Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebookYouTube

Categories Menu

Posted on Jun 4, 2018 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

A Chivalrous Duel and a Deadly Slaughter: GMT Games Illusions of Glory Board Game Review.

A Chivalrous Duel and a Deadly Slaughter: GMT Games Illusions of Glory Board Game Review.

By Ray Garbee

Illusions of Glory Game Review. Publisher: GMT Games. Games Designer: Perry R. Silverman Price $ 65.00

Ray Garbee

Passed inspection: Well executed, mounted color map board. The game captures the feel of launching army level attacks across a broad front. Game contains three scenarios supporting early war, mid-war and the full Great War campaign. Supports exploration of alternative ‘what if’ strategies. Insights into the war in the east often overlooked in the western Eurocentric view of the war. Great examples of play.

Failed basic: Rules could be better organized. More errata than one would like – including some rules changes. Units are named but feel interchangeable with most having the exact same ratings.

{default}

The First World War began with the invasion of Serbia by Austria-Hungary (also known as the Dual Monarchy). This ‘minor’ war then snowballed into a series of declarations of war and treaty obligations into a conflict the engulfed the continent. It’s a known fact that most school children can recite. But the conventional narrative usually pivots away from the east to focus on the conflict between the Germans and the Anglo-French alliance in Western Europe. Rapidly fading into the shadows was the large war fought in the East between Russia and the Central Powers that eventually pulled in states ranging from the ailing Ottoman Empire in the East across the Balkans to Italy on the southern border of the Dual Monarchy. It’s this conflict that is the topic of Perry R. Silverman’s strategic level board game ‘Illusions of Glory’, the third entry in the “Paths of Glory” game series.

In Illusions of Glory, a player takes the role of the high command of either the Allied Powers or the Central Powers. In this role they will marshal the resources of their alliance in an attempt to achieve victory while thwarting their opponents plans. Game turns represent a season of time, with a year consisting of four turns. The Allied command effort is focused on the Russian Empire, with contributions from major powers such as Italy, Britain and France, as well as minor powers such as Serbia, Rumania and possibly Greece. The Central Powers coalition consists of Austria-Hungary and Germany with possible participation from the Ottomans, Bulgaria and Greece.

The game components are first rate, as you expect with a product from GMT Games. The graphic design team, led by Mark Simonich has produced a full-color mounted map board encompassing the eastern part of Germany to the Western tip of Anatolia and traversing Eastern Europe from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a point to point spatial model representing the theatre of operations with each space either a city or key rural area, with a number of ‘regions’ defining larger spaces that lack a smaller key focal point. Connections are depicted as either rail, roads or mountain passes. Surrounding the playing space are a number of tracks and holding boxes to mange the status of various processes (national will, troop quality, war escalation, the Russian Revolution, etc.) as well as manage casualties and replacements.

The counters are functional, clean and attractive. Each country is depicted in a national color with standard troop type depictions for infantry, cavalry and the small number of artillery and HQ units. Some units are broken out into troop categories such as ‘Guards’ or ‘Reserve’. In addition to a unique unit symbol, the troop type is reflected in the combat values of the units. Guards are a little better while reserves are a little worse. Combat units come it two broad classes – ‘Large Combat Units’ (LCU) and ‘small combat units’. The difference is reflected in how combat is performed (and how many casualties said combat generates). Generally, LCU depict army corps sized formations, while small combat units reflect division/brigade sized units.

The rulebook is a standard GMT product – a soft cover, saddle-stitched booklet. The rules define the components of the game and provide the detail on the sequence of play.

The rules for the game encompass a lot of activities ranging from movement and combat through uprisings and insurrections that include the Russian Revolution and the exit of Russia from the war. There’s a lot going on and a lot to cover, but the rules cover how to resolve events.

GMT classifies Illusions of Glory as a medium complexity game. It’s certainly not checkers, but it’s also not overly complicated. The layout of the rules may not be as straight forward as the old programed instruction model where the layout follows the flow of the game turn, but it’s not haphazard. In a way if reflects the dynamic nature of the Card Driven Game design.

Illusions of Glory, like the other games in the series, is a Card Driven Game (CDG). If you’ve never played a CDG before most of the action in each game turn is driven by the play of a card. Those cards either define the scope of operations you will conduct (through their ‘Ops Point’ value) or through the text of the event defined on the card. In rare cases it may be both. There’s an option to always take 1 Ops point in cases where you’ve played all your useful cards or want to get a feel for what your opponent is going to do. If you’ve played ‘We the People’ or ‘Twilight Struggle’ you have a good idea of how the cards work. The effects of the cards run the range from mandating a large offensive or mobilizing additional troops through bringing neutral countries like Italy and Bulgaria into the war.

The cards divide into two decks – one for each player and are further divided into operational epochs of mobilization, limited war and total war. You start with a deck representing the mobilization phase of the war and add in the subsequent cards as each new level is achieved. This provides both a roughly historical timeline of in game events and as well as cards with more ‘ops points’ that support the growing scale of the war.

The game includes three different charts; a player’s aid chart, a 1914 mobilization setup chart and a setup chart for the Brusilov Offensive. The player’s aid chart has all the standard fare you’d expect to find – A sequence of play, victory point table, unit replacement point costs, combat results tables, and terrain/weather effects table. The only odd thing is the replacement cost table which seems like it could have done the same work with half the lines.

The two scenario setup charts – 1914 and the Brusilov Offensive give you the instructions to setup the game for each scenario. The 1914 setup doubles as the setup instructions for the short scenario ‘From Mobilization to Limited War’. These charts are well laid out giving fairly clear instructions on where units go and how to get the game ready to kick off. There are a few typos in the 1914 chart that will have you scratching your head. Fortunately, a copy of the errata will address these and get you on your way.

While the game does not have a separate book of play examples, the rulebook has a five-page example of a sample game turn, complete with combat for both sides. The examples will clarify most basic questions associated with the game and get you playing in short order.

What kind of game is Illusions of Glory? For insight, let’s look at the structure of the game turn and how players interact. A game turn consists of the following phases;
– Mandatory Offensive Phase
– Action Phase
– Attrition Phase
– Siege Phase
– War Status Phase
– Rebellion/Revolution Phase
– Replacement Phase
– Strategy Card Draw Phase
– End of Turn

The mandatory offensive phase consists of a die roll (with some modifiers) that dictate where each side must launch at least one major attack during the game turn. This represents the back and forth political jockeying of each faction trying to ease pressures and maintain relationships. Russia may be mandated to attack, having been prodded by the British and French to force the Germans to transfer troops east. It’s a nice model that reflects the constant historical negotiating within each of the alliances.

The Action Phase is the heart of the game turn. The action phase is where each player takes turns executing a series of 6 actions. This is when event cards are played and operation points expended to move and fight. The activity taking place in the action phase is the narrative of events in the war.

The Attrition Phase is a fancy way of saying the supply phase. Units that are out of supply at this point in the turn are reduced in strength and possibly eliminated. Protect your supply lines from being cut off by cavalry or unrest amongst the civilian population.

The Siege Phase is for resolving all current sieges. Do the forts stand, or do they fall to the besieger? While there are a number of fortresses on the board, few will be actively under siege in any given game turn, unless the dice have turned against you!

In the War Status Phase, you check for automatic victory and other statuses such as the armistice, war status and national collapse. War status is the most commonly used as you’ll be dealing in additional cards as the game advances to limited war and total war.

The Rebellion Phase is where you determine if the various nationalist or labor groups have risen up against a country experiencing a crisis of national will. Historically, there was a lot of unrest on both sides as countries national will rose and fell. The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was a powder keg of nationalities yearning for independence, the echoes of which reverberate across the century. The Russian Revolution in 1917 became one of the decisive events of the 20th Century. You’ll grapple with the impact of both here. And don’t feel left out Germany – if things go sideways, the labor unions, the Soviet communists and the Freikorps will rise up and take to the streets if the war goes badly for Empire.

In the Replacements Phase both sides will recover lost units, either repairing units on the map board, or returning eliminated units to play. Exactly how many units you repair depends on what event card you played in the previous action phase.

Nearing the end of the game turn, both players replenish the cards in their hand from the draw deck. Certain event cards are removed from the game and if the war status increased, new cards along with previously played cards are recycled back into the deck. This prepares them for the next game turn.

Illusions of Glory is a different beast than its western front parent Paths of Glory. While units can still entrench, the vast distance between the Baltic and the Mediterranean make the continuous trench line of the West Front impossible to maintain. The upside is that this leaves both players with the opportunity for maneuver. Terrain retains its importance as the defense of river banks and mountain passes continues to be an important consideration and influences strategic decisions. The maze of mountain passes and rivers in the Italian theater convey that what on paper looks to be an Italian advantage in troops, was really the Alpine equivalent to the trenches of the Western Front.

The Germans are clearly the best troops on the board but are constrained by the fact that the focus is on the Western Front. The Dual Monarchy needs to do as much heavy lifting as possible but must deal with the fact that they are outnumbered by the Russians. When the Italians join the war, their additional numbers are offset by the formidable mountains and river obstacles the Dual Monarchy can use as a defensive force multiplier. There’s a bit of a rock-paper-scissors symmetry at work here as each sides advantage is somewhat offset by an opponent’s parry, be it terrain, fortifications of troop quality and quantity.

The alternating allocation of the chits and combat cards within the game turn keeps both players involved throughout the game turns. The interplay of card driven actions provides an element of strategic mis-direction as you don’t know what cards your opponent holds or how they intend to use them.

The game does a convincing job of using the card events to replicate key events of the war and push the escalation of the conflict along from mobilization to total war. The dependencies on certain cards required for some events means that in some cases, certain events won’t happen until later in the game than you might wish.

The way the game portrays the concept of ‘National Will’ is well done. You can try a strategy of trading distance for space, but the cost you pay to your national will can be punishing. In one game, the Dual Monarchy ceded the north east territory to fall back on the mountain passes. Doing so allowed the Allied Powers to gain enough ground that insurrection broke out across Austria and Hungary. While the Germans were not facing as severe a threat, the need to bail out the Dual Monarchy meant they could not drive the Russians out of East Prussia.

The use of insurrections should be a key part of each players strategy. It’s the reward for achieving physical victory in terms of occupying space. Insurrection is a symptom of a bigger problem. If your people are revolting, its because things are going pretty badly. Once the insurrection starts, players can use it to cut supply lines and further weaken their opponents. While that synergy may not be entirely historical, it’s an effective strategy to push countries out of the war.

The use of cards to mobilize troops felt like an odd mechanic. Given this is a CDG, troop mobilization is tied to card play. That just felt off as in this war of industrial processes, you’d expect mobilization to happen in parallel to front line operations, but the game casts it as a choice between more field operations or mobilization of troops. The same is true of casualty replacement mechanism – it’s driven by card play requiring a choice between replacement points and either an event or operation not taken. It’s not a wrong approach, you just need to adjust your thinking to include these tasks in your game play each turn. No one said being the Supreme Leader was easy!

Overall the game is enjoyable and engaging, but there was one thing that I bothered me – the standard army corps have little to distinguish themselves. While the set up and reinforcements call for specific named corps, there’s no reason why it could not have been simplified to state ‘two regular corps’, or a ‘guard’ corps. The naming convention seems like it’s a level of chrome designed to make units feel unique, but it’s drowned out by the cookie cutter sameness of the unit ratings. This isn’t a fault that is unique to the game. The same thing exists in other high level strategic games such as Avalon Hill’s Third Reich, in which the 7th Armored Division has the exact same ability as any other armored unit. It’s likely a misplaced assumption on my part to see that uniqueness reflected in a strategic level games where minor variations are muted in the corps level organizations. The flip side of that coin is the mechanism for inflicting losses does provide for some degree of uniqueness, for as corps start taking losses they do have unique attributes and the troop quality mechanism does mean you feel the loss of a corps in combat.

If you are looking for a game in which you attack with tanks while your airplanes darken the skies, prepare to be disappointed. Unlike the Western Front, tanks and aircraft made modest contributions to the war in the east. Coupled with the scale of the game, players will not have any sense of these technological advancements impacting the war. These weapons are assumed to be present, they just don’t have a unique impact on the game. In their place, both sides continued to rely on cavalry as a scouting arm as well as to conduct breakthroughs and turn their opponent’s flanks – and the game has hordes of cavalry for both sides. How you use your cavalry has a direct impact on the game as it modifies combat results and covers much more ground than the typical infantry formation.

There are a large number of counters in the game. That’s not a bad thing as there is a lot of ground to cover. However, if you are a fan of using a counter tray to store your counters, you’ll find it a tight squeeze to get the mounted map board, the counter tray, the rules and all the cards to fit in the box. It would have been nice if GMT had used their deeper box design here as all the components would have easily fit.

The game lends itself to a fair degree of solitaire play if the player is willing to play both sides. While not including explicit rules to automate the play of either side, the solo gamer can still derive a fun experience by ‘changing hats’ and performing both roles in the game. Granted, this will keep you hopping as you select cards to play as ops or events and more cards that could be used in combat. All this work will mean some loss of the surprise you would experience against a live player, but you’ll still have an enjoyable game.

As a solo gamer, you’ll still face the unknown of what cards are dealt each turn along with the random nature of the flank attack success when to use a combat card, and the uncertain resolution of siege combat.

Illusions of Glory has great replay potential. The random nature of the cards dealt each turn mean no two games will play exactly alike. In the first playtest game, both Russia and the Central Powers deployed their railway troops early, allowing more effective operations on the frontier battles. In the second game, this didn’t happen and the offensive focus for Russia switched from East Prussia to the Galicia front. There are some opinions that the Italian theater was a sideshow that added little, but in the third game, the Allied Powers battered Austria-Hungary so badly that the Italians broke out of the mountains and marched into the heart of the Dual Monarchy!

Players must chart a course that brings them to victory. Whether that victory leads to a chivalrous duel or a deadly slaughter rests in their hands. Illusions of Glory will appeal to those with an interest in the First World War. It’s an in-depth examination of the war on the Eastern Front that does not get bogged down in the mechanics. Fans of GMT’s series of Card Driven Games (CDG) will enjoy the setting and the ability to witness the Russian Revolution while gaining an appreciation for ‘the rest of the war’ beyond the western front. Gamers that enjoyed Paths of Glory will get a nice counterpoint to the static trench warfare that characterized the eastern front. So quick march to the front and get Illusions of Glory while it’s in stock!

Armchair General Rating: 91%

Suitability for solo play: 3 (1-5, 1- not suitable for solo play, 5-perfect for solo play)

Ray Garbee has been a gamer for the past four decades, Ray’s interests include the Anglo-Sikh Wars through the conflicts of the 20th Century and beyond but his passion remains ACW naval gaming. Currently, Ray works as a business analyst in the IT field while continuing to design tabletop games. His past works include Iron Thunder, Anaconda, Anaconda: Capital Navies and articles in a number of defunct hobby magazines. When not busy gaming, Ray enjoys working on his model railroad, hiking and sport shooting at the local range.

1 Comment

  1. This is i am looking for such a long time. finally i find it here

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *