (this is my favorite) You can use two on attack or one on defense – unless you are American, German, a “special” battle asset or are from different higher echelons. All the exceptions effectively cancel out the "rule"!

Even combat results are handled differently for the Attacker and the Defender and there is a multi-step list to go down as you “take losses” in an area.

Granted, there are a few simple things in the game. For example: rotating the blocks to absorb step losses is simple – once you get to that point!

In what way is any of this simple? Compared to what?
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Pierce Ostrander
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harzal wrote:

Sounds like a decent simulation of the challenges that the generals involved in the real battles had to confront.


The game is a very good simulation - both me and my friend agree. I noticed that whey we played the second time, things ended up pretty much as they were historically.

I'm not calling the game broken... I rate it a "7". I'm just posting this review because of the 5 or so other reviews posted here no one makes these points. In fact, one of the other reviewers calls it a "wargame filler" - which for most of the people that live on the Geek and are looking for a simple wargame is quite misleading.
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