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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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Levée en Masse
A solitaire game designed by John Welch


Introduction
Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !

- La Marseillaise

Levée en Masse is the fifth game in the Victory Point Games States of Siege Series. It places in your hands the fate of France and the revolution against the other powers of Europe. It is published by Victory Point Games (VPG), and is also available in French!

Components
Levée en Masse comes in a ziploc bag, and includes all the counters, rules, cards and a map of France. You will need to supply a d6 to play.

A game in progress.

The components are very functional and the map makes it easy to not only see the state of the game at a glance, but also has quick summaries of the turn order and how to execute certain actions. This will save you a lot of time referring back to the rules.

VPG produces games on demand, so while it's true that the components aren't of the same caliber as one might expect from your typical wargame company, this allows VPG to carry a large catalogue of games that might sell only 200 copies ever, compared to the typical print runs of 3000-5000 (or even more) and their attendant issues of channel distribution, warehousing, and up front sunk costs.

Rules and Game Play
The rules of the game are quite straightforward, and the flow is governed by a deck of event cards. Your role is to protect France from its various enemies and guide it to a new era of republicanism. In order to do this you must protect Paris from invading armies, manage unrest in the capital, raise liberation armies, and promote the republic politically while keeping despotism and the monarchy down.

The game is split into three phases, represented by the three decks of cards (bleu, blanc and rouge). The blue deck represents the start of the revolution up to and including the fate of Louis XVI. The white deck represents the era of the Reign of Terror. The red deck represents the rise of the Republic.

Each turn you will draw the top card of the deck and in order, resolve the military, political, and social parts of the card. The descriptive text at the bottom of each card is given for context and historical flavour but has no effect on game play.

A typical card.

The military part of the card determines which armies move, if any, and also gives any additional information, such as a +1 drm vs. Austria this turn. All the armies start in their home box (numbered 5) and move inexorably towards Paris. If an enemy army occupies Paris at the end of the game, it's an automatic loss.

The political part of the card moves one or more of the tokens on the political track. Ideally you want the republic to move to the right towards 4, and despotism and the monarchy to move left towards the -1. If the republic is the highest valued token on the track, you earn a +1 modifier to your military actions, while if it's the monarchy, you earn a -1 modifier.

The social part of the card tells you how many actions you have available to you this turn, and managing your actions is the core part of the game play; there are never enough actions to do everything you want, and there are many forces arrayed against you. Furthermore, the results of any action depend on a die roll, so planning ahead to take advantage of any positive modifiers to improve your odds of success are key. The social section will also mention if Paris is having a day of disorder, which needs to be dealt with!

Through a lot of hard work and dedication, two armies are removed from the game! Huzzah for Amiens!

The actions you can take are:
- political. You can improve republicanism or hinder the monarchy and despotism. You need to roll higher than the current position on the track to improve/reduce the category by 1 space.
- military. Each army has a strength printed on it (3 for the Vendomes and Piedmont, 3 for the British who are stronger when in Naval spaces, and 4 for both Austria and Prussia). You need to roll higher than their value to push them back one space.
- liberate. There are two liberation armies that come in to play via events. They can be preemptively placed on the board to attempt to prevent one of the foreign armies from advancing into the next space closer to Paris, and can also help score points at the end of the game.
- restore order. This lets you remove the disorder marker from Paris.

The liberation army rebuffs the Prussians!

The game is quite difficult to defeat, and the game can end one of two ways: either an enemy army occupies Paris, at which point the game is an instant loss, the degree of which depends on whether you're in the blue, white, or red deck, or you make it through to the end of the red deck at which point victory points are calculated and the final result can range from a republican triumph (an improbably positive score!) all the way to a substantive defeat. Historically, it was a minor victory (-15 to -8) for the French.

Conclusions
Over the years I've played many different solitaire games, including some of the classic SPI paragraph driven ones such as Damocles Mission and The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat and more recently games like Field Commander: Rommel, Nemo's War and Toe-to-Toe Nu'klr Combat with the Rooskies.

I will confess that for the most part I get tired of solitaire games pretty quickly. Mostly it's because there's very limited scope for deviating from the core story in paragraph driven games, or the game's AI has a solution much like a logic puzzle that once you've figured it out, the puzzle is solved and the game loses its appeal. Then there are games that just take too long to get to a conclusion, or conversely are so short that you feel like it took longer to set up than play. This is not the case here. Clocking in around thirty minutes per game feels just right for this one - it strikes the right balance between length and the amount of control I can exert over the game state.

Levée en Masse does have a certain script to it in that the first and last card of each deck is predetermined, but the order of the remainder of the cards is random, so the game will be different each go round. There are a few suggested scenarios in the rules, such as playing the cards in order to get the actual chronology, or even to just shuffle all the cards randomly including the ones that ostensibly start and end each deck.

The game also gives you the flexibility to focus on certain aspects as the game ebbs and flows. For instance, as long as you keep the armies away from Paris, you can keep focus on a mostly political strategy for several turns. There is a lot of die rolling in this game - once for each action. If you get a series of bad rolls, it can give you headaches in a hurry. However, a few bad die rolls alone won't decide the outcome.

The flexibility in the approaches you can take gives this game some legs for me, and the relatively short playing time of around thirty minutes feels just right in terms of effort for reward. I'll note here that there is an expansion for this game, the Levee en Masse Expansion Kit, and it adds several more threats and cards to the mix to make the game even more interesting and challenging.

This is my first State of Siege game, but it won't be my last. There are several more games in the series that appeal to me and I'll be picking them up in due course.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for games that are light on rules but heavy on purposeful decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

If you like my reviews, please buy the microbadge: mb
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Steve Carey
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leroy43 wrote:


This is my first State of Siege game, but it won't be my last. There are several more games in the series that appeal to me and I'll be picking them up in due course.


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Dan
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I must think over my position and how I may improve it.
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Another great review (I just picked up your mb)!

I only own Zulus, but its sense of narrative is incredible. I think Ottoman Sunset will be my next purchase. I still need to explore Nemo more before I commit to another buy.
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John Welch
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Roger - fantastic review and I really liked the pictures. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the game and I hope it gives you lots of enjoyment. The are lots of States of Siege games to choose from - the 10th one just released on Thursday - I hope you get the chance to try another one.

Keep up the great work!
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