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Subject: Musing after my first game rss

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Moshe Callen
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ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ/ πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν./...
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μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος/ οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηκε,/...
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1. Introduction

I am of that generation of gamers who were teenagers in the '80s and to whom the Gamemaster Series were famous as being known to be fantastically great games. Ye the truth is that I was never at the time able to get ahold of any of the games, although I tried. At the time, there was no analog of BGG and I did not know what to do. So, when I set about building a games collections in which I wanted the best games to play, I got the entire series, albeit doing so took some time.

When I first got this game, I soloed a round in order to learn the rules but I did not get to play with anyone. Well, a few days ago, I played my first game of this with my wife. she was the attackers. So, clearly this is a review after one play, but one of the things I've seen repeatedly asked is whether this game holds up after all this time and equally whether the game would be considered as good if tried for the first time today. My unequivocal answer to both questions is: Absolutely. This game is great! For the record too, I lost the only game I've played, but I had a blast doing so and felt the game was close.

aside wrote:
For the record, I have seen the movie Red Dawn once on TV back when the movie was still relatively new. It was just silly and so I disagree that watching it would enhance anything.


2. Components

The game is poster-child Ameritrash, which is a good thing. I have this edition:
The box is so big, I used stryrofoam end-pieces from the box an old radio came in to hold the parts in place when I close the game lid, but that was considered a selling point when this game was made. My set never had the trays for holding units
split apart and this is actually quite convenient. A closer look at example units can be seen below.
The above also shows some dice and includes tokens used for denoting laser-strikes. The partisan units along with related cards and an American hovertank can be seen here.
Lasers and city units are seen below.


The game comes with three different types of dice.
Different units use different types of dice, apart from the partisans which generally use the red d6 unless attacking or defending alone in which case they use a white d8. The board is a map of the contiguous US, albeit spaces do not conform to states per se.
The board also comes with a reference chart
of which another copy is found at the back of the rules.I don't like the scan quality of those rules, but have found a doc file version here. If one needs replacement cards, one can find them here although the file includes only an alternate back for them.

3. Rules summary

We did realize part-way through the game that we'd misread one rules, but this was no big deal; we thought at first only units attacking could do first movement. When I get to game-play, I'll also mention my guess as to how I ought to have better played the Americans, but for now let me recapitulate the rules.

Attackers move first, first those in the west, then the south and finally those in the east. One third of the attacker's units enter the game in the first turn in six invasion zones each. (The US player on his turn can attack invasion zones but never enter them.) In each of the next six turn, the invaders get eight additional units which must start in the invasion zones. The game has a strict stacking limit of five units per territory. All of the US's units apart from partisans and lasers start on the board, two units per city for each of thirty cities. To win, the invaders need collectively to take eighteen cities (and hold them till the end of the US player's turn), whereas the US has to eliminate all invaders. Notably, the invaders are considered mutually hostile, albeit they must cooperate to win the game.

The US gets reinforcements on its turn randomly via partisan cards. These introduce partisans to the game at various locations dictated by the two cards drawn each turn. The cards can also return lost US units (if available) to the board, but except for cards stating otherwise units cannot be placed on invader controlled territories. An extra card is drawn for use on the next turn if the US player retakes a city.

The US player also has lasers which can attack units anywhere on the board. The US player gets one laser at the start of each turn and places it in a city. Lasers can only be destroyed if taken by invaders; the invaders can never use the lasers themselves.

For all players, a turn consists of receiving and placing reinforcements, then two rounds of movement, one before and after combat. Yet even units not engaged in combat can move twice.

The rules linked above have the remaining details, but these are the essentials.

4. Gameplay

The hard part for me is explaining why this game is so cool. Admittedly, the game is one of the few good products (apart from the movie Dr. Strangelove) of the US's Cold War era paranoia, and the pseudo-history of the game is interesting. I think though that the game poses an interesting strategic and tactical problem to both sides while allowing players to consider what would happen if a weakened America were invaded. Some players will route for the Americans, some for the invaders, but the theme is a unique blend of alternate history and real world political angst.

My guess is that the Americans need to surround the cities they need hold and then harass via lasers and partisans the invaders, but I'll have to try this strategy and perhaps refine it in future games. Even though I lost though, the game seemed close all throughout it. I lost as my wife got her last reinforcements and if the rolls in my last turn had gone differently I would likely have turned the tide on her. To me, that is the hallmark of a great game.

Don't let anyone tell you, as I have heard some say, that the Americans can't win this game. They can, as can the invaders. The trick is pulling it off. This game makes one want to try.
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Stefano Tonini
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Nice Review!

I truly loved this game when I was a boy, and played it a lot on holyday in the mountains on my friend's copy.
I loved it so much that lately I asked him to sell it to me, but alas a bit of a flood in his cellar destroyed that (not so) little Ameritrash gem.

Well... at least I still have Samurai Swords (called Shogun in Italy)
^____^

Shard
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Aaron Silverman
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Halfway between Castro and Mickey Mouse
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You need to watch Red Dawn again.

Wolverines!!!
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Aaron Silverman
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Conteshard wrote:
Well... at least I still have Samurai Swords (called Shogun in Italy)


It was originally called "Shogun" in the US too. Samurai Swords was a reprint that came years later. Only the name changed.

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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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DJ Kuul A wrote:
It was originally called "Shogun" in the US too. Samurai Swords was a reprint that came years later. Only the name changed.


There are some subtle rules differences which I enumerated in this thread.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Excellent review of an excellent game.

whac3 wrote:
My guess is that the Americans need to surround the cities they need hold and then harass via lasers and partisans the invaders, but I'll have to try this strategy and perhaps refine it in future games.


I don't want to spoil your fun in learning the game, but I'll mention one wrinkle you might wish to consider. If the Americans deny a city to the invaders, they hold the city. If they lose the city and recapture it, they hold the city and gain an extra reinforcement card.
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Dan The Man
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Also note that the game plays best when there is no explicit cooperation among the attackers. With a united attacker (as in one on one play), the US has a hard time of it (prolly way less than 30% wins).

However, with three different attackers, the odds come close to >+ 20% for each player, with the US somewhere in the 30% range. Everyone is out for him/herself, and it is a fun game once you get past the US vs attackers mentality.

And, yes, a city retaken by the Amis IS a city and a card (but this knowledge helps the attackers even more, as they should rarely take a city they cannot hold, unless maybe if it contains a laser tower. So the attackers are under the gun: they get no reinforcements (once the initial pile is gone) and need to keep the pace up to keep towers under control, but cannot get ahead of their ability to hold ground because that just bolsters the US position with reinforcements. The US hopes they do not get cards that call for reinforcements they have not lost yet, too...

Fun game, but a long time since last played.
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Steve R Bullock
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Man o Man was this THE game for me when it came out!

I played it maybe 10 or 12 times the first few months.

I will say one thing for it- IT MAKES ME A NERVOUS WRECK!

Enjoy it, pal.

You will never be the same again.



One of my games from a few years ago... it started out REALLY tough for the East Coast...
...AS USUAL!
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Eric Larson
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This game is a riot. I think the picture of the ex-Iraqi president is a nice touch.

Protect those lasers, they will win you the game. Cut off the attackers supply routes.

My favorite card is turning airliners into military jets and Helo's in MN.

Better Dead than Red
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Jim Krohn
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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
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Listen to Sphere, he has good advice. As the Americans, knowing when to launch counter-attacks and when to hold at all costs to bleed them a bit is a big part of the strategy.

I'm not an expert at this game, but I do love it. I have played people and had them tell me that there was no way the Americans can win. Then I played them as the Americans and they've told me that there was no way for the Invaders to win. :-)

Lots of strategy in this game. Between two good opponents in can really make both players feel like they are losing. It makes for good tension.
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Ethan Van Vorst
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Spencer
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Good review, sir! This is a great game and thoroughly underrated. Like you I was a teen in the 80's and this is one I always wanted but was never able to acquire until about 2 years ago. Every game will finish close if it's played right.

A few hints: Keep those Laser Towers protected and target bombers if you can and you'll slowly whittle the Invaders away. Also at times it's best to target a lesser unit (like an Infantry piece) if it prevents the enemy from launching a Combined Arms attack, and that only helps you in the long run.

And Red Dawn makes a rather nice companion piece to this game, methinks.
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Robert Stetler
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DnaDan56 wrote:
Also note that the game plays best when there is no explicit cooperation among the attackers. With a united attacker (as in one on one play), the US has a hard time of it (prolly way less than 30% wins).


I'd kick that up to 40-45%, but yeah, given close matched skills IMO the advantage goes to the invaders if they coordinate well with a common goal.

DnaDan56 wrote:
However, with three different attackers, the odds come close to >+ 20% for each player, with the US somewhere in the 30% range. Everyone is out for him/herself, and it is a fun game once you get past the US vs attackers mentality.


Having said the above, if the invaders even think about bickering amoungst themselves before the last turn, or don't make serious efforts at flanking each others attacks in the same area (Eastern and Southern invader at Memphis-Atlanta, or Western and Southern at Denver-Kansas City), America is going to kick some major tail. Unless the dice / cards are particularly unkind to the Yanks, there just isn't the margin to allow the invaders to consider their end game points before the American's are defeated. Every unit diverted to resource grabs / invader held city swaps / setup for either is a blow to the chances of any of that mattering.

And sadly I've very rarely seen the Eastern Invader score an individual victory against a competent America. There is just too much immediate, in their face opposition sitting in defensive territory - opposition that has no choice but to stay in place while the immediate invader threat remains. It may result in a weakly defended posterior of the American player getting chewed to bits by the Western and Southern invaders, but that wall of woe for the East isn't budging as long as Ivan keeps knocking. In practice the Eastern Invader usually just ends up tanking out quick, spent by furious early battles and left staring in vain like Moses at a promised land they will never reach.

If instead you consider this not to be the Eastern Invader's fate, but their duty - to be the anvil America is pounded on - then things get more interesting. It is this grim role that actually puts the Eastern invader high on my play choice preference (they've got much the same nail biting pressure America has, comparitively the other invaders have it easy).
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simon thornton
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I think its a vastly underrated game as the tactical deployment of different unit types is quite subtle and it makes for an interetsing tactical/strategic game.

In my Game group the Invaders always play cooperatively yet only win about 20% of the time.
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Ethan Larson
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When I played America, everyone played together and hard against me, and I only lost twice. They quit playing because it was too easy for America. So I developed some invader strategy and toasted their America attempts. :)
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