Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fury at the fury

In the past few sessions Eric and I have been playing Fury in the East (BGG entry), a one-map WWII East Front game from MMP that covers the first 9 months of the Barbarossa Campaign. This game was part of Operations Magazine Special Edition #3, their yearly special that features a complete game, sometimes more than just one, as well as lots of updates, corrections, and variants for existing games.

FitE is a reprinting of the Japanese game G-Barbarossa (BGG entry), with updated graphics. It's a fairly strait-forward, corps level, move-fight-panzer move, locking ZoCs, odds combat, column shifts for terrain/supply type of game. However, there are a few wrinkles:

  • Only German panzer units move in the second movement phase
  • German panzers may move out of a ZoC
  • Units performing Rail or Strategic movement may move out of a ZoC, as long as at least one unit is left behind
  • For Axis combat is optional; for Soviets it is mandatory; all enemy units exerting a ZoC must be attacked; all units in an enemy ZoC must perform an attack
  • Soviet Leaders have hidden strengths, and must be revealed to provide leadership to Soviet units; some leaders have no capability, and are removed immediately to the pool; Leaders destroyed in combat are out of the game
  • Soviet combat units have to be in range of a Leader, otherwise movement rates halved, negative column shift applies; panzers may ignore infantry ZoCs with no Leader
  • Terrain effects only apply to the Soviets, in terms of plus/minus column shifts
  • Axis units not only have to trace supply to a supply source, but also have to trace to one of three supply heads
  • There are different CRTs for each side; the Soviets taking losses; the Axis having retreats, with option to take a step loss instead
  • Weather is a single condition affecting the whole map; also controls how many Luftwaffe units are available
  • Axis player gains VPs for controlling Soviet cities; capturing Moscow is an automatic Axis victory
  • Axis player has Hitler mandated objectives in turns 2-7; not achieving these are -5VPs per objective

The major problem is the rules just totally SUCK. Without doubt, this is the worst set of rules I think I've seen for any game I've played. (I believe that the S&T game Frigate had worse rules, but I never played that one.) Terminology issues, major omissions all over the place. Now this is a magazine game, and perhaps there should be some allowance made, but the game is effectively unplayable with the rules that came with it. Did no-one even attempt to blind playtest this from the proposed rules? Even worse is that as a reprint from a previous game there are so many glaring omissions. Did no-one make a comparison to the original game rules?

On the plus side, the developer, Adam Starkweather, has been very active in supporting the game over on ConSimWorld, responding to questions very quickly. However, he does have a habit of shooting from the hip and making pronouncements without going back and looking carefully at the rules. Several times he's made rulings, and then had to reverse them in later posts. That gives no confidence in any of his responses. He's also said 'If not mentioned in the rules, that’s fine.' Trouble is, the rules miss out so many critical items that you can't take that attitude.

And all this is a damn shame, because FitE is a very decent game, and does a very good job of modeling, at a high level, the differences in the forces, and the nature of the Barbarossa offensive. The game flows easily, with options for both sides and plenty to think about. The initial Axis successes slowly grind to a halt in the face of mounting Soviet forces, and the switch in the player turn order nicely reflects the change in balance caused by the winter. I've been playing it quite a bit recently (solo, as well as with Eric) and I've had a blast doing so.

So, track down this gem, get all the errata and rulings from the ConSim World forum, which has been nicely collated into a single document here, get the beer and pretzels out and have a blast.

Next up is Galicia from GMT's Clash of Giants II (BGG entry). Due to a gaming weekend and scheduling issues, we've had to have a couple weeks off, but are due to get back to it next week.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Disappointment in the East

Mike and I gave Fury in the East another go. After the first aborted affair, we got our questions (mostly) answered, and gave the game a second shot. We fully expected our play to last at least a couple nights as reported play times had been in the 1 hour per turn range. 10 turns means likely three nights unless Moscow falls earlier.

The first night saw Mike with slightly less progress as our first game, but with slightly more kills. We got through three turns that first night (as opposed to two the first time we played) and things were feeling smoother. We still had a few niggling issues, but nothing major.

During the middle of turn five, we suddenly realized we'd completely forgotten about the Russian militia. (Did I mention they're completely missing from the rulebook?) It was impossible to backtrack at that point, and so we bagged it. It's likely Mike would have won, but it's impossible to say at that point, as the bad weather was just arriving.

Thoughts on gameplay, from the Russian perspective:

You have one job in the first three turns or so. Run. Make sure you know when you can leave negated EZOCs, and get out of dodge. Leave sacrificial lambs as speed bumps to slow the Germans down, and get as much out of there as you can. Particularly the leaders. It violates every instinct you have to do this, as you have this feeling you need to keep units around in force as much as you can to slow the Germans down, but you can't. You need those units much, much further East.

And herein lies the problem. You're very much at the whim of the random Leader draw during setup. In our second play, I didn't draw a single *-rated leader on the map. This meant every leader Mike was able to kill on the first turn (and it's a lot, there's no way around this) hurt. If you're lucky and get two or three *-rated leaders in that initial setup, you'll fare much better later on. The only way you can try to mitigate this is to plan your deployment with two things in mind: a ZOC net with weak troops to slow the German advance, and everything else placed with retreat in mind.

I haven't played enough to really give good advice on how to do this. Here, of course, lies the problem.

I likely won't play this game again until they can revise the rules. They're basically unusable as printed. Major rules are left out (+3 movement cost for overruns and any mention of Militia units come first to mind) and they're horribly organized.

And, really, it's a shame. This is a good little game destroyed by horribly written rules. I lower my quality expectations a tad when looking at magazine games, but this falls well below even these lowered standards. Hopefully, MMP sees fit to published revised rules. Errata won't do it – they need a new edition. There are enough niggling things slightly incorrect that it makes you question everything else you read, no matter how clearly written. It's just too frustrating.

After Mike and I stopped playing, we had a little discussion about the state of rules writing these days. Sadly, I feel it's declining. I can think of only three designers where I can count on a solid set of rules with a minimum of fuss: Dean Essig, Ed Beach, and Chad Jensen. Other designers may have occasional good or great sets of rules, but aren't consistent enough to hang with those three. Wargames these days have almost fallen to the level of software: never use the very first version of anything; wait for the update. And, the inevitable result of that is that publishers seem to be counting on that update to fix problems they've missed the first time around. It's a nasty spiral. But at least, most companies are savvy enough to understand that keeping those rules updated and electronically available is a good thing, and makes customers (eventually) happy.

Which is what I hope MMP does here, because I think you guys would enjoy this game after they fix the rules.