Thursday, October 9, 2008

Port Arthur review

Highly scripted, even by wargame standards, the Command Magazine game Port Arthur, when played correctly by the rules, will follow the historical course of events very closely. There will be an initial skirmish along the border, a brief stand at Liao Yang, a long and bloody siege at Port Arthur and a final, climactic battle on turn 9 or 10 at Mukden.

With only 10 pages of rules and fairly standard hex-and-counter wargame mechanics, this game seems nonetheless to have confused a lot of players with the unusual strategic movement rules.

Essentially, after every set of regular player moves there is a special strategic movement segment that allows unlimited movement across the map so long as units do not pass adjacent to enemy units. Players who fail to understand the implications of this rule and do not set up their forces accordingly are in for a disaster shortly. The sequence of play makes the Russians most vulnerable to this, as the Japanese strategic movement comes right after the regular Russian movement phase. Russian players have to be sure to use their movement phase to protect themselves from being surrounded or outflanked. The Japanese, on the other hand, can use their strategic movement to make sure their own army is safe from Russian mischief.

The overall effect is to keep the initiative firmly in Japanese hands and induce a suitably historic sense of caution in the Russians.

The game cannot be won on the first turn by either side. (The strategic movement rules don't kick in until the second turn, so both sides will have two regular movement and combat phases before the first strategic movement occurs.)

Each hex represents five miles and each turn is a month, except for the wintertime when it's two months per turn.

Units are generally divisions for both sides. Japanese divisions have four steps and Russians have two steps.

The combat system is the familiar odd-based numeric result style common in Command games where results list losses in steps and defenders can mitigate the losses partially with retreats.

Japanese units are white on red, while Russians are yellow on green, on the larger 5/8-inch counters common in Command issue games during this era.

There are 101 counters, with most representing units.

The game will only take about 10 minutes to set up and can easily be played in one sitting.


(Conditional Yes) for Wargamers: There's little scope for innovative strategies. Any attempt to deviate from the script is an invitation for swift defeat. On the other hand, the game is a tight contest that will usually be decided on the last turn.

(No) for Collectors: Nothing special.

(No) for Eurogamers: In addition to all the usual drawbacks of hex-and-counter wargames from their point of view, Port Arthur is highly scripted AND unforgiving of error.

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