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Subject: Attack! - Impressions from a Grognard rss

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Isaac Citrom
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Attack! - Impressions from a Grognard


Overview:

I rate Attack! a 5.5 on the BGG scale because as a longtime wargamer Attack! doesn't do it for me. For lighter fare I would play Axis & Allies or Europe Engulfed. More objectively, with boardgamers of different persuasions in mind I rate the game a 7.5. And, on the traditional 1 to 10 scale I rate Attack! a 6 because of the mediocre physical quality of the product.

I think any review of Attack! must at least mention the marketing strategy for the game. Eagle Games, Attack!'s publisher, explicitly states at the very start of the rules that Attack! is the first of two parts of the Attack! system. This first part offers the map of Western Eurasia and North America, more or less the European Theatre of Operations (ETO). The Attack! Expansion, adding rules enhancements, more minis, but especially a full second map board of the Pacific Theatre of Operations (PTO), turns Attack! into a whole other game. The two parts together make up a more complex game of greater scope. I like this idea and I think it works well. That said, this review speaks only to the first basic Attack! game.


Game Components:

Before Axis & Allies, commercial games came with a few interesting bits like Clue's pipe, rope, and revolver. But, most game components were paper based including all sizes and types of cards. More sophisticated games came with a whole lot of bland square counters. So, Axis & Allies wow-ed many boardgamers, I think, with its very many and varied minis. Right off you knew Axis & Allies was no Risk.

That was then and this is now. Part of the fun for me is opening the box and cooing over the contents of games like Memoir '44, War of the Ring (First Edition), BattleLore, and Axis & Allies et. al. "Kewwl!" Nobody expects a $50 game to come with $500 of pewter minis. However, the standards for minis are quite a bit higher than they used to be. Attack! comes with 678 minis in 6 colours (for 6 players). Each of the sprues are of the identical mould. Unlike Axis & Allies' excellent minis of differing models that are historically correct, Attack!'s models are of no tank or aircraft design I recognize; they are generic WWII-ish designs.

The minis are well sculpted with good detail but all to little effect as the plastic that was chosen is a softer more pliable variant. The resultant minis look, well..., sloppy. Opening the box I was thoroughly underimpressed. I looked at the 6 sprues of minis, said "oh well", and moved on to the rulebook. I also don't particularly care for the colours such as dark blue and dark green. I find they are too toyish, much like those bags of plastic soldiers.

Twisting off the minis results in a lot of flash. I used a sprue cutter and the minis came of cleanly for the most part. The infantry took a second pass to remove flash at the base that would make the infantrymen stand funny. Unlike current standards for minis that come already de-sprued and flashless, be prepared to spend 1 to several hours removing the minis from their sprues.

The minis are composed of infantry, armour, artillery, fighter aircraft, and one capital city. They come in two sizes, one that represents a single and a slightly larger one that represents 5. The larger armour mini is obvious but the larger infantryman and fighter are only slightly larger and one has to stare for a second or three to verify if the mini is a single or a fiver.

There are no minis for naval warfare. Rather, one of the two decks of cards that come with the game is a pictorial collection of ships: aircraft carriers, battleships, destroyers, and submarines. The other deck is an in-game deck from which cards are drawn. Each card represents a certain amount of industrial capacity/production. The cards are thin but still have a good feel to them.

The game box is slightly longer than it is wide and there is nothing special about it. In today's environment of high quality components from Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games, the box is not more than adequate. Definitely expect the box corners to split over time. There is absolutely no insert of any kind. Unless you supply your own Plano or Flambeau compartmentalized boxes, all the cards and the 678 minis will rest strewn around inside the mostly empty box like so many pistachios. I used 6 Flambeau model 2003 and all of them just fit back in the box.

The game board is a six part cut and fold. It is nicely thick but does not open cleanly such that one corner will ride up and the board spreads apart at the split. I can already tell that this board is highly susceptible to tearing at the fold. I handle the board very gingerly.

The board is map of North America and Eurasia. Its style is topographical. The artwork is pretty good and yet the graphics don't grab me. There is no border whatsoever and I think that is what is putting me off. I also find the green/yellow colour scheme bland and limited. The board is not as big as Eagle Games' other gigabantic boards and certainly not nearly as attractive, but it is a good large size. The map is basically a copy of the Risk map including the movement lines across bodies of water, a breakup of the world into territories extremely similar to Risk, and even including the strategically critical Madagascar! The flip side of the board has a giant Attack! logo and that's a shame as something useful could have been laid out there.

The rulebook is short and sweet. It is very well laid out with a lot of graphic examples. It is orderly and the rules are quite well explained. The entire rulebook is but a 15 minute read. The rulebook is printed on a glossy but thin stock and bound with a couple of staples. The games catalogue included with games like Arkham Horror is of a better quality. I do not expect the rulebook to stay looking fresh for very long.

Attack! also comes with 8 specialized dice and 2 standard 6 siders. The specialized dice have imprints of an artillery piece, infantryman, tank, and aircraft. Again, I find the graphics sloppy but the dice are well painted and feel solid. They have rounded corners which I like.

Graphics throughout the game are pretty good but nothing in the league of Days of Wonder or Fantasy Flight. All in all, physically, the game looks and feels like it would be very much at home at Wal-Mart. Note that this is a marked difference from Eagle Games' other publications which are known for their intense and great looking graphics.

Attack! is, in my opinion, underequipped. There ought to be a battleboard. More importantly, in light of Attack!'s target audience, there also ought to be a player reference card for each player. There are really only two charts necessary, one for build costs and one for action types, and they are both on the back of the rulebook. The player should have them readily in hand.


Design:

There is some history here. I have been following Eagle Games ever since they first set up shop. A "better than Axis & Allies" game was a long time in the planning. This game which was eventually shelved in favour of Attack! was to be Eagle Games' contender to Axis & Allies. I believe the business decision turned on the point that Eagle first wanted to publish a lighter more commercial WWII-style wargame that would be sold in larger numbers in stores like Wal-Marts and Zellers. This was the genesis of Attack! As such, it would be a mistake and unfair to compare Attack! to Axis & Allies. Rather, Attack! is a better Risk.

Indeed, aside from the minis looking WWII-ish, there is no mention of Axis, Allies, Germany, the UK or anything related to WWII. The players do not represent the USA, the USSR, or Germany; rather, one is the blue player or the tan player. Like Risk, a player's controlled regions may include Quebec and Central Europe simultaneously and not be illogical. Where Risk's historical and political context is entirely generic, Attack!'s atmosphere is rooted in WWII but goes no further.

Although there are 4 kinds of land units (armour, infantry, artillery, aircraft) they are not dramatically different in effect one from another. This is tied in with how the dice work. When resolving combat, each unit grants 1 die except for tanks which grant 2 dice. A hit is accrued only if a die roll turns up a symbol for a unit you have in the front line. So, for example, a die that rolls to the artillery symbol results in a hit only if the player has an artillery piece in his front line. The number of dice one gets to roll plus the types of units one has in the front line combine to increase the odds of a hit. This mechanic is obviously designed to encourage and reward combined arms. I find the mechanic fiddly such that it forces the player to be a gamesman instead of allowing the player to think in tactical terms. I add artillery to the mix not because of how armies work per se, rather because the dice work that way. More importantly, the notion that combined arms is a good thing is not at all evident to the non-wargamer and novice wargamer toward whom this product is geared. That is, after a number of games it will dawn on a player that it is better to vary the unit mix because that is how the dice work the best, and not because he learned to think in tactical or wargaming terms. There is just something inherently wrong in that and it does not sit well with me.

On his turn a player may perform any 3 actions selected from a menu of 7. The available actions are: Move (and combat), blitz-move, strat-move, naval attack, diplomacy, build, and trade. This game mechanic is at the heart of what makes Attack! both easy and fun to play. Attack!'s design cleverly adds a suspenseful dynamic to the game such that the player must weigh and decide on what areas of development are most crucial at the moment, but without bogging down execution with a complicated phase based turn. "If I don't build, I may fall behind. But, I really need to take control of the sea. On the other hand I better expand now before I get boxed in."

I notice and like that Attack!'s design and rules are for the most part very non-fiddly and straightforward. There seems to be a lack of those exceptions and seemingly arbitrary rules that mucks up one's plans. For example, strat-moves are from just about anywhere to anywhere. There is no limit on the number of units that can move this way and there is no limit on the number of units that may occupy a territory. There are no retreats and special attacks. All combats are straightforward and to the death. This may make an avid Axis & Allies player uneasy but I would guess would be very interesting to the avid Risk player.

There is some downtime whilst a player muses over the board and contemplates his options, and the downtime will naturally increase with the number of players. However, surprisingly there is not much downtime at all. Naval attacks, attacks upon your territory, and attacks upon a neutral territory all require the participation of the non-active players.


Gameplay:

Setting up a game is very fast. Twelve infantry, 6 armour, 4 artillery, 2 aircraft, 1 capitol, 4 economics cards, 1 battleship, 2 destroyers, 2 submarines, choose 4 territories, and there, you're done.

Each player's turn consists of the 3 allowable actions. The turns are relatively fast because. as I have found, it very quickly becomes clear how and when to use each type of action. A blitz-move action is simply another move limited to aircraft and armoured units; period. The trade action allows one to trade economics cards and make deals; period.

The move action allows one to move any and all units. Those entering neutral or enemy territory results in a to-the-death combat.

Production is randomized from game to game in that each conquest of a territory includes a draw from the Economics card deck and adds to a player's total production. Production points are simply totalled and spent when a player chooses a build action. Remember that this can happen at any time during a player's turn.

The diplomacy move is especially interesting such that a player can grab any territory on the board without a fight and for free. However, if the action fails then the other players will probably grab that territory including its associated production card. This can be problematic if the territory that was sought was right next to your main home area. All of a sudden a player may find himself with the enemy in his midst. If this new enemy outpost is not quickly crushed, a player may suddenly find that an enemy has strat-moved a giant army group right into the heart of his empire.

He who controls the sea controls the world is the Attack! mantra. One and only one player controls all sea zones in the game. This player has the right to outright veto any and all cross-water movement. If you don't like it then put your navy out to sea and fight it out. If you win the sea battle, now you become the king of the sea. At first glance this may seem like an outrageously unbalanced power for one player to have. If players ignore their navies then they must live under such a restriction. If not, then rule of the high seas will change frequently as continual sea battles rage on. This design accomplishes a couple of things. Firstly, there is a war at sea which is a leg up on Risk but it is highly abstracted. This keeps gameplay within the design focus of a very simple wargame. However, there is no strategic warfare in Attack!; such that, for example, masses of submarines duke it out with masses of navies, resulting in some attritional based level of production points and forces getting through.

Attack! is officially not a player elimination game as just as soon as the first player is eliminated, the game is over. Territories are counted and the winner declared.


Recommendation:

Attack! is in a different class from Axis & Allies and certainly Europe Engulfed. If you are a fan of these games or these types of games and are looking to Attack!, move on; you will be very disappointed. Note however, that Attack! plus its expansion (Attack! Expansion) is a whole other ballgame and must be viewed separately.

I have found that just about everyone likes to be the conquering general. It is just human nature to stand at the apex of the mountain, a fist raised, the wind blowing in your hair, and proclaim victory over all. And, hence the popularity of Risk. If you or someone you want to gift gets lost as soon as you hear, "fighters can move 4 and bombers can move 6", then Attack! is for you and you will like it. If I were buying a gift and judged the giftee as a Risk person, then I would definitely buy Attack! instead. Attack! adds a good amount of interesting and fun gameplay but is designed well so as not to sacrifice the simplicity for which Risk is so famous.

I also recommend this game for adult play with the younger (8 to 12) player as a strategic wargame. Attack! is an excellent tool to make the younger player feel included with the types of games older siblings might play. The younger player might find Axis & Allies beyond him, but will find Attack! manageable and fun.

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Jay Bruce
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OK, I own this game and played it three times before it made the shelf forever. I was hoping for a better risk, but I found it dissapointing that aircraft and tanks are just infantry with more ability to hit; thus in late game you end up with a pile of bits just like risk, and these run about the board until destoryed or victorious. Personally, I find the simplicity of risk, though now completely overplayed, more universal and appealing that ATTACK!.

Having said that, I am somewhat in dissagreement with your review in two areas. A&A, Days of Wonder, et al, should not be the litmus test for games of this genre. The quality of the artwork on the box is not, in my opinion, in any way and important function of a review. Before, A&A, there was Shogun, Fortress America, Buck Rodgers and the Battle for the 25th Century--all of which outclassed A&A in number and quality of miniatures. While I agree the minis in ATTACK! are suspect at best, none of these "bits" games are representative of "the way things need to be". Bits games sell because people buy shiney things, and because people are generally more apt to affiliate with a tank model than a cardboard counter with a picture of a tank.

But, it has been my experience that the more junk in the box, the less thought in the game. The more art on the box, the less eligance in the mechaniccs. In short, ATTACK! is a marginal game for me soley because of the trivial mechanics. I rated it a 3 on playability/replayability.

I would hate to think that games must meet a "bits" quota and "box art" quality in order to sell these days.

Jay
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Jeffrey Griffith
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I think you were too hard on attack!. Yes, Axis and Allies pieces were all meant to look like really german tanks or russian infantry. but there are no specific countries in this game, so the fact that they are all generic makes sense. And I also agree with the person above. Games should not be reviewed by how pretty the box or rulebook is. It may not be the greatest game ever, but people who look for easy simple games that are fun will find a lot in attack!. -Jeffrey
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Thomas R. Moen
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Thanks for the review, I'll now check the expansion review. :-)

Btw Grognard:

Would you agree with this review of the expansion?
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1650376#1650376
 
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