Sunday, 2 November 2014

Somme 1918, a review of sorts

I've turned a corner of sorts with hex and counter war games, and probably war games in general.

I can no longer be bothered to learn new rulesets. Or at least not rule sets of more than a few pages. Its probably unfortunate then that I tried to have a look at WW1 wargaming through the lens of Somme 1918 from Nuts publishing.

WW1 games were long thought to be dull grind fests much like the years 1915-1917 were. Many deaths, few gains, valuable for historical insight but little else. My limited experience of Somme 1918 is similar to this. I say limited because i packed it in after slightly under 1 turn (turns can have three mini turns within them), so take what I say with a dose of salt.

Look at all them counters!

Somme 1918 is a two counter sheet game, so not that bad. But, it took me about 2 hours after I had punched and clipped them to sort them. It is normal in wargames for a counter to have information on what army or formation it belongs too as well as its actual unit designation. Not here. I had to go through and sort each unit into its correct army group on the setup display.  My relationship with this game got off on a bad foot, and never really recovered. 

Once the game was sorted, setup and the 16ish pages of the basic rulebook were read I was ready to go. 16 pages of rules, thats not too bad you might say, and its not. The rules in  many respects are similar to the OCS or SCS rules from MMP games. Probably about a half way mark between the two. The use of reserve markers and exploitation are very similar. The problem is in the application of all the chrome rules, and arguably the combat system itself.

But back to the counters. Theres a quite a few and they are in some quite big and rather dense stack forests. Some of those unit stacks contain artillery and some Stross trooper units. In play I had to constantly be searching these stacks for those units. Pain in the backside.

The object of the game is for the Germans to breakout and take the town of Amiens. What unfolds is a German attempt to focus their best units and fire power at a few points on the trench lines to make some holes. Once through the gaps they can start to encircle the allied forces unless they can successfully disengage and fall back to form new lines. It is rather one directional early. According to the history and the reinforcement schedule the allies will eventually bounce back and turn the direction of movement around. This is fine and could be both historically insightful and entertaining if the combat system were not such a grind.

As each unit can have its own status counter and attached support units, those stacks can get pretty high.

Much of the game revolves around achieving the best differential on the CRT table (as most wargames are). To achieve this in Somme 1918 you need to maximise the artillery you can support the attack with, and you need at least a few more than your opponent is going to fire as counter batteries. You will also need numerical superiority in units. If your opponent unit is in a trench you'll need a lot more units. Finally Stross troopen give you +1 shift on the CRT and a high moral value leading unit could give you even more shifts. The result is that in setting this up in the movement phase you'll be peaking through your stacks and doing a lot of tedious unit shuffling. Once this is done you first resolve battery and counter battery fire and take losses. Then you get to combat resolution. You roll 4 dice, two for the CRT, and one for each sides tactical cohesion. The CRT is straightforward enough even if there are a few too many modifiers, but add in the tactical cohesion effects which determine advance after combat, retreats and a few other things and each combat takes several minutes of fiddling. Then you finish and realise you forgot to add in some of the additional chrome the game gives you for that specific game turn. The result is something that feels like a really solid WW1 milsim loaded with historic detail but very tedious in play.

Wargaming is always a fine balance between effort and reward. OCS games can be a fair amount of effort but the reward is so great. Napoleonic 20 is very low effort and a reasonable reward. Somme 1918 doesn't cover its effort deficit. I say i've turned a corner in wargames because I think I am going to pick a few series based games and just stick to those. With a series you only learn the main rules once and you already know you like the system. OCS, Napoleonic 20, and Great Battles of the American Civil War are on my list, and I might add Kevin Zuckers campaign level games. Outside of these I doubt I will buy many war games.

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