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A bit about me. I've been playing wargames since around 20 years ago. I went through the boardgaming phase, and for as much as I enjoyed it, lack of opponents drove me to PC wargames. I became quite good at it, so much in fact that I now design PC tactical wargames for a well known publisher, with 2 already published and some in the works.
For all of this, I started to fell I was getting little return from it. The enjoyment of PC wargames became less and less. I tried VASSAL, but it somehow felt as the worst of both worlds, the alienation and distance of PC games, coupled with the inability to do automatic bookkeeping and rules enforcement of boardgames. So that also did not work. PC wargames meanwhile, through bugs and poor AI were quickly driving me away.
After a long period I decided to give a shot to wargames in paper again. I would also do this solo. I wanted the game to be a 2 player game, that I could see a way of soloing. This was on purpose since, if I could grab a wargame without chit-pulling and special solo mechanisms and make it work, a whole new world would open up. I decided on The Destruction of Army Group Center and it proved to be an exciting and great game. To follow it, I went with S&T's 202, Invasion Taipei.
The map is printed in good quality matte paper. The hexes are of a good size for the counters supplied. The map contains a series of game tables, which unfortunately are placed in such a way that two players sitting opposite each other are not able to read all the tables without moving around the table, a solitaire gamer suffers from the same problem. Slightly more disconcerting is the fact that some tables are in the magazine, some are in the map, and one was never included and is only available in the errata. There are a lot of tables in the game, you keep referencing to them at each step of the game, and in all fairness by the end of the game I was still looking for tables in the map that were in the magazine and vice-versa. Another down side of the map is that the staging boxes are far too small for the forces needed to be placed in there (unless you want to create 12 counter stacks...), something that could have been easily mitigated given that there are long stretches of ocean in the map that are not required for the game.
The counters are typical at the time of print They are not the big size well illustrated type that some of the newer wargames have. They are rather 'classical' wargame counters.
Overall, both components are perfectly legible and clear.
On a first look the rules seem somewhat daunting. Even on a second look the rules are not for the beginner. The rules also revolve around C4i.
There are rather elaborated rules for air operations, that do work well within the game. They provide a series of options, with rules for stealth planes, missiles, interdiction, ground attack, air transport, air superiority... The fact that the rules divide air operations between a simultaneous air superiority phase and other air operations that happen at different times of the player turn works very well in my view. At the end of the game the air rules actually proved to be my favourite part of the system.
The ground warfare rules provide for the use of 3 CRT's (probe / assault / air land battle) used accordingly to technology levels of units involved and the player option for attack. Logistics are fairly simple, and the naval operations are completely abstracted, the designer's assumption being that the Communist Chinese manage to temporarily neutralize the US navy.
The innovative part of the rules came with the Information Warfare rules (that are optional). These rules cover operations made possible by the high technology available to today's armies. They cover in an abstract manner:
This segment starts each turn, and the outcome of it is supposed to have an impact on both the battlefield (by allowing a player to place 'out of command' markers in enemy units) and on the end score accordingly to who has the Information Warfare advantage in the end of the game. It certainly affects the end score.
The rules also give each player options. Many options. The coalition player can choose the level of US intervention, pacific-rim and NATO troops, strategical variants, historical variants, etc. The Communist have two strategies (intervention or full blown invasion), and a series of strategical and historical variants. All of these cost political points, and since the game is decided on territory conquered and political points it's crucial to choose wisely. They do provide a lot of variety and re-playability to the game.
This was a solo game. To make things more interesting , I set out some ground rules for the Communist Chinese, namely:
They had a plan for the initial landings and how the beachheads would be expanded and the battle evolved.
Plan for air operations.
A strategy for the Information warfare stage.
The communist forces suffered hiccups from the start. They had two landings planned, one went ahead the other was repulsed. Due to the strategies chosen (Communist intervention and US limited support (mostly air units)), they quickly come onto a sea lift bottleneck that hindered the communist operations for the rest of the game. Everything was happening piece meal, there were no sweeping movements of communist forces, and what's more, the terrain favours the defender.
As the game evolved, the US units arriving started to firstly balance the air war and then, in two disastrous turns for the communist, completely turn the air superiority. By this time the communist ground forces were approaching Taipei, but their forces were nowhere near being able to force their way into the city. At this point, the first US land units arrived (one of the options) and their presence in the flank of the communist forces was enough to bring the (slow) offensive to an halt. And thus the game ended.
There was never a sense that the communist forces could actually win the battle. Maybe if they were fighting the nationalist Chinese alone they could do it, even then it would take a bit of luck on their side. But the presence of the powerful US forces just removes any chance of them winning. I think that if the coalition player selects the full US intervention then the communist are just going to be wiped from the map, but this is me speculating.
The Information Warfare segment was not exactly what I expected after reading the rules. It was really a matter of throwing some counters into a makeshift table (none is provided in the game) and rolling dice. It felt completely random, and once the coalition achieved a 3 point difference in superiority that was it until the end of the game, every time it went down one it came up one and so on. The impact on the battlefield was completely negligible in this game. When I read the rules I wondered why they were optional, now I know.
A final note to the magazine that contains some rather interesting articles, namely the one on Montrose's campaign of the English Civil War.
Thanks for the write-up. I have been tempted to give this a try for some time, but as you noted, the rules are pretty long for a magazine game, and I’ve just never gotten around to it.