Sunday, November 08, 2009

Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory is one of the finest wargames I have in my collection. I first bought the game back in '99 or 2000 when my younger brother got it, and immediately contacted me and said I HAD TO GET IT!!! The intention was that we would play it against each other via email, but that has yet to actually happen. Even though its original purpose has not yet been fulfilled, I am still glad I own this game.

Paths of Glory is a strategic/operational level game of World War I, with one player taking the Allied Powers (United Kingdom, France, Russia), and the other player taking the Central Powers (Austria/Hungary, Germany, Ottoman Empire). The playing counters represent either armies or corps, which the players maneuver around the map trying to bring the most force to bear against their opponent. The game itself uses a mechanic known as "CDG," which stands for Card-Driven Game. It is called this because each player starts each turn with a hand of cards. Each card can be used for four different things: action points (which let you move and fight with your armies), reinforcement points (which let you rebuild damaged armies and corps), strategic redeployment points (which let you move armies and corps long-distance across the board), and a specific action of some type, which represents an actual historic occurrence. The brilliance of this mechanic is in teh fact that the best events (like, say, bringing in another nation on your side of the war) are on cards that also provide the most action, reinforcement, and redeployment points. And for most non-combat events, once a card is played for the event, the card is removed from the game entirely. So if you use it for that great event, then that high value card is gone forever. Thus, each time you have a play to make, you agonize over exactly the best way to use your cards. You never have enough cards to do everything you want, either. You are always struggling against whether to move armies, or save reinforcement points to re-build damaged ones, or to take that action that gives you victory points.

All of that would be well and good, but the dual-front nature of the gameplay really makes the game shine. Most readers of this post will be passingly familiar with the trench warfare of the western front, where armies lined up and faced each other in relatively restricted areas. Not so on the eastern front, where Russia fights against Austria/Hungary and Germany. On the eastern front there are a lot of maneuver possibilities, and the first two turns can have a significant impact on the game if either Russia or Austria/Hungary gets a breakthrough. There is even a standard opening move for the Allied player known as the "Dance of Death." And remember how you only get one card play a turn? Not only do you have to decide what aspect of the card to use, but whether you want to use it on the western or eastern front. And you can't just ignore one of them, because you run the risk of the other player completely over-running your defenders as they stand still. The back-and-forth tension of the game can be pretty brutal on the nerves, actually.

The game has gone through three printings, I think, and a fourth one is currently being planned. However, one little extra was put out for the game in 2001 that makes a wonderful addition to play, the Paths of Glory Player's Guide. This was essentially a special issue of the publisher's magazine, but all of the articles focused on Paths of Glory. New game setups were introduced, as well as new play cards, counters, and play aids. There were also a number of articles discussing the game's strategy. Seriously, some people ponder this game the way that others ponder chess. There are standard opening moves, standard counters to the openings, and so on and so forth. Very neat stuff. Too bad it is out of print. I personally consider the revised setup in the Player's Guide to be the best way to setup the game. It minimizes some of the initial Russian advantage in the East while giving Italy a bit of a boost when they enter the game. An excellent addition to an excellent game. Hey, you can't be the 2nd highest ranked wargame on the Geek by accident, you know.

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