Playings; 3 (7 hours),2 Russian wins, 1 Central Powers.
This is the 1st Command that I have bought since Blood and Iron and can briefly report that not a lot has changed. When Eagles fight looks like Storm in the West, similar map and counter graphics, thankfully the system has changed. Special note, there are no zones of control, to hold a front you will need a real line, none of the hold-a-hex, skip-a-hex Storm in the West approach. Neither side starts with enough units to hold such a line right across the map, conflict begins in Prussia (North) and Galicia (South). As the 2 zones begin to join together there is a chance of some decisive action by either side roughly level with Lodz (sounds familiar).
This is obviously a Command game, strangely similar to all the others. They probably begin life quite distinct but the Command production line smooths the rough edges and forces the games into a standard mould. Still, When Eagles Fight is about as good as this sort of thing gets and some good ideas have managed to make it through to the finished game. A concept that shouldn't have gives each combat at above 5:1 odds an extra +1 for every extra increment. This is straight out of Storm in the West, it will guarantee success at 6:1 or better. This is a big help for the Germans who can use it to take out surrounded fortresses or breakthrough weak points in the Russian line. It does not account for those occasions when subordinates neglect to use all forces at their disposal nor the problems in gaining high odds in trench warfare. You send in a wave of troops who may be mown down, leaving the next wave to face exactly the same defenders. Limiting attacks to a maximum of 5:1 will solve this but slightly hamper the Germans who, with the highest combat factors, are most likely to attain high odds.
The game map stretches from Berlin to St. Petersberg, enough to cover the significant fighting before the Russian revolution. When Eagles Fight begins with the Russians having begun the attacks around Tannenberg, giving the Germans a chance to pull back or counter-attack. Allowing the Russians to move first gives them a big boost, guess who found this out by mistake? If the Central Powers win they do so by bringing about the Russian Revolution, rather a hard end to plan for except that the revolution is influenced by how many Russian cities captured. First 8 and later 11 cities have to be taken to win, historically fighting did not stop at this point. The map does not stretch far enough East to allow the advances made during Trotsky's "no peace no war" (no way) directive. A significant number of Central Powers' troops were tied up in Russia after the revolution controlling their new territories and "allies" after Brest-Litovsk. When Eagles Fight finishes before this period but does allow the Russians to win by knocking out Germany or Austria-Hungary as the allies hoped.
Other theatres of war are neatly handled by random events which must happen on every game turn from 5 onwards. Some of these will not be relevant at the time they are rolled, depending on previous events and the progress of on-map units so there will not be an event every turn. Events affect the number of new units arriving and change the chance of the Russian Revolution occurring. On balance they favour the Russians, Verdun will seriously reduce the German strength and can spell disaster if rolled just as the Russians break through. Equally important to game play and equally random is the concept of Russian ammunition shortage, a hefty shortage at the wrong time biasing the Central Powers. Game turn and die roll determine the number of shortage counters to be placed, from 2 to 12, half by each player. Each counter affects 1 combat unit, halving its combat factors. Ammunition shortage counters cannot be placed on Russian fortresses and cities in Russia, within these guide-lines the Russian will try to place markers on out of the way units. The Central Powers will pick crucial units and plan to attack them. With 12 counters to place, the Russian may have to place some of his 6 in the front line. Naturally this is not exactly how the ammunition shortage occurred, the concept of troops waiting in reserve trenches for rifles to become available is not felt. Russians do not have independent artillery units so ammunition cannot affect their use. Considering the game on a grand strategic level this system does simulate the Russian being well stuffed by lack of ammo, as was historical this situation improves with time.
National differences are addressed albeit broadly. As traditional the Germans have the best units, in black to boot. Not satisfied with 2 heavy artillery which increase the die roll in combat, they have an Ober Ost HQ available every 2 turns. This allows all supplied German units within 2 hexes to attack (but not move) again after regular combat. Russians are all much the same, some 1 step others 2, every 2nd turn the Stavka HQ can add 1 to the attack rolls of adjacent units. If the Czar takes command in Russia this unit is removed. Austrian units are removed after 1 step but like all other units can re-built. Unlike other nations Austro-Hungarian units come back at a reduced strength, they can never be built back up to peace time strength, representing the loss of multi-lingual officers. The difference of higher level command is not considered above the presence of Ober Ost and Stavka, both of whose use is limited to tactical situations. Although German commanders in the East tended to do what they were told, sometimes before being told to do it, the Austro-Hungarians and Russians did not have such a solid record. If you order an attack or advance in When Eagles Fight it will be carried out no matter how clever or stupid the action. This conflict was peppered with Austrian and Russian commanders taking their own view of who should attack where. This situation is rather larger than that covered by a single bad die roll in combat, it would equate to rows of (4 or 5?) counters not moving or attacking. Imagine Front HQs for Austria and Russia, say 2 units per command to mark the ends of the line controlled by that Front. These would have to activate to use all units as the player wished. A failure would only allow attack forwards or retreat backwards (a Russian speciality). The number of fronts would increase with total force size making commanding large armies harder. Unhampered by this lot, the German should do well if his Austrian allies do not totally foul up.
The neglect of simulating problems of high command is nothing new in simulation games. It is more important where large numbers of troops are involved, S&T's Balkan Wars being at a smaller scale puts the player in the shoes of these smaller commanders. When Eagles Fight could have pushed itself a little further, looking at the woods rather than the trees, yet scores special points for random events and ammunition shortages (both also part of the big picture).