Eric Walters
United States
Chesterfield
Virginia
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"...the art of manoeuvering armies...an art which none may master by the light of nature. but to which, if he is to attain success, a man must serve a long apprenticeship." -- G.F.R. Henderson
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There’s basically two “games” to be played in this series when conducting operations on the map. The first is how to achieve the best combined arms effects through the movement and combat routines for a particular battle, or the purely tactical application of combat power to win once engaged. The second is to determine how to out maneuver the opponent on a grand tactical scale—making him march divisions and subordinate formations the wrong way and countermarch back to where they need to be, getting him to fight battles in all the wrong places against the wrong enemy units, and making divisions spend too much command and staff attention on activities that are of marginal importance compared to major tactical requirements that occur later. The GTS system is derived from Eric Lee Smith’s excellent 1984 Panzer Command game by Victory Games (and one now would love to see that game tweaked and republished as part of this series).

The purely tactical subsystems make a great deal of sense and are therefore easy to learn and remember. Units are either deployed in a combat formation with high firepower and decent defense capabilities but slow movement or are in column with high movement potential but correspondingly less combat potential. Towed artillery has to be limbered up and there are rules for going into column and coming out, for loading and unloading and all the usual stuff you’d expect. Mortars easily support their parent formations and artillery assets have to be in radio contact with their observers, who have to be part of their Division. Artillery can form into “artillery parks” for far more reliable communications provided they aren’t at risk from direct enemy ground action and won’t have to move. HE and Mortar indirect fire leave “barrage” markers that block LOS and inhibit movement as well as imposing discomfiting effects on the enemy units under them. And there are a number of special rules governing combat engineer capabilities and the like.

Fire is calculated based on unit colored ratings on their counters and modified for the status of both firer and target, as well as target terrain. Rating colors are unique for Small Arms, Armor Piercing, Dual Purpose fire, Mortars, Indirect HE, and Direct HE. Ranged fire is less accurate unless it is indirect. Typical statuses degrading fire effectiveness are suppression (no fire allowed), cohesion hits, barrage effects, and column for the firer. Fire can be enhanced through a “company bonus” provided the firer passes a Troop Quality die roll and is at least a two-step company. Defender modifications include how crowded the hex is with troops, terrain, barrage effects, improved positions/entrenchments, etc. The final modified rating is what is rolled against; higher numbers provide not only great likelihood of a result, but also greater lethality. In terms of game play it’s easy to figure out your odds of getting a particular result. Typical results are possible suppressions (rolled against Troop Quality to avoid or expend and Command Point when in command to avoid), suppressions (roll against Troop Quality or spend a command point to convert to a Cohesion Hit), Cohesion Hits, a Step Loss, or outright elimination. Typically, units take some time to be completely eliminated, although it does happen uncomfortably frequently in lopsided situations.

Opportunity Fire can happen every time a unit moves under observation and within range of an enemy unit, but that unit has to pass a Troop Quality roll to engage. So sometimes that Flak battery of 88s engages a column of British tanks rolling past it…sometimes it doesn’t. “How lucky do you feel, punk?” comes to mind. This mechanic works well in the game—higher quality units are more aggressive about hindering enemy movement than lower quality ones (which seem to want to hide and hope nobody notices them).

Not everything about this system is all roses, however. The most irritating is the Assault sequence—it is EXTREMELY “fiddly.” Assaults happen a lot in the game and thus will take up a lot of the players’ time. One wishes these could get resolved in a single die roll; what happens in the system once Opportunity Fire possibilities occur is up to three rounds of combat for each side, provided the attacker doesn’t charge in the first round and the defender doesn’t run away. Yes, there are some great tales about particularly dramatic Assault sequences where you appreciate the detail, but in the main, it’s not worth the time to go through them—and go through them you must. The designer, Adam Starkweather, writes in CONSIMWORLD forum that he is working on a redesign for this routine. While I’d probably stick with the Assault procedures for the scenarios simply for the added color, for sure I’d want a streamlined version for the campaign game.

As good as the tactical system is (save for the Assaults), it’s the “grand tactical” subsystem that really makes this game series shine. For starters, this is a Chit Pull activation system. That ought to be familiar to everybody—you never are sure who will get the next move. The last chit drawn isn’t played in the turn it comes out of the cup in WHERE EAGLES DARE; it becomes the first chit played (automatically) in the next turn. There are chits for each subordinate formation within your Divisions you can purchase to put into the cup, you always get a Division Activation Chit for each division in play, and both sides get one Direct Command Chit per side. The kinds of Actions units can do are (1) Rally, (2) Fire, (3) Move (to include placing a Rearguard), (4) Assault, (5) Perform Engineer Actions, (6) Remove Own Rearguard, and (7) Pass.

You know you’ll “generally” get at least two “Action” opportunities for your units each turn provided one of your chits is not the last one drawn at the end of it. That translates into a Division Activation (typically representing actions taken when out of enemy contact or moving out of contact) and the possibility to take an Action in Direct Command when that chit is drawn, provided the unit to be activated is In Command and there are Command Points available to spend. That’s a big “if,” as I’ll explain later. You might even get three “Actions” since you can spend Command Points for units In Command to do “Second Actions” that must be different from non-combat first actions when the Division Activation chit is pulled. Right away, this creates a high level of uncertainty and variability from scenario to scenario, campaign game to campaign game. But that’s not all. Not by a long shot.

Each Division has its decision cycle time—its Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action (OODA) Loop--explicitly modeled. There are two track markers moving up and down a numerical scale on each Division Display Card: one for “Dispatch Points,” one for “Command Points.” Dispatch points represent staff work and unit orders. They are hard to come by and must be spent to purchase Formation Chits which go into a cup with the other Chits. That’s right. You could possibly do FOUR Actions a turn with a single unit if it’s Parent Formation Chit is in the cup, it’s In Command, and you have Command Points to spend on it for Second Actions when it’s Division Activation Chit is drawn and when the Direct Command chit is drawn. Purchasing these Formation Chits is a tough decision—it costs two Dispatch Points to put them in the cup for the current turn; only one to buy for the next turn. Keep purchasing Formation Chits for the current turn and you’ll run out of Dispatch Points in a hurry. You only get new ones when the Division Activation Chit is drawn and only if you make particular die rolls against the Dispatch number. Better division staffs have higher numbers, therefore being more likely to generate new Dispatch Points each turn. Command Points represent how generally aggressive the Division’s senior commanders in being forward where the action is and making things happen. The best divisions have very capable staffs and very aggressive commanders—their units will do more every turn through more Dispatch Points and Command Points. How the players leverage that capability is a large part of knowing how to win the game.

Right away, players should notice that the British XXX Corps is pretty sluggish—1st Guards Armored has a Dispatch Rating of 1 and a Command Rating of 4. 101st Airborne Division is a good bit better, with a 3 Dispatch Rating and 7 Command Points. For the Germans, 59th Infantry Division has a command capability almost as good as the 101st—3 Dispatch and 6 Command Ratings, which ought to give the Airborne boys some pause. The Eindhoven Regional Command is as bad as the Brits until they are replaced by Kampfgruppe Chill which has a 4 Dispatch and 5 Command Rating. Kampfgruppe Walther, starting the game at a miserable 0 Dispatch and 3 Command Rating, grows over time into a formidable 4 Dispatch and 8 Command Rating organization. Players will generally get at least these amounts of Command Points added to their pool from the corresponding Command Rating number (and typically more—half with fractions rounded down of a ten-sided die); Dispatch Ratings have to make at least that Dispatch Rating number or less to get a point, less than the current amount of Dispatch Points on the track to get yet another point, and yet another point to a max of three if a zero is rolled. Rolling a nine on Dispatch means losing one on the track (presumably an order got held up somewhere).

Being In Command means being within the command range of a leader, normally a formation commander. You may have the Command Points to spend on a unit to do an Action as a Section Action in a Division Activation or when the Direct Command chit is drawn, but if the formation commander is somewhere else and out of command range, it’s too bad/so sad. Having commanders at the critical place at critical times is part of the game.

What this means in the game is that wily players will try to induce panic into their opponents through friendly Actions, forcing enemy players to pay 2 Dispatch Points to put Formation Activation Chits into the cup in the current turn. Or to make them spend Command Points on less important Actions when either their Division Activation or Direct Command Chit is drawn early in the turn so that they have none left for really important ones when the other is drawn later on. Or, to lure their Formation commanders to the wrong places at the wrong times. Ideally, the cleverest players get their opponents to do all of these things. It won’t matter how high the troop quality of the units are, it won’t matter how high the fire strengths are, if they can’t execute Actions when and where they need to.

The System: How it works in WHERE EAGLES DARE.

The Exclusive Rules are much like those in THE DEVIL’S CAULDRON, covering things like ferries, airstrikes, airdrops terrain effects, off-map German movement, “piggy-backing” infantry on tanks, and special rules for the scenarios and campaign. They are all pretty simple and work well with a minimum of fuss. WHERE EAGLES DARE have a few special wrinkles that deserve mention, however.

Events work differently here than in THE DEVIL’S CAULDRON. In the earlier game, EVENT markers are placed on the map and uncovered when Allied units move next to them; they meant anything from Allied units getting “Lost” to going to ground out of “Tank Fright” to additional German OOB units at that location…or nothing at all (“No Event”). In WHERE EAGLES DARE, events are color coded for either side—when players roll a “9” as part of a Fire Action, an EVENT chit for that side is drawn from a discrete cup. The range of EVENTS is pretty large and cover the gamut of historical happenings. Some players will like it as adding to the friction of war; other players will bemoan yet more chaos in an already inherently chaotic system.

One of the things I like best about this game is how the long line of XXX Corps units is handled. I remember old HIGHWAY TO THE REICH games with the map cluttered with hundreds of XXX Corps units that had to be moved up the highway yet added nothing but time to the game. British players won’t have that problem here. XXX Corps units behind the “spearhead” are represented by their Formation Activation Chits kept on an off-map display track and “released” either automatically or rolled for in a particular sequence. When units are released, they show up where the “convoy release point” is notionally, represented by the Club Route marker. The Club Route marker moves every 1900 turn from printed spot to printed spot on the map, so it has the effect of being a slowly unreeling “garden house” where “released” XXX Corps units “squirt out” at the fountainhead. Very elegant.

What this means is that counter density on the map is generally pretty low and play flows right along. Not bad for a monster game!

The strangest part of the game is the 1900 turn. Here the Club Route marker “bounds” forward to its next stopping point on the map, so long as the intervening purple Club Route road hexes are free of enemy fire/units. XXX Corps units roll for release out of the “queue” on the XXX Corps Display Card. German formations off map and Allied Flank Corps markers move. So far, so good—this seems reasonable. But the Victory Conditions for the Campaign Game also mandate that the players calculate Victory Points based on Club Route conditions at 1900. This is where it gets interesting. If Club Route is not cut at 1900, the Allied player gets 8 victory points. Whether it gets cut the night turn before that day or the 1700 turn before, if Club Route is not cut/restored to service by 1900, then there is no victory point loss. If Club Route is cut at 1900, the German gets 10 victory points—not two hours before, not two hours after. While the German does earn “onesies and twosies” VP for Club Route Attacked Markers and Club Route Closed Markers earned during the day, this nevertheless seems to be the cause for some interesting tactics governed by what feels like an arbitrary hour.

Another part of the victory conditions demand that for each and every step of Guards Armored Division (less the independent Household Cavalry or units of 231st Brigade) which is not on Club Route or a hex that could be Club Route (a purple road hex) when the Division Activation chit is picked from the cup, the Germans get a victory point. The way the rules read, this is calculated every turn. Wow. When tactical maneuver is called for to get around particularly troublesome spots, those points can sure add up turn after turn. Of course, the British player’s problem is that he never knows when the chit will get drawn from the cup. Should he move off the road during the Formation Chit draw for Group Hot and Group Cold, hoping that in the Direct Command Chit phase he can bring some of them back onto a purple road hex before the Division Activation chit is pulled? That won’t happen most of the time! Especially if the Germans gum things up in Eindhoven, requiring XXX Corps to deploy in the city to clean out entrenched defenders, these points can add up.



Of course, if the Route Club marker has advanced off the map and Guards Armored Division units are still on the map, each step will award 1 victory point to the German every time the Division Activation Chit is pulled from the cup. Once Guards Armored gets its last unit off the map, the Allied side gets points for Command and Dispatch Points still left on the Division Display card. It’s obvious that the intent is to get this formation up to Nijmegen and Arnhem, not messing about with the Germans down south.

I can’t speak to the overall balance of the game at this point. German VPs are subtracted from the British ones and the total allows for “automatic victories” for either side during the conclusion of the Night Turn for each turn.

Continue to Part 3: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/754336/initial-impressio...
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Robert Wilson
Canada
Riverview
New Brunswick
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thanks for the writeup
 
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