GrogHeads Reviews Quartermaster General
Euro wargame? Card-driven Diplomacy? The first fun game of logistics? Michael reveals all.
Review by Michael Eckenfels, 20 June 2015
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Quartermaster General is a board game focused on World War II. “Oh great,” you’re probably thinking, “another World War II board game.” The issue with thinking like that, though, is that you might think that for just about any game coming out about World War II, especially one named “Quartermaster General.” It’s not exactly a name that inspires fascination or even interest. For me, the title itself might be somewhat uninspired, but this is precisely why it caught my eye.
The name alone indicates there’s much more to this game than what its title is letting on to. It sounds like it’s more a game about supply and logistics, which is not something that’s covered solely in any board game I’ve ever heard of (feel free, though, to correct me in the forum’s Feedback page for this review, as I’d love to learn more about them). To me, though, the idea of a game solely revolving around logistics sounds incomprehensibly boring, compared with pushing minis or cardboard counters about a map in a struggle for supremacy!
And that’s precisely what this game says it is about, though – supply. As a player in this game, you are one (or more) of six countries involved in the planet-engulfing conflict that was World War II, and the game’s system revolves around spreading your control via Armies and Navies and trying to keep intact lines of supply to keep them operating. The six countries are divided evenly between the Axis and Allies – Germany, Italy, and Japan on one side, and the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union on the other. The game is for two to six players, with players doubling up on countries if there’s less than six.
I’ve done an unboxing article on this game previously, so this might all look a tad familiar. Check out that article if you want to see pics of what I’m describing here (other than the pics included in this review, which are different).
I will say that this game is one of the more beautifully-presented that I’ve seen in many years. There have been some that are great at capturing the flavor of the period they intend to simulate, and Quartermaster General does that very well. How? Read on and I will explain.
Game board. I’m not sure of the measurements (it’s not mentioned, surprisingly, in the rules or on the game box), but it’s fairly large. It’s mounted also, which makes it very thick, sturdy, and heavy. The box itself feels as heavy as a phone book, and that’s thanks mostly to the game board. At first glance, you can easily tell it is all about the area control mechanic, but you’ll note that the areas on the board are a lot larger than what you’d find in other, similar board games. For example, Africa is two provinces (“Africa” and “North Africa”). South America is but one province. You get the idea. The board is in full color and well done.
Rule book. At 23 pages, most of which is full-color examples, there’s not a lot of reading to do to get into this game. The rules are good, clear, and to the point, with maybe a reference or two during the first game and then hardly ever thereafter. Some situations in the game might get a little Machiavellian, and references to the rule book might get confusing and result in in-game bickering (yes, I have been witness to this), but the rules are built to head off any such arguments. Best-laid plans and all.
216 Cards. Each of the six countries in this game has their own deck of cards, and some have more cards than others. Some countries do not have certain types of cards. These are all of absolutely excellent quality, made of good card stock and look like they’re straight off of a World War II propaganda poster. More on these later.
55 Game Pieces. These are either Army or Navy pieces, colored for the country that controls them, are made of wood, and are rather large. Army pieces look like tanks (kind of, as these are die-cut and look like a tank in profile but otherwise, not at all), and Navy pieces look like…wait for it…like ships! Vaguely like modern warships, actually, but they look the part from all angles at least. Each are colored according to their controlling country, and some have more pieces than others. The only thing that’s odd about the coloring scheme is that the Japanese pieces are khaki-colored while the United Kingdom pieces are yellow-colored. As so many other games use yellow to represent Japan’s forces (Axis & Allies comes immediately to mind), this is kind of an odd design choice. Since the United Kingdom and Japan have the same number of Army and Navy pieces, though, this is easily enough rectified by switching them if desired.
Markers. There’s a really cool chevron that is used to mark the round number on the board. There’s also Victory Point markers for the Axis and Allied sides both, and that’s pretty much it. Five markers total. This is rather refreshing to have so few pieces.
Quartermaster General pretty much touts itself as NOT a game about warfare, but rather, about supply lines and keeping armies and navies in the field. Each turn, a country’s player chooses a card to play, checks the supply state of all their pieces, then counts how many Supply Spaces they occupy and get two VPs for each of them. Players can then discard from their hand, and then draw up to seven cards in their hand. This sequence is, even with first-time players, fast. It gets even more so once players are accustomed to what they’re doing.
There are only twelve Supply Spaces on the map, but the United Kingdom and the United States each have a card that allow another Supply Space to be added to the board (Canada for the UK, and Szechuan for the US).
Conquest of these Supply Spaces (or any other space on the game board) is done by a country’s Army units. Navy units are used to control sea spaces, but as there are no Supply Spaces at sea, these are used to provide a link across sea spaces so as to place Army pieces on adjoining land spaces. Each country has a limited number of Army and Navy pieces, which therefore limits the number of spaces they may control, so there is no massive conquest of the entire globe by one country. Germany, for instance, has seven Armies and three Navies, while the Soviet Union has seven Armies and one Navy. This might seem incredibly limiting, but you need to remember that victory comes to one side or another, not one country or another.
It also means countries have to coordinate in order to succeed. However, Army pieces of one country cannot trace supply through another space occupied by a friendly country (so Italian units cannot trace supply through a German-occupied space). However, Navy units can be in supply by having a friendly Army adjacent to their sea space (even if the Army is not supplied itself). This especially is important with the Pacific theater, as both the US and UK players can coordinate effectively to defeat Japan. This also works to the Axis’s advantage in the Mediterranean to an extent.
So far, I’ve described a game that really does sound more martial than supply-oriented, so let’s talk about that latter aspect. The game requires that its pieces must be able to trace an uninterrupted line of occupied spaces to a Supply Space. Each country has to trace their own line of supply and cannot, as I mentioned earlier, trace through a space occupied by any other country (even a country on their side), which makes things a bit more interesting. Any pieces that cannot trace an uninterrupted line back to a Supply Space are eliminated and returned to the player’s pool. Supply is determined each round by each country for their own pieces (so Japanese units are removed from the board if out of supply only on the Japanese turn), so the effects of this are not only instantaneous but also jarring, too, because as the game is fast-paced, pieces are constantly played and removed.
The game’s action is driven entirely by card play, and each country’s cards are, as mentioned, unique to that country. Discarding anything should be carefully considered – a card that might not be useful immediately might be very useful later on, and therein lies one of the major challenges of succeeding at Quartermaster General – being able to make the right choices and not have any “I shoulda done _____” moments.
To occupy a land space or a sea space, you can play a Build Army or Build Navy card respectively, which allows you to place that particular piece in a space adjacent to one of your supplied pieces. That is, of course, if the space is unoccupied. If the enemy has a piece there, you cannot build to it (unless you have a card that says differently, of course). For the most part, instead you’d have to play either a Land Battle or Sea Battle card, but this only allows you to eliminate an enemy piece, not occupy the space with one of your own. The game is pretty brutal in this regard; play a card and BAM, enemy piece removed. No die rolls, no CRT, just…done.
There are four other card types you can play that allow you a little more flexibility than the above card types. One, called a Status card, can be played instead and stay face up on the table, their effect remaining in play unless removed by other card play. For example, the Japanese have one called “Imperial Designs,” which gives them +1 VP per turn if they occupy either the Philippines or Iwo Jima. Each country has different Status cards, giving them country-specific abilities, which I really like.
Another type is called a Response card. These are played face-down, ensuring nobody but the player owning that card can see it (unlike Status cards, where everyone can see them; however, friendly players/countries cannot see your face-down Response cards). These cards also remain in play until used, at which point they are discarded. These cards can be used in addition to normal card play if they’re already face-down on the table from a previous turn. As the card’s title implies, these are always played in response to something that happens during another player’s turn. The Italians, for example, have a card called “Romanian Reinforcements,” which allows the Italians to place an Army piece in a space where the Germans just lost an Army piece. Like Status cards, each country has their own specific Response cards, but interestingly, not every country actually has Response cards. Neither Germany nor the United States, both arguably the leading countries in each of their sides, have any Response cards.
Event cards are also country-specific (and all have them, except for Japan). These are simply random events that occur that provide some kind of benefit to that country. The United Kingdom, for instance, has an Event card called “King Peter Enthroned in Yugoslavia,” which lets them eliminate an Axis Army in the Balkans space and replace it with one of their own.
Finally, there are Economic Warfare cards. The Soviets do not have any of these. They are used to deprive another country of their cards by removing them. Usually this just involves the targeted country having to remove the top X number of cards from their Draw Deck, but it can also sometimes involve removing Army or Navy pieces as well, depending on the card.
Anything that causes a player to lose cards from their Draw Deck can be a very bad thing, whether from discarding from their hand and replenishing, or having to lose cards through gameplay. Once a country runs out of cards, they start taking Victory Point penalties when called on to discard, which can be harsh, especially in very close games (and these games usually run very close!).
While you can only play one card per player turn from your hand, you can play any number of Response or Status cards that are already on the table in front of you, having been played in a previous turn. As long as the event(s) on the card are met first, the Response and/or Status cards can be played (but you choose what order to play them in). Technically, a chain of cardplay events can erupt, which can cause some confusion as to what trumps what and in what order to do things. Figuring this out at first can be challenging as you refer to the rules to see what tops what, but really, this is simple enough as the rules clearly spell it out. It just gets confusing when you have six players all trying to play something at once, which has happened a time or two to me. I think this is part of the fun, though.
So, let’s discuss the nine-hundred-pound card in the room – that some people can’t stand card games, and/or the fact that your strategy is a slave to the card draw. To begin a game of Quartermaster General, you draw a hand of 10 cards from your Draw Deck, then immediately discard three of them (player’s choice). This is not an easy choice; as I mentioned earlier, cards that might be useless now, you will definitely miss later, so make wise decisions. Throughout the game, you must have seven cards in your hand, at least until your Draw Deck is depleted so far that you cannot draw up to that number.
You are indeed a slave to the card draw (and your shuffling skills), as are all the other players, so you can start out strong, poorly, or just ‘meh.’ I understand the hate that this kind of game system can get, as most of you are grog-oriented enough to want to be in control of your armies, your navies, and your economy. You don’t want overwhelming luck factors in your game, and that’s understandable, because it doesn’t get much more luck-oriented than relying on what you draw to dictate what you do on the board during a turn. That said, Hearts of Iron this ain’t; it’s light, quick, and therefore, the card mechanic fits it very well. If you’re more into Napoleonic minis than card play, you’re going to have a rough time with Quartermaster General. Take this game for what it is, a quick and dirty sim of World War II, and you’ll have a great time with it.
Consider, too, that the game can cause see-saw events where one player removes a piece, then the other builds one, then the other removes it, then it is replaced, and so on, and so on. As there are no individual country victories, the cooperation that each side needs to go through to appropriately coordinate their forces (for the Axis, this means converging in Asia somewhere, while the Allies want to avoid that eventuality). This will reduce or even eliminate the pendulum swing of mediocrity that these events can bring about. But, they can happen.
Quartermaster General is a beer-and-pretzels game, make no mistake about it. It does not try to represent itself in any other way, except as a means to simulate World War II across the globe in one sitting, which is no mean feat. The card play mechanic is at its heart, as is maintaining supply lines from the furthest reaches of conquest back to supply bases, which means very few games will be alike. I personally enjoy that kind of thing, though the randomness is beholden to the luck of the card draw itself. That’s absolutely okay with me.
This game is a lot of fun, precisely because it is random and because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. One card draw can be all you need to win, or be ruined. That raises tension, and increases enjoyability – at least for me. If that’s not your cup of hexes, then look elsewhere.
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