Playings 3, 8 hours
This game is in Spanish, published by Ludopress the people who did Alea. Thankfully there was a pretty comprehensive English translation included in my copy. There are 2 big scenarios from the Spanish Civil War, Batlle for the La Coruna Highway (Jan 1937) and Battle of Jarama (Feb 1937) both involved with the Nationalist attempts to seize Madrid. These looked a bit too serious so I first had a go at 2 of the smaller scenarios that use the map and counters from La Coruna. Jarama has a separate map and counters although markers are shared. The games I chose were smaller than expected covering an A5 area with heavy duty stacking. Although they lasted for 3 and 5 turns I stopped them both before the final whistle as it was clear who was going to win and I was glad to get out.
The game system is built from the bottom up. A large number of relatively simple systems that have difficulty hanging together. Formations are important as players activate formations in turn with a D10 roll deciding who goes next. Success in battle will give a bonus to this roll. So if you start 1st and begin with some good attacks you will be activating most of your formations before the opposition starts. The full colour counters have decent symbols to say who can belong to what formation and which Brigades are part of which Divisions however players have the ability to reassign units. This can be marked on orders of battle and is likely to cause serious headaches. The notes to Jarama indicate that the Republicans will have to do some serious reorganisation during the battle; this does not sound a lot of fun. Thankfully there is not a lot to organise in the small scenarios but the sequence of play is still very loose. It appears that when a formation is activated the units within it can do what they like, attack and not move (for increased oomph) move and attack, attack during movement or do a bit of both (attacking at half strength). The mobile attack (overrun) and improvised attack (half strength but does not end activation) seem to cover the same ground making me think that the improvised attack is not well defined. The result of all this is that a single activation will see attacks followed by movement followed by more attacks and if you are lucky some breakthrough movement. The scenarios that I tried left no room for any breakthrough. Combat is drawn out but easy to follow. It is odds based with a die bonus for the single best efficiency unit present (this is likely to go to the Nationalists). Some but not all tanks have an anti-tank factor that can skew the odds. Some Republican tanks are strong here but the Pz Is do not have an anti-tank rating (no surprise). Air power can bomb and interdict but I used it for ground support. It is assigned to a formation at the start of a turn and can fly in and support units of that formation only. It takes AAA fire meaning more dice rolls and the chance of reducing the support factor. It is still quite possible to have more support in a hex than defending strength points. Artillery can support as well except you canít shoot it down. The larger games require good use of support units as a formation can be hit until it runs out of support to commit and then really pushed back if the enemy still has support to spare. You can do this by piling on the air units in a small area and having 2 formations gang up on 1 enemy. Secretly assigning support units makes a lot of sense here but it is much easier to just assign support to the nearest HQ. The Nationalists have more support but fewer formations in La Coruna. They cannot keep all formations in supply of the overall HQ at the same time whereas the Republic can just about do it. The key factor here is control of an East-West road that is just right for tracing command along. Luckily the penalties for being out of Division or Corps command are not great even if these include the penalties for being out of formation command (a factor that is not made clear).
Basic combat results are retreats and losses with the 1st loss coming from the best unit and the others assigned randomly. Units can take several steps of loss but can be forced to retreat again or be demoralised before they are eliminated. The number of step losses required for this depends on the efficiency of the unit. It is not clear how to undemoralise a unit but units with losses can be transferred into other units which should do the trick. I am stumped by the separate disorganisation state which can only apply to HQs but has rules for other units to recover from it. There are separate rules sections and game markers for demoralisation and disorganisation so this is not a translation problem. The Spanish follows the same format anyway. Still all these factors slow up combat. As units tend to be stacked you have to move the lot off the map to see what is involved and check the unit ratings that are crammed on the back of every unit.
Having tried the 2 of the small scenarios I gave the La Coruna game a blast. This uses about half the available counters and most of 1 map. Having set it up I noted a big problem. The victory conditions allow the Nationalists to go North or West. If they take the historical West option there are 15 victory points for each hex of Madrid, a hefty 300 total that will flatten all other sources of victory. Well most of Madrid is behind Republican lines but empty apart from fortifications that do not stop movement and can be used by either side. The Nationalists are guaranteed the 1st activation and can move into over half of the city. To back this up they will have to seriously shift troops about and I found that having taken much of the city the Nationalists were driven back out. The rest of the map showed a slow Nationalist advance that was eventually turned back be the stream of Republican reinforcements. Looking at the end situation I gave the Republic a win although they would have had one anyway due to their control of Madrid. I am stunned by this set up problem, it encourages a Nationalist attack to the South of the map instead of the historical North and West plus forces units along the map edge when the real battle sensibly occurred around the map centre. I checked the Spanish rules and there are no qualifications to the Madrid victory hexes nor any units to start in South Madrid. All the Republican Coruna units are used during the game so there is no omission from the set up and the limited Spanish errata that I have does not mention the problem. I have the impression of a game designed for re-enacting the battle. The Republican units deployed here did not take part in the battle and so we do not get the units. Of course no worthy player is going to advance his Nationalists in the wrong direction. The problem could be fixed by preventing units entering certain hexes of South Madrid and removing the victory point bonus for those hexes.
Looking back I have spent quite a bit of time on a game that just about works but is pretty close to a system disaster. After some thought I will hold onto it as it is helpful with my limited Spanish (I keep forgetting bits of the language and then learning it again). I also feel that the research could be adapted for a figure game (I have 6mm SCW figures) or even for the computer systems Steel Panthers or Operational Art of War. At least it does not take up much space.