Bay St. Louis
It's a funny name
I found this backstage, an over-sized hat, it's funny!
Origins of World War II is a simulation of the diplomatic events leading up to World War II. Several version exist, including a Pacific theater version published as an expansion and a World War I version which appeared in Sid Sackson's A Gamut of Games.
I have had the game for some time without playing it. I took it to a World War II gaming convention recently and got in a play or two. Here are my general impressions:
The rules are simple and are printed on a simple folding sheet. The basic game is clearly covered, and a few variants are also included, including a play-by-mail version, which should be easy to incorporate into e-mail play. (In fact, a web site for online play exists.)
The board is a period map of Europe with an outline map of the United States printed on the side. Each country or area of relevance to the game has a list of appropriate countries printed on it.
While the board is a nice feature that adds some flavor of the period to the game, it's really not necessary to play the game. The Origins of World War I game in A Gamut of Games doesn't use a map at all, but a matrix instead.
The game requires a standard six sided die and a number of counters. The counters included in the game are the standard square cardboard counters ubiquitous to all old Avalon Hill games. My particular copy's German bits were off-center when cut, leading to the counter's value being unreadable and, therefore, useless. I don't know if this is a common problem. Fortunately, these counters can easily be replaced by small poker chips or coins.
The game plays in a total of six rounds, and a game can take anywhere from half an hour to ninety minutes depending on experience of the players. Each player plays a nation, either the United States, France, England, Russia, or Germany. Each player receives a number of political factors or PFs each round. The number of PFs is set for each nation, and each nation receives a few more PFs each turn. On his round, the player places PFs in either his own country or in one of the areas for which he can score points. If other players have PFs in the same region the phasing player has PFs, the phasing player may choose to make a diplomatic attack, which is resolved with a table and a die roll. After finishing an attack, the player may claim he has an understanding with or control of the region depending on simple rules. An understanding can be taken away by later attacks, control cannot.
Germany has three terrific advantages. The first is that she receives more PFs than any other nation. The second is that the rules dicate that she has the potential to control more areas of the board. Since control cannot be taken away, Germany will always quickly control at least some regions right away. Finally, Germany is the last phasing player, which allows her to react to the other player's movements. These advantages assure that most of the game is spent fighting Germany.
At the end of the last round, the points are counted based on the scoring table. Different scenarios provide different possible scoring tables.
I love the theme of this game, but the execution seemed to be lacking. The goal of this game seems to be to ensure Germany wins or loses, the other players will often end up winning based on who manages to spend the fewest PFs against Germany. In our session, there was some discussion of an alliance between France and Russia, but it was focused on one or two territories, and seeemd to be a no-brainer anyway.
I don't think that the game does a bad job of playing to its theme, the diplomatic struggle prior to World War II, but its thematic elements seem to hinder the game's playabilty. Players are forced to commit their PFs in an all or nothing stratgey. Interesting possibilies, like an alliance between Germany and anybody, won't happen unless the German ally gives up the idea of winning for himself.
I think that the game would be a great classroom simulation and teaching tool. It does a pretty good job demonstrating some of the motivations of thinking by the European powers of that time. It's not really a gamer's game, though, and it doesn't seem to have a lot of potential for replay.
As far as I know, the game is only available used, though there seem to be several available. Unless you are really interested in a physical copy of an old Avalon Hill game, I don't recommend purchasing the full game. One could easily create a simple matrix board and use counters as is suggested in the Sackson book.
I feel it's worth mentioning that the packaged game does contain an excellent little book by the game's designer about the history of that era and a timeline of the era's events.
I'm glad I played Origins of World War II. I may play again, but only if I am appeasing my WWII buff gamer friends.
I love the theme of this game, but the execution seemed to be lacking.
I agree. In addition to the balance issue you mention, it sometimes feels like they shoehorned a 70s era CRT table into a game about diplomacy and political control. But the victory conditions cause the players to focus on countries they historically did, and thus the variant VP tables give a nice what-if pre-war diplomatic aims were different scenarios and injects a small amount of replayability.