Thursday, August 28, 2008

Game Review -- Chaco

Two ill-equipped, poorly-supplied, barely trained Third-World armies scrapping over a wasteland few have ever heard of using World War I tactics.

It doesn’t sound like a very promising topic for a “top 10” placement on the geek list. No surprise, it isn't. Chaco is a hard-core hex-and-counter wargame about this little-known, if very bloody, interwar conflict in South America between Bolivia and Paraguay. It was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 12 in 1991.

Covering the entire war from September 1932 to June 1935 in monthly turns and 15 kilometer hexes, the two armies use units of roughly battalion size to fight over the Gran Chaco desert. The game uses fairly conventional hex-and-counter wargame mechanics, for example the units use NATO-style unit symbols and have the usual attack factor-defense factor-movement allowance numerical layout across the bottom. The Bolivian units are olive green with blue inside the unit boxes. The army of Paraguay is shown in light brown, with green inside the unit symbols. The 16-page rulebook describes a moderate to high complexity game by wargame standards.

Playing time for the entire campaign is lengthy, probably taking more than one sitting, although there are several shorter scenarios covering portions of the war.

The turn sequence is interactive with the non-phasing player having a reaction movement and combat capability during the phasing player’s turn. There are extensive supply rules, rules for fortifications and command control. With just a handful of trucks, tanks and planes available, neither side has much capability for mobile warfare, especially given limited supply. Water is critical and most of the fighting will revolve around one of the few well sites on the map.

Combat is odd-based, but losses are taken as percentages of the troops engaged, requiring some calculation.

The victory conditions are based on victory points for territory captured, eliminated units and a few other game events. Generally speaking the Bolivians will tend to have the advantage of numbers and somewhat better equipment (they have a few tanks and more planes) while the Paraguayans have superior leadership.

The game only takes about 15 minutes to set up as neither side begins with many units on the map.

The entire effect is a game that will only appeal to the most grognard of grognard wargamers. The kind of player who enjoys detailed mechanics simulating in considerable detail the ins and outs of a historical campaign. Most other players will probably find the game tedious and will have a hard time caring too much about the topic. Unlike many Command Magazine games, this system did not inspire any similar designs and the game was never all that popular with the readership.

Recommendations(Conditional No) For Wargamers: As noted before, this is a game for real aficionados who are really into the history behind a simulation and not too concerned about sizzle or competitiveness.

(No) For Collectors: No special value as a collectible.

(No) For Euro gamers: Absolutely not.For more reviews check out my game blog at

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