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Subject: A Great Card-Driven Wargame rss

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Dan Poole
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Shifting sands = Paths of Glory + Rommel in the Desert. Well, not quite. The game play is virtually identical to PoG (minus some rules; see below), though the theme approximates RitD.

This is a WWII game that takes simulates the North African campaign. The game engine is driven by strategy cards. There are 2 decks, 1 for the Axis player, 1 for the Allied player. Each deck is divided into 3 years: 1940, 41, and 42. So at the beginning of the game, each player only has access to the 1940 cards, the others becoming available later in the game. Each card can be used for 1 of 4 things:

1. The event printed on the card. (e.g., by playing the Atlantic Charter Event, the Allies get 1 free British and 1 free British Commonwealth replacement point per turn).
2. Operations. The Ops value of the card determines how many spaces a player can activate for movement OR combat. Each space usually costs 1 Ops point, though this can increase with units in limited supply and spaces containing units of mixed nationalities.
3. Redeployment. The RD value of the card determines how many units a player can redeploy.
4. Replacements. The RP value determines how many points a player can spend on repairing/recreating units at the end of the turn.

Each player tries to accumulate victory points (VP’s) (actually the Allied player is trying to lose VP’s...see below). This is done mainly by taking control of victory spaces. Playing certain Event cards may give award (or take away) VPs.

A game turn consists of the following:
1. Draw new strategy cards to bring hand size up to 7, 8 or 9 depending on the year.
2. Action Phase. The Axis plays a Strategy card and executes 1 of the 4 mentioned actions followed by the allied player doing the same. This is considered 1 round. 6 rounds are played out in this phase.
3. Attrition Phase: Out of Supply units are eliminated
4. Victory Determination Phase: Award/Take away VPs under certain conditions. Check to see if either player has won.
5. Replacement Phase: Each player now repairs/recreates units that were allotted during the Action Phase.
6. Advance Turn Marker

Units
There are 2 main types of units: Divisions (large) and Battle groups (small). Each unit has 3 factors: Combat Factor, Loss Factor and Movement. Divisions are stronger their BG counterparts, since they roll on the division fire table for combat. This table inflicts greater damage than the BG table. Damages units are flipped to their reduced side. Further damage will eliminate them. When Divisions are eliminated, they are converted to BG’s. Units may also be divided into type: Armor vs. Infantry. Armor units are generally more powerful.

Combat
This is relatively simple:
The attacker and defender add up all attacking/defending combat factors to determine a final combat number for each player. This determines which column will be used on the fire tables (Division or BG fire tables). Column shifts may occur due to defensive terrain. Die roll modifiers may also occur based on combat cards played or other factors (combat cards are cards in which the event on the card pertains to combat (e.g. Severe Weather incurs a +1 drm for the defender when used during certain seasons). Flank attacks may be attempted under certain conditions. If successful, the attacker incurs damage upon the defender before the defender determines their overall strength. However a flank attempt can be risky because if it fails, the defender incurs damage upon the attacker before the attacker determines their overall combat strength. If a flank attack is not attempted, combat is considered simultaneous. Losing defenders must retreat. In this case, attackers may advance.

Supply
All units must be able to trace a supply line (either overland or port to port overseas). If not in supply, units are eliminated during the aforementioned attrition phase. Units can be in limited supply, if they are more than 3 spaces away from a supply source. Units in limited supply cost more to activate for combat (+1 Ops point per unit rather than per space). Otherwise they are treated the same as fully supplied units.

Victory
Movement along the victory point track is like a tug of war. If the VP marker lands on 14, the Axis player wins; if the VP marker lands on 3, the Allied player wins. Hence, whenever the allied player “gains 1 VP”, they are actually causing the VP marker to go down by one. So if the allied player is rewarded a -1 VP if they take over a VP space for example.

That is a brief overview of the game. I did not cover all aspects, though those mentioned are the main points of the game in order to give an idea of what it's all about.

Overall Impressions
Theme: 9 I have always enjoyed WWII games taking place in North Africa

Mechanics: 9 I also really enjoy card-driven war games. The events really add flavor to the game. The card actions also limits what each player can do each action round. This allows really tough decision making.

Strategy: 8 A very strategic game overall, especially when trying to figure out clever ways to cut off your opponents supply. Again, agonizing decisions have to made with regards to the best ways to utilize the cards.

Rule book: 8 This is a game of moderate complexity. I feel the rules are well-written without ambiguity.

Asthetics/component quality: 7.5 The map is very ornate, though I wish it was a board rather than a map sheet. That is easily remedied by using a 24" x 36" piece of plexiglass. The counters are good quality. The box is a little flimsy, typical of other MMP games (ASL starter kits).



Overall fun factor: 9 Anyone who enjoys card driven war games, especially PoG should take this into consideration. Those who have never played such games but are curious about them should also give this a try, since this one is easier than some of the others. Currently this is one of my favorite war games. I still probably like PoG slightly better, but not by much.

To those who have played PoG, the following differences are noted:
1. No Mandated Offensive Phase in SS.
2. No War Status or War Commitment Levels in SS. The new cards are brought into the game based on the current year.
3. No Armor Units in PoG. Note these units can move and attack in the same round, unlike any of the units in PoG.
4. No Limited Supply in PoG. Supply is consequently more of an issue in SS.
5. No Capitulation or Entry tracks in SS, though the Torch event, when played unlocks a whole new front in West Africa.
6.. Minor things:
-For SS, Ops and RD (same as SR) points are denoted by a single number rather than 2 different number per card.
- Overrun attacks possible in SS.
- No Entrenchment in SS.
- Flank Attacks are a little different.
- A lot less “exceptions to the rules” in SS. This is what I always have had trouble keeping straight in PoG.
- Less spaces on the map in SS.
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Andrew Prizzi
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Thanks for the nice review. The two things that have been keeping me from picking up PoG are the length of the rules and the playing time- both make me doubtful of my ability to find face to face opponents. How many pages are the rules in SS? How long does it take to play?
 
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Mark Gray
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This game is intrigueing, but does it really take 4 hours?
I too have shyed away from PoG because of its' length, although I'm fine with Hannibal and We the People.
 
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James Boyd
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SS seems to run 4 hours once you get the hang of it (I haven't played PoG as of yet). With some luck (or unluck ), it could be slightly less.

To solve the non-mounted map board issue I use poster frames. You can get one 24 x 36 for under $10 and you have a rigid mapboard easily moved if need be while counters are still on it.

Thanks for the great review, hopefully it will convince others to try this excellent game.
 
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Doug Cooley
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A few notes on the comments above...

Rules are around 12 pages, very easy to pick up if you are familiar with CDGs.

Exceptions are spread out around the rule book, making it difficult to figure out exactly what exceptions are in effect in different areas of the board and/or for different nationalities. I took a first pass at a quick reference sheet, should be in the Files section.

Six hours is a good estimate for time. I could see four hours once you've gotten six or seven plays under your belt (same for opponent), more if you aren't familiar with CDGs. I have not played the tournament scenario, but it should be playable in an evening (three hours or less).

I have a problem with the cards - events are either play first time you see the card (almost every starred event/reinforcement) or ignore until the time is right (Fleets, Mussolini/Churchill, offensives), so there is little tension wrt whether you should try to snag a decent OPS number off of an event or not as there is in most other CDGs.

In fact, it is poor play *not* to get as many starred events out of your deck as fast as possible because if you don't you will end up with unseen cards at the bottom of your decks in nearly every year after 1940. Since a good deal of the game revolves around when you draw a card (and, in fact, will play an inordinante part in who wins), or if you even manage to draw a card, winnowing the deck is crucial. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of the decision-making out of that part of the game.

A couple of examples:

You are the Allies and the Barbarossa card doesn't show up in 1941. Kiss Malta goodbye.

You are the Allies and Spitfires don't show up in 1942. Kiss Malta goodbye.

You are the Allies and Torch doesn't show up in 1942. You better be knocking on the door to El Agheila by the end of the year.

There are equivalent cards for the Axis - Balkan Campaign, the various Malta cards, Iraqi Revolt/Internehmen Irak, etc.

The problem is exacerbated by only playing four turns before having to reshuffle the discards and draw pile, even going into 1943 (which makes having your deck winnowed down at the end of 1942 is critical if you missed any cards). Since Malta is a 3 VP swing in what is already a tight game, this results in the deck playing you instead of you playing the deck - If you don't play every (and I mean every) starred event worth playing when you draw it, your odds of losing go up dramatically. And God help you if you draw a bunch of critical play cards early (Torch, Barbarossa, Hercules, Malta Victorious) and have to hold in your hand. An Allied hand of three Malta Convoys and Barbarossa in the first turn of 1941, while unlikely, means at least four fewer cards you'll draw over that year.

I will agree that every other CDG can turn on whether or not you get the right cards (Hannibal, in a tight game, can completely turn on what cards each side gets on the final turn), but I haven't seen another CDG that demands event play quite like this one does. I believe it is a fatal flaw in the game - how many times will you spend six hours on a game that is largely determined by the card draw sequence? No reshuffle after 1942 might help some, but after five games, every one of which hinged on whether or not people drew cards they needed (and we figured out that you needed to play events after one playing), I'm not sold. Note that Hannibal is saved by being a very interesting game that will only be decided by OPS card draws in the late game, and then only when the game is close.

I'm happy to play a VASSAL game or two with someone who can demonstrate to me that this isn't a major factor in the game. I just don't see it. Feel free to contact me at dougc@jazznsax.com (not BGG mail, I rarely read it) if you want to teach me a thing or two, but be warned that even one game decided by card draw sequencing will validate my point.

One other nit (!): The red die that came with my copy consistently rolls low, enough that we started tracking it and discovered that a 5 or higher came up about 10% of the time over two games. I recommend using different dice, balanced if you have them.

Doug
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Daniel Val
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Thanks for the excellent review!
 
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Daniel Val
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dcooley wrote:
A few notes on the comments above...

I have a problem with the cards - events are either play first time you see the card (almost every starred event/reinforcement) or ignore until the time is right (Fleets, Mussolini/Churchill, offensives), so there is little tension wrt whether you should try to snag a decent OPS number off of an event or not as there is in most other CDGs.

In fact, it is poor play *not* to get as many starred events out of your deck as fast as possible because if you don't you will end up with unseen cards at the bottom of your decks in nearly every year after 1940. Since a good deal of the game revolves around when you draw a card (and, in fact, will play an inordinante part in who wins), or if you even manage to draw a card, winnowing the deck is crucial. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of the decision-making out of that part of the game.

A couple of examples:

You are the Allies and the Barbarossa card doesn't show up in 1941. Kiss Malta goodbye.

You are the Allies and Spitfires don't show up in 1942. Kiss Malta goodbye.

You are the Allies and Torch doesn't show up in 1942. You better be knocking on the door to El Agheila by the end of the year.

There are equivalent cards for the Axis - Balkan Campaign, the various Malta cards, Iraqi Revolt/Internehmen Irak, etc.

The problem is exacerbated by only playing four turns before having to reshuffle the discards and draw pile, even going into 1943 (which makes having your deck winnowed down at the end of 1942 is critical if you missed any cards). Since Malta is a 3 VP swing in what is already a tight game, this results in the deck playing you instead of you playing the deck - If you don't play every (and I mean every) starred event worth playing when you draw it, your odds of losing go up dramatically. And God help you if you draw a bunch of critical play cards early (Torch, Barbarossa, Hercules, Malta Victorious) and have to hold in your hand. An Allied hand of three Malta Convoys and Barbarossa in the first turn of 1941, while unlikely, means at least four fewer cards you'll draw over that year.


Thanks a lot for the critical comments on this game! I like CDG in general, but as you mention, sometimes the mechanics of these systems ruin gameplay. So I'm having a tough time deciding wether or not buying this game. Do you think I should go for "Rommel in the Desert" instead?

dcooley wrote:

One other nit (!): The red die that came with my copy consistently rolls low, enough that we started tracking it and discovered that a 5 or higher came up about 10% of the time over two games. I recommend using different dice, balanced if you have them.

Doug


Wow! You really kept track of that? Now I'll wonder about every die in my game collection!zombie

EDIT: I finally bought the game, played it... and loved it. This game is really good.
 
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Dan Poole
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Quote:
Thanks a lot for the critical comments on this game! I like CDG in general, but as you mention, sometimes the mechanics of these systems ruin gameplay. So I'm having a tough time deciding wether or not buying this game. Do you think I should go for "Rommel in the Desert" instead?


I really like RitD too, though it is a totally different game. If you like the fog of war that block games offer, check this one out too
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Jim Carvin
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Ah, the diabolical Dice … a word of caution; don't throw them when you're alone. The fiends lack loyalty, and their notion of nourishment is quite disturbing.
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Any idea where I can buy this online besides MMP's website? Bouldergames.com had it for $45 but ran out of stock. Now I can't find it listed anywhere else for sale. $60 at the MMP website is a little steep seeing as how I should be able to buy this for $45, especially with the shoddy components/cards that I heard about.
 
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Jim Carvin
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Ah, the diabolical Dice … a word of caution; don't throw them when you're alone. The fiends lack loyalty, and their notion of nourishment is quite disturbing.
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I've had no luck finding it anywhere else. I inquired with Boulder last week and they have no timeline for a restock.

I read about the components being shoddy at consimworld, I'm not sure who said them. Someone had even said the MMP needs to take a page out of GMT's book when it comes to quality.
 
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Jeffrey D Myers
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Component quality is every bit as good as GMT's in my view, which is surprising in that this was MMP's first foray into cards. It was not without wrinkles in the getting there, though....
 
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Jim Carvin
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Well I'm convinced (not that I needed it). I also managed to find and order the game online at nobleknights.com.
 
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Jeffrey D Myers
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Huzzah! Them's good people....
 
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Michael Rinella
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I would have been floored if every single store on-line had sold out the copies they ordered. I know sales have been good, but there should be plenty of copies still in stock - the game was only released three months ago.

If someone has said something negative at consimworld, it must be in a discussion I'm not familiar with. You never know with some people. There's always a handful with an axe to grind (or throw at me).
 
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Jim Carvin
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Mike,
I had searched all over for the game and could only find it in stock at nobleknights.com, not a place I usually shop at(the box is mangled too, so I may not shop there again either).

I wish I could remember where I had read the discussion on the quality of the components. One person commented that they thought the quality of the card stock was disappointing, another person (possiblely two more) chimed in that they too were disappointed when they opened the box and that MMP needed to "take a page from GMT's book". If I find it again, I'll post it here, sorry I can't provide that. I think they're perfectly fine myself.
 
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Mark Ballinger
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jcarvin wrote:

I had searched all over for the game and could only find it in stock at nobleknights.com, not a place I usually shop at(the box is mangled too, so I may not shop there again either).


I just looked at finegames.com, and he lists it as available for $44.00.

http://www.finegames.com/text/im_s.txt
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Jon W
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dcooley wrote:
Exceptions are spread out around the rule book[....]

Six hours is a good estimate for time.

I have a problem with the cards [...] there is little tension wrt whether you should try to snag a decent OPS number off of an event or not as there is in most other CDGs.

[...]I haven't seen another CDG that demands event play quite like this one does.

After a first play, I tend to agree with all these points. I'm sure there are some edge cases where you'd be well-served to cycle an event, but by and large the events are just too valuable. This wasn't necessarily damning for me, but my opponent cited this as his main reason for being less sanguine about having another go. Another concern for me is that with all the discard and undrawn deck shuffling, some cards simply will not appear, which can create weird issues in such an event-driven environment. For instance, Torch came very late in our game, and Herkules could not occur in our game no matter what. That's a feature and a bug, of course, but it can be disheartening.

I had a tougher problem with the exceptions and omissions. I wasn't armed with the FAQ/Errata (it was a spur-of-the-moment game choice), so I opted to rely heavily on the reference chart and on-map reminders. We thus overlooked a number of things, including the crucial extra Axis VPs for adjacency to El Alamein and presence in East Africa. My fault? Certainly. Trivial for MMP to've made this easier/better? Likewise.
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Michael Rinella
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I don't know how anyone can say there's little or no cardplay tension in SS. Maybe that's due to my having played it so much while it was in development. Having concrete opinions based on one play, when there are so many potential hand combinations over 12 turns, strikes me as ... premature.
 
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Anyone still having trouble finding this excellent game can check out the following site.

http://www.bunkerhillgames.com/index.php?UID=200610111851374...

As of this submission, Bunker Hill has three copies in stock.
 
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Steve Hope
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Having played this game a few times now, I don't really see the event vs. ops choice so starkly. I think MOST events you generally would like to play as events (Orders/London excepted), but unfortunately you may not be able to because of timing issues and/or the need to take ops. So if our hands are imbalanced (i.e. you have 5 events you'd like to play and I have 2), I am going to pressure sufficiently on the board that you will have to decide which events you are going to sacrifice. It just doesn't feel too different from other RP/Ops/Event choice games I've played.

I do tend to agree that certain events feel critical and may cost you 1+ VPs if you don't get the card at the right time. But that can go both ways--and the luck of when cards come up doesn't feel to me any different from a luck standpoint than die roll results.
 
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Hank Drew
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"that MMP needed to "take a page from GMT's book""

Bah, personally I think MMP is really pushing the limits of war game graphic design these days. I consider Fire in the Sky to be stunning.

 
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Jeffrey D Myers
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A Victory Lost is also very attractive.

MMP could take a page from GMT's book and include a few small ziplock bags, however....
 
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Michael Rinella
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Ziplocks
For the counters?
 
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Jeffrey D Myers
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Yes, exactly. Personally it's not a big deal because I tend to use Plano tackle boxes, but there are often counters I would rather bag (N/A in the case of Shifting Sands). But it's a nice touch to include them.
 
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Michael Rinella
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Counter baggies would be nice. They are dirt cheap too. Putting 4 or 5 into a copy of a game shouldn't add more than pennies to the cost.
 
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