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Subject: Memoir 1914: Trenchzone , Review and Initial Impressions rss

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simon thornton
United Kingdom
Liverpool
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The boardgame industry in the UK is very much a cottage industry and UK Board wargames industry is a cottage industry within a cottage industry.Being a loyal Brit and wanting to support my local wargamers Ive bought a couple of wargames as soon as they ve come off the press relatively unseen.

With Where There Is Discord: War in the South Atlantic , I was spoilt and stunned by the quality of the game and gameplay but with another labour of love game Trenchzone (TZ) would I be as impressed ?

Introduction

TZ is a Light 2 player wargame based on Trench warfare in World War one.Players control either the blue side (vaguely British looking pieces) or the Red Side (vaguely German). Each side must try and capture a section of an enemy trench while holding onto their own trench. Using Gas attacks, machine gun fire, Artillery , Barbed Wire and a plethora of cards - which include Sappers, extra Artillery, Engineers, Typhoid and Trench foot (my personal favourite) to name a few - to achieve their aim.


Components


TZ comes in a 'bookcase game' sized box (the older wargamers will know what that means). Its has excellent art on its cover , and the box card its worth saying, is quite thick (along the lines of the New Twilight Struggle Deluxe Box) and unlike some other games, wont split along the edge if you put anything as heavy as a pencil on it (Im talking to you MMP - excellent games flimsy boxes).



There is a fine A4 colour rulebook (and its in colour not color because its British !) 16 pages long, with plenty of pictures and illustrated examples of play.

Some 90 cards , nicely illustrated with photographs from the era. The cards look good but the cardstock feels a little on the thin side but durable enough.


The pieces are, in the case of squads , nice 1" sq pieces of reasonable heft , not as thick as in "Where there is discord" or a random FFG token but neither are they paper thin. The illustration on the pieces is thematic but hard to distinquish but with the only important information the number of squads being easy to read.

The board itself and the player aid are pleasingly mounted. The Graphics on the board are ok, a deep muddy brown with slightly cartoony barbed wire positions and trenches but entirely functional.



Overall are the components are of good quality (except the thin plastic dice ! but C&CA was notorious for having rubbish dice and it did ok).

Rules

After an initial good impression , I started to read the rules and problems immediately arose Although many facets of the rules are well illustrated with some nice examples there are sections which are confusing. The overall impression is that at times the designer is assuming we are know what he means without being clear as to what he precisly intends. Simple example , for the setup he suggests you may like to have a hidden set up, but if you dont want a hidden setup no alternative is offered. In fact there is no real reason not to have a hidden setup so why not make it mandatory.

Despite all this the designer has been incredibly supportive and responsive to my many queries. At the end of the day this game isnt Paths of Glory or Case Blue and a bit of common sense and the occasional house rule fixes the odd problem without wrecking the game.




Gameplay

So how does it actually play and why call this piece Memoir 1914 ? It is a card driven or rather a card assisted game (strictly speaking you could win the game without ever playing a card but this is extremely unlikely and rather pointless). The Designer notes Memoir 44 as a inspiration/influence. It has some similarities (3 avenues of attack, actions initiated by card play, a common deck , an element of hand management, amongst a few) . But also lot of differences and some innovation.

The victory conditions are two fold either demoralise the enemy by achieving enough victory points by such actions as assaulting enemy Trenches , destroying enemy artillery or wiping his troops out as they cross no mans land for example. Or capturing one of the 3 sections of the enemy's Trench which is an auto-victory.

To achieve this during each turn you will roll a lot and I mean a lot of dice at the enemy , dice phobes turn away now. On the first round for example with your Off/On Board artillery and your 6 pillboxes you will be rolling 24 dice and that is before you play any cards which may bring in more MG's or Artillery. As your forces get degraded and Pillboxes/MG nests are blown up you wont be rolling that many dice but then you wont have that many targets either.

Now the clever bit ,after bombarding and machine gunning your enemy each turn (which doesnt require cards)you can play a card from your hand into each one of the three sectors (the left, Centre or right sectors lets call them). You can then activate the card to play it or leave it there face down adding another card next turn and again the turn after if you so desire building up to a maximum of 3 hidden cards in each sector.

You could then in a later turn if you so wish activate (play) all these 3 cards at once. This gives you opportunity to launch surprise attacks, with potentially game winning consequences. You could easily for example add 20 squads reinforcements into a sector, then send them over the top , a rapid movement into No mans Land while firing Gas into the opposing trench. As initiative (who goes first) is variable you also have the opportunity to plan to try and flip flop your opponent and have a double turn before he can even react.

To do this though takes careful planning over several turns whilst waiting/hoping the right cards fall your way.





The Feel/Flow of the Game


The strength and weakness of the game comes through in its mechanisms. For several turns you may just bombard away at each other hoping to get rid off those machine gun nests before you send your boys over the top. As you mass your troops ready for the push your opponent may try and break them up by targeting them which his gas/artillery etc.

SO an extremely brutal war attrition settles down , everyone throws lots of dice , units and Guns disappear from the map , you feed in reinforcements , they get blown up , you feed in more reinforcements and so on. And well lets be honest , after you ve been doing this for 5 or 10 minutes turn after turn it can get rather boring. Very Thematic but boring, i.e long periods of Bombardment with not much happening just like the real thing.

But then , but then... either you or your opponent has massed enough troops with nice cards in place and over the top they go , marching in a straight line towards the enemy trench. Haig would be proud as once you go over the top you can only go forward , none of this sideways or backwards nonsense its death or glory. At that point it gets very exciting and very tense. As the troops push across no-mans land they get cut to pieces by machine gun fire, artillery fire and caught up on barbed wire. Firepower which is brutal enough in this game becomes more so when troops are in the open. In my first game and in my first big push , I sent no less than 70 squads over the top in one sector attack (you only start with 100). The designer says you need at least 40 for an attack. Not one of them , not one of them managed it across no mans land. IN my second game because of better preparation and card play , I won the game after sending a mere 35 squads into the attack against a well battered enemy sector and managed to capture the trench.

Back to the first game , my opponent responded after seeing me off launched his own 80 squad attack. After they got stuck in the mud in no mans land after some rather unpleasant Rain, they suffered horrendous casualties. Eventually 20 squads reached my trench where after some nasty hand to hand fighting all the attackers and all the defending troops where wiped out !

(Incidentally thats one thing I like about the game except in melee, squads cant actually do anything they are there just to take casualties, a rather brutal but accurate summary of the infantry lot particularly in this war).



Overall impression

In summary its a light wargame perfectly suitable for beginner wargamers or younger wargamers at approx the Memoir level of complexity (maybe a little higher) . At the same time there is enough meat in the game to make it interesting for the grognard wargamer.Listed at 45-60 minutes its a nice filler wargame. My first game lasted 1 hr 20 (too long for this type of game , the second game lasted about 40 minutes which is fine). I can see most games lasting 35-70 minutes in reality, including a very quick set up and clear.

Cons

Only one scenario
Confusing Rules
Lots of Dice Rolling
The time it takes to build up for a big push
Bit repetitive during the turns between big pushes


Pros

Only one scenario -no messing about trying to decide which one to play
Lots of Dice rolling
Excellent support from designer to clear up confusing rules
The careful planning through the turns and building internal excitement as you get ready for the big push
Very exciting when a big push is on

Unique theme I cannot think of another wargame like it !A Light Wargame about Trench warfare.

A small donation from each game sold goes to the British Legion (which is a Charity which supports British Armed Services Veterans), well done.


(A nod to the designer who provided all the pictures to the Geek- thank you)





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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
United Kingdom
Durham
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Thanks for the review--it certainly sounds like an interesting game.

I've come across one other game with a similiar theme: Trenches of Valor by Victory Point Games (I've never played it).
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Hank Panethiere
United States
Kirkwood
MO
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I've played this quite a few times and echo your opinions almost exactly.

This is the only WWI game I currently feel I need (I don't like the usual hex and counter type, or games with lots and lots of rules. World War I is about as heavy as I'll get and even then it uses a very abstracted system).

I played this when it was still a prototype and hoped it would get published one way or another someday. I'm glad it's available now, I highly recommend it for people who don't like traditional hex and counter war games but still want a war game of some sort. As the OP stated it could be the cousin of Memoir 44...as it stands it's a nice complement to that game.

I do have one complaint though...I don't like the font used on the cards or in the rulebook, it doesn't fit the period and looks out of place, not a deal breaker by any means though....I think I mentioned this to the designer, if I didn't I should have



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Andrew Adey
United Kingdom
Wolverhampton
West Midlands
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Excellent review - thanks.

Once again I am pipped to the post. I have tried unsuccessfully to make a Memoir 14 for several years now. There is an add-on set of rules calles Dire Heroes which covers 1st Ypres which is quite clever. But I wanted something more like - THIS.

One day I`ll get organised and actually publish a game! Before someone else does it! And pigs will fly.

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Mike Szarka
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
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When it is your turn to send a VASSAL move, the wait is excruciating. When it's my turn, well, I've been busy.
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There's an older game called Trenchfoot that was kind of fun, but more on a man to man level (I think Trenches of Valor is also fairly low-level). There isn't much on this scale, save the unlamented SPI Soldiers which dealt with the open phase of the war in 1914 on a company scale.

One more for my wishlist...
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