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iOS Review: Levee En Masse

Walter OHara
United States
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The Stats:
Compatibility: iPad Only
Current Price: $4.99
Developer/Publisher: Victory Point Games
Version: 1.0.2
Size: 28.0 MB
Multiplayer: N/A
Itunes link: Levee En Masse

Hurrah! A boardgame to review at last-- and from a series I know reasonably well.

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LEVEE EN MASSE is an IoS port of a board game from Victory Point Games. Victory Point Games is a publisher that specializes in small, low-cost boardgames that are a notch above Desktop Publishing quality and generally featuring historical themes (although not always). In a very real sense they fill the same niche as long ago "microgames" in every category except perhaps price-- and that's debatable when you factor in inflation. One of Victory Point's most popular series is called THE STATE OF SIEGE series. State of Siege games are purpose designed solitaire games that all utilize a simple mechanic. The player is occupying a central point on the map board. This central point could be anything, really-- a city, a fortress, or even a political position. On the map board are between 4 and 6 point to point pathways to that central position-- usually starting about 5 spaces away from that position.

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See, Paris is the central position here and the tracks leading inward are from the Royalist, the Vendee, English, Austrian and Prussian counter-revolutionary armies.

These pathways are associated with a faction or position, and counters are placed on the ends of the tracks at start of game. During the game, a series of event cards (usually historical, but not always) are flipped over. If the Series Game is themed around a historical time period, the cards will have a descriptive text describing the significance of the event, and how it makes the various factions on tracks move. Obviously, your job is to retard that inward movement and keep your central location secure.

As the name implies, the historical theme that Levee En Masse is focused on are the turbulent days of the French Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon. The solitary player will play the same role as he or she would in the paper boardgame, holding Paris against the inexorable march of counter-revolutionary forces, which advance with the flip of every card.

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Here is a card flipping over. It happens every turn after you have expended all your actions. See how the various tracks are affected by the historical events on this card?

LeM is not one of the state of siege games I had played as a paper game before getting assigned the IoS game to review, but I have played The War for Israeli Independence and Soviet Dawn, both of which have little nuances that make them different from Levee en Masse, although their core mechanics are identical. LeM is played in a series of time stages or epochs during the French Revolution. Certain card flips can trigger the next stage of history and make another deck of event cards come into play. In this manner, key historical events transpire roughly (but not exactly) in the order they did here on planet Earth.

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You can play the game in stages (recommended), or in the historical timeline, or totally random. The app will allow for any style of play.

The strategic conflicts are abstracted by dice rolls-- as the forces of England, Austria, Prussia, the Vendee and the Royalist Counter Revolutionaries converge on Paris, you must defend your central position using a finite amount of actions per turn. You can roll dice to defeat Armies (military action) or affect the domestic political scene to decrease the influence of your opponent (political action) within the amount of actions you have during a turn. The Political track becomes very important because every time a faction is equal to our above the Republic on the political track, they get a bonus in field engagements. So you can either wait for the cards to shift the Political index in your favor or you can use a precious action point trying to decrease the prospects of a faction that has gotten too far ahead of you.

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Those bonuses add up, too.. as the French player, you are seeking for this result every time, as actions are limited per turn.

Gradually, the game will shift focus somewhat (if you are playing in historical phases... I wouldn't recommend any other way, myself). The events in the historical deck will become more focused on the early career of Bonaparte and the rise of the events that will lead to his Empire (and the victory of Despotism in political terms). A new wrinkle adds into the game as static support armies show up for you to place in the area surrounding Paris, to act as roadblocks against invading armies. These are a very handy outcome for Republican France, but beware; card events allow the Foreign Powers to generate support armies of their own.

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The defender gets another action point when a support army is in play, too. It works both ways.

Here's what I liked: the History element, you get a fantastic overview of the French Revolution in roughly the timeline in which it transpired (via the card flips). You definitely feel that siege element at work, having limited resources to fight of the inevitable, as counter-revolutionary forces advance on you from all fronts.

Here's what didn't work for me: The map is a little claustrophobic. It was a nice balance with design and utility but too much information is crammed on one screen... I can see why they went with Ipad only as a choice. This game would have been unreadable on a smaller screen. Also, the tutorial guy must be fixed. He can pop up and just overlay the action while you're trying to make some choices and you can't see underneath him (or click under him) until you finally shoo the pest away somehow.

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oui, oui, je sais, je sais .. descendez l'écran, vous imbécile!

In some respects, the State of Siege Games are perfect candidates for Victory Point to convert to IoS apps. They are solitaire, the action takes place on one map board and the mechanics can't be that hard to program. However, much like the boardgames they are converted from, if you aren't a big fan, a HUGE fan of history (and not necessarily military history), this game may become very repetitive for you. History is a driving force in this game, and I liked that element of it, but I could see where that might not appeal to everyone. I reviewed Victory Point's other IoS game on the market as of this writing, Loot and Scoot, a while back and found the game extremely repetitive and limited. I think Levee En Masse has much more depth and a better execution than Loot and Scoot, but after about five plays I found myself moving on to something else. I will come back to it from time to time, I know.. but I don't want to get into a position where I'll memorize all the event cards, as this will truly render the game boring. For 4.99, Levee en Masse is of medium to good value for your gaming dollar, and certainly will keep a history/war game buff entertained over repeat plays. Just keep this in mind: it is not an arcade game. There are no grand animations or cut screens-- minimal animation at best, no gunfire, no bams and booms. It's not for the visceral minded. This is a History game more than a War Game, and if you're not the kind of person who wants to actually read what's on the event cards, sadly, Levee will not excite you.

Rating: 3/4

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