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Subject: The Ultimate WWII Sandbox Game!!! rss

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Tim Korchnoi
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Cataclysm: The Ultimate Sandbox Game!!!

Cataclysm is a game of grand strategy which starts in the tumultuous 1930’s and ends in the 1940’s (with a last turn possibly stretching into 1950!). In the game players take the role of one of the seven major powers during this era and must guide it using political actions, military planning all the while making sure that their country remains stable as a collapse can have far reaching (and sometimes devastating) consequences. Victory is assessed by which powers has the most VP at the end based on countries controlled.



Playing Time:
The game does come with some shorter scenarios (including the excellent Days of Decision intro scenario) but the piece de resistance is the campaign game which begins in 1933-34 and runs until two turns after global war breaks out. The turn track does allow the game to run until a 1949-50 turn. The campaign game is long: there is no sugarcoating that. However, since the critical mechanic is a chit pull mechanism, all players remained engaged at all times as you never know what is going to come next over that two year turn period. My last solo campaign game took me five days to play and ran from 1933-34 until 1943-44 when only the Fascists were left standing as belligerent powers.

Map:
There are two maps in Cataclysm one covering Europe the other the Pacific. The maps have connectors between them to allow the movement of forces from one theater to another. The game spaces are area in nature and are well marked, easy to read, and functional. The map won’t win any beauty contests, but it is very good and works well for this game. The map also contains some key features of this epic period such as resources, adverse terrain, mixed terrain and restricted areas all of which are clearly marked.

Playing Pieces
The counters are 9/16 size and are nice and thick with distinct colors for each of the seven powers. You never have to wonder when you draw on from the cup whose turn it is. The counter represent large formations such as armies, fleets, and air forces. The game also comes with some wooden blocks that are used to mark control of which countries the major powers control if they do not have actual military units located in them (garrisoned in game turns). Overall, all the pieces are nice except the “white” blocks. They are more of a…um…peach color…mauve…something like that shake



Rules
First off let me say that the rules are not complicated. What they are is interesting and take an approach that most wargamers have not experienced before. I would compare learning Cataclysm to learning Fire in the Sky. Both sets of rules take some time to wrap your head around (and learn the flow of the system) but once you do, it all clicks beautifully into place. In general, you must remember that this is not a pure wargame. You are also going to have a lot of political options such as diplomacy, pressure
Spoiler (click to reveal)
(I will pause here while you take a moment to hum some David Bowie with Queen )
propaganda, etc… You will also need to manage your home front as well especially when you begin to crank up for war. FWIW, I recommend starting with the Days of Decision scenario as it gets you into the political system quickly and then try the Eagle Against the Sun scenario to get a good feel for the air and naval movement/combat rules.

The game has a chit pull system as the key component. Players can mitigate the whims of fate a bit by placing one marker into reserve which allows them a greater degree of control when that marker will played. Coupled with the reserve concept is the interruption mechanism which is clever and mastering said mechanic is critical for success, IMO. Interruption allows players to take a marker from their reserve and play if before a marker is pulled from the action cup. There are limitations on this (so check those out carefully) but it is a great way to prioritize your plans or possibly throw off your enemies by masking what you are really up to.

Now, for some particulars

Movement
Pieces move by areas and, depending on the action taken, can move a long, long way. Bases are key to moving long distances so keep that in mind if you are a more global minded power like the UK. Actual attacks are of much shorter range. All movement is governed by the use of operations which you will need to purchase to execute (unless you do a maneuver political action).

Combat
The combat system is die roll fight but not of the buckers of dice variety. Both sides can roll anywhere from 1 to 3 dice depending on advantages like armor, issues like supply, etc… After rolling the dice you compare highest total and that side wins and then losses are inflicted by doing a little math (dividing the two totals) and then the losing side takes their medicine. If a tie occurs, both sides take a hit. Frankly, there is nothing earth shattering here with combat resolution it just takes a bit to get used to but it is pretty clear and straight forward, IMO.

Supply
Basically you need to be able to trace it to a home resource. In peace time that is no sweat but once the bullets start flying it does become tricker. The biggest point of supply is the impact that restricted terrain has on it so watch yourself as you launch into say the USSR or if you are trying to trace supply in a part of the map that has a lot of restricted terrain. Key thing to remember: you can trace supply into restricted terrain but not through it so if the USSR does not get the Siberian RR rolling early and Japan comes a knocking…well, one glance at the map tells the story.

Stacking
Since this is a grand strategy game you are not going to have a lot of units in one space even when it is lovely clear terrain. Stacking limits are per power so keep that in mind as well.

Reinforcements/Replacements
Replacements are done via builds in the administrative phase so if you lose a unit early in a you may not see if again for awhile especially early in the game. As you crank up for war you can replace things via military operations but again, that might be dependent on the whims of the action cup.

Reinforcements come into the game when you increase you commitment. This allows you to add units to your force pool. But be careful: whatever you add is what you are stuck with!! So if you add an upgrade for land units make sure as you will not be able to exchange it for a fleet if you find yourself hard pressed from a maritime power.


Things I like about the game

1 The chit pull. This is great for not only simulating a game at the grand strategy level, but also for solo play which multiplayer solo is one of he hardest things to pull off.
2 The sandbox nature of the game. So far, I have tried several different strategies including a Japan targets the USSR out of the gate and have loads of fun. Each game plays a little different each time.
3 High Replayability. This game offers a different experience each time you play. This is true of the scenarios as well as the campaign game although in the campaign game the effect is magnified.
4 Simplicity. This game truly lets you focus on the big picture without getting bogged down in endless die rolls or factor counting.
5 The interplay of domestic and foreign policy. I love how the game simulates the effect each can have on the other.
6 The feel. You really do get a sense of what it was like to be a leader of these competing powers in one of history’s more unsettled periods.
6 1 The tension. The chit pull makes each turn interesting and keeps you on your toes No downtime here!!!
6 2 The crisis events. Nothing like a little crisis to stir the pot and upset all those lovely little plans and watch them get turned on their head
6 3 The rule and play books. Both are well organized and easy to read. There are terrific resources in each such as a glossary of key terms and resource listing all the units with picture and information about each.


Things that can be annoying angry

1 There are a lot of moving parts so in the first few games you can forget key rules and that can be frustrating. That being said, I say persevere as the pay off is huge when it all falls into place.
2 The China situation. Of all the rules in the game, this was the one I found most head scratching. I think having an extended example of China play would have helped a lot.
3 The maps. Now, I am not one to usually grind the paper maps suck ax but here, I think it is appropriate. Every time I unfold the maps I am afraid I will tear them! gulp shake

Overall Evaluation: d10-9 =wargamer heaven d10-1 = I’d rather staple my tongue to the wall for a month! yuk


Map= d10-4 While I do like the layout, colors, and symbols on the map the flimsy nature of it just kills it for me. yuk

Pieces= d10-7 The counters are great: large, easy to identify and sturdy. The biggest issue is the neural cube color. Don’t believe me? Take a look here and tell me where is the white cube…


Deployment of Forces= d10-9 This is fast and easy and the proverbial piece of cake once you get experienced with the game. One big thing to remember: when you increase your commitment, don’t forget to add units to your force pool!!!

Solo Play= d10-7 This plays really well solo as the chit pull allows you to make the best move each time and also allows you to gamble that you may get one of your needed markers before another power, etc… The one drawback is the interruption mechanic. This makes things tricky but I have been toying around with ideas such as a die roll to see if the interruption will occur to make it a little more solo friendly. Again, this is just a mental exercise so far so no idea how it will/would affect balance.
The other thing that can be tricky is remembering all the little things like failed cube placement, gaining flags etc… For those I can just say keep pounding away in your early plays and that will get easier as it goes.

Footprint= d10-4 This game covers a lot of space from the two maps to the seven country cards to the big information card you will need room.

Final Evaluation= d10-9 Despite some blemishes, this game is awesome. Put simply, it is the sandbox game I have always dreamed of!!!
First, I like the scale. The game makes you feel like a leader of the era and lets you truly craft a grand strategy. This game gives a great feel for what Clausewitz meant when he said war is politics by other means. Second, the chit pool makes for a very tense and solo friendly game. Third, I like the combat system as it gives you the vicissitudes of warfare without bogging the game down. Just wait for your first crucial combat where you sit there as the leader, white knuckling it as you await a combat result that is reliant on the men on the ground. Fourth, the endless possibilities. As the name says it is A second world war and what that can be is limited only by your imagination and the geopolitical realities of the country you are leading. Fifth, the crisis events. This adds even more complexity and gives a realistic feel. Finally, the game is just plain to fun. To me this game feels like Axis and Allies, Spheres of Influence and your favorite ETO/PTO game all had a baby and he has turned out to be a bright, precocious and energetic little bugger. But he is a baby, so he is still very manageable.

Bottom Line: If you love to play with history, if you love exploring the “what if” of one of the biggest time periods in the history of the world, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy. While the game does take some getting used to with all its moving parts, it is worth the effort to slowly but surely nail everything down as the final product is rewarding and challenging. Think of learning this game as the Island Hopping strategy of the USN in WWII: yeah, it will take some time and effort but in the end you (and your game group) will be winners. I think the best way to sum up my feelings about the game is with one simple sentence: this is the sandbox game I have always dreamed of and now I cannot wait to get some sleep
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David Siskin
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Given your feelings about the maps, I'm sure you'll want to get in on GMT's offer of mounted maps and a larger box (to hold them in). Go to their P500 page.

https://www.gmtgames.com/p-716-cataclysm-mounted-maps-3-box....
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David Janik-Jones
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Quote:
... rules take some time to wrap your head around (and learn the flow of the system) but once you do, it all clicks beautifully into place.

This is one of the several key positives about this design.
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Sean McCormick
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The cube colors are definitely an issue, as is the cube size--the components were clearly designed with smaller cubes in mind. That said, this is a very interesting design and well worth getting into.
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Jim F
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Who knew trench warfare could be such fun?
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Haven't received this yet but I've been reading around it and watching some of the vids on how to play etc...

I really like the fact that some of the history is hardwired into this game. 'Triumph and Tragedy' - while a perfectly okay game - could have been set in space with some minor adjustments.

This is much more what I want from a WW2 sandbox game. Looking forward to it.
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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seanmac wrote:
The cube colors are definitely an issue, as is the cube size--the components were clearly designed with smaller cubes in mind.

Yes, the "white" cubes were not produced properly (they used the "neutral" color instead of actual white). I will also admit the grey German cubes could be darker (but they do match the counters).

We used 8mm cubes in testing, and I only found out after production that GMT used 10mm cubes. Not a dealbreaker, thankfully.
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Phillip Gooden
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catosulla wrote:
The one drawback is the interruption mechanic. This makes things tricky but I have been toying around with ideas such as a die roll to see if the interruption will occur to make it a little more solo friendly.


I suggest using the PBEM option in the Playbook, which limits the amount of Reserves you can have throughout a turn. It makes you prioritize each country's Reserves and cuts down on the amount of time you spend worrying about it. As for when to use them, being limited makes it pretty obvious when you'll want to trigger it IMO.
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Christopher Hill
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Damn you, Tim! Your excellent review has broken me down. I didn't P500 this game but now wish I had. I WILL be picking up a copy and I WILL be P500ing the mounted maps. I wonder why GMT didn't do this in first place?
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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kinga1965 wrote:
I WILL be picking up a copy and I WILL be P500ing the mounted maps. I wonder why GMT didn't do this in first place?

We've been over this elsewhere, but preorders were sluggish and couldn't justify a $25($40) price hike for mounted maps.

Thanks for your support!

And remember... RATE THE GAME
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Tim Korchnoi
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kinga1965 wrote:
Damn you, Tim! Your excellent review has broken me down. I didn't P500 this game but now wish I had. I WILL be picking up a copy and I WILL be P500ing the mounted maps. I wonder why GMT didn't do this in first place?


You know Chris, I think it's pretty cheesy of you to condemn me to the nether regions after I just led you to the Eden of WWII sandbox
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Roger Hobden
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Nice review.

Thanks !

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Chris Hansen
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catosulla wrote:
kinga1965 wrote:
Damn you, Tim! Your excellent review has broken me down. I didn't P500 this game but now wish I had. I WILL be picking up a copy and I WILL be P500ing the mounted maps. I wonder why GMT didn't do this in first place?

You know Chris, I think it's pretty cheesy of you to condemn me to the nether regions after I just led you to the Eden of WWII sandbox

Well, as another Chris, I'll uplift you again by blessing you for such a nicely written review of such a fine game.

One of the things at the very core of wargaming is the desire to tinker with history, and this game does this beautifully with such broad and sweeping strokes on one of the two pivotal events of the 20th century.

I can only hope in that little wargaming dream world of mine that they might tackle in similar fashion the first pivotal event of last century, the First World War.
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Barry Setser
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My resistance to the acquisition of this title is rapidly fading as one Mr Joel Toppen pointed out - "Barry, I know you like more open and less scripted games than the average player, this is your game."

Thanks Joel.
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Tom Duensing
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sdiberar wrote:
kinga1965 wrote:
I WILL be picking up a copy and I WILL be P500ing the mounted maps. I wonder why GMT didn't do this in first place?

We've been over this elsewhere, but preorders were sluggish and couldn't justify a $25($40) price hike for mounted maps.

Thanks for your support!

And remember... RATE THE GAME


As an early P500 adopter, I remember when I first heard of CAT and was surprised that the P500 went up so slowly. I mean it's an interesting game with interesting mechanics and covers Europe and the Pacific--what's not to like? I'm just glad it made it to production. I wasn't going to P500 the mounted maps due to the expense, but what the heck--I just put in my order for them anyway. I figure I'd want mounted maps for when I retire in a few years and play the heck out of the game. You only live once....

I have yet to play the game, but can't wait until I clear my game table and get to it.
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Jim F
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Who knew trench warfare could be such fun?
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Picking up my copy tomorrow for a ftf game on Friday. Woot, woot.
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Tim Korchnoi
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Ashiefan wrote:

Picking up my copy tomorrow for a ftf game on Friday. Woot, woot.


This will be you upon completion of your first play


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Daniel Schulz
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LibertyToad wrote:

As an early P500 adopter, I remember when I first heard of CAT and was surprised that the P500 went up so slowly.
\

We are in a glut of grand tactical WW2 games. Unconditional Surrender, Triumph and Tragedy, Cataclysm, Hitler's Reich, World in Flames redo. We've had a drought for a decade+, and now grand strategy is everywhere. Cataclysm's sales will be somewhat tempered by supply and demand. I almost didn't buy it, but I'm a sucker for 'outside the box' games.
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John Di Ponio
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Keenly on my radar. I would like to try a game first or I will see if someone posts a youtube clip of play. It does intrigue me!
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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JohnnyD wrote:
Keenly on my radar. I would like to try a game first or I will see if someone posts a youtube clip of play. It does intrigue me!


How about a whole playlist?
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcL6Rfen3wykm7uL6pUb2...
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John Di Ponio
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sdiberar wrote:
JohnnyD wrote:
Keenly on my radar. I would like to try a game first or I will see if someone posts a youtube clip of play. It does intrigue me!


How about a whole playlist?
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcL6Rfen3wykm7uL6pUb2...


BINGO!!!! Checking out this holiday weekend!!!! Thanks Scott!
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Stephen Rynerson
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LibertyToad wrote:
As an early P500 adopter, I remember when I first heard of CAT and was surprised that the P500 went up so slowly. I mean it's an interesting game with interesting mechanics and covers Europe and the Pacific--what's not to like?


I'll acknowledge that I didn't preorder it because I found the map and graphics to be offputting. blush I've purchased it now though (and preordered the mounted maps/box) based on the strength of the reviews I've been seeing of it since it came out.
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Jim Bailey
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Is it possible (and realistic) to play this solitaire?
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Jonathan Yedidia
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jim bailey wrote:
Is it possible (and realistic) to play this solitaire?


Yes. There is no hidden information, so it is very solo-friendly.
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Jesse Edelstein
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jim bailey wrote:
Is it possible (and realistic) to play this solitaire?


Yes, and I plan to have a solitaire-focused review up soon. It works well provided you are willing to play each side as well as possible.
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