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A Review of Guns of August in 2019

 
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A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/7/2019 11:34:01 AM   
Energisteron

 

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I picked-up this old game (12 years and still going!) in the New Year sale, and I have to report my overall impression is very positive.

Download, Installation and Patching

I'm running primarily in Windows 7 but I've checked it in Windows 10 too. I had no problems at all. Smooth as clockwork.

The game runs smoothly and has not crashed or glitched even once. There's a wide range of window sizes which should accommodate most monitors. The windowed mode is particularly helpful because accessing the manual directly from within the game has been disabled by the MS F1 help update of several years ago. That means I can have the manual running in a separate window beneath the game for ready access. 10/10

The Manual

Ensure you download the latest version which incorporates all revisions within the body of the text.

The manual is clear and concise but covers all game mechanics more than adequately. The relevant text is just 27 pages and well set-out with charts and tables if more detail is required. 9/10

The User Interface

Clear as a bell, truly.

The in-game interface is at the top of the screen. Permanently available are buttons for saving the current game, or for loading a previously saved game, then the remainder are primarily for map presentation, effectively permitting overlays for military units, economic resources, controlling nation for each hexagon(hex), and sound options. Don't show all the overlays at once (you can if your brain can absorb the information overload!) as it'll probably just confuse. I stick with just military units shown unless i am interrogating the map for a specific question.

Finally there are two crucial buttons; show the victory status (and morale level of each nation), and select nation. You will use this last button a lot! But more of that later.

Now, all that seems wonderfully clear, but there is one snag in my opinion. Some information can only be accessed at certain times during a game turn and it would seem impossible to refer back to it. However, to some extent I believe this is deliberate and relates to the strategic aspects of the game. Strategic decisions are hardly relevant when you're about to order your guys up and at 'em.

So, a neat, simple interface. 8/10

The Map

Overall it does the job and two map styles are available directly within the game without the need for mods. It's obviously personal choice but I preferred the alternative map style which I found to be clear and simple. The original style I simply found to be a bit too 'fuzzy' for my liking but it will appeal to some.

The map does a good job of representing the relevant areas where warfare is likely to be most severe. Obviously there have to be simplifications, and rivers have to fit to hexsides etc, but I had no quibbles with that at all. Overall a good job.

I was slightly disappointed however that Britain has been drawn fairly abstractly and some would say grossly inaccurately (in fact there's no doubt about it!) but that is inconsequential because naval units operate in sea zones, the Atlantic etc, so coastal definition is irrelevant. I would have preferred a simple representation of SE England though in all honesty.

The USA and Canada and India are represented abstractly, and so the map has no need to sprawl all the way across the Atlantic. Thus saving screen space and memory. That said, the decision to squeeze Basra into the bottom right hand corner of the map seems strange. We could have done with one more hex column!

Another minor issue is that the whole of North West Africa is blanked out and it is not an operational area. It could have been done more prettily, but again it doesn't particularly matter because nothing is going to happen there anyway!

There's only one playable map scaling, which for me was chosen perfectly. There's also a jump map and a mini-map but these just give an overview and are not playable.

Scrolling will be an issue for some players. It can only be achieved with the arrow keys (either set) or the jump map but one soon gets used to it. For the most part each front nicely occupies a screen so scrolling is only really needed to move from one front to another.

Since the game would be nothing without units I'll mention their presentation here. Again I used the alternative set (Thanks GJK for the alternative map and counters). They're fine, chunky looking, and stacks can be readily identified and inspected (with permission of Fog of War FoW)).

In fact with the alternative map and counters the game very much had the feel of a good old table top board wargame, which indeed it is effectively! But this also meant that unless one has a photographic memory then you will have to switch off the unit overlay to identify the terrain in the hex, especially for cities, which are only identified as 'city' by mouse rollover, not by name!

So, in summary, the main aspects of the map are fine. There's one or two quibbles about the periphery that's all. 7/10

If anyone shows interest, then I'll complete my review later.
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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/7/2019 12:01:02 PM   
zakblood


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great thanks for the feedback

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/11/2019 10:45:38 AM   
Energisteron

 

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There have been a few views of my first instalment so I'll continue my review here.

The Map (an addendum)

One additional point about abstracted locations; the main British naval base at Scapa Flow is also effectively abstracted although it is actually placed on the map. I am assuming this is because there is a (very vague) possibility that Germany could mount an amphibious landing and assault the place, BUT it is abstracted because it is nowhere near its correct location, being somewhere in the vicinity of Newcastle-upon-Tyne rather than in the Orkneys.

This fact in no way affects gameplay but to a map purist it could grate badly. However this does not affect my score for the game map.


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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/11/2019 11:32:27 AM   
Energisteron

 

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The Game Menu

Setting up a game is straightforward. The game can be played solitaire against the computer player (AI), or against a human opponent (or I suppose oneself!) by PBEM, or Hotseat. There are just the two sides; Triple Entente and Central Powers, and all Nations in each Alliance are played by a single player (or the AI if playing solo).

So, choose which side to play, consider a few tweak options (you can force Italy to fulfil its treaty obligations, for instance), and whether or not to give the AI (or yourself) a helping hand, and press play. It takes seconds! 10/10

The Campaigns

Four campaigns are offered with starting positions for August 1914, and January 1915, 1916, or 1917, and each ends at the end of the December turn that year but all have an automatic option to continue until November 1918.

So, begin in August 1914 and you can fight the Great War in its entirety (in Europe and the near East) if you wish. At just three turns, the 1914 campaign makes a handy training scenario, but I'd be surprised if you weren't hooked by then, fully conversant with the rules, and wanted to play it to a conclusion!

Given the ease with which a new scenario could be created I am a little surprised that there are not other shorter scenarios covering such aspects as the offensives on the Somme, at Verdun, by Brusilov in Galicia etc. but this game covers all of Europe and always will, it cannot be cut-down to play out specific fronts. Another option may have been for Italy to stubbornly remain neutral.

So, there are sufficient campaigns, and I really like the automatic option to end or continue the campaign at the end of each year. That is really a nice surprise. 9/10

I will turn next to the Game Play itself. I will be scoring 10 points each for the following game elements; Strategic, Research, Diplomatic, Economic, Naval, Air, and Recruitment, and a hefty 30 points for the crucial main gameplay element, Land Combat.

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/11/2019 2:04:34 PM   
Alan Sharif

 

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It's a fabulous game IMO. Glad to see others think so to.

_____________________________

A Sharif

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/11/2019 2:26:05 PM   
Energisteron

 

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The Gameplay

Strategic

Guns of August quite definitely faces you with some weighty strategic decisions. Once made, these decisions can't really be undone without wasting valuable time and resources to realign your forces for a new strategy. In fact some, like ordering a new destroyer, or air squadron cannot be undone at all, although I believe you can disband / decommission them if subsequently surplus to requirements.

From the strategic point of view, you are probably the equivalent of the Chief of General Staff. You control military strategy and heavily influence other spending, diplomacy and research, but unlike some other games, e.g. Strategic Command: the Great War, you do not respond to a myriad of governmental decisions. After all, even the most rigid of the Central Power nations had something resembling a cabinet or parliament. So, the broader aspects of the war are not under your control and largely these proceed historically.

The Strategic Game is reviewed at the beginning of each turn which represents two months of real time (excepting August 1914 which stands alone). During this phase research and diplomatic efforts can be supported, the economy adjusted, naval and air operations declared, and units of all types built / recruited.

It may sound daunting but it is simple enough. During the Strategic Phase an extra row of buttons become available which cover all the aspects above. You can choose to go through these decisions in any order you wish, either country by country or by each aspect in turn, or any mixture in between. If you don't like a decision which you are processing you can cancel it and everything defaults to no change until you readdress the question later in the phase if you wish. But, if you click 'OK', the decision is made and cannot be reversed!

I found the following rota to be most suitable for me, but each to their own:

1) Review the economic status for each nation. Notice what might be needed.
2) Make the economic decisions for each nation.
3) Spend resources on research
4) Make diplomatic efforts or declare war.
5) Review Naval operations
6) Apply Air support / operations by theatre (front)
7) Recruit / replenish units
8) Move on to Operational Phase

Overall, this is an elegantly simple and yet nuanced Strategic Game. 9/10

Research

Research costs resources (see economic aspects below). It is a long grind. Nothing comes quickly, and certainly not without considerable effort. It is not a lottery with magic bullets appearing from nowhere! Consequently, if both sides keep pace with each other's investment in research then they are likely to be closely matched in outcome. But there are choices, not as many as in some WW1 games but enough, and they're the really important things that can make a difference.

So, what to choose?
1) Artillery - gradually improves artillery accuracy and killing power which is vital for disrupting the enemy, softening up positions, and generally just adding to the month after month of slaughterous attrition.
2) Trench - improves entrenchment engineering in four stages. Level 1 trenches don't amount to much. Level 2 trenches give real benefits and open up new possibilities, and levels 3 and 4 give considerable protection against even a prolonged artillery barrage.
3) Gas - you can try to be 'ethical' and do without poison gas, but if 'they're' doing it why shouldn't we? You can research 3 gasses and especially the first time a new gas is used it can be massively effective in assaults.
4) Assault - you can research new assault doctrines and tactics which improve your chances and can create a shock effect.
5) Tanks - similar to gas but not poisonous and on tracks. Tanks never appear as a unit on the battlefield. They are a support weapon for assaults.
6) Aircraft - you are told your aircraft at the beginning of the war are hardly fit for purpose and only any use for reconnaissance. Give them a boost with some research and you'll begin to shoot your enemy's crates out of the sky and be able to survey the battlefield at leisure!
7) ASW (anti-submarine warfare) - gradually improves your naval units' ability to find and kill U-boats. Only U-boats, because the Central Powers cannot research ASW.

So, seven choices. You'll be lucky if you can afford to supplement research in more than one field per turn. The 'reports' back from the research centres show the rate of progress clicking up a couple of percentage points each turn. It's slow, but you get there in the end with enough investment. All investments stay in that research field forever. You can never claw it back, but it's money well spent!

I liked research. Neat. Simple. Effective 10/10

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/11/2019 2:51:03 PM   
Energisteron

 

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Diplomatic

Having glanced at the appropriate section of the manual I had some misgivings but I need not have worried at all!

Again the methodology is simple, transparent, and works effectively. It is kept in balance because no side can make more than one diplomatic effort per neutral nation per turn; sure you could try to influence the whole world but let's concentrate on those we think just might be our friends in an hour of need!

A 'diplomatic overture' (love it!) costs 1 finance unit and usually results in the beguiled nation moving a little bit closer to your point of view. The good thing is your diplomat /spies know if the other side are sending flowers too. So, unless you are totally drained on the battlefield, hopefully you can spend a little on diplomacy and exert some calming influence to drag nations back to your side.

There's no real surprises. Eventually all nations are likely to enter the war but you always know just how friendly or nasty they feel towards you!

I had one tiny gripe. If both sides make an 'overture' to say Italy, then you receive an announcement that the Italian government appreciated your overture, followed by a similar message that they quite liked the other side's overture also! So, in most cases not much of a shift on the diplomatic friendship scale. But that's a trivial complaint.

It costs nothing to declare war, but it may not be the bargain you expected. Other neutral nations can be influenced against you if you attack injured innocents that get in your way!

This is a very functional diplomatic system which tweaks neutral nation intervention without making diplomacy meaningless or massively unhistorical. 9/10



< Message edited by Energisteron -- 2/11/2019 2:54:45 PM >

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/11/2019 3:31:19 PM   
Energisteron

 

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Economic

Warfare has never been a case of just putting boots on the ground. You need men to fill the boots, they need weapons and leadership, and they need to eat, be fairly confident they are going to win, and they need support both at the front and back home.

Undoubtedly, the economy or at least how to generate and spend money is the most important aspect of the Strategic phase of the game. You will be fortunate to find you have such a surplus that you can do everything you'd like to do. Or, even half of that! So mismanagement here and profligate spending can be ruinous to one's cause.

So, how does the economy work?

At the start each major belligerent nation controls its national territory which contains centres of population (manpower), agricultural, raw material and factory production. Effectively, the 'money' in this game is industrial output, otherwise known as finished goods, or industrial points. The limiting factor is industrial might. Harness your factories to full capacity or beyond and you'll do well. Factories need raw materials, from home or abroad, and the workers need to be fed otherwise production falls.

In addition, each nation must maintain its morale and not succumb to battlefield exhaustion. It's a complex algorithm which I don't profess to understand. It's all 'under the hood' but it feels right. Conduct offensives to the last man and morale and exhaustion will follow, industrial output will suffer, and less munitions and replacement materiel will get to the front, so guaranteeing a vicious circle leading to early defeat.

Since this is the main part of the strategic turn, let's see a photo.






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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/11/2019 4:27:20 PM   
Energisteron

 

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So, the above is the situation for France late in 1917.

A nation's wellbeing, economic and otherwise, is detailed on the left side of the screen, and the column of buttons to the right show purchasing options.

Reading from top left, you can see that France has no problems with Manpower; there's still men who could be recruited, there's a fair sized army in being, losses have been quite severe, and currently she has 19 Infantry Corps in the field. Manpower receives its annual 'class' increase at New Year in line with historical demographics (and territory still under control).

Morale is acceptable at 70% despite some bad casualties, and there are no political or naval penalties or food shortages exacerbating national morale. Loss of capital ships, dreadnoughts, declarations of war, and food shortages can affect morale. Exhaustion just builds and builds and is more akin to 'war weariness'. Each home city has a morale value which if lost will detract from the nation's morale also.

For technology read research outcomes. These are the current levels attained in each research field. Note that diplomacy and research are conducted as one complete alliance and all nations benefit from any advances immediately. All other aspects are dealt with on a nation by nation basis.

Next is a button for 'transfer material'. If you feel you have stuff to spare you can send it to an ally if you have a land (rail) link or controlled sea zone in between. Food, raw material and finished goods (i.e. cash) can be traded. It takes a whole turn for such transfers to be effective and these appear under 'trade' in the rows below.

Raw materials and food are gathered from controlled production zones. You can only make captured centres 33% effective, so you need to capture 3 to offset the loss of one of your home centres. Your factories then make the best use they can to produce your income - cash / industrial points(IP).

Industrial points are spent using the buttons on the right. Each commodity has a different price, mainly the same for major powers, but often higher for minor powers. It takes 2 turns (four months) for the spending to produce the goods. Each button does as follows:-

Buy HQ - easily but must not to be confused with raising a new HQ unit! This 'refits' (think of it as provision of munitions and planning) an Army HQ so it can perform an offensive. Without this resource your HQ cannot order units into enemy territory, but the enemy sure can come to you! It costs 3 IP to equip one offensive for one HQ. Thus offensives are costly as they should be.

Buy Arms refit - This represents replacement weapons for depleted units. One Arms point is also needed to raise an entirely new unit, and that's one per strength point! Obviously you need spare manpower reserves too, but you cannot buy manpower. Most nations get 8 replacements for 1 IP.

Buy Diplomatic - simple, 1 'overture' per IP.

Buy Naval asset - careful with this one. Operating a navy is expensive. Every naval unit sent out to sea requires one naval asset point (effectively supply and support, rearming etc) and most missions can operate for several months. But, shipyard repair capability is also represented with this asset. One damage point can be repaired per turn only. As with land units, a naval asset point is also needed for each strength point of a newly ordered naval unit. Again, you get 8 naval asset points per IP.

Buy Artillery - again, no you're not buying a new artillery unit! You are buying ammunition for an existing artillery unit, or for a newly raised one. You get 3 barrages for one artillery unit per IP.

Buy R&D - simple again, one for one IP. One 'research chit' to apply as you wish.

Buy Trench - provides engineering resources for one trench level improvement per hex. You get 5 trench points for 1 IP.

Buy Aircraft - this really is buying aircraft! You get one abstracted air unit per IP. This is the only instance when you can actually buy a military unit on this screen!

The numbers in white below each button show how many of each of these assets you have currently, what is due next turn, and if you've spent any IP this turn what will appear in 2 turns time from your decision here.

Clear as mud? This screen did slightly confuse me at first, especially not realising I wasn't necessarily buying anything directly, I was just buying the ability to buy a unit later.

So, overall, slightly confusing but once understood it provides an excellent background economic system for the game. It really enforces planning ahead by three turns or more and it is essential a player maintains a grip on the overall strategy of the war. 8/10


< Message edited by Energisteron -- 2/14/2019 10:37:00 AM >

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/14/2019 11:29:48 AM   
Energisteron

 

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Naval

All naval decisions are made during this Strategic Phase (yes, we're still in the Strategic Phase) so operations are planned on a two-monthly basis.

The naval game is abstracted but very real, and a very important aspect of the whole game. As with all decisions in the game, the orders for both sides are instigated simultaneously, and conflicts can occur.

The seas and oceans are divided into operational areas; just six of them; North Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic, Western Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Each country has naval bases, and ports permitting direct access to an adjacent sea zone, and all naval and maritime units start in a port. Because each operational phase covers two entire months, naval units can actually be sent anywhere accessible. As expected the Black Sea is somewhat isolated. Units sent beyond an adjacent zone can be intercepted en route and may not reach their intended operational area.

Squadrons (read fleets / convoys) are ordered out to sea with a variety of missions; patrol, raider, ASW, anti-shipping, shipping, amphibious, re-base and return. Each unit sent out 'cost' 1 Naval asset point (about an eighth of 1 IP). Each unit can have 1 damage point repaired at this time again at the cost of 1 naval asset point. Merchant marine units can operate as 'shipping' permitting trade, or as 'amphibious' which enables ferrying of land units across the seas. To operate most effectively a sea zone must be controlled by your alliance and thus a string of amphibious units can transport a land unit a long way, e.g. England to Egypt. But, lose control of a sea zone along the way and the whole transfer fails.

Naval units attempt to take control of the sea region they are sent to.

Actual naval combat for the entire two months is now fought out in a somewhat random manner. There is no guarantee that two opposing fleets will meet and fight it out, but they may engage in 'hit and run' several times. Destroyers usually engage subs / U-boats, while U-boats seek out merchant shipping. Damaged units frequently return to port of their own accord. In consequence, the outright destruction of a dreadnought is unusual unless they're hit several sea zones away from base.

Thus if mutually contested a sea zone usually becomes controlled by one side or the other as units retreat back to base.

At the end of this sub-phase you are given a summary screen showing who controls what, and how many of your units remain in each sea zone. You do not know the enemy's strength, if any. Unit counters are placed on the sea zone to indicate possession.

Now, does this work? Yes, far better than I expected, because I've played similar naval zonal games where if a naval unit was at sea it was invariably located and usually destroyed by a larger force. In GoA there is the possibility that units can operate 'by stealth' despite superior enemy forces being present. The frequency of direct contact seems about right. U-boats especially are a real menace to the merchant marine causing damaged shipping to return to port with their holds empty.

For Britain especially, naval operations are vital and expensive. Controlling the seas so trade can come in, and hunting U-boats takes up a lot of time and effort. Securing a troop transport to the Middle East is a significant undertaking requiring planning. Even getting troops across the Channel to France has to be taken seriously for it to be achieved speedily. If severely damaged, a naval unit may be considered just to expensive to repair, and a dreadnought with say 12 damage points takes a minimum of 12 turns, two years to repair. Admiral Beatty's maxim that it was more important to keep the fleet in being than lose it in one afternoon is very true here!

Although as a naval strategy layer this works well, I did have some misgivings. These were mostly cosmetic. I've already mentioned the 'abstracted UK coastline' and arbitrary placement of Scapa Flow, but as regards the latter I was surprised it sits squarely in the North Sea meaning that naval units sent to the North Atlantic have to traverse the North sea, and risk interception there, before reaching the Atlantic. In my view, the whole idea of having Scapa Flow where it was, right up in the north of the British Isles, was because from there it gave direct access to the North Sea, North Atlantic, and Norwegian Sea (herein incorporated as part of the North Sea). I would have been tempted to put this important naval base on the boundary of the North Sea and Atlantic zones, but historically German U-boats DID cause disruption around Scapa, one even sneaking right inside and torpedoing a Battleship. So current naval geometry enforces this vulnerability should Germany countenance challenging in the North Sea.

More importantly, however, the transit to France must be through either the North Sea or the North Atlantic. Fair enough, both zones should be readily controlled by the British fleet, but a U-boat hitting an amphibious transport in the North Sea can send it scurrying back to port, not to its destination! It happens once in a while, and so it forces Britain to expend a lot of, largely wasted, naval effort on securing the sea lanes. This would seem to be historically accurate. Overall though I would have preferred to see a separate sea zone, 'The Channel'. I believe this would have given British transports slightly improved security without diminishing the cost to Britain in naval asset points.

A final complaint! The stacks of naval units at sea cannot at any time be inspected. Not even during this naval phase. The player has to access his naval unit inventory and identify which units are at sea and where. This isn't particularly arduous but some clear graphic would have been much appreciated.

So, overall this is a neat strategic naval game, but graphically it could have been better. 7/10

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/14/2019 1:01:21 PM   
Energisteron

 

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Air

As with the naval segment, air operations can only be ordered once per turn during the Strategic Phase.

In comparison to naval operations, the air war is far more abstracted and extremely simple. You construct aircraft during the economic phase and then deploy them to one of your war fronts. There are no bomber raids, or fighter sweeps, and no zeppelins. It's just air force by strength of numbers! Once made, air units need no upkeep, and they remain viable until destroyed although that is rare as aerial killing ability is very limited until aircraft have been improved through research.

If both sides commit air units to a specific front then they compete for superiority. The side with the most air points is more likely to gain superiority but it is not certain. Later in the game, air losses can ensue also.

So what do the victors in the air gain? Depending on the outcome of the air battles, which will be largely inconsequential, one or both sides retain air reconnaissance points on that front. These points are used during the operational phase (specifically the activation phase) to inspect 1 enemy hex per air reconnaissance point. Enemy units and strengths are freed of Fog of War (FoW) for that turn, and any barrages against that hex are given an accuracy bonus. This doesn't amount to much but it does help.

So, the air war is not going to win the Great War, but ignoring it would make winning more difficult. It really boils down to just how much can you afford to spend on new aircraft and on air research. It does the job. 8/10

Build Forces

Again this deserves a photo, see below.

The main land unit is the Infantry Corps. The vast majority of these are provided automatically according to historical resources and demographics, and upcoming reserve units are listed on the right with their arrival date (there's none in this illustration which is taken late in the war). But you can add to your historical pool of units as you see fit providing you have garnered enough materials to recruit or build that unit.

You can see that units do not require solely manpower or cash. They need varying amounts of other assets which you have previously acquired. Thus a new submarine costs 1 manpower point (the crew) and 18 naval asset points (shipyard and dock labour). Once ordered, it becomes available and is listed in tne naval inventory 2 turns (four months) later. An infantry Corps can cost as much as 24 each manpower and arms points!

Getting to a position whereby you have enough material to build a new unit requires planning ahead. Getting a new unit in the field takes the best part of 8 months. You cannot replace dreadnoughts within the timescale of the game. So don't lose them! Remember aircraft are bought not here but in the asset purchase section of the economics screen (strange but true).

This all works very well, but I'd be surprised if a player can conjure up more than a handful of extra units during the game especially given the conflicting demands from elsewhere. 9/10





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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/17/2019 6:49:05 PM   
Energisteron

 

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For those following this thread, I apologise for the delay in producing the next installment; unfortunately my last upload failed and I'd not copied it first so it was lost!

Anyway, let's continue with the final section of the Strategic phase.

Refit

Refit represents providing replacements and new armaments and ammunition to existing land units. It also represents the preparation, planning, and supply build-up for HQs intending to conduct an offensive. Without this 'Refit point' an HQ cannot order subordinate land units to enter enemy held territory. (There is a slight exception with Cavalry but I'll discuss that in the Operational phase later.) Most HQs can be built up to 3 refit points, meaning they can conduct an offensive in 3 consecutive operational 'impulses' if desired. Again planning is everything since an HQ can only be provided with a single refit point per turn. Thus a large scale offensive intended to operate through 3 impulses in Summer (2 months) would need 3 turns (six months) to prepare. Then given that refit points have to be bought 2 turns in advance in the Economic screen it means a headlong attempted breakthrough offensive could take 10 months to prepare altogether!

Fortunately smaller scale offensives can be prepared much quicker. Also, an HQ complete with its planning capability and seemingly its supplies can be transferred by rail thus by replacing a current 'exhausted' commander / HQ you can keep an offensive going quite well.

I've left Refit till last because if you spend all your refit points here, then you will never be able to buy / raise new units. So it's a good idea to check if you desperately need more units before you top up your HQs or fill up all your Corps with replacements!

This is a relatively simple system which models the circumstances very well. Also, the UI helps by permitting cycling through all HQs and units with the map centrally positioned over them so as to facilitate an estimation of just how desperate their needs are. If you prefer you can do the same procedure by moving about the map from front to front yourself. That's just a personal choice.

So, this works. 9/10

We can now move on to the Operational side of the game. I promised to mark out of 30 for the operational game, but it seems entirely reasonable to make it equivalent to the Strategic game and mark out of 70, so that's what I'll do!



< Message edited by Energisteron -- 2/17/2019 8:15:03 PM >

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RE: A Review of Guns of August in 2019 - 2/17/2019 9:38:52 PM   
Energisteron

 

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The Operational Game

For some this will be the aspect that excites them most; the clash of arms, the quest to turn a flank, the attempt to batter the enemy into submission or the raising of a bulwark so mighty that the enemy must die in droves to have the slightest chance of breaking through! Of course, all that's here, but anyone who doesn't master the Strategic game is not going to last long!

Once all strategic decisions have been made, the player hits the proceed button and the Operational part of the turn begins. Each turn represents two months regardless of season, and it is divided into 'impulses' which cycle through activation, orders, and playback. The number of impulses varies from just 1 in winter months to 3 in the summer, and August 1914 gets 3 impulses all to itself since the war was still definitely one of manoeuvre at that time. There is no weather randomness, which is fair enough since one would expect weather to be 'typical' over a period of two months.

The Operational phase only concerns the land war with the naval and air wars having been conducted during the strategic phase. So, you have just Infantry Corps, Cavalry Divisions, Heavy Artillery and HQs to worry about, although there's quite a bit more going on believe me! The most important thing to remember is that both sides make their moves simultaneously. Your plans can be easily knocked askew by enemy action as the turn unfolds and you are left powerless to respond.

That is why the 'impulse' system works superbly. All operational actions are replicated in the next impulse giving the player a mass of options as regards taking the initiative or responding to threats in a later impulse in the same turn. As one can imagine, 'keeping your powder dry' and saving those hard earned HQ offensive points to mount a counterattack can pay dividends. But, maybe the enemy has stockpiled so much he'll just steamroller you before you leave the trench?

The overall flow of the operational game creates a historical feel, rewards prudence and planning, and yet permits the possibility of breakthrough attacks. Excellent. 10/10

The Activation phase

The first phase of each operational impulse is activation. That is activation of an HQ. In doing so you expend one of its HQ refit / offensive points of which it can store a maximum of three. Subordinate units are all those stacked with or adjacent to the HQ. There is no hard and fast Order of Battle (OoB) with units semi-permanently attached to an HQ. If they're within 1 hex of the activated HQ then they're activated too. Activated units can be ordered into enemy held hexes in the next phase of this impulse. Unless re-activated in the next impulse then all activated units stand down after this impulse and lose the ability to enter enemy hexes.

Since Germany has about 6 HQs at the start, it is easy to see just how much variability there is in this part of the game. You can if you choose, activate all eligible HQs in a single impulse, or keep some in reserve for later or for following up a success, or recovering from a reverse.

There is a slightly confusing (imho) requirement in this phase to allocate any air reconnaissance points you have to specific hexes, thus permitting full knowledge of the strength of enemy units in just that one hex. I would have preferred this to be done during the orders phase but nevver mind, there's a pop-up reminder if you forget to do air recon!

Again this is simple and effective, and really recreates the feel of warfare in this era. 10/10

Orders

Regardless of whether or not you have activated any HQs you now can give movement orders to all or just some or your 4 types of land unit. Subject to stacking limits which vary according to terrain you can order any unit to move to an adjacent friendly controlled hex. Units can also be moved a considerable distance across friendly territory by rail using a fixed number of rail points each turn which represents the nation's rail infrastructure (these are never bought or paid for or expanded during the game). Similarly, units in ports can attempt to make an amphibious move to any other port on the map providing that there are controlled sea areas connecting the embarkation and target port (this was resolved in the strategic naval combat phase).

During this phase all infantry units can entrench or increase their entrenchment level if the nation has entrenchment points remaining. An entrenchment benefits all units in that hex. Some fortress hexes, Verdun for instance, have a permanent entrenchment level 3. Artillery units can barrage adjacent enemy hexes (slight snag, you cannot order to evacuate a hex and barrage it as you leave, because it's still friendly at that point!). Artillery expend one barrage point per impulse that it bombards. If poison gas has been 'invented' and is stockpiled as poison gas points, then poison gas shells can be used.

There are a few Cavalry units. These are quite weak but have a special ability. If stacked with infantry, a Cavalry unit CAN enter an enemy controlled hex WITHOUT needing to be activated. On the eastern front especially this use of 'scouting' cavalry can be very useful because infantry can follow-up into the now friendly controlled hex next impulse without being activated. This cleverly recreates the possibility of a breakthrough attack being backed up by Cavalry in a second impulse and then by infantry in the third.

Activated units including the activated HQ can be ordered to attempt to move into an adjacent enemy hex whether or not it appears to be enemy occupied, i.e. they can be ordered to attack.

So, what is the result of all this? You find out in the playback phase!

How does this look? It looks fine. You are usually aware of the enemy frontline, shown by the flipside of the enemy unit counter, but not much else unless you had air recon of the hex. You are entirely aware of your Corps' bayonet strength, quality, and fatigue. Fatigued units perform badly against fresh units! Decimated units full of replacements lose quality. Strength trickles away with attrition, takes an occasional hit from a heavy barrage, and can suffer catastrophic loss after a failed attack.

All this worked for me. I could bring in fresh Corps and artillery in a previous impulse then hit the enemy hard. Or shore up a creaky defence line with reserves brought in by rail. All that was good. But, the player must really concentrate during the orders phase or else risk losing track of what has been ordered and what has not. Do not leave the game halfway through an orders phase!

A unit that has been ordered to move has its unit counter moved to the target hex immediately and a red 'moved' border highlights that unit. This happens even if it has been ordered to attack an enemy hex at enormously poor odds. It does not mean the unit has made it to the target hex, that's just the order!

Activated, and as yet unmoved units are bordered by yellow. But none of this is shown in the mouse rollover. To see what you have already ordered you have to inspect each stack, and even then there is no indication as to which hex it came from, although you can press cancel order and send that particular unit back. And there's no way of verifying which hex an artillery unit has been ordered to barrage. All this might cleverly recreate the difficulties of genuinely manipulating and ordering such legions of men around the battlefield, but it can be very confusing.

As I wrote above, concentration is essential; go hex by hex along each frontline and you should do ok.

So at the end of this phase you should see what you would like to happen. But the enemy is very likely to have other ideas!

I liked the way this worked and recreated some of the problems of bringing everything together to mount a successful offensive, but it sure was confusing at times. For that reason I'm marking it down from a 9 to an 8. 8/10


(in reply to Energisteron)
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