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Subject: A solid new entry into the block game arena rss

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Andrew C
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Prussia's Defiant Stand (PDS), which is still quite new, hasn’t generated much buzz on BGG, so I thought I’d write a review to make more people aware of it. This review is based on two games, one face-to-face, that was completed/aborted in a single session (after Frederick and his primary army was wiped out after a bone-headed move/bad die roll by me) and a completed solo game played over several nights, where Prussia won a complete victory.


Components

A shot of the fantastic components

When I stumbled across this game on Worthington’s site, it was the components that initially caught my interest. The game boasts a beautiful, fully mounted board, full color glossy rulebook, large wooden blocks (Hammer of the Scot’s sized) and very nice cards. There is really nothing at all to complain about here. This is as good as wargame (or any other game!) components get.


Topic/Theme

The other thing that drew me into the game was the topic: Frederick the Great. In the past, the topic didn’t do much for me, but after a recent game of Friedrich (an amazing game…my review of it is here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/267963), I realized how interesting the topic is. Prussia, surrounded literally on all sides and greatly outnumbered, must use its superior leadership and interior lines to survive an onslaught from every direction on the compass (Russia in the east, Sweden in the north, Austria to the south, and France to the west).

Unfortunately Friedrich, which after a single session became one of my favorites games, is best with four players, which I rarely have, and isn’t very solo-friendly. Prussia’s Defiant Stand, on the other hand, is a typical two player wargame that works pretty well for solitaire gaming. It doesn’t have solitaire rules, but if you like to solo two-player wargames, this one will work as well, if not better than most, due to the limited fog-of-war the blocks can provide, particularly if you, like me, have a sieve-like memory.


Mechanics

This game plays a lot like a cross between two better known Columbia’s block games: Hammer of the Scots and Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815. It utilizes a card mechanic similar to Hammer, where each player plays a card of varying value, which is used to command (move and fight) with a limited number of units or leaders. Unlike Hammer, it also uses a battle board akin to Napoleon, though with significant differences. PDS also incorporates fairly robust fortress rules that neither game uses.

The rules for the game are posted on Worthington’s site, here: http://www.worthingtongames.com/images/newsite/images/Prussi..., but I’ll highlight the major mechanics that drive the game.


d10-1 Blocks: Obviously, this is a block game, which provides two main benefits: limited fog of war, since you cannot always see your opponent’s forces, and four-step reduction, as the blocks are rotated to a lower value after each hit. A block with three steps of strength rolls three dice in combat, while a block with two steps, rolls two dice, etc.

Blocky goodness


d10-2 Cards: The cards are the heart of the game. Each turn (there are five per year) the players select one of their seven cards to play as either an event, or as ‘Commands’ (known as ‘Ops Points’ in many other CDG’s).

A picture of the game box showing some of the cards

Possible uses for the cards:

1 If played as Command Points, the number indicates the number of leaders or single units that can move. An activated leader can move with a number of units equal to twice their current strength. Since leaders and other blocks can have at most four steps of strength, this rule practically limits armies to nine blocks- one leader and eight other units.

2 Cards played as commands can also be used to reinforce fortresses (one command point strengthens a fortress by one step) but critically, not combat units or leaders.

3 Command points can also be used to bring units back into the game, at full strength, from the force pool. A full strength infantry costs 1 command point (hereafter CP), cavalry costs 2, leaders cost 3.

4 Alternatively, cards can me played as events, which vary in their effects. The most valuable of the events is probably the cards that allow the player to reinforce (i.e. increase the strength of) damaged units on the board. This is the only way to accomplish this, and its generally most important to use them to keep your generals up-to-strength. Since units are so hard to reinforce, but generally easy to ‘resurrect’ using CP’s, it often makes sense to let weakened units die off and bring them back at full strength. Of course, they must come back in a home city, so for an invading army, this isn’t always a great solution.

5 Finally, some cards are battle cards that impact…well, battles. The might give a group of units the ability to fire first, or make a type of unit more effective (or your opponent’s units less effective).

In summary, the cards are more flexible generally than in Hammer and its breathen, and play more like a typical CDG, like Paths of Glory, but in a much lighter (complexity-wise) way.

The cards get a definite thumbsup.


d10-3 Battle Board: When units from opposing armies end a move in the same city, a battle ensues, and the units are moved to the battle board. Unlike in Napoleon, the board is not divided into left-center-right, but rather by unit type (i.e. leader-infantry-cavalry). Due to this, the battle board doesn’t ‘feel’ like you’re playing out a battle, but rather more simply like a flow chart that directs who can attack whom, and in what order.

Battleboard with a few battle cards played

Basically, leaders fire first, followed by infantry. Cavalry fight there own little side battle, and only cavalry units in excess of the enemy’s cavalry can engage the infantry. On top of this, the rules for the battle board are not very clear in the rulebook, and even after posting several questions, and getting answers, I’m still not 100% clear on some situations. The designer recently posted that he (just back from a naval deployment, thank you for serving!!) will post clarifications soon.

Even with answers to my questions, I still don’t think I’ll be sold on the battle board, for two reasons. First, as I mentioned, since its not an ‘overhead view’ of the battle as in Napoleon, it really acts a rules reminder. I think the same effects could have been implemented much more cleanly using Columbia’s tried and true A-B-C system, where A units fire before B units, etc. It would have been simple to make cavalry A, leaders B, infantry C. (It wouldn’t accomplish exactly the designer’s stated goal of making cavalry fight a ‘side battle’ but for me the simplification would have been worth the abstraction).

The second reason I don’t like the battle board is that this is a pretty long game, with nearly 40 turns. And with full strength units coming back with the play of a command card, there are a lot of battles. In Napoleon, there are fewer turns and fewer battles, so taking your time on them makes more sense.

Battleboard: thumbsdown


d10-4 Fortresses: In my first game with fellow BGGer Paul, I think we both misunderstood how fortresses should be used. We got the rules, but not the strategy. As a result, I stupidly withdrew Frederick and his three best units into a fortress in the face of a superior Austrian army. One bad die roll later, my fortress fell, and Frederick, and the flower of the Prussian army, was eliminated. Since leaders, unlike combat units, cannot be brought back, we pretty much called them game then and there.

In my subsequent game, though, I figured out how to use fortresses correctly. They are great as a speed bump, where a small number of units can effectively slow a much larger army for several turns. They are not, however, invulnerable, and they WILL eventually fall to assault or siege, so more important units and leaders need to stay out of them.

Fortresses

Fortresses force the attacker to make an agonizing decision. Make a costly assault, or wait it out while the enemy plays CP’s for reinforcement or strengthens in other ways. In battle, fortresses hit automatically every round (i.e. a four step fortress hit for four every turn, until reduced to three, etc) AND grant up to four units double-defense (it takes two hits to inflict a step-loss).

When used properly, to hold the enemy at bay (or threaten his supply line should he pass them up) fortresses turned out to be one of the game’s mechanics that I like the best.

Fortresses get a thumbsup.


d10-5 Friction of War table: Every turn, after selecting which leader to command, but before moving, the players roll on the Friction of War table. The table provides several possible impacts, but usually it restricts a particular general from moving or fighting.

Friction of War table

It can be a real bummer when your activated leader suddenly ‘falls ill’ and can’t attack this turn. The allies generals are mostly in the ‘middle’ of the table, where the most common 6’s, 7’s, and 8’s are rolled, thus Prussian generals are essentially more reliable and mobile. A simple mechanic that add some flavor and uncertainty, along with depicting Prussian armies greater mobility. The only problem I have with the table is that it is really hard to remember to roll on it every turn.

Friction of War: thumbsup


The Rules

I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on the rules. They are not too clear, and somewhat poorly organized. Even during the first read through I had questions that were not clearly answered. And during our first game, we spent as much time trying to find a rule clarification as playing. With no index and little or no numeration of the rules, it is very hard to find what you're looking for. For a monster wargame, that is understandable, but for a game at about as complex as Hammer, that is really disappointing. The more games I learn, the more I appreciate typical wargame rulebooks where every rule is numbered, cross referenced, and indexed. As I mentioned, the rules for the battle board in particular are opaque, and I suspect that they will be revised based on player feedback over the next few months.


Gameplay impressions

After I got the hang of it, I really liked this game. The Prussians seem hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded, and their armies don’t seem to be better by a wide enough margin to make up the gap. But they enjoy the central position and can, and must, respond to one crisis after another. In our first game, Paul and I walked away with the impression that this was a fairly static game, where armies slog from one siege to another. That was simply due to my incompetence as the Prussian. In the second game, it came together. Frederick would lead his strongest force to head off whichever ally was invading. If he could maneuver them into a one-on-one fight, he could generally win. In winning, he would smash the opposing army, as combat is pretty bloody and retreats are more costly in PDS than in games like Hammer. That buys Prussia a reprieve of several turns (often several years) while that ally rebuilds his force. Of course, the Prussian army invariable suffers attrition, and must try to rebuild while racing to oppose the next invading ally.

Initial setup

If the allies can manage to maneuver and effect a joining of forces, Prussia may just lose a major field battle (in happened in my second game). Then Prussia relies on small garrisons in the fortresses to slow the allies down enough to give him time to rebuild. Alternatively, if the allies can coordinate a simultaneous assault from several directions at once, Frederick is faced with some tough choices about where to defend.

This game can run a little too long. I felt like the armies would keep getting crushed, then spend several turns putting themselves back together again to do it all again. Rinse and repeat. In this way, it felt a bit like the American Civil war, which may, in fact, be historically accurate. Based on the designer’s overview of the war on the first page of the rulebook, it probably is, as Frederick clearly won, and lost, several major battles, after which each side fought on.

In any case, this is a game in the Hammer family, but I’m not sure it could be played to conclusion in a single weeknight game. I can’t help but feel that four turns per year rather than five would have decreased play time to a more reasonable level, without harming the game at all. I’d be interested in hearing more experienced players estimates of game time.


Summary

After a relatively negative first impression of this game, I’ve grown to like it. It took only a single solitaire game to make it one of my favorite solo games. It has a lot to recommend it: a single map that fits almost anywhere, an interesting historical situation, fantastic components, and several interesting mechanics (the cards and fortresses are my favorites). But I can’t help thinking that with some rules editing, additional input from folks outside the developer/designer, and a few months more development, it could have been a truly great game. As it is, it’s a solid title and one I look forward to playing again.

Overall: thumbsup
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Bartman
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Really solid review Andrew, thanks. You definitely put time into this effort.

I must say I am still on the fence with this one. HotS is one of my Wanted games and I think I would like it over PDS in this genre of game.

Cheers,
Bart
 
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Darrell Hanning
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Great review, Andrew, and thank you. (Man, am I tired of seeing those reviews that would get lost on the back of a cereal box.)

This game definitely has my eye, but already having and enjoying Friedrich, I'm not optimistic about the table time it would get.
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Andrew C
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DarrellKH wrote:
This game definitely has my eye, but already having and enjoying Friedrich, I'm not optimistic about the table time it would get.


To me, Friedrich is clearly a better game, but this one fills a different niche. I can't really imagine playing Friedrich solo, and I rarely manage to gather four wargamers together.
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Andrew C
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dcjackso wrote:
How do you think the game simulates Frederick's brilliant use of aggressive moves against single enemies, as well of the positional warfare of the period? (By the latter, I mean the wandering around maneuvering of huge armies until--finally--one attaks the other!)


I'm hardly an expert in the period, I think that last Frederick book I read was 15 years ago.

That said, I think it absolutely requires Frederick to move aggressively to attack the allies one at a time. In fact, is some ways it does this more than Friedrich, since in Friedrich the Prussian's have 8 armies, but in this game you'll be hard pressed to field two 'first line' armies at once. So the main Prussian army (usually Frederick's) must move from hot spot to shot spot to hit the allies while they are seperated, while counting on garrisoned fortresses to slow the other allies.

Quote:
If you are interested in the European theater of the Seven Years' War, I strongly recommend the work of Christopher Duffy--his biography of Frederick II is available used in decent condition and is a great resource. I also found Robert Asprey's biography of Frederick a great read.


I am interested in the peroid now, as a result of this and Friedrich. I actually meant to post a question about a good book, thanks for the referral!

Quote:
You might want to take a look at Clash of Arms games on this time period in their Age of Reason series. The extensive historical notes alone are awesome (some written by Duffy himself), and the maps are beyond gorgeous IMO.


I'll check them out. How complex are they?

Quote:
One final question for you: how do you think PDS would play via VASSAL?


I've never used VASSAL so I'm not sure, but it probably isn't ideal since each card play is often a very short turn (i.e. if used to recruit a unit from the force pool or improve a fortress). In other words, you might wait 24 hours to play your turn that will take 1 minute. Plus you'd have to go back and forth quiet a bit in combat, which, unlike Columbia games, is not restricted to three rounds and can definitely last longer.
 
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Dan Edwards
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Nice review...I have this one but have yet to try it out due to Cowboys: The Way of the Gun, Victoria Cross and The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865 taking all my game time. I might wait for Mr. Draker to polish it before giving it a whirl.
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Bloodybucket wrote:
I might wait for Mr. Draker to polish it before giving it a whirl.


Is he still working on it, or is that just wishful thinking?
 
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Andrew C
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The designer's comments from this thread:

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/296325

Quote:
I apologize for the delay in getting back to many of you. I just got back to the states after a year out of the country with the navy and some of the rules issues I'm afraid came from me not being in close contact with Worthington -- as much as I'd have liked to.

I just finished the Prezcon tournament and thanks to all those who showed up and played PDS or stopped me to talk about the game. We had eight players in the first heat and it looked like everyone had a good time. I did get a chance to talk to Mike and Grant from Worthington at length and we agreed to publish online an update to the rules to clarify a few points. Hopefully we'll get this out within a couple of weeks.

Some of the confusion came from a difference in interpretation of my original rules intent -- not surprising given some of the nuiance in especially the cavalry battles.

A couple of things that will be spelled out better:

1) If leaders and infantry find they are unopposed, they may fire on any enemy cavalry in the cavalry vs. cavalry engagement column. Again, I'm sorry for the confusion on this point. It wasn't my original intent as I saw the cav battle as a separate little battle and didn't think artillery and infantry would fire into a swirl of cav for risk of hitting their own, but in the end this does keep things a little simpler and the example in the rules does lay out this scenario.

2) Parity -- For example, there are three Prussian cav against two Austrian cav in the first round and the Prussian player sends one against the Austrian army. In the second round and Austrian cav shows up as reenforcement. If the Austrian cav elect to charge, they would have to charge the Prussian cav because they do not have excess cav. If the Prussian player pulls his cav back to form up in a subsequent round and charges again, he would have to engage the Austrian cav if they still have equal or more cav.

3) Exception to melee requirement -- if at the end of any round cav find they are unopposed in their column (against enemy cav or leader/infantry), they immediately return to form-up and are available to charge in the next round.

4) Winter Campaign card -- if a player uses the W.C. card as an event and the other player uses commands, resolve the W.C. movement first, then the other player places units, then resolve combat. Remember you can't place units in a contested or unsupplied city (limited supply from a fortress does not count as a supplied city).

5) Simultaneous play of conflicting battle cards. If a situation arises where both players play a battle card, such as Prussian infantry fire first and withdraw, always resolve to the benefit of the defender.

6) Leader command change -- the rules say a leader may move equal or less senior leaders. This will be changed in the rules to say only lesser leaders. I found in playtesting that it can break the game if Fredrick runs around with Henry as part of his army.

There are a couple of other finer points that will be spelled out more clearly in the rules, but I think we've answered the questions already in earlier posts. I also will reorganize the FAQ sheet to better answer some of the common questions I've received.

I hope this helps. Thank you for the support and patience.

Ron
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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dcjackso wrote:
Sphere--I've meant for a long time to tell you that you've got the coolest login name ever.


Hey, thanks Daren. Always Know!

dcjackso wrote:

And I *do* think Ron is making good faith efforts to support this game. Honestly, it felt like it got published *really* quickly, which makes the production value even more amazing. (I agree with Justin--other wargames aren't the proper comparison--this game is beautiful compared to any game.) My hope is that this game will like good wine--after it breathes a bit, it will be truly great.


It's too bad when a game gets pushed out the door prematurely, but publishers have their own worries and that's the way it goes. I'm interested in the game, but already own both Friedrich and Frederick the Great, so I'd have to be convinced that this was truly ready before I'd take the plunge.
 
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Sphere wrote:
I'm interested in the game, but already own both Friedrich and Frederick the Great, so I'd have to be convinced that this was truly ready before I'd take the plunge.

Didnt'play it really yet, FAB: The Bulge is stealing all my time. I played the 2 other games, and for what I saw/tested, this is a quite different feeling. I like the cards'use and Friction of war too. I share Cletus' concern about the battleboard. In Napoleon, it provides a true bonus. It's more static here. I'm curious (and a little bit worried) about the siege thing. This is one of the aspects I don't like in Crusader Rex.


dcjackso wrote:

You mentioned liking the game Friedrich, which is indeed a great game. I wanted to add a plug that the game works very well with 3P. Maybe better that 4P

My choice too
 
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Philip Thomas
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dcjackso wrote:


The lack of interest is a shame--Frederick certainly lost some battles (Kolin being foremost among them), and Russian politics played out quite well for him...but his ability to avoid multiple enemies while dealing with them piece-meal is beyond belief, IMO. I just don't understand how he did it. And the battles he won with half the manpower of his adversaries...I really think (along with Dodge) that he belongs high up in the pantheon of great generals, with Alexander (who was typically fighting lightly-armed opponents) and Hannibal and Caesar, etc. And he was a great diplomat, as well. Okay, this is ridiculous--you can tell I'm into Frederick right now.

.


I've just finished reading The Seven Years War in Europe by Franz AJ Szaro. He argues that Prussia survived the war despite of not because of Frederick. His view is that Frederick was a mediocre general, who made several severe errors of judgement, and a useless diplomat. Unfortunately for European history*, the generals opposing Frederick were (on average) even more incompetent, when they weren't actually in Frederick's pay.

I think Szaro is rather harsh, and no doubt a revisionist backlash against Frederick was inevitable. Still it is interesting to see a different viewpoint.

*Szaro subscribes to the negative view of Prussia's influence on Europe...
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Stephen Harper
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Thanks for the review. This period is one of my favorites, but I was unsure if Columbia could produce a reasonable game on the period. For some reason my expectations for games of this period are much higher than for other periods, and I find myself disappointed. Your review though makes me think this would not be a bad purchase.

I pulled some of my favorite books from the period and thought I might recommend them to you:

Frederick The Great - A Military Life, Christopher Duffy. Already mentioned above in an ealier post.

The Army of Frederick The Great, Christopher Duffy. Detailed analysis of the Prussian army.

The Military Experience in the Age of Reason 1715-1789, Christopher Duffy. Covers "physical, psychological, and philosophical aspects" of army life in the 18th century, with concentration on the conflicts in North America and the campaigns of Frederick. Christopher sights a debt to years of association with Paddy Griffith, Richard Holmes, and John Keegan, which gives an idea of the type of information to be found here.

The Anatomy of Victory - Battle Tactics 1689-1763, Brent Nosworthy. This book is fascinating for me, because it investigates the major tactical doctrines 17th-18th centuries, and shows how they evolved to the ultimate Frederician system of that era.

The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough, David Chandler. A topic perhaps one generation earlier than Frederick, although with much overlap of periods as this book covers 1688-1748. Still an interesting read much in the same way as the others above.

The Wooden World - An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy. I was reminded of this book, which was cited in Christopher's preface in his The Miliary Experience, and so I pulled it out. Even though it's subject is the British Navy, the period covered is the eighteenth century, and examins all aspects of the topic in approach similar to above.

Half of these books I read maybe 15 to 20 years ago, and the others maybe half that time. Pulling them out and briefly looking through them, I remember the absoluting fascinating time I had reading them. It makes me think that perhaps now to re-read them and enjoy a second time.

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Bruce
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They aren't produced as attractively as other 'Living Rules' I've seen from GMT, etc., but Worthington has posted revised rules as of April 2008:

http://www.worthingtongames.com/download.html
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Ellowen-Deeowen wrote:
They aren't produced as attractively as other 'Living Rules' I've seen from GMT, etc., but Worthington has posted revised rules as of April 2008:

http://www.worthingtongames.com/download.html


404, also from the detailed description page. V. 1.2 of the rules is available in the BGG file section, from the designer (many thanks for that).
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