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GMT Games: More P500-dy Goodness

posted Nov 2, 2012, 6:06 PM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: November 25, 2009

A little over a week ago, GMT Games added seven more titles to its P500 List, including several that make for a natural segue from my post on the GMT Weekend West just past. I’ll just link to GMT’s announcement, which contains links to each of the seven (lazy, I know; but if you’re not using a browser with the Tab function, well, why not?)

Commands & Colors Napoleonics: I saw a test copy sitting around at GMT Weekend, and immediately the thought struck me: “Of course. Why not? This will work.” Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors: Ancients series has been a hit for GMT, and the system should transfer fairly easily to Napoleonic Era warfare. Commands & Colors is all about issues of command and control (as the title implies), and when it came to managing an individual battle, they weren’t so different for the generals of Napoleon’s time as they were for the commanders of the Classical era. It doesn’t surprise me much that C&C Napoleonics cleared 500 pre-orders within a week.

That being said, I will probably not pre-order it. John Spaulding briefly got me interested in C&C Ancients, but then my irrational disinterest in block games took over — all the more irrational, because it’s not a block game so much as a game that happens to use blocks for playing pieces — and I didn’t buy any of the expansions. But the Napoleonics titles will be hits for GMT, I predict that with confidence.

When I first arrived at GMT Weekend, Chad and Kai Jensen were in the back room with Gene Billingsley, Andy Lewis and Martin Scott, intently focused on Dominant Species. So I knew something was up with that, especially since it was the second time in a row that the Jensens had brought a test copy to GMT Weekend. I sat and watched for a good while (mostly because I wanted to catch up with Martin), and it looks like an engaging, Euro-style game.

However, Dominant Species falls into another one of my quirks as a gamer, so I will not pre-order it. Not only do I have a blind spot when it comes to Euro games, but if a multi-player game has little or no value as a simulation of some kind, I will not buy it. That’s not to say that I won’t play it; I will if asked, but that also means that generally, someone else already has a copy and just wants for players. Basically, I won’t buy the game because I won’t need a copy of my own. That’s just how I roll.

That was also my excuse when I admitted to Gene Billingsley that I probably would not pre-order Urban Sprawl after I playtested it at GMT Weekend in April. Back then, it was still titled Metropolis. I enjoyed it, as the mechanics were involved without being complicated, and it was very hard for the winning player to run away and hide — both trademarks of Chad Jensen’s best designs. Plus, the city-building conceit made it feel like a boardgame response to SimCity, which I thought was pretty neat. But again, it just fell into one of the quirky black holes in my personal gaming universe.

This time, I was a little concerned that Chad had decided to dumb it down when he told me that he had shortened the game based on feedback from other testers. But playing the revised version, I found that wasn’t the case at all, and that reducing the length of the game actually kept everyone’s energy level up and on their toes. Neither was the ‘SimCity boardgame’ effect diminished at all, and in fact, I took greater notice of the game’s ability to create amusing mini-narratives within the game, such as when I demolished a park and built a luxury hotel over it (and I would have razed the zoo to build a nuclear power plant in its place, except that it didn’t quite fall within the rules). And in the end, I decided that I would break my aforesaid rule and P500 it, in the hope that I can convince someone other than Chad and Kai to play it with me.

Labyrinth was also present in playtest copy form at GMT Weekend. It looks like an intriguing attempt to blend mega-hit Twilight Struggle with the War on Terror, but I have to admit that my first reaction to the very idea was dubious. As a game, it’s in good hands — the designer is Volko Ruhnke, who designed Wilderness War, which easily remains one of the most playable and exciting of GMT’s card-driven wargames. No doubt, it will play well.

But my gut tells me that the War on Terror is too far away from the point at which we can make sense of it in — say — the same way that game designers and historians can now make sense of the battles and campaigns of World War II for Labyrinth to be a satisfying historical wargame. We don’t even know how long the war will last at this point, or how it will end (I’m not even sure that the name ‘War on Terror’ will survive into posterity); therefore, we cannot know the relationships between causes and effects in anything close to a definitive way. And designing a wargame that satisfies as a simulation is all about connecting causes and effects in a plausible way. Games about the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001-2 and Iraq in 2003 — I can see those working at this point, because those are long over as discrete campaigns, and there has been enough time to analyze them as such. But the ongoing struggle against the jihadis is still current events, as opposed to history.

Infidel is billed as Volume II of a series beginning with Men of Iron, but it will concern itself with the cavalry-heavy battles of the Crusades rather than infantry-heavy medieval battles. I have opined — or rather guessed, I suppose — that Men of Iron would not merit becoming a series of games, but I’m glad to be proved wrong. It’s an engaging system that plays quickly and is surprisingly simple. In fact, if you’re used to Richard Berg’s affection for fiddly bits of chrome, the biggest hurdle in learning it is how little information you actually need to absorb to play the game: “Wait; that can’t possibly all there is to it...” I will definitely pre-order this one.

I will also pre-order Wild Blue Yonder, which looks like it will consolidate and reprint the contents of Rise of the Luftwaffe and Eighth Air Force, if only because it will allow me to sell my copy of the latter and have a more complete collection of Down in Flames — this in spite of the fact that whenever I play DiF, I seem to use Mike Lam’s or Ken Tee’s components anyway. I will not comment here on the parting of ways between GMT and Dan Verssen, and Dan’s decision to self-publish a new version of DiF, because that is a topic for at least one whole other post. For now, suffice it to say that I think a reprint Rise of the Luftwaffe is long overdue, as used copies have been fetching well over the MIB MSRP on eBay for years now.

The only one of the new P500 offerings on which I have no strong opinion right now is Jim Day’s Iron & Oak. As I said, I was not as impressed by The Kaiser’s Pirates as I thought I would be, but this appears to be a much different game and should probably be judged separately. Could be interesting; but for me, the proof will be in actually playing it, should I get the chance.