The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘No retreat

On the new games front —


I haven’t been actively avoiding new games, but I haven’t been jumping into them either. I’ve been revisiting old games. I suppose I should try Seasons, at least.

  • I got a copy of expansion #2 to Smarty Party, which I didn’t know existed. It’s still infuriating.
  • I (finally) printed out the 2nd edition rules for No Retreat! I need to get that back to the table. This is one of the few games I’m planning on bringing to the Gathering to play. I was inspired by the latest P500 geeklist, which had a number of interesting sounding games. I preordered four (including the new No Retreat! for North Africa, which should be out in a 3-4 months).  I may wake up and undo the other three, as they are all long games.
  • Best Who Would Win Debate I’ve ever heard — Conan vs Darth Vader at Science Fair. Not a great game, but amusing.
  • Now that Isotropic is dead, played a few games of Dominion (Dark Ages) face to face. Still good.
  • Also played a few games of Ticket to Ride (1910), Wiz War, Alhambra and a few older games got a play as well over the last month.
  • Coup is still the go-to filler de jour. I’ll probably have fifty plays within 48 hours. Netrunner broke 150 plays recently.

(FYI — My P500s — No Retreat! The North African Front, Churchill, Unconditional Surrender and The Supreme Commander).

Written by taogaming

April 7, 2013 at 9:41 am

No Retreat! Review

I’ve discussed and obsessed over No Retreat for around a month now; it deserves a review.

I want to recommend No Retreat unreservedly. I should be able to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thinking about it, playing it, teaching it. I can teach enough rules to get a new player crossing the Russian frontier in 15 minutes (while I set up the game) and finishing the game (assuming no dawdling) in an hour or two. When a campaign game had to be split into two sections, it only took a few minutes to write down the position. (It would have taken half that If I’d had a sheet that listed units by front and back. So I made one up).

The system of Counterattacks and Counterblows is confusing at first; but it allows for complex possibilities in a simple system. The attacker could retreat, even though that option doesn’t appear directly on the CRT. It handles minutiae cleanly. You may have a great 3:1 attack, but your opponent makes a diversionary attack from a nearby unit, and now you have a 3:2 attack and a 1:1 attack. That 1:1 may result in a counterattack, and suddenly you are retreating on your turn and that Russian infantry advances and sneaks behind your lines, cutting supply. This transforms a simple Igo-Ugo into a (potentially) fluid situation. Not often, but sometimes.

The card deck isn’t monstrous, but it provides organic flexibility. Sometimes units sneak an extra MP of movement (often during your turn!). Sometimes your perfect 3:1 attack becomes a 3:2, or just a counterattack! A fortress, which normally takes 2 attacks to fall, could be shelled by siege artillery and collapse quickly. Hitler and Stalin meddle and order attacks or divert your resources. It’s a great little experience, with lots that could potentially happen.

But after 20 hours of playing and 5+ more hours of soloing and compiling a FAQ, I’m still discovering  a missed rule or wondering about a card ‘s interpretation. Perhaps that says more about me than the game, but I consider myself good with rules. (Wargames have tougher rules than Euros, to be sure; but having 55 cards means that the rules aren’t really just 24 pages, they have all the additional “But what if you play card X in this situation?”).

For the most part, we take a stab and played on. After each game, we send out an email saying “This is what we got wrong.”  I think I finally (finally!) have the first 11 turns worth of Rules down pretty well, and most of the next 12 turns.  The 1945 rules and cards clutch their fair share of surprises tightly to their chest.

It’s fair to say that the rules need work.

My other complaint is that the variance is too high. Getting a mitt full of ‘useless’ cards can be terrible. (Technically all cards can be discarded for rail movement, organization, counterblows and replacements, but sometimes those aren’t really options). Germany could start with 6 useless cards, or they could start with extra movement, battle cards, cards to cancel a Soviet card (“Stalin”), cards to pick up a good card to use again on the next turn. One card effectively discards itself without replacement … and makes you reshuffle before your next card. I’ve gotten it twice in one turn, so instead of getting 4 cards, I got 2. Over a campaign, you’ll have amazing turns, terrible turns and one or two “I don’t believe it turns.” Hopefully they balance, but it’s entirely possible that a game could end on a sudden run of terrible luck where you draw a card that randomly flips the weather, then get a useless hand short a card or two while your opponent plays cards to give him an extra hand’s worth.

I’ve had games end on turn 3 (out of 23!) when that happens. No big deal. But if I’d been playing for 4 hours and then it happened on turn 16? I’d be miffed, I think. And I love No Retreat. If you only roll a few combats a turn (and you can’t have more than 10, even 7 would be extreme) then a few unlucky rolls can seriously put you behind schedule, and that  compounds. Worse would be a situation where your position collapses and you have hours left. If that bothers you, make sure your opponent agrees that concession is OK.

I also have nits. The short scenarios, being short, are more susceptible to variance. Lose 3 cards (or have your opponent luck into 3 extra) over a game, eh. During a 4 turn scenario? Ugh. Additionally, Barbarossa seems to hinge on the first two turns of German luck. Either they get lucky and win going away or have no hope.  That scenario could be decided half way into the game. I think I’ll save it for a teaching tool (or the start of a campaign). I suspect Fall Blau could be tweaked to be a turn longer (or slightly more fluid at the start), but it’s fine. I need to try the other scenarios. I think that the general ’44 victory conditions should allow for an Soviet victory if they greatly exceed the Axis high tide (like the tournament game has). But, as I said, these are nits.

Look, I love No Retreat! I played a campaign game for 5 hours Sunday, then taught a player (via Barbarossa) then played Fall Blau tonight. I’ll play it again this weekend, given a chance. I think there’s a cyberboard module; I’d play by email.

Do I recommend it? To grognards with a high tolerance for variance, yes. If you want to plan things out to the nth degree, you need to stay away from this.  If you need to know how every rules works at the time, and how every card works, you’ll need a good wifi connection and a search engine … (there are 230 odd posts on rules questions as I speak).

I expect that in a month or two this will move from an obsession to “a game I like to play and will suggest.” That’s just how these things go. That’s a better fate than befell Twilight Struggle, whose interesting idea didn’t survive repeated plays (even though it’s rules work fine). No Retreat! goes into the “Glorious Mess” category, along with Here I Stand. Unlike HiS, I don’t (yet) need a year off between plays to work up the enthusiasm to try it again.

My feeling — Enthusiastic. (I upped my BGG rating to 9 after I broke the 20 hour mark).

Written by taogaming

December 13, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

No Retreat Followup

I’ve now played another game of No Retreat (as well as several sessions of just pushing chits around, which I find enjoyable. I don’t think too hard and just discover possibilities. I’m keeping my rating at ‘8’ (which reminds me, I have a discussion about ratings. A benign rant, perhaps. But some other day), and I’ve played “Fall Blau,” but there are some things that I must admit (although I stand by my initial thoughts:

  1. The rules are novel enough that I can’t keep them all in my head. Sadly, neither can my opponent. We are continuing to miss easy stuff (like when you detrain, tonight) for some reason. I blame  everyone but myself. Still, I’ve read the rules multiple times, spent 5+ hours solitaire, read many forums, and I still get things wrong. Maybe I’m just getting old or out of my comfort zone, but there’s just something about these rules that stymie my attempts to understand them.
  2. That being said, the rules (and cards) are vague on some key points. I think part of that is just the fact that the designer isn’t a native speaker and the wording just doesn’t always flow like I’d expect (I asked a question about one example), there are also a few weird wordings on cards (like a card that refers to a ‘phase’ that exists in the sequence of play as a ‘step’… does it just refer to the step, or the phase the step is in?).  I think if I just picked out a card at random I could likely come up with a scenario where I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Scanning the rules forums lets me discover answers that surprise me. Not a good sign. Still, if you handwave and make reasonable guesses things seems to work.
  3. My big fear is the worry that No Retreat is a card game that happens to have a board, and not vice versa.

Let me explain. We played Fall Blau. The Germans start with 7 cards to the Soviet 2.  The Germans got a card that drew more cards. Then I played my cancel card, which the germans re-cancelled (which gave him an extra card, to boot). He then used another card to retake the cancelling card.  Now, each side has a cancelling card, but when one side has a huge card advantage … if I cancel one German card, he still has 5 left. If he cancels mine, I have one left. You can also draw dead cards (although as cards are also spent for replacement troops, counterblows, faster organization and additional rail movements that isn’t horrible). But the Russians often need to spend 2-3 cards a turn just on troops (in the early scenarios), so having your final card or two cancelled feels crushing.

Also, some random card draws switch the weather. Some random card draws just cost you a card.  Really, for a ~40 card deck (55 cards actually, but you remove some for early war, remove others for late war)., there’s a lot of variability. A bit too much. Like random “Oops, one less card for you and 2 extra for him” and other cards that do little to nothing. I just wish they were a bit tighter. And if I get only 1-2 card plays a turn (for a 3-4 turn scenario), I’d like them to be cancelled by clever play, not by a counterspell.

To be fair, after all my bitter card luck, I won, but I had a turn with three amazingly lucky combats (including a 1/6 shot to save an Out of Supply tank unit). So I’m not willing to say that it’s all the cards. But I’m worried the card’s vary too wildly.

Fall Blau (as Chris said) is much more interesting scenario than Barbarossa. We had a very confusing center (including one turn where the units effectively broke past each other, cutting both players supply), some sharp thrusts and counters in both sides.  Now I have to play past turn 10, where the initiative changes…

Written by taogaming

November 22, 2011 at 2:03 am

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with ,

No Retreat first play

Played a game of Barbarossa … it was pretty slow going, because we were going over rules and still looking things up. (In fact, despite both having read the rules recently, we still glossed over the ‘No Infiltration’ rule. I somehow that that friendly units totally negated EZOCs, but they only negate it for retreating and supply. Oops). Anyway, the Germans did the usual damage on T1G, but then advanced on T1R. This meant by Turn 2 they were threatening to outrun their supply (and came perilously close). In fact, an attack on the forest SW of Tula was required to handle a tricky supply, and the Germans needed to advance into the square to negate the EZOC of the adjacent units. I played a card to switch all retreats into exchanges, which cost the Germans several steps and a card (to force a reroll to keep supply). The Russians got another advance on T3R, I think and took Moscow and Leningrad on T4G.  Moscow only fell because of the siege artillery the Germans had been hording since the game started.

At this point I violated the no infiltration rule and we woke up, but allowed it to see if the Russians could retake Moscow. I got several good cards (including playing Confusing Hitler Orders to cancel a forced discard and replace itself), but the Germans had several cards that doubled a unit on defense, and I couldn’t retake moscow.

A bit long, but the first real game for both players. Looking forward to playing this more.

Written by taogaming

November 15, 2011 at 12:16 am

Posted in Session Reports

Tagged with

No Retreat!

After stinking for two days at bridge, I decided to unwind by setting up No Retreat and pushing chits around for Barbarossa. I got a few details wrong here and there (in particular, I think the Panzers slightly outran their supply chain on T3 and I didn’t notice until later), and there are a fair number of rules and novel systems, but overall this really does stand out as a low density, high fog of war (via card events) game. The Axis, aided by the supply genie and amazingly nice weather (drawing 3 weather events to negate the first winter) managed to take Moscow and Sevastopol (and almost take the oil fields on the Caucasus for good measure). Having to pay cards to rebuild destroyed troops fits thematically, and means that you’ll have tension between cards-as-events and cards-as-troops. And there’s enough variety in the deck (even in the abbreviated game I saw) to provide plenty of uncertainty about your opponents abilities. A tense little game of maneuver, that I hope to get to the table soon.

Written by taogaming

November 12, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with