Recommend
57 
 Thumb up
 Hide
19 Posts

The Road to Cheren» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Initial Impressions & Commentary rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
"Keren was as hard a soldiers' battle as was every fought... the Colonial troops, until they cracked at the very end, fought with valor and determination, and their staunchness was testimony to the excellence of the Italian administration and military training in Eritrea."

Compton Mackenzie



INTRODUCTION

The Road to Cheren (RtC) depicts the Allied-Axis sideshow conflict in East Africa during the early months of 1941. Six Commonwealth Indian brigades spearheaded an Allied drive into Italian-held territory, aided by support elements and some Free French troops. After a very hard-fought battle, Cheren (Keren) eventually fell on March 27th, 1941 which gave the British a decisive strategic advantage in the theatre.

The goal here is not to dissect nor fully analyze the game, but to provide a ready reference for hobbyists who have an interest in and are considering purchase of this brand-new (March, 2013) title from Revolution Games. So please consider all observations to be initial impressions and introductory in nature.



PRODUCTION

RtC looks like a typical desk-top published game, but it is a step-up with its ultra-glossy counters that are mounted and cleanly diecut. There is no play aid as the game charts and turn track are squeezed onto the small map (the coated paper map itself is only 11" x 17"). Units are depicted with standard NATO symbols and they range from infantry to artillery to motorized and even some tanks, along with other formations like commandos and an immobile naval garrison. One convention not followed here is that there are no hex numbers printed on the map; setup and reinforcements arrive via letter-coded locations.

Overall, RtC offers a functional and basic presentation.



RULES

The rules comprise just 6 pages and can be absorbed in a half-hour. There are a few minor quirks like certain mountain hex restrictions, unit specialties, and hard/soft zones-of-control, yet everything is readily grasped upon initial play. Each side has 9 miscellaneous action chits which are explained on the inside of the cover sheet. I hardly had any rules questions during play, and when I did they were almost always answered in the booklet - well done.

There are a few examples scattered throughout the text, along with a handful of explanatory sentences which are deftly placed. No comprehensive example-of-play is provided; the design is so straightforward however, this is one game where I'd argue that one is not really needed.

A single page of thoughtful Designers Notes round out the package, providing helpful game commentary.



PLAY

The sequence-of-play is short with just 6 phases, and includes both a limited enemy reaction phase and a friendly exploitation phase. This results in fluid and chaotic movements as the on-map situation develops. There is a special rule which provides a 50/50 chance for native Italian units (these are weak but pesky 1-6's) to switch sides to the Allies when activated; this causes some welcome uncertainty, as do the aforementioned randomly drawn action chits (most of which are recycled, removed after a single use, or are eventually discarded when drawn by your opponent).

One thing I quickly noticed was that the Combat Results Table is the most defender retreat-oriented one that I have ever seen! Even at 1-3 odds, the attacker has a 2/3 chance of inflicting a retreat on the defender. Ah, but there's a twist - the defender can opt to take a step loss and hold his ground instead. Still, if the attacker rolls a '5' or a '6', then he has the option to "Push" (i.e., take an additional step loss) and force yet another retreat result upon the defender. This is a clever way to show escalating (i.e., more bloody) engagements without a lot of rules overhead.

This is East Africa after all, so relatively simple supply rules are also laid out. Units may first become low on supply, then they are rendered out-of-supply with accompanying penalties being very harsh indeed (as expected). Towns (which affect victory) can switch sides if isolated and if also able to trace supply for the enemy. Cutting supply lines is thus certainly a valid tactic in the game.

The Allies have several routes to consider for their invasion, which should help with replayability. The Italians are mostly on the defensive and initially they have only a thin wall to impede the enemy advance, though reinforcements will soon appear to fill the line. The Allies are on a strict timetable, with victory being judged at the end of 12 turns determined by how many captured town points that the Allies have earned.

Terrain plays a vital role as both sides maneuver and joust, with the road network being especially important for both movement and supply. The Italians will want to anchor themselves on hills as often as possible for the defensive column shift as they balance their casualties versus time and space.

Play Example: to give a better feel for play, here's one memorable mid-game moment - the Allies assaulted a strongly held, key Italian hilltop position. First, the "Infiltrate" chit was played which allowed an Indian infantry unit to pass through a hard ZOC and surround the enemy. Then the Air Support marker was played - while the 1 Combat Factor from the planes had no effect on the combat odds, it did allow the Allies to also call in an "Airstrike" (another chit) for a favorable column shift after the die roll had been made. Then the "Surrender" chit was also played to inflict an extra step loss on the Italians. So what should have been an even battle suddenly resulted in 1 Allied step loss to 3 Italian step losses, and the strong hilltop position nearly collapsed. To add insult-to-injury, the Allied replacement chit draws were all Italian chits, so they were therefore discarded (but this also left the Allies shorthanded on chits, too). Pretty darn cool.

Play time is listed at 240 minutes, and for once a publisher gives us an estimate that doesn't fall short of reality.

All-in-all, the accumulated play mechanics fit together nicely with no problems encountered. I felt that my two sessions with the game imparted some previously unknown (at least to me) insights into the obscure campaign.



SOLITAIRE

I'd rate the game above-average for solitaire play, even though each side has a 'hand' of up to 4 action chits which should normally remain hidden. When going it alone, simply play the chits face-up and make the best decisions you can for each side, keeping the chit risks in mind. With easy rules and low-unit density, the solitaire general can focus upon play and not fuss.



WHAT I'D LIKE TO SEE

Not much to relate as this is a low cost ($18) ziplock release and you pretty much get what you pay for. I would have gladly paid extra money for a larger map (with 3/4" hexes) and counters (5/8"), but I understand that they're trying to keep costs down. There is no unit manifest, which would have been a luxury here. Call me old fashioned, but I still like to have hex numbers on the map. Finally, only one scenario is given but I can't envision how the designer could have segmented this particular campaign any further, so no complaints here.

I like this clean system, and would hope for more battles (North Africa?) in the future.



CONCLUSIONS

The Road to Cheren is a low-complexity, throwback design with enough of an attraction to keep things moving right along. The map offers numerous interesting terrain features which piques strategy considerations. The game handles well solitaire, and it held my attention throughout. There are no frills, just solid traditional gameplay.

Personally I think the hobby could use more inexpensive, small footprint, readily accessible and well-developed designs such as this. While RtC didn't exactly fill me with a sense of awe, it did deliver much more than I expected.

In sum, The Road to Cheren is an addition that I'm glad to have made to my hobby experience and to my collection. This compact release doesn't aim too high, but that's OK because it does hit its intended mark - this is a fun little game.
53 
 Thumb up
2.30
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim Ransom
United States
Jacksonville
Florida
flag msg tools
badge
This is the only look at me you will get. The first hint the bad guy gets that I am nearby will be the sound of the torpedo coming out of his baffles with high up-doppler.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Steve Carey wrote:
...this is a fun little game.


That's all I need to know!

Thanks for the quicklook, Steve. I picked up this game because the relatively obscure campaign intrigued me. Looking forward to getting it on the table!
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim P.
United States
Champaign
Illinois
flag msg tools
badge
"Wir Gehen Nach Kansas!"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Very nice write-up, Steve. Much obliged. I look forward to getting my copy. I collect a lot of games of this magnitude - they are fast to get to a table when the mood strikes.

Does unit activation work via the 'action' chits you mentioned, as in chit-pull? Or is it 'general's choice' activation each turn?

Oh, and where did the cemetary photo come from? Is this from the rulebook? How is it related to Cheren? Ignoto is 'unknown' in Italian, so I guess these are unknown combatants from the battle?
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Activation is not via the chit-pull method; each side has its own turn (Igo-Hugo). The action chits are events which can occur in various phases. Sorry if that was not clear.

The last photo is one that I found on the internet; it is not included in the game. The picture is of the Italian cemetery at Keren.

Glad you enjoyed the review - it was a fun write-up.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Andy M
United Kingdom
Norwich
Norfolk
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Steve Carey wrote:
Personally I think the hobby could use more inexpensive, small footprint, readily accessible and well-developed designs such as this.


Definitely agree with this, as it's what I can fit in these days There are a lot of cheaper and smaller games out there (particularly from VP games), but often they have tiny maps (e.g. the otherwise rather nice looking Hell's Gate). I think this size of map in Road to Cheren is more up my street.

Hope to pick this one up in the next month or so.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kim Kanger
Sweden
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Steve, thanks for the excellent review! I'm glad that you like it.

My ambition was to make a small and basic game that was still elegant enough to make you want to play it again, mainly because you discover things that one can do differently next time.

Perhaps my favourite detail is the reaction phase where the opponent can only move a precious few units. This created a chess-like feeling where you "move your bishop" to counter an enemy move. With the slow terrain, short supply lines and the soft and hard ZoCs, you quickly realise the importance of positioning your few units with care.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim P.
United States
Champaign
Illinois
flag msg tools
badge
"Wir Gehen Nach Kansas!"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Steve Carey wrote:
Activation is not via the chit-pull method; each side has its own turn (Igo-Hugo). The action chits are events which can occur in various phases. Sorry if that was not clear.

The last photo is one that I found on the internet; it is not included in the game. The picture is of the Italian cemetery at Keren.

Glad you enjoyed the review - it was a fun write-up.


The photo was a nice touch. I believe one of the reasons I (well, many of us) am drawn to the the lesser known or even forgotten battles through history is the same reason you put up that photo -- so many men gave their lives for a just cause that ended up a small blip on the historical timeline. Playing a consim that studies their conflict is a small homage to them as well as a chance to study the battle.

One of my favorite small press wargames is Slim to None, about the battle along the Slim River for the Malayan Peninsula during WWII. There are not many titles devoted to this horrible but noble defeat. Well, two that I know of - counting Slim to None.

Ya know, Steve - a discussion of wargames that address the more obscure historical battles through history might make a nice forum thread!
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
InvisibleRobots wrote:
The photo was a nice touch. I believe one of the reasons I (well, many of us) am drawn to the the lesser known or even forgotten battles through history is the same reason you put up that photo -- so many men gave their lives for a just cause that ended up a small blip on the historical timeline. Playing a consim that studies their conflict is a small homage to them as well as a chance to study the battle.


My thought process, exactly.

InvisibleRobots wrote:
Ya know, Steve - a discussion of wargames that address the more obscure historical battles through history might make a nice forum thread!


I like that idea!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
kanger wrote:
Perhaps my favourite detail is the reaction phase where the opponent can only move a precious few units.


It's a nice design touch which offers some interesting decision-trees to the player.

For example, as the Italians I found myself concerned with bolstering the front line defenses (with what few reserves were available) against impending Allied attacks , or rushing up last turn's distant reinforcements to hopefully get them into the fray sooner.

If this system gets applied to other battles, it would be easy to reflect command control by adjusting the stacking point values which can react (e.g., increasing upward to 5 stacking points for a good commander, or even prevent a poor commander from reacting at all).
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kim Kanger
Sweden
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Indeed it can be done.

By the way, a friend suggested that one should do a quad on this system, based around the Indian army. It could include Cheren and perhaps two battles in Burma. One could be the Japanese offensive against Imphal and the other one could be the later battle around Mandalay. A fourth game would probably be North Africa or italy.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim P.
United States
Champaign
Illinois
flag msg tools
badge
"Wir Gehen Nach Kansas!"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Mr. Kanger, can you give us some of the titles you read as research for the game so that we who are still awaiting delivery can pass some time by reading background on the conflict?
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Kim Kanger
Sweden
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
A good one is this: http://ourstory.info/library/4-ww2/Ball/fire01.html

You will the next chapter at the bottom of each page.
4 
 Thumb up
0.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Marco Arnaudo
United States
Bloomington
Indiana
flag msg tools
designer
badge
"My spoon is too big!"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thank you for the review, Steve; it makes me even more excited to start playing - which should be tonight, if my baby daughters don't act fussy...
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jim P.
United States
Champaign
Illinois
flag msg tools
badge
"Wir Gehen Nach Kansas!"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
kanger wrote:
A good one is this: http://ourstory.info/library/4-ww2/Ball/fire01.html

You will the next chapter at the bottom of each page.


This is a fascinating read, Mr. Kanger. Thanks very much.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bob
United States
flag msg tools
We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.
badge
Ten percent of nothing is, let me do the math here, nothing into nothing, carry the nothin'...
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
marnaudo wrote:
Thank you for the review, Steve; it makes me even more excited to start playing - which should be tonight, if my baby daughters don't act fussy...


How soon before we can enjoy your video review?
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
Germany
Düsseldorf
NRW
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thanks for the write-up!
For 15 Euro a must have!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Piergennaro Federico
Italy
Milano
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
The game also has a beautiful cover and on the rulebook a photo of the Italian war hero Amedeo Guillet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amedeo_Guillet) with the Gruppo Bande a Cavallo Amhara
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Stefano Tine'
Italy
Genoa
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
I don't know a thing about wargames, but thanks to the designer for focusing on this forgotten episode.

Perhaps it's discussed elsewhere already, but I would like to point out that the picture at the end of this review is especially touching. As you can see the words "ascaro ignoto" are repeated on rows upon rows of tombs. They literally mean "unknown ascaro", ascaro being the name for indigeneous (Eritrean) troops fighting for Italy.

I have visited that pretty little Italian cemetery, which is smack in the center of Cheren, and a whole half is full of tombs of unknown indigenous fighters. Please note that even today Eritreans still use patronomics as surnames, which makes them hard to differentiate, anyway (like having tons of "John Jack", "Jack John", "William John", "Ted William" etc). A different (African?) perspective of History, Time and Life, I guess.

It does seem a bit pointless to have a lot of different tombs with unidentified remains, but I guess it makes sense as an hommage to those valorous fighters who fought for Italy (fascist Italy, alas) with all their heart. Indeed, both halves of the cemetery in Cheren are perfectly specular: no particular emphasis on the - named and ranked - Italian soldiers buried in the other half.

10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Glad that the picture resonated with you, and thank you for the personal perspective.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.