Friday, February 1, 2008

Any old iron

OK, not quite the regular bi-weekly event, as real life and the weather intervene, but we finally got together again, with Tide of Iron on the table. I've been interested in this for a while, due to all the hype, errr, lead publicity, produced by Fantasy Flight Games, but I was put off a good bit by my good friend Doug's moderately negative review of it. However, never being one to let a negative review stop me from finding out for myself (I'm incredibly obtuse that way, preferring to find out for myself what others' experiences have already told me), when I heard that Eric had received not one, but two, copies as Christmas gifts I was keen to give it a try, and was happy when he chose it in his turn. So, how was it?

We played the first scenario, which saw my Germans attacking his Americans in their defensive set up. The onus is on the Germans to take the initiative and they have the time pressure to win the game. They also have the weaker force, as with several machine guns and mortars, as well as drawing from the reinforcement deck to provide a steady stream of new units to replace losses, the Americans are a strong nut to crack. Sure enough, in our game I'd press and gained a good position only to see a steady tide of US reinforcements grind me down and push me back. By the end of the 5th (of 8) turns I was down to so few units that there was no way I could gain and hold 3 VP hexes, so we called the game as it was also almost 10pm.

It's really hard to judge a game like this after just a single play, especially when the scenario played seemed so unbalanced. (Other sources seem to confirm this judgement.) However, I can tender my initial thoughts with the above caveats in mind.

Overall, it was a decent game. The rules were fairly straightforward, being mostly logical and sensible. It moved along in a progressive manner, and I felt I had a lot of tough choices to make in terms of strategy and tactics. All well and good.

On the negative side, the whole building squads thing was tedious, and didn't really feel like squads. I didn't like the way firepower was handled for range, where you were better off not adding in the infantry firepower in the same squad as a machine gun. Since when is less bullets in the air better than more? I can just see the officer telling everyone, 'Hey, you rifle guys, don't fire, you're putting off the machine guns!' Not.

Speaking of machine guns, they're really powerful when in Op Fire mode, swinging this way and that, able to fire in all directions. I tried spreading out my attacking forces but with these 360 degree-firing guns you couldn't attack from multiple directions and overwhelm them. Fortunately, I managed to take out Eric's double machine gun unit in the second turn with my single tank, which did make my life significantly easier.

The whole figure thing is a bit bogus, as well. By basing it on figures they're trying to tap into the Axis & Allies type player, and making it more of a toy than a 'real' game. Then again, that could just be the gaming snob in me talking. Plus, that is one big-ass box it comes in, especially when it appears to be about 50% airspace. More typical Fantasy Flight over production.

In the end, I feel ToI falls between two stools. It lacks the simplicity of M44, where you can set up, play and put away the game in an hour. ToI takes several hours, which puts it into CC territory (and beyond). If I wanted to have some WWII action and only had a short time available, I'd choose M44. If I had a few hours, it would be CC. So, I don't see quite where ToI would fit in. If I was coming from Axis & Allies, then I can see where it would be an upgrade path (so to speak). But I'm not, so it isn't.

Next time is my choice again. If it arrives in time, GMT's new FAB: Bulge will be on the table. If not, then I am not currently sure what I will select. Let's just call it a surprise.

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