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Israeli Independence: The First Arab-Israeli War, 1948-1949» Forums » Reviews

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Here is as good an example of “de gustibus” as you will find in the gaming world. After reading the comments on BGG and CSW speaking of this “tense” “nail biter” of a “challenging puzzle” with “strategic decisions” and a “clever system”, I decided to give it a try. And while I certainly don’t mind the game, I was left scratching my head over these plaudits.

What I found was a mildly diverting, historically-themed die rolling/card flipping exercise. You get a nice little map of the Middle East and a chit for each of five Arab armies. You get a deck of 24 event cards. You flip a card, which tells you to advance from none to all of the five attacking Arab armies. The card also tells you how many "offensives" you as the Israelis get (between one and three). An offensive turns out to be a die roll against any one Arab army to push it back a space (you have a 50% chance of kicking back the Egyptians, Syrians and Iraqis; 33% against the Jordanians; and 66% against the Lebanese).

So you flip cards and roll dice until an Arab army reaches West Jerusalem (you lose) or until there are no more cards (you win). That's pretty much it except for some chrome: the event cards sometimes give die roll modifiers to the offensives based on whether the event on the card is good or bad for the Israelis; a card might actually push an Arab army back for you; there are levels of victory and defeat depending on how many cards are left after a loss, or how close the Arab armies are to West Jerusalem after a win.

That's it. A game takes between five and ten minutes if you don't bother to read the historical events on the card. The win frequency feels about the same as a game of Windows intermediate Spider solitaire (maybe 20-30%), although I'd say the decision making isn't nearly as interesting as Spider solitaire. And while the designer speaks of “strategy” in his notes, I can’t really see any, unless you counted the cards and used that information to decide which armies to attack. But that seems like way too much effort for a die rolling exercise. At least for me.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this. It is simple, which is fine. In fact, judging it as you would a more serious solitaire wargame seems, well, a bit churlish. And it is engaging in the same odd way that idly flipping a coin, or trying to guess the color of the next car to come around the corner can be engaging. Even though the decisions you make are obvious and your fate is controlled by the cards and the die, you still find yourself getting (a little) involved in the process and fretting (a bit) over the outcome.

What I do find odd are some of the claims made for the game as a tool for understanding the event. The game “system”, such as it is, is entirely generic and you could hang many historical events on it. (In fact there is already a game by the same designer on the Russian Civil War, and there are folks who want to see the system used for other historical events.) It isn’t as though the system itself, light as it is, helps shed any historical light on the event. Nor does playing the game give any more insight into the event other than the Israelis were attacked from all sides. And reading the cards for your historical information seems pointless—just look it up on Wikipedia, or read a book if you are interested. That at least would provide a narrative that the brief paragraphs on randomly drawn event cards cannot hope to do. (To be fair, the cards are chronologically numbered, so you can play a strictly historical event sequence.)

Overall this does seem like rather a lot of effort (nice graphics, rules writing, historical research, designers notes) supporting very little actual game design. Whatever. And there are clearly a lot of folks who find this very compelling. De gustibus. If you like the theme, and you have some time to kill, you could do a lot worse. So pack it along for a long plane ride, maybe, for when your brain is too tired to read but too wired to sleep.
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Darin Leviloff
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I don't want to be one of those game designers that disagrees with every negative review. I've been on the flip side of that coin way too much. I just thought, however, I should interject some commentary here. The most important thing is "Israeli Independence" is not all things to all people. It occupies a niche. A special one at that. A low complexity solitaire game that takes about 15 minutes to play and tells a narrative. I can comfortably say that no other game on the market does that.

Are there limited choices in the game? Sure. But, as you concede, the individual modifications on the cards, vary the odds and make choices more difficult. While Jordan may ordinarily be pushed back at 33% odds, when you are provided with a modifier making it 50%, do you take the shot or foregoe it to push back the Egyptians who may be more of a threat? Do you try to force Iraq out of the war on a special card or spend your offensives elsewhere? Its not always a simple statistical analysis or going for the most threatening army and sometimes its more engaging than "flipping a coin".

Now, this may not be the magnum opus of Paths of Glory or something else, but try playing that on an airplane or during a lunch break. If you compare this game to most wargames on the market in terms of decision making or realism, you are likely to come up cold. But, if you compare it in terms of outlay of time, space, or need for an opponent, it comes up much better. And if you compare it to a Eurogame, you will find much stronger historical connections.

What I guess I take the most issue with is your assessment of the game as an educational tool. You see, I designed the game with that at the forefront of my mind. Is the game as good as your research or reading book ? No, but name a wargame that is more educational than either of those methods. At best, a game is a learning tool which imparts knowledge because it is perceived as a more enjoyable delivery system than a book or a computer screen. The most important historical events, especially if you add in the expansion, are there and come up routinely as something that affects game play. It solves the age old problem of gamers knowing what is going to happen by not negating historical events, but by instead randomizing their order.

But, I will say this. Others have voiced concerns similar to yours that they like the basic system, but wish that they had more choices and options. I listened. The second game you allude to, Soviet Dawn, takes the same basic design, adds in variable activations, concerns about the Czar, choices on ending World War 1, and a seperate political system so you can win beyond exhausting the staggered deck. Perhaps, the greater intricacies of that game would be more to your liking. If not, Joe Miranda has done "Zulus at the Ramparts" which takes the system into a tactical arena and uses the cards for player options and not enemy movement.

In the end, I appreciate your giving the game a try, even if it didn't "float your boat".
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David Kennedy
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Dieroll Honker wrote:

Even though the decisions you make are obvious and your fate is controlled by the cards and the die...
I think Honker's comments are fine as far as they go. However, he undercuts his own authority because he doesn't appear to grasp the nuances of the game. Yes, it is a simple game. But, that doesn't mean it is simple-minded. If Honker's impression he simply attacks the closest enemy unit, well then, yes, there isn't much point to the game.

For example, he doesn't appear to understand that terrain is very important in the game. The Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian fronts have a mix of circles and squares. Further, the #2 position are all circles for these fronts. There are a couple of cards with the instructions to: "All Arab armies on circle spaces advance". Well if you've let the enemy get into this position and these cards are played, you're probably going to lose the game in short order. The Israelis can reasonably hope to fight off one or two enemies closing on West Jerusalem. But, three or more, forget it.

One of the keys to Israeli victory is ensuring your enemies' advances are ragged. Otherwise, when certain cards are played like "Grand Mufti Agitates!", you will be overwhelmed. You need to be ready. If you've been taking on the nearest enemy or seduced by a card's die roll modifier without considering the strategic situation, yeah, you're going to lose the game.

Again, if the reviewer evinced some knowledge of these nuances, I'd give more credence to his comments. Sure, the game isn't for everyone. But, dismissing it as a die-rolling exercise is not accurate or fair. My hunch is Honker kept losing and couldn't figure out how to win the game. So he claims the game is simple-minded and totally luck dependent. Maybe he couldn't be bothered to figure out how to win. Fine. But, again, that only serves to further undercut his credibility as a reviewer.

As for me, getting out the game out to think this through makes me want to play again. That to me is the sign of a good game. That it will take only 15 minutes makes it even sweeter.
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David Kennedy
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Just played a quick game. I had some close calls with the Jordanians at the gates of West Jerusalem a few times. But, all ended well with Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon quitting and both Jordan and Syria on their #4 positions at game end. That made for 26 victory points and a "Crushing Victory". Was I just lucky or did I make the right choices to maximize my chances for victory?
 
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Sorry, dude, I got all those aspects of the game. In fact, calling them "nuances" elevates them a bit much in my view--they are painfuly obvious; you'd need to be an idiot not to identify them. A "nuance" to me means somethng it actually takes some thought, effort and experience to figure out.

Moreover, I don't think you paid much attention to the review. I said in the third paragraph that there are cards that force armies back. No, I didn't specify that those cards might only work on certain armies in certain positions. Frankly, I didn't think the detail was warranted by the length of the review.

You are free to enjoy this game to your heart's content, and bless you for it. But don't tell me I didn't understand it's "nuances." It ain't ASL.

And, yes, I even managed to win a few games, thank you.
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Aaron Thorne
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After three plays, I generally agree with this review. It is hard for me to find where the strategy is, outside of being able to properly adapt where you attack based on the card flips. I still find the game mildly entertaining, and I disagree with the reviewer in that learning about history through a game can be more entertaining than reading wikipedia. However, I side with him in the comments about the mechanics of the game. Since the game was designed as a teaching tool, though, I would have to say that it appears to meet its design goal on that front.
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Alex N
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HitchKennedy wrote:
Just played a quick game. I had some close calls with the Jordanians at the gates of West Jerusalem a few times. But, all ended well with Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon quitting and both Jordan and Syria on their #4 positions at game end. That made for 26 victory points and a "Crushing Victory". Was I just lucky or did I make the right choices to maximize my chances for victory?

Did you get this "Crushing Victory" with the Advanced version that adds two additional cards? I too tried the Basic version and found myself easily winning the game when Egypt was kicked out of the game early. But when I moved up a notch to the Advanced version I found myself losing badly 6 times in a row! Be it to say, this is not a random dice roll game, otherwise I would have won at least 1 or 2 games in the Advanced version.

What I came to learn was that you never want the Jordanians in your backyard and that beating back nations to the #4 square increases your chances of having them retire for good from the game.

I also like what Hitch had to say about the terrain advantage. I never paid any attention to that but now see what a threat that can be when these nations are on squares #2 or #3.
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Robert Madison
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Crassus wrote:
Now, this may not be the magnum opus of Paths of Glory or something else, but try playing that on an airplane or during a lunch break.
Israeli Independence is not only a much better "game" than Paths of Glory, it is a much better historical simulation than Paths of Glory!
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