Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lion of Ethiopia

Lion of Ethiopia is a classic-style hex-and-counter wargame depicting the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935-36 that demonstrated the impotence of the League of Nations. The game was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 4 in 1990.

The campaign scenario runs from October 1935 to May 1936 in turns representing about 10 days. Each hex is 12 miles across, allowing the entire country of Ethiopia and substantial parts of neighboring territories to be shown. Units are divisions and regiments for the Italians and similar-sized groups of tribal warriors for the Ethiopians. The Italians have two army headquarters and several corps headquarters. The Ethiopians have army leaders for the larger, multi-counter tribal armies.

The 12-page rule book describes a game of low complexity by wargames standards. The map is attractive and functional, the first of many by Mark Simonitch over the next few years for Command. It's dominated by the large mountainous plateau that comprises heartland of Ethiopia. The 200 counters are generally in the traditional combat factor-movement factor layout. All the counters are cleanly laid out and easy to read with set-up instructions printed on the back. Ethiopian units are white with black print, except for a color-coded icon in the center. The icons depict either a leader in tribal garb or a round shield for the tribal levies. A handful of European-style guard units use NATO-style unit symbols. Emperor Haile Selassie also has a counter with his Lion of Ethiopia flag. The Italian counters are also a colorful lot, with light blue air units, khaki colonials, gray metropolitan troops and black fascist blackshirts.

The game turn uses a straightforward IGO-HUGO movement phase and combat phase. The Italians also have an airstrike phase. Ground combat is odds-based with eliminations, retreats "contact" and "engaged" results. "Contact" is essentially a "no effect" result. Rarely seen in wargames since the 1960s, the "engaged" locks the defenders and attackers in a continuing combat that is resolved the following turn. Ground units exert zones of control into adjacent hexes that force enemy units to stop their movement for the turn.

The effectiveness of Italian bomber strikes depend on the number of bomber units, the target terrain and some other factors, including poison gas.

The game revolves around the conquest of Ethiopia by capturing the capital and three out of four major regional cities. The Ethiopians can win by avoiding conquest or by capturing either of the two Italian bases or destroying both Italian army-level headquarters.

The game is really two games in one, and makes a reasonable three-player game. A large, powerful, albeit brittle, Italian army invades from Eritrea in the North while a smaller, but much more mobile, second army drive across the Somali desert from Mogadishu. The Ethiopian player delays and looks for opportunities to counterattack with his expendable tribal levies. He has a one-time bonus the first time he commits his European-style guard troops to combat, so the timing of this counterstroke is important. Because the combat system is whole unit elimination the Italian player is vulnerable to sudden disaster if he allows his units to be caught at a disadvantage or if he attacks carelessly. Meanwhile the Africans have to suffer from air strikes that they have no counter to.

The game is easily playable in one sitting and only takes about a quarter hour to set up. There is just one scenario.

The entire effect of the system and length is a game that is very reminiscent of classic Avalon Hill titles of the 1960s like Afrika Korps, Battle of the Bulge and Stalingrad.

For players desiring a little more intricacy there were "Tournament Rules" and counters in Command No. 7.

For players who just HAVE to have panzers, there was one of Ty Bomba's Victorious Axis "Alternative History" supplements in Command No. 6. Called "Tiger of Ethiopia" the supplement includes counters and rules for a 1948 Japanese invasion of Ethiopia against Italian and German defenders.


(Yes) For Wargamers: An unusual topic covered by a playable yet strategically interesting game.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: Like most traditional hex-and-counter wargames the game play is somewhat intricate and detailed, although less than most.

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