At Any Cost: Metz 1870 is one of the latest offerings from GMT Games. It’s a 2-player wargame that focuses on the fighting around the Metz Forest during the Franco-Prussian war. This was my first game covering this particular war, and as such there was some very interesting learning to be done about the period, which was made easier by the voluminous information that was included in the playbook and historical/designer notes. At Any Cost is from renowned and talented designer Hermann Luttmann, whose games range from titles such as Thunder in the Ozarks, a U.S. Civil War game, to Dawn of the Zeds – a States of Siege zombie themed game. This particular offering uses the same chit-pull activation system, called the Blind Swords System, so those who have played Hermann’s other titles would have an easy time jumping into this one.
At Any Cost: Metz 1870
The Franco-Prussian war is a fascinating piece of history. Long has there been conflict and war between the various peoples and nations all over Europe with the two most famous being the World Wars. However, the enmity dates back further still. 21 years separated these two World Wars, that have so many games made about them. But not 45 years prior to the outbreak of WWI the French and the then Prussians were fighting it out under the rule of Otto von Bismark and Napoleon III.
Metz 1870 is all about the fighting that occurred around the Metz Forest and a series of strategic fortresses that lay on the border of the belligerents. As such, you’ll find the map covered in rolling hills, trees, ravines, streams, small villages, and sometimes the going can be very tough. The good news is that a game with such varying, and at times, dense and trying terrain makes for a very fun tactical experience.
Components-wise this game is top GMT quality. The counters are the thinner ‘Unconditional Surrender’ style, which I actually prefer, for stacking reasons (they’re also easier to clip, so there’s that too). The map is this great cross between being highly functional, and also being extremely beautiful to behold. The map basically has a vignette on it making it toned down and somewhat beige/brown looking which gives the feeling of an old map found in a command tent during the period. The graphics themselves are still very clear and readable – another feather in the cap for the art department.
Grant is going to delve into things like the details of the command activation chit-pull system and some other details in some up coming action points. With that said I wanted to mention firstly that the chit pull initiative system makes this game very solitaire friendly. But one thing I wanted to touch on is the Out Of Command sub system in At Any Cost. When you pull a chit for a given formation, and you have units in that system that are out of command range, get an out of command token. These are drawn face down from a random pool. OOC units do nothing during the regular turn, but after all other unit activations they flip and reveal their OOC tokens and then perform what the tokens say.
This can lead to some very normal, or realistic outcomes, like units that freeze up and do nothing, as no orders are relayed to them from Brigade HQ, or units that creep along at half distance and make much weaker fire attacks. Conversely, however, there are a few chits that represent unit commanders taking the initiative. Grant drew an “Advance!” counter on an OOC cavalry unit, and they rolled a dice and did just that. In what ended up being similar to the charge of the light brigade the cavalry unit charged down the nearest possible enemy units, a stack of artillery and another cavalry unit, capable of counter charging. You can imagine the results. Whilst it was somewhat disheartening to see your heavy cavalry engage in what is essentially a suicide mission of their own volition it highlights the importance of keeping all units in command, and also the albeit slight chances they might act on their own and do something catastrophic in the bigger picture.
Combat is where the fun begins. At Any Cost is a brigade level game. And each brigade is organized into a corps level formation, denoted by the coloured band at the top of each counter. The bulk of the Blind Swords system is that each of these corps has a counter you draw from a cup in order to determine turn order. As such, you have no idea which of your formations will activate when. Unlike many games with an I-go-you-go approach, or impulse activation, this chit-pull system makes combat very dangerous, and at times extremely chaotic.
Combat is carried out in a few phases. Initially you will perform fire combat, where all of your cannons and line infantry have an opportunity to open fire at range. Immediately you’ll start to see the historical a-symmetry of either faction during this phase. Prussian artillery has a batter range increment than the out dated French. Conversely, the well trained French army has better line infantry at range. After totaling attack vs defense, any terrain modifiers and a number of other factors; you roll two 10 sided dice and consult the appropriate column on the Combat Results Table (CRT).
Rolling two 10 sided dice was an interesting paradigm shift, because the coloured dice is your to-hit value – low is typically not very good – and the white number is a target against which the enemy has to check their morale if they are required to by the CRT or from taking hits. Phew! That was a long sentence. In most games you just roll a dice and compare over under your morale value to see if you break or not. But in this one, the attacker makes that roll for you. So ideally an attack would want to roll high on both dice. High on the CRT for maximum hits. High on the morale check because the enemy will subtract their morale value from your roll, hoping to get a negative number.
Units with morale values of 8 are very difficult to break this way for example. An attacker would need a 9 to ensure morale effects take place. A 7 or less on the morale dice is typically a pass, give or take a few defensive modifiers. Now, not every unit has an 8 morale, in fact very few do, but understand that as you position your own troops, and conversely pick your fire combat targets, the morale value of said target is very important to consider.
After resolving all of your fire combats, including artillery fire, you will then move your units. Most artillery cannot move after they fire, although some horse drawn artillery can fire at half strength and then move at half strength. You’ll then advance and move your line infantry and move/charge with cavalry. After performing all the moves, you then do assault combat as your men draw swords, fix bayonets and run into the enemy lines. And this is where the game takes it to the next level.
Before your troops can engage in assault combat, every adjacent enemy unit may perform defensive fire combat. Just think about that. Sitting on a hill top taking pot shots with cannons will never win you ground in this game. But diving into bloody assault combat very quickly racks up the casualties and pushes your enemies back. The game’s designer put in some great historical mechanics, such as cannon fire at range 1 uses canister shot. To represent the effects of canister shot on charging lines of men and horses, a cannon’s firepower is multiplied by 150%. This is just one example of the great historicity of the game, but also the intense tactical decision making you have to go through. You must consider all the factors or a charge or fire before you commit or there “will be a cost to pay”.
Trust me on this, when I say the title of this game isn’t just a rousing quote taken from the death ride of the 12th Prussian Cavalry Brigade. You will incur losses. You will incur heavy losses. There will come times when you feel like your sensibilities are telling you to break off the attack due to the sheer volume of lives lost. And that’s where the game truly got me. When I was charging infantry up a hill into a town occupied by line and artillery units and my men were being cut to shreds, I realized that Hermann Luttmann had succeeded in his aims with the feel of the game. You see, the Franco-Prussian war was one where technology was progressing much faster than military strategy was. The artillery pieces were so potent, the French Mitrailleuse (the first machine gun used en masse) so deadly, yet like in decades, and even centuries past, the war was fought by men lining up and running at each other. Tidy soldiers all lined up in a row.
Is this game for me?
At Any Cost is triumphant, in not only making this conflict visceral and realistic, but also in making the game very playable as well as extremely fun. The amount of times I’d advance long line of men trying to not get cut down by artillery cross fire, or make insane counter charges against cavalry bearing down on me across open ground, were countless. The CRT and the various combat modifiers are all really well done and create desperate tactical decision making, but your overall strategy will have to involve throwing brigades into the meat grinder of the forest. There is just no way around it. And, it gets even worse when the fortresses are involved.
The game is a long one though. The box states one hour per turn, but that is for veterans who know the system and who have played before. It will be more like two hours per turn for rookies. There’s short scenarios, and those can be played in a couple of hours, if you know the rules, but the full game has a lot of formations, lot of activations and a lot of turns. I see that as both a positive and a negative. Positive in that you can make this game whatever you want it to be, negative in that the reality of playing the full campaign two player is a big ask. Now, with that being said, At Any Cost would make an excellent solitaire game. One of the unique mechanics in the game is that the condition tokens (broken, shaken, low ammunition, etc.) are all hidden underneath the effected unit. That’s the only hidden information in the game. The information these counters convey isn’t game breaking, and when playing solo if you can remember every single counter and condition on the board..well, more power to you! The chit pull activation makes the solo aspect engaging and dynamic and I’d recommend this if you like a meaty game.
That’s the last thing I’d say on this game – it is a big game. There are a lot of rules. Most of the rules are fairly intuitive to regular wargamers, there’s not a ton of crazy, new, revolutionary mechanics, but their implementations are fresh. If you’re new to wargaming, I’d play a couple other games before you dive into this one, just because of the scale and complexity of some of the rules. There’s a lot of modifiers and such to remember in each combat situation, and whilst the player aids are outstanding, I’d be hesitant to make this your first hex and counter game. But make it your third or fourth for sure. The topic of the game meant I went into the experience not knowing anything and had no idea what to expect, but coming out the other end, I couldn’t be happier with the experience I had.
This game is a treasure, on a frequently overlooked conflict.