A brief review of Yarmuk by Mark Mokszycki
I sat down for a solo playing of Yarmuk, and found it to be a surprisingly BIG game for a magazine game (and the second of two games in that issue, nonetheless!). The game appeared in Issue 45, Oct 1997 of Command Magazine. The feature game for that issue was Operation Sea Lion: Britain's Final Hour, which I have not played. For this reason, it would have been easy to overlook a game like Yarmuk. I'm glad that I didn't.
First, let me say that there is nothing revolutionary here. The game is probably too simple to appeal to diehard ancients sim fans. That said, this one is still a lot of fun. It is sleek, attractive and solid with only 5 pages of well laid out rules. It plays fast, feeling quite a bit like a very simplistic version of Richard Berg's Great Battles of History series.
The map is rather plain, but still attractive. It is a standard, large poster sized map. Though most of the terrain is wide open for maneuver, some notable variety exists. This includes camps, roads, slopes, hilltops, ravines, streams, bridges, and river. Using what little terrain exists can really work to a players advantage. Historically, many of the Christian units were forced to retreat over cliffs and were destroyed.
The counters themselves are colorful and attractive, depicting the actual units involved rather than using symbols. The Moslems are green, and the Byzantines are gray (the rules call them "violet", but it's more like gray with a subtle undertone of violet). After carefully punching and clipping the counters, I was really pleased with the way they looked set up on the map.
So how does the game play? While this review is not intended as a summary of game mechanics, I'll breifly describe the major mechanisms. A single 6-sided die is need to play. During each turn, players alternate activating one of their factions for movement and combat. This goes on until all factions have been marked "Done" by flipping over their leader counters to the "Done" side. It's easy to tell at a glance who has gone and who is still waiting, since each faction/leader is denoted by a particular color: green, blue, red, orange, yellow. After all 10 factions are done (5 on each side), the game procedes to the next turn with all factions starting fresh. There are 4 or more turns per day. After 4 turns, a die is rolled to determine whether the day will end, or continue into turn 5+.
The game ends after 6 days, or when the Byzatines overrun the two Moslem camps and capture road exit hexes (Byzatine victory), or when the Moslems destroy 3 supply wagons (Moslem victory).
Combat is extremely simple, as units do not have individual combat characteristics or strength values. The number of units involved gives the CRT column used for that combat. For example, two units attacking a lone unit would use the +1 column. One unit attacking one unit would use the ) column. This is then shifted for various factors including cavalry charges, leaders in combat, disrupted units, and sandstorms.
Eliminating units is not easy. The CRT is not very bloody, and many attacks result in no effect or a "retreat" result, whereby the defender must retreat two hexes. Disruption (a "D" result on the CRT) results in the unit's loss of ZOC, reduced morale, and an inability to attack. A disrupted unit that suffers a second "D" becomes routed, meaning it is removed from the game and placed in the routed units box until the morning of the following day, at which time a die roll will determine whether it can return to the map or if it is eliminated for good. So there are a lot of steps involed in eliminating a unit!
A limited number of Supreme Effort (SE) chits for each side increase combat odds in that team's favor. However, each has a 50% chance of backfiring afterwards, subjecting the exhausted units to combat and morale penalties for the turn remainder. Choose and use these chits wisely.
Beneath the simple rules I found some surprising depth of strategy. Surrounding units is of utmost importance, as units forced to retreat through enemy ZOC must make morale checks or their condition worsens (fresh units disrupt, disrupted units route). So plan your moves and attacks carefully. Timely use of SEs and cavalry charges is also important. A word about those charges: Only the Byzantine cataphract cavalry may charge. If it opts to do so, it's attack is at a whopping +2 columns! But afterwards, it must make a morale check with a penalty of 2 or become disrupted. Charge too early, and you'll leave your cataphracts disrupted and vulnerable. Charge too late in the day, and you won't have enough turns left to follow up that charge with subsequent attacks to eliminate the disrupted units (called "pursuit and butchery" in certain other games).
The Moslem player also gets a special "Sword of Allah" action twice per day, whereby cavalry units that have already been activated and are "Done" get a bonus re-activation.
There are a few other nice touches of chrome that are simple, yet have a big impact on gameplay. For example, cavalry ignores infantry ZOCs. This makes for some rather risky exploitation attacks into the rear once a frontline is breached.
Command rules are another piece of nice chrome. To be in command, units must be stacked with or adjacent to their leader, or belong to a contiguous line of units of the same faction. This rule (along with the fact that ALL adjacent units with a ZOC MUST be attacked during combat) really encourages line tactics. So what does it mean to be out of command? Out of command units may or may not be able to move their full movement rate. Each such unit rolls a die to determine it's movement (never higher than it's printed movement).
Other nifty chrome: The special Byzatine Jabla (camel rider) cavalry do not have a leader; they always roll for movement, but they get a +3 bonus to their die roll. This makes them some rather versatile units, excellent for running down fleeing units or forcing a breakthrough and pocketing the enemy.
One of the Byzatine leaders (Bahan) may opt to take charge of all cavalry units at the start of each day. This helps somewhat to balance the Moslem's superior Sword of Allah ability.
Units may stack 2 to a hex, with leaders and supply wagons stacking for free. Some subtle strategies revolve around proper stacking, since only the top unit in a stack can attack or be attacked. Be prepared for some touch decisions regarding whether to stack your fresh units with disrupted ones (to protect the latter), or to use them to fill in gaps in your line (thus keeping your units in Command, and keeping enemy cavalry honest), or to press them forward on the attack.
All in all, this is a nice game of ebbing frontlines, sweeping maneuvers, and heroic stands. I'm rather impressed that such a small game is actually plays out so BIG (in both scope and depth). It's not so much of a simulation as, say, the GBOH series of games, but when viewed in an abstract sort of way, it still captures the general feel of the warfare it portrays. It is attractive and easy to learn. And best of all, the turns are quick and fun! I look forward to playing some face to face games of this in the near future.
I would recommend Yarmuk to anyone with an interest in the period who is not looking for exacting detail in a simulation. I'd even give it a general recommendation to hobbyists interested in strategy games or light wargames. Just be prepared to spend quite a bit of time on this one. Although the individual turns move along rather quickly, a full game can have 24 or more turns if early victory conditions are not met!
Check out the unofficial errata I posted on boardgamegeek.
- Last edited Wed Feb 8, 2006 11:42 pm (Total Number of Edits: 6)
- Posted Wed Feb 8, 2006 11:16 pm
A good review, Mark.
I bought the game after read your review Mark