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Subject: First Look at the Third Game in the Grand Tactical Series rss

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Eric Walters
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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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Yesterday, the anxiously awaited latest MMP box arrived at my doorstep and I knew precisely that--at last--No Question of Surrender was inside. I'm fairly familiar with the Grand Tactical Series from my forays with The Devil's Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen and, most recently, Where Eagles Dare. I've not yet punched the counters and given this a whirl yet, but I felt compelled to write some initial impressions to advise those considering purchase of the game. Some might say how might I provide any sort of informed opinion at this point. Well, bear with me a bit and see.

If you don't know anything about the system in this game, you might want to refer to my very basic description of it in my series of reviews for Where Eagles Dare, specifically Part 2 where I describe it--see http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/754334/initial-impressio.... My biggest issue with the system in the other two titles, the time it takes to resolve assaults, won't be as aggravating in this title given the size of the action being covered.

The main reason I felt I had to write something upon breaking out the box is that I experienced a very severe case of deja vu: I was having a Pensacola (GMT, 2010) moment. If you don't know that game, it deals with the Spanish/French siege and assault of the British fortifications overlooking Pensacola in 1781. The defending British force seems absolutely tiny. The Spanish/French force seems positively HUGE. It's only after a few plays of that game when the British player realizes how to undo the Spanish/French superiority and make a game of it. But, when you open the box and look at the counter-sheet, you can't imagine how the defenders can pull out a win.

That was something like what I experienced when I opened up the box to No Question of Surrender. There are three countersheets; of these, only a sheet and a half are of combat units, the rest are necessary system markers and the like. The situation in this game has the Axis--comprising of THREE (count 'em, THREE) divisions of troops going against but a mere BRIGADE of Free French in the Bir Hacheim redoubt complex. Okay, two of the Axis divisions are Italian, but they are the better Italian divisions--Trieste and Ariete. Okay, I shuffle through the counter-sheets...Sheet 1 is nothing but markers, okay, then I get to Sheet 2. The boys in blue, the Free French, are in the top left side of the sheet. Oh my. There hardly seems to be any of them. 37 counters, to include 3 leaders. That's it. On closer inspection, I realize that one of these counters is Susan Travers, the driver for Pierre Koenig who commands the Free French Brigade, and there are 13 other one step (or less) units in the OOB. Holy cow. The rest of Sheet 2 is dominated by Axis units. At this point, I'm thinking...how in the world...

Oh, but there's more. Sheet 1. Oh, here we go, the REST of the Axis units, comprising the 90th Light Division not included in Sheet 2. Nearly half a sheet of these guys. And--enough to strike fear in the most steadfast Allied heart--there's a ROMMEL COUNTER!

Like I said, I haven't played a single game turn. But I can tell I'm going to dive into this game to see how in the world this single Free French Brigade can hold off hordes of top-notch Axis formations. Just love a challenge and I suspect this will be the wargamer puzzle of the year. Historically the brigade lasted quite a long time and then was able to break out of the "box" and get most of its men away. So what at first glance looks to be a hopeless situation for the French is likely to be anything but once you've mastered the system.

With all that said, a few comments on the components:

The Counters--rendered in the usual gorgeous GTS style, this time without the "watermarks" seen in the earlier games. Actually, they look a lot like the scenario counters in Where Eagles Dare that also lacked the watermarks the campaign game counters exhibited. They are beautifully done, as always. Yes, there are separate counter symbology for the Axis (done in the German style for Germans, Italian style for Italians) and yet a different style for the Free French, save for the vehicles which show side view line drawings in color for all nationalities.

The Charts--you get four formation cards, one for each Axis Division and one for the Free French Brigade. Graphically, they greatly resemble the style done in Where Eagles Dare rather than The Devil's Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen. This is where you track Dispatch Points, Command Points, and--for the Free French--Supply Status and Morale. Axis cards provide reinforcement details for the various scenarios. Two combat charts--looking very similar to those used in Where Eagles Dare--are provided, one for each player. Of course, this has significant differences in showing Bir Hacheim fortification defensive enhancements to Troop Quality Ratings, Defense Ratings, and Fire and Assault Ratings (which are negated when the Free French expose themselves by doing something to trigger Axis Opportunity Fire or are Assaulting!). There are also tables for RAF support, ranging from getting 3 strikes that day to losing 2 Dispatch Points (presumably the Brigade Staff is tied up in wasted efforts to get airpower that will never show), and times of arrival for RAF Strikes gained. The backside of these charts are blank--these should have the Terrain Effects Chart but do not. Even the back of the Exclusive Rules--which shows the terrain symbology--doesn't summarize the terrain efforts. Good news is that terrain effects are summarized on the map and there are few terrain types, but still, it would have been nice not crane one's neck to get the right orientation to read this on the map if you aren't sitting on the south side. Those seeking to develop some play aids for the game for upload into BGG--here's your first project!

The Map--well executed but understandably, given the environment--nothing as gorgeous as what we see in the other two games in this system. The playing surface actually only takes up roughly three-fifths of the map, the remainder has the turn record track, weather track (with impacts on LOS, Fire and Assault Ratings, Movement Costs, and Counterbattery Spotting Troop Quality Check listed), and Artillery Park boxes for the Axis. I think the biggest quibbles regarding the map will be these: (1) the predominant terrain--desert--is rendered in GREEN, (2) there's graphical symbols on the map (the Turkish Fort, the trenches) that--at first glance--seemingly have no direct impact on play. Well, I'm not going to go into the color/tone/shade discussions regarding the desert. But the graphical symbols on the map do add a sense of the battlefield and it's the HEX DOT colors that describe the terrain, not the symbology itself. Oh, so the trenches and Turkish fort actually do mean something. And there's only ONE PLACE that describes the dots beyond what you see on the map--it's on the back of the Exclusive Rules rulebook. Sigh. It would be nice to have ALL the terrain and ALL the effects located in both places, as well as on the backs of the Charts and Tables card. So, looking at the map, we can see that all those trench and Turkish fort hexes are considered FORTIFIED. And what does FORTIFIED do? You have to look on the front side of the Charts and Tables to see the mods, listed under "French Leg and Gun Units in Fortified Bir Hacheim Hex." This is also covered by the French Special Rule (S4.1) in the Exclusive Rulebook. Okay. And only French units get the fortification benefits. Got it. My last comment--"light minefield" hexdots are also green and tend to get lost in the hex artwork. Minor point and something you'll no doubt quickly get used to. But it's one more thing to make me question why Niko picked green as a background color for the desert to begin with! Or maybe this is another one of those cases where the printer's proof didn't exactly match the production run!

shake

The Rules--you get the V1.1 2011 Grand Tactical Series rulebook and Rules Summary; both are excellent. The Exclusive Rules also look good and are rendered in a similarly attractive, full-color glossy way. There aren't a lot of exclusive rules to the game so GTS die-hards can plunge in with a minimum of learning. Most of the rules deal with RANDOM EVENTS which are chits put into the same mug as the Formation, Direct Command, and Division Activation chits. This is a new way of doing EVENTS from what we'd seen in the other two games in the series, but that's it. These provide a bit of color/chrome as well as additional unpredictability to the game.

Scenarios--You get four scenarios in the package, covered in the last half of the Exclusive Rules booklet. The first, "The Italians Attack" covers the historical May 27 1942 Italian Ariete foray against the defenses, with what the scenario terms as "predictable results." As per GTS practice, this is designed as a solitaire or two-player learning game and concedes some liberties were taken with the French Anti-Char (AT) gun OOB and that the Italians will need a bit of luck to win. The second scenario is an ahistorical replay of May 27, entitled "The Italians Really Attack," giving the Italian side some enhancements that were available and could have been leveraged. Scenario 3, "Capture Point 186" covers the two-day action of the Germans trying to seize the Observation Post on the north side of the "box" through a heavy minefield. Scenario 4, "The Siege of Bir Hacheim," runs from June 2 to June 10 and is the "full monty" scenario of the game. The game opens with Trieste Division and elements of the 90th Light going against the garrison, with more German formations being fed into the fight on June 3, 6, 8, and 9. Oh, so you say to yourself. Now I see how this can work. Ariete isn't part of the "campaign game OOB," it's just there for the learning scenarios. And while the Trieste all gets in on June 2nd, the full weight of the 90th Light Division dribbles in. This makes sense.

Historical Commentary--Hans Korting writes three pages of notes covering the historical unfolding of the battle and some quick biographies of notables, to include Susan Travers. Definitely aids in orienting players to the situation in an informative and entertaining way before starting out the game.

This title really screams to be played. I hope to be able to provide some impressions of how the game system feels in this desert fortification/siege situation when I've had some opportunity to get a few scenarios under my belt! I'll admit I'm very biased towards the Grand Tactical Series and am quite happy that it's debuting in a "medium-sized" game package. I hope to see more titles of this physical size using the GTS system in the future! Until then, No Question of Surrender should keep me intellectually occupied and me and my opponents decidedly entertained for quite some time!






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Pete Atack
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Quote:
The situation in this game has the Axis--comprising of THREE (count 'em, THREE) divisions of troops going against but a mere BRIGADE of Free French in the Bir Hacheim redoubt complex. Okay, two of the Axis divisions are Italian, but they are the better Italian divisions--Trieste and Ariete.


C'mon - it ain't that bad!

One Italian division is only contributing two weak infantry battalions and an armored battalion of dubious quality tanks and it costs twice as much to get their foramtions into the fight as others, while the other Italian division isn't kicking in much more - but they are better quality. And the Germans put lots of counters on the map - but most are one steppers. And they all suffer under the possibility of running away (to return the following day) when taking a step loss.

So I'm not so sure it'll be as horrible as 3 divisions assaulting one Free French Brigade.

But I'll let you know for sure after I play it!
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Erik Strahler
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Thanks for the initial thoughts. Sounds interesting, and a good way to try out GTS before committing.
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Scott Henshaw
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I'm having a hard time reading the counters, the red/green being the worse offenders and I found the dark green map to be too dark. Overall, I was mildly disappointed in the graphic presentation.
I'm hoping the game will live up to expectations so that the graphics don't become an obstacle to my enjoyment of the game.
 
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Jim Ransom
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Thanks for the initial impressions, Eric. My copy just arrived, and I took a long look at the "green" desert of the map, and concluded it's more of an olive drab. No matter -- not distracting.

Like you, I'm interested in the "gallant small band of defenders vs. overwhelming odds" aspect of the game. Can't wait to get it on my table!
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Iñaki R
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Thanks for this initial review Eric.
As a spaniard I'm curious about the historical notes. Does it mention the national composition of the Free French forces?

Most soldiers of the 13 DBLE were spanish, actually around a 25% of the total defending forces at Bir Hakeim were veterans from the spanish civil war.

After the triumph of the fascist side in the spanish civil war (1936-1939), thousands of former soliders from the defeated Republican army went into exile. For most of them, the WWII was just a continuation of the war against fascism in Spain, so they joined every allied army that accepted them, specially the Free French and Soviet armies. They conformed most of the resistance units in southern France, they fought all around Africa and Europe with the Foreign Legion and they composed the vanguard units of the famed Leclerc's 2nd armored division in '44 France and '45 Germany. The "spaniards of Leclerc" were the first allied troops to fought their way into Paris (this was not oficially recognized by the French governement until 2004). Leclerc himself regarded the spaniards as the best soldiers under his command (well, they had been at war almost continously since 1936!).

Sorry, I know, I digress, but I always get a bit emotional remembering that the Blue Division sent by Franco (spanish dictator) to help Hitler in the East Front was not the only spanish contribution to WWII; a brighter contribution was that of thousands of spaniards who did all what they could to help defeat nazism, even if they were later forgotten by the French and Spanish authorities.
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Martin Dallago
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I have to say this game is interesting. At first look the scenarios seemed kind of boring. Having soloed the first three, they all were pretty exciting. The first 'historical' scenario is a bit luck oriented with only three Italian units but it is good if you are learning the system. The second and third were pretty close in my two playings and seem pretty well balanced. I thought the third scenario with lots of Germans would be a roll over but the subtle effects of the mine fields and the fortifications make the scenario real tough. For me it came downtown the last activation.

NQOS is a very good addition to the series. It is nice that it is a one mapper. I would love to break out WED but don't have the room currently. I hope MMP puts out another one in the series about the same size
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Adam Starkweather
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D-Day is next but I'll likely put together a one-mapper on Sedan 1940 next year.
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Robert Wilson
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ASLNoob wrote:
M Dallago wrote:
NQOS is a very good addition to the series. It is nice that it is a one mapper. I would love to break out WED but don't have the room currently. I hope MMP puts out another one in the series about the same size

Don't get your hopes up! I've heard that the next venue for the series is D-Day. If true...yawn! It really sucks that we get the same old high-name-recognition battles over and over.



Its almost like they are popular and sell well.......
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Robert Stuart
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ASLNoob wrote:
M Dallago wrote:
NQOS is a very good addition to the series. It is nice that it is a one mapper. I would love to break out WED but don't have the room currently. I hope MMP puts out another one in the series about the same size

Don't get your hopes up! I've heard that the next venue for the series is D-Day. If true...yawn! It really sucks that we get the same old high-name-recognition battles over and over.



I appreciate what you're saying -- I really do. But, let me offer a counter view on this often expressed sentiment. Every art form contains a mix of things entirely new and of new renditions of themes which have been extensively explored. Think of the visual arts, for instance. Every single professional painter (in the Western tradition) has produced at least one still life. "What? Another still life? Haven't we seen enough of these over the centuries?"

Consider the aural arts (music): "Beethoven again? Don't these guys ever get tired of listening to the same thing over and over again?" "If I hear someone sing 'And I will always love you' one more time, I'm going to scream! Whitney Houston sang it. Give it a break!"

You get my point, I think. D-Day, the Bulge, the North African desert, the East Front, Kursk, Stalingrad, Guadalcanal, the war in the Pacific -- these will be designed over and over again. And some gamers (me among them) really do like to see a multiplicity of treatments of these battles. At the same time, new and exotic battles will always be explored ("Keren? Where's Keren? A game on the Caucusus? Is that like, near Stalingrad?").

There's room for both in this marvellous hobby.

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