An iron curtain has descended.  Pevans reviews…

QUARTERMASTER GENERAL: THE COLD WAR (PSC Games/Griggling Games, 3 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, 120 minutes; $65.80)


The idea behind all the Quartermaster General games is Napoleon’s maxim that “an army marches on its stomach”. Supply lines are key and players are trying to cut off their opponents’ supply as much as attack their forces directly. Another common element is that the games are card-driven. There’s a separate deck for each side (or part of a side – the original Quartermaster General (Summer 2015 GA Report) is for up to six players in two teams re-fighting the Second World War) and managing your cards is important – running out is bad news, so forcing an opponent to discard cards is a useful tactic.

The latest addition to the series is Quartermaster General: Cold War, also designed by Ian Brody, which pitches East versus West in the decades following World War Two. As designer Ian Brody admitted when I quizzed him, the war in this game is rather hotter than it was in real life. It is designed as a three-player game, though. The third side of the triangle is provided by the non-aligned powers. That is, China, India and various Nationalist causes popping up all over the world. Ian reported that it works well as a six-player game, too. The ‘blocs’ are then teams of two, each player still having their own deck of cards. For four and five players, one or two blocs are divided up. I’ve only played three-player so far, so that’s what I’m reporting on here.

The game is played over a maximum of 19 rounds, with the winner being the player (or team) with the most points at the end. Points are scored after every second round for armies on the board and supply centres occupied solely by one bloc’s army. However, it is possible for a player to win earlier: if they have at least 20 points more than the player in last place at the end of a scoring phase. However, before anyone declares victory, the second place player must give points to the one in third until the gap is reduced below 20. This clever rule means that whoever’s in second place really wants to peg back the leader rather than squashing third place to make sure of second.

The board shows a map of the world, divided into fairly large chunks (Africa is two spaces, South America just one, though the sub-divisions of Europe are smaller). Some of these are printed with stars: supply centres. The key rule is that units must be able to trace a line of controlled areas back to an uncontested supply star. Players start with some armies, navies and air forces on the board (neat models of tanks, submarines and fighter jets). In a difference from earlier Quartermaster General games, conflict takes place when rival forces are in the same space, rather than adjacent. Thus we start with both a NATO army and a Soviet army in Germany. Trouble already.

Each player’s turn (Soviet player first, then NATO and the non-aligned last) consists of playing cards and/or using previously prepared ones before re-filling their hand. The structure of a turn is a bit fiddly. Thus the Air Power phase is the only time you can use an ‘Air Power’ card – to build an air force or carry out a strike – or move an air force piece. The Action phase is central to your turn, but you can only play or prepare a single card – and this can’t be an ‘Air Power’ card. Nor can it be an ‘Espionage’ card: one of these may be prepared, in the subsequent Espionage phase, at the cost of discarding a second card.

Preparing cards is crucial, though. There’s a brilliant example in the rulebook of how much you can do in a single turn with the right set of prepared cards while only actually playing one. Espionage cards are important because they are played face down, so your opponents don’t know just what you’re up to. Even if you know all the cards in all the decks you can’t know just what’s been prepared (though there may be some clues).

Other cards are prepared face-up and can be very useful as well. ‘Status’ cards give continuing abilities to a player, such as scoring an extra point for holding a particular area, or gaining an army whenever they build a navy. This latter kind of card is particularly useful as the cards for building forces are limited and may not be in hand at the right moment. However, the price of doing this is discarding cards, which requires weighing up the relative costs.

There’s one other sort of card that is prepared and goes face up. Appropriate to the period, these are the nukes. Or ‘WMD’ (Weapons of Mass Destruction) cards as the game has it. (They’re not all nukes – I sprayed Agent Orange all over the Balkans in one game.) Which brings us to a feature of the Cold War: Mutually Assured Destruction. Once players have nukes in front of them, they know that any use by one player will trigger retaliation by their target. The trick then is to do down the opposition without provoking them to respond with their WMDs.

The Escalation tracks are another neat mechanism. Each bloc has an Escalation track against the other two blocs. Playing an aggressive card generally increases your bloc’s escalation level against the bloc you played it on. This is then a discount on the other bloc’s use of WMDs against you – there is a victory point penalty for using a WMD card. Hence, once you’re attacked, it becomes cheaper to retaliate with WMDs, which in turn reduce the cost of your target striking back likewise. So far, the MAD threat has restrained players in my games.

The other cards are straightforward: building armies and navies and fighting land and sea battles. There are specific rules for each of these, the key thing being to make sure your forces are in supply. There are also events, which have an immediate effect. These can be quite powerful, but have to be the one card you play or prepare in your Action step.

Before a player’s turn ends, they must remove any of their units that are not in supply. Ouch! You can discard cards from your hand – one per unit you want to save – to avoid this, but this quickly becomes expensive. Luckily, some event (and espionage) cards let you add new supply centres to the board. The big advantage of these is that you can now trace supply to somewhere else. Phew!

Most games start with rounds of cards being prepared – though as NATO I keep getting bothered by the Soviets making trouble in Europe early on. However, it is a card game, so you are always limited by the cards in your hand – and those in your deck. The player aids show how many of each type of card are in each bloc’s deck and should be consulted often. There’s also a useful mechanism that lets you pull a specific card from your deck at the start of your turn – at the cost of discarding several. Not something to be done lightly, though.

You can expect to have to discard some cards during the game, though. Ideally, you want to throw away cards that you’re never going to need, but there’s no way of knowing what might be useful later on. Hence, there are judgement calls all the way through. If you do run out of cards, anything that forces you to discard means you lose points instead and this is a quick route to losing the game. Thus, keeping cards is good. On the other hand, if you can get that 20-point lead, spending cards to get it is worth doing. Judgement calls, indeed.

The rules have some very useful suggestions on how to play each bloc, so I’ll just mention what’s special about the non-aligned bloc. This has units and cards in three different colours. These forces will not co-operate with each other and cards can only be used for the matching colour. The Indian and Chinese forces are vulnerable as they only start with one supply centre each – I have taken the Chinese out of a game by contesting Beijing when the non-aligned player couldn’t afford to discard many cards. Conversely, the Nationalists pop up everywhere and don’t need supply. It’s challenging to play, but is in a good position to win if the Soviets and NATO fight each other.

The one issue I find with the game is that players can spend time dithering over just which cards to discard when they have to. This can make for a long game, so I encourage players to make quick decisions and suffer the consequences (as I did in one game where the Soviets conquered the USA from Cuba!). Although I think with more players the original game still has the edge, with three players, I’d definitely go for this one as I have thoroughly enjoyed playing Quartermaster General: the Cold War and give it a solid 8/10 on my highly subjective scale. – – – – – Pevans

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