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David here for another solitaire sharing of Insights & Impressions. It was only a matter of time. If you read my insights or review of Constantinope, you are already aware of how much I enjoyed the States of Siege system which was sampled from that game. I know a short PNP game would not be able to capture everything of the full system, so I had strong anticipation toward finally getting to try out a published game in the series. Sometimes it pays to subscribe to the trade-it-forward lists here on BGG, as late one night an offer for Hapsburg Eclipse appeared and I wasted no time pouncing upon it, even though it was not among my first choices of games to try in that system.
It was amazing to me just how much of the rule concepts I was familiar with from the play of Constantinople, reaffirming just how good that game does in emulating the system. I was easily able to pull out the game, set it up, read the rules, and play to a loss in a little over an hour that evening. In case it wasn’t clear, I did not survive very long in the game, which is something that I don’t necessarily mind in a solitaire experience (yet somehow I am not a fan when in a 2-player setting…) but I did thoroughly enjoy my experience. One of the biggest challenges for me is stopping myself from playing it again – I want to keep these impressions the first impressions based upon that initial experience rather than a series of plays. Getting this post done now is more of a personal desire to play this one again sooner rather than later – especially to actually get out of the first set of cards and into the more challenging aspects of the game that will enter into play.
Yes, I did that poorly. Blame the dice.
Insight #1: Dice have the final say in the intelligence of your choices
So much of the game system involves choosing your action, and then rolling a die to see whether you succeed or not. You can store up all the valuable modifiers, rerolls, and spend your actions perfectly to counter what is happening – but ultimately it means beans if you can’t roll well enough to execute. The game system can be like taking death from a thousand papercuts, as everything begins to crawl toward the danger zone of a loss. How you manage those is vital, especially as several threats begin to emerge. Oftentimes you have 2 actions to dedicate toward making progress, meaning the room for error is extremely thin a lot of the time in the game. While a part of me genuinely wonders if there would still be opportunities to lose even without the dice rolls, their presence only serves to force you to consider carefully what to counteract and how many of your actions to dedicate there should you fail the first time.
Insight #2: Great shot kid, but don’t get cocky!
There were several points in the early game where I felt like I was “ahead”, with threats pressed back most of the way and that led to more frivolous action choices along those turns. Truthfully, what I needed to do was to press even more forcefully, pinning them further back to create more of a cushion to breathe rather than try to get ahead on aspects of the game that never really came into play. This game system is such a reactionary one by design, so it almost feels like there is some threat you could be pushing back upon. I never got far enough to see a card give me a chance to remove an active enemy advancing, but I imagine those could be in there – setting up for those to trigger was one of the key lessons I learned in Constantinople and I am positive that will translate over to this game, too. So I suppose the lesson here is that when you have everything on the ropes, keep your eye on the prize and go for the knockout. Right?
Insight #3: Off-map conflicts can be a kiss of death
This is what did me in early. I split the first two conflicts, won the third, and then lost the rest of them. They came out really early in the deck, and that deficit led to a rapid drop in National Will without much that I could do to counteract that consistent decrease. Had I known just how vital these were, I might have realized the importance of investing in resources before it was far too late to make any difference. It made the advancing forces much more deadly of a threat, as there were essential spots on the map I couldn’t allow them to advance into without losing. The dice, of course, didn’t find those efforts to be nearly important enough to halt successfully…
Insight #4: The game flow is extremely smooth and swift
The event cards might seem overwhelming at the first glance, but in action they make clear sense, tell you everything you need to know, and can usually be resolved quickly. Game turns fly by, as your own player turns are usually just as quick since player actions are typically “do this one thing” per action point. And a good portion of the text on the card is historical flavor, something I found myself enjoying greatly (and a good reason to try playing this with the cards appearing in a set order in the future!).
Insight #5: The game eases you into the chaos
I genuinely like that the game begins with only two paths containing enemy forces to fend off. It makes the game feel manageable, even if it is still quite a bit to juggle. The game also has seeded several cards in the early deck which will help you do useful things such as Mackinson and Germain aid markers – one giving you +2 in a conflict and the other letting you roll two dice and keep one. Both of these are essential to overcoming the forces pressing down upon you, although neither are sure things for success. The limitation of one of each per action phase helps keep the risk in tact – and the limited number of both means you do need to be particular about when to spend them. But I was surprised to see both early on, even before a third threat appeared to invade toward Vienna.
This one didn’t really surprise me, as I was pretty sure I would enjoy the States of Siege game system, and I knew it was likely to be challenging. It was reassuring, though, to see how smooth the game system was and how a few extra touches integrated into the game could make a big difference on the experience and the decision space for the player. Because of its high randomness via the dice for almost everything in the game, it’ll probably never compete to be my absolute favorite solitaire game, but it is definitely up there as a game to pull out and play when I need something that feels like a big game experience in a short span of time. I am also reasonably certain this map and everything with the game could be played on the little tables present in the hospital rooms – so this is likely a game I’ll be towing along any time my daughter gets back in for a hospitalization period.
Not only do I expect to play and enjoy this one more, it also has me convinced that I’ll want others in the States of Siege system to play. Ottoman Sunset suddenly rises up the ranks, because it can be combined with this one in some pretty interesting ways and even to become a 2-player experience that I could trick Carl into playing sometime.
Regardless, my goal is to make it through at least the next set of cards in my following half-dozen plays or so before I revisit this one with a full review. There’s a lot of unknown still within the decks so I have no idea what curveballs will set me back further. One thing is certain, though: I’m excited to keep trying, to see that this is a game in line for getting a remaster soon, and there are several others in the series in that same queue right now.