Designer: Wei-Cheng Cheng
Publisher: Formosa Force Games
Time: 60-120 minutes
Times Played: 1 time with review copy
One of my favorite things about going to a large university was the breadth of things I couldn’t do. That’s a weird sentence, but what I mean is – despite the variety of classes I did take and extracurricular things I participated in, I loved being able to walk around and be astonished at the things I couldn’t get to before graduation. So much to learn.
I would walk into buildings where I had no classes, and wouldn’t know what they did teach, but I’d enjoy the display cases and the peaks through open doorways. I would discover departmental libraries that held treasures I didn’t realize.
And one of the things the Geography library had were free posters from the USGS of map projections. (I found you a PDF!) In a recent Kondo-ing, I thanked the one I had been holding onto for years and then let it go, but between loves of math, geography, and looking at things from different angles, it’s a poster of my mind.
At Spiel next week, Formosa Force (Booth: 5-C122/5-D123) will release Mini WWII, a game with quite an interesting map, from a Taiwanese designer with a wargame pedigree. It is a map from a Polar view – something you don’t see often, but there’s one you probably know, and I’ll mention it later. There’s no formal “projection” here, we’re more interested in the adjacencies, and the map handles those in some creative ways, and with a little flowcharting thrown in.
Square countries are landlocked (for game purposes).
Round countries are islands (for…).
Octagonal countries, as in real life, are coastal ().
Adjacencies are determined by the dots connecting the countries – blue for water and tan for land. Alternatively, each location is marked with the country(s’) flag , and if another location shows that flag at the bottom, those countries are also adjacent. The movement of tanks and ships are (largely) not limited by the connection type, but rather the shape of the location: no ships in squares; no tanks on islands; either can be in an octagon.
The faction distribution varies by player count, but it is a game for two teams, with three factions. The players split the rolls of controlling Germany, Japan, U.K., and Russia (with the other countries being a neutral faction), and either the Germany/Japan players winning or the U.K./Russia players. (The U.S. and China will play a specific roll, but we’re not there yet.)
Victory will be determined by, uh, victory points. If one team has scored at least 32 points at the end of a round, that team wins. If the U.S. and/or China has joined the war as an Ally, then that number increases to 36 for U.K./Russia. If both teams have reached their threshold, it is not the most VPs that wins, it is declared a tie and the Allies win. In contrast, if neither team has reached their goal by the end of the 7th round, the most VPs will win, with the Axis winning the ties.
Victory Points will come from control of key areas (indicated by stars on the map), playing certain cards for their Diplomacy event, and developing technologies.
This is a card-driven-game where a central deck of cards will control player’s actions, and they will be able to choose to use each card for an event depicted, to conduct a certain number of operations, develop technology, and sometimes towards having the U.S. or China join the war.
(Hint on that Polar flag: it is the parent organization of the agency that has one of my favorite flags – where multiple people appear to be wearing capes. Keep reading.)
While the U.K., Russia, Germany, and Japan players will be drawing from a central deck – a shuffled mix of cards oriented towards each of the factions, there are a few U.S. and China cards, but these are set aside, and we’ll come back to these shortly.
As I alluded to, the game takes place over 7 rounds, unless a VP threshold is reached earlier. Each round will consist of a maintenance step (Strategic), card plays (Action), and VP adjustments (Victory).
During the Strategic Stage (skipped during the first round), the U.K. or Russia may be able to draw a card from the U.S. or China decks, respectively, if they have progressed along the corresponding tracks. Afterwards, each power draws cards, in an amount set by the round number, and with certain faction-bonuses depicted on the round track. There is also a discard penalty if an opponent controls your homeland.
Technology cards are developed secretly, and in this round, technologies you developed in the previous round will be revealed. Players will also be able to wash 1 card, discarding first, and then redrawing.
During the Action Stage, players will go around the table playing 1 card on their turn or passing. If a player passes, they may no longer play cards this round. The round will end when each player has passed, and only 1 card in hand will be able to carry over to the next round.
You can use a card for it’s event, if it is your color (or the U.K. can use U.S. events, and Russia can use China events). The events will typically grant a certain number of operations points; give prescribed actions, such as moving and attacking; or are diplomacy events. Diplomacy cards will feature a flag and a certain number of VPs. These cards can alter the allegiance of powers not in the game; if a Diplomacy card for a country (e.g. Spain) is played which depicts a higher number of victory points than one currently in play, the former card is discarded. However, if one is played that is lower than one on the table, both are removed.
OK, let’s get to U.S./China. There is a track along the side of the board for each, and once each per round, the U.K. and Russia can discard a card (facedown) to advance on one of these tracks. These boxes also progress if either Axis player attacks a U.S./China army or moves into their territories. If the U.K./Russia advance the track, they will get the extra card in the next round, but if the track advance is caused by the Axis players, the card is instead shuffled into the main deck. Once the tracks reach their end, the U.S. and U.K. become allies or China and Russia become allies – allowing the main player factions to use the new ally’s units and locations as their own.
You can use a card to develop a technology. The back of the player aid depicts the tech tree, and each card shows at the top what technology level it is (left) and what it does (right). In general, the technologies will lessen the cost of actions to move, attack, build units, or grant a player some new ability. To develop one, play a card face down (at most once per round), and it will be revealed during the next Strategic Stage (which, thanks to Jeremy Bearimy time, I’ve explained above.)
For operation points (OP), you start the game with three options: Build, Attack, Move. Through technology, you may develop the ominous “Launch”. As shown on the player aid, building additional units (tanks or ships), will cost 3 OP. These can be built in the home areas labeled with the corresponding icons on the map.
Attacking and moving both involve a discussion of units being “in supply”. While Mini WWII simplifies the map and other aspects of a strategic level WWII game, it keeps reminders of many of the core elements – such as being in supply and stacking limits. In order to be “in supply”, a unit must be able to trace a path back to a player’s home areas through locations that the player controls (typically this means that the player has at least one unit in a space).
Attacking is essentially: remove an opponent’s piece – it does need to be adjacent to you or in one of your home area’s, and the piece of yours that it’s adjacent to needs to be in supply – but there’s no dice or checking strength or defense.
For moving, don’t think of it as moving 1 or 2 or some number of spaces; rather, it is moving a unit through areas you control, and it can end up in an area you did not control at the start of your move, but that is adjacent to an area you control.
(The United Nations! (But please check out the UPU’s flag.))
There are a few Launch technologies which must be developed before these options can be used, but the Launch actions allow you to force a player to discard card(s) from their hand.
For me, the decisions of this game center on the fog of war regarding what cards the players have in hand and the eventual pacing. Will my opponents have enough operations points to respond if I attack this unit or move into this country? Will the game last long enough for this technology to pay off? Do I play this diplomacy card for points now, or use the operations to beef up offenses or defenses? These were tough choices.
In play, it felt reminiscent of the Quartermaster General games and their distilled card-driven WWII recreations. The luck of the card deals can hurt, but it can hurt your opponents as well; you also have some mitigation with a 1-card mulligan and technologies that can help.
There is a surprising amount of rules and exceptions for the look of the game and the size of the box, and if that is good or bad is a matter of your taste. For wargame and conflict-centric gamers, that may be a feature. I only had a chance to get this to the table once before Essen in a few days, but looking forward to playing it again soon.