Home for Christmas

Around the middle of last year the Kickstarter landed for the joint Plastic Soldier Company-Richard Borg game The Great War. By September, Andy and I had painted our armies and played our first game. We were hooked, and met as close to fortnightly as our schedules allowed to play.

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The start of mission 18 as the Canadians attack in July 1916; the action starts with the Canadians surging forward following mines blowing in the German lines

A bit over a year later, we have played the last of the 16 missions that came in the box plus the two bonus Kickstarter missions. The war is over.

This was a very fun project: painting, learning a new game, building in skill and getting regular games. This was a highlight of my gaming year.

My initial assessment of this game has not changed much. It captures the grim calculations that a commander would have to make to achieve their goals in trench warfare. To win you have manage your resources well, and be willing to build a plan from the cards you are dealt (that is, deal with the fog and friction of war). Using the secondary Combat Cards and HQ resources can create force-multipliers for units and  are pivotal to achieving your goals. The game can be very static, it is trench warfare after all. But the need to manage resources and build your force ready for the attack (or break-up  the enemy concentrating for one) keeps both players at the table as tension builds.

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The German defense and counter-attack destroyed the Canadian right flank

Our games were mostly close. I think attackers may have a slight edge on defenders, although this is often at a terrible cost, and you need to be careful. Take too many casualties and you loose. It is no good taking ground if you don’t have enough soldiers left to defend what you take. Overall, the missions are all pretty balanced leaving both sides with a chance to win. Walkovers are rare, even desperate  situations can be turned around with some well placed artillery or a sudden counter-attack. However, luck is not a plan, so you need to keep focused and stay flexible.

The missions are an important and integral part of the game. Between the range of missions and large number of cards across two decks, there is plenty to learn and keep you engaged.

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Mentioned in dispatches are the bombardier squad who took the second trench for the Canadians and went on to destroy a German MG nest to secure a narrow win (7-6) 

Not all my friends like The Great War, and I can understand why. It requires more effort than Memoir ’44 to learn the rules, and is less fluid. However, if you like a bit of challenge and are interested in the first world war I recommend this game.

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Great War Battle Report

Andy and I have now played The Great War against each other seven times, using four different scenarios. Most recently we played the 5th mission in the rulebook, Loos (German Counter-Attack), which extends the story of a British attack on the preceding days.

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This is the first scenario where the Germans are attacking, although this doesn’t change the dynamic much as the capabilities of the two forces pretty much mirror each other. In Great War differences between opposing sides are captured through the scenario with different set-up for order of battle, command and resource cards.

In this scenario it is the turn of the British to have fewer units and resources, as their depleted starting force seek to repel the Germans who have launched a fierce counter-attack. It is a daunting thing for a general to see a big disparity in starting forces. In this scenario the British have 5 infantry units defending against the German’s 11. The British also start with fewer machine-guns, command cards and HQ (resource) tokens.

But this is no easy task for the Germans, as to leave the safety of your trenches is pretty much a death sentence. However, there is no way to win without pushing forward to take ground and destroy the defending British.

I haven’t kept careful notes, but I think that the attacker – despite the danger – seems to have a slight edge over the dug-in defenders. This may be because the game is relatively new to both Andy and I, but I think the abiltiy to take higher casualties is probably the difference. As the defender takes casualties, their ability to acheive their aim diminishes.

However, there are no foregone conclusions in this game. Even though the attacker has better odds (in our games), wins have all been narrow and bloody. So far, the scenarios seem very balanced and are definitely at the heart of the game.

Just to mix things up, in our most recent game the defending British held off the Germans. It was a long game. The British started well, but the Germans developed their attack in depth and pushed. And pushed, and got back into the game, until it was 5 all. It was the German turn, but the British (via a command card) had an opportunity to perform counter-fire, winning a sixth medal and the game. It doesn’t come closer than this.

The final two turns were good examples of using the cards to turn the odds. The Germans were able to order a general advance across all three sectors, creating multiple threats and get back into the game.  The British counter-attack coming before the Germans could finish their shooting finally broke the assault. This might seem like mere luck, and at times both dice and cards will desert you, but seeing the combinations available to create force multipliers is the way to bring victory.

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The Landsers pushed forward in the face of terrible losses, but the Tommies held on to seize a narrow – and bloody – victory

We will be back for more.

For something a little different, there are a couple of days left to listen to this BBC podcast on the sounds of the first world war. Only 15 minutes and is well worth a listen.

See you in Flanders