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Quartermaster General

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(Griggling Games Inc., 2 to 6 players, ages 13 and up, 90 minutes; $49.95)

quartermaster1For the longest time, there has been a disconnect between wargames and Euro strategy games. Whether the trauma of World War II was simply too much to allow Europeans to revisit such a destructive conflict or differing cultural influences are to account for this, I’ll leave to social historians. But the fact remains that the two schools of gaming rarely intersect. Until now. As designed by Ian Brody, up to six players functioning as two teams command the forces of the six major powers of World War II with the Axis (consisting of Germany, Italy and Japan) and the Allies (the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union) competing to dominate the world in Quartermaster General.

In Quartermaster General, each nation has its own deck of cards and the decks differ in make-up (to reflect the real life abilities of each nation) as well as number. (Germany and the United States have 40 cards in their decks, other powers less, with Italy the fewest at 30.) All powers also have a limited supply of armies and navies which will come into play on the board, this too, based on the historical abilities of the nations (for example, the UK has more ships than any other power).

The mounted board is a map of the world dotted by gold stars (indicating supply bases). There are also anchors at some key points to indicate “straits” which can be critical in naval movement. The edges of the board show tracks used to mark turns and count the Victory Points amassed by each side.

All powers start with one army in their home supply base, shuffle their respective decks and draw 10 cards. Then, three of those cards are discarded to form personal discard piles. With that starting hand of 7 cards, players are ready to direct the fortunes of their nations. Each nation’s deck is never intermingled and are exclusively the property of that particular power. Even so, Quartermaster General is a team game as players score VPs for their side (either Axis or Allies) and not for their individual nations.

Each round follows the same turn order: Germany, then the United Kingdom, then Japan, the Soviet Union, Italy and the United States completing the round. On a turn, a player must play ONE (and only one) card from his hand, check supply, collect VPs, discard (as many cards as desired) and draw (refilling the hand back to 7 cards in preparation for the next turn).

quartermaster2The 8 types of cards in the game power the action. Build Army and Build Navy cards allow you to place an army (or navy) into an area adjacent to a piece of yours already on the board. (Although friendly nations can both occupy a single space, no nation may have two or more of its pieces in a single area.) Land Battle and Sea Battle cards allow you to remove an enemy piece in an adjacent area. Event cards trigger a specific (and historical) action as detailed on the card. Once played, these cards go into your discard pile. But more twists and turns occur with the play of the next 3 card types: Status, Response and Economic Warfare.

Status cards are played, face up, in front of you. These cards indicate situations or times when the power/ability of the card may be used and these stay in play, able to be reused as situations warrant. Response cards are played FACE DOWN on the table and stay there until revealed (which can be on the same turn). These cards are generally played in response to a particular situation such as an attack by an opposing power or to augment another played card. Once revealed and implemented, these cards, too, are discarded. Economic Warfare can be even more powerful. .

Economic Warfare cards can inflict serious damage as they can cause an opponent to discard cards from his draw deck. Not only is this significant because it denies your enemy a chance to put some of his powerful cards into play but also depletes an enemy’s supply of cards in his deck. A lack of cards can be crippling for, if on a turn a player runs out of cards when he needs to discard, he must discard cards from his hand! None left in his hand? Then Victory Points are lost instead!

Card play is a give and take – and take that! Often, you will simply play a card and do the corresponding action. But, as the game progresses, a crafty opponent will prepare to withstand potential attacks by assembling a bunch of Response cards or Status cards on the table. Status cards operate automatically but choosing to reveal a Response card is voluntary so timing can be important. With card play resolved, the active power must determine supply.

All armies and navies of a power MUST be able to trace a line of that nation’s forces from that unit to a supply space (marked by a gold star). Navies must also be adjacent to a land space controlled by a friendly army (even if, at that moment, that army is not in supply). Pieces in supply remain in place; forces not in supply are removed from the board.

quarte1After determining supply, every nation, on its turn, scores Victory Points: 2 VPs for every supply space occupied by one of its forces (only 1 VP is that space is shared). If an enemy occupies a nation’s home base, then that nation will score NO VPs for its forces. Some Status cards will also grant VPs. In finishing a turn, players may discard any cards from their hand that they wish and draw back to seven cards.

After 20 turns have been played, the side with the most Victory Points wins. A Sudden Victory is also possible if two home spaces of a side have been occupied or one side has scored 400 points.

The graphics of Quartermaster General, for the most part, work well. Card quality is quite good, an important consideration in a game where cards are key components. The artwork is dynamic and captures the explosive nature of modern warfare. The mounted board is large and readable if a bit dark. The military pieces, while minimalistic, are functional. (It must be said, however, that the colors used for USA and German forces are much too similar. You might want to give a quick spray painting to make the American forces an easy to recognize blue.)

Although the game provides rules for less than the full complement of six players (in which case some players will control more than one deck), six is the optimal number. With less, it can get a bit cumbersome in keeping your decks straight (remember: decks cannot be shared) and managing your worldwide holdings. This preference for a full group of six may work against this appearing on the gaming table frequently. Also, the game’s cooperative nature means there is no one winner: either the Axis wins or the Allies. Gamers who shy away from cooperative play may find this akin to “kissing your sister”. But, let’s face it, in historical reality, one side did win (although you might argue that some of the Allies were bigger “winners” than others.) But these issues dwarf in comparison to the achievement of the game’s design.

Quartermaster General handles the Euro aversion to warfare by making combat extremely stylized. No Combat Results Tables, no dice rolls. The play of a Battle card eliminates the adjacent enemy unless you have another card to stop it. End of story. This keeps the game moving along at a nice clip. As mentioned, card distribution in each power’s deck manages to capture the historic strengths and weaknesses of each power (also reflected in the make-up of army and navy pieces assigned to each nation) which creates a better historical simulation that might be expected.

For wargamers, card driven play and hand management (along the lines of such well received wargames as We, the People) are familiar game elements which are used very effectively here. While there is always a luck factor in card games, in Quartermaster General, a poor hand of cards can be mitigated by discarding and drawing different ones, up to a completely new hand. But this ability comes at a cost as doing this depletes your draw deck. You need to maintain your deck as best as you can. As mentioned, less cards in your draw pile mean less options available to you. If your draw deck empties and you are forced to discard cards, those cards come from your HAND to further limit your potential actions! And if you have no cards in your hand to discard, you lose VPs instead for each card you are supposed to discard but do not have. But the game is called Quartermaster General for a reason – and that is supply.

While battles are important, the main focus is keeping your forces in supply. Fighting for and maintaining control of supply centers is as important as powering forward and eliminating the enemy because supply centers earn the bulk of your Victory Points. Keeping your units connected to a supply center is paramount. Fail and your vaunted military will vanish from the board along with your chance of winning! Skilful card play and the guarding of supply lines work hand in hand as the keys to victory.

Simulations of World War II rank at the top of the list in topics for games but the bulk of those fall into the wargame category. In Quartermaster General. the worlds of wargaming and Euro gaming meet but don’t collide. Rather, they intersect, creating a hybrid of the two genres of play which works brilliantly so that the game can satisfy both the avid grognard and the Eurogamer, a considerable and impressive accomplishment.


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