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Review: Blocks in the East (VentoNuovo Games)

Posted by Denny Koch on October 16, 2013

BITE_BoxGame: Blocks in the East – The Russian Campaign 1941-1945

Publisher: VentoNuovo Games
Published in: 2012

Designer: Emanuele Santandrea
Era and Topic: World War II / Russian Campaign 1941-1945
Components: Two 87×62 cm mapboards (double laminated), rules manual (scenario booklet incl.), 1 booklet (Germany Strategic Map, Scenario Setup Charts, Play-Example), 317 wooden blocks, 318 PVC stickers (laminated),
100 wooden cubes, 50 cylinders, 30 discs, 50 factories, 7 dice

Game Type: Block game

HFC Game-O-Meter: D bullet5


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8
Rules: 8
Playability: 3

Replay Value: 7

Overall Rating: 6

PRO Colorful map; interesting combination of military and production / economics mechanics which leads to tough decision-making about where to spend the resources; great support by the designer; Rules 3.0 are solid and allow for an interesting, multi-layered game with a well-thought out sequence of play and combat sequence
CONTRA Practical issues when actually playing the game: hexes are far too small and become crowded, which makes it difficult to keep track of units and terrain; printing errors on the map; dice-fest (may be a “pro” for some gamers, though); vital information only available on the official website for download, not included in the game box, so internet access is a MUST

Introduction

We love block games! We really enjoyed games like “Richard III” or “Julius Caesar” and think of the design as elegant, efficient, and smooth. In addition, in a block game, the Fog of War (FoW) comes naturally without clumsy concepts like “concealment counters” or “hidden units”, where you have to remember the position of each unit all the time.

Block games are full of surprises, the block system is transparent, step losses are handled easily and naturally and the FoW aspect is great.

Box contents

Box contents

Because of our past experiences with block games, we were quite enthusiastic when we heard about “Blocks in the East“, a new block game by Italian game company “VentoNuovo Games.” Operation Barbarossa is always an interesting scenario, we greatly enjoyed the strategic depth and opportunities of conducting a Russian Campaign in games like “The Russian Campaign“, or “Totaler Krieg“.

Blocks in the East (BitE) is an interesting mix of various game concepts, put together into one game: first, it’s a block game, which means that units are not depicted by counters or miniatures, but by wooden rectangular blocks. A sticker on one side of the block contains all information about the unit; a unit is reduced in steps by rotating it 90° until removed from the map when the last step is taken, while the opponent only sees the black back side so he is often unsure about the strength of the enemy units.

Second, BitE uses a hex grid on the mapboard. This isn’t unique in block games – there are several others with a hex grid, e.g. “Euro Front”, “Athens & Sparta”, or “Texas Glory” – but (with good reason) most block games use an area or point-to-point movement system. Since blocks are somewhat massive, area or point-to-point-movement appears to be more suitable. In hexes, the exact position of a block matters, and hexes must be very large to avoid a crowded map. You can push more blocks into an area or align them around a point on the map, so we were curious how BitE solves the problem of overcrowding a hex with blocks. The idea of using a hex grid (which is great for counters) together with the use of so many wooden blocks and how this game would deal with this situation, fueled our interest in the game.

Last but not least, what we read about BitE sounded like an interesting light wargame / consim hybrid. There is a hex grid, the rules contain many options for additional chrome, there are basic consim concepts like ZOC, terrain, or supply. At the same time, there are no combat odds or CRTs (Combat Result Tables) but tons of dice to be rolled (as in Axis & Allies or Zombies!!!). The colorful map looked beautiful on all the internet pictures we saw and the game appeared to be modern and interesting enough, so we were happy when our copy arrived in the HFC Test Lab.

Game components and graphic presentation

Box, contents, and initial preparations

Sticker sheet

Sticker sheet

When the box arrived, we were surprised – the blocks were smaller than expected. They are significantly smaller than blocks from any games by Columbia Games. Well, we considered this as a plus because we thought this would certainly help in avoiding a crowded map.

Blocks

Before you can start playing, the stickers have to be applied to the blocks. The game contains a sticker sheet with the usual NATO symbols (there is also a special edition available which uses unit pictures instead of symbols). The blocks come in several colors, red for the Russians, black for the Germans, and several other colored blocks (white, green, blue) for minors and/or special units.

What we were missing in the rules (or on the sticker sheet), though, was information about which stickers belong to which blocks. Many of them were easy to assign – “normal” Russian and German units could be applied without problems. But we couldn’t figure out the meaning of some of the other stickers (informational ones, special units), and consulting the rule book didn’t help much because there is only a short list of game components which mentions which color belongs to which nation.

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Rise of the Zombies – Now available from DVG!

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on February 4, 2013

RotZ_Contents

“Rise of the Zombies – The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Game” – a new release from Dan Verssen Games (DVG) funded with Kickstarter is now available! It’s a coop game, playable solitaire or with up to 7 other players who try to survive the Zombie Apocalypse and reach the helicopter that brings them all to safety. It’s played in real time – that’s why the game comes with a timer – how cool is that? 🙂 – and the Zombies are controlled by the game system. Play together, stay together, or go and be a lone wolf trying to survive on your own…

Zombie Hunters can now add a cool dude to their game – go and look for Zombie Santa, perhaps he’s got some nice gifts for you 😉

The new card is free to download and can be downloaded here.

Since DVG sent us a review copy of the game (Thanks Dan!), which arrived yesterday, RotZ now enters the HFC test lab, so this first unboxing pic is only the beginning – stay tuned for the in-depth HFC review. Is this Zombie game fun like a Romero movie, or is it rotten as Zombie flesh? We’ll play the game and let you know 🙂

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Review: Empire of the Sun

Posted by Denny Koch on July 14, 2010

Game: Empire of the Sun

Publisher: GMT Games
Published in: 2005
Designers: Mark Herman, Stephen Newberg
Era: World War II, Pacific War
Game Type: Hex based consim, card-driven
Players: 2
Scale: Strategical level. 1 hex=250 miles, 1 turn=4 month.
Contents: 1 rulebook, 280 9/16“ and 88 5/8“ counter, 2 strategy decks (82 cards for the Japanese player, 83 cards for the Allied Player), map (not mounted, 55×86 cm), 2 Player Aid Cards, one 10-sided die

HFC Game-O-Meter:B


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8
Rules: 6
Playability:
8
Replay Value:
10

Overall Rating: 8

PRO Interesting combat system, variety due to the card-driven mechanics, strategically challenging, interesting to both sides until the end of the game
CONTRA It’s difficult to get into the game in the first place because of a somewhat confusing rulebook

Introduction

Empire of the Sun (EotS) is a strategic game of the Pacific War of World War II. It is a complex hex and counter consim with a card-driven mechanic.

The most interesting aspect of PTO games is the approach to the Japanese victory conditions and how to keep the game interesting in the endgame. Pacific games often suffer from the fact that the Japanese historically couldn’t win the war and were heavily outgunned in the late war by the US, strangled by supply problems, and their ships and aircraft fleets almost destroyed.

US invasion in Japan

So there is always the danger that a game dealing with the PTO becomes quite boring for the Japanese player after his first (and last) initial strikes because he cannot react to Allied actions. A good example for this is Fire in the Sky (FitS) where the Japanese player is damned to watching the US “god fleets” take one island after another while the Japanese suffer from heavy oil shortages, unable to react to the US fleet movements. In the end game of  FitS, the game gets even boring for the US player because his attacks are made on such ridiculous odds with utopian dice roll modifiers that he cannot lose a combat even if the Japanese spends his last valuable oil reserves to counter one of his attacks. This doesn’t mean that the US win all FitS games (they don’t, because their victory conditions are very sharply timed), but it’s always the US against the clock and not the US against the Japanese.

Therefore, our main intention for playing Empire of the Sun was to see how this game deals with the Japanese end game issues and the question how a Japanese player can win the game – even if Japan couldn’t win the war historically. The designer’s notes of EotS admit that Japan couldn’t ever have won the war – but the Japanese player nevertheless can win the game by preventing  US victory. And this works!

Empire of the Sun is interesting and intense for both sides, up to the very last turn and last-minute of the game – there is always enough to do for the Japanese to take an active part in the game and throw obstacles in the US path.

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Posted in Empire of the Sun, Historical Games A-Z, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »