Alright on deck today for examination is Combat Soldiers: Battle of the Bulge. "This is not a wargame" the die hard grognards will cry. "This is too much of a wargame" the non-wargamers will whine back in response. "It's just a card game" comes the complaints of the boards gamers who don’t understand how a game can be played without a folded piece of cardboard. Followed closely by the "There's too much to it" as the card gamers sift through the chits. It’s not that hard to figure out people but this game is all of that and that's what makes it such a unique game, deal with it.
A wargame? Certainly but not in the typical you play this side I'll play that style. Is it an American style game? Yes but you can see the attempt to give the game some diversity in it's approach as well. See the game is about getting VPs and not winning the war…hell or even winning the battle. It's more like "taking bets" on parts of the battle. No player plays the Axis or the Allies…everyone plays BOTH the Axis and the Allies. That's right you can setup an army of German soldiers with on turn and have your already existing American troops move into a held area to contend for it. (Ahhhh the true nature of politicians running a war almost seemed fully embraced in that idea now doesn’t it?) The goal of the game is still intact with this maneuver as you are really only looking to gain VPs. In fact the individual unit cards have different units and are played with one unit in the upright position indicating what unit you want that card to represent. So I can easily see the wargamers thinking this just isn't right but then again they are still scrambling for their copies of Ogre and ASL and clinging tightly to rule sets that are 20 years or more old and not willing to pry their brains open to much new.
The game is pretty involved for a card game (and let's face it people, the main components are the cards) and there are a lot of little rules that are easily to forget or not be able to find again in the rule book after reading it once or twice. The rules literally house a sub-section about half way through the book called 22.214.171.124. This makes the rulebook itself stretch out to a full 37 solid pages of rules. That can really the freak the living shit out of those who are not use to it yet for those who are these rules are going to be simple and common place. Some of the verbage in the rules too gets a little inundating as your units can group, refit, reorganize or rearrange all of which means something different. In addition units can surround, pin, isolate or be entrenched within a garrison. All of these little rules will easily be classified as fiddly to someone not use to wargames and those bullheaded grognards will be more than comfortable with and use to.
Now I'm not going to go into detail on how the game is played as I said it's a 37 page rule book and that's just not my reviewing style. What I am going to say now is that if you are still reading this review then you have more than a casual interest in the game. I haven't run you off with the talk it not being your typical wargame when you wanted another Europe Engulfed. I've also managed to keep your attention in the face of the game being fiddly yet you are use to games with only a couple options on a turn ala Alan R. Moon games. That's a good thing because by virtue of you still being here reading this you are about to discover a pretty damned cool little game.
Yes a turn in Combat Soldiers takes some time to get through as they are detailed turns. The sequence of an turn is as follows:
A – Reorganize/Withdraw
The turn however flows smoothly and there is plenty of player interaction within the turn as attacks happen frequently and preparation for the attack that an opponent is obviously building is fundamental. There's no map (it's a card game remember) so there is no messing about with movement, opportunity fire, or terrain effects which is kind of nice. This allows players to keep in the action and heat of battle which is what this game is really about…I mean don’t we play games with a war theme to feel the fury of unloading our machine gun into the belly of an enemy…or is that just me? Further the game is about your foot units (the fucking game is called Combat SOLDIERS remember) and the few armor units in the game while being tough as hell when they attack can be taken out of play relatively easily if you have some anti-tank units out there. Of course if the deck screws you and you don’t get the anti-tanks and another opponent or two manages to put armor in play then you might want to put both your handsin front of you in a nice little bowl format as you ass I most definitely about to be handed to you. The game is also fit with event cards that can be triggered to keep things surprising and put players on the edge as you never know when someone who is nearly out of the game is going to play that ultimate “fuck somebody over” card and swing the tide of the war.
The game itself is made by Lost Battalion Games who self publishes all their titles. The cards and chits look fantastic and have a nice high gloss feel to them. You start the game by setting secret goals for yourself that you try and make happen regardless of how unusual the combination of those goals are. These goals if accomplished award more VPs come game end and hopefully a victory.
The big problem with this game is what group of people you end up playing it with. Convincing those pansy euro only gamers to give it a shot could be a challenge and even assish wargamers might feel the need to shy away from it due to it’s simplicity and manageable playing time. Choosing what players to put this in front of is paramount. You need to find the players who are open to a game with more meat to it than Memoir '44 and yet is not a board game. A game that has a lot of detail to it but doesn't cover every slight detail of a war. If you think you've got the group that can embrace this mindset then Combat Soldiers is a highly recommended game. I like the game but due to the play group really don't get to play it much. Then when the rare occasion comes that I do I find I'm referring to the rule book a lot as I'm so unfamiliar with it. Bottom line this is a good game, well thought out, with a unique approach and very nice pieces that is simply put not for everyone and that’s alright I don’t personally like everyone anyway. Those who do like it are going to have hours of fun playing it though.
Queen's Games version is long out called simply Thebes and it's every bit as good as the 2nd version in my opinion. I will say that I think each dig site SHOULD have a set number of discs randomly discarded at the beginning of the game. Without it people just calculate which bag has artifacts left and how many instead of digging where their' knowledge best lies. That seems thematically broken to me. Simply start the game and pull out 4-7 discs from each bag (as you did in 2nd Ed.) and this is fixed.