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Posted on Jan 20, 2008 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Strange Defeat – Game Review

By Brandon Neff

Overview

After World War I, the French Army was considered by many to be one of the best in the world. When Germany began posturing for another war, France and her allies naturally assumed this new conflict would follow the same patterns of The Great War. What she did not expect was the German Blitzkrieg. This new era of war would not be fought from the trenches and France was quickly overwhelmed. In the space of six weeks Belgium, Holland and even mighty France had suffered a most strange defeat.

Components

Strange Defeat is packaged in a small (6.25” x 9.5” x 1”) box similar to several other Avalanche Press titles (Defiant Russia, Red Vengeance, etc). Inside you will find a 16 page rulebook, a corrected set-up code sheet, a 34” x 22” map (both the rules and the game box list the map as 17” x 22”), a sheet of 140 die-cut counters and two dice.

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The rules are divided into 13 sections and are easy to read and understand, even for a novice wargamer. The set-up codes included in the manual will be ignored due to a printing issue with the map (according to Avalanche Press, the hex grid was “flipped” during production).

Unfortunately, this is not the only fault with the map. The map depicts Belgium, Holland and portions of France and Germany. For some unexplained reason, south is up on this map. While it shouldn’t affect game play, I found myself tilting my head more than once to obtain a geographically accurate view of the map. Secondly, the map is printed in similar color tones and it is often difficult to read and identify markings in dim light. The map does have several useful components that allow you to track replacements, the current turn and the current victory status. It also shows the pertinent terrain features. It would have been nice to have the Terrain Effects Chart included on the map, but it is not a necessity.

The 140 counters are half-inch pieces and represent combat units and assorted game markers used during play. The approximate set-up locations are printed on the counters as well as the unit ID, type, size and a value representing Combat Strength and Movement Allowance. There are also five counters depicting various leaders (Alexander, Prioux, De Gaulle, Rommel and Guderian) which enhance the combat abilities of the units in their hex. All of the counters are colorful, bright and easy to read.

The inclusion of two dice is baffling. The game relies upon a combat system often referred to as BOD (Bucket of Dice). One six-sided die is rolled for each Combat Strength point and all rolls of six are considered hits. Therefore, a single combat (and each turn is comprised of multiple combats) may require a dozen or more dice. With two dice, this is a time-consuming affair that greatly detracts from the enjoyment of the game. My suggestion is to bring ten to twenty dice to the table making combat swift and, for the most part, painless. Previous Avalanche Press games of this size did not include dice and perhaps this was an attempt to placate the masses. In my estimation, it did not help.

Rules, Mechanics and Game Play

The rules are very similar to the aforementioned games, Defiant Russia and Red Vengeance. There are 7 game turns divided into five phases for each side. The phases are Organization, Movement, Combat, Exploitation Movement and Exploitation Combat. The German player goes first and completes all five phases after which the Allied player completes the same phases.

The main aspect of the Organization phase is Supply. All units must be checked to determine if they are in or out of supply. A German unit is in supply if a clear path can be traced to the east map edge for the Germans. An Allied unit is in supply if a clear path can be traced to either the west map edge or a port. An Out-Of-Supply unit has its Combat Strength and Movement Allowance halved. OOS units do not last long in this game stressing the importance of tactical retreat and supply line defense. Replacements and Air units (which assist combat in that turn) are also part of the Organization phase, although in a limited scope.

Each unit, with few exceptions, exerts a Zone of Control to the surrounding six hexes. Units moving into an enemy ZOC must stop (except German armored or motorized units) unless a friendly unit currently occupies the hex. Any unit within an enemy ZOC must be attacked during the Combat phase and one die is rolled for Combat Strength point for both attackers and defenders. Hits result in step-losses and retreats and combinations of the two. This aspect of combat was quite enjoyable and several strategies were created and foiled by this rule.

In the Exploitation phase, only certain units (German motorized units, British units and certain French units stacked with a leader) may move and/or attack again.

Despite all the combat and destruction that takes place, the game is ultimately decided politically through a system of Political Points. Points are awarded for achieving certain goals (for example, the Allies gain 2 points for each turn, after the second turn, that Paris remains in Allied control) as well as for destroying units. The Allies earn positive points while the Germans earn negative points. After turn seven, the Allies win if the points are 0 or greater and the Germans win if the points are -20 or lower. The victory system stems from the fact that the only chance France has in this war is to try and persuade other countries to join the cause against German oppression.

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