The Great War First Play

On Saturday, Ninjasuarus Rex and I had our first game of The Great War, the new(ish) First World War board game by the Plastic Soldier Company. I've had the game since my birthday back in July, but haven't had a chance to break it out since then. I am also in the middle of painting the figures, so we used my Peter Pig figures that I use in Square Bashing. This worked out pretty well as there are four figures on a base and we counted casualties with my usual red plastic tabs.

We played the first two scenarios in the book, both of which were introductory games with the British attacking a German held trench. I took the attackers in the first scenario. The game is governed by Command Cards which allow you to move certain units in certain parts of the battlefield. This involves some tactical thinking as you not only have to think about reacting to your opponent, but also your future moves that are controlled by the limited number of cards in your hand.

The other rules are pretty simple, infantry can move two hexes and not battle, or one hex and then battle, machine guns and mortars either move one square or fire, not both. Certain terrain stops movement, weapons decrease in effect with range and there are special dice with various symbols to show the effect of fighting.

Despite getting across no-man's-land I failed to break into the German front line, being held back by a combination of machine gun and rifle fire. As well as the Command Cards, there are also Combat Cards which have to be paid with by HQ Tokens, these add extra actions in a turn or can be used to react to an opponent's actions in their turn. Examples would be counter attacks, gas attacks or halting movement.

In the second game we reversed roles and I took the defending Germans. This scenario also added barbed wire and shell craters to no-man's-land. Terrain has various effects in units, not only in impeding movement, but also adding to the defence value of a unit. Certain negative dice rolls can be ignored in craters and trenches, for example. 

Also in the first game I had misread the artillery rules. I thought they could only be used when you played a particular card. However, artillery can be ordered alongside other units (unless it is specified on the card) and this changed the dynamic of the game considerably. We both ate up a lot of HQ tokens dropping whizz-bangs and flying pigs on one another. It also cratered no-man's-land and cleared out some of the wire for Ninjasaurus' advance.

In this second game Ninjasaurus was able to get his men across the open ground between the trenches and infiltrated my trenches fairly rapidly despite stiff resistance. It seemed that all the artillery I dropped on him hit the mark and his units around the point of aim. This still didn't help me though as he gathered his six victory points by capturing four sections of trench.

In a few hours we had played two games and got a good handle of the rules. They are pretty simple and easy to hold in your head once you get the drift of them. I played a lot of Memoir '44 when I lived in Iceland and The Great War appears to borrow heavily from that game, so I think this helped somewhat. However, there is an extra layer of complexity with the combat cards and artillery (and HQ tokens) that Memoir '44 lacked. The former give you extra actions, but at a cost of HQ tokens. If your HQ bank is running low your choices become somewhat limited. As previously mentioned the tokens also allow for artillery and effective barrages can be costly! HQ tokens and Combat Card can be replenished at the end of a turn (and due to dice rolls in the case of the HQ tokens), but you have a choice of one or the other and this can be a tricky choice sometimes!

At the end of the day, The Great War is a board game and not a simulation of the First World War.  Look elsewhere if you want that, but if you want a great game that is playable within a few hours and has an exciting, tense and tactical edge to it, this is it.

I am looking forward to the forthcoming expansions, including Tank! and the hinted at aircraft expansion. I hope the latter will be sing 1/144th scale aircraft that can be also used in my Wings of Glory games (and at a much better price than the Ares pre-painted aircraft!).

Thanks for reading!