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Subject: Hitlers War revisited and thoroughly modernised. rss

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Graham Lockwood
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D’Overlord á Berlin. A detailed review.
This game is a folio edition so there is no box and the components are kept to a minimum to fit within an A4 folder. The game strategically simulates the final part of world war two from the Western allies landing in France to the final collapse of Germany in 1945. The map includes the western front (including Italy) and the eastern front from a line running approximately north/south from Leningrad to Odessa. The counters placed on the map are Armies for the western Allies and Germany and Fronts for the Soviets. To win, the Allies must do just as well or better than their historical counterparts within the time frame of the game. Before I commence, I have to make a disclaimer that this detailed review is presented on the interpretation of the rules as I see them and may not be as the designer intended. However, I shall take the trouble to edit any part of this review that the designer may comment on to bring it in line with his interpretation of the rules as he intended. This is my way of saying that the rules are not that well translated.

Components.

1. Map. The colourful map is small-ish at 40 x 59cms. It shows the relevant areas used for operations during WW2 by the combatants. Each area has a number that provides army setup information, a political colour (more on this later) set within a ‘target’ that is the liberating aim of the Allies. Also included are ports (landing zones for the western allies), a couple of economic areas in the Balkans (POL – petrol, oil and lubricants) and finally ‘rough’ and ‘alpine’ areas that affect combat and stacking. Information tracks are also provided for political events, game turns and tracking resources. A useful key is also provided for the map topography.

2. Unit displays. Since the map counters are essentially armies, each player receives a display that breaks down each army into its corps counterparts. Each player can see at a glance what units make up his armies. Further information on each display shows where each army must be placed at the start of the game and how many units can be placed into each army. Also boxes for destroyed units and strategic reserves are provided. The display information is kept secret from the other player, so some sort of screen must be used. Units will be transferred from the display to some suitable part of the playing area when combat is performed, and similarly placed back when finalized. Do not play this game with players who cheat. You won’t be able to find them out.

3. Counters. The cardboard counters are typical ‘wargame’ size with some very smart artwork in a similar style to Nicolas Eskubis' artwork. Each infantry corps is depicted with a soldier on it whilst mechanised counters are illustrated with tanks and other wheeled and tracked vehicles. Each corps has a combat value and army setup included and some may be marked as being elite. On the back of each counter is indicated its’ step reduction (a smaller combat value). It’s interesting to note that once each army has been filled with units at start, they are free to be transferred to other armies during the game within the constraints of the rules. The army counters have typical wargame symbols on them and are simply there to reduce map clutter by representing up to 6 corps and have a flipped sided to show when it has finished operations. Finally, there are a set of ‘stratagem’ counters that are provided to give the game some nice ‘chrome’ features.

4. Rules. The rules are reasonably well presented and are not overly complicated. However, the translation from French sometimes leaves a lot to be desired and some parts of the rules are spread over different sections and would benefit from being included within the correct game routine rules. Also, although only one combat example is shown, it would have been nice to see further examples of other game routines since players often look for these to enhance their understanding of the rules. This is a fairly minor quibble, however it took me four or five careful readings to appreciate some of the subtleties within the rules. Luckily the rule book is not a sizeable one.

I have to say that I’m not a fan of ‘folio’ style games, as once the counters have been punched sorted and bagged, the resultant bulk makes it impossible to store the counters with the rest of the game within the folder. This can lead to the ‘Well, now I’ve got the map and rules…where the hell did I put the counters?’ syndrome.

How does it play?

Very well, thank you.

The game has a logical and intuitive set of routines. I’ll list them and comment within each. Also, although the game is stated to be a two player one, it is easy to include a third player by having separate players for the Western allies and the Soviets.

1. Political Phase: Each player will draw a number of strategy chits. These are playable a various times during a game turn and any unplayed will be returned for the next turn pick. They provide much of the games’ ‘chrome’ and are a smart inclusion. It would have been nice for these to be cards (making a deck of 24) as it would much easier to see the relevant information on a hand of cards rather than to continually refer back to the rules when each is played. All is not lost, as I have taken the time and trouble to provide these cards in the files section. Thank you very much, Mr Lockwood! (You’re welcome, Mr Wargamer - just thumb them for me when you download them). Next, each player rolls on their political table. Various events could take place. Some may be directives giving importance to various regions on the map (west, northeast or southeast) and priority to units operating within the confines of those areas. Extra strategy chits may be provided at Christmas (sorry, you’ll have to get a copy of the game to appreciate this one) and other helpful events depending on what you roll on a 2d6. It’s worth noting that only good stuff comes from chits and the political table, so have no fear from this extra chrome (although the political table may make you have to play in regions you don’t particularly want to this game turn).

2. Economic phase: Each player collects and tracks resources each turn. The amount is limited by the resource track, but accumulations are allowed to be carried over from turn to turn when not spent. Markers are provided for this. The Western allies are allowed strategic bombing of the Reich in order to reduce the resources gained by the German player each turn by the simple expediency of a dice roll. A couple of strategy chits are playable to enhance this routine by either side if they are picked. There is some nice and simple thinking in the way each player gains his resources. The German player gets a resource point for each area in ‘Greater Germany’ he either contests or that is ‘friendly supplied’. However, if he does not garrison Yugoslavia two points will be subtracted from his total and the resource centres of Bucharest and Budapest will provide one extra point each turn for either the Germans or the Soviets as the game progresses. The Western allies get two resource points per turn for each liberated and therefore friendly port area marked on the map. Although somewhat restrictive, the Western allies have unlimited ‘free’ resource points within the confines of SHEAF and this allows some advantages within that box marked on the unit display for some corps that are therein contained. Finally, the Soviets get a flat five points per turn and can gain extra as indicated above for POL areas.

Next come builds for the turn. Each player is allowed to restore units to full strength whilst in situ on the army display or in the strategic reserve box with each step costing half a resource point and since there is no provision for half points on the resource track, these must be taken in twos. The Western allied player is allowed free restorations for units in the SHEAF box, which allows him to transfer reduced units back to this reserve box during movement for free restoration next turn. The German player gets one free Volksturm infantry restoration per army that is in contact with the enemy in each Greater Germany area (called ‘contesting an area’ by the rules). The Soviets get….er…well they get 5 RPs. Next, each player may spend resource points to bring his destroyed units back to life (that is, units currently residing in the destroyed box). Each may be transferred to strategic reserve reduced or restored depending on whether you spend a half or a full resource point for each unit. Finally, each player gets freebies into his strategic reserves (but not including elite units) and destroyed boxes. It’s like this. From his dead pile (note that there is no provision for distinction or gathering of these corps on the map or display), each player separates his infantry units from mechanized. Each type is allowed one third placed reduced into the reserve box and two thirds placed into the destroyed box with left overs staying in the dead pile. In other words if a player had 7 infantry and 4 mech dead units, 2 infantry and 1 mech would be placed reduced into reserve; 4 infantry and 2 mech into the destroyed box and 1 infantry and 1 mech would stay in the dead pile to be added to units that get wiped out in the following turns. The nice part about this routine is that you really have to think about how much you want to spend to get your armies back into shape for the upcoming turn in relation to leaving a reserve of resource points that can help you move and fight in the next phase. In other words, use all you resources to build and you will be restricted in movement and combat. This may not be a bad thing for the Germans since much of the time they tend to be on the defensive.

3. Western Allied player phase: Now we come to the heart of the simulation. Each player gets to take a turn starting with the US/UK/French/Polish/Canadian side kicking off. The first thing that happens is that the side is allowed to strategically transfer reserves to and from the unit display in order to reinforce & change the way the armies are composed. This is a free action. Next, units may be transferred between armies. There is some restriction in this. A mechanized unit may be moved into an army in either the same area or an adjacent one. An infantry unit may only be moved to another army in the same area only. If you wish to move it to an adjacent area, you’ll have to place it into the strategic display and place it next turn. All these actions are still free and can be done even when enemy armies are in the same area, just as long as the receiving armies are in supply. Why would you do this? Well for a start off, since each player is only allowed two armies per area (the Western allies are allowed three, since their armies are composed of a smaller number of corps) it pays to maximise your combat factors to conform to the combat results table. There’s nothing worse than the agony of being a combat factor short of the next column as we all know! As an aside here, I should explain the supply rules. These are relatively simple. The Western allies draw supply from any port areas, the Soviets from the eastern part of the map and Germans from any Greater Germany area. A unit is considered to be in supply (even if in a contested area) if it can draw a line of communications to its supply sources. An army is out of supply if it cannot trace a path of friendly areas (which may still be contested, by the way) to its supply source. An out of supply army will not wither & die but will suffer halved combat factors and will take double losses in combat. There is some subtlety in these rules, simple as they are. Firstly, out of supply enemy armies will eventually have to be cleared from the map since the only way to win the war for the allies is to clear or at least contest all 35 target areas on the map and they only have 9 Western Allied and 10 Soviet armies to do this. They are up against a potential total of 22 German armies (I say, potential since up to two armies may be removed when the Hungarian and Romanians capitulate). This is a big ask considering the time frame. Anyway, more of this later. Secondly, a player may advance past opposing armies deeper into enemy territory, just as long as another army is left behind in the contested area just exited to provide a supply path. This allows both sides to potentially surround opposing armies, but is a somewhat nerve wracking experience as things may go wrong and the advancing army may well be cut off from its supplied brethren in the process. There is at least some historical basis to this fact, just ask any German who was at Stalingrad.

Now for movement and combat. It takes a bit of figuring out, but lucky for you I’ve read the rules and can clear the fog of war. Each army is allowed no more than two action points (APs) to move and/or attack (although this rule can be broken by play of chits). The first AP is free and is considered intrinsic to that army (so it may use this even if out of supply). This may be used to move into an adjacent area (supply line considered) or attack an enemy army in the same area. If the adjacent area is also contested then it takes 2APs to move there. A potential second AP can be taken from the resource track and lowers it accordingly. This may also be used to move or attack (but only if in supply). More APs can only be supplied by way of a relevant strategy chit that may be in your possession. Funnily enough, it may be used to either move or attack. Easy, eh? So given the right circumstances, it is eminently possible for an army to put in three or more attacks in a contested area or to move to three or more areas if able to be supplied. Combat is also pretty much a breeze. Each opposing army counts its combat factors and each player rolls on the combat table to determine what losses he has inflicted on his opponent. The bigger the army (whether in attack or defence), the more potential there is to inflict larger losses on the enemy. Here (again) are some nice touches. Defending armies must combine together their combat factors and the attacker may only use his attacking army at full strength, with any other friendly army being in support (support costs no APs) at half strength. The combat table is littered with modifiers both to the dice roll and column shifts provided by the strategy chits, terrain and supply status. The nice thing is that this is not over the top and there is just the right mix of modifiers to make you really think about how you spend your chits and where you pick your fights. This is especially relevant for the German player, who goes last and may find himself out of chits when he needs help to put in a juicy counter-attack that has presented itself. After combat each side may retreat to allowed areas. However, the German player must appeal to Hitler if he wants to retreat. Hitler will roll 1d6 and let him know if this is possible. If the bomb plot is successful and Hitler is killed then there is no need to ask Hitler for permission to retreat any more, Hitler is in no condition to listen to his appeals. There are at the very least, a couple of very nice extra features that the designer has come up with regarding movement and combat. First, under normal circumstances, armies on the map may not shed corps on to the map. They are kept firmly on the displays. However, the German player may drop a corps on to the map when he moves his armies out of a coastal area in France or the Mediterranean and this represents a static garrison left behind to annoy the Allied player. There may be a good chance that it will not survive the war, but it will make the Allies think about having to traipse around the map clearing the little beggars up when they have better things to do. Conversely, the Western allies have a couple of paratrooper corps units that are not placed into armies. They are simply placed into an attacking area and count as a combat shift. They may come back into play depending on dice rolls. I don’t want to make this review comparative to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I’ll just mention in passing rules for the allied landings in France; allied troop transportation by sea; lend lease of strategy chits to the Soviets; the Atlantic wall; inter-allied (non!) co-operation; (there, you see, I’ve mentioned them).

4. Soviet player phase. Much as I stated above applies here. You don’t want to read it all again do you?

5. German player phase. This goes ditto for the German side.

6. Final phase. Strategy chits are returned to their relevant pools. Armies are turned face-front (AATTENSHUN! No lolling at the back there laddy!). Political objectives are checked to see if they were correctly complied with. Capitulation is checked for Hungary and/or Romania. The turn marker is advanced, unless it is the last turn, wherein the victory conditions are checked. If the allies don’t win by occupying all the target areas on the map at the end of the game with their armies (whether contested or not) then the German player will win by default. And here lies the problem with the rules translation. It is impossible for the Allies to win by this statement. There are 35 target areas for the allies to occupy with only 19 armies. Hmmm….what I really think the designer had in mind was that the allied player can consider an area to be ‘occupied’ if he had an army pass through it last at some point in the game and other areas became automatically friendly when German units exited them and these areas were able to be allied supplied whilst not being similarly German supplied. If this is not the case, then all bets are off and the game is not playable with the victory conditions as written.

Well, there you have it. I must say that I’m surprised that this game only has one fan according to its page entry here on the ‘Geek. I do like it. It has a surprising amount of depth given the scale of the simulation. There is just the right amount of parameters set within the game that rewards sensible but not too conservative play (sorry to disappoint you players out there that like to do silly things and try to break a game that-away). Whether it has strong replay value remains to be seen. I shall look forward to repeated plays to test this out. I shall place this on my short list of good three player games also. Go out and find it. Buy it. Play it. Why? Because I say so, that’s why.





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David G. Cox Esq.
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The only Vae Victus games I've seen are printed in French and the counters are unmounted.

Can I assume that they now print an English edition and have mounted counters?
 
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Graham Lockwood
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You can assume that.
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Malcolm B
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I feel the Zone of control issue in this game is fraught with issues, the fact a line of supply can be traced through a contested area leaves the Germans with the situation where a sturdy line of defence can basically be bypassed simply by placing two corps into an area then continuing with a movement by one of the corps into the area immediately adjacent to the contested Zone.

I understand this is not a hex based game and as such zones of control are not used. I just find a good strong defence line set up by the Germans is easily undermined.

I also understand the possibility of supply being cut off, but in my first game with Graham we inadvertently misread the rules resulting in the germans having a strong defence line. Which was quickly undermined by a corps being capable of passing through a contested Zone. The result was the germans would be required to contest combat in at least five other zones to cut off supply to that one particular corp.

Not to mention the fraught situation for the germans of them actually then being in danger of having their supply cut.

Overall an enjoyable experience. With the cards adding an extra dimension, especially when on our second game there was three players and lend lease was used.
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Edmond
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da pyrate wrote:
The only Vae Victus games I've seen are printed in French and the counters are unmounted.


Here is updated information: http://boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/Vae_Victis_Index#
The Vae Victis website is bilingual... (though it could better be written in English !)
 
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Graham Lockwood
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Malcolm B wrote:
I feel the Zone of control issue in this game is fraught with issues, the fact a line of supply can be traced through a contested area leaves the Germans with the situation where a sturdy line of defence can basically be bypassed simply by placing two corps into an area then continuing with a movement by one of the corps into the area immediately adjacent to the contested Zone.


Looks like that this issue has been solved by a new post with the topic been mentioned in a FAQ. It is not possible for a unit to move into an unoccupied enemy area in an attempt to surround it.
 
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