Session Report - November 2
- With only Lawrence planning on attending, I had hoped to break out a wargame
just for a change of pace and had started to plan on one of the Columbia
Block games to try. But Sam's attendence eliminated any 2-player games, so
in keeping with the wargame motif, we opted for Friedrich by Histogames.
Feeling that war will come sooner or later, Friedrich the Great (of Prussia)
makes the first move, invading and capturing Saxony. France, Austria,
Russia and their allies (Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire) now strive to
Friedrich (and his allies in Hannover).
So how does this get reduced to a war-game for 3-4? As the main thrust is
everyone against Prussia, the other players take parts of the allied nations
to battle against the player controlling Prussia (Friedrich) and Hannover.
So in our 3 player game, we drew cards with Sam getting Prussia, Lawrence
getting Austria (and the Imperial Army), and Rich getting Russia, Sweden,
and France. (If there were a 4th player, they would control France).
The game board depicts cities connected by roads, so this is a
point-to-point wargame where generals move city to city exerting influence
over cities in their region. The only units on the board are 24 generals
divided amongst the 7 nations. On a sheet of paper, each player will
maintain a record of the army strength each general has.
Historically, Friedrich was severely tested by the surrounding nations.
Fortunately for him, they never really coordinated their offenses, so
Friedrich could hang on for time until fate intervened. The tsarina of
Russia died and her replacement was enamoured of Friedrich and halted
Russia's campaign. Sweden having lost an ally and struggling under debt,
quit the war also. France suffering from troubles in India and Canada, also
pulled out of the conflict. Friedrich had survived.
The game simulates this "sands of time" race against fate by having a deck
of historical events that are drawn randomly to affect the game after the
first 6 turns. Prussia's goal is simply to survive until fate removes
Prussia's enemies from the game. The other allies all have offensive goals
they hope to capture. Should any 1 nation capture its goals, the game ends
in victory for that nation (and the player controlling them). So while 2
(or 3) players are allied against Friedrich and need to help each other,
they also don't want to help the other players so much as to hand victory to
another player. A nice bit of meta-gaming that helps simulate the
conflicted loyalties of the time.
Combat is diceless with combat results determined by card play. Each nation
will draw a certain number of Tactic Cards. Some like Prussia will start by
drawing 7 cards per turn. Others like Sweden get only 1 card per turn. The
tactic cards are like regular playing cards - in 4 suits with values from 2
to 3. There are also a couple of "reserve" cards which can be any suit and
any value from 1 to 10.
So why suits? Each region of the board is controlled by a suit. So when a
general does battle in a "diamond" region, the only cards that can be played
in support of combat are diamonds. Similarly for the other suits. The
tactic (if it can be implemented) would be to have simultaneous attacks
against Prussia in different regions but with the same suit so cards
exhausted from one battle are not available in the second battle.
Combat is simply comparing the army strength of the involved generals and
then having the player with the weaker army playing cards (if desired) that
add to strength. This continues until 1 player decides to retreat instead
of playing a card. The loser (retreating general) then loses army strength
equivalent to the strength difference and retreates 1 space for every
For our game, we played with just the basic rules. Prussia started by
advancing Friedrich and his southern generals towards Austria while Russia
moved into East Prussia to attempt to gain some of their objectives their.
Similarly, Sweden moved its sole general between the Prussian defenses to
start to gain objectives there. From the South, Austria bolsterd its
defenses against the approaching Prussian armies while France and the
Imperial Army moved in from the Southwest.
It wasn't long before the Prussian army advanced into Austria from both
Prussia and Saxony for the first two battles of the game. Army strength is
revealed at 10-8 for Prussia. Austria can now retreat (at a cost of 2) but
instead plays the 11 to gain a 10-19 strength advantage. But Prussia is not
to be denied playing a 13 to gain 23-19 4 point advantage at which point
Austria now retreats.
For the second battle, Prussia is surprised by the Austrian strength and is
down 10-16 at the start, but plays a 10 card to gain a 20-16 advantage.
Austria counter-attacks with a 6 to gain a modest 20-22 advantage, but is
bombarded by a Prussian 9 card and retreats 7 after a 29-22 loss. So a 6
point advantage is turned into a 7 point defeat.
And now one can see a bit of the hand/battle management in the game. Is it
better to retreat tactically to minimize loses or does one have enough
strength to withstand a counter-attack. As the two battles were in
different suits, Prussia could press both attacks without fear.
Prussia continued to have the upper hand in the early battles adding a
victory over the Russian Army in East Prussia. Stung from the defeats,
Austria and Russia spend cards to rebuild army strength while Sweden,
France, and the Imperial Army are conquering objective cities. While the
border skirmishes continued between Prussia and Austria in the South, the
Russian army managed a 2 pronged attack against the Prussian generals in the
North. As the Prussian was sitting close to the suit boundaries, the set up
was Prussia had to defend in hearts while Russia could attack in clubs and
hearts. Therefore, one attack could be used to drain cards while the second
swept in on a weakened army. Prussia put up some defense, but opted to
retreat the battle rather than exhaust cards.
The game stayed in this sort of sem-static state for the first moves.
Prussia & Austria skirmishing on the border. Russia attacking a few
Prussian generals located in the north. Sweden and the Imperial Army
picking up objective hexes unopposed (but not threatening victory with their
sole unit). France was capturing objective in Hannover who (as Prussia's
allies) were waiting for a last defense.
We were about to start revealing the fate cards when we realized that is was
getting late and we called the game. Looking at the board position - France
and Sweden had each captured 4 of their 10 objective cities, the Imperial
Army had captured 3 of 10, and Russia 2 of 10. Austria and Prussia had been
busy skirmishing and not really advanced around the border.
Turning over the fate cards for fun, it turns out that Russia would have
withdrawn the game within few more turns (death of the Tsarina) if we had
continued. But who knows how the sands of fate would have resolved
themselves if we had played out the game.
Looking back, there are several things I like about the game. The movement
and combat are relatively simple. The unit density (number of pieces on the
board) is fairly small (again, only 24 generals and some suppy trains), so
turns should rotate fairly quickly. The key is card/hand management as well
as coping with fate.
Maybe its my old wargaming/chess playing roots, but I found myself thinking
of different tactics to try with the game. Should Russia have split her
forces - launching half into East Prussia, half into Prussia (with some help
from Sweden) to threaten objective cities in the North? Should the French
advance be more aggressive?
Certainly the allies in this game were a bit too passive with only a couple
of battles against Prussia - this allowed Prussia to build a very large hand
of cards for defense. Constant skirmishes to draw out those cards to slowly
attrite Friedrich's forces are likely to be the key. Lots of stuff to
explore and I hope I get the chance to do so in the future.