bob kalinowski
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Another of Joe's attempts to shoe horn an era into a previous game series system (1066 here), an endeavor I always view with interest and trepidation, akin to watching someone playing Russian Roulette with three bullets in the six shooter. I found Joe's Ancient Wars series outstanding, and his Wars of the Imperial Age series excellent (note, all these games modelled campaigns within a few centuries, or years, of each other, and within the same weapons systems paradigms as their siblings). His Seven Years War game (shoe-horned from another series) was a disaster. Frederick's War falls somewhere in between, but not on the upside of in between.


Components:

Map -- it's got squares. I suppose Joe M. thought this might better impart a "linear" and stately feel to this era of linear warfare. Given the rules and CRT, it doesn't. But it doesn't bother me much. Joe Youst has created a pleasant looking map overall, with a pastel, light-medium density.

However, a poor choice was made taking up about a 4 by 6 inch space for a "battle area." While the faded historical painting background gives some marginal ambience, it's a waste of space. Players have nowhere near as many counters involved in a battle as could cover the space, and the combat is not unit vs. unit, line 'em up, dice vs. dice iterative combat. It's a one roll CRT! Players would have been MUCH better served by having that space contain a Sequence of Play summary, and the Thaler Cost chart buried in the rules. After a warmup, I promptly pencilled in the SOP to the right, and copied and trimmed the Thaler chart from the rules and pasted it in the remaining space.

The Player Aid cards are a nice touch, and moderately useful. There are no markers provided to track which minor powers are in thrall, so bring your own. As useful, but not included, would be an additional short track to show shich MAJOR powers may have made alliances with each other -- like France/Prussia, and Austria/Britain perhaps?

Counters -- power by power, they're decent. No garishly wrong background color choices, and the icons are decent for S&T standards. But as a group, I question the choice of all pastel colors, and some very close pastel colors at that (Prussia-Bavaria-France). This, given they are sitting on an almost same color density map, means that from any distance, the counters start getting lost on the map. The whole visual effect is extremely muted, which is a crying shame.

I am a strong color advocate, as witnessed in the SYW games I've designed, and this game's visual appeal could have been greatly improved with historical, "primary" counter colors. The map is screaming for some strong Brit red, real WHITE Austrian counters on the light sand, tan background, vice the drudge dull gray chosen, dark blue Prus counters with white print, etc. The counters would be easier to see, and the whole game would LOOK more exciting.

Not that you need any more excitement in it, which is not really a compliment....

Rules and Gameplay:

I have studied a lot of AS battles, and am pondering an AS strategic game as well. So I am familiar with the era. Fontenoy yielded about 20% Brit casualties; Hohenfriedberg about the same or a little more for the Aus-Saxons. No AS battle caused more than 25% casualties a side. As Joe states, this was an era of Limited warfare.

CRT -- So why do we have a CRT laden with 50% and 100% losses? Here, Joe's shoe-horning leads to a gross distortion of the actual effects of battles (his scattering of losers in separate retreats is indeed a realistic result, and penalty enough for a major loss, given each Power can only activate one force at a time). In the games I played, I had Frederick's main army wiped out twice, an Austrian main army twice, and the Brits three times. Never happened, but it will to you, periodically, in this game.

And this distorted, entirely too heavy loss system leads to just the opposite of the stated intent to show limited warfare -- the blitzkrieg results clear out so many troops, a major win can open up vast stretches of Thaler rich and VP objective cites to the victor, to be siezed in a post win land grab rush, as his army disperses like flies to their respective sugar cube rewards. The Austrians won a sudden death victory in my campaign game after Fred had the bad luck to roll a dr1 on a 50-99% attack, trying to take back Berlin from Aus marshal Browne. End of Fred and his army. That, by the way, was the third time in the game Berlin had changed hands to the Aus, another indication of everyone having too few counters to credibly guard their possessions and be on the offensive, exacerbated by the bucketfulls of losses in most battles. This, and the Siege Artillery as Death Ray effect.

Siege Artillery As Death Ray -- in the basic game, troops are tripled in fortresses. Given there is no separate siege mechanic, okay, I accept this fine. If you're going to roll for combat/siege against a fort on a regular CRT, tripling is good. Siege arty doubles sp strength against forts -- also good. You can't use any other tactics chits against forts except Pioneers (engineers). All good so far. You roll on the CRT, and inflict losses, but against a fort, unless you clear the square of enemy units (entirely possible, often -- the low odds results favor the attacker, and most results require at least one enemy unit loss, so if you've only garrisoned the fort with one unit, it will die often. Unfortunately, so will a large army...)
the defender retains possesion of the fort, even if a defender retreat was called for in what would otherwise be a defender loss. Still, all good so far. Even so, fortresses fall by the half dozen per Op round, virtually EVERY op round. If I remember correctly, probably a dozen fortresses were taken in the entire war. But you will surpass that total, and more, early and often in this game.

But, say you move on to put in the optional rules. Here, you can declare a Formal Siege, and don't have to attack the enemy. Okay. But given the very favorable results for attackers at even low odds, if you can reach 50-99% total ratio, you have a decent chance of a win on a combat. If you are at 100%+, you have a great chance. And in these optional rules, Siege Arty NEGATES the fortress's quality to prevent required defender retreats. Since besieged forces are prohibited from leaving the square when besieged, if the attacker wins the siege combat, even if it's a result calling for only 1 defender unit loss, ALL defenders are eliminated, because every defender lost battle calls for a defender retreat. After 6-8 rereads of the rules, this is still my understanding of it. Maybe I'm wrong. Or maybe the S&T folks didn't fully playtest the effect of their wording.

Under the above interpretation, siege arty becomes a Death Ray. The defender is SCREWED if he has to defend in a fortress square, because if the attacker has siege arty, he just declares it a siege, and the above kicks in. There's nothing in the rules about being able to say your defenders are inside or outside the fort, so they can fight a normal field battle, etc. Yes, it says the defenders can sortie out of the fort, and fight a battle against the besiegers. But they can't START the combat segment saying they're outside the fort. So if the sortie, fight, and lose, they're wiped out anyway. As a result, whole armes are periodically wiped out.

This is the jagged splinter in the eye of the game, but only the most exasperating single aspect of a half dozen other subsystem aspects clumsily shoe-horned and mis-applied.

As an aside, I playtested the Marlborough game for S&T, and they incorporated several suggestions. One was that fleets took forever to build, and that destroyed fleets should not be available for rebuild and return to the map for at least a year. That's a rule in Marlborough. But we return to instant fleet rebuilds for Frederick.

Diplomacy and Balance of Power Events -- you can gain alliances through random dice results on the Balance of Power table, and by picking a chit with that minor power's name on it from the big Campaign chit pool. Both random mechanisms, and boy, do you get your money's worth of realignments! I had Venice ally with France, then Britain, then Prussia in the same game. Brits ally with Russia, then Russia jumps to Prussia, then back out of the game. On and on. Historically, Savoy and Saxony switched sides -- once -- each. Most of the other powers that routinely bow into and out of Fred's war never entered the historical war. I had instances where I used the Swiss as an ally of the Prussians to capture a Brit garrison city in Germany, and have them become Brit allies next turn, attack Prussian units, then become Prus allies the turn after. Now you see them, now you don't, but don't worry, you'll likely see them all again. A few times. Er, for this subsystem, maybe the analogy is five bullets in the gun.

Economics -- everyone collects thaler, and needs them to move forces and rebuild units (and there's a lot of rebuilding). But the sparcity of units and garrison units can lead to powers like Prussia and Austria not having enough units to garrison all their cities. The rules make a point of saying that if you don't have a unit in a city, you don't get the thaler. This is especially clumsy, given the Prus and Aus are virtually guaranteed after a few ops rounds to have 1-3 vacant cities. So, we have no civil authorities gathering taxes in both these relatively well-organized monarchies? Another annoying mistake.

Supply -- the rules are not inordinate, but not trivial. That said, I had ONE instance, in 1.5 games, where a force couldn't trace back to a friendly fort, because forts are so EASY TO TAKE. In that sense, the supply rules were overkill. For the amount of space they take up, they have very little effect.

I can say that if you can throw most knowledge about the history out the window, and play it as a sort of heavy Euro, as a pure GAME, there is plenty of excitement. I had the Brits, French, Aus, and Prus all threatening to win by their specific sudden victory conditions at several points in the campaign game, and the other powers had to scramble to offset this. The random, spikey system yields plenty of surprises and sudden opportunity moves. As a game, the inordinate propensity for sudden extreme reversals of fortune due to the overly chaotic results does keep you on your toes. I had fun with it at times, but it was fun playing a chaotic game, vice any appreciation for actual history being modelled. For game excitement, I could probably rate it a 6 -- but for a war game on the Austrian Succession, it'd be for all the wrong reasons.

I could go on, but enough. In sum, too much in this game happens too randomly, and in ill proportion. The ingredients are all gathered together, but they are assessed, measured, and applied with almost studied randomness -- too much in the sp losses, too little in the siege difficulty, too random in the minor country alliances/realliances, too generous in the naval fleet rebuilds, too stingy in the thaler collection mechanism. One of the same old shoes got pulled off the shelf, and I don't think enough time was spent really analyzing and then adjusting it so that it would fit this very different foot. I can't help but get the feel that publication schedule pressures drove a decision of "yeah, yeah, close enough" on this one. Didn't anyone playtesting it run into any of the mis-rigged, totally ahistorical subsystem machinery I found in about 8 hours of play? Or did they notice, but not have time or energy to adjust things?

It's a shame. I have been long hoping for at least a decent Austrian Succession game, and am desperately hoping someone else will design one, so I can just PLAY it, instead of carrying the ongoing fret and sense of obligation that I have to make one myself. This isn't it, and the quest, and the fretting, continues...
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Steve
United States
Flagstaff
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Bob. We need you to make an Austrian Succession game. Clash of Monarchs is the definitive statement at the strategic level in its period---Austrian Succession could use the same thing!!!
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Jeromey Martin
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Dallas
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Seconded to Steve's recommendation. I absolutely adore CoM, Bob. Maria needs her own, 'heavy' treatment!
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Stefan Rastapopoulos
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Richardson
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Habbaku wrote:
Seconded to Steve's recommendation. I absolutely adore CoM, Bob. Maria needs her own, 'heavy' treatment!


+1 re. Maria.
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Steve
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I'm just imagining juggling all those theatres in a big, meaty Austrian CDG...
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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New Orleans
Louisiana
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Just reading the part on the CRT has made me lose my already marginal interest in this game. Being a fan of the era I had my eyes on this game. Looks like I need to go elsewhere. As good as Maria is it only covers the opening phase. In other words, please try and tackle the War of the Austrian Succession on the strategic scale. The war deserves a better treatment than it has so far received from game designers. I still have not yet played CoM, but I'm sure you can pull it off.
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Terry Perdue
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MIAMI
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RED SASH covers all the theaters of this war if you can afford them.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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New Orleans
Louisiana
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Terrypinkona wrote:
RED SASH covers all the theaters of this war if you can afford them.


Their games look interesting by maybe too involved. I also want a grander scale game, something like Frederick the Great or especially No Peace Without Spain!.
 
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