Sunday, March 27, 2011

The sound of giants clashing

Our latest game has been GMT's Clash of Giants II (BGG entry), the Galicia scenario in particular. On reading through the rules for this one I was concerned that it was simple. Bordering on simplistic. 2 unit stacking; ZoC stop movement; regular terrain effects; combat has retreats and step losses; supply lines. Nothing that the average gamer hasn't seen before. Meh.

The only thing that is at all different is combat resolution. Odds are calculated as normal, but that's where normality stops. Instead of a Combat Results Table, the odds give modifiers. Each unit has a performance rating, and has to roll that or less to not suffer a step loss and, for the defender, a retreat. This roll is modified from the combat odds, a 2-1 giving the attacker a +1 and the defender a -1, 3-1 makes it +2/-2, etc. The modified die roll is compared to the unit's rating, and if it's lower then the unit suffers no effects from the combat. If it's higher, the unit suffers a step loss, and the difference between is how far the unit (if defending) has to retreat.

So, as the ratio goes up, it's more likely that the defender will suffer losses, and vice versa for the attacker. There is also a limit on the number of attacking units that need to roll at the larger odds. However, the effect is that one side could roll badly and lose steps from all units in the combat, and the other side nothing. A regular CRT would probably limit those losses. Still, interesting.

The only other tweak is that where there are multiple hexes of attackers, then all enemy stacks adjacent have to be attacked. A single attacking stack can ignore other adjacent enemy stacks.

Like I said, simple, bordering on simplistic. So what makes the game? There are 3 components that make this worth playing.

The first is that it uses chits to determine the order that the armies play in. This introduces an element of uncertainty on how your plans are going to pan out. I'm generally a fan of chit pull games, so this is a good thing. Also, as the chit is drawn you roll to see how many movement points the army gets, from 2-6.

Next is when you do combat. You get one combat phase per turn, but you can take it after any of your chit draws. Do you do combat now, or wait for the other army to get into position? If the opposing army moves, it could move away from contact and you'll have no combat to perform.

The third aspect is that each player has two offensives, which gives a 1-column combat ratio improvement for each combat. These happen at various times for the players, and each can be taken in one of a range of turns, generally earlier in the game for the Austria-Hungary player, and later for the Russian.

And those 3 factors make the game. The order of the chit draws provides for a lot of angst on how to move and when to perform combat. Throw in the offensives and it gets even more factors to think about.

In our play the first evening saw Eric withdraw quickly on his northern front, but my opposing army kept rolling low for MPs, and couldn't keep contact. I pressed hard in the middle, and Eric did the same in the south.

The second evening saw the decisive action as the combat rolls went my way in pretty much every combat in turns 6 and 7. My concerns about the combat results came home to roost, and they bit Eric hard. I pretty much had no losses, while he lost steps from pretty much every unit fighting.

By the end I'd maxed out my allowed VPs and Eric had barely made any headway on getting to his main VP areas, for a major A-H win.

Ultimately this is like most games that use lots of dice. If the distribution stays reasonable then it's an interesting game. But those dice can have a very wide bell curve, and if it heads to an extreme then it's not much fun for the player on the receiving end, and there is little you can do to prevent it. Even if you stack up the combat odds, your opponent could roll snakes and you roll boxcars, unlike a normal CRT where you can often guarantee that you don't lose.

Now this would be an issue in a longer game, but CoGII doesn't outstay its welcome. We played over two evenings, probably for about 5.5 hours. Part of that time was looking up a couple of rules, and part kibitzing, so I'd reckon that 4 hours might be achievable with experienced players. So, overall, I enjoyed CoGII, and I'd be happy to play it again. It's a good length, and there are enough interesting decisions to make. But watch out for those dice.

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