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After a few weeks of playing The Russian Campaign (4th), I decided to give VPG's No Retreat! a go. It seemed as though the lighter, smaller fare would be refreshing before we launched into a heavy thing like Trial of Strength or some such. It also seems the NR designer is a big TRC fan, so I was interested to see what TRC influences might be found in NR. And NR certainly has its fans. Many gamers whom I respect have given the game their upward-pointing thumbs. My impression from them, from other gamers, and from the designer's copious commentary, was that NR is a small, fast-playing game with low rules overhead that packs in a huge punch of elegant chrome, history, and challenging, competitive game play.

But instead I found a game that just did not work for me. Mostly, I decided, because a tiny East Front campaign game might just be a silly thing in the first place, like a no-fat, no-sugar doughnut, or a half-inch HDTV. No matter how well made it is, it just can't give you what you want. The East Front was the greatest land battle in history, spanning millions of square kilometers, and involving millions of troops, mountains of materiel and destruction on a vast scale. Doesn't it demand something a tad bigger than an 11x17 map and 40 counters? Wargames are cool when they are evocative, so a physically tiny game covering such a vast event is starting out with quite a handicap. NR does not overcome this handicap, so it is merely a somewhat pointless oddity rather than a wonder: a mechanical goldfish, a bar of soap carved as Mt. Rushmore, Beethoven's Ninth played on a kazoo.

Of course my reason for not liking the game is the exact same reason others have for loving it; wargaming is a big tent. And NR is certainly not a bad game by any measure. I can see why it has its fans. It is small and quick (maybe 3.5 hours for experienced players). Its gameplay presents many little puzzles for the players. It seems to be well-balanced. It plays historically, albeit in a kind of compressed looking-through-the-wrong-end-of-a-telescope kind of way. The components are the usual VPG crap that make you feel ripped off for having paid anything more than $7.95, but VPG fans don't seem to care, and I'm sure the GMT version is pimped out impressively.

But for me, NR could not overcome the handicap of the tiny East Front game. It is basically a very simple, standard, old-timey IGO-UGO game that the designer jazzed up with mechanics that are neither fun, nor evocative, nor historical, but rather busy, gimmicky, and dull. The theme here is that one man's fascinating puzzle-challenge is another man's tedious chore. And although the designer's stated (and achieved) goal was a small game with only 8 pages of rules (a meaningless metric--font size and word count are the watchwords here), I found the rules neither simple nor intuitive; mainly, I think, because those annoying mechanics are just a disparate lot of fancy ideas overloading that simple game chassis. Kind of like a windscreen, a spoiler, fuzzy dice, tinted windows, and a supercharger all on a golf cart.

The first of these mechanics is the "counterattack" result on the CRT, which gives the defender the option of immediately becoming, in effect, the attacker, except that no terrain modifiers are taken into account on the counterattack. I'm not sure what this was supposed to add in the way of either historicity or interesting player options, but we found that since the counterattack result comes at lower odds (1:3 to 3:2 depending on which CRT is used--yes, there are two CRTs, one Axis and one Soviet) and since the low-odds columns yield mostly counterattack results, there seemed little point. For example, say the Germans attack at 4 to 3, which is 1:1: they have a 1/6 chance of the counterattack ("CA") result, a 1/3 chance of no result, a 1/6 chance of an exchange, and a 1/3 chance of making the Reds retreat. If the Germans roll a CA, now the Soviets have the choice of ending the combat, or launching an attack at 1:2, with a 1/6 chance of getting the Germans to retreat, a 1/2 chance of another CA result, and a 1/3 chance of an exchange result. Ho hum. We found these to be some mighty uninteresting results and choices, which I feel pretty sure all could have been rolled into a CRT with no counterattacks at all--streamlining game play and rules overhead in the process. I mean, why not just a 1/6 chance of a German retreat at 1:1 odds and be done with it? Or maybe use a 10-sided die and make it a 1/10th chance of a 1:1 attacker retreat if 1/6 is too high.

Another seemingly unique mechanic that proved somewhat colorless in practice is the "counterblow," in which the defender can discard one of his precious event cards to force the attacker to make an attack, again with no terrain modifiers figured in. It needs explaining first that zones of control do not require adjacent units to attack and second that the game uses event cards (of which more below). At the beginning of the combat phase, the attacker declares all of his attacks, presumably hoping to concentrate his units on just a few key attacks. But along comes the defender, judiciously discarding an event card for a counterblow to force the attacker to divert units to attack an adjacent defender, hopefully (for the defender) at low odds, and hopefully (for the defender) using a unit originally slated to take part in an aready-declared attack, thus ruining the carefully-planned for high odds there. It sounds kind of neat, but we found it kind of dull, and were left wondering if mandatory attacks in ZOCs wouldn't have been easier and quicker. First, the attacker can see how many cards the defender has and can usually plan for a counterblow. Second, it usually isn't too difficult a choice on whether to discard a card or not. (The cards perform multiple duties (probably too many), in addition to purchasing counterblows, including: buying back units from the dead pile; adding back step losses; using rail movement; upgrading units (for the Sovs); playing events (lots of "gotcha" here: double this unit's combat strength; automatic retreat on any one combat; column shift for a combat; your opponent has to make mandatory attacks in his turn; you get to move a unit during your opponent's phase; etc.).) I found most of the time I either had a card to discard for a counterblow or not. If I did, the choice was pretty clear. Put another way, I never really agonized, and the counterblows themselves were usually anticlimactic, since the CRT is pretty bloodless at low odds (remember all those "CA" results?). Again, a mechanic that just seemed to be a pointless add-on.

I should point out here that there are some game situations where the combination counterblow/counterattack are crucial to achieve results. For example, a Soviet unit in a city may present too tough a nut for the Axis to crack on the attack. But if the clever Axis player waits until the Soviet combat phase, he can force the Soviet defender to attack out using the counterblow mechanic. This inevitably low-odds attack will almost certainly result in a CA. Now the clever German can attack the Soviet defender without any terrain benefits for the Soviets (remember?). Some folks find this combination of mechanics a brilliant puzzle to solve. I found it a tedious rules gimmick because it does not map to any reality that I am aware of. It's one thing when a historical wargame has mechanics that allow players to solve game problems by thinking in real-world terms (or at least terms that seem real-world). But what are we to make of: "No, Herr General, do not attack Leningrad. Wait instead until the hopelessly outnumbered Communists leave their defenses to attack us and then crush them."

Aside from these odd, bolted-on mechanics, the gameplay feels cramped, strictured, and scripted; mostly, again, because the game is so damn small. You just don't have that many units to move, and not many places to move them. Yes, the Germans have decisions: they can attack toward Moscow, or towards the South, or along a broad front; but after making those choices, there doesn't seem much interesting stuff to do. And the Soviets have to be pretty careful in the beginning where they put their all-too-few units. All this gives the game a chess-like feel (this never seems to be a compliment when said of a wargame, but some folks do like it).

Instead, the options the game does present are in the form of more of those little puzzles, or techniques, that the players are left to discover in what is supposed to pass for gameplay. Another such puzzle is that VPs are awarded for units destroyed when they are out of supply (such units also cost twice as much to bring back from the dead (note, there has to be constant recycling of dead units--especially for the Soviets--because the countermix is so small)). The Germans, if they are to achieve an auto victory (and also to boost their "High Tide" victory total--see below), must get VPs for eliminating OOS units, rather then just killing units outright. So the German player must learn that, although he can easily achieve high enough odds to remove a Sov unit in combat, he should avoid doing this in favor of surrounding the unit and waiting to kill it when it is OOS. Here the counterblow is once again very useful, as the German can force the surrounded and OOS Sov unit to kill itself by attacking in the Sov turn. Aside from the dubious narrative this presents, the designer seems to think this cleverness makes for fun, challenging gameplay. As I mentioned above, one man's challenge is another man's chore. If you like discovering and executing that kind of thing, this game is for you. I found it this trick annoying and unrealistic, as well as artificial within the scope and scale of the game. At this scale, it ought to be enough to mass enough strength to blow a unit out of your way, since the game scale is way too huge to allow for the encirclement of huge pockets containing lots of units--the Sovs begin the game with only four units on the front, for pete's sake. The Germans can eliminate at least three of them on turn 1. Can we, at this scale, instead take the sweeping armor encirclement as below the granularity of the game? These are boulder-sized grains, after all. But it seems not. Instead we must eschew the obvious 6:1 attack and opt to surround and wait for the counterblow during the Soviet turn to get that extra VP--another tactic that seems more of an embedded puzzle than anything which maps to a battlefield decision.

Of course, here I am damning the game if it does and damning it if it doesn't. Without the encirclement-for-the-extra VP fillip, we just have a vanilla attack at high odds and a dull, simple game. Not at all interesting at this scale. But with the encirclement-for-the-extra VP, I am annoyed by what I see as a gamey tactic. What is a designer to do to make the tiny East Front game worth playing? And maybe this is the crux of why this game does not work for me. In order to provide some meat to the game, which begins with the simple chassis, and, at this huge scale, runs considerable risk of being bland, the designer added lots of these supposedly clever mechanics. For me, these add-ons are just overwrought overload; but without them, there just ain't much there there. So maybe the dream of a tiny, but interesting, East Front game remains a chimera.

And yes, there are lots more little tactics to discover, if that is your thing. There are also lots more rules and exceptions to rules to read and remember, which is remarkable for a game with only eight pages of rules; but again, the font size is the thing. This is a teeny game but with a medium-size rule book. Some examples of the many rules crammed in here: Finland is one hex with an immobile Finnish unit; there is a rail movement-cum-magic-transporter rule; there are refits, rebuilds, and reinforcements; we have three different dead piles and three different ways to victory (this is not a bug, it's a feature); there are special fortress units; and also supply effects, Soviet unit upgrades, lots of combat modifiers, armor advances, lots of weather effects on much of the foregoing (mud, snow etc.), and German "blitz" and Soviet "shock". Whew. You will either be impressed and enthralled by all the juicy details crammed in here, or worn down by all the extra crap weighing down a base system that is really just Napoleon at Waterloo with soft ZOCs. Something like getting a breakfast with strawberries, syrup, chocolate shavings, a cherry, and whipped cream all piled on a small, cold, stale waffle. Oh well.

The victory conditions I just mentioned deserve some attention. They take up almost an entire page of the eight-page rule book, and I found myself reading them again and again. It isn't that they aren't clear. Rather, they are so overwrought, while adding so little, that I thought I must have been missing something. The main feature is that there are three (count 'em) ways to win--as trumpeted on the game blurb. I don't know why this is so awesome in itself, but basically each player can win by sudden death, which is a moving target tied to game length, or by capturing a set number of objectives, or by having done relatively better than his opponent by game end (the aforementioned "High Tide" mechanic). All this requires two separate VP markers to keep track of things and also a third "High Tide" marker to track the relative successes of each side. The initiative shifts about half way through the game, and it is this that governs which side is eligible to win a sudden-death victory as well as placement of the High Tide marker. Are you kind of confused? So was I. I understood how it all worked, but I gave up trying to understand the why of it all. And how does NR compare to TRC, the game that partially inspired NR because the designer wanted something smaller and faster? While NR is smaller and faster, I think it may have more rules and exceptions to remember than the basic version of TRC.

My partner and I played this once to learn the rules, and then once more. We gave up the second game about eight turns in. We were bored and uninterested, irritated with the little gotcha puzzles. And we wanted something bigger. Something that screamed East Front instead of east front. So depending on your taste, this is either brilliant design packed into a small package, or a too-small and simple base game overloaded with a bunch of stuff that can't salvage the very dull game that underlies it.




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Carl Paradis
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Wow, this post took longer to read that my little game takes to set up!

Sorry you did not like the game. Thanks for sharing your opinion and effort in doing so (in fact, I'm giving you some for it) But hey, I can't please everyone.

Obviously you need more counters. Interestingly, note that I get a LOT of critics from people that thing the game is too long already! Go figure...

Do note also that the GMT version, ot the VPG version with the extensions, are more elaborate and have double the counter mix. And I'm quite sure you would like it much more (or hate it far less?). Hey, this was my first ever wargame; and again, the Deluxe GMT version is a better match for your tastes (it has more of everything).

Anyway... IMHO you are being harsh in your critic considering the limitations I had to work with!

I challenge you to do the same as me, and make a good East-Front game with 40 counters, 24 cards and a 8.5x11 map!!! This was the form factor I was limited to by VPG and I think I did a very good job of it: heck is is in the best 100's or so wargames of Boardgamegeek, with the GMT Deluxe version in the best 20's! Must mean that I did something right... Right?

Say, I have a feeling you really do not like Chess, either.

Best regards.

Carl Paradis
Montréal, Canada.

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R Larsen
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Wow, such bitterness is rare in game reviews.
Your review is longer than the game rules, but it was very interesting to read points that some might not like. Mostly things that I like about the game - namely fast, easy gameplay, with many decisions. Thanks for the effort.

Considering all the time you spend explaining how the CRT works, I think you jumped over the card events a bit too fast. After all, all the events on the cards, makes for quite some surprises in board events and in combat outcomes, introducing considerable FoW to the game. Something that is always missing in larger hex'n counter games. And to me at least, the decision between holding on to cards to deal with the opponent, or burning them to strengthen your units, is just one little effect of the card mechanism, that I find exciting.

Your disappointment and obvious anger towards a designers first production could also rest in a wrong approach to the game. You seemed to expect a filler kind of game, but found something far more complex. In that light, it is surprising that you found the 8 pages of rules and the really fairly few exceptions far too complex. Or that is at least how I read your 'complaint', but I might be getting that wrong.
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licinius wrote:



I challenge you to do the same as me, and make a good East-Front game with 40 counters, 24 cards and a 8.5x11 map!!! This was the form factor I was limited to by VPG and I think I did a very good job of it: heck is is in the best 100's or so wargames of Boardgamegeek, with the GMT Deluxe version in the best 20's! Must mean that I did something right... Right?


For you and others, yes, but not for Jon. The very size of the thing ultimately told too heavily.

Or lightly in this case.
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Dieroll Honker wrote:
a too-small and simple base game overloaded with a bunch of stuff that can't salvage the very dull game that underlies it.
Say, I do wonder, if you remove the "overload of stuff that cannot slavage the game", as you more or less said; besides less counters and a better historical simulation, how does my little game differs from "The Russian Campaign", a game that you seem to like a lot (BTW I do like it, too, as you very well said!)? whistle
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Charles Vasey wrote:
For you and others, yes, but not for Jon. The very size of the thing ultimately told too heavily.

Or lightly in this case.
Yeah... Right,

But there is a solution to everything.

And in this specific case... I am doing this:

Absolute War!!!

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.1dd527d4/0

East Front redux, but at a different scale. Far more counters! Much longer to play! More expensive! More rules! Your girlfirend/wife will hate it!

So larger in each and every way.

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Peso Pete wrote:

It sounds like you guys are going to love Trial of Strength!
But not if you want a reasonably historical result... whistle
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Jon

Thanks for the well reasoned review. You explained your reasons very well, and I found them very helpful.
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Don't worry, Carl. I LOVE your game, the people that I've introduced this to (many of whom are NOT wargamers) LOVE this game, my brother (who IS a wargamer and my primary opponent in all things wargame) LOVE this game, and the myriad of others on this site who agree with this sentiment.

As you said, can't please everyone but you've pleased others.
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Jim F
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Very amusing and thoughtful but I don't think the game was ever going to deliver what you wanted. In fact I'm not sure what you wanted from it is attainable. Stalingrad Pocket (first edition) might be nearer your mark, but that only focuses on part of the campaign.

At times, your review did feel a bit unfair to me because I've played some horrors that deserve a kicking, I don't think this one does

As for the 'gimmicks', I thought they were some clever ideas that definitely added a lot of interest and options. I enjoyed it enough to play it solo and that, for me, is the sign of a good game.
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licinius wrote:


But there is a solution to everything.

Saline, mostly.
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Charles Vasey wrote:
Saline, mostly.
Given the game's topic, you surely must have meant "Stalin" here, right?
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licinius wrote:
Charles Vasey wrote:
Saline, mostly.
Given the game's topic, you surely must have meant "Stalin" here, right?
Statin, Stalin, it's all the same to me.

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Trial of Strength is far more historical in feel and in result than No Retreat! The Russian Front. Not even close-just my opinion.
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billyboy wrote:
Trial of Strength is far more historical in feel and in result than No Retreat! The Russian Front. Not even close-just my opinion.
Mhhh... It would be interesting to compare both. When and if I have the time I should play two games side-by-side and compare. I am a little biased, but then if I found "Trial" so damn good I would have kept playing it and not designed a new East-Front game, truly.

A great "hidden Gem" in East-Front games, IMHO, is this one:

Sturm Nach Osten
 
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licinius wrote:
billyboy wrote:
Trial of Strength is far more historical in feel and in result than No Retreat! The Russian Front. Not even close-just my opinion.
Mhhh... It would be interesting to compare both. When and if I have the time I should play two games side-by-side and compare. I am a little biased, but then if I found "Trial" so damn good I would have kept playing it and not designed a new East-Front game, truly.

A great "hidden Gem" in East-Front games, IMHO, is this one:

Sturm Nach Osten
I love ToS , I like NR , SNO bought, played, sold, not missed!
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i found the review both interesting and informative. i like to read reviews from both sides of the fence so that it is easier to make an informed decision to buy or not to buy. it is okay to disagree and defend the game but let us not be too critical of the reviewer but rather we should be thankful for the review and learn from it. that's why i often click on the comments of the ones that have rated a game on the geek and read the 4's as well as the 9's. my experience of the whole east front includes: Russian Front, East Front, 1941, Sturm Nach Osten(Dark Crusade), Barbarossa(SPI), Stalin's War and some games of the whole WWII in Europe.
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nhojput wrote:
it is okay to disagree and defend the game but let us not be too critical of the reviewer but rather we should be thankful for the review and learn from it.
I really did find the review entertaining.

But I guess, as it is perfectly okay to express your dislike for a game, it is equally okay to express your dislike for a review.
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I found the review quite something, just the for amount of writing done it is impressive.

Say, can there be something like a MONSTER review?

One thing (in many) I do not agree with is that the game is BORING. But of course it depends what boring means to somebody.

Fo me boring is playing a monster game where you sit for hours watching your opponent make his moves, compute and roll zillions of battles, while you have nothing to do in return; the game taking so long to play that's its like watching a movie in extra sloooow motion. Now that's boring.

Take for example Russian Campaign: a game that is still nice to play solitaire (with some house rules of course to make it historical), but NOT two-player! I mean, as the Russian in 1941, for example, not only do you have to watch the German move and attack while you cannot do ANYTHING, but he does it TWICE in a row! Repeat for many, many turns before you can do much of anything: hours of your life have passed you by, and the game is not even in 1942 yet! No that's boring to me!

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Quote:
fancy ideas overloading that simple game chassis
This seems to be the recurring theme of the critique, but it left me wondering what the difference is between a non-simple chassis and just adding fanciness to a simple chassis. You seem to be looking for something pretty specific in your East Front gameplay, but I'm not sure what that is. It's clear that it would require a lot more counters.
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NJames wrote:
Quote:
fancy ideas overloading that simple game chassis
This seems to be the recurring theme of the critique, but it left me wondering what the difference is between a non-simple chassis and just adding fanciness to a simple chassis. You seem to be looking for something pretty specific in your East Front gameplay, but I'm not sure what that is. It's clear that it would require a lot more counters.
In my case, I find that small games games BEG for fanciness, because they can afford to. While most large games should do the opposite (low fanciness).

Stangely, I have found that usually the biggest the game, the more complex the rules and fanciness (but there are exceptions, of course), while msall games are usualyl dirt simple.

IMHO it should be the other way around more often.
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No Retreat! The Russian Front boring? I think not!
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Carl Paradis
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billyboy wrote:
No Retreat! The Russian Front boring? I think not!
Well... If boring, at least its certainly a FAST-Playing Boring game. So you are not bored for long, and can go play your other favourite games with time to spare! And the history is not bad either, IMHO.

I made it to cater to the "grognards" needs (i.e: My needs, in fact! LOL!), thus there is more subtle rules than usual for a game of that form factor.

But, surprisingly, a lot of new gamers are using it successfully as an introductory wargame, something I never expected! blush

Of course I much prefer the Deluxe version (twice as big, many more cards) but the 1st edition is nice for a portable, quick, yet deep (for the size) classic wargame experience.
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licinius wrote:

Say, can there be something like a MONSTER review?

Sure there is: check out this one.
 
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Carl Paradis
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Mallet wrote:
licinius wrote:

Say, can there be something like a MONSTER review?

Sure there is: check out this one.
Wow. surprise
 
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