Feel my presence
I had my first contact with the Standard Combat Series when gaming buddy Jakob flung a copy of Afrika II in my face and yelled "Play it god damn!" (dramatization). This was my first game from The Gamers, and I got instantly hooked, since it combined a healthy amount of chrome with very smooth and fast playability, a reason why I shied from DAK (I'll never have the time to enjoy a DAK campaign game in the next 40 years at least). Besides that I play every wargame I like, there's no real measure in complexity a game needs for me. If it suits my taste, it gets played (I rate both ASL and C&C:A a solid 10 for example). When I saw Rock on the Marne on the shelf at the FLGS, it was my time to fling a box (a very complex wargame ritual here in Germany). It was going to be my first WWI game (I tried to wrap my head around the Landships rules, but fell unconscious after a while), so I was rather excited.
The game components would be best described as typical gamers stuff, if you've ever played one of their games before you get some déja-vues. The map is functional, and in my opinion, appealing looking, with small villages and trench lines scattered all over the Marne valley. There's also a combined turn/supply track and boxes to store your ready and flown aircraft.
The counters are also your standard die-cut, military symbol ones. Troops are mainly Infantry divisions with some more special units like HQs, MG batallions, tanks or stormtroopers. Some units are color coded in their center to show they are specifically assigned to a certain HQ (I will get to the PA rules later). This is one quibble I have: The units are colored, but their HQs are not, so you have to read the tiny numbers on the counters to identify the PA HQ. This can get quite annoying when your map is flooded with counters, and you need to check on your supply ranges. Also the setup notes don't include the unit color, which can make the setup a little troublesome when you need to find a few dozen tiny numbers (and sadly my GMT counter tray can't separate all the different PA units). But this is just a minor hassle and won't affect my rating. Finally there's my 234th pair of ASL sized dice and the rules of course, divided into a generic series rulebook and a playbook with roughly 6 pages of special rules, the rest being scenarios plus designer notes. As usual the rules are very clear and precise, with a lot of thought put into them. I still like the timeless mechanics of the hex and counter era, given that CDGs are all the rave at the moment. The price is around 35€ here in Germany, which makes the game very budget friendly.
Battle scenario 1 is setup and ready to play, I commanded the Kaiser's henchmen, while Jakob took care of the French, Americans and some lonely Polish cavalry.
I won't touch the rules in too much detail here, if you're really interested you can download all the books at The Gamers Archive (http://www.gamersarchive.net/theGamers/archive/). This will be merely a bunch of thoughts concerning different mechanics.
A little disclaimer first: I only played one solitaire campaign start and one f2f battle scenario yet, so this is more of a first impression than an experienced review after a dozen plays. But since there are no reviews for Rock of the Marne at the time I'm writing this, I hope this will give you at least a hunch if this is a game for you.
Gameplay is pretty streamlined with each player completing a turn consisting of a Refit, Movement, Combat, Breakthrough and Replacement phase. New to the basic rules is especially the first phase where you make your aircraft and HQs ready for the next battles. An HQ can supply any number of units in their range for an attack, but gets depleted afterwards, and must be replenished via some die rolls in the refit phase to get them running another fight. Since the numbers needed to refit change from turn to turn, the actual supply situation of the 2nd battle of the Marne is nicely implemented. Some units are permanently assigned (PA) to their own HQ and can be supplied for attacks only by it (every HQ can give the normal supply by the way), so you're forced to keep your guys together in a historical manner.
Also, every HQ has a column shift that represents artillery, which can be applied to only one combat it is supplying. I must admit I think this handling of artillery via the HQ is excellent in my opinion. No additional counter clutter or rules are needed, and it just feels right.
You also get an abstracted aircraft ruleset to fly CAP, support assaults or bomb bridges. You won't exactly feel like Leutnant Stachel in hot dogfight action, but it gets the job done.
Tanks are beasts in combat, but break down after each engagement and need to get a refit from a HQ to operate further. MG batallions are also neat for the Germans, but apply their column shifts only in defense, again a wise decision in my opinion.
Speaking of column shifts, the game is pretty brutal on the attacker when it comes to even numbers. On the 1:1 table even decent rolls maul you badly, so you want to have superior numbers. But since attacking a trench line gives two shifts in favor of the defender, you need to attack at least 3:1 to get a roll on the shitty 1:1 table. So you want to throw in every column shift you can get when attacking. This leads to very tense situations when you draw your forces to a critical point where you think your attack will be most successful (there's limited Fog of War because you can only examine the top unit on a stack), and your aircraft battling it out in the sky with an enemy CAP in hope to supply the last desperately needed combat shift to get that 4:1 result.
The last thing to mention are French breakdown regiments and their (ruleswise) better equivalent, the German stormtroopers. Those units can be created by splitting up your regular divisions, and can give you quite the edge, since you can widen you defense lines, and most of all they can stack with a division to increase its combat capabilities. The stormtroopers also have the nasty Breakthrough ability and can construct assault bridges to cross the Marne. I found efficient management of your scarce stormtroopers one of the key challenges for the German player, while the allies have to place their aircraft on CAP in advance where they anticipate the next enemy attack.
Breakthrough! The victory location (marked by a supply marker) is almost in my grasp.
My game with Jakob lasted only 6 turns as determined by the battle scenario we played, and it got decided on the last player turn of the scenario with a final desperate but failed French attack on the victory location that gave the Germans their edge on the VP track. That sums up pretty much my first impression of the game: It is surprisingly tense, and to be honest I didn't expect WWI games could be tense and exciting. Gameplay is very fast (our scenario lasted about 90 minutes) with lots of decisions and guesswork (Where to cross the river? Should I bring a spare HQ in case I mess up the refit and my attack gets stuck? Where to put my tanks and aircraft into action? Whats under that frigging French stack covered by a reduced regiment? Shall I just dig in or counter attack?). Some fellow BGgeeks mentioned that the campaign isn't very historical, with lots of one sided pushing and back-pushing. Unfortunately I can't comment on that yet, since I need to still get a full campaign under my belt, but the battle scenarios proof a nice quick challenge and make me want to come back for more.
Since I adhere strictly to the BGG scoring guidelines I give this game a solid initial:
8- Very good game, I like to play. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.
I hope you enjoyed this little review, and happy gaming to all of you,
I had my first contact with the Standard Combat Series when gaming buddy Jakob flung a copy of Afrika II in my face and yelled "Play it god damn!" (dramatization).
Not much of a dramatization, but I guess I used the plural.
Jakob (Who owns - and enjoys owning - DAK2)