John GoodeFalkland Islands
Wooden blocks for fog of war and unit strength … Check!
Full-size cards to drive game and for historical events … Check!
Mounted map for mass market appeal … Check!
Full-color illustrated rulebooks for Euro feel … Check!
Wooden cubes because? I have no idea why … Check!
Kitchen sink … I couldn’t find it but it’s probably in the box somewhere.
Academy Games offers up a big box of game component goodness in Strike of the Eagle. With a street price below $40, pound-for-pound it may be the best wargaming value you can find today. And this game won the 2011 Charles Roberts Award for best historical boardgame.
But, though many Euro fans would argue, snazzy and ample componentry do not by themselves make a game worth buying. Once you meet a minimum component quality standard it’s up to the game to prove itself worthy.
And SotE does, sorta, mostly, kinda, maybe.
It’s the type of game that lends itself to a list of virtues and vices. On the virtue side:
1. The rules, while dense, are complete and we never ran into a question we could not answer. Granted the answers are not always where logic would dictate.
2. The basic system – each side places a limited number of order counters on the map and these are sequentially revealed to move units, reconnoiter, dig in, regroup or entrain – is sound and appropriate to the time.
3. Excellent quality and nicely designed components all around, especially for the price.
4. Interesting and not overdone topic – Russo-Polish War of 1919-1920.
But, ultimately, it left me wanting more. Its vices:
1. Wooden blocks not really a plus here. I know this is a revision of The Eagle and the Star but it seems to have been decided to make a wooden block game first and then the topic was chosen. While standard counter and hex games grant players too much information, wooden blocks conceal too much. Both armies had reconnaissance and intelligence assets. Both had a fairly good idea what was in front of them. Everything being a mystery makes game play less interesting and more cumbersome. Front line troops, especially if engaged previously, should probably be revealed, while behind the lines troops are concealed.
2. Nature of conflict. This is a lot of head-bashing, World War 1 style. Infantry moves 1 space, cavalry 2, with a +1 bonus if you force march. It’s a long way to Warsaw and much stands in your way. And there are many preexisting forts on the map which take time to invest.
3. Lack of interesting scenarios. Most of the scenarios are half-map 1-2 turn affairs that end before they get interesting. The one meaty scenario, the full campaign, is a lot to tackle. So we played the short scenarios, which piqued our interest, and built up to the campaign game, which was a month-long once-a-week affair in our case. But then you’re done with the game. I have no desire to replay any of the scenarios again. They’re just not interesting enough.
4. Operational pace. This seems to move slower than the actual campaign. You only get one free move on each of the two fronts. Additional moves require a leader or an Ops card play. Especially in the scenarios, you need to use your cards for ops to get anything going. But then you can't use them for their historical events, reactions, battle bonuses, reinforcements etc. The card events add flavor but you really can't afford to play them as such.
5. PBEM unfriendly. There’s too much back-and-forth for this to work on PBEM. I played one scenarios this way and we both agreed it was too cumbersome.
After just one go at the campaign game it's too early to make a call on play balance but it seems tough on the Poles. The push on Warsaw developed in our case, though not reaching the city's outskirts, but there’s just not enough time for the Polish counterstroke.
SotE is an odd mix for me: a high quality game, with a solid system on an interesting topic, that’s fun to play, yet not one I'm keen to revisit. It’s like a Tom Clancy novel, interesting once but not literature and ultimately forgettable. Though worth the price of admission, it's unlikely to be the kind of game you'll be talking about the following day or thinking about between sessions.
Oh, and the wooden cubes are just to keep track of reinforcements you will receive, something a track or even side record would of made much easier and simpler.
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