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Subject: Review and Session Report For ROSN rss

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Michael J
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INTRODUCTION

For almost a year, Raid On St. Nazaire was near the top of my solitaire gaming wish list. I love most solitaire games, but prefer games specifically designed for solitaire than games requiring a player to play two sides fairly with selective memory. ROSN is an exclusively solitaire Bookcase Game published by Avalon Hill in 1987 that attempts to capture the excitement and heroism of the British Commandos that raided the French Port of St. Nazaire in 1942 in an attempt to break the German naval infrastructure with a daring sneak attack in the middle of the night. It is designed to be played solitaire first and foremost, and therefore turned up high on the list of games I wanted to try as I scoured the solitiare-gaming GeekLists time and time again.

I was fortunate to acquire this game due to the generosity of BGG User "everhat", who traded ROSN to me for a lesser-valued family game because he knew how much I wanted it. Once again, I want to give a big "thumbs up" to Everett for his Geek Spirit. I promise to pass it on! It took me nearly 3 months to get this to the table, but I finally did last week, and played through my very first game over a period of 8 days.

A little about me: I am new to wargaming, and prefer solitaire wargames to face to face wargames when the length of the game exceeds 3 hours because otherwise I'll never get the game to the table. I like the solitaire experience because I enjoy pondering moves and savoring the play experience for many days at a time. I actually enjoy having to leave the table when my troops are in danger to get to work, or do other errands; I think about my soldiers when I'm not at the table, and I look forward to getting back to the table to find out what happens next. Solitaire games are like a good book to me. It's all about the story and the narrative the game provides. I'm happy to report that ROSN meets the narrative criteria well!

I also like to learn a little history when playing solitaire games. For games like ROSN, the goal is to learn a little bit about what the actual Commandos faced, and the kinds of decisions they had to endure. I also like learning about weapons and tactics. Again, this is an area ROSN succeeds in as well!

COMPONENTS

The first thing that struck me about ROSN is the beautiful artwork on the board. It was also one of the first things that attracted me to the game while reading reviews and session reports on BGG. Not only is the board mounted, but it is exquisitely illustrated to the extent that it points out where various sub-pens are located, as well as power stations, pump stations, bridges, and tug boats. I found myself referring to areas on the board by name (e.g. "send that team to the pumping station", and "head across the south bridge"). The details on the map really help pull you into the action. The map is also full color, and extremely functional. It has a full array of charts lining the edges of the board to reduce rulebook cross-referencing. It has locations that are both color coded to represent flak tower dangers as well as shaped differently according to defensive prominence (circle for low defense, square for better defensive terrain, etc...). It has lines that tell you where your troops can move, and how many movement points it takes to get there. Victory Points are clearly marked. The design and artwork for this game board is far ahead of its time, and is better than most wargames released today. I still can't believe it was published in 1987! Although rulebook gems such as "do not ask us to rewrite a rule for you or to explain it in other terms" and "please take the time to see if you can answer your own questions" hint that this game is from a bygone era.

In addition to the unbelievably beautiful mapboard, you also get 200+ counters, which, although not beautiful like the board, are extremely functional and have nearly all necessary information on the front. The counters are standard quality for games of this era, which means they are easy to tear if punched incorrectly. Fortunately, they are more than detailed enough, and are nicely color-coded by function to make it easy to spot during the game. For those wondering how the counters divide for storage purposes, you really need five different baggies to handle the five German defensive forces (they come in five alarm levels), and then you can pretty much combine everything else in one baggie since there are so few of them. Mine came separated in 10+ bags when I got them, but now I have reduced that to six.

RULES

The rules for the game are fairly straightforward, but are a little difficult to sift through due to some organization issues. Rulebook paragraphs are rather long in places, and cover one rule after another with little indication of when the rulebook is shifting gears. Be prepared to pay very close attention to punctuation when reading the rulebook, because run-on sentences are common, and periods seem to be used to indicate subject matter changes without warning (e.g. a paragraph break would have been better). Actually, it's written a lot like this review.

Additionally, some topics are covered in more than one place in the rulebook, and you will find yourself scanning 3 different rulebook sections just to refresh yourself on the rules for one item. For example, the rules for Guns/Searchlights are scattered throughout the book rather than being all in one place. There are a lot of rules, but learning the game is not that painful, and a mis-application of a rule will not kill the experience.

One of the best things the rules have going for them is that you can learn the rules as you go. Because turns are heavily segmented into different phases, you can read the rules for one phase, and play that phase, then read for the next phase, then play that phase as well. This is how I learned, and it allowed me to get some enjoyment out of playing the game early on without having to digest the entire rulebook at once. Additionally, the first 3-4 turns of the game feature no land combat, so you don't need to read these rules until it is time to land your forces.

SET-UP

Set-Up for ROSN is definitely one of its strengths. To set up, you grab your 20 ship counters, place them in the approach box, then also grab about 10 guns and searchlight counters and place them in their assigned locations (conveniently printed on the counter). That's it. If it takes you more than 3 minutes to set up, you need to buy a Plano Organizer. Coming from someone who has played Memoir '44 and lived through the 30 minute tile-hunt set-up phase, this was a pleasant surprise. It also prepares you a little bit for what is to come; there are no enemy squads on the board at the start of the game. Like the British Commandos who approached not knowing what kind of opposition they'd find but had fully trained based on surveillance details of the port, the board is completely revealed but the actual troops locations are entirely unknown. Your Commandos are definitely walking into a scary situation!


MY SESSION REPORT/GAMEPLAY REVIEW

At the start of the game, my flotilla lined up in the Approach sea zone, and the armada looked quite impressive. With no opposition in their way, it looked for certain like they would hit that port hard, and hit it good. Now, I knew from reading posted session reports that British ships were hammered by the German stationary guns, but I wasn't exactly sure how it would play out. Then I read the rules for the Harbor Defense Phase, and I knew I was in trouble. The phase list at the start of each turn is as follows: 1) Re-activate damaged searchlights and guns, 2) Rotate searchlights to find targets, 3) Fire at incoming vessels from outer defenses, 4) Return fire with whatever armaments your ships have left, 5) Fire at incoming vessels from dockside defenses. Wait, I thought the British ships made it to the port in secrecy using stolen German signal codes... course this game starts after the Germans are onto them. Big difference!

On the opening 2 naval defense phases, my ships faced 24 shots (that's the MAXIMUM, BTW). Just when I thought I got lucky and rolled a miss and let loose a fist pump towards the cat (my co-commander), a searchlight locked onto my ship and caused a hit. Go away cat! Searchlights actually caught my ships twice during the first turn. I thought the rolling would NEVER end. To be honest, I can't believe that the British Commandos actually did this willingly. My admiration level for their sacrifice is high. But I guess it was necessary. Here's a picture of my flotilla and the accompanying log after the initial Naval phase on turn 1 (note how many ships are hit, slowed, and/or sinking):


How many Commandos will I have left when they reach land???
(btw, I realized later that when commandos are hit, they have to roll for ammo losses as well; that is not reflected in this picture, but my team lost a lot of good explosives at sea)


It was pretty difficult to watch ships catching on fire, and sinking. I wasn't sure whether to press on, or pick up survivors. But there were so many guns out there! The only damage I managed to inflict in my first return fire phase was a Damaged marker on the Sperrbrecher 137. It was not enough to save me, however. I was never able to damage that ship again, and it helped take out a large section of my fleet. Was my rolling unlucky? I barely managed to hit any dockside guns or searchlights from my naval fleet the entire game. It didn't help that my gun strength dwindled faster than $20 in my wallet at a food court serving nothing but cupcakes. I just couldn't muster up any defense while sailing my vessels as fast as I could towards their targets.

For review purposes, it's worth pointing out here that the rolling at the beginning of each turn to handle the naval defense phases is pretty tedious. It gets faster once you know what you are doing, but you will roll a lot of dice to manage the naval defense phases, and there is no way around it short of a lucky roll that ends the turn. I enjoyed watching things play out, but I can see how some people might be turned off. For each naval attack, you roll to see if there is a hit, roll to see the target, roll to see what type of hit occurred, then roll to determine the effects of the hit. Some of these rolls can be combined thanks to the multi-colored dice, but be prepared to roll plenty and roll often.

By turn 3, I was able to move a sizable fraction of my fleet into the docks, and escape one sub into the Avant Port, where it was able to take out a lock gate with a well-placed torpedo. Note in the picture below that I have 2 ships on fire in zone A, a bunch of sunken vessels in the approach zone, and two lone ships in Zone C near the entrance to the port. I want to move more ships, but each one keeps losing all movement points due to incoming fire, and has to evade and/or turn direction to avoid being hit. Grrrr... multiple times I found myself ready to drop Commandos on land only to find the men were stuck at sea for another turn due to a poorly timed Evade or Turn Around hit result. Another turn of facing a relentless onslaught of dockside guns, that is. Wow, this game can be tense at times! Perhaps toughest is that the Cambeltown lost speed due to incoming fire that killed many crew and damaged the engines. With 6 groups of Commandos on board, this ship absolutely has to get to land, and every hit to it made my blood boil. My job would be much tougher than anticipated!


(I learned the hard way that having only 2 ships in a zone full of dockside guns is not a good idea if you want those ships to reach land; although I also realized that ships can be used to draw fire away from the rest of the fleet too - more on that later)

I was feeling better about my chances once my ships got into Zone B, as some of them could make a landing, but I had to face some very tough choices next. First, my sub in the Avant Port had enough movement points to make it all the way to the rest of the fleet. BUT, if I did that, I'd have to sail right by the ships that are on fire and/or sinking. Do I stop to rescue survivors? If I do so, the Sperrbrecher 137's guns would train right on the sub, and I'd risk losing that ship too. But my ships have objectives. My Commandos have targets. Do we abandon those objectives and risk further loss of life by stopping to rescue survivors and staying at sea longer? What did the original Commanders tell the Captains? I realize how gut-wrenching it must have been to watch comrades go down in flames, and be powerless to save them. I decide to send my sub right by, and try to make it to dry land to drop off Commandos to begin the raid. If I don't do this, what's the point of attempting the raid in the first place? I sit down to dinner with my wife feeling extremely guilty. I try to Geekily tell her the decision I had to make and how tense it was for me and how I feel empathy for the Commandos and Commanders that had to live through the raid and how my ships kept trying to reach land but kept getting turned around and... and... this and that. She says flatly "I don't like war. Can you double check to make sure the turkey burgers aren't burned?" Serves me right.



A few turns later, I've landed a few ships. The Commandos start jumping off, and now the game starts to open up. A new exciting phase has begun. I have demo teams. Assault teams. Mortars. Grenades! I read through the land combat rules, and get ready to make my moves. All of the Demolition teams have assigned targets. But what to do with the Assault teams? I'm not sure how the game will play out, nor the best approach for using the various teams. (hint, I made a lot of bad choices) My first attacks are against the guns, which I manage to disrupt. For much of the game, I was not cognizant enough of the fact that when Commandos are firing on guns, they can't attack ships. I don't think I used this fact to my advantage enough.

My ships are still taking heavy fire. And then the game decides to teach me another lesson. I land some Commandos one turn, then lose a ship the next turn. I take the ship that had already unloaded its cargo, and send it down to rescue survivors off the sinking vessel. I feel a little better about myself after the stomach-turning decisions I had to make the day before. I'm not cold and heartless after all. I'm just trying to lead us to victory! So I pick up the survivors from the sinking ship, and decide to send that ship out to sea to head back home. No less than one turn later, that ship is destroyed by a lucky roll of 2 on the dice from the stupid Sperrbrecher 137! It sinks like a lead weight. ARRRRGGGHHHH! The irony. Is this a suicide mission for these guys? Not yet, I say. I still have plenty of ships to land, and I'll bring these boys home.

I also manage to sneak out a delayed-action torpedo before losing my last Torpedo-enabled sub. The delayed action torpedo will take effect at the end of the game, but at least I got it off before my sub was destroyed!


The Cambeltown has landed! The British will be victorious!

In the above picture, you see that the Cambeltown has finally made it to the Southern Caissson, and a few more ships have reached their targets and landed Commandos in Zones B and C. Finally, I have a fighting force on land that can inflict heavy damage! Note that I also learned my lesson during Cambeltown's slow and hazardous approach, and sent an unloaded ship to Zone D to draw fire. It's the ONLY way, I told the Captain, to keep the Cambeltown afloat so that it can reach it's target. There are too many Germans starting to appear in the port, and we can't risk losing our biggest ship at sea. What an eye-opener. I'm certain, now, that maneuvers like these had to be done to make the operation a success. But once again, I feel slightly ashamed for making what feels like a cold-hearted decision, but one that was probably based firmly in historical fact. There were just too many guns focusing on the Cambeltown, and it was the only way to keep it afloat for the extra turn I needed. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to scuttle the Cambeltown, as it was sunk shortly thereafter upon reaching it's target.



You'll see in the above picture that I sent a couple of Commando squads through Zone 1 while the Germans were stuck in reinforcement pens. Two Germans squads intercepted us, but they were quickly dispatched. And that brings up an interesting point about the game. The British get to attack first on every turn. Two German squads reach you? No problem. Your boys can pick them off quick. I feel strong, powerful, and prepared. And according to the history books, that's exactly what the British were. Prepared. They had prepared for the mission meticulously. They caught the Germans completely by surprise. The Germans did not have men in the right places when the British reached land. The British knew the terrain even better than the hosts did. The fact that British Commandos get to fire first let's me play the role of Special Ops with style. We hit the Germans before they even knew what hit them. And that's how the game plays out. Eventually, more German forces start appearing on land (including Armored Vehicles), but for the early moments of the assault, the British were in charge, eliminating German defensive forces at will, planting charges, and moving on. So kudos to the game for creating a mechanic that captures the feel of the actual raid while at the same time making the game fun!



Now you can see my handiwork. My Commandos made it through Zone 1, and managed to blow up the Northern Caisson! It's a big bridge, and faces penalties during rolling, but my guys took it out on the first try! It is at that point that I realize that if I can just take out the Southern Caisson, I can isolate Zone 1 from the rest of the port and protect my guys. So that becomes my next objective.

You'll also see my Commandos fanning out to get to their objectives throughout Zones 1 and 2 as well, but also some German squads closing in on the bridges from the West (top of the map) My Commando in Zone 2 had the toughest time taking out the Dockside Guns. It took him the entire game to do it, and only barely, as he kept facing enemy fire that reduced his effectiveness. He kept having to fight the guns to disable them before he was able to place his charges, and the result was that he missed his Charge Preparation rolls over and over. It was only about 2/3 into the game when I really started using my Grenade attacks, and using my Assault teams to intercept German forces before they reached the Demolition teams. This is key because once a German squad reaches a Demolition team, the two may engage in combat which drastically reduces the effectiveness of the Demolition attempt. You receive multiple penalties when trying to set charges during combat, which is exactly the way it should be. Therefore, it is critical to intercept the German attack squads, and take them out before they can harass the Demolition units. But like I said, I realized this strategy far too late, and lost many VP's no doubt.

I'm also coming under heavy fire from Flak Cannons during this time. As you can see from the previous picture, there are 5 Flak Cannon Towers bearing down on my guys, and they keep firing at them every turn. I've lost a few Commandos this way, but even worse lost some Demolition ammo as a result. Those towers are incredibly well protected. I'm not even sure how to get a team up that far without getting killed. I think I'll have to act smarter next time, because the U-Boat pens are worth serious VP's, and if I want to win this game, I'm going to have to figure out how to take them out. There are only a few ways across the water, and the key will be to secure those areas from being blocked by German troops before wasting time shooting out searchlights! But that's the next game. We've still got a mission to finish.




I've blown up the Northern and Southern Caissons by Turn 11, hit a few VP areas in both Zones 2 and 3, and taken heavy casualties. Losing a 6-strength Demolition squad was devastating in the previous turns. Now, with the big bridges afire, and many big targets destroyed, do I continue to fight for every last VP, or do I pack up and try to evacuate? My boats have all fled and are attempting to reach the homeland. The German boats are all withdrawing to the U-Boat pens for safety. The only way out is Zones 5 and 6, which has heavy cover at this point. They are all but unreachable. Note the lone Demolition team trying to blow up the locks by the Avant Port with 4 German squads massing next to them (they were miraculously held off by an Assault team for 2 turns). And also note Commando Chant still trying to take out the guns in Zone 2. I make the decision to blow up what I can, and then surrender only when all possible targets are gone. This is a suicide mission. The men must have known it going in. They sure were brave!



The final turn. My demolition teams are overrun. They have one last attempt to survive combat and destroy their objectives. I have one good roll, and then surrender at turn's end. A few troops survived, but are subject to interrogation now. I feel terrible I didn't let them fight to the death, but it was midnight here at the command center. Besides, we still had one last surprise left in store for the Germans. The delayed torpedo fired at lock 212. As my men were taken into custody, the torpedo hits, and damages the lock for an extra 2VP's.



The board at the end of the game. Final score, 52VPs! Historically, the British Commandos scored 53VPs, so I suddenly feel proud of my efforts. It was definitely a suicide mission. Hopefully next game, I can evacuate more survivors.

THOUGHTS ON GAMEPLAY

ROSN creates a palpable tension right from the start of the game. Immediately, you are thrust into the position of watching your flotilla being torn to shreds by German harbor defenses. But yet you have to keep pushing through. SOMEONE has to get through. But you can't stop. No matter what. That's the situation faced by the British 70 years ago, and it amazes me that people actually did this kind of stuff. You can pick up survivors if you want to, but more likely, rescuing survivors from a burning ship is a sure way to doom your Commandos to the same fate. It is agonizing, even on paper. You have to push on, and get the Commandos to shore before all is lost. The tension that comes from watching your ready-to-land-and-deploy-and-completely-undamaged ship get hit by gunfire and forced to turn away and spend another turn in the water is intense. You just want them to get to land NOW! As if getting to land was any safer for them...

As stated previously, the amazingly quick setup time is a huge bonus for a game of this complexity. The rules could use some improvement, but I've seen far worse.

From a decision-making standpoint, there is little strategy to keeping your boats afloat and their crews alive, but you do have some leeway in deciding when to move them forward, and how fast. You also have the option of sacrificing boats with no commandos by placing them in zones that can draw fire from the flak towers. You basically doom those boats to destruction, but you can buy time for your other forces to land by doing so. In retrospect, I probably pushed my boats forward too quickly, and should have spent more time taking out the guns in their current sea zones rather than pushing the ships further into the harbor and surrounding themselves with guns on all sides. It seemed like the longer they stayed out at sea, the worse it was, but I'll have to give this more thought for next time.

Another interesting aspect of ROSN is the two completely different game phases that occur during the course of play. You have the Naval phases, with the artillery, the sinking, the evasive maneuvers, and the decisions on who and what to send forth towards landing areas. And then you have the Land Combat phases that occur once your men land on shore, and the grenades, demolition attempts, mortars, and long-ranged fire. The game almost re-boots itself when your men hit the docks, and it changes the feel of the game tremendously. Some might find that kind of distinction jarring, but I found it refreshing. Just when all is lost, my troops pour onto the battlefield and start to blow stuff up.

The movement and combat systems work well too. You get a few movement points per turn. The board clearly marks how much it costs to move between areas (single line, one point, double line, two points, etc...). Combat gives the British Commandos the advantage for the first half of the game just as was historically reported, but by the end, the Germans are able to mass a counter attack and force the British back to the docks or kill all of them. Combat generally involves rolling a single 6-sided die and seeing if the result is less than your unit's health, modified by close combat, unit type, and defensive structures. There is enough complexity to the combat system to force you to think about where you attack from, who you are adjacent to, and who you need to protect. It's probably not more complicated than Memoir '44 from this perspective. There is some complexity in moving the German forces and picking targets, but most of the complex situations come up when deciding between two equally dangerous targets and/or routes. In the absence of this condition, units will just advance on whatever unit is closest and strongest and by the quickest possible route. In a way, this feels like it probably would have happened historically - once the raid starts, every German unit in nearby bunkers would have been running to the scene of the attack, popping out of office buildings, emerging from below deck on boats. The movement, combat, and activation systems of the Germans feels just right.

In the end, this game is designed to recreate the feel of the raid, and allow you to experience the excitement of blowing up the German naval infrastructure. To this end, I think the game succeeds quite well. I've already put 20+ hours in it between learning the rules and playing my first mission, and I feel I've got my money's worth (err, trade's worth in this case). But I think there is decent replayability too. The game should play out differently each time due to the different numbers of Commandos that get to shore, the varying areas of German troop placement, the orders you give to your Commandos, and, of course, the roll of the dice.

If I had to rate this after one play, I'd probably give it an 8+. I probably need to play it a couple of more times before giving it a final score, however. For now, the game was so intense that I need to give it a break for a little bit. My first play was thoroughly enjoyable, though, so I will look forward to the next time it gets to hit the table! The next time I will try to make it up to the U-Boat pens just to put a real hurt in the German war machine!


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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Very well done, Michael. You obviously put a lot of effort into that.
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Lonnie H
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Thanks for the session report. This is a great game. I need/want to get it out more often.

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Bob
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Nice work Michael! thumbsup
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Brandon Pennington
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Fantastic session report! I have owned this one for 2+ years now and have yet to play it. I really need to fix that.
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Will Green
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My! You've done extremely well for the first play. My first play I scored 27 points, had a great time, didn't know what I was doing, thought I was winning! Got crushed in the end.

It is a truly great game, that does have, as you said, a distinct shift when the troops get off the boats (if they make it through the blasting of the artillery and the searchlights in the darkness of night).

Only to then emerge into the teeth of MGs carving out German initials in the Khaki browns of the British Commandoes. I sensed the "epic struggle" that these few men endured while on this raid. It also pushed me into reading two books about the raid.

Amazing story.


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Steve Herron
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You did better than me the last time I played it. The Cambeltown in my last game got sunk in zone B. Very well done. I wish there could be two things different. One it would be nice if there was an option were one didn't have to make all those harbor defensive fire shots maybe a summary table. That to me is where the game drags. But I can't think of another way around it. Two instead of black lines between the areas I wsh the lines were white, yellow, orange, or red that way it would make it easier to see them.
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Tony Cutcliffe
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An excellent review of an exciting game. Reading between the lines about your troops' combat against the flak towers, I wonder if the rules about destroying the guns was completely clear to you. Forgive me if I'm rading it wrong, but please allow me to summarise:

1) A successful grenade attack will destroy a gun/searchlight. You can do this whether the gun/searchlight is disrupted/out of action or not.

2) A demolition attack vs a gun/searchlight may only be conducted if the gun/searchlight is disrupted or out of action. However:

3) A grenade or demolition attack against a disrupted/out of action searchlight is automatically successful.

The only thing I'm not sure about is whether or not a demolition attack on such a unit has to be 'prepared' or if the preparation is automatically successful too.....

I hope this helps. If I've read it wrong, please forgive me!
 
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Michael J
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I've been wanting to bring this game out again, soon. I can't recall how I played it, but I will re-read the rules, then take your post into consideration, and see if I played it right the first time. As it is, reading rules discussions about a wargame I haven't played in 20 months is like reading a foreign language! Either way, when I get this game to the table again, rest assured I will respond to your post to let you know if I was doing it right. It might not be for a while now, but I will get to it. Glad you liked my session report. Cheers!
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Greg Bales

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6 years later, I thank you very much for this review. I've just gotten the game and played a little bit last night; actually compared to your first turn I did pretty well but it felt like I like was getting ground up like glass. You gave me a lot to think about re tactics and I think it'll help me get off the ground a lot better; also that I need to review several rules that're still foggy. Good job.
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Florent Leguern
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This review also settled my decision on trying to get the game laugh So many years later...

Great job. Small question though : what are the measures of the complete board ? It looks like it takes a lot of space
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Manuel Martinez
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Great review and fantastic gameplay report. thumbsup I remember seeing this game in the Avalon Hill catalogs of yesterday when I was barely getting interested in board gaming, back so many years ago. The box cover alone drew my interest, same for the map/board and theme. Yet, I never pulled the trigger and really regret it.

Now, many years later, I sort of finally got my hands on a copy. Thanks to some files by
Felipe Santamaría Iraolagoitia
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, I've managed to make my version of the game, had the board printed on a single, long sheet of game mat type material, printed and mounted the counters using Felipe's fabulous artwork, and can truly say I have a copy, pimped out, much better in my eyes, than the original.

I had set it up about a year or so ago (perhaps a bit more) but never started playing. Now, reading Michael's review has rekindled the fire and I'll probably set it up again this weekend... we'll see.

Again, thanks for the post...
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Florent Leguern
France
Saint-Martin-d'Hères
France
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Groaning Grognard
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After all, a murder is only an extroverted suicide.
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You should post some pictures of your personnal setup cool
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