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Subject: Ottoman Sunset, from a solitaire player's point of view. rss

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Eric Lai
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Introduction

Hello again and welcome to another review by little me on a game made by Victory Point Games call Ottoman's Sunset. I am primarily a solo boardgamer (not by choice, just a lack of geeky friends.) and have a rather sizable collection of solitaire games to play with over the years. From my years of loneliness, in a meditative boardgaming state, I have accrue some experience with... well... boardgames, specifically solo boardgames.

In my last episode, I stirred up a little hornet's nest of emotive sentiment when I reviewed Israeli Independence. Needless to say, it wasn't a favorable review, and this in combination with a small but loyal fan base for the game, you can imagine the debate afterwards (Quite civilized, but lively.) Today I think I am going to redeem myself in the eyes of those few that disagreed with my review... perceptions of the Israeli Independence (a perception that I firmly stand by), with this review of another game in the State of Siege series by Victory Point Games. So hang on to your panties for a ride with me to view an Ottoman's Sunset.

Review

As you know this game is about the era during which the failing Ottoman Empire was declining and the events occur around WW1. As with all my reviews I am not going to rehash the rules and specifics of gameplay, you can readily download the rules of the game from Victory Point Games webpage. These rules like all the other State of Siege (SoS) games are very straight forward and took me about 20 minutes to burl through. The game is very easy to setup (3 mintues) and one thing I really like was the small footprint. I was able to play this game on my bed on the back of my "Tales of the Arabian Nights" Game board, just to give you an idea.

The basic game phases (in summary) is draw event card, resolve card, play action. There is a little more to it, but thats basically it. Its the same as that in all other SoS games. But unlike Israeli Independence there is so much more to this game that doesn't rely on these almighty event cards that I know from just reading the rules, its going to be a lot of game to manage! But unlike the event cards in Israeli Independence, the contents of these event cards are truly interesting and affect play in so many ways to keep things dicey to the end.

Unlike Israeli Independence (II), the one simple thing that I noticed during the rereading of the rules is that there are two more ways to lose that game. Which pretty much tells me that there will be more to manage in this game, which of course is a good thing.

The basic idea like all SoS games is you are faced with several "fronts", in this particular SoS game, the fronts are of variable lengths and some come in to play at different stages during the game. One way to lose the game is if any of these fronts reach a central point (in this game its Constantinople, the center of the Ottoman Turk Empire), so during the game the various "fronts", which represent the various military factions advancing and its your job to keep a close tab on them. To do so, you have to waste your precious limited actions (which you need to do other things with) during each turn to push them back with a dice roll.

On some of the faction movement fronts there are some added elements that complicate matters, with certain card draws you can fortify a certain square to make the Sinai front (one of the fronts in the game) harder to move towards their central goal. Its not all good for you, on the same front, a certain water pipeline built (another card draw) results in easier movement for the same British in the Sinai front. These and other extra layers of intrigue really add to interest of the game, without adding much complexity. There are more little things like this throughout all the elements in the game that make the game so much more than Israeli Independence. Its really good.

I mentioned that there are other ways to lose and there is! My favorite addition to this game isn't the above chrome, but the addition of an extra element call National Will of the Turks, basically if WW1 is going well for the Turks & their friends, you will boost your national will and of course the opposite is true too, these battles aren't the fronts mentioned above but occur elsewhere off the map. These battles are abstracted in the game somewhat, but you the player can influence these Off-the-map battles with expenditure of action points. Then there are the coups the Turks can setup in various other of-the-map nations, these if successful all help the national will. And finally, to integrate this national will concept into the game itself the designers have added certain strategic squares in the fronts (those I mentioned in my above paragraph) and if the allies control those you lose national will. And just when you think that is enough, there is more! At the end of the game, the game emulates the Kaiser's Battles by adding an extra phase and forcing the player to battle every turn, these battle swings the national will around quite a bit and if not managed properly you can find yourself with -4 national will or less and lose the game! Its quite brilliant!

The game is separated into roughly three phases (or eras) and that Kaiser's Battle thingy occurs near the end, but to keep things interesting during the start and middle there is another way to lose! On one of those event cards, the British will try to sneak into Constantinople by sea, and during the first era of the game, you have to devote some of those precious actions to shoring up those defenses or you may well lose because of that one event card. How much defenses depends on how much risk you want to take, its not my favorite part of the game because it does result in a short dice fest that may make you lose the game with some bad luck, even if you shored up the defenses adequately, but it does help separate the eras in the game and I found myself changing my goals after every card draw. It was quite invigorating and challenging.

To win the game you need to survive to the end of the deck and that is no easy feat! On top of all that, there is a victory point system, if you manage to master the game and win more often, you can challenge yourself to get a higher score. So on the final stretch of the game and you think you have the game in the bag, I still concentrate to make sure I maximise my victory points for a better win.

On my most recent two plays, the first of which I died pretty early due to some bad rolls and bad draws (cards came in the worst order possible in that game) and one of the fronts reached Constantinople before I can bat an eyelid, so there is an element of luck, but because there is so much going on, this element randomness does even out somewhat. In my last play, I scraped through to the end for a marginal victory (11pts) and boy was it tense and close. I really felt that my decisions are meaningful, but on rare occasions, I did feel a little uncertain, in terms of what cards are left (to destroy me) and hopeful of good dice rolls. None of which are deal breakers.

Like all solitaire games, randomness is important for re-playability and surprise, but that randomness if too much, can make the choices a player makes too inconsequential. Well this game has no problems in that area. The random aspects are in the card draws and the dice rolls for combat, the former is an excellent example where the randomness will alter gameplay quite dynamically and cause each game to be different and in most situations the player has time to respond to the new crisis the card draw brings. (Games like Talisman & Arkham's Horror that also rely on cards are a good example where you aren't give time to react to the cards in any strategically meaningful way) This randomness is a very good thing. The battles dice rolls are your usual bigger than the number you win thing, its not innovative, and as all you boardgamers know, some dice (or dice throwers) are habitually cursed, but it doesn't break the game and its effects are diluted by all the non-random elements of the game. There are also certain cards that give you +1 to combat and you can wait for these to maximize your chances and there are other action spending possibility to alter the odds to your favor as well (in those off-map combats).

There are still other small elements I haven't mentioned that add even more chrome to the table. Its a game that really has some depth and is a blast to play. This depth isn't quite Tokyo Express but its amazing how much there is given the few chits the game has to work with.

Also when its all over, you can try out the optional rules available that comes with the game.

The game is still limited in its scope and even though the cards and their random ordering does add a lot to re-playability, and the myriad of choices results in quite a lot of meaningful choices, the game isn't quite as epic as some of those classics like Ambush! & Magic Realm, but it is very close. The game does take longer to play than II, but you could win a game in less than 40 minutes and losing would be even quicker.

The game board is quite functional, its a little cluttered but I rather function over looks any day of the week. Like all the victory point games, its only printed on a flimsy piece of thickish paper and I think this game deserves better. The only advantage I see is the game is extremely portable and fits in a large back pocket or coat pocket and is very light. This is one of those games that may see its way into my vacations. The chits are good, they are not lock n load good, but good enough and the cards are not fantasy flight good, no coating, not plastic, but good enough.

Last but not least is theme, and the only way I can describe this game is its very thematic. The flavor text on the cards, the functions of the cards, the gameplay are all very well done and really makes a good abstract representation of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Like I've said before, I think all wargames should come with cards (and/or paragraphs).

Summary

If this is the only State of Siege game you buy from Victory Point Games, you would've made a fine choice. But I can assure you, after you try this one you'll want to try some of the others. I really enjoy this game, I liked the theme and the rather large numbers of choices the player can make and still feel his is in some semblance of control. I like how the situation can change on you with only a few card draws and how the nature of your mission changes as the game progresses. There is quite a lot going on, but its all very easy to manage and it never felt that I was inundated with rules and exceptions. All in all, a great Historical Simulation that I will be certain to play over and over again over the years. Worth every cent I paid. I would love to playtest the next Victory point game effort (hint, hint.)!

I will rate this baby 8.5 out of 10, and a strong buy.

+8.5 for a great game design that I can't much flaw, with good replayability and reasonable depth and still being easy to learn. Thematically excellent also, really makes you feel the pressure the Ottomans were under during their final death throes.

-1.5 for below average production quality and unlike some of the more epic classics, I can't really continuously play this over and over again for days on end (it really takes a rare game to make that happen, so its no shame). But it wouldn't take much for me to take this game out of the plastic bag whenever I need some of that state of siege goodness and I am short on gaming time.

A geeklist of my other Solitaire Reviews
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John Welch
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Great stuff! I look forward to more of your reviews regardless of your verdict on the game as it means more gamers may get the chance to hear about a particular title or the series in general.

If you're interested in playtesting, just keep an eye on the VPG website and when the call goes out for playtesters - email and get on the list

Thanks again for taking the time to post your reviews.
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Eric Lai
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I am surprise no one else has done a review on this game. Its a little treasure really. Despite your manifesto & company credos, which I don't totally agree with, being a business man myself, I really think this game deserves a "deluxe edition" with a box, nice board and chits. I think its time to do what the Leica business model (amongst a zillion companies also) does... collector editions. For this game at least I for one would be interested! I really think apart from having to print in bulk, the cost would not be too extravagant, especially if you are printing in China. (I live in Hong Kong you see and have a few friends in the printing profession). I even think things, like artwork and design gruge work could be left to a team of Chinese designers which are relatively cheap (you will still retain artistic direction, of course, I also pioneered a magazine over here so I am in the know.) but you'll be surprise how modern & creative & cheap these teams are.

There is a reason why fantasy flight & z-man games are doing so well, they have a mass market, I know that these games you've made aren't exactly mass market appeal type games, but they are also fairly unique in the genre of boardgames (which is an important differentiating factor) and it doesn't mean you can't create innovative new games that have mass market appeal & still retain your more hardcore crowds. In this genre of wargames, which competing companies like GMT are present and with such a limited and specific market I suspect growth will be very slow indeed, it should be enough to pay the bills, but it won't make you very rich (but if this isn't your goal than its good for you!). I would seriously consider this if I was you. The mass market will never accept your product quality, even if its intellectually excellent. You have done well to carve a niche, but I think you need to be more enterprising.

Oops this has turned out to be a lecture of sorts...

Good stuff there John and keep up the good work. (Since I am definitely in your niche market, I love your stuff!)

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Steve Carey
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Well, OS is still relatively new and I can only relate my personal experience as I came to assist on the game near the end of its pre-publication cycle, and just fell in love with it.

Another fine review Eric, and I know that those of us involved in the design, testing, and development of these games appreciate your dedicated efforts and honest opinions.
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Joshua O'Connor
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HK has the best wargaming club in the world, the HKSW. You need never play solitaire in Hong Kong. I'm terribly jealous. Good review.
 
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