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SPI Games: Mini-Reviews from Consim-L

- Compiled by Danny D. Holte


Am - Az



American Civil War, The
James F. Dunnigan

"The system is very outdated, and there is little chrome. But for its time it had a number of interesting concepts like splitting the mississippi, leader promotion, rail lines. It doesnt stand the test of time, and I never liked the old SPI command control system where you rolled a die and consulted a table, and if the force was in a hex with the same last number it didnt move for a season." BE

"This was my first issue game, unwrapped on my way to school, to the great disappointment of my classmates, who were hoping for better things from a Plain Brown Envelope. I mounted the mapboard and covered it with plastic film. It's a pretty good game, with some obvious problems like the hex row based initiative system that could easily be fixed. I never worked out how to make taking New Orleans look as easy as Farrugut did." PC

"Geez, I thought I had seen/played a lot of games - but this is the only one I've ever played out of that list. I've only played solitare, but I always liked it. As a Union player, the leadership rules can really drive you nuts (with those giant stacks stuck on washington), but they certainly help make the game seem more realistic. The only problem I ever had was play-balance (although it's somewhat tough to judge when you never have an opponant). It seemed that even with the command restrictions, a determined Union couldn't lose - it was just a matter of time. Of course, historically, a determined Union commander couldn't lose, so maybe the victory conditions just need tweeking." JB

"Wierd command control rules, but they work. I recently played this and surprisingly had a lot of fun. Better than I originally thought." RM


American Revolution
James F. Dunnigan

"For an early SPI game, I remember this had more colour than most, nice reds and blues. Alas, a buddy and I sat down with it one evening and played it several times through and found that there was a fool proof way for the Brits to win. I think it had to do with systematically activating the militias in the States and destroying them before they could unite. All in all, a bit of a dud." JCM

"This game is a sleeper. While it is not a game that you bust the door down to get, when I've played an opponent (vs solo), the situation the gamers are in (Rebels are quick in running home when the snow hits and the Queens own are unreliable in movement.) While the British Army has a proponderance of strength, they may not move when desired and have to garrison so much land. The Americans are few, quick and slide away each winter. When both players are moaning that they need reinforcements, life is interesting." SF

"Didn't care for the British being unable to move due to the artificial "idiocy factor." Enjoyed AH's rival 1776 far more." GG

"Area movement game that doesn't work as well as it should. I've kept it since the AWI is one of my favorite periods. I wouldn't have kept it if it was from a period I wasn't interested in." RM


A Mighty Fortress
Rudolph W. Heinze

"Some good ideas (theological debate!) struggling to make a game that just doesn't work. Uneven components: great player aid cards, complete with pix of the ruler(s) represented (in 1977, even!), but a so-so map and counters). You don't often see many games about this period or dealing with religion, so it's got a cult following even though it's really a dud." DT

"I must have played this 30+ times, most recently about 2-3 years ago where as the Emperor I managed to lose Vienna(!) The subject matter (Europe in the Reformation) is one of my favourite topics. I much prefer this to Empires of the Middle Ages (another multi-player, in Europe, but a longer time span), which can be incredibly boring." KB

"The subject is facinating, but the game is overly simplistic, and deliberately designed that way. I rate it fair, but I like the variable VP charts where no one knows for sure what you need." BE

"Played this x2 and had an excellent time as the Papal interest whose sole weapon is Diplomacy in the first half of the game. Unfortunately did not finish as had to leave for a wedding reception (affairs of state). Made our most militarily aggressive player Turkey but he still came to grief. Main drawback is the extended playing time." SO

"I'm one of the AMF freaks Dave Townsend mentioned. Love this game. We had a great time in college fitting the personalities to the countries. Our overly aggressive hack-and-slash player got the Ottomans, the pious Catholic the Pope, the nonconformist Henry VIII, etc. I always ended up with the Hapsburgs, which was an extreme challenge, but loads of fun. The secret victory sets are great, as is the Theological Debating. My only regrets are that no one else liked the game quite as much as I. Never actually finished a game and have only been able to round up a group once since college. Still I paid $60+ for a copy a few years back and have never regretted it. Maybe someone will come up with a good PBEM format for it. If so, count me in" EB

"Enjoyed it, because I like the time period. Didn't care for the entire England/Henry VIII problem, but most of the rest of the game worked well. Hard to find an all-day quorum, however." GG

"While I thought this an odd game, if you had a half dozen gamers that were ready to role play and give it a try, it could be fun. To the game's credit, we had non-wargamers playing this. We all enjoyed the process, but were a little disappointed with the final result (I think the Ottoman Empire won by not doing much!)" JM


Antietam (Blue & Gray Quad)
Thomas Walczyk

"Probably played this as much as any game I've ever played and I still use it to introduce new gamers to board wargaming. Not extremely historically accurate but still a fun game that gives historical results (surprisingly). It is also to give newbies the concepts of ZOC, CRT, odds, etc. Classic, especially as part of the whole quad." LC

"This was fun, along with Chickamauga, and Chattanooga one of the better ones. Not overly realistic, even at the grand tactical level." BE

"Playing a battle with a force that should have won but are ineffectively lead does not make a good game for me. To get the right feel, the players would have to be ignorant of the enmey's strength." SF

"Simple, yes. Also artificial. But it is a good introductory game for novices and can be played in a little while, in fact just played it Sunday." EB

"Never quite attracted me. Something like 15 US units in the first turn, then 10 thereafter being able to move. Might produce historical results, but that's it. Interesting side note: the developers of the SPI/TSR game A Gleam of Bayonets claimed that they used it to test the activation system found in that game. Maybe something to try. I'll go for the Gamers' In Their Quit Fields II now, but that is another scale of complexity." NVD

"Fun game. It is a good game for when you have a short playing time or you are introducing someone to the hobby. Not much simulation here, but that's not why you play this one." RM

"The B&G Quad is a must for a quick, easy ACW play. Chickamauga is the best of the four, but Antietam works pretty well. Decision's remake has some very nice maps and adds some new twists." DH


Ardennes Offensive
James F. Dunnigan

"This was a little favorite of mine. The game emphasis was on the horrendous traffic jams, with Germans desperately trying to capture bridges, and find clear roads to push along. The combat was a simple and fairly bloodless - Eliminations and Exchanges only at very high odds - which meant a lot of pushing Allies around to keep their interdictive powers far from crucial bridges and to get them off the roads. It also meant that Town hexes (which negated Retreat results) became vital for the allies as they also usually straddled vital road junctions.
On the whole the units were regiment level, with some of the German Infantry at division level. The game cried out for a more effective command control rule to force the various armies to keep some sembelence of organisation, but that is a minor quibble. The supply/isolation rules were simple and effective. All in all a very neat game, which I thoroughly enjoyed, even if the Germans chance at winning was highly unlikely." BC

"Fun to play and warfare should be so easy to perform. Rotten for historical value but easy to teach." SF

"I'm surprised to read that several people enjoyed it. I didn't, but looking back that may be due to the circumstances:
1) AO was the first game I ordered from SPI.
2) The game purchased immediately prior to AO was AH's
The Battle of the Bulge (first edition).
The contrast between BotB and AO may have been too much of a shock. In the former, historical accuracy was low but gameplay was dynamic (in my games, at least, the Germans always broke through and raced for the Meuse). In the latter, historical accuracy was high but the front lines seemed to congeal too rapidly, so gameplay was reduced to a hex-by-hex pushing match. Since AO (along with RedStar/White Star) was my first SPI acquisition, my expectations hadn't been properly shaped yet -- namely that SPI was prone to give you a history lesson whether you liked it or not." DSB

"I played this game very little. It has some interesting rules on locking ZOCs and bridge interdiction. I found it difficult to reproduce the mobility of the initial German attack, but I'm not ruling out that it was just my inexperience." DAV

"Liked this when it came out. Played it about two years ago and must say it hasn't aged well." RM


Arena of Death
David James Ritchie

"This was a spinoff of SPI's DragonQuest RPG. It is just the combat system, in a gladiator-stye battle. You choose your weapons and have at it. The first time I played it was on election night 1980. A friend and played on the same side as two adventurers against a pack of jackals. As a confirmed Democrat, it seemed appropriate. The game is a fun diversion, with plenty of options and color. The system actually works better as a stand-alone game than as part of the RPG. In our later campaign, our group drastically simplified the combat system because it slowed down the game so much every time we had to deal with a few orcs." DAV

"Arena of Death (AoD) was the melee combat system taken from the first edition of SPI's interesting-but-not-extremely-successful attempt at a fantasy role-playing game, DragonQuest. The combat system was fine as a stand-alone game on hack-n-slay combat (as long as you didn't take it too seriously and weren't expecting a detailed simulation of ancient or medieval combat) but too cumbersome to use in an RPG setting, so the entire combat system was replaced in the second edition of DragonQuest.
AoD was a good fun diversion. It had a few small fantasy elements and felt "about right" for portraying melees using sharp things, so it was good for grabbing the attention of kids and fantasy gamers while not driving away gamers with more historical tastes. There were a lot of these "throw some characters into a gladiatorial arena and have them hack it out" games around the late 1970's and early 1980's (e.g. Metagaming's Melee, Bearhug's Men-At-Arms series) and AoD does a pretty good job of balancing playability, simulation, and detail. It was more detailed than Metagaming's Melee, albeit less suited for use as an RPG's combat system. It did suffer from the "how many different types of polearm can we list" syndrome that most of these games had, but it didn't fall for the "we gotta have 6 pages of charts for each of the 362 different sword types" approach that ICE took with the Arms Law series.
AoD, and its parent RPG DragonQuest, were *definitely* written by wargamers though. The unmistakable SPI rules writing style permeated the entire game. That was good in that it made the whole thing easier to digest for gamers familiar with SPI's historical games, but I always wondered how many non-wargaming role-players were driven away by, what must have been for them anyway, SPI's very non-role-playing-game-style rules format." DLF


Armada (2nd edition)
Sterling S. Hart

"Hart (who has unfortunately passed away) was the designer of the first edition. The second edition was "fixed" and IMHO substantially improved by I believe Greg Costiykan. I am a strong advocate of this game, finding it one of the S&T games I return to again and again and is also playable solitaire... It covers several years in the titanic conflict between Phillip 2 of Spain and Elizabeth 1 that saw the raising of the Armada... The map covers Spain, a fractured France, the Low Countries, the Channel and southern England...each side has a large number of strategic options to pursue: will you as Philip build an Armada and sail against Eng; will you go after the Dutch rebels; will you try to gain control of France or some combination of these strategies? Depending on the aggresiveness and initiative of the players, the English strategy can be more of a response to the Spanish: will you go after the building Armada in northern Spain, stand on the defensive or pour resources and support into the Dutch revolt or try your hand at stirring up France. The English can go after Spanish treasure fleets; the Spanish can fire up rebels in Ireland, Scotland or England itself. Philip can build his Armada only to see it crippled by poor weather or a raid by Drake... There is a relatively simple interface between players that supports this chrome, including an economic system that makes players plan ahead to build and activate fleets of some size or mobilize or demob. their troops...a real balancing act for both sides. I can't say enough about this game as redesigned. Eminently replayable..." DM

"As Mr. Murphy pointed out, a gem suffering because of the first edition. The second edition is fun with a lot of options. Unfortunately long. I'd like to play it some more." GG

"I really liked this. Obviously the 1st edition was one of SPI's all time dogs, but the 2nd was quite playable. Great subject matter." KB


Armageddon
Stephen Patrick, John Young

"The symbols were neat at the time, but this system is REALLY out dated.
WHat I liked about the game a zillion years ago (zillion = > 20) is one could set up in formations right out of a history book (i.e. cavalry on the flanks, light infantry, then heavy infantry, with special units (archers, chariots) here and there.
The reason it's out dated is the command control system is completely out dated. SPQR and the Great Battles of History series is more complex, but also more realistic. The greatest failing of most games, and especially ancients is the players have much too much control of their formations and individual units. It could be improved by using a C&C system similar to that from Crossbows & Cannon 2." BE

"Was it Brandon Einhorn who stated that the symbols were neat for their time but the system is badly outdated now? I'd like to hear more on both issues. As I've stated before on this list, the prestags symbols, and the pre-prestags symbols (of which this is one) were not really icons, and they sure weren't "nato" or anything like it. Once you get used to the Egyptian, hieroglyphic-like nature of the depictions on the counters, and the logic used to create them, this game starts to look ok. Really, I like the "conical helmet" symbol for the leaders in this game much better than I like the "flag" symbol for the leaders in the prestags games. But your mileage could be different than mine. I could readily believe the system is outdated, but Brandon I'd like to know what makes you say this. Is the system outdated because we realize now that it's a poor model of ancient warfare? Or is there some other reason? SPI frequently got it wrong, sometimes way wrong, during the early 70s (try playing Grenadier for a truly looney-tunes look at Napoleonic warfare--but we'll get to that later if we twist Danny's arm enough to keep going with this.) Anyway, I liked the game." JB

"I just got a copy of Armageddon (thanks Danny), it's neat looking at one of these SPI time capsules, to see what the "Golden Age" looked like.
Armaggeddon has 2 grades of civilian leaders and 4 grades of military leaders. Civilian leaders have command span but no combat modifier. As leaders take hits they are reduced in grade. Lower grades have a lesser command span and combat modifier. I guess this represents the loss of "officers" to motivate the troops, units out of command span move at 1/2 speed. The leaders going down in grade also give some morale/fatigue effects.
Other neat bits I don't remember being in Prestags are a version of the "Clash of Spears" chart in GBoH and seperate flank defense ratings on the units, more nuanced than a fixed modifer for flank attacks." SG


Army Group South Quadrigame
(Kiev, Korsun, Operation Star, Rostov)

"Kiev and Rostov are the best. This system was ok, but had a stupid quirk in the stacking rules that a 3 regiment panzer division = 3 units which is the max that you could stack, vs 3 infantry divisions." BE

"While a nice idea, and I have to admit I'm fond of these games, I also have to concur with a friend who recently voiced his disappointment with this set. The games are, generally, boring, and they do very little with the Panzergruppe Guderian system they adopted. Kiev is fun for the German and a nightmare of the Soviet (well, its historical!) Rostov is impossible for the German, Star is curiously unsatisfying, and Korsun is done much better else where." JCM

"One of my first wargames! Someone correctly noted that 3 infantry divisions stacked the same as one Panzer division, producing more powerful stacks. True, but this only happened in assault situations: not enough infantry to do it in more than one or two places, and they are slow. The direct attack on Kiev comes to mind. Otherwise a Panzer division with Divisional integrity reigned supreme. I remember Kiev as the most fun in the pack, but Korsun and Operation Star are quite decent. Rostov had a problem: between playtesting and production someone rotated the map, so 4 front-line Russian units set up in a nice reserve spot instead of being overrun on the first turn. Interesting puzzle for the Germans, this one." NVD

"I've only played Operation Star which wasn't too good, but the system plays well and at some point I'll try the rest." RM


Arnhem
Jay Nelson

"I dont know about the rest, but I find Arnhem to be quite a challenging little game. Though I have not found all the nuances yet, I find the German side to be at a disadvantage. It seems that the game is unbalanced in favor of the allies, though I may read it wrong. Of course I have only played it a couple of times, and when playing solitaire you always seem to make mistakes." JH

"Another of my favorite games and one I use to move a little in complexity beyond the Blue & Grey Quad. All things considered, a fun, fast, WWII battle game that has a little something for everyone including parachute drops, armored columns, desperate defenses, and the necessity of keeping to a schedule to relieve the Brits at Arnhem. If the random parachute drops are used it can also lead to nasty surprises for either side depending on luck in the die rolls." LC

"Really a strong puzzle-like aspect to this game--good use of the system. Historical? I don't know, maybe. But it played in a snap and had a high excitment factor (imo)--and right there, you're saying a lot about a game, any game. This could turn out to be the consensus gem of this set of games." JB

"Of all of the Quad games, this is the star! A fun little exercise on an interesting battle that works as a game. While you might not want to play it twice in one sitting, I find it one of the few SPI games I frequently return to when I'm looking for a quick fix (it doesn't hurt that my buddy is an Arnhem nut!)" JCM

"You can never say enough about Quad games. Easy and quick to play but not a teacher of history. When my first quad (Modern Battles) was received by direct mail from SPI my amazment of the colorful maps was so great I took pictures of each one to send to my friend." SF

"The Game Gem of the lot. I bought it at about the same time as AGS. The only problem is the roadblock at Arnhem Bridge: if Frost goes in the first turn (a 1/6 chance), the Germans can fortify enough of the area around Nijmegen to win. A friend had a variation where one needed two hits for this unit, and a 1/3 chance to get a hit per turn. The victory conditions only require the Allies to cross the Waal, not the Neder-Rijn as well. So forget about getting across at Arnhem, get the Nijmegen bridge, and you win. Rather disappointing simulation-wise. As a result, the free airborne set-up is a no win situation for the Germans. Just drop 1st Airborne between Arnhem and Nijmegen." NVD

"Great game. Quick to play, challenging to both sides and gives a nice broadstroke feel for the event. A keeper." RM


Art of Seige Quadrigame
( Acre, Lille, Sevastapol, Tyre)
Herman, Kosnett, Werden, Mosca

"Lille: a very interesting game of this siege, great graphics w/ the use of the Vauban maps. Some quirks to the rules (which house fixes could resolve). I considered it the best of the lot. (only saw/ read the rules and never played the others)" DM

"An interesting group of games. Actually, these were "Demi-Quads: (Would that be 4 demi-gods?) There were two different systems, each used by two games.
Lille and Sevastopol used a hexless system, whereby you had to build your own trenches and saps. It very much gave the feeling of conducting a siege and one of the few games (Lille) featuring Eugene of Savoy.
Acre and Tyre used a traditional system (hexes) but were non-traditional situation. Acre had the Crusaders beiseiging the city and they were themselves beseiged by the Saracens. Tyre featured a naval seige by Alex the Great.
They weren't bad as games either. Something different." RS

"Recently got this and have played 2 of them. Acre is an interesrting situation with the Crusaders beseiging Acre but also having to watch Saladins relief army on the outside. Unfortunatley, this cat ans mouse situation makes for poor solo gaming - can't wait to try it ftf. Large numbers of special units give lots of flavour to this one.
I've also tried Tyre which in the seige mechanics and land combat is similar to Acre. However, the naval side is stressed here as Alex tries to gain naval superiority to allow his ships to batter the walls and then land the Macedonian army. The time constraits mean that the mole (a causeway being contructed to the island of Tyre) cannot be relied upon to provide access for your army. Good package on a neglected part of warfare" SC

"Have played Acre, Lille, and Tyre. All good; quite realistic with some interesting situations. It's, IMO, harder to be the besieger; you gotta know what to do and how to do it." GG


Atlantic Wall
Joe Balkoski

"Well, I liked this game the couple of times I played in in 84/85... The problem we ran into was that the Germans could not stand and fight in the bocage, as the Allies could keep making 3-1 attacks (with their naval support) and push inland where they wanted to. The quick fix of shifting attacks to lower odds slowed the Allies down, but eliminated the chance of the Germans ever mounting a counter-attack...
So, we never revisited what looked like a great game "with a few flaws". What have others thought about this one? Is there some errata (other than the official stuff on Grognards) that addresses this issue?" JL

"Talk about monsters. IMHO, the definitive SPI invasion game. I waited in vain for the followup touted in S&T 89 to cover Cobra..." DM

"This game uses a modification of the Wacht am Rhein system. Armor units became a different entity and were near useless in the Bocage. I would disagree. The armor should still be important but easily killed by hidden gunners. My favorite part of AW was the beach invasion system and a system it was. The battalions were broken down to companies that assaulted the beach. Each hex was 1Km in size which still doesn't feel like much of a beach invasion but groups of men that were either hiding in the sand as much as possible or assaulting the Atlantic Wall like men. ASL and Panzerblitz are better games for a beach attack. It was just fun going through the motion solo. You know the good guys are going to win." SF

"I love the invasion part of this game where you get to blow gaps in the beached and make assaults against strongpoints. Once ashore, however, it's fairly tame as the Germans have no real offensive ability and the Allies will stomp them with air, naval and artillery even in the bocage. The Allies should send the British over the Orne bridges and fight the Germans in the clear terrain there. It gets interesting because the German can counterattack quite easily here but eventually Allied resources will overwhelm them. Why didn't Monty do it this way :) Still, a game I would likr to play again sometime." SC

"Still got this sucker! The invasion scenarios work wonderfully solo. The game was made with the best intentions, but the armoured support rules seem contrived, and a little tinkering can make for a more interesting or realistic campaign game. By the way, a big problem I've yet to solve is the ahistorical speed of victory the Allies demonstrate. Well, it keeps this monster short. Far to many neat but useless counters (ya gotta love em, though!)" JM


Austerlitz
John Young

"Played this 5 or 6 times. It wasn't bad for its time but you would have to staple me to the game board to get me to play it again." RM

"Sure it's simple. But fun for a group of four looking for something quick for an evening." GG


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