Playings; 2, 7 hours (1 MPLA, 1 UN1TAIFNLA win).
Angola is a 4 player simulation of the war for control of that country in 1975176 just before and after the Portuguese gave up on the place. The game represents a conventional civil war and would not be suitable for the guerrilla wars against the Portuguese or of UNITA against MPLA. I have not been playing with 4 players, so can make no comments regarding the game's suitability for multi-player use; it does however work OK as a solo effort. Regardless of the number of players, factions split into 2 teams, FAPLA and MPLA against UNITA and FNLA. Historically the conflict should be a 3 player, FNLA, UNITA and MPLA. To allow a 4th player and handicap MPLA, his faction is split into 2, MPLA and FAPLA. This is a blatant fudge; a smaller change is the incorporation of the Cabinda liberation movement into the FNLA force mix and the assumption that UNITA and FNLA will always co-operate. MPLA did have problems in co-ordinating its efforts because of the varied make-up of troops available. The original MPLA guerrillas and supporters were augmented by local self-defence militias (allied to MPLA), the remains of the colonial forces and Cuban units.
Don't expect a lot of detail in Angola, this is not a game that shows where the 52nd Foot (and Mouth) is located each turn. Units are strength points that come and go, only foreign (Cuban, Zaireois and RSA) units are ever permanently removed from play. Two of the game systems are worthy of note. Idea most deserving to be stolen is the concept of columns. All factions have 4 column markers, except FNLA that has 5. To move into an area containing the enemy and thus attack (compulsory) a unit or stack of units must be part of a column. Column markers are placed on top of stacks at the end of a turn; they remain for the next turn. No unit may join a column during this time; columns may drop off units before they move but not while they are moving. This means that you cannot hop from area to area dropping off units as you go like a minelayer laying mines. Also columns cannot be combined except when all columns are re-designated at the end of the turn. Column A cannot zip up to column B, join forces, then jump on some unsuspecting enemy. It will take 2 turns to combine in this way, giving the enemy plenty of time to consider the situation. This concept would transfer well to Ancient and Napoleonic big stack games (Imperium Romanum, War and Peace) as well as some modern games (Chad).
The existence of column markers permits a card based activation system. Each faction has a stack of cards labelled A to D (or E), blank, 5th column and command. The 1st act of each turn is to sort a set number of these cards into the order they will be played. After this the 1st player faction is determined by die roll, his top card is played, then play progresses to the next player clockwise. Players act on 1 card at a time, usually to move and attack with a column, until all cards are played. If neither side has won an automatic victory, reinforcements are added, columns changed and card sorted for the next turn. The number of cards used each turn increases as the game continues, from 4 on turn 1 to 7 on turn 10. New cards are also added to each faction's hand on turns 3, 4, 5 and 6. The factions will always have more cards than they are allowed to play each turn but the number of cards plus the choice available increases with time. So there will always be cards that are not in each faction's hand, the other factions will not only not know in what order acts will be performed but also be unaware of what actions will not be performed that turn. The increase in the number of cards available through the game means that each faction will do more each turn as time progresses. UNITA must play 2 blank cards in its hand so will be only moving 2 columns, or 1 column twice on turn 1.
Letter cards allow the movement of that column, blank cards must be played every turn but prevent any movement (that faction must pass onto the next player). 5th column cards allow any unit not part of a column to move and the rather wimpy command card allows column markers to be moved or swapped. It is forbidden to play a command card to move a column marker to any unit that has ready moved that turn. You cannot move column A twice, play a command and make column A into column B, then play a card to move column B. The only use of this card is to form more columns than the 4 or 5 markers provided or to deceive opponents by swapping column markers. Column D can only move once per turn, swap it to column A during a turn and it has 2 possible moves. In reality the command card will rarely be picked.
If columns and activation cards are the strength of the system, the victory rules are its bane.
Victory is a function of capturing towns and cities (28 to choose from). It is the capture of towns and cities in a turn that wins games, not the number actually held. Each faction has 5 victory markers, if MPLA captures a city from UNITA, then UNITA hands 2 markers to MPLA for new totals of 3 and 7 (FNIA and FAPLA still have 5). Capturing town gains I token, Luanda yields 3. Along the side of the map is a victory track labelled 20 to 10, if 2 allies control that number of tokens or more at the end of a turn, they have won. The track markers begin on 20; no way can any team control 20 markers at the end of turn 1, playing 4 operations each no side can capture enough real estate. If no team has won outright, the side with the most tokens moves its token 1 to 3 boxes down the track (depending on number of tokens held), making winning easier for that team on the next turn. After that all tokens go back to their original owners, collection begins again on the next turn. The side that controls least towns and cities will have less to lose in turn and have more enemy targets to attack and yield tokens in a turn. Also the side that has lost in a turn gains bonus reinforcements, with these advantages a side that has lost 1 turn will tend to bounce back and win the next. The victory tokens thus leapfrog down the track until a realistic target is occupied by 1 team's marker. With hard work 14 is possible, 13 is a fairly common end of turn score.
If 1 team is close to the marker level in tokens during a turn, play becomes reckless. When 1 extra token is needed to win near the end of a turn, assaults on towns at 1 to 1 become attractive. If the limit is reached early in a turn, the opposition will need to pull out the stops to recapture any built up area during the turn. It is the net gain of tokens that matters and victory is not judged until all action cards have been played. If a team goes for an outright victory in a game turn and fails, it will have to attack again against a re-inforced opponent on the following turn. If neither side wins automatically by turn 10, then the side with the lowest level victory marker wins although play is closest to a draw in this case.
Since it is the capture of towns and cities that yield victory, gameplay revolves around these sites. Angola is conveniently square shaped (unlike the designer's nightmare, Italy), with a separate strip, Cabinda, totally surrounded by Zaire. The struggle for Cabinda between MPLA and FNLA will draw off resources from the big struggle. If FNLA capture Cabinda, the FNLN UNITA victory marker automatically shifts 1 space down so it is worth some effort.
Turn 1 begins with 5 set towns and cities and Cabinda being allocated to the factions, 9 others are allocated randomly to each side, leaving 5 uncontrolled. The early game turns are based on sorting all this out. Victory tokens are gained for capturing towns and cities but not for walking into unoccupied areas, some out of the way places may be uncontrolled for a few turns. The biggest MPLNFAPLA new units tend to come on in Luanda, UNITA units in Namibia and FNLA in Zaire. This leads to the FNLA being strong in the North, UNITA in the South, FAP~A/MPLA is left with the centre. When they sort themselves out, FAPLA will fight on the Northern front and MPLA take the Southern, FNLAIUNITA do best before this occurs. The geography of Angola puts most built up areas in the centre near Luanda and along the coast, a position that gives MPLN FAPLA an advantage. Some out of the way areas, notably the South East, will not see any action, not containing any towns and not being on the way to any.
Play is a matter of judging how strong columns should be and which to move when. The order of column moving has to be decided before any players know which faction will move 1 st If a faction unites into I serious sized stack it should plough through 2 opposing stacks in a turn but that faction will be open to attacks on other fronts. Tanks, planes, artillery and mercenaries are special units, they are a boost in combat but you need the PBI as well. These special units are only available as foreign aid (to a faction that loses a turn) or by bidding for reinforcement cards. Bid for more cards than the opposing team and the opposition victory marker drops 1 space because of international concern at foreign involvement in Angola. The need to capture cities encourages flying columns, strong in infantry but well supported with special units. These plough through small garrisons but will eventually outrun their reinforcements and come up against a stronger enemy. Single units occupying roads slow down these columns to 1 or 2 areas a turn. On a clear road a column can make 6 areas or 3 in a combined road clear move. Off road movement is 1 area per turn except in jungle where a die roll must be made to leave the area. Roads are obviously the preferred means of travel; alas Angola is not blessed with a large road network. Many roads converge in the towns around Luanda, which gives MPLAIFAPLA an advantage if and when UNITNFNLA units are cleared out of the way.
Angola. This is perhaps the best ever first effort by independent people. "The victory rules are it's bane" Entirely disagree. The game shows in this regard and others that politics is more important than combat (Pacific War designers take note) and so a big victory in a short space of time is better than many small ones over a long time that attract no world attention. Your statement quoted above may give quite an unfair impression to some readers, I feel. Similarly the communists were perhaps more fragmented than is portrayed by having only 2 sides, so your "blatant fudge" is better expressed in the opposite manner. I would have said perfectly acceptable. Of a few minor problems I would highlight the impossibility of defending the open terrain containing the coastal cities and towns, so each player takes these on his turn. All in all a superb treatment with a touch of humour that mirrors the real thing so well as to be a definitive game.