Solitary Enjoyment

So, four years (what!?) after my original post, I am finally getting round to playing some more of this game and adding the information here.

One of the reasons for the passage of time is the combat system. When I first played it, I fairly quickly became disenchanted by how combats are resolved. (By way of reminder, there is no combat results table. You draw chits from a random pool and, depending on whether they match the situation, they inflict hits. For example, a chit might say that at 4:1 odds, the defender suffers two hits and the attacker suffers one. Another chit might say that if the attacker has artillery, the defender suffers one hit, and so on.) What seemed to happen to me was that in too many combats, despite often overwhelming odds, nothing happened. So, I gave up on the game and put it away.

In the current lockdown situation, where we are to stay at home, I decided that I would put a solitaire game on the table. In the intervening years, almost every comment I have seen about the game has been favorable. (And I generally adore John Butterfield’s work.) So, I chose this game and went for the German solo version. I play the Germans, and the system handles the Allies.

I played through the first couple of days and reset because I was making too many mistakes. Now I am having another shot.

In no particular order, here are my comments:

  • I still don’t like the combat system. Let’s say I am enduring it.
  • The solitaire activation system for the Allies is excellent. It’s well crafted, deep, fairly straightforward to implement, and is a real challenge to the opposing live player. It’s not fast, however.
  • Considering the complexity of the processes, the rulebook is pretty damn good. Yes, there is errata, but it’s more than within acceptable limits.
  • As well as a clever solitaire system, the system the active player uses is equally sharp. Essentially you have a set of cards – each, in general, with several options to choose from – and you decide how to use them. You may have to give up a juicy combat tactic for the sake of activating a formation, or bringing in reinforcements. Decisions! Decisions!
  • The downside of all this high level of decision making is that it can cause paralysis analysis. Playing solo, that’s probably to be expected anyway. Just be aware that this is not a beer and pretzels fast blast through the Ardennes.
  • The play aids are excellent.
  • Because of the card activation – on both sides – there’s a lot of replayability.

The game comes with several scenarios. I’m aiming to properly play through the short (three-day) scenario twice to try and become more immersed in the game. Yes, I’ll have to grit my teeth and endure combat resolution. But it should be worth it. Besides, there’s another in the series due out this year, this time set in the Eastern Front. Kharkov. I think. Should be good.

 

Enemy Action: Ardennes

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Enemy Action: Ardennes is on the table. It’s designed by John Butterfield, published by Compass Games, and gives you three Battle of the Bulge games in one box: Two player, German solitaire, and Allied solitaire. It uses four km hexes, turns of a day, and units at the regiment/brigade level.

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I am starting off with the two player game as that is the recommendation. Each game uses a different map, with the same terrain covered, but different sets of symbols used as part of the card driven artificial intelligence in the solitaire games. The cards are also used in the two player game, offering unit activations, reinforcements, events, and tactics. There are many innovations on show here, but one that stands out is the absence of a combat results table. All combat is resolved by drawing chits from a pool, and applying them according to circumstances. For example, one chit might apply if the attack is at greater than 2:1 odds. Another chit might apply if the attacker has air support. And so on.

The components look beautiful, though there’s a let down because of some minor errata for the map and cards. One day, game companies will master the art of quality control.

I have set up the game, read the rules once, and am now rereading them for comprehension.

John Butterfield’s previous designs have been favorites of mine, and I do not expect to be disappointed here. The fact that this is apparently the first of a series of games with a similar approach is a mouthwatering prospect. I’ll post some more after playing the game.