29 April 2016

First to Fight (boardgame review)

While the title says boardgame review I would consider this to be as much a cardgame so I'm sticking both labels on this post.

First to Fight is a Polish game about Polish WW2 exploits in which players take on the roles of Polish commanders struggling to pull enough troops and resources together to complete operations on various fronts such as western Europe, Poland, Warsaw, Northern Europe/Atlantic and North Africa/Italy.

The game spans over the entire war and time is tracked with a calendar on the board. The game is divided into two parts, "early war" and "late war" with players being dealt mission cards for early war at the start of the game, and as those are finished or failed you receive new late war mission cards. A mission can be to assemble enough pilots in the Northern Europe/Atlantic region to take part in Battle of Britain, or have enough soldiers for the Warsaw Uprising, enough Saboteurs for the assassination of Reinhard Heydritch.

There are several troop types in the game, all represented by Polish soldiers or members of the resistance movement Armia Krajowa. These troops represent Infantry, Tank forces, Air force, Navy, Airborne infantry and Saboteurs. Soldiers come with two values, Fighting and Underground. The fighting value is used to complete objectives, for instance if a mission requires a total of 9 Pilots then all pilots that you have managed to pull together are worth their fighting value added together, additional personnel that is not part of the air force only contributes with a single point per card. The Underground value is used for sabotage in a region and for determining the order in which characters are wounded, soldiers with low underground value take wounds first. All characters can take two wounds before being removed from the game as casualties.

Sabotage in a region requires that the soldiers present have a combined underground value greater than the occupation level. Sabotage has the primary objective of lowering the German occupation level, as the occupation level adds to the difficulty of mission cards. If a mission has difficulty of 9 and the occupation is 5 then you must play a total of 14 to complete the mission.

What is interesting about this game is how you pull the resources (soldiers) around on the board. There are several actions which the players pick one at a time, often this includes moving a soldier form one frontline to another so that you can boost the troops assembled to complete your mission. At the same time another player may decide that he needs those Airborne units and pulls them out from under you just as the expiration date on your mission card kicks in.

At the end of each turn, when all players have finished their actions, an event card is drawn which states how far the date track moves ahead and what historical events take place. Events occur if the date on the card has been passed, but do not play out if they appear prematurely. You will not suffer  the effects of the death of general Wladyslaw Sikorski as a historical event if the card is drawn prior to July 1943. At the end of each turn players must also tell their opponents if they have a mission that expires after the date track has moved and if they can complete or must fail that mission.

After a mission has been played out, successful or failed, a die is rolled and wounds are placed on soldiers in that region where the mission took place. Wounded soldiers can't fight with their full fight value and count as 1 until healed, they may also die if they are forced to take another wound.

The actions players can pick each turn can affect unit movement, add medic tokens to their supply and trigger regional effects due to sabotage. Players can also train their soldiers, increasing the fight or underground value. Picking actions felt a bit like picking actions in the Game of Thrones boardgame, oftentimes the player that pick an action gets to make a superior version of the action, while everyone else gets to play a basic version. For instance the player who picks "Recruitment" draws 3 cards and selects 1, all other players draw 2 cards and select 1.

The game comes in dual language, English/Polish with everything described in both on the cards and tokens as well as in the rulebook. The components are of good quality, and the artwork of the various historical characters that make up the soldiers is really nice. As for the game itself, Caroline and I like it. We have played it with 2-4 people and it works with those numbers. However we found that missions that require saboteurs and take place in Warsaw or Poland tend to be easier to accomplish - mainly due to the saboteurs not being used in any other region and Warsaw/Poland being fairly secluded on the map while other troop types are shared between the remainder regions as well as Poland/Warsaw. To counteract this, competing players must draw away saboteurs from Warsaw/Poland to prevent easy victories for players with those type of scenarios.

Another fix would be to implement victory points for something more than just counting VP for completed missions. This would balance the game a bit, but what you would base those points on is hard for me to suggest at the moment.

The game takes roughly 90 minutes if you play fast, players can speed up game time by quickly ending rounds (as an action) and force advance the time track. This can be handy if you have scenarios that end late in each period and want to stress your opponents preventing them to gather the necessary manpower. However, the game runs a risk at dragging for the same reason - if you have late game scenarios there is no panic or urgency for you to finish them and you feel less involved until expiration date closes in.

To be honest I would probably like the game less if it had any other theme, or even another "Point of view" . But having a game solely based on the Poles during WW2 made me buy it and probably enjoy it more. That's not to say that there are some good ideas and solid game mechanics at work.
It just feels that it could have been made with a bit more finesse and degree of development to make a more enjoyable end product.

First to Fight 6,5 / 10 of which half a point is for theme alone.

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