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Kutuzov» Forums » Reviews

Subject: After one play: My brain hurts but in a good way rss

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Philipp Klarmann
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The girls are away and we play. This time it's Kutusov from GMT. It comes from Mark McLaughlin so it is a successor to his Napoleonic Wars and Wellington. Oddly enough, he chose to make the game a four-player card driven game like Wellington. This surprises as the historical roles were not really that well suited for a four-player game. So, it's good that we chose to play it as two-player with separate hands, which worked well.
The gameplay itself is rather convoluted as every cardplay generates its own little narrative. There are key concepts which need to be understood before you start your first game, mainly: evasion, interception of forces, the siege rules and the attrition gain/loss plus the morale gain/loss function. This creates an interwoven web, which clicks after a few card plays. I hardly had to read up stuff in the rules after a while also because the play aids are excellent. You see an excellent development by Fred Schachter, however, I would have preferred some trimming at the edges.

How does it work as a game of the history? Quite excellent. Napoleon and the Grande Armee crossed the Niemen and quickly secured the border. The Northern armies advanced to Riga masking the fortress while Napoleon was crushing Bagration at the battle of Minsk (the bucket of dice combat system creates real howlers, one has to say). Then the Russians ran away to Smolensk whilst guarding the Grande Armee's flanks. A little late, I discovered the importance of Scorched Earth spaces, so the Russians slowly started to burn the countryside.
The French morale stayed high throughout the campaign also because the Russians lost most engagements. The Russian morale plummeted one level until the fateful battles of Borodino and Moscow. The Russians decided to make a stand at Borodino.
A lucky card play for the Reinforced Village of Borodino made Napoleon suffer his first defeat of the campaign, though with heavy losses for the Russians. They retreated to Moscow to face another onslaught which failed spectacularly as the French Young and Old Guard are wasted.
The French again have to retreat in front of Moscow, this time with heavier losses and the end of Turn 2 finds them sitting in front of Moscow, staring into Bagration's forces. Kutuzov and Tchigatchov on the flanks tear away and the supply line is dangerously weak. However, it holds, so a potential T3 would have seen more epic situations.

However, the big downside was the time. We played from about 10am (including setup) to 6pm with a short lunch break. It was a learning game but I thought I had the rules solidly under my belt. Seems not so, so I think gaming time might be considerably reduced as T2 already sped along merrily with only the big battle taking a lot of time. You do need significant time for analysis though, so AP prone players might make this a nightmare. I wager that the second game would take about 2,5 hours per turn, so I can safely say it's a 5-8 hours game which makes it slightly too long for those one evening sittings. If we had not succumbed to exhaustion we could have finished the third turn in about another 2,5 hours I think.

Does it give a feeling for the campaign: yes, very much so. You can explore all possibilities including a broad front approach, a run for Petersburg or the historical Moscow advance. Every card play is important and card management is much more important than you first
think. I re-read the player's notes (which are excellent) and must agree to most comments in there.

Why has the game not garnered more love which it rightfully deserves? Some guesses: It's the rulesbook and playbook which terrify. 40 pages of rules plus 50+ for the playbook. In these days, this is too much for even the most die-hard wargamers.
The victory conditions which are not really streamlined do not help either. The worst offender is the weird victory point calculation once the French fail to win outright...points for Baltic ports and Pripyet Marsh spaces? Was that really Napoleon's goal? It works much better when you keep it simple, an advice ignored by Fred and Mark unfortunately (though they have some elegant mechanisms in place in other areas). So, apart from the overwrought victory conditions, there is not much to dislike. Oh, of course, the time might be an issue. Somehow, the 4 gameturn thing is also odd and could have been replaced by something more intuitive. Is it because card-driven games have inherent problems with time-space relations on the operational scale?

In conclusion, I must say I intensely enjoyed the narrative the game explored. You are a bit steered by the game's victory conditions though the card plays make things chaotic enough to stay interesting. I recommend it as the one single most convincing operational treatment of the 200 year anniversaire of the March on Moscow. Prepare some time and some investment into rules learning and you are rewarded by the many exciting moments this game has to offer. So, I still would rate it highly enough to come again to the gaming table either in a long day sitting or even as multi-player though one has to see whether it might be not too much downtime.
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Kris Van Beurden
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Game has too many issues for me. The Morale and Attrition rules means you have to look up charts & rules etc during every impulse. I much prefer Wellington & TNW2 for my Napoleon CDG fix. It also doesn't help that, being a Napoleon fanboy, I always cringe when I hear about 1812 (or even when I see a digital clock with 18:12)
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Michael Debije
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Philipp Klarmann wrote:


Why has the game not garnered more love which it rightfully deserves? Some guesses: It's the rulesbook and playbook which terrify. 40 pages of rules plus 50+ for the playbook. In these days, this is too much for even the most die-hard wargamers.


I'm not a die-hard, but that many pages does not phase me in the least.
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Randall Monk
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A fantastic game. The morale and attrition rules are additional overhead, but really do help paint the picture of the campaign and the vast Russian wilderness.
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Tobias Kriener
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thanks for this fine review! and it's indeed the time to play this game in commemoration of Napoleons crazy adventure that led to his downfall.

I've played 11 games so far. my impression is that it's very hard if not nearly impossible for the French to win if the Russians are played by 1 player and form a stronghold early on in the marshes.
chances are much bigger if you play with 4 considering the mistrust between the Russian "allies" which is much more favourable for the French chances.

I'd like to try some day the "split personality" variant - with 2 players playing 1 of the "powers" on each side - that shoud be fun, shoudn't it ...

in any case: a game that's worth the time to spend on!
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Philipp Klarmann
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Tobias, have you addressed this to Fred Schachter?
 
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Philipp Klarmann
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Tegarend wrote:
Game has too many issues for me. The Morale and Attrition rules means you have to look up charts & rules etc during every impulse. I much prefer Wellington & TNW2 for my Napoleon CDG fix. It also doesn't help that, being a Napoleon fanboy, I always cringe when I hear about 1812 (or even when I see a digital clock with 18:12)


I do not quite get this point, I thought it was quite easy to understand the system...there is the morale loss table and the attrition is actually quite easy. I had much more problems with battle resolution which took some time to understand.
 
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Jason Johns
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Tegarend wrote:
It also doesn't help that, being a Napoleon fanboy, I always cringe when I hear about 1812 (or even when I see a digital clock with 18:12)



GRRRRR. I'm the opposite. I'm Napoleonic Russophile. Long live Kutusov, Borodino and d10-1d10-8d10-1d10-2!!!
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Steven Goodknecht
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Philipp, you have been added to the BGG Wargame Reviewer's geeklist here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/127822/in-praise-of-bg...
 
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Matt & Laurel
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Thanks for the review Philipp.

I love card-driven wargames, with The Napoleonic Wars (Second Edition) being one of my favourites. Wellington is also a good game, so I was expecting to like Kutuzov. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out like that.

Philipp Klarmann wrote:
Why has the game not garnered more love which it rightfully deserves? Some guesses: It's the rulesbook and playbook which terrify. 40 pages of rules plus 50+ for the playbook. In these days, this is too much for even the most die-hard wargamers.


For me it wasn't the length of the rulebook that was a problem (although it isn't well organised): the real problem for me was the Morale and Attrition rules, which were overly complicated, massively fiddly, and sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of the game. This view was echoed by all of the friends that I played the game with. However, despite this we all felt that the game was basically sound and just needed this element streamlining to make it enjoyable. So, with this in mind, I sat down and re-wrote the chunks of the Morale and Attrition rules that we disliked.

Obviously some people will think it sacrilege to change any wargame rules and others will be thinking "I would have just sold the game". However, the rewrite saved Kutuzov from being sold or sitting on the shelf never to be played again, so I think it was worth it.
 
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alex w
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Thanks for the review. Can't wait to have a game with and preferably with 2 other friends. A 4 player game will be awesome.
 
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Philipp Klarmann
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yankeezulu wrote:

For me it wasn't the length of the rulebook that was a problem (although it isn't well organised): the real problem for me was the Morale and Attrition rules, which were overly complicated, massively fiddly, and sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of the game. This view was echoed by all of the friends that I played the game with. However, despite this we all felt that the game was basically sound and just needed this element streamlining to make it enjoyable. So, with this in mind, I sat down and re-wrote the chunks of the Morale and Attrition rules that we disliked.

Obviously some people will think it sacrilege to change any wargame rules and others will be thinking "I would have just sold the game". However, the rewrite saved Kutuzov from being sold or sitting on the shelf never to be played again, so I think it was worth it.


Ok, got this, but after having my head wrapped around the rules for morale and attrition I have to add:

1) Attrition only affects the Imperial players
2) Morale affects both
3) Attrition markers are always taken for Imperial losses and in certain cases you roll for attrition (which can be quite opaque, but there is a play-aid for it).
4) Morale loss markers are used in certain cases (see play aid)
5) You can use resources to offset attrition and morale loss markers, as well as CP
6) If morale and attrition go down, bad things happen. If attrition improves, morale goes up for the Imperial players.

That's the framework and it is not so difficult. Of course, the details are sometimes are complex, but once you understand the basics, it's doable.
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Matt & Laurel
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Philipp Klarmann wrote:
yankeezulu wrote:

For me it wasn't the length of the rulebook that was a problem (although it isn't well organised): the real problem for me was the Morale and Attrition rules, which were overly complicated, massively fiddly, and sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of the game. This view was echoed by all of the friends that I played the game with. However, despite this we all felt that the game was basically sound and just needed this element streamlining to make it enjoyable. So, with this in mind, I sat down and re-wrote the chunks of the Morale and Attrition rules that we disliked.

Obviously some people will think it sacrilege to change any wargame rules and others will be thinking "I would have just sold the game". However, the rewrite saved Kutuzov from being sold or sitting on the shelf never to be played again, so I think it was worth it.


Ok, got this, but after having my head wrapped around the rules for morale and attrition I have to add:

1) Attrition only affects the Imperial players
2) Morale affects both
3) Attrition markers are always taken for Imperial losses and in certain cases you roll for attrition (which can be quite opaque, but there is a play-aid for it).
4) Morale loss markers are used in certain cases (see play aid)
5) You can use resources to offset attrition and morale loss markers, as well as CP
6) If morale and attrition go down, bad things happen. If attrition improves, morale goes up for the Imperial players.

That's the framework and it is not so difficult. Of course, the details are sometimes are complex, but once you understand the basics, it's doable.


Hi Philipp,

I'm not saying that we didn't understand how the Morale and Attrition rules work or that they are impossible to play; we did understand them, we just didn't like them. As with any game, our opinion is largely subjective, but I will make the following observations:

1) None of us understood why Morale and Attrition (and their effects) were tracked separately. The two elements go hand in hand and it seemed to us as though one table would have made more sense and been easier to manage: if morale is falling, then attrition tends to increase; if attrition is increasing, then morale tends to get worse. The opposite of both conditions is also true.
2) The idea of having loss and gain markers for Morale and Attrition also felt a bit clunky: why not just have one track that records when Morale and/or Attrition changes?

The fact that we have a completely different view of this part of the game is what makes games so interesting. Enjoy your next play!

Matt
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