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Before I start I need to clarify my position.
I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of Paths of Glory.
More like the archetype of a fan, or the fan of Paths of Glory.

And that is because to the bottom of my heart I know that Paths of Glory is the best game ever made.

Now that you know where I come from and how biased I am, I can come down to the game I'm reviewing: To the Last Man!... and truly no other game title has ever been so spot on as this one.


British troops march towards trenches near Ypres at the Western Front during the first world war. Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch/Corbis


INTRODUCTION

This is a rules light, two player, two hours long, World War One wargame, published as a free print and play game in 2009, by the designer Tim Taylor.
The artists that designed the graphics of the game are Christophe Sancy and Arnauld Della Siega. The game is currently not been published but you can either build it yourself, or make use of a print and play service here.



THE THEATRE

The game depicts the Western Front Theatre, during World War One, from 1914 to 1918 (with the addition of an hypothetical 1919 turn).
In order to win the players have to capture areas with victory points and accumulate enough to get to the "Decisive Victory" space.*

Most of the Central Powers' Victory points locations are in Belgium and in the north coast of France. Then there is a huge "6" VP space which is of course Paris.

The Entente seems a little more flexible. Most points can be obtained in the south and by regaining Belgium. It is also to be noted that most of the German VP spaces are "2" VP spaces instead of 1's, and that the Entente can achieve a Decisive Victory on space 4 or less, instead of space "23+" of the Central Powers.

That means that while the Central Powers have to achieve 12 VPs, the Entente needs only 7 VPs in order to gain a Decisive Victory and end the game before 1919.

* This is only implied by the rules. If players want, they can continue to play to the bitter end, in order to - if not win - lessen the brutality of their defeat.


THE GAME

The Rules


Paths of Glory's rulebook is not long, but it has a lot of exception that make it difficult to grasp and it is hard, at least for the first matches, not to make mistakes. Thus the first 5-10 games should be learning experiences, a lot less if you have the fortune of having an expert player that can teach you. But if you're left to your own devices, well, the first games you'll be playing more against the rules (or them against you!), than actually against the opponent.

Not so in To the Last Man!



The rules are easy and straight forward. With one read you should have a fairly good grasp on how things work out. Of course there are some exceptions were I feel the rules could have been written better, but it was not a big issue in the game I've played so far.


How does it work?

I'll try to sum here roughly how the game is played.

You have Armies and Units. If you use the recommended hidden units' placement, the contents of each of your Army will be hidden to the enemy if not when they are revealed in combat. Hidden units' placement is of paramount importance to add a very needed bluffing mechanic to the game. So that you may never know, with complete certainty, where the true strength of the enemy lies if not when the curtain is lifted, and projectiles weighing half a ton art falling on top of your head!

But here is where the game shines, the bluffing is not so powerful since you can make educated guesses on where the enemy troops will be, since each unit can only move one space at a time.

And that is good, since even if I know that treachery is a necessary part of warfare I dislike bluffing games. Yet I like how bluff is handled in this game.

Armies can contain a certain quantity of units. The Central Powers have a small initial number of Armies which can contain a lot of units. The Entente has a lot of Armies that can contain less units. Thus, in a very elegant way, the design makes it possible for the Central Powers to concentrate a lot of firepower in very small areas, but it has the downside that they cannot be everywhere and the Entente may find gaps in the front to exploit to its own advantage.

There are a variety of different Units. The backbone of each Army will, of course, be Infantry which becomes quite powerful if entrenched. But there are many other different types of Units that become available in the course of the campaign.
Artillery will fire twice during offensives, and will become very powerful if a Gas Attack is available.
Cavalry is a mixed bag, it cannot attack if not to pursue retreating units, but it can move two spaces, which is A LOT, thus it can exploit possible breakthroughs. Last but not least, it can retreat before any dice are rolled. That means that it can have a very useful reconnaissance function.
These are the most common Units. There are also other Units present, like Siege Guns that target only forts, Biplanes that do a number of different things - especially if the other side doesn't have them. Tanks and Stosstruppen which are very expensive but also very powerful. And finally the bizarre but-I-really-cannot-live-without-it Paris Gun!



Ok, Ok! But what is this game about? Roughly at the heart of the system there is a tight hand management mechanic.
Every turn you can do two things: play and Offensive card, or Pass.
If you play an Offensive card - or similar - you can move all your units and then attack in each region you've just entered, as long as there are enemy units in it to attack, or declare a battle in areas where already there are Units or Armies of both sides.
If you Pass, you get to move a single unit and - of course - you may not conduct battles.
If both players Pass, the turn is over, and both players check a number of things, like supply lines, and Build Points are distributed.

Combat. Combat is pretty straight forward. Roughly, the attacker fires with his artillery a number of d6s equal to the number of artillery Units at his disposal in the battle, every "1" result will score a "hit". A hit means that the enemy needs to eliminate one of his units that he has the most - in case of ties he chooses which. Otherwise he may negate the loss by playing one or more cards. Each one of these count for at least one replacement (others may count for more).
Then the defender fires with all its units, then the surviving attacker's Units get to fire. The battle ends there.
That means that during the course of many battles, in order to conserve one's forces, the Cards in the hands of both players will be depleted. And depending on the battles, this can be unsettlingly fast.
To conserve Units, and possibly cards, both players have the option to retreat to trade space for losses. In fact, in the first Guns of August 1914 Scenario, if the Entente doesn't retreat, he is toast - as I will show eloquently further on.

Cards. Cards? Cards! Cards are taken from a common deck. The most common type will be Offensive (which could be a Limited Offensive, or a Big Push Offensive) and Replacement cards (that will replace 2 or 3 casualties).
Other cards, I'll describe only a few, will give you other options such as the Advanced Artillery Barrages (available from 1917 on, it is the Creeping Barrage tactic which makes artillery more powerful for that battle), the Military Crisis (which simulates the effect of other theatres on the Western Front), Surprise Attack (powerful but expensive card, against likely retreating Armies), Bad Weather (which downgrades Offensives and makes Biplanes useless) and last but not least the Poison Gas! (also expensive card, but makes concentration of artillery worth the effort).




Build Points. At the end of each turn you get a number of Build Points, with these you buy Cards, AND Units. Thus you need to do a balancing act between what you want to do, and the forces you'll have available during the game. At the start of the 1914 campaign, you'll get around 5 points (6 for the Entente), but further on these point will go up. Most Units and Cards cost one point, but the most fancy units - tanks for instance - will cost two points, and that's very painfully expensive since you'll never have enough points, Cards nor Units to do what you want to do.

Strategic Considerations. While your Armies are feeding the meat grinder, World War One is going on in the rest of the world!
By 1916 the Entente Naval Blockade is slowly strangling the Central Powers.
That is implemented in the game by giving VPs to the Entente as the game progresses. To counter this loss or to gain even more VPs, the Central Powers may send Units to the Eastern Front. Every 5 points worth of Units will give one VP to the Central Powers. But these troops are actually taken away from the fighting in the Western Front. The Eastern Front is treated abstractly, if you don't play: At All Costs!, which is currently being playtested.




MY EXPERIENCE

I asked here on the BGG if there was anyone willing to play the game with a total newbie, and happily a user Dave Heberer, kindly dropped me a line. So we kicked off with the Guns of August, 1914 Scenario.
I was the Entente.
David told me, for my own benefit, that in his first game as the Entente in the same scenario he got his ass handed to him.
I told him in all confidence that I was a Paths of Glory fan, I could take it.

And as things turned out, I could not.

We played over Vassal. Unfortunately I only have the start file, and the end file, but not the middle ones, so the images I'll show may be incorrect.

The game started as usual. The German Armies are lurking just behind the border with Belgium, ready to jump into the fray...

I've added the small crosses with GIMP, to make the front visible.

I was surprised by two things. The first one was that the Germans have actually the option to not attack Belgium. In that case England will never enter the war! I believe this would make for an interesting "what if" scenario.

The second thing was that the British in this game are less powerful than the ones you find in Paths of Glory. In fact the British Expedition Force, which is a force to be reckoned with in the game, is a very small sized unit in To the Last Man!

My strategic plan was quite simple. Make the Germans bleed more cards than me, in this respect keep a 1:2 number of cards ratio at all times (the Central Powers player starts this scenario with 15 cards, the Entente has instead 8 cards, a huge amount of cards due to pre-war stockpiling of resources; at the end of the turn the Central Powers have a hand limit of 8, to a 4 for the Entente), trade space to mitigate the losses.
Even if I had a lot of cards, I had not so may compared to my adversary. Since playing Offensives is costly - you have to play a card - I could ill afford to attack, and I should keep most of the cards for replacements. The fact is, that you need to move, you need to organize your Armies, bring the Brits over the Channel, and shape a continuous front line so that no gaps may be used by the enemy.

The first rounds went by the book. Liege fell and the Central Powers moved on as if it didn't even exist. No surprise there, in Paths of Glory, you just need to play a card - the Guns of August card, which you can opt to get at the start of the game - and it is automatically flattened by the Austrian Siege Guns.
Here it is a little different. There is a semblance of a fight, but then the fort goes down in smoking ruins...

Rapidly thereon, the Germans advance in Belgium destroying fort after fort. I have difficulties moving all my units to the front I don't want to spend too many cards before I make contact. I nevertheless try a dash in Belgium with the Belgian Army and the 5th French in an attempt to worry the Central Powers in protecting their supply lines. It's a bluff. And a bad one at that. The Armies are ignored and Antwerp and the rest of Belgium is conquered in what seems a pincer movement... now it is I who am worrying that my Armies will be surrounded, so, to my great dismay, I need to retreat.

In the mean while, in the South, I learn a staggering truth. The Germans have easily destroyed the powerful Nancy fort there, and have achieved a potential breakthrough! I took very heavy losses in the defence of Nancy, and my 1st and 2nd French Armies are in shambles. My only consolation is that the enemy had no way of exploiting this advantage, but certainly that was going to cause me an endless amount of grief!



I then set out to tap the hole in the south. The turn was now ended, the summer had passed and a new bloody autumn was about to commence.
I diverted some of my precious reinforcements south. I had to do so, since both my Armies there were going to break had I not done so.
This was going to be a mistake.

The Germans attacked north with renewed savagery. The Units near to the coast were going to be overrun so I had to reinforce there, while I was taking horrible losses all over the front. Most of my Armies had only one Infantry Unit. I couldn't retreat more, since I was giving up too much ground and Paris would have been threatened.

As we got into the winter turn, I used my replacements to entrench and reinforce the northern part of the front. I don't think I could hold for long even with those. The Germans took little to no losses in their advances, thus 5 Infantry, and 1 Artillery, was facing something like 13 Infantry and 2 Artillery (or more).
And here is where Dave tricked me. He knew I would reinforce the north, so he attacked the centre! I had only two paper thin French Armies there and they where wiped out in a hurricane of steel.
A breakthrough. The road to Paris was open!



Disaster from there on. I couldn't muster enough Units, Cards or whatever to avoid the inevitable enveloping of my north front (in a very pre-WWII dunkerquerian manoeuvre, Schlieffen wept wet tears of joy...). My valorous Belgians were out of supply!
The only thing I could do was to shout "You shall not pass!", to no avail.

Eventually, the Germans rolled over and marched on Paris placing it under siege!



Paris under siege! It was like the Franco-Prussian Wars, all over again, people were shouting in the Paris caf├ęs.



I was determined not to make Paris fall. And so I was able to make it go for an other turn. The fact is, that the Central Powers were already at the 22 VPs space. One more and they would have achieved a Decisive Victory. Unfortunately there was little I could do to prevent that. My Belgians were starving. And at the end of 1915 autumn turn, they surrendered. France (that is I...) thus signed a second most humiliating peace treaty.

The world as we know it today would have never existed!


And then I stopped to think... I had really played to the last man! surprise


THE ART

Having made sure that there is a game worth of its name here, we can pass over to something else which is as important as game design.
Aesthetics.

This game is awesomely beautiful.

From the box art design...


To the individual components...


... to the cards...


... and to the scenario player aids.



WRAPPING IT UP

If you didn't get that before, I really enjoyed this game A LOT.

Kudos to the designer Tim Taylor for this very well designed game. A true gem.

Kudos to the artists Christophe Sancy and Arnauld Della Siega who lent their crafty hands for this project and created of a game, a peace of art.

I really hope this games gets to be published as it should.


Final punchline

The game is light and deceptively easy to play.
You should try it, play tight, play strong!
And make sure that all the boys will be home before Christmas.


"In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow" 1890 - Robert Vonnoh


"The rest is history."
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Richard Tyson
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I'm already a fan of this fantastic game, but wanted to thank you for this great review - I love the use of the pictures!

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Jonathan Harrison
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So long ...
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... and thanks for all the fish.
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I'd have tipped you more, but I'm broke. soblue

Excellent, excellent review. I liked the perspective you brought.
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Pone McPoneface
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There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone. Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow.
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To seek the sacred river Alph, to walk the caves of ice, to break my fast on honey dew and drink the milk of paradise... I had heard the whispered tales of immortality, the deepest mystery, from an ancient book I took a clue.
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Fantastic review!
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Bill Lawson
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Great review! Great game.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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This review is a real beauty and worthy of this fine game. Good job!

btw, love the avatar.
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Tim Taylor
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Thanks so much for reviewing To the Last Man!

Quote:
So we kicked off with the Guns of August, 1914 Scenario. I was the Entente. David told me, for my own benefit, that in his first game as the Entente in the same scenario he got his ass handed to him.

That's why the designated introductory game is the 1915 scenario. The 1914 campaign game is quite fluid so the most experienced player should always play the Entente side.

Glad you enjoy the game!
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Dave Heberer
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Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean that really got out of hand fast.
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There are a couple of the dice heavy historical games I've played where a daring act on one side or political stupidity on another made conquest unlikely. When the sides are lined up with reasonable representations of the historical start there is a chance that history won't repeat itself. I think Europe Engulfed 1939 scenario the designers said 11% of play tests Germany failed to conquer France. This 1914 scenario is like that to me. If Germany gets a little lucky or France doesn't delay for all they are worth it can be disaster for the French.

I was the Germans in this and it was my second play of the game and this scenario. The germans gave me a thorough drubbing in my first play, but I thought if I did more delay actions it's possible to just get into "screwed" territory and claw back from that. We've switched sides and I'm going to try and hold the historical line probably.

My opening strategy was to punch a hole in the southern line and threaten break through to tie up French armies down there and keep the idea of a counter attack (hopefully) far from France's thoughts. He eventually did counter attack but I entrenched after the pushback and called that the line.

In the north I wanted to bring my siege guns into 1 army and use that to crack forts that I found. Eventually, if I could threaten Paris with 2 siege guns I'd be happy. In the beginning, I was stymied well in Belgium. But that stiff resistance took its toll in later seasons as a broken line could not be patched. Seeing the breakthrough shown in the pictures, my first thought was to cut behind the lines and head south to starve everyone out. But, Paris was like a siren calling for easy victory as I had pinned everyone to the line (and cut off Calais with three armies in it). In the end, the 2nd UK was moving up and could have helped defend Paris, and some disengagement had started from the french which would have threatened my lines. The belgians surrendering their army was the final straw for the moral of the Entente though, and while I sensed a tipping point approaching I think I had at least 2 more seasons before the French would have forced me to rethink my Paris sieging ways.

Short commentary, I enjoyed the game a lot, but I was the one inflicting all the damage. We'll see what I think when I have to screen and retreat for a year before I can muster some kind of counter.
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Piero
Italy
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Life and death come and go like marionettes dancing on a table. Once their strings are cut, they easily crumble.
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Herr Niemand wrote:


Thanks so much for reviewing To the Last Man!


Thank you for designing this game!


Herr Niemand wrote:

Quote:
So we kicked off with the Guns of August, 1914 Scenario. I was the Entente. David told me, for my own benefit, that in his first game as the Entente in the same scenario he got his ass handed to him.

That's why the designated introductory game is the 1915 scenario. The 1914 campaign game is quite fluid so the most experienced player should always play the Entente side.

Glad you enjoy the game!


I wanted to learn the hard way. I did!
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Christophe Sancy
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Ciao Piero,

e grazie mille per i complimenti che mi hai fatto!

Thanks for the great review, and for taking the time to share your enthusiasm with us. The best part of the project is to see that people enjoy the game !
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j b Goodwin

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This review was the reason I took the plunge and built my own set. I agree with your conclusions. Great game, and now I find out that it WILL be published. Hooray!
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Andrew Migliore
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Fantastic review. Tip of the hat.
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