In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!

What did I just get from Kickstarter? A: Helionox

I support a lot of games on Kickstarter. I feel that sponsoring games from smaller companies is a good way to support the “little guy/gal” in the industry. So I am always happy when I come home from work and find a package at my door that contains a game from Kickstarter.

Yesterday I received my copy of Helionox!

I ordered the Deluxe Edition that includes the Mercury Protocol Expansion from Mr. B Games and Zeroic Games. Helionox is “a movement based deck building board game for 1-4 players that can be played in competitive, cooperative, or solo modes.”

I love sci-fi themed games, and Helionox is a dystopian future. “In Helionox, terrible events plague the Solar System as the result of a dying sun. Players are the Architects of the future, vying for influence among the remaining population. Craft your deck with powerful faction cards, explore and exploit the system’s worlds, and gain the most influence so you can lead civilization to a new beginning in the wake of the Helionox!”

The game combines deck-building with the common “threat” mechanism by which the slow build-up of events and catastrophes slowly bring about the end of the game.

The components look top notch (including wooden pieces not included in my photos) and the rules are clear and solid. The art by Luke Green is fantastic and evocative of the dystopian theme.

I can’t wait to play it!

5 Things I Learned from My First Game of Zulus on the Ramparts: The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

Today I was able to get in my first game of Zulus on the Ramparts from Victory Point Games.  It is one of their solitaire States of Siege games, this time modified by Joseph Miranda.  In this game you play the British defenders who must hold off the approaching Zulu warriors.

After one play of the game, here are the 5 things that I learned:

1 – Don’t Fire until the Zulus Get Real Close

All of your volley cards, and the free volleys from you leaders, cannot reach beyond space #3.  You are going to want to maximize  the effects of your volleys (1-4=miss, 5=Zulus retreat 1 space, 6=one hit) by not forcing the Zulus to retreat out of range.  The best thing to do is to only fire when they get to spaces #1 or #2, get some hits and retreats, and then maybe finish them off at space #3.


In the photo above, I was able to destroy the Zulus near the North Wall by firing two volleys in a row.  Firing instead at the Zulus only half-way to the hospital will most likely only allow a single volley to be shot at them.  

Moral of the story: Let those Zulus get close…and then blast them.  Completely eliminating a stack of Zulu is much preferable to just forcing them to retreat.

2 – Use an Action to Make Leaders Available

You have a lot of things to do (resupply the ammo, build a barricade, fire volleys, form a reserve, play a leader) and you get only 1 action per turn.  Later in the turn you will get to draw a card and play one leader for free.  Thus, you might be tempted to use your single action on anything other than playing a leader.  This is a bad idea.  Most of the other actions require leaders, sometimes two of them.  Moreover, leaders can use their free action each turn, and a bunch of them fire a free volley.  The sooner you get those leaders into play, the sooner you will be building barricades, supplying ammo, etc.  


In the photo above, I have 4 leaders “available” (in other words, played from my hand and now each can use their abilities).  My ammo is already supplied (the low ammo marker is missing from its box) and I have already built one barricade.  

Moral of the story: playing leaders with your one action should be like voting in Chicago—do it early and often!

3 – Nighttime is the Right Time for a Fire

Once you draw the Night Fighting Begins card, none of your volleys can kill anymore Zulus, you can only drive them off.

The -1 DRM (die roll modifier) is going to sting.  How can you deal with it?  You need a burning building to provide light!  If a building is already burning, do not try to extinguish it.  If nothing is burning, pray that you draw a building on fire chit!  The disadvantage is that you can’t fire at Zulus on the other side of the building (and any heroic defender in the building is removed back to your hand) but this is a small price to pay to lose the -1 DRM as that glorious fire lights up those approaching Zulus all over the battlefield.

Moral of the story: Burn baby burn!

4 – Being Rescued is a Bummer

If the game goes on long enough, you will draw Lord Chelmsford’s Relief Column which ends the game.

Why is this a bummer?  Because maybe you had the Zulus almost completely destroyed!  In the photo above only one Zulu stack was still on the board, albeit with a chit beneath it (each chit is worth one hit, as is the standee).  Those silly Zulus stayed just out of range (at space #4) for about 10 turns.  Zulu movement is by random chit draw, and there are a lot of chits in the cup so movement is quite random.  So those Zulus stayed away from me—It’s like they knew that I was sitting on volley cards to blast them!  Anyway, the game was very, very dull during those turns as I literally had nothing to do on my turn other than draw a card and play any leaders.  My only hope was that those Zulus might eventually move into range—but then I got rescued instead.

Moral of the story: See note #1.  Don’t accidentally retreat those Zulus before they move within close range, you might not get another chance to blast them.

5 – Be Lucky and Roll a lot of Sixes

With only the roll of a 6 eliminating Zulu units, you gotta get lucky.  A couple times I rolled a pair of sixes with only 3 dice.  I eliminated 9 of the 10 Zulu chits plus 3 of the 4 standees.  This really helped when scoring your game on the Victory Point Schedule.


The points for eliminated Zulus counts quite heavily toward the result.  I got 9 points with leaders/groups, 27 for Zulu hit chits, 4 for one non-burning building, 18 for the Zulu standees, and 10 for the relief column for a total of 68 — Epic Victory/Zulu Debacle!

Moral of the story: It can be better to be lucky than to be good!  
Verdict: It’s a Fun Game

Zulus on the Ramparts is not as deep nor as challenging as Hapsburg Eclipse, but it has a very fun sense of danger as the Zulus rush the gates.  There are optional rules that add more cards, so I think that might add more variety and replay ability.  Overall, it’s entertaining and if you read the flavor text, you might learn a thing or two.  If you like solitaire games that resemble a “tower defense” game, give it a try!

One Deck Dungeon Review

One Deck Dungeon

Year Issued: 2016, v1.5 2017

Publisher: Asmadi Games

Cost: $25.00 from www.onedeckdungeon.com

Playing Time: 30 minutes

Players: 1-2, 4

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One Deck Dungeon.  One should notice that all the heroes are female!  And none of them are half-dressed.  Clearly this is a good sign as this game does not invoke the Inverse Rule of Gaming (i.e. the more female flesh used to sell/promote a game, the worse that game must be)

One Deck Dungeon is a “co-operative dungeon delve for one or two players,” (and if you combine 2 sets, 4 players).  In short, it’s a game in a small box that promises a D&D like quest in a short period of time, for a small amount of money.  Does it deliver?  Read on and find out!

One Deck Dungeon: Descend through the Dungeon Floors and Defeat the Boss

The basic idea of ODD is that the hero or heroes fight their way through 3 dungeon floors, each harder than the one before it, and then encounter the boss monster at the end.  Along the way, you grab items, skills, and experience to make the heroes tougher so that they can defeat stronger and stronger monsters.  The random element in the game comes in two forms: random selection of cards and dice rolling for combat and peril encounters.  If the heroes make it all the way to the boss and defeat it, they win; otherwise they lose.


Contents of the Game

  • 5 Hero cards
  • 30 small 6-sided dice (8 yellow, 8 blue, 8 pink, 6 black)
  • 1 Turn Reference Card
  • 44 Encounter cards
  • 4 Level cards
  • 5 Dungeon/Boss cards
  • 2 Basic Skill cards
  • 1 Stairs card
  • 15 red damage token cubes
  • 6 white potion cubes
  • 1 Campaign sheet pad
  • Rules booklet (39 pages)

The quality of the components is quite high.  The rules booklet is clear and edited well.  It explains the rules twice, once with helping pictures, and then in the back of the book it re-lists the rules in a text-only format.  The front section helps you learn the rules while the back section performs as a “quick reference” to look up rules questions.

The cards are printed well and have good art on them.  The reproduction of the colors on the cards match the dice (more on this later) very well.  The cards can be shuffled easily and do not appear to wear quickly.  Also, the cubes and dice are of high quality and will stand up to a lifetime of playing.  The game box is sturdy and has a handy divider to separate different sets of cards when storing the game. Overall, I am fairly impressed by the quality of the components.


The Rules

One Deck Dungeon is a quite easy game to learn and play.  A play picks a Hero and places the Hero card in front of herself/himself.

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A Hero Card.  The Warrior will roll 4 Strength dice, 2 Agility dice, and only a single Magic die.  She also has 6 health.

The Hero card shows how much Strength (yellow swords), Agility (pink winged shoes), Magic (blue diamonds) and Health (red hearts) each hero has.  It also lists their Heroic Feat (in a blue scroll) and beginning skill (tan scroll).  The player/s choose a Dungeon/Boss card.  One side of this card provides information on the 3 floors of the dungeon while the back side has the Boss encounter.

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The Dungeon side of the Dragon card

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The Boss side of the Dragon card

The Dungeon card is slid under the Turn Reference Card, displaying the 1st floor of the dungeon.  The Turn Reference Card lists the components of a turn in order and also shows the available potion recipe (healing) that is available to the heroes from the start of the game.  A potion token is placed on the Turn Reference card at the start of the game and each time the hero/-ies level up.

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The Turn Reference Card.  Note the Dragon’s Cave dungeon card at the top with its challenge boxes for the 1st floor exposed.

The player then stacks the Level cards and places the Level One card on top.  This card explains how many items and skills each player can possess, plus any bonus black (heroic) dice.  The player shuffles the encounter cards and stacks them on top of the Stairs card (thus, the Stairs card is on the bottom of the encounter deck). Once the Stairs card is exposed, the heroes may descend to the next level of the dungeon.

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Stairs card (on 4-player side) with stack of encounter cards

At the start of each turn the player burns 2 encounter cards (reveals and discards them) to represent time (depicted as hourglass icons) spent wandering the dungeon.  Then, the heroes may either 1) open 1 of the closed doors and fight or flee from it,  2) encounter an already opened door, or 3) “Explore” which adds cards off the top of encounter deck as closed doors up to a maximum of 4 total doors (open and closed combined).

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4 Doors, with 3 closed and 1 open

Encounters are either “combat” or “perils”.  And this is where the fun in ODD truly exists!  Each encounter card has a set of challenge boxes.  Each box is color-coded toward one of the player attributes (strength, agility, magic, or “any”).  The player must use rolled dice to defeat the challenge boxes by placing rolled dice into each box equal to or greater than the listed number.  Moreover, the hero must also defeat the challenge boxes listed on the Dungeon card for the current floor and each floor already completed (e.g. if the heroes are on floor 2, they must complete all challenge boxes for floors 1 and 2.

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The two different types of encounters: Combat on top and Peril on bottom.  Note that the Peril encounter allows a player to choose which challenge box to face.  The left column of the card is its loot as an “item”, the bottom scroll is its loot as a “skill” or “potion recipe” (the top card has a skill, the bottom a potion recipe), and the lamps on each card are the loot as “experience.”

If the encounter is combat, the hero/es roll all possible dice (i.e. all strength, agility, magic, and heroic) while if the encounter is a peril, the hero/es roll only dice matching the challenge attribute plus any heroic dice.  At this point the hero/es may also use skills to increase the likelihood of defeating the challenges (e.g. turning a die from a 1 to a 6, rolling more dice, etc.).  Note that the players may transform any two dice into a single heroic (i.e. black) die of value equal to the lower consumed die (e.g. a blue 3 and pink 5 transform into a single black 3).  The value of this is that heroic (i.e. black) dice can be placed on any challenge.

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Fighting a Shadow.  Because the blue 5 challenge box is not covered, the hero will take 1 point of damage (the heart) plus 1 time goes by (i.e. 1 card from the encounter deck is discarded).  Notice also how the player’s dice had to cover the challenge box on the Dungeon card too (the right side column has peril boxes and the left side column has combat boxes).

The hero/es place dice until they either defeat all challenge boxes or cannot place any more dice.  Any challenge boxes not defeated list a penalty in either damage or time, and each undefeated box inflicts its penalty on the heroes.

Once the encounter is over, the heroes take the encounter card (whether completely defeated or not) as “loot”.  Each card can be taken as an “item,” which adds to a hero’s attributes and thus allows more dice to be rolled, as a “skill,” or as “experience,” which contributes to leveling up.

Should the hero/es survive past the 3rd floor they face the boss!  This is a multi-round combat similar to encounters.  It lasts until either the boss suffers damage equal to its health or the hero/es all die.


Game Play

The rules are easy to understand, so players can get started right away after reading the booklet.  However, I found that I made some mistakes in my first couple of games that made me start over.  The most common mistake is that once you reach the maximum number of items and skills, you can replace any of them with any new encounter card.  The old item/skill gets transformed into its experience.  It is easy to forget this rule, but once you remember it, it really comes in handy.

Anyway, the game plays pretty fast.  Basically, you burn 2 cards, encounter a card, roll dice, choose how to distribute them to defeat the challenges, get the loot, rinse, lather, and repeat.  Once you reach the stairs, you shuffle and do it again.

The game play is nicely calibrated.  Some encounters are fairly easy but do not reward you with much loot, while others are best avoided until the hero/es get stronger.  Moreover, sometimes it is best to try an encounter, even if you cannot cover all the challenge boxes, just to get the loot.  You may take some damage, but it can be worth it for a great skill or an item that you need to boost an attribute.

Moreover, as you descend the number of challenge boxes on the Dungeon card multiplies and get harder.  Thus, a goblin on the 3rd floor is going to be much tougher than a goblin on the 1st floor.

There is also a bit of depth and strategy. Do I try to get xp and level up, or should I beef up skills and items first?  Should I loot that encounter for the Magic item that I need, or take it for that sweet skill?  Do I want to cover a challenge box that causes me damage or that burns time?  Do I use that potion to heal now, or save it in case I find a better potion recipe later?  There are plenty of choices to make that do not have a dominant strategy in each and every instance.  Sometimes a choice looks good but later you wish you had done something different.  The mechanic of replacing chosen skills/items with new items does allow the player to make up for poor choices, but only after consequences of undefeated challenges are inflicted.


Assessment

I use a rating of 1-10 “Dice” for each category.  For reference, a 1 is the poorest possible rating and a 10 the best possible.

Components: 9 Dice

The quality of the cards, dice, rules booklet, cubes, is top notch.  My only gripe, and it is a minor one, is that some of the challenge boxes are too small for multiple dice.  For example, the Dragon boss has boxes of 16 or 17.  The player must use multiple dice to defeat the box, but the box only accommodates 2-3 dice.  Well, that just isn’t big enough.

Fun/Enjoyable: 9 Dice

This is a solid solitaire and 2-player game (I did not play the 4-player variant as I do not have 2 decks).  The pace is quick, it doesn’t have complicated rules to distract the player, it feels like a dungeon crawl, and the rolling/distributing of dice is easy.  Moreover, you really get a sense of fighting monsters and dodging traps.

Tactics, Strategy, and Depth: 8 Dice

As mentioned that are choices to be made, and they do matter.  Also, each boss has a different set of challenges in its dungeon plus different challenges in the boss encounter, making each game different in the strategy that must be pursued.  However, there are not enough encounter cards to truly vary the play enough to my liking.  Note that there is a Kickstarter campaign for a new set of cards, which might take care of this issue.

Balance: 8 Dice

You can lose early with a really tragic roll (for example, more than half 1s and 2s on your dice before you get enough skills to change the die rolls) but generally you will be “in” the game and have a chance to win.  If you don’t prepare for the boss, you will lose, but if you prepare you have a good shot at winning.  The 1.5 version of the game has made leveling up slightly easier which has alleviated the imbalance favoring the dungeon in the original version of the game. (Note: all product at Asmadi Games is now v1.5).

Theme: 8 Dice

The game delivers on its promise: it feels like a dungeon crawl simulated through only 1 deck of cards.  However, because of the minimalist nature of the game, there is a natural limit to how much the theme can actually come through.  I think future expansions can probably expand on the theme through more mechanics, flavor text, campaign adventures, campaign settings, etc.

Overall Rating: 8 Dice

This is a solid, solid game.  Unlike small box die rollers put out by Gamelyn Games that lend themselves to analysis paralysis, ODD does not.  The number of skills that change the die rolls/add dice/etc are minimal, allowing the player to determine the best course of action quite quickly.  Yet, picking which encounter to face, which skill to use, how to take loot, etc., is not always straight-forward, bringing a strategic element into the game.  The pace is good, the theme is spot-on, and there is even a campaign format for those who want more depth.

Hapsburg Eclipse – A Review

Hapsburg Eclipse

Year Issued: 2014

Manufacturer: Victory Point Games

Cost: $29.95

Playing Time: 30 Minutes

Hapsburg Eclipse at Victory Point Games

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The game box

Sometimes you want to play a board game, but no one else is available.  So what can you do?  Play with yourself!  Wait, I think I meant play a game by yourself!  When I find myself in these situations I grab one of the many solitaire games in my basement and give it a whirl.

Hapsburg Eclipse: Can you Save the Austria-Hungarian Empire?

Hapsburg Eclipse is one of the games in the States of Siege series for Victory Point Games.  The basic mechanic is that of tower defense–a number of units relentlessly try to get to the capital of Vienna and you must prevent them from doing so.  In this instance (and as I explain below) you have to not only keep the invading Russians, Serbians, etc, at bay, but you must also keep the multi-ethnic empire together by making the ethnic minorities (i.e. Czechs, Croats, and Hungarians) stay loyal while also maintaining the national will to fight the Great War.

Thus, while playing Hapsburg Eclipse you will fell constantly besieged!  And that’s because you are.  Trying to keep the invading armies out while soothing ethnic tension is not easy.  And there is also the wider World War going on, and as the Germans lose battles in far flung theaters of the war, your National Will will wane.


Contents of the Game

  • A 11″ x 17″ fold-out map
  • A 11″ x 17″ map comprised of 4 interlocking (jigsaw cut) cardboard pieces
  • Rules booklet
  • 2 small 6-sided dice
  • 66 game pieces (punch outs and laser cut)
  • 50 cards (representing the events and game turns)

The quality is overall quite high.  There are two interesting things about the contents, one good and one bad.

The Good: Having two maps is a blessing.  Some players like fold-outs and others like interlocking pieces.  I prefer the latter, mainly because I hate the ridges in fold-outs.  In either case, having two maps gives the player a choice of which to use.

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The two maps, fold-out on top and interlocking at bottom

You can see on the board a number of objects that will become important during game play.  First, the 4 different colored paths represent the different fronts of the war (Polish, Carpathian, Balkan, and Italian).  An invading force counter (e.g. Russians on the Polish front) will move along the path and if any of them reach the black Hexagon that is Vienna, you lose!

In the lower left is the National Loyalties Track.  It records the position of the important ethnic minorities inside the Empire: Czechs, Croats, and Hungarians.  They start loyal, but if all 3 go into revolt, you lose!

In the top right is the National Will Track.  This measures the will of the Austrian people to continue fighting the Great War.  It goes positive when you (and your German allies) win battles, and negative when you lose battles.  It also goes more negative if the advancing fronts reach key cities (the front boxes with flags) or if ethnic minorities goes into revolt.  If National Will gets to -6 or worse, you lose!  Historically, this is the way the Austria-Hungarian Empire exited the war.

The bad: The playing pieces are laser cut.  Okay, there is a positive as the pieces are sturdy and gorgeous.  But because of the laser cut process, the pieces all have black soot on them, especially around the edges.  Fortunately Victory Point Games gives you a napkin in the box.  You are instructed to use this napkin to wipe down the pieces when you punch them out.

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The napkin and a piece with soot on the edges.  Note: the napkin is not an article of clothing and do not use the napkin as a flotation device!

The pieces are indeed fairly dirty from the soot.  I spent about 15 minutes having to wipe down all of them, especially the edges of each piece.

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The used napkin and my dirty fingers

Having to wipe down the pieces was an inauspicious start to the game, but I guess a small price to pay for some quality counters.


The Rules

The game is really easy to play, as the rules are quite clear and organized well.  The 50 cards control the flow of the game and each represents a game turn.  They are divided into 3 unequal stacks: 15 Morning (Mobilization), 16 Mid-day (expanded and total war) and 19 Dusk (Great War).

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The 3 stacks of cards.  From left to right, Morning, Mid-Day, and Dusk

Each turn you flip over a card.  Then, you address each element on the card in order from top to bottom (the flavor text at the bottom can be read at any time, of course).  Thus, each turn you execute the “Effect”, then “Advance” the fronts, then “Trigger” national loyalty rolls, then take player “Actions.”  It’s just that simple.

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Battle of Dogger Bank–an Off Map Theater battle

As an example, we will use the Battle of Dogger Bank card (above).  When drawn, we read the text to see that it represents an Off Map Theater battle, basically a naval battle in the North Sea between Germans and Brits.  Starting with the Effect, we must resolve this battle.  If we roll less than 4 we lose, rolling a 4 is a stalemate, and roll 5-6 and we win.  If we have any Resources (see below under player Actions) allocated to the Naval Theater, we will get a positive DRM (Die Roll Modifier).  There is a counter associated with this battle, and based on the number we rolled, we put the counter into the “Victories”, “Defeats”, or “Stalemates” box on the map board.  If we win, the National Will gets better, but if we lose it gets worse (stalemates do not change National Will).

Next, we Advance the Polish and Romanian fronts.  If either or both fronts has an invading army on it, we move them one space to a lower numbered box (in other words, toward Vienna).  If a front is not yet active (and the Romanian one is not at the start of the war because the Romanians were not yet involved) then the front obviously does not advance (i.e. there is no army to advance).  If any front advances into Vienna, you lose!

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An example of armies advancing.  The Polish front is almost to Tarnow and the Carpathian front has moved past the Fortress. Vienna awaits!

Then, we Trigger a national loyalty check.  In this instance it’s the Czechs.  They are the most volatile and have a national rating of 4.  Rolling a die, we need to roll a 5 or 6, otherwise the Czechs move one space to the left (i.e. one space closer to revolt).  If all 3 minorities are in revolt, you lose!

Once this is done we can take player Actions.  The player has the following 4 options (plus some special ones that I mention afterwards):

  • Launch an Offensive against a front
  • Allocate a Resource to an Off Map Theater (2 actions required)
  • Repair the Przemysl Fortress
  • Attempt to improve National Loyalty

Launch an Offensive: For 1 action, the player can attempt to push back an invading army on 1 front.  You choose the front and roll a die.  If it is greater than the battle number of the invading army (for example the invading Polish Russian Army at the start of the game has a battle rating of 3) you push the army back 1 space (but never off of the track).  Roll too low and nothing happens.

Allocate a Resource: For 2 actions, you may place a resource marker into an Off-Map Theater.  You may only place 6 such markers over the course of the game and only up to 2 in any single theater.  Each gives a +1 DRM on battles in that theater. On future turns, you may sacrifice these counters.  Each sacrificed counter gives you 1 extra action (called a German Staff Operation) that turn, but the counter is permanently removed.

Repair the Przemysl Fortress: The Przemsyl Fortress protects the Carpathian front (see maps).  As long as it stands, it is easier to push back the invading Russians.  The fortress has strength from 3 to 1 and is destroyed if it reaches 0.  Each time the front is closer to Vienna than the Fortress, the Fortress gets reduced a step.  For 1 action, repairing it restores a step.

Attempt to Improve National Loyalty: For 1 action the player chooses one of the ethnic minorities and tries to move it one step to the right.  Roll a die and if the number is equal to or greater than the Loyalty rating of the minority, you move it one box to the right, otherwise it doesn’t move.  The Czechs are a 4, Croats a 3, and Hungarians a 2.  So, watch out for the Czechs, they will revolt quickly!

Extra Actions:  There are two other actions possible.  One is to activate German Staff Operations.  As I mention above, you may sacrifice a resource marker in an Off Map Theater and gain an extra action.  You had previously spent 2 Actions for the Resource marker, so I hope you got some good die rolls in that theater before you were sacrificed the counter for 1 Action.  The second extra Action is the Great Retreat. Once the Mid-Day cards have been introduced, the player may at any time declare the Great Retreat (the Russians are retreating out of Poland in order to protect Russia against German offensives) by using 2 Actions.  The army on the Polish front is removed and never returns.  In exchange, the player must move 1 counter from the Victories box to the Defeats box.  Then, for each space the Polish front was closer to Vienna than Brest-Litvosk, the player must move 1 counter from the Victories box to the Stalemates box.  If you do not have enough Victories to move enough counters, you cannot start the Great Retreat (I often found this to be the case when I played).

The card has now been played.  The only steps left are the Kaiserschlact Phase (if that card has been drawn, it is a series of off-map battles), Fortress Reduction Phase (reduce the Fortress by 1 step if the front has advanced past it), and the National Will Phase.  The National Will Phase is an important one.  Basically, you add up all your Victories counters, subtract defeats, subtract 1 for each ethnic minority in revolt, and subtract 1 for each flag (i.e. key cities) that the advancing fronts occupy or have gone past.  If your National Will is now at -6 or worse, you lose!

If you have drawn the last card and have completed the National Will Phase without losing by any of the 3 methods (Vienna falls, Minorities revolt, National Will collapses), you win!


Game Play

Once you understand the rules, the game plays very quickly.  At its heart, you flip a card, move some fronts, roll the dice a few times, and take 1-3 actions.  It can seem like a flavor-less exercise if you do not read the flavor text.  Thus, I highly recommend slowing down and reading the chrome.  The game will feel more real if you do.

Anyway, the tension is created in that the number of negative effects each turn is usually greater than the number of actions that the player gets.  If you look back at the Battle of Dogger Bank card, you will see that you will most likely lose that battle (-1 National Will), at least 1 front will advance (probably the Polish front), and the Czechs will most likely move 1 step closer to revolt.  This might not all happen, but my grasp of probability math tells me that 2 are likely to occur.  And now you get only 1 action to deal with it.

Thus, each turn puts you into the bad situation of making decisions based on what you think might work best given that you can’t stop all the threats on that turn.  Do you try to knock back the Russians on the Polish front?  Do you try to reverse the Czech dissent?  Once you know what cards might be turned over on the subsequent turns, you might try to let the Polish front go for a while, hoping that the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia will do some of your work for you.  And of course, you can’t do anything about National Will directly, so if there is a front at or closer than a Key City, you might try an Offensive to knock it back to improve National Will.

Rare are the turns where you get much help.  There are a few cards that give you aid (mainly German aid). Typically, these are counters that allow you to make Offensives easier or prevent a front from advancing.  These aid counters are temporary and can be used only once each, so using them wisely is key.

Some turns you may find that by good luck no front advances (e.g. the Italian and Balkan fronts activate later and often have either a river or trench line in place to hold them back without you using Actions) and miraculously those wild Czechs don’t get more disloyal.  In that instance, you might want to use 2 actions to fortify an Off Map Theater.  Because if you don’t help the Germans, you are going to lose more Off Map battles than the number that you win–and then your National Will is going to decline quickly.  And by placing a resource counter into an Off Map Theater you “bank” it for later when you might need to transform it into a German Staff Operation for an extra Action.

I have played the game about a half-dozen times.  Every single game has ended in Crushing Defeat as National Will collapses (like in the real Great War).  For reference, if the game ends in Ethnic revolt it also is a Crushing Defeat.  Should an army get to Vienna, you have the possibility of (in order of what is better for the Austrians): Pyrrhic Victory, Strategic Stalemate, Marginal Defeat, Strategic Defeat, and Crushing Defeat.  I won’t even discuss the possible Victories from Tactical to International, as I have never, ever been close to winning the game.  If I ever do win, I will take a photograph of the board to prove that it actually happened!


Assessment

I use a rating of 1-10 “Dice” for each category.  For reference, a 1 is the poorest possible rating and a 10 the best possible.

Components: 6 Dice

I really like the quality of the rules booklet, cards, boards and counters.  Also, everything fits into a small box (the size of 1 of the 4 map pieces), so the game doesn’t take up much space on my shelves.  But having to wipe off the black soot was a major downer.

Fun/Enjoyable: 8 Dice

The game is indeed enjoyable to play.  The rules are not so complex that you have to run back and forth to the booklet.  Most of the important modifiers to remember are listed on the board.  The game flow is fast and not cumbersome.  The tension is thick and adds emotion to your choices.

Tactics/Strategy Depth: 8 Dice

Importantly in a solitaire game, you do not want to feel like the game is merely rote rolling of the dice or flipping of cards.  In Hapsburg Eclipse you clearly have tough choices to make when assigning your actions.  Your choices have a large impact on both tactical success (a roll on a given turn) and strategic success (e.g. your performance in Off Map Theaters and overall National Will).  I am not sure yet what choices lead to victory, but I know with some certainly which ones will end in grim defeat.  Knowing which cards are going to come up helps with planning, but it takes 1) a number of games before you can start to anticipate cards, and 2) some luck because if you have to add the last two decks early, the randomness will throw any planning out the window.

Balance: 4 Dice

And thus the card draw and merging of stacks make balance a major problem.  The randomness of the card draw can break a game quickly.  You start with the Morning stack.  One of those 15 cards instructs you to advance the war marker and add the Mid-Day deck (i.e. shuffle the new cards into the remaining cards in the draw stack).  Two Mid-Day cards advance the war and eventually add the Dusk Cards.

If you draw the card that advances the war early, you are going to get swamped.

he-08

My game where I drew Treaty of London on the first turn.  The game lasted 8 turns.  The picture shows the 8 cards that I drew in order (from left to right).

In one of my games I drew the Treaty of London on the first turn.  This was a major disaster because the Italian front activated, the two active fronts at the start of the game advanced, the Croats went crazy, and the Mid-Day cards got added.  My National Will fell apart on Turn 8.  In other game, I advanced all the way to the Great War after only 19 card draws.  All 4 fronts were active and I got mauled as once again, National Will collapsed as key cities fell in succession.

he-09

My defeat after only 8 turns.  The ethnic minorities were still loyal, but I had lost 4 flags and was -2 on Victories-Defeats.  My National Will fell to -6 and it was a Crushing Defeat

Each game might play very, very different because of the card draw order.  The game does have an option to put the cards in order by number.  This simulates the actual Great War.  But, other than that option (which might lead to games being too similar), I am not sure how to correct for the lack of balance that comes about from the card draw.

Of course, the one advantage of getting smashed quickly, is that I was able to sweep up the counters and cards, resetting the game for another try.

Theme: 9 Dice

Particularly if you read all the flavor text, the game does evoke the Great War and the desperation of defending the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  The box cover, the map board, the pieces, and the cards all stay on theme.

Overall Rating: 7 Dice

This is a solid game.  It does a good job simulating the Great War.  The States of Siege core engine works very well in this “tower defense” situation in which the Austria-Hungarian Empire found itself.  Players might even find themselves learning about some events in the Great War that they were unaware of, so there is even an educational value (something that historical war games can add to a gaming experience).  If you like solitaire games, give Hapsburg Eclipse a try.