Game Preview: Angola

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Which is rarer? A wargame on the Angolan Civil War, or a serious wargame that plays very well with three or four players? Well, the former, probably, but rarer still is a multi-player wargame on the Angolan Civil War. And that’s where Angola comes in.

Originally published by the Ragnar Brothers in 1988, Angola, an area-move game with card-driven unit activation, covers the opening portions of the Angolan Civil War in 1975-76, with the four major factions (MPLA, FNLA, UNITA, and FAPLA) represented.

Angola Prototype Counters from MMP

Multi-Man Publishing is re-releasing Angola as part of their International Game Series line, with updated graphics courtesy of Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, a noted game designer in his own right whose graphics always strike a balance between functionality and style. MMP’s Angola is currently available for pre-order:

The game is finely balanced, and all players frequently feel as if they are simultaneously on the verge of victory or defeat thanks to an ingenious victory point system that rewards good play for both sides and allows players to absorb reversals and strike back with the right countermove.

Reports from people who have played the original indicate that Angola provides an unique experience, with lots of deception and posturing possible, making it great for multi-player (or at least for the guys I usually play against). The rules scale to accomodate between two to four players, so it’s not strictly multi-player. And given that this is a MMP game, a VASSAL module is almost certain to be released as well, providing an excellent method for conducting multi-player sessions.

Angola has been sitting on MMP’s pre-order page for a while now, so if you have any interest, get over there and pony up a pledge. This game looks to be a hidden gem.

(Image from MMP)

Taking Over the World, One Card at a Time: Twilight Struggle

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The Cold War presents challenges for wargamers, particularly those drawn to the hobby by the desire to replay, examine, and sometimes change, history. Most of the possible Cold War battles remained, thankfully, merely possible, so there’s no history to recreate in pushing T-72s through the North German Plain or planning a defense of the GIUK Gap: it’s all conjecture.

I’ve never had a problem with hypothetical wargames—the levels of abstraction necessary to simulate any battle turns every game into a more-or-less hypothetical exercise, so as long as a game remains true to its intentions, I’m happy to accept whatever backstory it proposes—but they do suffer in the marketplace and seldom appear these days. The biggest exception is GMT‘s blockbuster Twilight Struggle (2005; rev. ed. 2007), a card-driven treatment not of any particular Cold War battle but of the Cold War itself.

A bit of the struggle in Twilight Struggle

Cards drive the play, providing points with which to influence (and topple) governments and events that follow the course of history, from the Berlin Blockade and the waves of decolonization through to Solidarity and the rise of Maggie Thatcher. Regional wars pop up here and there, and the increase in tensions between the superpowers can result in nuclear war, an Idiot Rule being in place to penalize the player who pushes the world over the edge, a common feature in Cold War wargames.
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D-Day by e-Mail

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I’m preparing to begin play of The Mighty Endeavor (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers, 2005), an operational level treatment of the Allied invasion of France in 1944 featuring mostly Divisional units. I’ll be playing against my opponent via e-mail, sending turn logs back and forth using VASSAL, a free Java program designed to facilitate online play of paper-based wargames.

The Mighty Endeavor is a series game, one of the more recent in the long-standing Standard Combat Series (SCS) designed by Dean Essig. According to the Designer’s Notes from the v1.7 rules (.pdf), SCS

was designed to be a basic—read FUN—game which can be played at times when the others seem like too much of a good thing. These games are made for the ‘break out the beer and pretzels, and here we go’ type of evening.

And indeed, I find myself gravitating towards SCS games less because of subject matter and more because I already know how to play the game.

Series games play an important role in contemporary wargaming, because they allow the time-pressed gamer to simulate different conflicts using the same basic rules structure. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to the series rules in SCS, which cover all the basics of wargaming in seven pages, you just familiarize yourself with the specific game rules and dive in. Learn once, play often.
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