Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Blocks in the East, physical product review

The quest for a strategy East Front game continues. This is more of a product review, as I only played 3 turns out (almost the complete short Barbarossa scenario) and decided I wasn’t motivated enough to go on.

BITE is not a good example of professional graphic or product design. A pretty good indicator of this is the box cover which has nice art, but you can see the pixels as it is not 200dpi. It looks slightly cheap and this is my general feeling with this game. The map art is garish and in some areas and some parts such as the Siberia box look downright terrible with clashing colours and badly placed icons.
Not only does it fail the form test, but also the function. Key charts are printed on the board. Often this is fine, but here they are not facing either player, and are difficult to see from a sitting position. The end result will be playing standing with a craned neck until you have them memorised.
Finally, and probably the biggest health warning on this game is the block density. There are a lot of blocks with this game and you can in theory stack 4 in a hex. Unfortunately the hexes can barely hold four blocks, let alone any moving in to attack. This has several consequences, first combat is slow as you have to get blocks out and move them around, second unless you know this game well you are going to forget where your blocks are and what you are doing. There is a forest of tightly packed wood in front of you that crowds out any narrative and makes decision making a process of wading through treacle. Finally you cannot see the icons on the board. A key part of the advanced rules game is counting the tiny factory icons or oil wells to determine your resources, this is going to be difficult if these are hidden under a forest of blocks.

Mid-way through turn 2, I stacked the air and invading units on top of defenders to fit them in some hexes.

The game itself is ok, without extensive play I cannot really give it a fair shake. The block system is fairly standard, the turns are igougo, and you throw fists full of dice and rotate units for damage. The basic game is very simple, it doesn’t even really use the HQs for anything of note. The advanced game plus the optional rules is a little more complex and has an interesting looking accounting system which forces you to manage tech levels, factories, and oil reserves. However given the bad information design I wonder whether this would just add to the mental mess.

I’m not sure where my Goldilocks zone is for unit density. I felt that No Retreat the Russian Front was too sparse and abstract, but here there are too many units given the kinds of decisions I was making. This game might work for some, if you can get past the presentation. This is a 2012 game however, given the vast history of war board games, I’m not sure bad presentation is excusable anymore, particularly at this price point. There are more east front games out there than I can shake a stick at, so why would I grind fun out of this one rather than selling up and moving somewhere else?