Thirty Years War
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Central Europe, 1618. Germany is a jigsaw puzzle of independent Electorates, Bishoprics, Dukedoms, and Imperial Free Cities nominally under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. An alliance of Protestant leaders rebel against the Emperor, who raises armies to suppress them and regain Catholic property lost during the Reformation; the surrounding kings of Spain, France, Sweden, and Denmark intervene to stake their own claims. Germany is plunged into thirty years of war that will last until 1648, when the exhausted combatants sign a peace establishing the competing spheres of interest that will control Germany for the next two centuries. Thirty Years War recreates this conflict with the award winning game system used in GMT's Wilderness War, Paths of Glory, and For the People. There are four scenarios provided: the Full Campaign (14 turns), Early War (5 turns), Intervention (3 turns), and Apocalypse (5 turns).
This is a two-player game; one controls the Protestant forces (German Protestants, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, France) while the other runs Catholics (the Empire, Bavaria, Spain, and occasionally Saxony, which can switch sides during play!). The heart of the game is the playing card decks of 55 cards that each player receives. Playing a card gives a player the option to move and attack with an army, to recruit new units, to bank up money to pay ever-hungry troops, or to declare an event.
The Peace of Westphalia made certain that Germany would remain divided for another two centuries. Can the Catholic player defy history by recreating the power of the old Holy Roman Empir? Does Gustavus Adolphus survive to dictate peace to the Emperor in Vienna? Thirty Years War allows the players to determine these and other historical what-ifs, while opening a window onto one of the most influential events in European history.
I recently purchased this game and have now played it 4 or 5 times. I had delayed purchasing due to the negative publicity this game received when it first appeared (see the oldest review below for an accurate summary of this view). After reading through the Consimworld mailing-list for this game (an excellent resource on which the game is well-supported by its designers) I realized that this perception is slowly changing.
The game now has second edition rules. I found these clear and had no problems learning the game out of the box, without errata or FAQ. It falls at the more complex end of the card-driven spectrum, but moves smoothly. Simple modifications have been made to cover the perceived earlier problems, and I would recommend using these. The game itself reminds me most of 'Wilderness War' due to its lack of clear front-lines. It is full of difficult decisions, but these are generally decisions about how to use the ops associated with a card, rather than whether to play the card as an event. In this respect the game differs from most other CDGs.
I have enjoyed all the games I have played and have learned much about an interesting period of history in the process. I'm sure I will play the game many more times and I regard it as a shame that many are over-looking the potential for a great gaming experience due to poor initial press.
Incidentally, the playing time quoted in a review below is rather optimistic. 8 hours is about par in my experience.
Having been a fan of the card-driven wargames, I was curious to see how this one would stack up against such 'giants' of the genre as Paths of Glory, For the People, and Hannibal. The simple answer is: quite well!
Not being a 30YW historian, I was struck by the colour and period flavour of the cards, leaders and special game concepts. This is a plus to me - this game uses a popular 'game system' but throws in enough special stuff so that it seems 'different' enough to be distinctive - for example, recruiting and national differences are important.
I have played this game several dozen times on ACTS and face-to-face. It's not an easy strategic situation for players to wrap their brains around - there are no obvious front lines or 'objective hexes' but there are clear strategy imperatives which will be uncovered through repeated play. When to attack and 'go for the throat' and when to lay low and recruit are key strategic player decisions (among many other more tactical ones).
This game is a top-shelf addition to the card-driven wargame genre. I rate it slightly below Paths of Glory but above Wilderness War and For the People.
Being a raving fan of GMT's Paths of Glory, I thought that Thiry Years War would at least come close. It doesn't. The card play lacks the excitement of PoG. The player aid charts and tables printed on the map are poorly laid out-I've had to make my own. These two aspects were a bit disappointing for me. On the plus side...the map is beautifully done as well as the counters. The cards are nicely done as well but, as I said before, aren't that interesting. The gameplay in my opinion is fairly good, with the Protestent player gaining more of an advantage as the game progresses.
In short, the game is fun to play but could have been done a whole lot better. Let's hope the next card-driven games in the line-up from GMT are much improved. If I had to choose between TYW and say PoG, I'd pick PoG hands-down and so would 99% of everyone else I think.
The recent GMT We the People-derivitive games have been a bit of a mixed bag; none have matched the heights achieved by Hannibal or We the People. Paths of Glory overcomes some minor issues to become a recent classic, but For the People has significant complexity and playability issues, and despite its virtues Wilderness War seems like a light game with heavy rules. Nontheless, all three worked and had their own appeal and reasons to play them.
Thirty Years War, though, has some serious issues. Firstly, it's got rules problems. You'll need to get 6+ pages of eratta/Q&A off of GMT's web site to figure out the finer details of how to play; there are very serious, basic quality control problems in both the rules and cards (when you've got about 2 pages of eratta/'clarifications' between Key Terms, Set Up, and Determining Victory, you've got trouble). This is always a prime indicator of a game with more fundamental issues, and I believe this is the case here. The opening situation is wierd, with the Protestants (historially on the defensive early) able to invade Austria and badly hamstring the Imperials on the first move. The system for paying your troops clearly has issues (the penalty for failing to pay troops is - like Paths of Glory - permanently eliminated units, but the countermix is so immense this is virtually irrelevant).
Anyway, some games have gotten past horrible production problems and other such fixable glitches to become decent games, but I don't think that will be the case here. The fundamental system is just too staid. Unlike all the other We the People-inspired games, there is very little uncertainty in the movement sytem: no possibility to activate multiple units in a turn, no intercept, no retreat before battle, no naval movement or similar way to rapidly redeploy troops, and no bad weather or similar event cards to affect movement. So instead of a game with some excitement, it's more like an abstract, just back and forth with no real feeling of risk or pressure or theatres of operation. Since in addition the event cards aren't all that exciting, the uncertainty, such a key element of the designs of this type, is strictly limited. Very dull indeed.
If that weren't enough, there is also a problem with the victory conditions. The 'draw' range is enormous, and the balance of power (Catholics *very* strong early, Protestants *very* strong late) is such that the Catholics have to win in the first third of the game, or they are essentially playing for a draw for the remainder of the game - they have no realistic hope of winning once the game enters Apocolypse. This is decidedly not good for keeping the game interesting.
If all this sounds like a 1-star review, you might be right. But there is some good stuff in here. The recruiting/pillaging system is interesting, and the historical flavor on an important but obscure period is strong, so it's good for one play-through to check these elements out. It really does seem hard to make a truly bad game from this system, and Thirty Years War has some interesting stuff and scores by being of comparatively playable length (perhaps 4-5 hours for the full game).
Still, this becomes the first game of this genre that I just can't recommend. Maybe once the eratta has settled down, it'll be worth revisiting. All this is a shame, because the design shows promise, and the game now can't receive the proper development it deserves. It's a good period, a system that should be eminently suitable, and an interesting attempt to mix the good stuff from Hannibal with the good stuff from Paths of Glory, but in the end it failed to get much from either.
A tumultuous period in Europe sees the same card-driven movement featured in Wilderness War. The cards are used here for either their historical value (bringing in reinforcements, Swedish Intervention, Spanish War in the Netherlands, etc.) or to activate existing leaders to order troops around. This war had long periods of relative tranquility, cleverly covered by the designers, who divided the scenario into three main Epochs: Early War (Catholic Domination), Swedish Intervention, and Apocalypse (disintegration of the major combatants, and French Intervention). There's a history lesson here, but it masquerades as a surprisingly fun game despite the somber subject. Recommended for the solitaire wargamer.