Tuesday, February 01, 2011

World at War: Eisenbach Gap

This time through the random game from my collection is World at War: Eisenbach Gap.  This game is a fairly recent wargame design from small publisher Lock 'N Load Publishing.  It is an "alternate history" game purporting a Warsaw Pact invasion of West Germany in May 1985.  World at War is actually a series of games, each with expansion packs, but Eisenbach Gap is the first game in the series.  The series is platoon level, with each counter representing either a platoon of infantry or a platoon of Armored Fighting Vehicles (whether tanks, or armored personnel carriers, or some other vehicle, whether thin-skinned or armored).  This game comes with six scenarios, and I recently played through the first two of them to remind myself how the game plays

Each scenario grants each side, either Americans or Soviets, with a set number of forces, from one or more units.  The units are either placed on the board per scenario setup rules, or they are brought in from a board edge on the first turn.  The board itself does not represent any actual location in Germany, but is intended to be a generic representation of West German terrain.  This is important because the same board is used in every scenario, but the variety comes from the fact that you usually are not using the entire game board.  Most scenarios restrict game play to specific sections of the board.  For example, in the play picture below, the rulebook has been placed over the section that is not in use for the scenario, meaning roughly half of the board was not used.  This helps provide some variety in terrain from scenario to scenario, but it also means that once you have played a few of the scenarios the board starts to get quite familiar.  A modular board setup would have been nice, and there is an expansion for the series that provides that, but in this game we've got only the one board.

This is the situation at the end of the first turn in the second scenario.  The Soviets have moved their forces near the hill by the largest town on the map, but they have already taken some losses from American TOW missiles (hence the "wreck" market in the lower right).  The white cards are artillery cards I printed from a file uploaded to the games page at boardgamegeek.

On each turn, initiative is determined through drawing counters from a cup.  At the beginning of each game, you place the activation counters from each unit involved in the scenario, plus the "end turn" markers in a cup.  Then one of the players draws a counter to see which unit activates next.  If a unit's counter is drawn, all of the platoons in that unit get to activate if so desired.  If an "end turn" marker is drawn it is placed to the side until all such markers are drawn from the cup, at which point the turn ends.  This provides randomness to the initiative, such that you never know who is going to go next.  There is even a chance that one side, or even both sides, won't activate at all in a turn, though the odds of nobody activating is low, and the rules don't allow a unit to miss two turns in a row.  I really like this turn mechanic, and it provides a nice differentiating factor between the American and Soviet forces.  The Americans pretty much are always outnumbered, but they have better C3I capabilities so they get two activation counters per unit, while the Soviets only get one.  Thus, it is possible in a turn for the Americans to activate twice.  Thus, while they have fewer units, they can do more with them.  Well, if the right counters are drawn from the cup, that is!

Combat is pretty simple.  Ranged combat has each unit rolling a certain number of dice, trying to roll a certain number or higher.  For example, a Soviet T-65 tank firing an armor piercing round rolls three dice and hits on a four or higher.  Armored targets, and soft targets in cover, roll one or more dice to try to "save" each hit from enemy fire.  Thus, both sides get to roll dice, which is always fun.  If you have ever played any of the Warhammer miniatures games you know exactly how the save mechanic works.  While it is a bit "gamey," it does lead to lots of tense dice rolling, and it is always fun when the enemy scores a bunch of hits on one of your units but you roll really well and make all your saves and don't actually take any damage.  There are three damage states for a unit.  The first hit makes a unit "disrupted," which limits their ability to take offensive actions but can be removed with a successful morale check.  A disrupted unit that takes a hit is "reduced," which means you flip the counter to its other side, which has weaker guns (reflecting that a few vehicles or men in the platoon have been eliminated).  A third hit eliminates a unit from the game.  While disruption effects can be removed, once a unit is reduced it stays that way the rest of the game (unless it is eliminated, of course).

There are a few more aspects to the game, but that is the core of the rules.  The game plays fairly quickly, and I enjoy playing it.  The scenarios in this game usually consist of hordes of Soviets attacking badly outnumbered American forces, but the makeup of the scenarios usually ensures a tightly-fought contest with the victor not being decided until the scenario is near or in its final turn.  Once you learn how to read the counters (which admittedly have a lot of numbers on them) the game moves well and shouldn't take more than two hours to play through.  This is a game I plan on keeping in my collection for a long time to come.

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