Unconditional Surrender


On the table is the Sal Vasta design Unconditional Surrender, a game about WW2 in Europe published by GMT. I bought this when it first came out in 2014, but it has only now made its way to the front of the ‘to be played queue’ and on to the table.

The game gives a high level focus on matters, with army sized ground units, doing battle on a lovely map (with each hex representing 30-60 miles) over monthly turns. There’s an interesting set of diplomatic and political rules, but that part probably works best for two player games. The rest of the action is highly playable solitaire; the only slight challenge is the need to decide if each side in each combat will or will not pile in support. In my play, I make the decisions for one side, and let the dice decide for the other side. Then, in the next turn I swap things around.

Ground action uses a single unit activation at a time, delivering something rather different. Moving units can do mobile assaults on their own – repeatedly, with each one costing movement points – but cannot assault. An assault can be set up, but the attackers can only do that one attack. The other notable point of difference is that units do not have combat factors. Instead, units generally act as modifiers on the combat results table. The CRT uses opposed totals, so the system can build in the effects for attacker and defender, and other stuff like weather, and isolation, all very neatly.

Economics is handled in a refreshingly simple way: count the factories, make deductions for strategic warfare (and that is easy, too) then calculate the available production points. That is the currency for buying stuff. However, the game doesn’t seem to allow non historic builds, and neither can you save, because if you don’t use the stuff that month it is gone forever.

There are additional markers and events that add in some detail. For example, Netherlands and Belgium can use a Ground Support marker to help them in combat. The chit returns 1d6 turns later. As another example, the main factions can buy Surprise Attack markers that are needed for invasions.  The Political and Diplomacy system uses markers with a neat mechanic that prevents players from guaranteeing the outcome of their efforts, providing a decent amount of tension.

I am impressed by the way the thing hangs together. There are lots of scenarios, including some easy ones to get your feet wet. But after Poland and Norway, the Western Front in 1940 is a tough nut to crack. The scenarios do include the whole package should you so choose. It is suggested that would take 50-60 hours of play, but I would double that estimate. However, the time is not because of the complexity of the rules; it’s because of the need to master the ever changing situation. Although the builds are limited, this is not a scripted straight jacket, and the action can go off on strange tangents (in a good way).

It’s a long, long time since I played anything at this scale.  I have fond memories of the original Third Reich from John Prados and Avalon Hill, but not the monsters that it spawned. I liked the old SPI game WW2, even though it was much simpler and very much more a game than a simulation. But this game has given me a real buzz, and it’s a definite contender for convention play if I ever make it back to Consimworld.