Eric Lai
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Keep Up The Fire!

Introduction

Keep Up The Fire! is another new game in the Victory Point Games' State of Siege (SoS) family. This time it takes us for a ride to the Qing Dynasty, during the period when the western powers were trying to open up the Chinese Markets for exploitation by any means necessary. Often unscrupulous and downright evil, their actions led to the Boxer Rebellion (the leaders of which weren't exactly nice either) and with the backing of the Qing court mounted offensives against foreign ligations in Peking. In this this game you play the foreign ligations defending the foreign district from the onslaught of Qing and Boxer forces whilst waiting for the western relief force to save the day.

Commentary

I have done lots of reviews on SoS games, so by now you probably know the basic mechanics of the cards, tracks and fronts. In a sentence, the series' core mechanic is that you are faced with several tracks that lead to an epicenter and with enemy units moving towards this center along those tracks (you lose if they do reach the center.). The movements of enemy units is dictated by a per-turn card play and this multifunction card also dictate how many actions you can do in any particular turn. In this game actions allow you fire your guns, engage in melee once the enemy units have closed in and build forts that acts as a health buffer from successful enemy attacks.

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This game unlike the other SoS games, there are two sections to this game. You have the typical siege of the foreign district with 4 fronts, the card dictating which fronts are populated with Boxer and Qing forces and their relative strengths and there is another track off to one side that represent the relief force approaching Peking, the same card also dictate how many command points the relief force have. These command points are used to reinforce the relief force's combat strength and speed us it tries to make its way to Peking. Each turn an opposing force is randomly drawn from a cup (these forces get tougher as the game goes on) and placed on the relief force and for the relief force to move, you need to successfully attack this force before you can try to advance. Both these commands are done with a die roll and without first reinforcing your relief force you aren't very likely go very far. Failure during an attack or move will lead to loss in strength of your relief force so, its a double setback and hence when to move the relief needs to be strategically taken in to account every turn. Make no mistake, you won't survive the game if this relief force doesn't make it to Peking on time to save the foreign ligations and when the last foreign ligation dies you lose.

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In the meantime at the Siege, its more a game of attrition instead of maneuver. Unlike other SoS games, the tracks are very short and the opposing units are very powerful. You aren't likely to get many shots at a distance and even if you do, you are very likely to miss. The melee combat exemplify the attritional nature of the siege, you no longer roll a to-hit die roll, but its simply assumed that a brawl occurs and you both hit and a die roll dictates how badly. Its bloody on them streets! The Boxers are very fanatical and during melee they will lose more men but will inflict more pain.

In defense of the foreign district are the various foreign factions, simply represented by a counter with their flag (Russian, American, Italian, British etc.), also on the counters are a special ability such as good at long range aim, more melee damage etc. You can rearrange these counters during the course of the game depending on the situation. The damage done to each faction is recorded on a separate track, factions start with different health points (called CP in the game), some are more resilient than others. By the end of the game your factions will be decimated and in my last victory there were only a single American faction left as the relief force arrived, earning a weak Pyrrhic victory.

One more thing, there are a few event cards mixed in with the multifunction cards and these are randomized so that you don't know which one will turn up in any one game, but often the boon these event cards gives to your side can't be ignored.

All in all, I think this is a very solid SoS game, in the scope of wargames in general, its still very simple but in the context of the SoS family of games, I would rate it as moderately-easy and will make a good introduction to the series. I really like the theme, although personally I don't know which side I would choose historically since one side is morally deprived & greedy and the other is fanatically religious with selfish & self-serving imperial backing. Nevertheless, the game gives you a good sense of the struggle of this unique situation. Once again, its surprising how flexible the SoS system is and here we have another form of it, attrition & survival with limited resources with a time-limit that depends on your success with the relief force. I think its brilliant.

Conclusion

Another great addition to the SoS stable of games. Its the first ever depiction of this struggle in boardgame format in English I know of and even though I haven't spouted many comments in this direction; I think the game is very educational since the history behind the game is so rarely understood in the West (or even in the East!). From a gamer's perspective, there is tension here and the final tribulation as you manage to relief your beleaguered forces is immense. All this in the space of 30 minutes or so.

I will give this game a 8.5 out of 10 in the context of its small size and intended audience and a solid 7 when compared to all my other boardgames, no easy feat I can tell you. I like to think of many of these SoS games as "Bite Size History" and I love snacks.

+8.5 for creating a game of a little played & very interesting situation. Managing to introduce a believable attritional strategy to a system that previously was more a push-back-a-front-from-a-distance and avoid contact type game. The duel command and action system gives every turn a little more for the mind to dwell on.

-1.5 compared to Empires in America, this game's size and scope is a handicap & strength, not that its a fair comparison, since this game is much shorter & smaller in scope. The strategic options are still slightly limiting simply because of the scope of the game, but there are more options than some of the other simplier SoS games published.

A geeklist of my other Solitaire Reviews
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Christopher
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thanks for a(nother) great review, Eric.

I'm still on the fence about this SoS game...
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Eric Lai
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teufen wrote:
thanks for a(nother) great review, Eric.

I'm still on the fence about this SoS game...
I am sure your curiosity will eventually win out... it always do...
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Aaron Silverman
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Garfink wrote:
Its the first ever depiction of this struggle in boardgame format in English I know of
There was that old Wargamer issue game, Siege at Peking. I haven't played it, though.

This one sounds interesting. I've been meaning to check out this series.
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Eric Lai
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DJ Kuul A wrote:
Garfink wrote:
Its the first ever depiction of this struggle in boardgame format in English I know of
There was that old Wargamer issue game, Siege at Peking. I haven't played it, though.

This one sounds interesting. I've been meaning to check out this series.
I know of that issue, its one of the back issues of Wargamer that is on my wanted list for sometime now. Haven't been able to get a copy at a reasonable price as yet.
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There is another good game with this theme, that I have been following PEKIN 1900 It looks also very nice but it is a pity that is not yet published

By the way I received yesterday per post my copy of Keep up the fire. The game is excellent. I love how all the historic facts all blend together. You feel after playing the need to investigate more on that particularly interesting siege and facts of the history around it.
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I received the game on Monday and got it down on table the very same night. Boom! I started the game in no time. It took me a while to get used to the system as it is a kind of brand new experience to me. The rulebook is generally very well written, although in some cases re-reading of the rules would bring more understanding of the designer's subtle intention. The atmosphere is great and now I am in the second epoch with the International Gun arriving! It blasted a Ching army to pieces in the South Wall. Although the fort defending forces are still intact due to my good dice rolls (I usually roll better when playing solitaire ), the Eight-Nation Army still hasn't been able to move to the next destination Tientsin! What's your strategy of moving the Army? I have hoarded the speed and combat power but the dice rolls are poor on that front and hence with the usual low number of commands (2 is the norm), the Army can disperse the Blocking Force but then cannot move on!
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Eric Lai
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I find that the relief force takes its time to build up momentum, but with some luck in the late game it will get going. I last game ended with a rather Pyrrhic victory with only 2 of the foreign delegation surviving...
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Second game...put that Russian into the wall to absorb the losses!

Use Italian rifles at extreme range whenever you can!

Spend your remaining actions always to build up the fortification, for Christ sake!

Heroic effort sucks! They are here to earn the victory points and gain the strength from God - you need Him in this game!

Move out from Taiku! Hoard back your combat strength whenever the Chinese Blocking Force attacks you and succeeds! If they don't attack you, attack them! The road is too long!

The Japanese are good at martial art - reduce your casualties by one always! Put them in the North Wall!

The Qings are coming fast! They are stronger than the Boxers in strength and they can fight with fewer casualties (i.e. no +1 casualty like the Boxers)!

Come on! Give me some event cards! They are retained for the critical moment!

Street fighting is bloody! Stop the Chinese at the wall!

The Hanlin Library is burnt down! The Consular is on fire! Sir, German Envoy Kelemens Freiherr von Kettler (what the fuss of this name?) is just killed when he walked out of the gate in the West Wall!

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Eric Lai
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Thanks Pete!
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Great review, thanks. Definitely thinking of buying it now.

The siege of the Legation Compounds was covered in a magazine game back in the 1980s in The Wargamer magazine. https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/8408/siege-peking
 
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