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Posted on Jun 30, 2005 in Boardgames

Battlegroup: 1939-45 – Boardgame Review

By Johnny L. Wilson

bgbox.jpgTitle: Battlegroup: 1939-1945
# Players: 2-4
Style of Game: Card Game
Price: $29.95
www.lostbattalion.com

"Praise the Lord and Pass the Action Card"
A Review and Scenario for Lost Battalion Games’ Battlegroup: 1939-1945

There is a place for the "beer and pretzels" game. It is wonderful to have games that can be broken out, taught in a couple of minutes and played in a reasonable length of time. Sometimes, they can even be played alongside games where one opponent or more has to wait while another opponent is taking his or her time with a lengthy move. At other times, they fill a gap when you just don’t feel like devoting all those hours to Europa.

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The question is, "Where do the so-called ‘beer & pretzels’ games fit for historical gamers?" Do they have any value at all beyond being a substitute for the "real thing?" Lost Battalion Games has introduced a card game that might serve as both substitute for the "real thing" and as an introductory level primer for the military history behind the game. Battlegroup: 1939-1945 is a card game with similarities to Avalon Hill’s Naval War and 3W’s Modern Naval Battles series, though it is closer in nature to Avalon Hill’s Enemy in Sight (for the Age of Fighting Sail) and Lost Battalion’s own Brawling Battleships (WWI naval). My personal opinion is that the art and color for this game looks better than the components of any of those just mentioned, including LBG’s own. The only problem is that our set had some cards in the ship decks for both Allies and Axis where the color registration was off on the card backs and meant that a few cards looked different from the others. It wasn’t a huge error, but could be of benefit to certain card counters with their own decks.

bgcomp.jpg
WHAT’S AT SEA… Is what you get with LBG’s Battlegroup: 1939-1945. The card game uses no maps. Battles are fought with three card decks (respective ship decks and action deck), two sets of dice and two types of colored counters (blue for damage and gold for repairing in the "dockyard)."

Why would I contend that such a low-level game would be of interest as an introduction to strategy gaming in general? Frankly, because the game has abstracted interesting choices with regard to naval warfare. To be sure, if one plays the game strictly according to the random decks of Allied and Axis ships, one ends up with the same mish-mash of ships that never fought together in the same battle. Worse, some of the games in the genre (not this one) have players fighting with ships allied together that actually fought against each other. So, how could such a game teach any historical lessons?

First, the very set-up of Battlegroup: 1939-1945 (BG) demonstrates a distinction between capital ships and aircraft carriers. The carriers are protected by the capital ships and, because of their ability to send aircraft aloft on offensive missions, have a greater range (expressed in being able to attack more often in a sortie, the 1 or 2 rounds of play that determines the result of certain victory conditions) and more offensive firepower (expressed with at least one extra die over the surface ships). Obvious, you say? Not to fans of fighting sail and WWI era battles where those big ships with massive firepower made all of the difference. So, as in Naval War, you cannot sink carriers until you get rid of the screening battleships (destroyers are handled on the action cards).

Second, where most naval games are predominantly "sink the ship and collect the points" games, BG uses action cards to establish missions (sorties) with a victory point value in addition to the value of tonnage (ships) sunk. Since one has to sink two enemy ships in order to collect the VPs from a sortie, these are essentially bonus points for efficient combat. This adds a new dimension to the play that makes it considerably more interesting than games where you just have to grab the right caliber of ammunition to fire and the one with the most tonnage in sunken ships wins. In terms of pure play mechanics, it also allows for some sense of "card control" in that one might play a sortie in order to stay on the attack and keep one’s opponent from being able to do offensive missions. Further, the night sorties add an extra nuance to the Pacific War because, as was the case historically, the Japanese were more used to fighting by night and get a modifier in their favor during night sorties. The sortie mechanic reminds us that surface navies are there to protect something or to secure something and not just wandering about in search of a fight.

Third, as in any card game, one’s playing hand reflects a resource constraint mechanic. In BG, this is particularly acute because each card has two different options. One can play the horizontal or vertical option. Of course, if one plays the vertical Night Based Sortie (pictured below) to initiate action and does not have it in one’s hand to launch CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in defense against retaliatory strikes by one’s enemy. Such a trade-off between offensive and defensive capabilities are constant in warfare as one balances the logistics of travel, fuel and pilot fatigue against the need for aggressive or defensive action. Also, as in many card games where one’s hand is replenished slowly, we found that it was dangerous to be so aggressive that one’s hand was low during the enemy’s turn. This underscores the importance of considering "logistics" as expressed in one’s hand (card inventory).

bgnightsortie.jpg
FLARE FOR ACTION The surface ships of the Imperial Navy get bonuses for night actions. Note the 6 victory points on the vertical portion of this card. Players who sink two enemy ships during the round this is in play get 6 points in addition to the points for the two ships. Note the horizontal portion of the card would allow it to be used for CAP instead of as a sortie.

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