Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some place in Spain

OK, the original plan called for Eric and I to hit OCS Korea after we finished Sicily, but we're going to get diverted to Red Star Rising (BGG entry) instead, because it looks rather intriguing. Before that, however, I wanted a short game to hit the table, something that wouldn't tax our brains too much, something that was familiar, and, preferably, another in the (extensive) list of unplayed games. An SCS game was the ideal choice, as we'd played The Mighty Endeavor just recently, so I suggested Guadalajara (BGG entry), the game on the Italian involvement in the Spanish Civil War. I picked this one partly because of our recent play of EspaƱa 1936 (Eric's take, mine), and partly because Guadalajara looked colorful and interesting.

This entry in the SCS line covers the exploits of the Italian divisions in Spain, and their initial push for Madrid, when the Nationalists thought that a big push and taking Madrid would end the civil war quickly in their favor. It was not to be, however, as first the weather then the Republicans thwarted the over-confident Italians. The game changes quite a lot of the basic SCS rules, and adds a lot of special rules on top, some of them quite fiddly. All this would be acceptable, except that this is quite probably the worst set of rules in any of the SCS games. Even with the extensive errata there are numerous holes and poorly worded sections that remain unclear on the intention. I'm really surprised that they managed to get out the door in their final form.

The Republicans start on the main part of the board, with the Nationalists and Italians coming in from the east. The main feature here is that the Nationalists have to remain north of the river dividing the map, the Italians south. The Italians aim to get units off the west side of the map, driving on towards Madrid, or, failing that, victory comes down to the number of VPs gained for capturing villagess. Complicating the Italian effort is one of those special rules mentioned above: they're not allowed to move west of hex-row 16xx until they capture Brihuega, which makes it kinda imperative that the Italians head in that direction. To do this they have 3 militia divisions and some regulars. The militia have to be handled carefully, as if they take too many step losses they could fail morale and withdraw from battle.

Facing them is a growing army units supporting the Republicans cause, including Communists and Anarchists, so it becomes a race against time, and the Nationalist player needs to press hard.

As I'd played the Nationalists in our previous game on the Spanish civil War, I offered to take the Republicans this time, which left Eric on the attack. He opened with a fairly devastating attack, rolling lots of high dice with his Italians. However, his Nationalist allies fared the worst, as all his bad die rolls were concentrated with them. However, we did miss one critical rule, and that was that all of the Italian/Nationalist units get a free exploitation move on the first turn. This would have allowed Eric to push forward and move the battle line several hexes to the west, and likely had a huge impact on the game.

As he appeared to be concentrating his forces on Brihuega, my battle plan was to try to force his northern Italian flank, threatening his supply lines for his main thrust. I got set up with some strong units, artillery, and air support as well, and then rolled snake eyes in my first combat of the game. I tried a couple more times, but each time rolled poorly on the combat and lost more steps than I caused Eric to lose, which is pretty bad given how the CRT is slanted towards the attacker. I even committed my best unit in the whole game, but it died in two straight combats as first I rolled poorly in my attack and then Eric rolled well in his attack. All this was enough to reduce my flanking attack to a feeble holding action.

In the meantime, Eric was grinding onwards to Brihuega, but my reinforcements were arriving in strength, and I managed to stack them up high enough that they could absorb the losses. In the end Eric just couldn't clear them out fast enough, and the end of the game came before he could get to Brihuega.

In the north, the Nationalists were making the best they could of their bad start, but also didn't make much progress. They got as far as Miralrio in the last turn or two, but didn't manage to capture the big 5VP village of Cogolludo in the north. Elsewhere there was a minor skirmish over Abanades in the far southwest corner of the map, as my attack to recapture it whiffed again on 3-1, then saw Eric twice succeed at 1-1 to remove one of my two units there. In a final turn Hail Mary I managed to get a result on 1-1 to force him out and recaptured the 2VPs, which was enough to force the result into the Major Victory for the Republicans.

We managed to screw up several rules in the game, beyond the afore-mentioned exploit in the first turn. Armor effects are DRMs, not column shifts. Trucks tripped us up a couple of times. Partly this was due to my having only read the main game rule book, not the errata, up until 30 minutes before the game, so trying to keep track of the changes was a pain. Plus, I think there was a little bit of SCS complacency - we knew how to play, so just barely skimmed over the rules. It changed a lot more than other SCS games I've played.

OK, given all that, it wasn't too bad of a game, but I didn't really feel that the outcome was in doubt for most of the game. Even given my disastrous attacking through the game I still walked away with a major victory, so, what happened? Certainly that first turn was critical. Whilst the Italians rolled a couple of 11s, the Nationalists rolled a few 3s, which more than balanced it out, as the 11s were overkill. The attack in the north never really put much pressure on me, and I was able to divert most of my reinforcements against the Italians. Plus, missing the first turn exploit meant that the main battle was fought 5-10 hexes further east than it should have, allowing me to build up in front of Brihuega.

Given all the other options, and SCS titles, I think this one's unlikely to hit the table again. Sure, it would be interesting to see if getting the rules right would make it any easier for the Italians, but there are so many other options out there that are calling loudly to me. I'm not even sure why I picked this one, really. Perhaps it was just all those nice colors. Ooooo, shiny.

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