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TRIUMPH & TRAGEDY: EUROPEAN BALANCE OF POWER 1936-1945

reviewed by Chris Kovac

GMT Games, 2-3 players, ages 12 and up, 4-6 hours; $89   

Triumph and Tragedy, as designed by Craig Besinque, is a three player strategic war game of World War II in the Western theater using  card management and blocktriumphtragbox wargaming elements. In the game, you will play one of three factions – Russia, the Axis powers (Germany and Italy) and the Allies (Britain, France and later indirectly the United States) – fighting for control of Western Europe using both diplomacy and military might between 1936 and 1945.

The game map is placed on the table with each player facing one of the major power tracks (Russia, Axis Powers or Allies).  Each player then gets a set of block military units (infantry, tanks, aircraft, battleships, subs, aircraft carriers and fortresses) of the appropriate faction including conquest/influence flags as well as resource, industry and population markers. These markers are then placed on the appropriate starting points on their respective tracks. Next, players will be allowed to build a certain number of military units in certain areas of their home countries (some places have set units) as per their faction’s setup instructions. There are usually no restrictions on what kind of units can be built but only that all starting units – including ones built at the start of the game – begin with a strength of one. Units have to be built in a major power’s capital or sub capital. Now, the peace dividend markers are mixed (face down) and placed on the appropriate board spaces along with the action and investment cards. A starting hand of cards from the action deck are drawn up to each player’s starting hand size limit. The turn marker is placed on 1936 and you are ready to start the game.

If at the start of a turn you meet one of the following conditions you win instantly. These conditions are:

  1. You conqueror two capitals or sub capitals of a major power (Military Victory)
  2. You develop all four levels of atomic bomb technology and you have the ability to deliver it to a rival main capital using a military unit (Atomic Victory)
  3. You have 25 victory points. Your victory points are your current production level plus 1 VP per atomic technology level plus 2 VPs per enemy main/sub capital controlled plus any VPs from peace dividend markers minus 1 VP per declaration of war against a major power.

Otherwise whoever has the most victory points after nine turns wins.

Each year turn consists of four phases. The first phase is the year start phase when you first advance the year marker and then check to see if anyone has won the game due to the instant winning conditions. If not, you reshuffle any cards discarded during the turn into the appropriate decks and draw a peace dividend marker (worth 0-2 points) if you have not attacked a major power or neutral the previous turn. Finally, you roll for player order on a d6.  The number rolled corresponds to an arrow at one end or the other of a player’s track. This tells you who plays first and in which direction play goes in a turn.

The production phase follows in which you buy cards (any combination of action and industrial cards) and/or units starting with the start player of the turn. The amount of production is equal to the lowest value you have on your industry or population track (resources if at war with a major power). You can buy cards for one production point each from either the action or investment deck.  For military units, you either upgrade the units for up to one step of strength for one point apiece or buy a new unit at a strength of one for one point apiece. You are limited in what kind of military units you can buy by your faction piece mix. New military units can be placed anywhere in your home territory though fortresses can be built in any space you control. Once they have the United states as a satellite, the Allies get bonus units from 1942-1944 at no cost but cannot use them until war is declared against a major power  Once each player has completed the production phase, you move into the government phase.

During the government phase, players can play either an action card for diplomatic actions or an industry card for technology or increases in industrial production. At each end of an action card, there is a country or special diplomatic related ability which you can play. If you wish to influence a neutral country, find a card with that country on it and play it with the country you wish to influence face up.  The card is nullified if an opponent plays a card of the same country, discarding both his card and the card you have played previously. Played investment cards can be used for either technology shown on either end of the card by discarding a matched pair of technologies and keeping one card to show you now have that technology (you require four different technology levels to get to the atomic bomb). Alternatively, you can discarding cards with factory values (shown on the middle of an investment card) equal to your production level to advance your industry marker by one (up to two levels).  Once all players pass in succession, this phase ends. Any diplomacy cards still have active in front of you allow you to place an influence marker on the respective country. If an opponent already has a diplomatic marker on that country, you remove it and discard your marker; otherwise, you place one of your diplomatic markers on that country. The number of markers allows you to use different levels of resources of the country (population and production) ranging from associates (with one marker) up to satellites (with three markers) where you get to claim the country as part of you home lands permanently, getting “free” military units based on the country’s military muster strength.

The next phase is command. Now players can move units and attack other nations, either neutrals or major powers.  This phase consists of four season sub phases. All players can participate except in winter in which only the Russian player can command.  Beginning with the spring sub phase, all players, beginning with the start player, can play an action card face down with the correct season (noted in the middle of the card) showing a letter and a number. If you do not have a card for the correct season, any action card card can be used to emergency move any two units (they can only defend). Once all players have placed a card for the season or passed, command cards played are resolved.

The letter on the action card tells you when you can move/attack with your units in a turn (actions are played in alphabetical order) and the number tells you how many units you can move/attack with. When moving, there are restrictions based on unit type (for how many spaces you can move) and by the borders between country polygons (river, mountains, etc.) that restrict the number/type of units which can move across them. (The map shown in this review is the playtest map, similar but not identical to the finished game map.) Movement within your home lands is faster as long as you do not fight with units you are moving with. If you enter into a neutral country, you fight fortress units equal to their muster strength. Opponents get to draw cards equal to the military strength of the attacked neutral nation to compensate for your aggression against the neutral country. Moving units into a country occupied by a major power results in declaring war against that major power (affecting how many resources you get in a production turn and makes getting industry steps in the production phase cheaper).

Combat is resolved by combat type (from fortresses down to infantry), rolling a number of d6 equal to the units strength.  In order to make a hit, look at that units firepower strength against the unit it is attacking/defending. For example, an Infantry unit has a G3 against ground units which means it hits on a 1-3 against those types of units. If you eliminate all enemy units in a hex, you conquer it adding the resources and population of that hex to your total.  After all attacks/moves for a season are resolved, go onto the next season.  After all seasons are done, start the next turn and continue playing until all turns are done or someone wins through an instant win condition.

In order to win at Triumph & Tragedy, you have to pick and manage your action/industry cards carefully, build up your units, develop your technology and influence/conquer neutrals as you plan your big push at some point against a major power to win the game instantly or have the most victory points at the end of the game. The innovative multipurpose use of the cards makes for many interesting and hard decisions. Overall, the game is very well produced with good maps and components, especially the well designed player aids. While the rules layout is fairly good, a number of rules have sidebars meaning you jump a fair bit between the main rules and these sidebars when trying to understand the rules. Because these rules are fairly complex, I would not recommend this game to family or casual gamers. However, this game is well suited to wargamers who like a fairly quick playing (taking about four to six hours to play which is “quick playing” by wargamer standards) strategic WWII game and Euro gamers willing to tackle this style of play and the game’s complexity.- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Chris Kovac


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