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Breakthrough: Cambrai» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Eric's Solitaire Review: Breakthrough: Cambrai rss

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Eric Lai
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Breakthrough: Cambrai

Introduction

From 20th November to the 7th of December 1917, the British tried to seize the strategic area of Cambrai which was an important supply point for the Germans in World War 1's entrenched western front. For the British to succeed they needed a breakthrough of the stubborn Hindenburg Line. Previous attempts all along the front had all failed with massive losses of men. Here during this conflict the British tried some new experimental tactics with combined arms with tanks, as well as rolling artillery barrage to force a breakthrough. Historically, the tanks proved fairly ineffective even on the first day and the conflicted ended up as Artillery-Infantry battles. The British initially were able to breakthrough the Hindenburg line but on the 3rd of December Haig ordered a retreat back to the original line apart from a small gain near Havrincourt. This new MMP publication is a simulation of this conflict. Does it succeed in terms of a simulation of combine arms WWI conflict? Is it a good game? We'll find out.

Commentary

Breakthrough: Cambrai uses an area-impulse system reminiscence of the hugely popular Breakout Normandy. The games comes with a very attractive map divided into areas instead of hexes with various zones around the edge of the map that represent close-by off-map areas where reinforcements enter the game. I personally rather like the look of area-impulse maps and this one is exceptional, the main area uses very attractive colors and lots of details of towns, roads and canals and the zones around the edges of the map uses aerial photos of farmlands which nicely compliment the map. The counters are delightful to behold and is very clear, thick and functional. The game also comes with setup & reinforcement cards for the Germans and British sides and 2 player aids all of which is printed on very nice stiff card-stock. I played the main scenario and haven't played the other scenario options as yet.



The rules are in colored and is very well written with little ambiguities. The rules are very easy to understand overall & I think is excellent. The game also comes with a playbook with example of play and scenarios. The rule book was so clear that I didn't even bother with the example of play and had very few problems (maybe my one ambiguity would be fixed if I did?). I was up and running in about 2 hours. The setup time is very quick as you are not looking for individual hexes and the back of the counters are clearly marked as to where they belong.

Now for the game itself; a quick run down of the sequence of play will make my analysis clearer. The game is subdivided into 4 separate phases and each turn represent a day of combat: The dawn phase is simply the reinforcement phase during which you follow the reinforcement charts to place units. Overall the balance of reinforcements don't seem to flavor either side and is reasonably constant throughout. After the setup of the units initially and examination of the available reinforcements, you will noticed that the game is rather asymmetrical, with the British forces forced to attack and having more units and combat power overall. This is also reflected by the scoring system: The British is tasked with obtaining Victory Points (VP) by taking control of areas, whereas the Germans start with control of much of the map. I find that this asymmetry makes for an excellent solitaire experience, having clear goals for both sides that are different. Germans defend and counterattack when the opportunity arise and the British on the attack without opening weaknesses along the front.

During this Dawn phase you also do a weather die roll, the weather's only affect in the game is the availability of air support that only contribute a minor difference during battles. Accurately reflecting the minimal importance of early air-power in actual battles.

Then comes the nitty gritty of the game call the Daylight Phase, during which the impulses occur. The impulses bounce between the two sides and an impulse marker is moved further along a numbered track from 0 to 12. The impulses and hence the turn ends when this track reaches the end or during the British turn if they roll below the track number. So the number of impulses is variable every turn.

During an impulse the side that attack can use an initial hurricane barrage to soften the target, then you can apply a rolling barrage support, which represents a barrage of artillery at the leading edge of your advancing front, making it safer for your troops to move forward, this gives you bonuses in your movement allowance, which could be crucial to get to where you want to go or having movement allowance left to take advantage of any overrun you may have gain with your tanks in the actual assault.

After your artillery strike you then move your troops and then initiate combat. Since you can only activate one area at a time, it is not possible to "flank" your enemies with two groups of units attacking from different areas as traditional with hex and counter wargames, and it takes some getting use to! I assume the "flanking" action is factored in the actual combat itself when you've more units than the other side.

My favorite part of the game is the combat, its quick and you just throw two dice on either side to resolve without looking up any combat tables. The combat is quite attritional as you'd expect. (Within the stacking limit of 9 units aside) The attacker announce a point unit to lead the attack, this unit will be exhausted regardless of the combat result and the defender similarly must announce a forward unit, which similarly will be exhausted after the combat regardless of the result. These two units however contribute their defensive values to the combat while the other units only add only a +1 to the combat value. So which unit to choose to sacrifice is a very important and strategic decision. The artillery you committed also add to your attacking modifier and only units that are fresh and not exhausted contribute anything to the battle. There really isn't much replacements in this game and you'll quickly find that many of your units can no longer attack. The defense has a terrain modifier added as well. The entrenched Hindenburg line as well as unused hurricane barrage also gives bonuses to the defender. Basically the larger the final number after added the random factor of 2D6 on both sides is the winner and the difference between the two numbers is the casualty amounted to the defender if the attacker wins. There is a stalemate if the numbers are the same. (Stalemates are particularly deadly to the British, as not only the point units is exhausted, all the other tanks that were involved are exhausted too!) Losing an attack is very deadly to the attacking side with all their units exhausted as well as having to retreat while the defenders are left relatively unscathed. This makes historical sense as failed attacks during WWI were usually very bad for the attacking side.

One last thing you can do during this phase is to destroy bridges, the map is divided into three parts, a left, center and right by two canals with several bridge crossings, tanks are only able to move across the bridges and infantry without bridges need to spend ALL their movement factors to cross. This is particularly important for the Germans to blunt the British advance and bottle neck them.

After the impulses are done then comes a refitting phase, which is basically a phase where you gain artillery chits, and in areas of supply refit tanks that are exhausted. Tanks are not refitted not automatically, a fail die roll will greatly diminish the initial power of the tank and in the end the tanks just become canon fodder during attacks as they become weakened. (The tanks probably influence the outcome of the battle more so than historically as their usefulness can last many turns with some luck.), then there are replacements (which favor the British early on and then favor the Germans later on.), the British also have the advantage of dismounting their cavalry to replace exhausted units. The cavalry make great cannon fodder in this game as in real life, they have very large movement rates but it is very difficult to take advantage of in the tight lines of WWI battles not to mention that the combat factor for cavalry is intrinsically weak.

The game ends in an automatic British victory, with the British reaching several zones DEEP in German territory, which is very difficult. Or more likely the game will end when General Haig calls off the offensive. After every refitting night phase, you roll a dice and if the modified roll is greater or equal to 7 the battle continues if not the game ends.

Conclusion

There are many adaptation of the area-impulse system to reflect the attrition and defensive nature of WWI battles in the game. The game is very fast in play and can easily be finished within 2-3 hours which makes it a good candidate for tournament play and if your are short on time and in an evening you can probably fit two games in swapping sides. For me this is one of the more interesting battles of WWI and the implementation of the tanks, bridges, air support and artillery support all accurately reflect their application and strengths in the real battle. There is no doubt that hex and counter systems with much more detail movement will create a more accurate mobility model, I think the compromise that is area-impulse with its speed of play by abstracting movement is perfect for the relatively static combat of WWI. I really like this game and I think it will soon become the WWI version of the classic Breakout Normandy. Mighty shoes to fill!

I will give this game a 9 out of 10, for an excellent implementation of the area-impulse system to WWI, fast and fun with lots of WWI specific flavor. A tall order to perform for any game, especially one about the western front in WWI!

+9.0 for excellent production values, a relatively balanced but asymmetric scenario that is both fun for two players or solitaire. (Any future balancing issues with more game play can be easily be offset by a bidding system provided in the rules.).

-1.0 for the longevity of the tanks which seem a little non-historical, which doesn't affect gameplay at all. It is also difficult to form a cohesive offensive and defensive fronts, because of the area nature of the map, things can get rather chaotic quickly and it is relatively easy to slip between holes between enemy areas, it is difficult to close all the holes because of the lack of impulses to do all that you want to do. But this does leave the game more fluid and each turn you're wracked with too few actions left but too many options!
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Joe Thompson
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Excellent review Eric. Added to my wishlist.
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Nick Avtges
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I also find this game plays very well solitaire. There is no hidden information and the clear goals of each side help a lot. In addition, the area impulse system lends itself very well to solitaire play, I think, since you never know when the turn may end as either side.
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Mateusz Wilk
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Eric, that's an excellent review, having read it, I am seriously considering getting this one.

Edit: typo correction.
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Eric Lai
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Here are some strategy tips for the first time player:

There isn't much chrome in the game, the only set-piece events in the game is in the first 2 turns of the game, where most of the British divisions are LIMITED into which areas you can enter... This is IMPORTANT. For a decent start as the British you need to make sure you control all those areas by the end of Turn 2 or else you risk losing the game VERY quickly with a couple of bad end-the-game Haig Rolls, that end the game prematurely before you can possibly obtain 20 areas for a win.

For the Germans, if you defeat the British and beat them to these beginning areas with the meager forces you have to begin with, you've done well and will have the upper hand for the middle part of the game.

Also the bridges especially the two on the bottom right (southeast) of the map are particularly good for the Germans to take early, funneling the British units north to the final bridge where you can setup a meat grinder.
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Nick Avtges
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Garfink wrote:
Another strategy is to allow the British to take Area 1 & 5 and cross the right canal EARLY... unbeknownst to the unwary... these areas give a positive modifier bonus to the Haig Roll and can end the game prematurely for the British before they can get anywhere near their required 20 areas for victory.


Huh? Positive drms on the Haig roll prevent the game from ending. If the dr is >= 7, the game continues. So getting those drms is essential for the British player and the German should defend them.
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Benjamin Kindt
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Great review. I have my copy sitting here looking at me, and you've motivated me to start pushing chits around.
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I have the old SPI To the Green Fields Beyond and thought of getting BC to have a easier & quicker game to play.
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Great review and strategy tips! Thanks for letting your opponent know the tips before the game too! The game system is very similar to (the very same designer) Michael Rinella's Counter-Attack! Arras which I played solitaire in June last year. I was astonished how competitive and fun this game system can be. Both sides get chances to attack and defend, moving back and forth for outflanking movements.

Breakthrough: Cambrai arrived two days ago and you have a review even before my game unwraps the wrap and opens. I am very familiar with the areas of the battlefield as I was delved deep into To the Green Fields Beyond (Decision Games edition) when I was caught WWI fever a while ago. That game and The Big Push: The Battle of the Somme gave me depth and breadth of knowledge about WWI barrages and what are the infantry operational tactics under the fire. You get the maximum feel of WWI out of these games, something you can't get out of Ted's games at the higher operational level like Clash of Giants or strategic level Paths of Glory. But don't forget a bunch of other WWI good games like All Quiet on the Western Front, Marne 1918: Friedensturm,Storm of Steel. They are all great games with excellent production quality. But then, surely I look forward to play the game with you in Cambrai.

Having said that, I remember I haven't finished the reading of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (yep, I bought that book years ago back in Sydney bookstore, Australia, your home country pal!)

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Eric Lai
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nix342 wrote:

Huh? Positive drms on the Haig roll prevent the game from ending. If the dr is >= 7, the game continues. So getting those drms is essential for the British player and the German should defend them.


Thanks for the correction! Problem fixed.
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Lawrence Hung wrote:
Great review and strategy tips! Thanks for letting your opponent know the tips before the game too! The game system is very similar to (the very same designer) Michael Rinella's Counter-Attack! Arras which I played solitaire in June last year. I was astonished how competitive and fun this game system can be. Both sides get chances to attack and defend, moving back and forth for outflanking movements.

Breakthrough: Cambrai arrived two days ago and you have a review even before my game unwraps the wrap and opens. I am very familiar with the areas of the battlefield as I was delved deep into To the Green Fields Beyond (Decision Games edition) when I was caught WWI fever a while ago. That game and The Big Push: The Battle of the Somme gave me depth and breadth of knowledge about WWI barrages and what are the infantry operational tactics under the fire. You get the maximum feel of WWI out of these games, something you can't get out of Ted's games at the higher operational level like Clash of Giants or strategic level Paths of Glory. But don't forget a bunch of other WWI good games like All Quiet on the Western Front, Marne 1918: Friedensturm,Storm of Steel. They are all great games with excellent production quality. But then, surely I look forward to play the game with you in Cambrai.

Having said that, I remember I haven't finished the reading of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (yep, I bought that book years ago back in Sydney bookstore, Australia, your home country pal!)



I've a copy of Marne 1918: Friedensturm which I just received a few weeks ago... itching to break it in.... Didn't get Storm of Steel though, no good reason apart from the size (not another monster game!) and the price and the lack of buzz about it.
 
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Marne 1918: Friedensturm is one of my favorites. Be sure to download the revised rules from their website - there's some subtleties with the artillery and air attacks which didn't come through in the original translation. Nuts! Publishing should be putting out the sequel, Somme 1918, this fall.
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Kenneth Li
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Eric, the review seems trim off in the bottom, possible something to do with the last edit.

Good review, makes me want to get the game...

Please repost the last part, as I want to finish reading it

--- Ken ---
 
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Eric Lai
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Odd! Somehow the conclusion got truncated. I've added it back in.
 
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Michael Rinella
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Eric I hope you do not mind that I posted the conclusion from this review along with a link to this page over at consimworld.

Michael Rinella
Designer, Breakthrough: Cambrai


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Eric Lai
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Sure thing Michael, keep up the good work!
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Michael Rinella
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Another review is appearing in the current issue (#7) of Battles magazine.
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Michael Rinella
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Other reviews
In English:

http://dugsreports.blogspot.com/2011/09/breakthrough-cambrai...

In French:

http://dimicatio.blogspot.com/2011/11/breakthrough-cambrai-a...

In Spanish:

http://labsk.net/index.php?topic=86027.0
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Michael Rinella
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I just sent another review copy to an individual in Spain. A second review in Spanish is expected in the near future.
 
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The second review in Spanish did appear. I can't remember the link off the top of my head though.
 
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Michael Rinella
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Discounting the eleven "1" ratings the average for BTC would be a 7.326 and one of my highest rated designs. It certainly was one of the most thoroughly researched, because WWI is not my typical conflict.
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Easy Red

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Hope this gets posted OK as I'm a newbee to this...
What was the amount of time you'd think that 2 new players would invest in playing the game. I have it and am thinking of doing it in miniature for cons etc. I think it would look very slick, The game is very nice quality and like you said the rules are pretty succinct.
Thanks for taking the time to review.
 
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Michael Rinella
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The game has a campaign game and multiple scenarios. Which one?

As I recall the basic game is like 3 to 4 hours.

But:

It depends on each player's experience.

It depends on how many impulses there wind up being in each turn. That's variable.

It depends on the Haig decision rolls, which can end the game (assuming you are using them).

Have you seen the homemade block style counters posted here?

https://boardgamegeek.com/image/1181360/breakthrough-cambrai...

They look great wish I had a copy of the game that looks like that.

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Terry Lewis
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I have long had a deep interest in studying history and in historical conflict simulations ["war games"], with WWI now at the top of those lists as far as military history goes. Accordingly I aquired SPI's TTGFB when it was publised in 1978, and Rinella's BC a few years ago. During the centennial of the battle of Cambrai last year I was able to add two more simulations of this battle to my collection, so that I am pleased to now have the following to compare and contrast:

Cambrai, 1917: The First Blitzkrieg; 1974; Microgame Design Group / Rand Game Associates; David C. Isby / Artist Al Zygier.

To The Green Fields Beyond: The Battle of Cambria 1917; 1978; SPI; David Isby / R. A. Simonsen.

Royal Tank Corps -- The Battle of Cambria [Area/Impulse system]; 2000; Moments in History; Ted Raicer.

Breakthrough: Cambrai [Area Movement System]; 2011; MMP; Michael Rinella / Nicolás Eskubi.

TML [a retired professor in Oregon and a "war gamer" for 50+ years]
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I still have the game in my closet unplayed after all seven years!

Time to reflect on why.....
 
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