Reviewed by Pevans
BLITZKRIEG! (PSC Games, 1-2 players, ages 14 and up, 20 minutes; $49.99)
The sub-heading on the Blitzkrieg! box is “World War Two in 20 Minutes” and it pretty much does just that. It’s a tight tactical tussle across the major theatres of the war. Players deploy their troops – by sea, land and air – to swing a theatre’s balance in their favour and win a campaign. Each campaign is worth points: first to 25 wins the war. Who knew WW2 was won on points? One thing to note: the Axis player starts, so if they’re first to 25 the Allies get one more turn to try to beat them.
That’s the game in a nutshell. Playing it is a lot more complicated, of course. To start with, as designed by Paolo Mori (with a solitaire variant designed by David Turczi), Blitzkrieg! is a highly abstracted version of the war . The board shows five “theatres” (Western Europe, Pacific and so on). Each of these has a number of “campaigns” and a track that indicates which side, Axis or Allies, has the advantage in this theatre (the marker starts in the middle and moves towards one side or the other as players deploy their units). When a campaign is completed, the side that’s ahead scores the indicated number of victory points. If they’re far enough ahead they get a bonus point or two – an incentive to get a big lead.
Players’ troops are square cardboard counters – aircraft, ships and tanks, plus a couple of specials – with a value (0-3). They go into bags and players draw a few from their bag to start, hiding them behind their shield. Their turns then consist of playing a counter and drawing another. When a counter fills the last space in the row of a campaign, the player in the lead in that theatre scores the campaign’s points. You can immediately see the first tactical consideration: you don’t want to complete a campaign that your opponent will score. Or make it easy for them to complete it.
However, when you place a unit, you move the marker in that theatre to your side – by the value of the counter. So it’s possible to swing the result with the piece that completes a campaign. Which means you can’t afford to leave a single space in a campaign row if the margin in that theatre is close. Ooh, it’s getting trickier. And note that the Allies win ties.
There are restrictions on where counters go, of course. There are also bonuses printed on most spaces that add another factor when considering where to place a unit. Bombing, for example, removes one of your opponent’s counters (at random). This permanently reduces the number of counters they choose from, so it’s more significant than just losing a counter. Conversely, industrial production lets you draw an extra counter, increasing your stock.
Other bonuses score points or adjust the balance in a theatre – sometimes in a different one. And the Research bonus means you add one of the special counters to your bag. These represent advanced weapons but it’s a matter of chance when, if ever, you get to use them. They range from four-point counters (such as jet aircraft) which just provide a bit more oomph, to the atomic bomb! The bomb is powerful but a double-edged sword: it wins you one theatre but is points against you everywhere else.
All of this produces a tense game that usually ends in a close result. Each turn requires some consideration: do you counter your opponent’s last move or play somewhere else? Is there anywhere you can win a campaign or make one certain? Is it time to complete a campaign? Or would it make more sense to grab a particular bonus (there are a few double bonus spaces that are really useful). In particular, when do you give up on a theatre? You can’t win ’em all!
What doesn’t seem to work is concentrating on one thing. I’ve had an opponent who tried to bomb me out of the game, grabbed all the bombing bonuses. I responded by taking the industrial production spaces to increase my counters again and won. I’ve had an opponent go for research, occupying most of the research spaces and using jet fighters and the atomic bomb against me. However, he still had most of those research counters in his bag at the end of the game – which I won.
What’s really good about this game is that it makes you think hard about your options but still plays in half an hour or less. Full marks to designer Paolo Mori. The game includes a solitaire variant (from David Turczi) using a simple AI mechanism. However, I haven’t tried this yet. There’s also a slightly bonkers expansion: Nippon (MSRP $14.99). This presumes the Axis won WW2 and Japan is now invading German-occupied America (The Man in the High Castle scenario, if you will). Except the Japanese forces include Godzilla. Go figure. The interesting thing is that geography plays more of a part. Each theatre has only one campaign and the winner chooses a linked theatre to fight next (thus, a win in Boston lets you move on to New York). Worth trying to see how that works out but first I want to play the base game some more.
Blitzkireg! gets a solid 8/10 on my highly subjective scale. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Pevans
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