Friday, June 10, 2011

Secret of the Third Reich

For years I was looking for a "good" game.

A good game would include alternate playing, where all units got their importance, even the smaller, include a nice background that is easy to play and not detailed enough so I won't meet somebody who will tell me : Sorry you cannot play this unit because if you refer to page 23 of the extension version 3 and based on the timeline, ...

I first encountered Secret of Third Reich by luck. I kept on collecting miniatures against all odds, as living in HK space is precious and as many of my friends tended to smuggle whatever I buy to hide my weakness. Anyhow, I was buying on my favorite website, Ludikbazar  and got into a promotion for Secret of the Third Reich. Without knowing it, I jumped into a Universe of Madness and Despair. Madness as I loved the miniatures and their design, Despair because mister Credit Card and my banker were setting up a trap.

I ended up pretty much with 3 armies, German, US (French 1949 proxy) and British, without buying the books! Again, they were dedicated for a game I was self-developing, "Run n'Steel" - More on it later on on that blog.

When I finally saw some battle reports, got into Anatoli's blog I finally invested into the books and discovered that lovely game.

Without being perfect, the game include a lot of ideas and concept, and here are my comments on Secret of the Third Reich (SoTR):
- Releases : The game is developed by a medium size gaming company, WestWind, very small when compared to Games Workshop, but with more entrepreneurial spirit and they are listening to their fans. Their releases are quite periodic but hectic. Some periods are full of novelties, other are dry.
- Miniatures : Here people have mixed view. Mostly of good sculpture, the weapons are can look funny as they are less detailed than other WW2 brands (Bolt Action for instance) but moreover compared with the body. There is a good idea with the Separate Head System that gives more flexibility. You just buy the heads and give them the body you want. They have also some interesting mecha and tanks (from their not-weird games). Finally, WestWind officially allow proxy models, so WW2 models and other retro Sci-Fi models can be used too.
- Weirdness : This is were the game take off, but Weirdness distribution among Nations is not fair. While the German and the Soviet got a lot of Weird units, the British and the Americans received less. Thanksfully, they were supplemented later on with the Doomsday extension. Still, where we could expect some nice innovations, the size of Westwind lags behind gamers expectation. At the same time, I can say that the openness of the game are somehow opposed to it. If Westwind develop everything, there is less room for gamers to create the parts they want. It is clear from the game and the different unit creation mechanism that the game developers want the gamers to expand the story beyond the booksm and That's Good!
- Openness : that's the crazy innovative and good part of the Madness. Nobody sane in his mind would let people's imagination free to build what they want. Maybe that's the era and the audience of the game that is avoiding the "Grosbillisme", a typical gamer word in French for using all rules possible to build something not realistic, not funny but flawless, strong, powerful and invincible. A drawback is that we are waiting for Westwind to give us guidelines for the Japanese and the Spanish Forces. Germans are feeling a little bit alone in their war against the world.
- Diy unit : As part of the openness, Westwind develops a nice concept of diy units and Order of Battle (OoB). Mecha, tanks and transport are ready for customization. As we are in Weird 1949, it is likely that most of the weapons and vehicles look different.
The custom OoB is also a nice addition for the one who wants to play the minor powers, whether they are French, Italian, Polish,...
- Background : A big +1 to the background even if sometimes there are inconsistencies between the main book and the extension. Anyhow, I have as a comparaison, it would be more the 1st Age in Tolkien's universe (major events, focus on them, but what is happening in the mean time to the rest of the Universe is up to the reader and his imagination) than the Lord of the Ring where everything is streamlined with all the causes and consequences explained and where there is little room for imagination of the reader.
- Game system : Unit activation based with alternate activation between players. That's a good system where a small powerless unit has its use and won't be sacrificed, who said wasted?, to make room. Same for the coolness factor, down and goner. A soldier hit is not a soldier gone, and any human can be killed by machine gun, whatever their Heroic level is. There is no indestructible unit on the table, just the right strategy. It  encourages game with a lot of terrain, which is quite realistic.You can argue that weird WW2 is not realistic, no general sane in his mind would send his army in an open field to confront his enemies. We are not facing the tactical challenge of another welknown game that a friend one day resumed : I traveled 10 million light years with my spaceship to cut you down in hand to hand fight. Remind me to add that most weapons have no limit. A sniper gun won't stop to be dangerous after 200m. A tank won't need to shoot at short range to destroy another tank. Remember than even in WW2, tanks could kill each other at more than 1 kilometer!
- Balance : Warning, the game is not balance at all, and this is why I like it. Army can be small in size and high quality or big in size and low quality. And this is not limited by the nation you take but how you spend your points. Germans can field an only werewolf platoon, US a power suit platoon only, British a commando, Russian a mecha platoon, and still they can all can also field infantry only platoon. This is really giving a lot of customization and if you like the background of your nation, you can field a platoon with a lot of variant every time without being limited by the nation's choice. That brings a lot of surprise during games and tournament as, even if you know that your opponent is a Soviet, you never know what it will contain.

In summary, a good game if you like the period and the atmosphere and challenges. A good game if you like not being told how you need to play. A good game if you like to field a platoon with your today's mood and miniatures you like.

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