Paths of Glory (GMT)

Playings; 4, 16 hours (2 Central Powers, 2 Allied wins)

This game by Ted Racier is a fusion of his own Great War in Europe and the For The People series system. I enjoy both these games but must say that if I had to choose I would keep Great War in Europe and the Near East. This pair of magazine games are not much more expensive new on the 2nd chance list and cheaper used than Pathe of Glory and I had a lot more fun playing them. Paths of Glory scores points in being shorter and requiring less space. The game system provides a variety of play options but the simulation of the period is not all it could be. With the right card draws and plays you can recreate WWI but certain actions can produce other results. I note that consimworld.com has over 1,100 comments on Paths of Glory. I scanned the last 20 or so and they appear favourable. To me the play value is good but not up to For the People or Blue vs. Grey.

The general system is similar enough to For the People to avoid going into every detail. There are 2 sizes of combat units for most nations. The big armies take 6 or 4 steps and are replaced by the 2 step Corps units. You can also have loose Corps units that are poorer in combat and are basically used to fill in the gaps and bulk up the armies. Some Corps need to be kept back for army breakdown or you are stuffed. These could be the home or reserve Battalions. Supply is much like Great War in Europe, easy enough to trace but you are dead if you can’t. Errata turned up pretty soon after the game came out. Most of this is minor except for an additional trench in a box that does not exist. The big change is an increase in the cost to activate the MEF (Gallipoli) army making it very hard to do much more than sit near the beaches with it. This could be an indication of some cunning ploy having been discovered and now nailed down by the designer.

The 110 cards have been split into 1 deck for each player both of which have 3 sub-decks, Mobilisation, Limited War and Total War. The game starts using the Mobilisation decks with the others mixed in as the war progresses. Each player has 6 actions in a turn but can hold a hand of 7 cards. An action consists of playing 1 card or taking a 1-operation action, allowing some ability to build up cards over several turns. The tendency to increase how much each card can do has continued since We the People.

  1. A card can be used for its points value in activations, an activation will allow the units in 1 box to move or attack.
  2. An alternative but similar value can move that number of Corps units any distance or 4 points will move an army.
  3. The card can be played to bank replacement points that are used to build new units at the end of a turn. Up to half the cards played per player in a turn can be replacements.
  4. The card event can be played, this may be reinforcements, neutral entry or some other events. Great War in Europe players will recognise most of these. Event cards are discarded after use, in 1 to 3 above the used card is shuffled back into draw pile the turn after it is played.
  5. Some cards are combat cards that instead of a regular event can be used to boost attack or defence. Some of these are discarded after use others remain in play if played by an attacker who wins the combat. They continue in play fort the remainder of the turn and can be used for 1 combat per round.

Cards vary in power but as a rule they are weak or strong in all respects. A good reinforcement card will also have high operations and long distance movement numbers. The combat cards tend to be weak all around.

Many of the event cards increase the war readiness of the nation that plays them by 1 or 2 points. This is not affected if the same card is not played as an event. At a war readiness of 4 the Limited War cards are shuffled into the draw pile and at 12 the Total War cards are added. Due to the option to play event cards for other purposes and the ability to take 1 action without playing a card a player can peg his war preparedness value and cycle through a diminishing hand. This will ensure that a desired event turns up but is not recommended as events will remain unavailable until all sub-decks are added to the draw pile and all cards allow more than 1 action. Some events require others to be played before them and others cease to have any effect after certain stages of the game. It is usually best to play an event early on as this will increase the war preparedness and hence the range of events available. The Mobilisation and Limited War events will turn up fairly rapidly as the draw pile is comparatively small. When Total War is added these same cards will be swamped, reducing the chance of drawing them. Consider the "Tsar takes command" card, this requires 3 Russian victory point cities to be held by the Central Powers before it can be played. It is a Limited War card and could show up before the Central Powers get going in the East. There is an incentive to play it as a non-event but this could be a problem later on as the Central Powers move East and cannot trigger any disorganisation in Russia as the "Tsar takes command" card is not to hand. It is the 1st in a series of Russian revolution cards and it may well be buried in the enlarged draw pile. The card could instead be held as the 7th card and played as soon as it is eligible.

All the above is pretty standard for the series system and does offer the player choice. The decision to put in new troops, build up reserves with replacements or put everything up front with operations is a reasonable approximation of resources. The events do not all fit in, those related to combat can be regarded as resources applied to supply and training rather than manpower and equipment. A few such as neutral entry, cancelling an offensive is more likely to hinder the attraction allies. Still there are not enough of these events to affect the general flow. There is a problem with nationality distinction that does not show up other games of this system, all of which have basically 1 nation per player. Here there is very much an East and West front for the Allies and at least a Germany and everyone else for the Central Powers. In the game the same card play can be used for any eligible unit and is likely to be applied where most needed. This can lead to a lot of card play on 1 front while another is ignored. To use the resources example the French and British will be running around plugging gaps and drawing up reserves while the Russians sit about as there are no cards to be spared from the West to make them do anything. This is precisely wrong as Western and Eastern offensives were launched to take pressure off the other front. This can be simulated with card play in the game but poor or inexperienced play can lead to some unusual zooming in of the war to crisis spots while other areas freeze up. Both sides have to roll for a mandatory offensive at the start of each turn. If this is not carried out a victory point is lost or gained (the Germans need 20 to win, the Allies 0). This factor may have been added to encourage all fronts to be used. Another approach would be some degree of linking resources to nations that can use them.

Trenches are another problem area. What is the Great War without trenches? There are suitable counters available that give a solid bonus in defence. Some begin on the map and others can be constructed when the "entrenchment" event is played. This is a Limited War card duplicated in both players’ packs so should show up in 1914. Due to the nature of card play and the addition of Limited War cards it may not and possibly will not show up before the war ends. This is not likely but could happen, the chance is increased as the card may be drawn early on but not played as an event because the holder is doing well and does not want his opponent to entrench. Assuming the card is played – it almost certainly will be – army counters can entrench if they do not move and roll under a 2 or 3 depending on their quality. A suitable card must be played to allow the army to move if it wanted but only 1 army in the box may try to entrench although you can squeeze 3 into the space. Reading between the lines in the rules playtesters have been doing a lot of entrenching and it is a sound move but with all the possible uses of a card and the low chance of success digging trenches may not be as common as expected. This may be a case of the good player benefiting from historical play but should a player have to be good at a game to make it simulate well?

Modifications

These are totally unofficial design changes.

1. Nation specific cards. Cards with designated reinforcements can be played as the stated event or used for operations or strategic movement only for the stated nation or a related minor. This does not affect the play of other cards on any nation. For this rule Russia includes Romania, France includes Serbia, Britain includes Belgium, Austria-Hungary includes Bulgaria. An attempt to widen the area of action in a turn.

2. The MEF. Restrictions on activating the MEF only apply if it and any associated Corps draw supply through the MEF beach head. If the MEF can draw supply through any other route to London it pays the regular activation costs. This is likely to occur when some other Allied force links up with the unit. An incentive to hold out as the MEF or save it for a flank threat.

3. Trenches. If no card is played and the 1 operation option is invoked a single army may entrench to level 1 for free and with no die roll required. 6 guaranteed trenches per turn for those plagued by bad luck.