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Posted on Jun 18, 2007 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Shifting Sands Review

By Robert Delwood

In contrast to the other well done components, the rules are another matter. Although they are now available electronically on ConSimWorld.com, they were not part of the initial release. Given that games have become sufficiently complex so that reading rules while setting up is no longer practical, players may not live near each other, and it would just be convenient if your opponents could read the rules ahead of time; online rules are almost a requirement these days. Second, the rules are poorly written. There are an astonishing number of grammar errors that change meaning, or cases that are not addressed. The electronic "living rules" improve on this slightly. The problem is, few of the logic flaws are obvious after a first reading; they only become apparent when you start playing and encountering these situations. For example, although the combat mechanics are explained (they still needed errata, however), the results of combat are never covered. That is, how the losses are actually implemented is not explained. You can divine what they intended through a single case in the combat example near the back of the rules; it still took 20 minutes to get a good understanding of how we were going to play it. You’d think a company such as MMP with their 700 plus rules pages and 20 years of ASL would know how to write rules. This position is supported by the errata (available through MMP’s Web site or Consimworld). It is eight pages long, the FAQ or clarifications themselves run are 10 pages while the rules are only 18 pages.

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It is also a lot of little things that add up. In matters of facts, the set up information is wrong, the combat tables are wrong, the victory conditions are wrong, the victory conditions summary is wrong, and the examples of play are wrong. In matters of convenience, the set up chart is split between pages so both players can’t see their set up at the same time, the back page of the rules contains a scenario set up while the second to last page has a detailed turn sequence (switch the two to be useful), parts of the victory conditions are in two separate places, and they could have the Commonwealth nation’s name printed on the counters instead of color coding them. The list goes on, and on, and on.

In spite of those weaknesses, it is a compelling game to play. A turn has five phases: Card Draw, Action, Attrition, Victory Determination and Replacement. During the card draw, players may get up to their current hand maximum, seven to nine, depending on the turn; the Axis may be limited to six due to previously-played Malta events. Players may also hold on to existing cards. This allows them to save cards from turn to turn. The action phase is where most of the game takes place. There are six Action Rounds for each player, with the Axis always going first. A side may play either none or one action card. Each card may be used in one of four ways: Operations, Event, Redeployment or Replacement.

The operation points listed on the card is the number of points you can spend on moving or attacking with units. These costs vary depending on stacking, and supply status but generally, one point either moves all the units in one area or allows one unit to attack. The cost has to be paid based on the area as a whole. Therefore, an area with three units must pay three operation points to attack, regardless if all the units are involved in the attack. A player may choose not to play a card but still gets one operation point for the Action Round.

The card’s direction explains the event and any associated actions. They range from purely political events, to reinforcements, to some tactical or strategic benefits. Some cards allow you to use both the event and the operations points.

Redeployment is a strategic move. The operations points listed on the card are used as the redeployment points. One point moves a battlegroup; three, a division. This allows you to move a unit any number of friendly controlled areas or ports.

Each card lists the replacement points available for that side’s forces. Each point adds two steps back to an existing battlegroups or one step for divisions. Reforming eliminated units is the same as one step.

For an Action Round, the player announces his choice. Some event cards do not include an action, so that Action Round would be short. Otherwise, the player performs that action. For an operations Action Round in general, the phasing player announces all the attacks and movements first and then implements them. Infantry cannot both move and attack; it’s one or the other. Armor, on the other hand, can move to join an existing attack.

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