Underwhelmed? Possibly -Breaking the Chains from Compass Games.
I’ll need to play the full campaign with politics, SF and ground forces to be convinced otherwise.
The topic is very interesting, the blending of different tempo forces is creative, the map is functional, the counter art is fine and in fact pops on the map.
The combat model is almost too simple, in that at the end of the day one feels that a missile, is a missile and we just fired a bunch, that either hit or miss. End of story. I guess that is it aint it ! 🙂
The rules are not really sequenced well and/ or lack information in some cases on how to resolve things; for instance – Land Cruise missile attacks are resolved prior to air/naval engagements, but these rules are written and come in play sequence order (good!), but no mention is made of ‘how many dice’ to use in resolution. It is mentioned earlier under the Strikes rules and therefore assumed, so do pay attention!
Typically we might be used to a combat function describing what its process is and a pointer to the rule used or previously mentioned for reference, stating resolution is catered under ‘strikes’. There are a few other instances like this that feel out of sequence. which has involved some page hopping.
So how does the game work? Well it all seems quite simple in fact!
There is no hidden movement due to satellite awesomeness (other than for subs which is mentioned below and not solo friendly, yet.) so we ‘know where’ the bad guys are, but discrete ships all have distinct ranges to ‘illuminate’ units to be attacked. In fact this is one thing I like a lot! The designer uses excellent thematic terminology to engage your imagination, by illuminating the target and have a Black Ops Phase, a General Quarters Phase etc..
A turn proceeds from Black Ops (popping SF missions down on the turn track for execution next turn, firing once shot cruise missiles at land targets), then migrates to Politics; a die roll table action to determine alliances that turn. All very different scales conceptually.
After those actions, a Transit movement phase happens which is straight forward as a strategic movement concept to allow for reinforcements from out of the play area to enter.
Then to the meat of the game, the General Quarters phase which is repeated 6 times per turn. After that Ground force action and then the day (or turn) is done.
The campaign has 30 days.
For the bean counters the GQ is where ships and air move and air /naval combat takes place. So with 3-4 attacks a turn for each side times 6 , multiplied out by 30 days we have 180 ‘mini turns’ and 3-4 times that combat rolls, intercept rolls, AA rolls etc.
Where every unit will have potential to fire, fly or defend. This is where you gird your loins and brace yourself for a lot of repetition.
Before we talk more about the GQ, lets look at a really cool aspect of this game. The Special Forces chits. Each turn you may place a SF action, one turn ahead on the turn track assuming you did not have one this turn. a range of action chits can be taken from SF landings, hacking area defense networks (lowers US defense ratings for DDG’s), moles, extra-region political actions and more for the Chinese. The US receive a similar set that may have wide ranging impact and in some cases a countering effect to a enemy SF action.
One can imagine this having some interesting bluffing, planning and guessing going on and desperate counter measures to boot.
Back to GQ. I’m not sure but the idea behind a multiple of 6 phases but one could assume this nicely represents the likely tempo of air/naval operations in the modern era. Every 2 hours or so units can refuel and re arm, or new forces be deployed and forces move and acquire new targets, in the gaming space time continuum.
So what happens? As engagements after ship and aircraft movement, the Air/Naval engagement resolution takes place.
The first new concept is tracing strike paths of missiles fired or air launched to attack targets. you do not move units, just finger traces.
So you can walk your phantom unit or missile along its path ( I just draw on plex, but you could also scrounge spare counters or similar) to the intended target. Mindful of passing over enemy units and avoiding intercept paths.
As part of the game, a more detailed turn sequence with bullet points and a rules reference would really have helped here, as generally speaking before you resolve an engagement you have some options for evasion and other bits to consider.
Along the way a few things can happen. Air can intercept air strikes in Air-Air, which is resolved in stealth rating order. As with most combat you roll 2d6+ AA rating on the back and compare to the defense rating of the opposing aircraft. If that net number is greater than the defense rating then boom, hits per the marginal difference are applied. Units have 1,2, or 3 steps.
If your strike package arrives at the door of the target after any interception then there is a chance to roll doubles for AA, then the strike occurs. Once again 2d6 and compare combat value and anti missile defense values. Unless you have CAP. If you have CAP you are able to fight another round of air to air combat prior to the strike!
None of the above, nor the sequence it occurs in is clearly listed in one place despite a special sequence of play just for Air/Naval Engagement Resolution. You will need to go back to the body of the rules to know when Air to Air, AA, CAP all take place.
So you can see however that this game represents the multi layered defense concepts really well in a simplified abstraction, but will involve you staying on top of options and rolling some dice regularly.
Is it fun? Not sure. That is the big issue here. The “wow, my jets, made it thru the gauntlet” is not here just yet. This is a very different game from your typical hex and counter land based title. As such the approaches and tactics will need to be explored in the small scenario a few times before the significant investment of the campaign is entertained.
The full impact and value of Breaking the Chains is tied to the inter relationship of the different time space elements in combination ( Black Ops/Politics/Air-Naval/Ground) with the play of a larger scenario to develop a full appreciation. For now with a little imagination and some patience this a nice little game.
The solo experience is also going to likely need to forfeit the subs and mines, as there is no clean way to fix this despite a rules patch.
Two game designer friends are playing the Taiwan scenario next week, expect to have a further update from them on the game play under a more extended situation.
Overall the rule book being black and white AND what feels like lower resolution b&w images lets the game down. The color is important given the number of color coded and symbolic elements on the counters, which are hard to read in black and white.
A release of the rules in color via PDF would be a nice solution.
The layout of the rules and approach are at first ok, with the rule book starting off with a detailed example of play. However with no indexing and cross reference where needed, expect some page flipping. This quickly rankled. Digging around the rules to find that one chart, that is not on the card stock inserts, of the specific rule got old fast for such a short rule book.
As a wrap up these are early thoughts, further exploration will reveal more value and enjoyment for sure. It will be some time however before a campaign length game is played.