Transcript of our podcast from 10 January 2009
by Moritz Eggert
Hello my friends - I hope you had a happy holiday and a good New Year! 2008 seems to have been a good year for wargames. If one looks at the current top five at boardgamegeek the first FOUR games have all been published in 2008 and the fifth game in 2007. These games are "Combat Commander: Pacific", "Conflict of Heroes", "Devil's Cauldron", "Unhappy King Charles" and "Napoleon's Triumph". "Conflict of Heroes" has gotten the most positive buzz lately - I could see with my own eyes that it was one of the most played games at Boardgamegeek con. Unfortunately I have yet to play this game, so I reserve final judgment over it, but the voices that express a great liking to this system are all very believable ones.
But this time I want to talk about another game that was my personal favourite wargame of 2008, and that is "Pursuit of Glory", "Paths of Glory Part II" if you will. I have to fully admit that I am a sucker for the Near East as a theatre of war - I find the mixture of cultures and religions highly fascinating, and the history of the region is full of heroic and sometimes less-heroic strife that makes for a fascinating backdrop.
Everybody who has ever played me as the Germans in any World War II game knows that I always will try to force the scenic route through Turkey. My favourite strategy in Barbarossa to Berlin is for example to conquer Alexandria and Cairo from the East; after coming through all of Turkey and then Palestine, and then put pressure on the Russians from the South. Of course this is a strategy that is often bound to fail, but if it works it's great fun!
But I also have to admit that playing the Central Powers in a World War I game like PoG is a less guilty pleasure than playing the Nazi forces in WW II, it just feels better if you know what I mean. There was more honour in World War I, even though it was a senseless and extremely cruel war.
Every "Paths of Glory" player knows that it is dangerous to underestimate the Near East, but there never seem to be enough resources to really be active in a big way. On the PoG map the Near East is a tiny sub-map with only a handful of spaces. This now changes as now this theatre gets star coverage in "Pursuit of Glory" and is blown up to epic proportions. This also enabled the designers, Brad Stock and Brian Stock, to really go into great detail regarding the incredibly varied forces that were fighting in this region. These might range from Russian tank companies to hardy Turkish infanterists, from wild and untamed tribes attacking on horseback with makeshift weapons to religiously motivated rebellions. And there is always the Berlin-Baghdad railway to save the day!
"Pursuit of Glory" comes in pretty much the same format as the original Paths of Glory, and each PoG player will recognize many features from the old game. It is a card-driven game that uses the basic 20th century warfare system created by Ted Raicer that is also used in Barbarossa to Berlin and Shifting Sands, albeit with some differences. Unlike for example Napoleonic Wars, in which it is impossible to act without leaders, here we deal with large combat units and small combat units, each of which represents an organized force like a division or a corps or even a wild tribe. This means that organizing a unified front is all important - holes in your front can always be exploited and attrition can wipe out whole stacks of units if the enemy drives through your lines and cuts your supply. This makes for nail biting decisions and great suspense, as any PoG player can attest to.
The game also uses three decks that consecutively come into play - one for "Mobilization", one for "Limited War" and one for "Total War". Each card doubles as an event or ops, and most of the time you can only use one of each. The events lock into each other in complicated ways - some will usually have to be played if you want to be successful or are a prerequisite for other events, others are more optional. Timing is of the essence!
The map depicts part of the Balkans including Romania and Bulgaria as well as Serbia, Greece, all of Turkey, and great parts of Persia and North Africa as well as the Caucasian region. The map is huge and incredibly detailed. One thing that immediately is noticeable is that there are a LOT of victory point spaces, I would estimate at least double as much as in PoG. This means that basically each part of the map will really be used all the time, every front is equally important. There are also arrows leading to regions like India, which aren't fully depicted. Any historian knows that the Near East front was extremely fluid, and sometimes it was even unclear why people fought against each other. The Germans for example often tried to incite religious anger against the colonial powers and had Muslim allies, like the Turkish but also tribes from Afghanistan and North Africa. The British on the other hand gained the tribal allies that were oppressed by the Turkish expansionist interests, most famously of course Lawrence of Arabia with his Arab Northern Army. So it was Muslims against Christians, Christians against Christians, and Muslims against Muslims, not to forget the Russian-Orthodox forces turned atheist through the Russian revolution- surely a crazy time. Throw in some colonial forces from India, French foreign armies and many fascinating historic events and cook to perfection - voila, "Pursuit of Glory" indeed!
Now I have one big caveat - this is not an easy game to learn. I would actually not recommend playing this game before having played "PoG" a couple of times. It comes with a rulebook that makes "Here I Stand" and "Empire of the Sun" look like quick reading material, it's a long tome and also comes with the usual historical commentary and detailed examples of play that we are used to with GMT. But the good news is that all these rules are extremely well organized and everything is easy to find. I would say that these are some of the best rules that GMT have ever produced, and I personally found no area of play opaque or difficult to get, even though one is bound to overlook some chrome during first playthroughs. Most importantly the game includes 2 primers, one for people who have NOT played "PoG" yet (and I don't envy them starting with this game -the original PoG, which is not an easy game as well, will seem like Snakes and Ladders to them afterwards), and a primer for people who HAVE played PoG already. The latter primer is only 2 pages long and lists all the rules sections which include differences from what you are used to from PoG.
What I did is read only these sections (which didn't take that long) and then immediately started the game in a solitaire runthrough to get used to the details. Everything is well explained and it was easy to find the passages which included new concepts from then onwards, I never found that I had to read everything; I just looked up the new details.
One player plays the Central Powers, which is mostly Turks but also some German, Austrian and Bulgarian troops, as well as the aforementioned many tribes.
The Allies on the other hand control everybody else, British, French, Romanians and many more, even one single Italian counter makes it into play after a certain event is played.
Now to the new concepts that make play very different from PoG.
First of all there are the irregular troops and the Jihad Level. Some of these irregular troops are the aforementioned tribes, but there are also very unique troops like a camel corps that have special rules. Tribes are weak units and basically live of the land, which means they don't need normal supply sources like the normal troops. This also means that they can rummage around behind enemy lines, disturbing their supply, taking VP spaces and much more. The Central Powers use the tribes a bit more because they try to control the "Jihad Level", which is influenced by card play and also the capture of religiously important spaces by the Allies. The higher the Jihad level the more tribes can be placed, and believe me, they can really be a nuisance. PoG had 3 corps that represented tribes, this game has literally dozens of them, and they constantly pop up behind your lines.
Another new aspect is headquarters. The Near East was a theatre in which personal abilities and bravado of the commanders mattered more than in the more static European fronts, this is why one has headquarter counters here, each with it's own special abilities. Think of them as leader counters, they also don't add to the stacking limit as well.
Another new concept is Railroads, which are used in supplying but also transporting troops around the map. And there are also Assets, an interesting concept that enables players to actually build a Large combat unit by combining 2 or 3 small combat units, a tactic that is especially important for the Turkish/Central player who starts out with weak defence that has to be brought up a step quickly. There are also regions that depict the greater areas that can't be depicted fully on the map, like India or Afghanistan, and there is also, like in PoG, an insert map, this time of Gallipoli, a Turkish area that saw some of the hardest and violent fighting in WW I.
So how does it play? First of all both players will be basically overwhelmed by the choices they have. Even the first action of the game is not as clear cut as in PoG, with Guns of August being mostly the standard play. The Central Powers basically are on the defence from the start on, and they have not one but 5 fronts. The most active front at the start of the game is the Northern Caucasian Front where Russian armies attack, but these will hopefully fade away through the Russian revolution after a while, which is triggered through several card play steps, like in PoG. There is also the Eastern front, as Persia - although neutral at first- can quickly be brought onto the Allied side. Then there is the Southeast and the Persian Gulf where the Allies can bring in some easy invasions. Then there is the Southwest, with British forces lingering before an expanse of desert. And not to forget the Northwest, with looming involvement of the resurrected Serbia and also Greece and Romania. Basically it's trouble everywhere, and the Allied player can even open up new problem zones by bringing in seaborne invasions.
Interestingly enough the Central Forces bear quite a punch, perhaps more so than in the original PoG, through the involvement of the tribes. Even though the Allies theoretically feel powerful they are much less so in reality because it is very difficult to really put pressure on one point. Because the front is so fluid even a carefully planned invasion can suddenly turn into only a minor nuisance, and it is really difficult for the Allies to create one big push like they usually do in old-style PoG. But the Central Player has one big problem, and that is dwindling resources. Even though Turkish armies start out quite powerful they become less and less so because of their Replacement point limitation, at some point they just wither away. And even though the Allied player doesn't have a hammer that breaks through lines, he can create many, many pressure points, like small pricking needles, at some point these will have their effect, that's for sure, it's only a matter of time.
So far I found Pursuit of Glory to be a balanced and exciting game. The action is consistent - there will never be a long lull with both players playing replacement actions, everything is always on the move. In my opinion it is the best game on this theatre of WW I so far - it packs in loads of historical detail in a manageable way. Even though this is certainly on the higher end of card-driven games complexity I can only highly recommend it to anybody who likes this genre and this period, the game's approach is extremely solid and everything seems to have been well researched and implemented. So put on your turban or your helmet and lead your armies to glory or the vain pursuit of the same and play this game - you won't rue the day you bought it!
Happy gaming in 2009, Moritz over and out.
©2008, Westpark Gamers