I started this new feature last month and overall it was well received with lots of views and good interaction and comments. So, I have made the decision to continue it from month to month. While in May, I found myself playing 4 New-to-Me wargames, in June I was only able to get to 2. But the two that I did play were really good and I am excited to share my thoughts on them with you.
Wizard Kings from Columbia Games (2000)
Wizard Kings is a fantasy based block wargame from Columbia Games. These guys know how to do block wargames and we have enjoyed several of their other games including Richard III and Combat Infantry. I love a fantasy setting and it takes me back to my D&D and Pathfinder days. Well, we still play RPGs occasionally but not near enough.
Players have the ability to customize their armies and fight for control of strategic cities and terrain on geomorphic maps. I really like the fantasy theme of this game though, as each side is asymmetric and represents a different race or creature type that fight it out very thematically with their own powers and abilities and in those specific creature type ways. Orcs have lots of beefy combatants while Elves have Rangers, Pixies and other fey creatures at their disposal. In our only play of the game, I controlled the Elves of Eldryn while Alexander played the Orcs of Jurak.
As you can see from the picture to the right showing the army card for the Orcs faction, you can see a list of their various units, showing the units’ Movement Allowance, Combat Rating and their Unit Cost. The unit listed at the top of the card is named Shakla and is a leader for the faction (name even sounds very Orc like) who is a Wizard (I will get into that part of the game in a bit). The other units shown on the list are their foot soldiers which consist of Goblins, Ogres, Orcs and Trolls. There isn’t a lot of finesse to this faction as they just come at you with sheer force and simply try to run you over.
The Elves on the other hand use more trained and tactical fighters, such as Rangers and Pixies (who have the gift of flight), with their only real muscle coming in the form of the Treek. They also have a leader who is a Wizard and as you can see at the bottom of the card there are spells listed that this leader can cast. Some of these spells are direct damage, such as Fireball, Fire Arrow and Flame Strike, but there are some that are battlefield control, such as granting additional Movement Allowance (Troll-Tracks), causing your enemies to flee the battle (Panic) or allowing all your units in the same hex as the Wizard to ignore Combat Rating and attack immediately (Swarm). These spells though have a cost as you will have to reduce the health of the Wizard casting them by the cost listed to the left in the orange circle. The Wizards have four steps of health, so if they choose to case a Fireball, they must take one reduction and turn their block from their four health side to the three health side. Players must manage this as they will not be able to cast higher level and more powerful spells often but must plan out how they can cast and heal at the end of rounds. Also, as the Wizards reduce their own health, they will be putting themselves in danger as they will now be easier to kill and eliminate from the battle. You must use these powerful units to have any real chance at winning, but must be careful how and when you do. Great part of the game as it really adds some depth to the planning during combat and choices.
Scenarios provide the number of units that each side places on the map to start but then players have the option of buying new units during the Build Phase each round with their Gold Points and can either add steps to existing units on the board or bring in any new units that they have blocks for. The best part of any block wargame is that your opponent doesn’t know what you have in any given hex until you or they attack. This lends itself to some real tension as you are just never sure that you have enough to defeat that hex you are attacking. When units are revealed, you instantly know as you can compare units very easily based upon their Combat Rating category as well as their health level.
Combat is pretty simple in the game and involves a Combat Rating system. Units that have the highest letter on their block (A-D). In the case of same rated units, the first player gets to attack first (the first player being determined during the Initiative Phase where each player rolls 2d6 and the highest gets to go first). So in the picture below, you will notice that Shakla (the Orc Wizard), will have first fire priority (A+) followed by the Ranger (A2), then the Pixie (B1), the Ogre (B3) and finally the lowly Goblins (C1). You also must pay attention to the home terrain of each unit and what terrain the battle is occurring in as each unit has an advantage in that terrain. For example, Forest Folk (units with an evergreen tree in the lower right hand corner), gain a +1 Combat bonus while fighting in a forest hex. Players will roll one die for each point of health the firing unit has and must roll less than or equal to the number beside the fire priority letter. So, for the full strength Ranger, they will roll 4 dice and need less than or equal to a 2 to inflict a wound on enemy units.
When hits are scored, you cannot target specific units, but instead the hits are assigned to the strongest unit first. As that unit is reduced, other units may be considered the strongest as you are simply using their health to determine this. In this manner, it can be difficult to kill units outright during a single combat but you can whittle them down until they have very little power to fight back. Spells can target specific units and can be used to finish off a very strong unit prior to that unit being able to be built back up during the Build Phase. Units can retreat on their turn when it is their turn to fire. They simply forego their attack and retreat to an adjacent hex to avoid further combat. Combat is very simple and fun, and that is what I was hoping for from this game.
The game also has several expansions, that I have yet to play with, but that offer a lot of variety in the type of armies that you have to control. Here is a look at two other armies that I own, the Dwarves of Khurdak and the Undead Army of Mortod.
Wizard Kings was very fun and has a lot of strategy to it. You have to understand your unit’s advantages and use them properly. The goal of the game is to capture cities marked on the maps and meet the victory conditions of the specific scenario you are playing. Pretty simple and straight forward but with surprising elements that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. The game played in about an hour and we read the rules for about 10 minutes before the game and had very little problem. I would classify this as an introductory wargame and could see this being used to teach children wargaming principles and to introduce adults to the genre. But, it was fun, so anyone can play this and enjoy it.
Triumph & Tragedy: European Balance of Power, 1936-1945 (2nd Edition) from GMT Games (2015)
I have owned my copy of Triumph & Tragedy: European Balance of Power, 1936-1945 (2nd Edition) since November 2016. When I received the game, I very excitedly punched the game, applied the hundreds of stickers and read through the rules in eager anticipation of a play. If you don’t know, the game is designed as a 3-player game where each player controls one of the major countries of the time, including the USSR, the Axis (Germany and Italy) and the West (Great Britain and the USA). The only difficulty I have with the game is finding 3-players that have 4-5 free hours. This is a challenge and was the only reason that kept the game from seeing my table until a few weeks ago when we convinced our Euro-gamer friend Matt to host us and play this great game. He agreed but was hesitant, mainly due to the length of the game, but played with gusto and eventually won a victory for his Soviets. During our end game wrap-up, he told us that he was simply playing the game as any other Euro by doing set collection of technologies and building up his points. He took home an economic victory without ever having to be in a battle with the Axis.
Triumph & Tragedy is a geopolitical strategy game, which covers the competition for European supremacy during the period of 1936-1945 between the ideologies of Capitalism (the West), Communism (the Soviet Union) and Fascism (the Axis). It has diplomatic, economic, technological and military elements, and can be won by gaining economic hegemony or technological supremacy (A-bomb), or by vanquishing a rival militarily by controlling several capitals or sub-capitals. Players use Action Cards (pictured below) to influence various countries though Europe in an attempt to bring them into their fold to gain Population or Resources. The Action Cards are actually well designed multi-use cards that have three pieces of key information contained on them. First, is the Command located in the middle of the card. These Commands are used to move a certain number of blocks on the board during the season that is called out on the card. The seasons are either Spring, Summer or Fall. The Command is assigned a letter along with a number value. The letter is the priority that the Command will be acted on. If your Command card was a D and your opponent played an F card, you the D will have first priority and will move their units first. Pretty Simple.
The second part of the Action Cards are the two neutral countries that appear on each end. When the Action Card is played to influence a country, it is placed with the country to be influenced at the top and laid out in front of the player. No tokens are placed on the map denoting control though until the end of the Government Phase when all the played cards are resolved. If an opponent plays a country the same as one that you have played, their card play will immediately cancel out your card and both of these cards will be removed to the discard pile. If a player ever plays three cards for one country, that country immediately becomes a Satellite and the controlling power will place a control marker in that space along with a few block units in the Cities and Towns of that country according to their Muster Values. This country can no longer be influenced by card plays. The whole goal of this portion of the game is to be build up your country’s economy so that you can prepare and mobilize for war. The card play is very simple and can be a lot of fun. But, I will have to say that my card draws were bad as I had several countries that had two influence markers and I was only 1 card of that type away from control and the ability to place units there to strengthen my borders. Probably just a condition of the fact that this was our first play but this game is good….but there is a lot to learn to play this thing well!
The other type of cards used in the game are called Investment Cards. These can be used to build new factories. Each nation has a certain number of factory points that they must discard on cards to move up the Production and you must balance your Action Card buys with buying of Investment Cards. The other part of the Investment Cards that was really fun was the technology side. When you collect two Investment Cards that contain the same technology, you can pair them together and slide them under your side of the board to denote that you have developer a secret technology. The price of this is that you will now have to reduce your hand size by one for each of these pairs you develop but the other players don’t know what you have unless they play a card to take a peak into your vault. These Technologies bend or break the rules of the game and involve all type of advances from better weapons, to increased movement allowances for certain types of units, etc. There is even the option of building up the Atomic Bomb will can lead to an automatic victory but this takes time and a lot of resources. In order to end the game via this route, you must develop four stages of the A-Bomb, which is not as easy as it would seem.
The game goes from 1936-1945 at which time the game will end and the victor will be determined by their total victory points. But, the first few years of the game is a buildup to the ultimate war where each side is trying to influence countries for the purpose of increasing their economy and production, while also building up their military forces in the form of block units, to either preemptively attack or to defend their nations. In our play, the first 3 years were spent battling over control of various countries while slowly building up the military forces needed to wage war.
In 1938, my Italians decided to attack Spain, which was a neutral country, because I wanted to have the resource points and population associated with that country and also to begin spreading out to enlarge my borders and protection. I also tried to control the Mediterranean and set up a blockade to keep goods and income from flowing through from India to the Western Allies. Was this a mistake? I am not totally sure but that is one of the attractions of this game to me. You can do anything that you want and see how it works out.
In 1939, Germany was ready to invade France as I had spent several rounds building up my units. I had invaded the Low Countries early on in 1938 and continued to build up there to put pressure on the West.
I also spent a great deal of time in 1939 building up Naval units, mainly consisting of U-Boats, in order to place a blockade on the east coast of the United States and Canada to stop the flow of goods across the Atlantic. This was all in preparation for an invasion of France in 1940. I felt confident that I would be able to put the clamps on France and the West but I was not winning the political battle in the east and my borders never expanded into Poland. This would be the nail in my coffin as the USSR never felt threatened and was simply able to build up their economy and invest in technology to gain an economic victory.
Finally, in 1940, my Wehrmacht troops supported by Stukas and Italian reinforcements from the south invaded France. You will notice that I played a Summer Command R9 card and was able to move nine units on the map. You might ask why I didn’t move more units into the battle? There are limits to how many ground units can cross borders, which I think is a very good part of the design, so I had met my max through the Low Countries and couldn’t bring more units into the battle.
Combat is really pretty straight forward as each unit is assigned a certain fire priority and to hit value against different targets. Infantry are the best fighters but they go near the end so you really have to have a good mix of unit types. Tanks hit on a 2 or less, which is one less than Infantry. But, tanks have greater movement and can be used to hit hard and fast. Each unit can take a certain amount of hits based on the number of pips on the block. Most units are different for each country. For example, German Infantry have 4 steps while Russian Infantry only have 3. Combat lasts until all units have fired in a given round and if there are units left, the battle is over for that round and must be taken back up with another Command Card in a later season. Proper planning will ensure that your battles are in your favor but you must always plan for the luck of the dice and have a backup plan. This is one of the elements that I really liked in the game.
I really enjoyed our first play of Triumph & Tragedy, even though I lost, and to a Euro-gamer no-less. But it was fun and our game took about 4 hours to play through to completion in 1941. Now that we know the rules, I would guess that we could play an entire game in about 4 hours. As with all GMT Games productions, this one is first class. The map is beautiful, the cards are fantastic and the blocks are awesome. This is a game that I definitely recommend to any players who enjoy card driven games with some Euro tendencies, like set collection and resource management. I understand why this game is already in its 2nd printing even though it is only 3 years old.
I hope that you enjoyed this look at our June plays of two older games that we have either just discovered or have had in our collections for some time gathering dust. Already in July, I have played Gato Leader from Dan Verssen Games, which came out in 2016, and we have plans to try out both Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer from Worthington Games (2013) and The Pacific War: From Pearl Harbor to the Philippines from Lock ‘n Load Publishing (2016).