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Subject: Critical Issues & The Spanish Ulcer rss

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David G. Cox Esq.
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Wellington: the Peninsular War, 1812-1814


Strategic Card-driven Game of the Peninsular Campaign, 1812-1814
Designed by Mark McLaughlin
Published by GMT Games (2005)



I started playing wargames back in the very early 1980’s. I went into a state of hiatus late in the 1990’s and didn’t come out of that state until around 2004. Just before going into a state of hiatus, I had played the first generation CDG’s - We the People, Hannibal and Successors. Shortly after rediscovering myself as a born-again wargamer I become acquainted with the next generation of CDG’s via the medium of Paths of Glory.

With this as my background I purchased Wellington as I have had a long-standing interest in the Napoleonic period and am an admirer of the Duke of Wellington. Not only that, but my 16-year-old son was about to pay a visit and what better way to celebrate his arrival than by breaking out a new game with which I had no experience what-so-ever.

Before my son arrived I had glimpsed the rules and read the examples of play in detail. My son arrived and the first thing we started to do was to play Wellington - with the blind leading the blind (or was I leading the partially sighted?).

After about an hour’s play I suggested that we should call it quits -it had been an exercise in confusion and futility and was giving neither of us any joy - plus he was very happy to accede to my suggestion. Despite us both having had experience playing a wide range of wargames, Wellington was quite different and we really had little from other games that we could draw upon while learning this new one.

He went to bed and I stayed up to read the rules more carefully. With the bitter experience gained so painfully earlier that evening I read the rules carefully and things now started to make sense. I had underestimated the complexity of the game. It was quite different from other CDG’s that I had played.

The next day we started the game afresh. We enjoyed it and played it several more times in the week that Andrew was visiting.

For those uncertain about what a Card Driven Game is, it is a wargame where players are given cards throughout the game. These cards determine what actions each player may perform. Cards are normally used as an event card, a campaign card to activate military forces or as reinforcement card to create new military units. The key to the game is to be able to look at the cards available to you and formulate a workable plan that utilises the cards potential. The cards have been designed to give the players the same constraints as those experienced by their real-life counterparts.



Issue #1: Wargame Components


"Spit and polish goes a long way in the army." (Sergeant Harper - Rifle Regiment)

Having started my wargaming in the early 1980’s I am extremely happy with the quality of GMT games, and Wellington is no exception. However, to be very specific for those who may not be familiar with component quality that is typical of wargames I should say:
* the map is glossy paper (I use a sheet of Perspex to place over the map to keep it flat and provide a more solid play surface - I used to laminate maps but this was hellishly expensive and made the maps difficult to store);
* the counters are made of glossy cardboard (I use a craft knife or scissors to cut them from the frame and then use nail clippers to trim the corners - it is time consuming but makes the counters look much neater);
* the dice are excellent - good quality and nice colours but there aren’t really enough for the game as you may, in a large battle, be rolling close to 20 dice at a time;
* cards and rules - detailed and well put together.



Issue #2: Two’s Company - How Does Four Grab You?


"I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me." (The Duke of Wellington, upon being shown a list of his subordinate commanders in Spain)

In Wellington there are four separate forces portrayed in the game - French North, French South, Spanish and British. Each force has military units (strength points), leaders, armies (a leader in charge of strength points) and army groups (a leader in charge of other leaders with strength points). Each army operates in its own turn and has its own hand of cards to play. It is possible for units of one force to be combined with units of another force (e.g. a Spanish leader with strength points may be commanded by a British leader with or without strength points attached).

All of my early games of Wellington were two player games. Wellington works fine with two players. All that is necessary is that you keep the two sets of cards quite separate. It does make it easier for the two French armies to support each other and the same is true of the Spanish/British combination.

There are several types of cards in the game. There are event cards, battle cards and response cards. Most cards also have a numerical value which represents the activation level of the card. Response cards may be played by anyone at just about any relevant time - they will often have an effect on a battle’s outcome. Battle cards on the other hand may only be played if you are directly involved in a battle. For example, if Wellington is commanding an army group that has a Spanish leader as part of the army group then both the British and Spanish players may play battle cards during a battle. If Wellington has just a single army or a completely British army group then the British player may play both battle cards and response cards while the Spanish player will be limited to response cards only. In this way, in a two-player game where the British player knows the cards in both the British and Spanish hands it is easier for him to make strategic decisions with the knowledge of how the two hands may complement each other.

Lately I have been playing Wellington as a four-player game and prefer it that way - I will still play it as a two-player game but four-player is my preference. It is more relaxing to have single hand of cards and it is rather interesting making decisions without knowing what cards your partner may have.

The game may also be played with three players. In this case I would suggest that the Spanish/British forces be played by one person and each French force have its own player. The reason for this being that I suspect that the victory conditions favour the French and giving the British/Spanish player better intelligence regarding the cards will give a closer result at the end of the game.



Issue #3: Pre-emption OR How Much Is A Card Worth?


"All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do; that's what I called 'guessing what was at the other side of the hill'." (Duke of Wellington)

In Wellington there are a lot of cards. In fact, there are so many cards that I suspect that it is quite possible that you could play the game several times and not have the same cards come out. This is a very big positive regarding replayability

A small number of cards are exclusively event cards and must be played - these tend to be bad things and pertain to one side or the other. If, for example, it is the event that requires French forces to be removed it doesn’t matter who has the card it must be played. With these type of cards once the event has been played the person who played it draws a replacement card from the draw deck and has another turn. This is important as it means you don’t miss a turn just because you have a ‘must play’ event in your hand.

Some cards have a ‘plus’ (+) sign on them. These cards may be played in addition to a non-plus card. This means that you may sometimes play two cards in a turn rather than just one.

As previously mentioned some cards are Response and Battle cards which may be played during other people’s turns (and your own) to impact upon the flow of the game.

In addition, players start the game with resources and may gain more resources during the game. Resources may be used to purchase a card. At the end of the game any unspent resources are worth half-a-victory-point each.

While it may seem a good idea to play two cards in a turn and use cards to augment your battles and interfere with other players during their turns, the concept of pre-emption may mitigate any benefits you may gain.

The Pre-emption concept in Wellington means that it, a the start of a round of play (all four forces have a turn in a round) one player has more cards than anyone else they are given a pre-emption marker which means that they may have extra turns during the round (as long as they do not get to perform two consecutive turns). Playing the game it is very important that you don’t spend so many cards as to make it possible for the opposing team to have several turns between them without your side being able to do anything in the way of reacting due to having no cards of your own left.

Due to the pre-emption element of the game, careful card-management is a crucial element of the game. Just playing cards out of your hand for a short-term benefit may cause some very long-term pain. It is important to keep some cards that will allow you the ability to respond to enemy actions – it is a bit like having a reserve.



Issue #4: Just How Do You Win This Cursed War?


"There is nothing so dreadful as a great victory - except a great defeat." (Duke of Wellington)

The victory conditions in Wellington contribute to the tension that develops during the game.

There are several ways in which the game can end.

The French can achieve an automatic victory by controlling Spain OR by Controlling Portugal. The Coalition can achieve an automatic victory by controlling France (or at least the southern parts of France as represented on the map). This means that both sides have to be very careful not to allow the enemy forces to operate freely behind the front line - some attention must be paid to defence in your rear area.

If the French control Madrid at the end of the 1812 or 1813 turns a die is rolled to see if the game finishes. If not the game will definitely finish at the end of the 1814 turn (the game is a maximum of three turns long - each turn can easily take over an hour but time goes quickly as the game is highly interactive). Clearly there is real pressure on the Coalition to liberate Madrid sooner rather than later, so as to avoid the risk of the game ending too soon.

When the game ends each player scores points. There are significant locations in France, Spain and Portugal called ‘Keys’ - each key is worth one point. Each resource is worth half-of-a-point. Importantly, the French players score bonus victory points. If the game ends in 1812 the French score one point for every five duchies they control. If the game ends in 1813 the French score one point for every four duchies they control. If the game ends in 1814 the French score one point for every three duchies that they control PLUS the French Players score four bonus points each if they control all four of their Home Duchies.

The situation on the map is that if the game goes to the end of 1814 the Coalition really must have some forces in France if they hope to win. The pressure on the Coalition throughout the game is to push the French out of Spain as quickly as feasible. If, at the end of the game, the French still have a a defensive position in Spain behind the river Ebro they should win.

The map is structured in such a way that there are several avenues both players can use. Positioning of units to support each other is fairly important.

The overall effect of these features of the game is that there are multiple ways to achieve victory. This leads to a potentially free-flowing game where you are trying to get inside your opponent’s head to work out what they are trying to achieve so that you can interfere with their plans while promoting your own plans.



Issue #5: National Characteristics


"We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be, detested in France." (Duke of Wellington)

Each force in Wellington has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The most obvious differences relate to the combat modifiers that are based upon nationality. The second difference relates to the quality of command in each force. The third qualitative difference actually lies in the cards.

In battle a force that is French will add two dice to the number to be rolled. A predominantly British force will add one die and a predominantly Spanish force will add no dice at all. During battle you score hits on the opposing side each time your roll a ‘5’ or a ‘6’ - the more dice you roll the better your chances.

The quality of leadership varies greatly from force to force.

Each leader has a Battle Rating. This rating is used to add extra dice to battle resolution. It is also used to resolve interception and evasion attempts. The British have ratings of five, two and two. The Spanish have ratings of two, one and one. French Armee de Nord has two, two and one. French Armee de Sud has four, three and two. One of the most important aspect of a high Battle rating is that it gives you a much better chance of deciding when and where you will fight. To evade or intercept you generally have to roll a modified ‘9’ or better on two dice. Wellington, with a modifier of ‘5’ is going to be success most of the time. King Joseph with his modifier of ‘1’ does not have the same luxury.

Each leader also has a Command Rating. This rating is the maximum number of friendly strength points that they can effectively control. The British have ratings of nine, six and four. The Sp[anish have six, six and four. Armee de Nord has six, four and four. Armee de Sud has nine, six and four.


Clearly the French army de Sud is a more effective force and army de Nord. Wellington makes the British very effective. The Spanish force has one advantage and that is that two of their leaders can take six strength points into battle. This makes it possible for the Spanish to go into battles, expecting to lose but hoping to just keep wearing away at the French and eventually being able to gain local superiority due to the ease with which the Spanish can reinforce.

In regards to cards, at the start of each turn each power receives six cards from a common deck. In addition the British receive three cards from their home deck and the other three powers each receive two cards from their home decks. The Spanish deck has an average of 4.7 command points per card. The French deck has an average of 4.8 and does have one card with a value of ‘8’ which makes it very powerful indeed. The British deck has an average of 5 points per card and a wonderful collection of events.



Issue #6: Planning, While Not Essential, Is Desirable


"The hardest thing of all for a soldier is to retreat." (The Duke of Wellington)

Wellington is a game that asks the players to make tough decisions throughout the game. I feel that planning is more important to the British and Spanish than it is to the French. To a large degree French play will be a reaction to the moves of the Coalition forces. The Coalition player needs a plan and should try to keep to it – switching plans in the middle of a year is just asking for trouble in Wellington.

A second factor to consider is that of force and distance. The more aggressive the French forces, the more difficult it is to reinforce - the further south the French armies operate the more difficult it will be to get additional units into the front line.

The situation is the reverse for the British - the further north they advance the more difficult for them to reinforce the front line from their recruiting areas back in Portugal. For the British the use of the Royal Navy and northern ports slightly mitigates this problem. The Spanish are allowed to recruit anywhere in Spain.

A significant issue in the war for the French is the concentration of their own forces. The French start with small garrisons scattered across Spain. If they allow them to remain scattered they can easily be defeated by larger enemy forces. If the French concentrate their forces into armies, leaving friendly towns without an occupying garrison then it is quite likely that many towns will be taken over by guerrillas at the end of each year.

In general I have had trouble winning as the Coalition. In general I have tended to play the Coalition rather then France. One of the few wins I had as the Coalition was rather remarkable - and all the more remarkable for not having stuck to a plan. Initially I was going to reinforce Wellington, march to Madrid, consolidate the rear areas and then push north from Madrid with Wellington leading the way. As you can see the plan was rather original and designed to surprise the French player.


Unfortunately Wellington made it to Madrid and with unheralded success. I started to suffer from ‘victory disease’ and had delusions of grandeur. Consequently Wellington continued to push north even though there was no way I could realistically reinforce him. He continued north, won a few battles but his troops were whittled down to nothing. Consequently the French discounted him as a threat and started to work on pushing south and regaining what they had lost. Wellington picked up a Spanish army and moved to the north coast of Spain, where he was reinforced with troops thanks to the efforts of the Royal Navy. All of a sudden he was posing a massive threat to Southern France. Wellington advanced into France and received more reinforcements from the Royal Navy. The French armies started to march north to stop the British from conquering France but it was too late. France is conquered and Wellington proclaims himself Emperor of France. It was an atypical, but highly exciting, game.

Despite changing my plan in that game and winning I still maintain that having a solid plan and sticking to it is really good advice in this game.



Issue #7: All Roads Lead To Rome


In this case, ‘All Roads Lead Out of Spain’.

The map plays a pivotal role in Wellington and I would advise players to spend quite some time looking at the road network and finding out which avenues exits, where choke-points lie and how each army can effectively support other friendly armies.

Crossing rivers is potentially risky as you move into battle. For this reason a good quality leader behind a river who is able to intercept enemy forces has the ability to pose a significant threat to that enemy.



Issue #8: Cloning & Wargames


"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon." (Napoleon)

Wellington is the second in a series of three games that have strong similarities. Mark McLaughlin designed The Napoleonic Wars, adapted the system to Wellington and then made further changes in Kutusov.

The rules of Wellington are almost identical to the rules of The Napoleonic Wars. I had played Wellington several times before I ever played The Napoleonic Wars. The first time I played The Napoleonic Wars I did so without ever having read its rule book. It is so similar to Wellington that I was able to play competently with no instructions from other players (apart from the diplomacy rules) and was able to actually point out to the other players some of the finer points of the rules that they had missed.

Despite the rules being very similar I prefer Wellington. I feel that the situation contains a higher degree of tension. It plays in a shorter time span. I also find the diplomatic aspects of The Napoleonic Wars to be a detriment to enjoyable play, unless playing with a full complement of five players. Wellington is intended to simulate military aspects of the campaign and diplomacy doesn’t really come into play. It works well with two, three or four players.

I personally consider it to be the very finest of Mark McLaughlin’s designs

However, those I play with actually tend to prefer The Napoleonic Wars and I really don’t understand why!


arrrh "Dead Men Tell No Tales!"








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Rob Olsson
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Very nice article! I recently attended a convention where I played two games of Napoleonic Wars, two games of Kutuzov, and one game of Wellington, and I have to agree with your assessment that Wellington is the best of the three.

In the Napoleonic Wars, Prussia and Russia can be so remote from the action for the first turn of the game and in Kutuzov the morale markers and attrition markers tend to distract. Wellington keeps all four players involved right from the start and offers interesting decisions.

Thanks for sharing your article!
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Donald Everett
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Thanks for the review--absolutely top notch job! Wellington and The Napoleonic Wars are two of my all-time favorite wargames. Just curious, are you playing 2nd Edition Nappy Wars? 2nd Edition is very much improved and even incorporates a few mechanics first introduced in Wellington.

I also own Kutuzov, but haven't had an opportunity to play it yet. The new aspects of morale and attrition may be daunting, but I suspect that once grasped, the game will be just as addicting as the first two...

-Donald
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Rob Olsson
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I have to admit that I will play any of them given the opportunity. On the pillars of greatness, however, I just see Wellington nudged a little higher than the others.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Yes - 2nd edition TNW.
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James Fung
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da pyrate wrote:
However, those I play with actually tend to prefer The Napoleonic Wars and I really don’t understand why!

I'm guessing it's a combination of the grander scale of TNW, diplomacy, and playing Napoleon. Some people like the wheeling and dealing. Personally, I like 4-player TNW since Prussia is big diplomatic catch and all four players can get in the action with those events that make 2 diplomacy shifts.

Sounds like Wellington is more focused on the operational wargame aspect of Mark McLaughlin's ruleset. Different strokes for different folks.
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How long did the games take? meeple
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David G. Cox Esq.
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davedanger wrote:
How long did the games take? meeple


If you're asking about Wellington, a full three-turn game probably takes about 90 minutes per turn and 4.5 hours for the full game. This, of course, does not include set-up/pack-up time.


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Hi, can players of a side discuss strategy between themselves? The 2 French players (our opponents) thought that Britain and Spain could not talk into strategy but I think it is only part of the diplomacy, where bargain of any sort could be made but it is always not enforceable per the diplomacy rule. Is my thinking or my opponent's correct?
 
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Excellent article David.

I'm about to try my third game of Wellington, and I thought it was worth pointing out to potentially new players just how chaotic the game can initially seem.

I had played previously played very controlled CDGs, in terms of card play, such as Wilderness War and PoG. There are very few "take that" cards, so while they can have an impact on play, they are not played that often (or, in the case of the majority of PoG combat cards, give a simple +1 to DRMs) AND you know exactly what you could be facing when you move into combat.

When I played Wellington, it was crazy. You couldn't move, fight or reinforce without someone slapping something down. It seemed pre-planning was incredibly difficult. Once you learn to accept the nature of the game, Wellington will be a far more enjoyable experience - except for control freaks.
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Clay Stuart
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Wow!!! Great review. They ought to send you free copies of other games.
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Gustavo Vazquez
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A great review! Reading the other reviews and session reports I noticed a lot of people say the game is too random, that the cards you drawn can define the game... is it true for experienced players? I mean, can you avoid the randomness with strategy?

I have played Here I Stand and it seems to me there's some similarities here... at least in the combat mechanics.
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
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vazquezramos wrote:
A great review! Reading the other reviews and session reports I noticed a lot of people say the game is too random, that the cards you drawn can define the game... is it true for experienced players? I mean, can you avoid the randomness with strategy?

I have played Here I Stand and it seems to me there's some similarities here... at least in the combat mechanics.


I find that you can start with an overall plan but sometimes the cards and fate make the narative of the game quite different. You have to be fleixble in the game.

I once played a game where Wellington had advanced north of Madrid and ran out of men. It was easier to run him to the north coast of Spain and get the Royal Navy to send reinforcements. This caught the French by surprise as his lack of troops made the French write him off as a threat. Subsequently Wellington invaded France and won the game as the French marshals were badly out of position.

There is some randomness - how much randomness is too much?



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da pyrate wrote:

There is some randomness - how much randomness is too much?


Good question... reading some comments I saw some guys saying is so random you can't do anything - of course this is an exageration. But everyone who said bad things about the game has played it just once or twice! And the people who played it many times liked it... so, it seems the answer is clear - I will give it a chance!
 
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vazquezramos wrote:
da pyrate wrote:

There is some randomness - how much randomness is too much?


Good question... reading some comments I saw some guys saying is so random you can't do anything - of course this is an exageration. But everyone who said bad things about the game has played it just once or twice! And the people who played it many times liked it... so, it seems the answer is clear - I will give it a chance!


The cards are interesting and give options.

If you can obtain more cards than your opponent it allows you to commence operations and they cannot react in anyway, apart from showing extreme frustration.

As cards can be used in battles and in other players' battles as well as events and operations points there is a temptation to spend them wildly at the start of the turn. Resist this urge. Keeping more cards in your hand than your opponents gives real strategic power.

I suspect that people who claim the game is too random play their cards too quickly and consequently lose the ability to control what is happening on the map.

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da pyrate wrote:

There is some randomness - how much randomness is too much?


da pyrate wrote:


I suspect that people who claim the game is too random play their cards too quickly and consequently lose the ability to control what is happening on the map.



It depends on who design the game. Mark McLaughlin is a genius in using card in my view. He strikes the balance well between the operations and the effects on the events. The cards are proportionate to the overall gaming weight, no more, no less. Neither too scripted or too random. You won't get scripted in all his 3 Napoleonic designs The Napoleonic Wars, Wellington Kutuzov. One of his earlier design Viceroys is even better! On the other hand, the cards in Ed BeachHere I Stand are too scripting to a point where randomness to victory is minimized.
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