Recommend
12 
 Thumb up
 Hide
7 Posts

Tri-Tactics» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Tri-Tactics: a Distinguished Old Soldier? rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Neil C
United Kingdom
Durham
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb

It’s nearly thirty years since I last played this game, and at least twenty since I set eyes on a copy, so maybe nostalgia is warping my judgment, but I’d still insist to anyone remotely interested, that this is an absorbing, elegant game – a classic of its kind.

It was designed, I think, as a kind of super-sequel to three much simpler military games, Dover Patrol, Battle of Britain and L’Attaque. The latter went on to great things when it was repackaged as Stratego – so if you’ve ever seen that game (and who hasn’t?) you’ll have some idea what Tri-Tactics is about.

The basics are that each player starts with an identical set of troops, represented in Tri-Tactics by cards that are then mounted on stands (a lot of little blue ones, in my set). The cards are blank on one side, so each player can see his own pieces, but not his opponent’s. The board is neatly functional. It shows a symmetrical area of land and sea, the only geographical complication being that there is also a river on each side. Each player also has an HQ and a naval base (at the end of the river) to protect – and that’s the object of the game, capturing one or other of your opponent’s bases before he captures yours.

Each player then sets up all his pieces on the five rows nearest to him, one piece to a square. Play then proceeds with each player moving one piece in turn. If the move takes the piece adjacent to an enemy piece (horizontally or vertically, that is, not diagonally) then the player may (but need not) attack. If an attack happens both players reveal the identity of their pieces and consult the combat table, cross-referencing to see which piece wins the battle. Sometimes one piece is eliminated; sometimes both; sometimes neither – and in some cases it depends on the geographical context (e.g. whether or not the battle is taking place across a coastline). Sometimes it can also be tactical expedient to move up and declare “no attack”: this is one way of stopping an opposing piece from attacking yours, since players are only allowed to attack with pieces that have just moved.

And so on. There’s probably no point me rehearsing the rules in detail, since the original rules are available as a download here in the Geek.

So here are just a few comments on the tactics and feel of the game.

To begin with, the game is actually fairly cerebral. Both players will set out to make sure that every unit in their front line is “covered” by the one behind it – so, for example, if you’ve got an aircraft in the frontline you might want it covered by something that can deal with enemy Anti-Aircraft Guns. That’s not exactly a complicated principle, but it does lead to a lot of careful planning – and indeed the winner is usually the player whose pieces are arranged in the most logical and adaptable way.

So the set-up is often a slow business. And after that, it’s often pretty slow too – as both players gingerly test out the opposing lines. You can use Searchlights for reconnaissance – they don’t win many battles, but don’t lose many either. And they also have the nifty ability to move as far as they like in a straight line – the only units allowed to move more than one square at a time (if I remember rightly). But basically, it’s usually an advantage to be defending rather than attacking (since that’s when you’re “covered”) – and as a result there’s a certain amount of mutual waiting about trying to prompt the other player into doing something.

Once there are a few losses, gaps start to open up and it’s gets more interesting and rewarding to take risks. Usually the pattern is that one unit will be, as it were, “outed” – by a searchlight perhaps. It might go on a raid if it’s a strong piece, but (especially if it’s a strong piece) the other player will usually be trying to manoeuvre its nemesis into place – and the definition of a strong piece in this game is one that is vulnerable only to a very small number of enemies. So, for example, if a Heavy Artillery emerges on the front line, it’s capable of destroying a lot of land-units, but it’s vulnerable only to the Bomber – and each player only has three Bombers. So that’s when a certain amount of bluff and double-bluff comes in, as each player tries to lure the other into thinking that he has important pieces where he hasn’t (and vice versa). In its simple way, this game simulates the “fog of war” very well.

The Bombers and the Heavy Artilleries are the key pieces in this game, mainly because they are so effective against other “services”. The HA eliminates sea-pieces over the coastline (or in the river) and is the most effective unit on land; the Bomber can also use the coastline to knock out land-units and is also important as the only way of dealing with HA. Flying Boats are also handy – they beat other air units at sea and they also defeat Submarines – which are otherwise the most powerful naval units. So most games tend to break down into a series of almost separate mini-battles (chapters, as it were), fought around some of these important units. In that sense, it’s rather like Chess – where the battle for the Kings is often as much the battle for the Queens; and indeed, there’s generally something rather Chess-like about Tri-Tactics – it’s something to do with the way all the pieces have their own identities and capabilities.

Tri-Tactics is also rather Chess-like in the sense that whichever player is better equipped mentally for Chess – in terms of memory, ability to plan ahead, calculate permutations and so on – is always going to win. Which is why, I suppose, I drifted away from Tri-Tactics in the end – these things certainly aren’t my forte. I like stories and pretty colours in my games – unremitting deduction feels far too much like hard work.

But Tri-Tactics is also quite an atmospheric game in its way – and I don’t think it’s just nostalgia talking here. It does succeed, I think, in its stated aim of bringing all three services together in one game – Army, Navy and Air Force; and that means that there is a certain amount of variety in the play. Indeed, most games tend to have distinct phases as the players concentrate on one theatre of war after the other. But the most important pieces tend to be the ones that link the theatres together, so it does all knit together in a way that is – I suppose – quite realistic.

First published in the 1930s, Tri-Tactics also exudes a certain kind of world-view – one that is very distinctively mid-twentieth-century. The Bomber is so important in the game, presumably, because it reflects the expectations of a time when people were very afraid – and justifiably afraid – of just how destructive air-raids might turn out to be. And there are other things that seem very much “of the time” – Flying Boats clearly seemed a great deal more important then, than history has shown them to be. Similarly, the game specifically uses Two-Seat Fighters – not just any old Fighters – as if the two seats were somehow vital from a military point of view (and no doubt there was time when the number of seats was a crucial distinction – though I’m not military enough to know why). The 1930s now seem like a very long time ago, but back in the 1970s when I was playing this game a lot, they were still a living memory, as was the Second World War, of course. Even the stylized artwork on the counters (as I remember it) now seems strongly – even beautifully Art Deco.

In sum, although Tri-Tactics is ultimately quite an abstract game, with mechanics that are very much simpler and less distinctive than those of even the most run-of-the-mill new Euro, it has a certain style. If it were a person, it would be one of those genteel old veterans of the Battle of Britain – with a clipped delivery and a handle-bar moustache. You don’t see so many of them around any more.
11 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim Marshall
United Kingdom
York
North Yorkshire
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice review of a game I played a lot as a kid. My old copy (or what's left of it) may still be somewhere in my Dad's house.

It certainly made for a far more absorbing experience (if a lot longer) than the mainstream games of the day (Careers, Cluedo etc.) You're right to say the more careful player usually won. I don't think my brother ever actually beat me at this - he was too impatient and just threw his units forward. If you were able to remember where your opponent's key pieces were you could often pick them off several turns after first unveiling them, especially if you could disguise the buildup to the attack.

However, I remember one painfully slow game when I played a guy called Ian who was also very careful - it dragged on for hours. I cracked first in the end and just started to attack to get it moving - and he then took me to pieces!

I'd like to play it again for reasons of nostalgia but when I came across the Avalon Hill range in the mid-seventies my copy of Tri-Tactics started to gather dust.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Hugh Wormington
United Kingdom
flag msg tools
Great write up.

I used to play tri-tactics when I was about 9 and loved it, though now I'm not sure how much I really understood. When I tried to get other members of the family to play me the response was generally "Oh no, not tri-tactics!". Well I'm here because I found my old copy, apparently complete but with no rules. So I Googled it, have printed the rules from this site, and started a game with my 8 year old son. After an hour we managed to set up and play about 3 moves each... Well we're carrying on tomorrow. He's keen and I'm interested to see how it goes.

It IS tremendously atmospheric: I love the 30s art work.

By the way, any idea why reconnaissance planes and battleships called a "scouts" and "dreadnoughts" on the value table? Is it deliberately obscure so improve one's vocab?
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mr. Grace
Australia
Adelaide
SA
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
hughworm wrote:
...I love the 30s art work.

By the way, any idea why reconnaissance planes and battleships called a "scouts" and "dreadnoughts" on the value table? Is it deliberately obscure so improve one's vocab?


Dreadnoughts ( "fears nothing" ?) was the name used to describe the latest battleship design of the early 20th century. see : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreadnought_battleship

My own version looks like it dates from the the early 1960's, when the "scout" had turned into the Reconnaissance plane.. yours must be quite a veteran !
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Peter Furniss
msg tools
I have two sets - one, with blue plastics stands, I picked up at a games fair about 25 years ago, and the set which I played with my father which was presumably bought new when he was a child (he was born in 1924).

The older set has pressed metal stands (one or two of which have broken in the 75 years), but they can be swapped for identical stands in the L'Attaque set of the same era.

And Dreadnoughts and Scouts : those are the names of 3 point ship and 1 point aircraft in the original set. The 3-point aircraft is a "Battleplane". Strange that the value table wasn't updated - surely simpler than editing the text on the pieces, but (from memory, they are both rather deep in the cupboard) my newer set has a similar quirk.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
David Patterson
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
"Has fortune dealt you some bad cards. Then let wisdom make you a good gamester." - Francis Quarles
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I just game across your review and it mirrors my own experiences. It was one of the first wargames I played, and as you say tended to take as long to set up as it did to play.

I have nothing left of my original 1960s set but the board, but last year found a very early Gibson edition (two-seat biplane fighters, dreadnaughts, etc.) for auction and picked it up.

;


Newer games may be fancier, but this one remains both accessible to young and old, and a challenge for anyone.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Neil C
United Kingdom
Durham
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I can't believe it's nearly nine years ago that I posted this description of the game. Thanks, guys, for the various responses – and particular thanks to David for the images: it's a fine old set you've got there!
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.