Review: On to Paris, the Franco-Prussian War 1870 - 187101 Mar 2018 1
Review: On to Paris, the Franco-Prussian War 1870 - 1871
Released 23 Nov 2016
Most of the board wargames (hex/counter) I have on the shelf come from visits to the three big HMGS miniature conventions every year. There is a large paper presence there with at least one vendor noting he has far greater sales at Historicon than actual boardgame conventions. In that regard, the latest offerings from giants like GMT Games or Decision Games are always on hand, but it might be a year or two before wares from smaller independents show up. Normally, the wait is worth it, as with Compass Games, not only a so-called independent, but something of an up and comer as well. They produce both original designs and also refurbs of older classics, and they do it quite well.
So consider this review not only game centered, but company centered as well, sorta using the game as a case study as to what one might expect if looking to grab one of their products. It is the 1st September, 1870 and the game in question is a recent acquisition of mine, 2016’s On to Paris, the Franco-Prussian War 1870 – 1871 (or OTP).
The game comes in a beautifully illustrated hard box and lid, with treasure inside including two map sheets totalling 38.5 x 25 inches, two and on half back printed counter sheets with 570 x 9/16th inch pieces, a 64 page rule book, a 56 page scenario book, four Player Aid cards and two each (one French, one Prussian) Corps Tracking, Army Tracking and Force Pool cards. Also included are three dice; one yellow, one blue and one red. Cost per the Website is $89.00 USD, but for what you get it does seem to be less expensive than comparable board games with the same amount of ingredients, some of which run over $100.
The rules and scenario books really stand out here IMHO. Yes both are full colored with lots of charts and tables, but not glossy. Compass has decided to go with a more common matte type finish for their product, and quite honestly, it doesn’t look half bad, and quite period appropriate. OTPs Rulesbook (you can download the entire document for a preview) likewise is well organized with a decimal system and numerous illustrations supporting a decent sized script. Throughout there are sidebars in various colors that specify important rules, designer notes or historical asides. One of the things I found very helpful in the rules layout was constant referencing to other sections by paragraph number, ever reminding the reader that the rule he is ogling is related and impacts a rule somewhere else. The rules also include a very well prepped table of contents and index.
The scenario book (or Playbook) is no slouch either. It includes eight scenarios with the first called “On to Berlin,” looking at the war had the French been able to mobilize more quickly and efficiently. Otherwise, each scenario starts at a certain point during the conflict and allows play to the end. Thus Scenario 2 (“the Debacle”) begins on Turn 2 August 1870 and runs until the end of the game on Turn 17 March 1871. However, Scenario 6 (“Armies of the Republic”) begins on Turn 8 November 1870 and runs until the 17th and final turn. The Playbook also includes a large example of play, both Player and Designer Notes, a chronology of the war and an extensive bibliography. In the latter case I was a bit surprised not more primary sources were used beyond von Moltke’s account, as there are official histories and numerous tactical studies available for both sides.
Nevertheless, it does seem designer Milan Becvar and senior illustrator Tim Schleif know their stuff, as the counter artwork is not only colorful and easy to read, but historically accurate to boot. The Bavarians show up in cornflower blue sans Picklehaube and the siege counter boasts one of those odd looking siege guns the Prussians actually used during the siege of Paris. Similarly, while the charts included concentrate on gameplay, two also give mini biographies of the opposing generals who fought and the armies they led as a bonus. The contribution of Feline Stress Relief Agents Togo and Tanaka are duly noted.
OTP is an operational hex and counter game with each turn representing 15 days real time and each hex covering 15 miles from side to side. Units are leaders – and this is a huge portion of the game – as well as armies, corps, infantry divisions and cavalry divisions. Each strength point is said to be about a brigade, so for the infantry this means around 5 – 6000 Schnitzel or Escargot imbibers each. OTP is described as medium complexity with the shortest scenario taking about an hour and the whole war about 10. There are a total of 17 turns in the game.
OTP is a WARgame as opposed to a warGAME, in that it does lean a bit more towards the simulation side of the house. The game is detailed and intense, but as such gives a very pronounced period feel that really hits home the specifics as to why the armies fought the way they did and why the French lost. Like so many games these days, the sequence of play is integrated. Play begins with both sides receiving and recording strength point reinforcements as well as the return of wounded leaders. Next both players allocate Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Resource Markers to units and leaders, then roll the die and consult a table to determine how many Command Points (CPs) each of these three markers receives, as well as any extra Discretionary CPs. The third segment is the Action Phase (where all the real fun hangs out), followed by a Siege Resolution Phase and finally a Rally Phase.
In the Action Phase opposing players roll three die with high die winning Initiative and going first. The difference between the die rolls is the number of Initiative Points (IPs) both sides receive and all must be expended that turn. The first player then uses a combination of CPs and IPs to perform various actions such as moving units or conducting combat. When finished, the second player does likewise. The Action Phase then ends when neither side has any CPs and IPs left to expend and there are no reinforcements left to bring on board. In certain circumstances, the Action Phase is skipped altogether if the initial die roll was a tie.
Within the Action Phase a side moves, shoots and communicates, as it were, and here is where you will find many traditional wargaming processes for campaign level operations. These include movement, combat and supply, the latter using a traditional hex based supply route, but of different lengths depending on the type of unit involved and nationality. The whole system is evidently based on that used in Victory Games old American Civil War, but here the designer has done an exceptional job updating and weaving Franco-Prussian specifics into the fabric. It’s so transparent that you’d never guess the game was based off an old classic. Thus within the command system there are rules for the occasional intervention of the Great Prussian General Staff and within the supply rules a section covering the unit capabilities of the real war winners, the German Eisenbahnbautruppen (railway repair and construction troops). This is of course on top of a general game system that does things just a little bit differently. Combat, for example is based on Strength Point vs Strength Point, but using both odds (4 to 1) and superiority (+ 5 SPs). Modifiers include such things as organic artillery within the units fighting, cavalry recon superiority, all set on a table broken down into three segments depending on whether the force involved is Small, Medium or Large.
However, if I had to pick one (though there are several) area of play where the game really stood out it would have to be the way it handles leaders. Leaders have Army, Reaction, Tactical and Special Ratings, an example of the latter forcing the general and his command to move towards the nearest enemy fortress to besiege it. There is also an extensive system by which leaders may be removed, replaced, recalled or even promoted or demoted, forcing the player into a personnel management mode I’ve rarely seen in a boardgame. All of this comes with period flavor such as dealing with royalty who would take umbrage at being replaced, or even special rules covering lads like Generalfeldmarschall “wie ein Elefant im Porzellanladen” Karl Friedrich von Steinmetz. I like it.
Highly recommended. I’ve been enamoured by this period of history ever since I picked up the old SPI game on the subject noted for its double blind play. Compass Games' OTP is a far more detailed simulation, perhaps too much so were it not for how short this conflict actually was. For a war that lasted barely eight months, the level of complexity feels just right and the historical insights provided make the game intellectually intriguing as well as fun and challenging. Given other so-called “Hyphenated Wars” such as the 1866 Austro-Prussian War (the Seven Weeks War) were equally short, the system in OTP seems to be a perfect match.
All in all, looks like I’m Compass Games newest fan if OTP is any indication of their growing product line. I just happened to notice there are completely overhauling the old classic GDW wargame Red Star – White Eagle covering the post-World War I Russo-Soviet War. My copy was obliterated many years ago when the van carrying my household good with the Army burned flat to the ground (along with all my other games – I babbled incoherently for days). I’m dying to see what Compass does with it, so I am already putting shekels aside.