Saturday, December 8, 2007

Back to the land war

You know how one of the greatest mistakes is never to start a land war in Asia? Well, this week Eric and I played a game on the end results of making just that mistake. At Eric's request we played Red Vengeance, the sister game to Defiant Russia, which we played a few weeks back (Eric's take, my take). We'd both really liked DR, so I was happy to try RV, and it was only fair to allow Eric to take the Soviets, and the opportunity to go on the attack.

Both games are pretty similar rules wise, although RV tidies up a few things. It does away with the railroads, allowing Strategic Movement anywhere at 3 times movement allowance. It still has a few holes, e.g. the rule book didn't cover what happens to Yugoslavian reinforcements when their set up hexes are occupied. Overall, not too bad.

The first turn is the longest in the game, as the Soviet player starts with massive attacks everywhere, and we roll buckets of dice. In this way our game was the same as DR, except with the roles reversed, as I rolled loads of 6s, way over average, and Eric nowhere near his average. However, unlike DR, where the counter density is way less and the few 6s I did roll was enough to leave gaps, RV has enough units to allow the defender to keep a solid defensive line all the way from the north to the south. This continued over several turns, and although he gained localized successes he was never able to effectively exploit them and I was able to retire to the next defensive position successfully.

And so it continued. The dice eventually sorted themselves out, and we were rolling pretty much on average, but by this time the Soviet units had been pretty much bled dry. In fact the Soviets had way more points in the dead pile than the Germans, and hadn't got anywhere near the VP cities. Eric called it a day at the end of turn 9, with two turns left. By this time he hadn't even been able to capture any of the oil fields, and therefore wasn't getting any armor replacements, which meant the Germans were getting more replacements than the Soviets! As it stood it was a 6-0 position in favor of the Germans, and unlikely to change much, if at all.

So, what's the deal? Why was DR so good and RV such a bust? The game system is fine. Clean, simple, I really like it. There were two problems with our game, one inherent and the other our particular playing.

To take the last point first, it all comes down to one word: dice. Or, rather, two words: wacky dice. The first couple of turns saw me roll so many 6s to Eric's few that it was getting embarrassing, not to mention a rather boring game. (I find this rather similar to the issues in Wellington. With so many dice being rolled the likelihood is that they will balance out. However, it also means that the wacky results out at the end of the bell curve are _really_ wacky.)

Secondly (or should that be firstly?), the other problem is that RV has a higher counter density than DR. With so many units on the board there are less opportunities for inventive play. In DR there were gaps to exploit, although I had to work at exploiting them and Eric had to be inventive in his defense. In RV there are so many units that the Soviet player pretty much just keeps driving forward, grinding the German down, the only real options are where to stack units, and hope the dice don't get wacky. (See point one above.)

Another (lesser) issue I have is game length. The box says 60-90 minutes. Yeah, right! We weren't playing slowly, but we called the game after almost 4 hours, with 2 turns left to go. OK, if we had a bucket of dice we could have saved a little time over doing die rolls in groups of 4, but not that much. The estimate was out by a factor of 3-4.

In my view there's nothing really wrong with the game per se. The historical situation was that the Soviets had superiority, and all they needed to do was keep grinding the Germans down, exploiting any weaknesses that potentially developed. In other words it's the game situation that's the problem. There is a reason why there are only a few games on that period of the war - it's not a very entertaining situation to game. The German is so weak that attacks are very few and far between, and the player spends most of the time looking for the next defensive position. Now, that can be an interesting challenge, but having a better balance of defensive and offensive positions make for a more interesting game. Add in the wacky die results and you end up with a less than satisfying gaming experience. Normally after a 6-0 result I'd be all "Dude, you got so p*wned!", but this game just left me flat. I'd just like to know what Eric did to piss off the dice gods so bad.

Overall, I think that at the scale and scope, and wacky die rolls aside, it's a fairly decent simulation of the historical situation. Does that make it a good game? No, sir! With knobs on.

My pick for the next session. With the holidays coming up I've no idea when the next official TSttC session will be (we may get together on another project), but it's my choice again. Hmmm, that's a toughie. I think I'll go for Duel in the Dark, the new Z-Man game on the RAF bombing of Germany.

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