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David G. Cox Esq.
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Grand Illusion: Mirage of Glory, 1914
Two-player Military Simulation of the Opening Campaign of World War 1 on the Western Front



Designed by Ted Raicer
Published by GMT Games (2004)


Grand Illusion is not your typical hexagon-based wargame and in so many ways. There are no Zones of Control, there are no combat results table and due to the largeness of the hexagons on the map it really feels and plays much more like an area-based wargame.

I have mixed feelings about the game. I haven’t played it enough to know for sure whether it is an above average game or if it is really several ideas that seemed right at the time but didn’t really work out. But, to be fair, that is part of the fun of wargames – being able to play them enough to be able to make that sort of judgement.



Components
Counters – 5/8” counters for the military units, hexagonal counters for forts, several rectangular marker counters and many other markers in square, circular and hexagonal shapes. The counters are fine – they look nice, are easy to read and are up to the standard you would expect from GMT.
Map – looks very attractive and is quite user-friendly.
Charts – excellent.
Rulebook – this is one of the worst rulebooks I have read for years. There is a massive amount of chrome – by chrome I mean exceptions to rules to make the game work out in an historical manner. Many of the rules only get a single mention and are not necessarily in the most logical part of the rules – this can make finding the rules you want difficult. Some of the rules are not even mentioned in the rules and can only be found in the charts. Personally, I found learning this game to be very difficult due to the arrangement of the rules. I think I started my first solitaire game four times before I could actually complete the first turn to my satisfaction.



Things I Like
CAPS – the game is driven by Command Points. Each turn players receive a random number of these CAPS – they are used to move units, launch attacks, restore disrupted troops, build replacements and utilise strategic movement. During the action phase players take turns using 1 or 2 points or passing the initiative to the opposing player. This makes the game highly interactive and means that players have to look at priorities each impulse, look for potential threats, work out how to both launch their own operations and to protect themselves for their opponents potential operations. When playing the game, you feel that you are doing something all of the time.
Sense of Situation – you take the role of the overall Commander in Chief. You can direct your army but you don’t have total control of the situation. This shows itself in two main situations. Before each battle the attacker rolls two dice and compares the result to the Fortunes of War table. This can result in defenders retreating, defenders counter-attacking, a skirmish, a surprise attack and other things. This means that the outcome of battles will often be different to what you may expect – the CinC may direct armies but they had little control over how battles were executed at this time. This is also reflected in the victory conditions. To score points the Allies must follow Plan 17 and that means they must attack into Alsace and Lorraine. For the Germans to score points they must gain territory north of Paris. This is the historical reality – you are in the same situation as your historical counterpart – you have to follow the plan that was created by the General Staff.



Things I Dislike
As mentioned earlier, the rules are not user-friendly.
Randomness can play a big factor in the game. This is not, in itself, a bad thing but I think that luck can play too big a part in this game. Two areas that seem signifcant are the CAPS rolls and the Heavy Artillery. In the first game I played the Germans lucked-out badly. They consistently rolled low dice while the Allied player rolled high dice for CAPS. This meant that, due to the different columns for the two sides, the Germans only had roughly the same number of CAPS as the French. This made it very difficult for the Germans to advance through Flanders with the speed and force that is required for them to come close to achieving the Schlieffen Plan. In the same game the German Heavy Artillery was a complete failure on turns 2 and 3. In the game both players have a significant number of forts – the most effective way to destroy a fought is using one of the German Heavy Artillery units. Each unit can be activated only once each turn. The way that they work is that they basically need a 4 or 5 or less to score a hit and they keep shooting until they miss. During turns 2 and 3 my artillery rolled 6’s each time and this also resulted in greatly slowing down the German advance.


Grand Illusion As History
From my reading of the campaign, Grand Illusion is a unique system which accurately reflects many aspects of the campaign. Unfortunately this has done by the use of a lot of special rules which only relate to a small number of game turns and which creates a lot of exceptions to rules. The victory conditions force players to follow the same plans as their real-life counterparts. This is good as many wargames have been spoilt when we, with hindsight, avoid the pitfalls of history. The combat system is rather nice and reflects the high casualty rates of the campaign. Without going into much detail, stacking in a hex is basically 8 combat units from each side – combat takes place when units from both sides are in the same hex. Up to four combat units from each side can line up and shoot at each other. The larger side should win but modifiers for terrain, forts, concentric attack and other factors can change the outcome. The bottom line is that there are a lot of decisions to be made regarding when and how to attack.



Grand Illusion As A Game

There are lots of things to like about Grand Illusion – it plays quickly and is highly interactive. The fact that both players have a limited number of Activation Points to use means that both players have to work out their own overall strategy, within the constraints of the victory conditions, and will be challenged as they try to achieve their own goals while denying their opponent. Due to a relatively small number of units the game can be played solitaire without too much trouble, but it is really a much better game when played against a live opponent – in solitaire it is too easy to know what your opponent is going to do. Against a live opponent you need to have ‘guts’! There are a lot of opportunities for each side in this game. Both players have the chance to be bold but with boldness goes risk. The Germans have to make a strong drive towards Paris while protecting their right flank and stopping the French driving too far into Germany. The French must make some attacks into Germany to score some points and then decide whether it is better to continue to advance (and score an automatic victory by capturing Trier) or to withdraw to defend Paris. There can be a high element of excitement in the game.

At this stage I would rate the game as ‘interesting’ and historically accurate. There is a certain level of frustration when playing the game but that probably only adds an additional element of realism. If only it had a better rulebook that made it easier to learn to play.



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David Brown
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I bought this when it first came out. I had Ted Reicer's previous game on WWI (paths of Glory), which too me is one of teh finest games mae. So I had high hopes for this.

Unfortunatly this game came out the oven too early, and was therefore half baked.

When we played it, we spent far too much time, for what is a fairly simple game, fighting the rules. As you say the randomness is a bit too extreme. But there were too many things not thought through or play tested properly for. In the end I sold this and have had no regrets.

It's a shame because many aspects of the game were great, some really great ideas, but it just wasn't put together well.
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Prose?

Nice Review.

Quote:
There is a certain level of frustration when playing the game but that probably only adds an additional element of realism.


Definitely an "Every Cloud has as Silver Lining" statement.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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GeneSteeler wrote:
Prose?


Yes - I write in prose and try to con people into thinking that I know more than I really do.

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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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Quote:
Both players have the chance to be bold but with boldness goes risk. The Germans have to make a strong drive towards Paris while protecting their right flank and stopping the French driving too far into Germany. The French must make some attacks into Germany to score some points and then decide whether it is better to continue to advance (and score an automatic victory by capturing Trier) or to withdraw to defend Paris. There can be a high element of excitement in the game.


I think this summarize very well for what this game is all about. I played the campaign game solo once through and through. The game is most successfully demonstrating the above point. The game is quite mechanically driven by the CAP allocation and combat procedures. Often times I found the gameplay a bit bland and dry. So the luck elements came well into the game to stir the things up. I would say this game would be much better suitable for face-to-face play as human player can be unpredictable. Likewise, I think the game is historically scripted somewhat but there are still many options enroute to Paris (e.g. the center part of France). The game puts you into the operational commander perspective mainly and so things would look a bit distant from you during gameplay.

P.S. I am glad to see you pick up my pics for your article!
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Henry Rodriguez
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Did you use the rulebook from the box or the updated rulebook from GMT's living rules website?
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