Sunday, November 9, 2008

When Eagles Fight review

When Eagles Fight is a detailed hex-and-counter wargame. It covers the Eastern Front campaign of World War I, from August 1914 to early 1917, when the Russian Revolution ended active operations. It appeared Command Magazine issue No. 25 in 1993.

Like most Command Magazine issue games When Eagles Fight doesn’t try to break any new ground in design technique. Instead it hangs various special rules on a framework of tried and true standard wargame mechanics to simulate its topic. It’s a testimony to how robust those standard wargame mechanics are that this works so often.

Physically, the game is well presented, with a Mark Simonitch map and the 5/8-inch counters Command often used during this era. The Germans are the always-crowd-pleasing white print on black counter look often used by Command. Their Austro Hungarian allies are white print on grey. The Russians are yellow on green, which XTR often used for pre-Soviet era Russian troops. A single Rumanian Army counter is black on yellow.

The values on the counters are the usual combat-defense-movement layout, with NATO-style unit symbols for type and size. Most units on both sides are corps.

The game scale is one or two months per turn and 25 miles per hex.The basic sequence is IGO-HUGO, with a special strategic movement phase before the regular player turns. Combat is odds-based with numeric results that can be taken as step losses or retreats. The game designer is Ted Raicer, who has made a specialty of designing World War I games.Various special rules account for events such as the Czar taking command of the army, ammunition shortages and the like.

The Germans win by bringing on the Russian Revolution, their main lever being capturing Russian cities. The exact trigger for the revolution is unknown to both sides. During periodic victory check the German player rolls a die and adds the number of captured cities. If it equals or exceeds the number listed on the turn record then the Revolution starts and the Central Powers win. Sudden death victory is also available should either side capture an enemy capital. The Russian can also win by capturing territory in Germany or Austro-Hungary. Finally, if the Central Powers haven’t caused the Revolution by April 1917, the historical date, then the Russians win.

The game captures the see-saw nature of the fighting. With neither side able to achieve the troop densities of the Western Front, the front never became static. But lacking the Panzers of the next war, neither side has the maneuverability or concentrated strength for decisive victories, either.

Set up time is about 15 minutes with sorted counters and the entire 24-turn campaign is playable in an evening.

Command No. 26 contained rules and counters for a two-turn variant called Schlieffen East, which assumes the Germans decide to try to knock Russia out of the war first. This quick game gives the Germans just two turns to capture as many cities as possible. There are six Russian cities within reach. The two in Russian Poland are exposed and likely to fall, giving the Germans a 1/6 chance of winning. If they capture all six, which means driving as far as Riga and Minsk, winning is certain. This scenario should take no more than an hour to play.


(Yes) For Wargamers: A satisfying game that allows both players to attack and defend.

(No) For Collectors

(No) For Euro gamers: As with most hard-core hex-and-counter wargames the elegance of the game play is compromised by accounting for the messiness of simulating actual events. There is a lot of detail and some of it involves extensive rules for uncommon events with little game effect such as having three A-H corps banned from moving on Turn 1.

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