Ni! Ni! Ni!
Such an interesting game as The Eagle and the Star could not roam endlessly in the unknown spheres, diving into used games markets or godforsaken geeklists, only familiar to a few wargamerism acolytes. However, since the original game offered some room to improvement, especially when it comes to aesthetics and rules layout, Academy Games has carried out a thorough process of making up, washing and cleaning so that the Polish game is revamped without losing its essence. The result is a fantastic jewel I will comment on these lines, spiced with sparse drops of my trademark awful humour which is so negative for mankind. Some parts of this writing have been pasted from the Eagle and the Star review published here in the bgg, repeating fragments since the heart of the game has not suffered changes. Anyway no royalties will be paid to the nasty wimp who wrote it!
In addition, Strike of the Eagle has been translated to German and Spanish, even the cards text, so no language excuses allowed to reject a game, and no annoying translation sheets or household sticks to understand the cards!
This game covers the Russo-Polish war that took place between Poles and the Soviet Russia between 1919 and 1921. WWI was over but after the rebirth of the Polish state, a clash of arms took place in the plains of the East: while Russians wanted to spread communism which succeeded in their Revolution (while taking new lands of course), Poland wanted to expand their boundaries towards the East, regaining territories which had belonged to them in the past. Amidst this confrontation, Ukraine was the prey for both sides, with different factions there supporting one of them...
The game is quite appealing. The painting in the box is not so gorgeous as the original one, a question of taste and I’m quite old-fashioned despite my teen age of 35... The 67 x 95 cm board is mounted, a rare thing in wargames nowadays, and it’s nothing but impressive. At first the map is hard to flatten perfectly, once unfolded, but subsequent plays will solve this, so stop! Don’t put it under the Encyclopedia Blackaddica volumes! The artwork on the map is powergrid-esque as hell but quite cute, with those city pictures on each space. If each city would have had a real picture of it, we sick detail-lovers would have had an erection of behemothical proportions, but we’re not going to complain on such minor nuances. The range of colours used is nice and the blocks are pretty. I must admit I love that blue used on Polish ones (I’m not a girl to define properly that kind of blue with a single word, blame on biology). I miss a couple of reserve blocks, though. The process of punching counters was smooth. Those of you prone to rant on dice will be disappointed, since no dice are used in Strike of the Eagle…
Cards are GMT usual size (63x88 mm if I’m not wrong) so card-sleeves fans as yours truly won’t have problems to find proper sleeves. Visually they’re impressive, with well-balanced colours, flavour pictures, historical comments and glossy print quality.
The rulebook consists only of 8 pages, full-colour, filled with examples and historical notes. They’re well written but the result would have been better using a couple of pages more to provide more information in some special game situations and leave more room between lines so information is not so packed. With time some doubts have arisen around quite particular game situations not present in the rules, so maybe living rules including some of these questions would be quite welcome. Anyway the rulebook is splendid in structure and layout.
Playbook is also quite good, offering all the information needed about each scenario and including starting set-ups both listed and portrayed in a map picture, of course full-colour. That’s something to remark due to the fact most of the cities in the game will sound weird and exotic to many players unfamiliar with those beautiful lands. Set-ups are now faster than The Eagle and the Star and our life has improved significantly.
SotE is a block wargame with the classic fog of war that hides information to the opponent about strength of troops. Cards are the essence of the game. They can be played for a single use: reinforcements, getting orders, combat purposes or played as events. Each side plays his own cards; there is a Polish deck and a Russian deck. Cards are limited (only 6 by front and by side to be used in a whole turn) so management must be wise and sensible.
The orders are given through the use of chits that have one side portraying symbols that define the type of movement to perform (move from, move to, defend, forced march...), while in the other side have the symbol of each country. Orders are placed on the locations in the map with the country symbol up and are subsequently revealed, so there is uncertainty (and hence the chance of bluffing) about what orders the opponent has used in each action; this system is one of the highlights of the game. There are always two orders at each player´s disposal, so in case someone declines using a card for getting orders, he won´t face the enemy with tied hands.
Once all the movements have been made, it´s time for the battles. No dice are used in this game: instead, the result of a battle is determined according to a table that associates the total strength of a side to a certain amount of casualties suffered by the enemy. The total strength is calculated through the addition of some factors: the strength of the units involved, the modifiers due to certain type of movements and flanking attacks, the use of some battle cards and the combat modifiers on the cards selected from the deck or from the own hand, so the overall random factor is smaller than in dice. By the way, there is no terrain bonus for defending or attacking, except for some fortified cities.
After the battles, the supply and victory conditions are checked. Supply comes through lines free of enemy blocks and starting from key towns, counting a certain number of spaces. An easy method. Victory points are gained when key towns are seized, enemy units are eliminated, playing some cards, winning great battles and in the end of the game when some conditions according to each scenario are met.
The game is played by turns, each one containing 5 actions for each side. In the end of each turn there is a reinforcement phase, where each side gets new troops according to the reinforcement points obtained through cards and the reinforcements provided by some cities in the map. In addition, each scenario has an own sequence of reinforcements after some actions, for the benefit of the historical flavour. All in all there are 9 scenarios (including the campaign) in SotE.
Initiative is reflected in two tracks, one per front, and is the reference to see which player places and resolves orders first. Cards and battle results are the factors that determine the movement of the initiative markers. As one may imagine, initiative is easy to lose and hard to gain.
The secret order deployment creates an interesting atmosphere of thrill, intuition and deduction; the decision taking process offers plenty of choices so that Strike of the Eagle is able to grant several hours of fun. With simple movement and supply rules, the game displays a wide range of possibilities that players will learn and practice in time, doing awkward stupid moves at first and then devising flankings and ambushes soaked in malice that will be enjoyed by the most evil gamers delivering myriads of muahaha’s. Cards, as usual in this kind of games, must be played with (Slavic) wisdom because conditions may become severe at times: playing cards as if you were feeding doves with them can result lethal since running out of cards could end in a (game-wise) cruel sodomization.
The fact combats just feature as a randomization factor the card modifier (sometimes played blindlyfrom the deck and others from the own hand) makes combat results somewhat predictable, within certain limits. Therefore, two significant aspects outstand in pondering the effectiveness of an attack: 1) what forces you are attacking and 2) when and how will the attack take place -one of the most tricky and hard things to master in the game.
As soon as balance is concerned, without having played all the scenarios included, I reckon some of them seem quite paired at first sight, but others aren’t. The game features constantly more or less asymmetry between sides or fronts, something usual in wargames, but victory conditions in each scenario compensate such differences of starting forces and locations, as far as I know. I don’t agree concerning imbalance on scenario 3, as some people say around there. The only thing to do with it is playing along with scenario 2, otherwise it's a not interesting experience. Anyway, there are scenarios which two players with similar skills will consider as very balanced while others may become a great challenge for one of them, according to the complexity or experience needed to manage the troops. For example, scenario 4 is an infernal exercise of excellence for the Polish. I like these scenarios for the cases when a player is much more skilled or experienced than the other(s).
The complete campaign, as you may wonder, shows ups and downs for each side. In the first stage of the war the Polish advance and dominate but then Bolshevik dudes wake up and will counter attack steadily, even being able to threat Warsaw itself in later stages. Collection of reinforcements along the campaign will be the key to reinforce troops lost in battles each turn, and the strategic long-term vision in spaces and manoeuvres to achieve control of key cities to grant supply is crucial. Nevertheless, the campaign is clearly broken favouring Russians. At the time of writing these lines, some gamers are currently playing and testing with different victory conditions to make things look as good as they deserve. This is maybe the only big down of the game. Hopefully things will be fixed sooner or later.
If not a proper choice to become a threshold to block wargames, one can’t say rules are really complex. Not only due to the rulebook length, but because there are not too many things to learn nor weird exceptions. The learning scenario shouldn’t be hard to swallow by non-experienced players in wooden squares gaming discipline. However, the decision taking implies a wide range of choices which could lead to the apparition of severe headaches in some cases (of course, that kind of headaches you LIKE to have, not the ones caused by a nasty job). All depends on the player’s learning speed. Supervised by a grognard of the genre, a novice could find easily his path of enlightenment in blocks through this SotE.
Spanning from the shorty game lasting one hour and half in the easiest scenario until the long-term campaign, and his ability to accept a variable number of players from 2 to 4, it’s evident SotE displays many ways to be enjoyed.
SotE differences with its predecessor The Eagle And The Star (in case you spot a cheap copy at a marketplace, you cunning!
-addition of leader blocks which allow some strategic nuances without altering significantly the game system
-changes in initiative determination
-units are not identified with division/brigade number
-rulebook is far better concerning text, layout and visual aspect
-better components: mounted map, graphic quality and clearer texts on cards, more and better markers than the Polish original. Even there are small wooden cubes for reinforcements but don’t get me wrong, this is not an eurogame!
-many more scenarios… yep, probably you won’t play them all in the rest of your life…
-this one has microbadges!
Nice review of one of my favorite wargames. I enjoyed your writing style.
Jan van der Laan
Als u begrijpt wat ik bedoel.
Nice review of one of my favorite wargames. I enjoyed your writing style.Me too!