The Great War: a great game
The Great War by Richard Borg (Plastic Soldier Company)
Two Player; British vs German 1915-1917
Tank Expansion Just Arriving
I’ll say it right out; Richard Borg is a genius. Not everyone likes the Commands & Colors system, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. I have and enjoy each of the Commands & Colors games, with all of their many expansions. Now Mr. Borg has made a dynamic, fun war game out of World War One, perhaps the most horrible conflict in human history, whose legacy is, for better or worse, the world we live in today. Ironically, the strategic deadlock that tortured millions of men for years that began with the digging of trenches all across Northwestern Europe in 1914 forms the most unlikely background for his latest masterpiece. How did he pull off this well nigh impossible mission, turning a traumatic human experience and a strategically and tactically frustrating war into a pleasing entertainment for us history buffs on a tactical level?
Take the basic C&C simplicity of a short two player match from the core game of Memoir 44 and mix it with the more sophisticated expansions of his newest designs with a second Tactical Card deck and creative historical tactical rules that reflect the doctrine and technology of the period. In most of the 14 scenarios (after the first two teaching games) set in Loos 1915, The Somme 1916, and Vimy Ridge 1917, the time pressure put on the commanders to achieve a meaningful victory before the troops exhaust themselves in the horrifying combat environment is a major factor in most of these scenarios. As in Battle Lore and Samurai Battles, you have a demonic choice to make after you activate and employ your units each turn by taking either a Combat Card (from the secondary deck) or two HQ Tokens, which fuel the use of the secondary cards but are also needed to operate your Reserve Artillery. Uh oh! You can also get an additional HQ token by discarding a combat card if you didn’t play one this turn. Unlike M44, you can only hold five Combat Cards at once and play only one a turn, so there are even more key decisions to be made at the end of each turn.
Units are infantry, infantry with grenade throwers (“bombers”), machine guns, mortars, and Reserve Artillery which fires from off board. Your guns of varying strength in this artillery war are pounding the target hex and/or adjacent ones in any possible direction with varying accuracy—friendly fire is a distinct possibility. Instead of losing dice for terrain protection, various kinds and amounts of dice hits are ignored while fighting over countryside (one board side for green, the other for muddy shades of brown), forest, buildings, building rubble, hill, trench, barbed wire and shell crater. A random No Man’s Land Shelling at game start cleverly changes the starting terrain a bit for each play, so no two tries at each scenario begin quite the same way. Then its over the top for the attackers--usually British or Canadian, with an occasional German counterattack—while the defenders usually get a free victory point each time they draw a Recon card (except for that last point). Therefore time is against the attackers, who gain theirs by killing units or special objectives, such as holding a hex of trench in the separate defending lines. The units have longer firing ranges than in M44, and machine gun crossfires can combine their dice in one big attack. Good luck against that, mate! Men caught out in open country by any kind of fire in this system can be quickly disintegrated.
The usual C&C Command Cards here have many fascinating twists. For example, Direct From HQ, which allows you in M44 to activate units in any of the three board sectors, here allows you to activate only those you can pay for with HQ markers on hand! They cover all kinds of occurrences, with the usual Section Cards plus Tactic Cards from The Big Show to Storm of Fire! The Combat Cards combine period flavor with wild game effects from Lice and Messenger Pigeons to Mata Hari Spy. Unique combinations of the new cards on successive turns or using up to one from each deck on the same turn, challenge players to come up with their best use. But the dice are rolling too, both artillery targeting D6s and the usual icon faced ‘WWI Battle Dice’ adorned with two Soldiers, Shell Burst, Flag, an HQ Token Star (collect one) and a Death’s Head Skull (‘The Deadly Die’ for close combat and special situations). The rules book is well written in general; for example it carefully lays out the details of when and how each card is played, which is usually the area where the most FAQ are necessary for a C&C game. So far game play questions have been relatively few, and easily answered by PSC or Mr. Borg himself.
The game might seem at first glance similar to Memoir 44, but it is actually its own beast, with a fascinating new matrix of rules, cards, units and scenarios which give a proper historical feel to the period. One who does not learn to properly swim in this new ocean is doomed to high casualties and early defeat in his first few plays! The scenarios, following the more recent C&C design style, concentrate on a few battles to give you a sort of mini campaign in each series.
Oddly enough, since it is produced by a miniatures company, the few problems with the game are physical ones with the 15mm minis, rather than the other game components. Most board gamers do not want to have to clip their figures off of sprues, or redrill and replace gun barrels broken off from Tank--the first expansion just now being shipped out is taking casualties from poor packaging. As a miniaturist myself with a good Sprue Cutter, I still lost a couple of British rifles and bayonets from my core game. Also, not every board gamer is going to paint those minis, and yet they are not molded in the historically correct colors, the Germans being in a medium gray rather than the proper gray green (‘feldgrau’) and the British in a dark chocolate brown rather than the correct lighter khaki.
Unlike other C&C games, there is a nice pose variation in the basic infantry miniatures (which make up the vast majority of the core game pieces). But all of the poses are advancing ones, with very little change between some of them. A bit more variety would have been nice, such as some firing poses. In addition, the German MG gunner does not stand up well. The German mortar is too small to be recognized as such by someone with 20/20 vision, even after being painted differently. Some of these are things that a dedicated miniaturist can solve, but which will anger a board gamer who wants his game playable right out of the box. (I offer these minor negative notes as guides for the future production of the many expansion sets to come that I plan to buy).
PSC does a much better job than Zvesda, another minis company, did with the previous Samurai Battles—which is about to be taken over and continued by GMT—in board game production. The tokens are large and nicely illustrated. The cards are more hardy than those of SB, although they could be thicker, as I expect heavy usage, and it’s a relatively expensive game. Also, although the two decks have different backs, the fronts are too similar, and can only be distinguished from the front from one another by the small cost circle on the Combat Cards. I understand there will be a deluxe copy of the cards, which will be larger and have different colors on the two decks, but since this will be a Kickstarter exclusive, that does me as a retail customer no good at all! As this is the first Borg game done by KS, one hopes they will not get too exclusive with their exclusives, a feature of KS which I personally loathe if never distributed generally, even if later and at a higher cost. The board is a sturdy two sided mounted product and the terrain tiles are also properly thick, as the best of other C&C products by other companies have been, for which PSC is to be congratulated..
Many expansions are promised. The first is Tank, which is just out for KS backers only; hopefully retail versions will follow next month. Besides a few actual British and German armored vehicles, it will include 16 new scenarios, new terrain types (Waterways), and perhaps the most important thing, Field Artillery (firing from onboard). This may change the game the most, although ironically it is probably being introduced so the Germans can once again invent anti-tank warfare. Other exclusives include reflaged captured British tanks being used by the Germans--as actually happened; the Germans only fielded about 20 A7V tanks in all--a transparent artillery template (I find one of those plastic pizza box stiffeners works just fine) and other goodies such as metal artillery guns and generals.
Next up should be The French Army. Eventually we may see much more, from airplanes to Eastern Front scenarios, with many different national armies. So far the first expansion has also been Kickstarted, which invites both the good and the bad for games produced by that system. Hopefully this first KS C&C game will be dealt with properly for us retail customers as well. Thanks to Richard Borg and PSC for giving us another fun time in a light war game which is challenging yet simple, in the venerable Commands & Colors tradition!
BoardGameGeek original linkhttps://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1538573/review-great-war