On March 1st, I played against my friend Brady who is part of the clutch of “Men who play board Wargames” in Austin. We usually get together either at Great Hall Games or someones house and do a side by side play thru. This is where 4 guys and 2 copies of the same game are run thru.
It makes for great play and lots of fun, seeing the various approaches to each side in a given title. This time we gathered so Brady could teach me No Retreat! I was anxious to play it, as I had heard wonderful things, and horrid things. Having seen the volume of posts on BGG, I was concerned about card play as every day someone was posting a question about cards. A testament to popularity , or an indictment of play-ability? I see too that the game was beaten out for board wargame of the year by A few Acres of Snow…..
Eager to find out, we setup and got going very quickly.
Brady had been schooled in No Retreat by a local player who had “played it to death”. So Brady learned the hard way getting some serious ass smacking. Given his good nature I feel bad for Brady every time he loses, even when he wins he is self deprecating about it! We are using the original rules as printed not the 2nd revision rules that makes it even harder for the Axis. I have a bone to pick about that later.
I digress. My point here is that I had a very able and gracious teacher!
He walked me thru the mechanics, and the card play. As well as taking time to explain some of the finer point around how EZOCS work. Which at the Corp level made sense, and added some thinking to unit placement in your turns.
There is also a concept of shattered and surrendered units. Some units maybe brought back as a replacement piece when killed, but not if you surrender or are eliminated via Supply (we never saw that happen). This helps keep unit count down which is nice for a smaller game.
I thought I was pretty clever first turn scoring some great 4:1 and higher attacks. You place little markers for you voluntary attacks. Your opponent may spend a card to force an involuntary attack for you to make. Usually at poor odds. Not nice!
So cards appear to fill a currency (Bradys term) role in the game, you use them to buy these involuntary attacks, purchase replacements and all sorts of other things as well as for the events on the card.
Looks pretty good up there! It was at this moment despite the clear differences that I felt like I was playing The Russian Campaign, wrought small, condensed, shrunk and distilled. You had blitzkrieg counters! Very cool, just like a Stuka.
Inexplicably Brady left Smolensk open, I pressed home the advantage. Woods move combat odds 1 column in favor of the Defender.
All along I was really only looking for 4:1 attacks or better. In hind sight despite the risks I would have pushed harder and risked more. For some reason I did not hear that we were playing a 5 turn campaign and seeing all the counters on the time track got me thinking I had more time!
But I’m getting ahead here.
Here Brady spend a chit to force a poor odds attack & this weakens the odds of my attack I had voluntarily planned. Which is now committed so I must attack. That draws a precious Stuka (blitz) from my stash for the turn.
I initially had a lot of units pressing South. This forces Brady to defend a broader area. The road to Moscow is open… oh but wait…
Yep here come the reinforcements, all the units I just killed!. The good news is Brady uses up ALL of his cards – so no funny business with odds shifts etc or counter attacks being forced. My men adjust to the opportunity and head for Moscow.
Brady forces a poor odds attack on me and I lose a step:
Brady has a good line going. The EZOCS block any sneaking around or any chance to really head south. Forgetting the importance of Sevastopol I have my Moscow or Bust hat on and adjust my attack thrust in one direction. 20 years of TRC habits cannot be undone. I go for Moscow! Note the red unit in Moscow. It was just a regular unit. But by paying he can upgrade it to fortified. He can also flip other units and make the Guards units. Thats right…. by paying with a card. This gambit is limited however and cannot happen before Turn 4 I think.
The fact that this is my first loss in 3 turns should have told me that I was not fighting hard enough. The Axis have 2 steps per unit versus 1 for the Soviets as well.
Note the Soviet CRT. Each side has slightly different CRT’s. I like that.
Here you can see that the VP count is racking up, but not fast enough.
Turn 4, snow. Yes General Winter arrives to save the day! The shifts are brutal, last turn of course was mud, so we had just 3 movement points for everyone. That is to be expected. We get one MP back for snow, but our combat shifts crush our ability to fight effectively.
Lets see what happens.
Taking another step loss I attack as many units as I can to try and get to Moscow. With one unit in place and Kalinin secured I go all out with an attack. Due to fortifications the resulting DR is converted to no effect.
Even with this card allowing me to move extra units into play.:
Tula falls but Moscow holds.
Now down in the South I could have tried attacking Sevastopol, however that would leave cities exposed. Having taken 2 step losses of Romanians (in hindsight I should have taken a step on a German unit to keep the counter mix on the board higher!. This would have allowed me to protect the cities and push at Sevastopol.
Now the Soviet juggernaut kicks in.
What do I mean? Yes it worse than just gobs of troops. Here Brady plays a Partizan card forcing a step loss & he receives 3 “shock” troop counters. These function the same as Blitz’s.
I’m on a sticky wicket here. Realizing the mistakes I have made, I do what any good TRC player would do.
Of course !!!!! I blame the weather. ” If not for the Snow!!!!!”
The game is mostly over at this point. I pile an 9 or 10:1 attack on. But of course with 4 shifts (winter, fortifications etc) it makes no difference, as max odds are 6:1 – 4 so at 2:1 I obtain another DR. Moscow holds and Brady adds insult to injury making take low odds counterblow attacks. A smart move by him as this reduces the odds on the moscow attack and sets up things for next turn.
So. Some lesons for an old dog:
Even on a small field (board) you can maneuver. Pay attention to which scenario you are playing. Know your victory conditions! Go hard or go home!
Certainly the Soviets were never really in doubt of a win here. In fact over the course of the game I struggled to see how Moscow & the extra VP city could be captured (Sevastopol , Leningrad or Stalingrad). If I had the two extra Romanians I perhaps could have secured Sevastopol, by using them as screens for South. Leningrad was never at risk.
Interestingly there is extra “terrain” on the maps. Note the woods around Moscow. That is not accurate. It was mentioned that this was ‘ used to simulate defenses outside of Moscow. That is a shame. Why not do it “right”. With such a stunning map, and broad use of color, one more terrain type would not have hurt.
Whatever the terrain was, it prevented reaching Moscow by a turn and thus rendered any attack stuck at 2:1 at best. This means that your chances of clearing Moscow if fortified rely on an Exchange result which would then remove the fortifications and allow a regular attack the next turn. Likely at max odds of 3:1, but that is much better! Tough to do. Which leads me to think that Moscow should not be the goal. Perhaps a dual strategy of capturing Leningrad in the North to then threaten Moscow, whilst the Axis go on a city/VP acquisition binge in the South?
Thoughts on game play.
No Retreat is a simple game to learn. I imagine it could also be relatively easy to master despite the random nature of the cards interfering with the best Axis General or Soviet Commander. Where the game deisgners thoughtfulness shines is however not in the cards. It is in the mechanics that surround counter attacks, the combat system of shifts are carefully used varying by terrain, weather and other factors, the reinforcement/replacement allocations and the EZOC’s rules.
These features allow for some decision making of a risk taking nature at a Corps level game. Otherwise you have a fairly vanilla board game, that plays like a simplified version of The Russian Campaign.
No Retreat does however capture some of the essence of the Eastern Front conflict; broad sweeps forward in good weather, inexhaustible supplies of Soviet hordes, and deadly winters. But its broth not bullion.
The game rules on this one play appear fairly balanced. I wonder if those that have sought out game play and rules balancing understand the conflict or are perhaps new to wargaming? This conflict is about ebbs and flows. Being the Soviets is no picnic for 2-3 turns. unit placement and reinforcement usage is important. I wonder if players are playing their hand of cards for forces or keeping them influence in turn play? This is one area where the novice player might become frustrated. 2nd edition rules are apparently from my read making it harder for the Axis to win! I can’t see why. A few ore plays may reveal something.
It for sure is a better game than A Few Acres of Snow…. For a start No Retreat is clearly a war game. A Few Acres of Snow is not. I do also think that No Retreat is a game that could be used for the new gamer as a cross over into board wargaming and I would be comfortable introducing the game as such. It is stunning to look at, plays easily and has enough choices in it to keep the interest level. New comers will gain some insight to hex and counter, learn some core principles about wargame mechanics and hopefully develop a taste for more!
The card play can be a bit much for me. The time spent reading each card and checking if its useful, only to discard all but two every turn is an annoyance I can forgive, barely. I also felt like I was missing units, that the Axis was short changed. Killing permanently any unit is hard, unless you pocket effectively. To do this in a 5 turn scenario is not worthwhile. A longer scenario might change the view I think. The CRTs are not particularly deadly. Whilst the map is beautiful, I did find my self peering intently on the cluttered turn record looking up what to do, but other wise this is a class act, classic uber high quality GMT Game, from rules to board simply stunning.
I will be playing it again. I did enjoy it. In the vast Hall of East Front Games, I am sure this will rank highly for its accessibility and game play. Calling it a mini monster is a stretch. But dismissing it as a overly simplistic game is not fair either. I am clearly in two minds about this game, and I will need to play it some more to really either appreciate it or move on!
Is it for Grognards?
if you have a few hours to kill sure. But if you want the breadth AND depth of the Eastern front then no. The abstraction layers whilst nice, and mostly all very clever are to far removed. This is not Case Blue, nor was it ever intended to be of course. I think I like the game. I will pop my shrink on it and play with friends. There is likely very good replay value. As I said it feels like The Russian Campaign.
So much so, when I arrived home, I pulled my L2 version of TRC out and fondled the counters, and recalled great games with those tan colored Soviet counters from the old Jedko version. I looked at 2nd Panzer SS, the Stuka counters, and the Partizans! Time passes……..
It is May/June 1942, the Axis are back on the offensive! The Southern Gambit is a success and German Armies use their 2nd Impulse to race towards Stalingrad and the Urals. Army Group Center approaches the outskirts of Moscow, staring down a fierce defense!