I typed up a casual review of our first play through yesterday and put it on BGG.com. I figure I would post it here too since I went through the effort, and because I was encouraged to do so by a friend (blame him!). I hope no one takes this the wrong way, my group (all ex-military guys) wanted to put together a list of good AND bad things, for constructive criticism. Sort of like a good ol’ fashioned army AAR.
We played through A&A WW1 this week and here are our thoughts:
“A&A WW1” refers to this game (obviously)
“A&A WW2” refers to all the derivatives of the World War 2 game we all known, but mainly the anniversary edition and/or the Global 1940 version which my group plays.
We played for about 5 hours on a Saturday, then picked it up again for another 3 hours on Sunday. Keep in mind that a couple of hours on Saturday was spent setting it up for the first time and gawking over it, and of course reading the rules. In the end we actually didn’t complete it, the Central Powers threw in the towel, but the result at that point was pretty much a forgone conclusion.
Surprisingly the Ottoman Empire was doing quite well having taken Romania and Sevastopol, and beat the Brits back to Egypt even.
Austria-Hungary did quite well too taking and holding Serbia (early) and Albania later. They pushed into Russia as well, but eventually had to fall back to Galicia and hold (which they did effectively) because the Italians were being quite troublesome. A nice naval battle raged in the Mediterranean between the Ottomans and Austria-Hungary vs. Italians and British fleets. In the end the French and British got the upper hand there though. Austria-Hungary just kept hammering each other back and forth on land around Venice when it ended.
Germany, not surprisingly was the star of the show. They attacked into France and Russia and was doing quite successful until the end of the game. At their high water mark, in the west they captured Belgium, Picardy, Lorraine, Burgundy and (briefly) Marseilles and were about to move towards Paris. However, at the time they were running out of gas and the US was coming over, along with more British and they naturally kept flinging themselves at the Germans wearing them down. By the end the Allies saved the day at the last minute and pushed the Germans back to the Ruhr and Alsace when the Central Powers threw in the towel. In the east the high water mark for German expansion was Finland, Karelia, Livonia, Poland but never quite captured Belarus (contested it though). The Russians withdrew from Sevastopol and when all seemed lost for them they rallied and denied Belarus and thus, no Russian Revolution occurred because of that. I believe one or two Russian infantry held on in Belarus to save them.
We loved the feel of the game, it is fresh and, well, very different. A nice change of pace from the A&A WW2 that my friends and I have played since the mid 1980s and pretty much all of its manifestations.
The feel of combat is just about perfect to us, it really feels like WW1 and sets it apart entirely from A&A WW2. Not enough good things can be said about the combined arms combat system, and the battleboard “dice loading”. Good stuff. Quite ingenious and creative as far as I am concerned. Personally, I especially like the whole idea of contested territories too. It all provides a nice spin on what could have otherwise been the “same old same old”. Just a few simple and creative game mechanics help create quite a unique and refreshing feel for combat and territory ownership.
The game is also much simpler than A&A WW2. I know what you are thinking “A&A WW2 is simple”. Well, yes, it is, but this game takes the feel back to the early 1980s version of the game where it was more about strategy and die rolling than it was about all the detailed rules in Global 1940. Don’t get me wrong I love Global 1940, just sayin’, this game does a nice job of stripping away what isn’t needed. There is one movement phase (which again helps it feel more like WW1) and the combat is pretty fast since it only lasts one round. With everyone concentrating and brains firing on all cylinders then you can blow through a full turn pretty quickly (the trick is to keep everyone concentrating).
The infantry sculpts are very nice, whoever made them did a fine job! Not a big fan of the battleship sculpt though, and I don’t think anyone would complain if there were a few more unique types.
We especially liked the number of countries/powers. Unlike A&A WW2 where it always feels like a few people getting ganged up on by the entire world (when they added Italy to it, it made it feel less so, but not much), in A&A WW1 it just feels more like an even split – a more balanced affair where you have to be more methodical. Keep in mind this is our first play through though, we can see that it gets progressively more difficult for the Central Powers the longer time goes on (as the US shows up for example) and if you don’t play with the Russian Revolution rule then I can’t see how the Central Powers can have much of a chance due to how much time and effort must be spent to take the Russians out of the game so that the Central Powers can turn attention to the west.
We loved the constant tough decisions that had to be made from turn to turn. This is no different than A&A WW2 of course, but it can get very tricky when you have to coordinate with others. It always seemed like a see-saw battle in one place or another, with one navy wiping out the other, then that other side rebuilding it and returning the favor later, and back and forth battles on land too. Especially for Germany and Austria-Hungary, it seems like you are trying to balance punching in two directions at once. We discussed possible strategies of how we could have played better (like alternating emphasis of fronts from turn to turn) but naturally it depends on what your opponent is doing.
Fewer unit types actually turned out to be a good point for us. Infantry, artillery, tanks, fighters… it boils the decision making down pretty quickly when you only need to consider ratios for combined arms effects. We felt it got the WW1 point across without having cavalry, armored cars, bombers, and all sorts of other baggage.
Inevitably everyone has their opinion on what can be improved. Please keep in mind that these complaints are probably more borne out of the idea that I happen to be a game designer on WW1 games (PC strategy games) so I know just enough about the conflict to cause me to be a little nit picky about some things, I admit. However, I am realistic and understand that this is a beer and pretzels game – I am a 30 something year old guy that plays all types of games, the “complex” hex based games, and the “simpler” beer and pretzels games, and love them all. With that in mind I have striven to create a summarized list of what I feel are the most important issues which involve game play and a few lacking-historical-incentive type situations. Being a designer, I know how frustrating it is for people to take “drive-by criticisms” about game design without actually offering solutions, so I offer the following to the designer (Mr. Harris) as constructive criticism for future reprints.
1 ) Switzerland. There really wasn’t much incentive not to invade Switzerland, by either side really. Once my gaming group discovered this we all agreed that Switzerland should be worth 2 IPCs (so that its army would number 4 units instead of just 2 if it were invaded). There has to be a deterrence not to invade it so easily, because it wasn’t done historically. This might not seem like a big deal, but Switzerland is pretty strategically located. Perhaps a similar rule mechanic to Global 1940 is needed here where all true neutrals shift to pro-Allied pro-Central Powers minor nations once one is invaded – which would certainly make either side think twice about marching into a true neutral of any sort. At the very least our house rule for making Switzerland 2 IPCs was enough to keep either side out of there (and it rates it the same as Holland which seems reasonable, but 3 IPCs might be even better).
EDIT: My gaming group has come up with a good solution here, we will handle true neutrals just like A&A Global 1940; once one side invades the first true neutral than all others become pro-aligned to the other side as minor allied nations which they can then activate/mobilize by moving into them. In this way, Switzerland can stay 1 IPC, because the deterrence is on a higher level.
2 ) Our opinion was that there was a little too much British “stuff” (ground units) in Egypt at start. This made attacking Trans-Jordan pretty much a “no brainer” on the first turn. Historically this attack didn’t develop until near the end of the war. The solution is difficult, you don’t really want the British to get a leg up too fast on the Ottomans, so perhaps the Ottomans need +2 more units in Trans-Jordan as a deterrence. Difficult to say – and a very minor complaint.
3 ) More German infantry pieces are needed. Not much, maybe 5 or 6 more will do, were had to use proxies a couple of times until casualties took their toll.
4 ) More ownership tokens would be nice, at least for Germany, perhaps 6 more would cover most possible cases.
5 ) 2x the number of light colored (singles) blue/red “poker chips” are needed. For Pete’s sake, I don’t understand how anyone thought the current count is sufficient, you are out of chips as soon as the game starts. We were constantly getting at the limit of light colored chips and you can’t quite supplement them with your own chips because of the dark/light color method, as this makes things even more confusing once you start throwing in your own chips of various shades and colors, so you have to either use these and constantly risk running out, or replace them entirely with other chips. This isn’t a game breaker, just a little frustrating on why (apparently) the decision was made a save a few dollars.
6 ) An “order of play” (country turn order) list would be nice, to the right of the mobilization circle on the game board, or on the back of the rule book, or on the country’s pieces box. We ended up memorizing it by the end of the game, but it was frustrating having to turn in the rulebook constantly to see who goes after country X.
7 ) It would be VERY NICE if the back of the battle board had “naval combat stuff” on it. A traditional old-school Axis and Allies battle board would suffice for that, just a half and half split where attack and defender can put his dice for his specific naval units, like a section for battleships “4 or less” and cruisers “3 or less” and so on. You could then flip the board over for naval battles and flip it back over for ground battles. Yes, OK, after you play A&A WW1 for the 2nd or 3rd time you have everything there is to know memorized, but it would be more professional if something like this was done so as to alleviate the need to flip through the rule book to find out attack/defense powers of naval units. Heck you could even put a blurb about mines on a “1” column and how/when they work.
*8 ) I consider this one pretty important (map issue). Historic fighting between the Ottomans and Russians isn’t quite possible given how the map is currently divided in the Caucasus. This would be an easy fix however. Through some careful brain storming, we determined that the issue here is that Mesopotamia is too large. Mesopotamia should be split into two pieces, the south at 2 IPCs “Mesopotamia” and the new north territory at 1 IPC, called something like “Caucasus”. The units beginning in Ankara should then be moved to Caucasus at start. The reason this is very important is because historically the Brits invaded Mesopotamia. However, currently there is no incentive to do so, because the Ottomans are constantly shoving in masses of troops and guns into Mesopotamia to keep the pressure on the Russians (Sevastopol). By splitting Mesopotamia up, it creates that soft underbelly to which the Brits can strike and distract the Ottomans.
*9 ) This one also is very important (map issue). Historically the Russians attacked the Germans in East Prussia, but again, there is no incentive to do so because of the division of territory in that place. I know someone is going to say “it was stupid for them to do that in real life – because I heard of some battle called Tannenberg where the Russians got spanked”. Well no, the Russian attack, on paper, was sound as they outnumbered the Germans 2:1 at least, the error was in their execution (we model this already with die rolls in combat – historically they had crappy die rolls at our level). But the solution here is also pretty simple, like #8. My gaming group discussed it and the issue is that “Prussia” should extend so that it also touches Livonia (which would be part of East Prussia). This allows the Russians to attack into Prussia from two directions (Livonia and Poland) at start as at least a more viable option to doing something historical --to try to contest Prussia. The attack from Livonia is more or less the Russian 1st Army direction of attack, and the attack from Poland is the Russian 2nd Army’s. As a minor suggestion, perhaps the Russians could be increased by an infantry or two in Livonia, or the Germans be reduced by an infantry or two in Prussia and Silesia to help that happen, and to provide a realistic dilemma to the Germans to hold in those places rather than assume the offensive immediately. As it is though, the Russians will always elect to do nothing there on turn 1, since there is no reason to take the historical gamble.
10 ) I can’t say that I like the fact that there aren’t any technologies to research, at least as an optional rule like Global 1940. Yes, I know that technologies can throw a game out of balance, but it can also balance the game too. For example, maybe one nation is spending all or most of their income developing tech and is thus neglecting their unit purchases. Or perhaps a nation is doing badly on the ground and they begin investing money in “wonder weapons” to try to turn it around. It is not like this happens in a vacuum – tech always provided a nice inherent balance, and the best thing about it is that it allows certain nations to separate themselves from others. No matter though, I have created my own optional-rule type technology research (a chart and all) which my gaming group uses. I am on the 8th version of it right now and will share it with everyone here once it is a little more refined.
11 ) Africa. The entire region is more like a momentary clean up operation than a problematic and annoying “brush war” like it was. However we came up with a simple solution through our tech rules (see #10).
We love the game and it has great potential. We all must keep in mind that this is the first (and hopefully NOT the last!) entry into WW1 for the series, so it certainly has all the rough edges that the 1980s A&A had. Also, none of our complaints above break the game either, I only mention them here as a way to improve it. So the Russians have no incentive to attack Prussia on turn 1, or the Brits cannot effectively put pressure on Mesopotamia, no matter, other strategies develop and those suggested cons would be more like adding cake icing. Still, it is a very enjoyable game and I recommend it to anyone that loves the A&A series. I am especially excited that the A&A series is moving into new territory. It helps to keep things fresh for all those who have played A&A WW2 for the thousandth time.
The ultimate question on whether a boardgame is “good” or not is: will my gaming group play it again?
Yes, we certainly will!
(Naturally too, I must love the game quite a bit if I spent weeks working on optional tech chart and rules!)