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Warlords: China in Disarray, 1916-1950» Forums » Reviews

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David G. Cox Esq.
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Warlords: China in Disarray, 1916-1950



Multi-player Wargame for 3-7 players
Designed by Dave O’Connor, Steve Barnes & Peter Wyche
Published by Panther Games (1986)




“The Sky Cannot Have Two Suns”
Chiang Kai-chek



‘Warlords’ is the best simulation of the turbulent period of Chinese history from the fall of the Manchu’s to the success of the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong. Warlords has three major design elements – diplomacy, resource management and military operations.

It contains three scenarios and a campaign game. These scenarios make it suitable for three players, four players, five players, six players or seven players. It plays rather quickly despite the amount of detail in the rules. In the game players take control of one of the seven factions in the game. Four factions represent regional warlords and the other three factions represent political groupings – The Chinese Communist Party, the Kuomintang and the Japanese Army.

The game’s designer, Dave O’Connor, formed Panther Games and published his first design, Trial of Strength, in 1985. The following year saw the publishing of Warlords and Shanghai Trader. Panther Games then moved into computer games and this saw the demise of the company for several reasons that I won’t go into.

Warlords is a solid design, without being great. The physical quality of the components is rather good, especially from a new company. I have heard many people compare it to Diplomacy or Machiavelli but don’t feel that does justice to Warlords as it is a much more detailed simulation than either of the other games.



Components

Box – solid and attractive. On the negative side it is a touch larger than the standard Avalon Hill bookcase game box and consequently didn’t fit neatly on my shelves with the other boxes. I guess this is a design decision to try to make the game stand out from other games in the FLGS.

Rules – 16 pages and clearly written. The rules actually contain some nice humour and are fairly enjoyable to read.

Map – approximately 48 cm x 57 cm. The map is glossy and printed in full colour. It is clear and functional, even though I don’t agree with a couple of the design decisions regarding colours. Each province is a different colour to adjacent provinces – light blue is a bad colour for a province as it makes them look like large lakes.The cross-hatching of areas not used in the game is a touch ugly and could have been done just as effectively by simply making the non-useable areas lighter in shade.

Die – big, bold and white – like the designer himself.

Play Aids – two cards with a map, sequence of play and various charts and tables. Another card is used to record the turn, political status and initiative levels. The cards are standard black print on card – nothing special but certainly useful.

Counters – there are two sheets of these – the large sheet has large counters representing armies. The small sheet has small counters representing provinces, minor warlords, guerrilla armies and general purpose markers. They are attractive, colourful, functional and, alas, a tad too thin.



How Does The Game Work?

Sequence of Play

Cycle Turn
1. Diplomacy Phase
a. Negotiations Segment – players can talk privately amongst themselves.
b. Declarations Segment – plays announce alliances. You may only be allied with one other player at a time. No one can be allied with the Japanese. You gain political points for forming an alliance and lose them for breaking an alliance. Allies are able to move their units simultaneously and so have combined military operations.
2. Famine Phase – roll a die and pick chits to see where the famine occurs – it will reduce the value of affected provinces.
3. Revolt Phase – roll dice to see which provinces go into revolt.
4. Production Phase – players gather resources and then spend resources to maintain existing units and create new units. Resources not spend are accrued and may be used during the Operations Phase to allow armies to march and wage war.

Operations Turn
At the start of the Operations Turn events may occur. Then, in initiative order players have their own turn. Initiative is based upon a factions position of the political status track.

There are three Operations Turns before you have another Cycle Turn.

To make it even more interesting, the player with the highest initiative (or the Japanese) may choose to go anywhere in the turn order. This means that players may engineer a double turn if they wish to.

During a player’s turn they check the supply status of their armies – you either pay resources to allow your armies to move and/or fight or you have them forage and remain where they are. Then armies may be allowed to move and fight.

It’s all pretty straight forward really.




The Scenarios


The scenarios have been carefully structured to facilitate play by different numbers of people and to represent different phases of Chinese history during the first half of the twentieth century.

1916-1925 Scenario goes for 10 years and is for four players representing the four warlords – the Wu, the Feng, the Sun and the Chang.
1926-1935 Scenario goes for 10 years and is for five or six players – the Japanese have no presence in this scenario.
1937-1950 Scenario goes for fourteen years and is for three players only. No diplomacy takes place in this scenario
The campaign game works best with six, even though the rules say it is for seven players.

Each of the scenarios has a totally different feel due to the political realities of the period depicted. The scenario design shows some really nice development has gone into the game.


Basic Mechanics

The actually mechanics of the game are simple and yet give it good flavour. The most important aspect of this is in regards to combat. Each faction has its own combat modifier. Japan gets a +2 in combat. The CCP, KMT and the Feng get a +1. The other three warlords have no modifier. In regards to armies, each player has a maximum of 24 armies that they may create. Players buy factors to put into their armies. The Japanese may put 20 combat factors in each army. The KMT may have a maximum of 15 factors in each army. The other five factions may only have a maximum of 10 factors in each army. This gives the game real flavour as some factions are, by their very nature and organization, stronger than others. This makes the political aspect of the game very important. The smaller factions must cooperate to some extent to be able to survive.

In the same way different provinces have different economic values and different terrain types. Being able to increase your land holdings is a crucial aspect of the game as this will allow you to acquire more resources to convert into more military force.

One of the important questions you have to ask yourself while playing the game is how many resources to use to create armies and how many to hold for military operations. There is no point have more armies than anyone else if you have no resources to allow you to manoeuvre and wage war.

Warlords is a good game about a relatively obscure topic as far as wargames go. It nicely integrates the three aspects of politics, economics and military. Warlords actually plays fairly quickly and moves along at a cracking pace.

Unfortunately, while it was very good when first published, almost certainly has not aged gracefully. At this point in time I feel that it is really going to be of interest for people looking for a game that captures the feel of this period of Chinese history or who are looking for a fairly simple but yet dynamic multi-player game. Personally, I have found the three scenarios to be interesting to play but would steer away from the campaign game as just being too long for what it is.


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Darrell Hanning
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Wow. Never thought I'd see a review of this game. You're the man!
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Magister Ludi
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according to their website, Panther Games still looks to be an operative business, just changed their focus somewhat as to their target audience...
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Michael
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da pyrate wrote:


Die – big, bold and white – like the designer himself.



Very nice
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Roger Lai
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Brings back memories. Bought it as a crazy milsims special $10, tried to computerise it in year 10, gave up and sold it for $40. Aaah, should have kept it.
 
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Sam H
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Great review, thanks a lot!
 
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Magister Ludi
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rlai wrote:
Brings back memories. Bought it as a crazy milsims special $10, tried to computerise it in year 10, gave up and sold it for $40. Aaah, should have kept it.


I've still got my copy,we should give I a spin
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Johnny Wilson
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A friend of mine helped me push some pieces around last night. I'd like to add some comments to your nice little review.

First, although the warlords not associated with a faction do not have a CER (Combat Effectiveness Rating = die modifier added to combat rolls), each time they go into battle, you roll a 1d6 to determine their CER for that battle.

Second, the counters in this game are merely large counters which represent armies. They do not have a consistent combat value. You have a set number of combat factors at the beginning of a scenario that you assign to an army. So, this is a bookkeeping intensive game.

Experiment: Next time we play, we're going to use mini-poker chips that I use in my design classes. White will represent one, orange will represent five, yellow will represent 10, and black will represent 25 factors. These areas on the map are plenty large enough to hold them and that way, one can make change instead of constantly checking separate sheets of paper.

Third, the review didn't mention the chit-picking method of determining famine (unless I didn't read carefully and that's entirely possible as I'm a little sleepy right now). On a 1d6 roll, anything but a "6" represents the number of provinces affected by famine. Draw out that number of chits and place them on the board to affect production and foraging.

Fourth, although the other factions cannot cut the Japanese resource total, the Japanese can play havoc with the potential resource collection of the other factions by taking a swing through the rich central area of mainland China.

If anyone is interested in this game, these additions may help inform a buying decision.

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