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Posted on Nov 28, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Guns of August Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Passed Inspection: A fresh approach to grand strategy gaming that really brings forth the flavor of the Great War.

Failed Basic: Manual has some big omissions, and no tutorial, making the learning curve unnecessarily steep.

The Great War changed Europe forever. Quaint 19th century concepts of battle were tossed unceremoniously into the meat grinder of industrialized warfare. On the Western Front, only the first few months of the war allowed much in the way of maneuver. After that, the armies dug into elaborate trench works, and would routinely loose 50,000 men to gain a few hundred yards of ground. Technologies like airpower, tanks, gas, machine guns, and coordinated artillery barrages, could only rarely break the stalemate. On the strategic scale however, the trench bound battle is only part of the story. The Guns of August, developed by Frank Hunter’s ADANAC games, and published by Matrix, nicely fills in the blanks by giving us the full picture of this most terrible conflict. GOA is a wargamer’s wargame. The game is not forgiving, and has a steep learning curve, but it is well worth the effort. While the basic mechanics of Guns are moderately complex, the interplay of these elements is a deep grognard heaven. WWI is not usually a wargamer’s first choice for gaming subjects, but GOA will certainly change that for some.

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At the highest level, Guns is a typical grand strategy game, and the basic components are stock wargame fare. The Great War is presented in four scenarios; 1914, 15, 16 and 17. Each turn represents two months of real time, and a full game can be comfortably played in an evening. The game uses an attractive hex based map, that stretches from England to well past the Black Sea. The map includes all of France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Palestine, but not Egypt or the Nordics. Counters are used to represent infantry and cavalry corps, as well as HQs and artillery. Each unit is rated for its strength, readiness and level of training. Naval units are also available, and can be assigned missions in the major oceans, like commerce raiding or patrol.

But beyond the counters and map, the game is full of features that combine to bring the experience of WWI to gamer’s fingertips. As trench works quickly become the dominant defensive feature, offensives start by stockpiling HQ activation points, representing the massive logistics effort it took in real life. Turns have three impulses, and spending activation points in each impulse is required to keep the troops moving. Activation points are very expensive, so a player can not support too many offensives at one time. To assist the player, the tools of the day, help somewhat. Airpower is used to recon enemy strength. Before the player’s boys go over the top, artillery barrages, firing in their own phase, pound the enemy trenches and fortifications. Technologies like gas, tanks and assault training help with making breakthroughs. But even with these combat multipliers, casualties will typically be massive. In an attack, each side will lose enough men to fill an entire corps. The game’s victory screen translates these losses into real numbers, and watching the butcher’s bill climb into the millions almost makes the player forget this is only a game.

The sequence of play also adds to game experience and deserves some mention. First there is a strategic phase, where players allocate the nation’s production to things like purchase of new units, entrenchments, replacements, technology research, diplomacy and most importantly, HQ activation points. It is also during this phase that players entrench, and allocate naval and aircraft to the oceans and fronts. After the strategic phase, there are three impulse turns where movement and combat occur. Players first plot their moves, and the game executes all moves simultaneously. Unless using strategic rail movement, units only move one hex per impulse, and HQ activation is required to move into enemy territory. Players quickly learn that to win, they must play three impulses ahead, by stockpiling enough activation points to sustain the battle past the initial break-through.

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