GrogHeads Reviews Ogre (6th Edition)

Steve Jackson Games relaunches Ogre and we take a look at what’s inside ~

Michael Eckenfels, 25 November 2017

Despite my longevity with board gaming, and my particular fondness for Steve Jackson Games’ products (see our slew of Car Wars nostalgia articles I wrote), I never played Ogre. Ever.

I’ve been a student of military history since I was eight years old – about the time the first Ogre game came out, but that was because of a visit to Pearl Harbor and not because of the game. I’d seen Ogre in my various favorite game stores over the years, but I just never had enough interest in it to ever buy it. I could see the appeal of a futuristic David vs. Goliath conflict, but it didn’t appeal to me. I much preferred large armies duking it out over epic-sized maps to small-scale tactical combat. Even a gigantic tank rumbling without a care over desperate small units trying to stop it didn’t appeal much.

That attitude didn’t change much over the years. I knew Ogre went through many iterations, and they were all prettier than the last. A friend of mine bought the Designer’s Edition of Ogre a while back, and I remember him showing off the absolutely huge box. Despite that, I had no interest in looking inside of it. I think that was partially due to jealousy, as I really didn’t want to take a look at something I couldn’t ever get a chance to own myself!

A few months back, though, while perusing Amazon, I found Ogre 6th Edition on sale for less than $30 US. This was a much smaller-scope game when it comes to components, compared to the gi-normous Designer’s Edition. Also, my board game tastes cover a wide spectrum, and ever since I saw that huge Designer’s Edition box, I suppose the seed was planted in my mind. The price didn’t hurt, either. I checked out various sources on it, liked the components, so I pulled the trigger. I’m always up for a simple, fast-playing wargame, and I was hoping Ogre would fit that bill.

If you’ve never heard of Ogre, maybe you’re new to gaming. As you might have picked up, the original game came out in 1977 – 40 years ago. Steve Jackson Games has always been a power house in the realm of board gaming, and their longevity speaks to their ability to keep their business nimble and addressing the needs of an ever-growing and -changing board gaming market. Ogre 6th Edition is pretty much the penultimate example of that nimbleness.

Ogre is, as mentioned and as the name implies, a battle of giants. The base 6th Edition game comes with three Ogres (one huge Mark V and two smaller, but still very powerful, Mark IIIs) for one side, representing the forces of the “North American Combine.” On the other, you have the much smaller yet very numerous infantry, tanks, and artillery of the “Paneuropean Federation.” The former is red, while the latter is blue. The imagery (and descriptions) portray a fictional world where the Combine (North America) is vaguely fascist and looking to conquer, while the Federation looked to stop them. The politics of this are not pertinent, but the backstory is interesting, to say the least.

Let’s talk a bit about the counters. The Ogres and the Command Posts are all 3D figures; you punch them out then put them together. SJG’s site has guides for this, though it’s fairly intuitive if you try it yourself. I suggest checking out resources first. I did, because I was afraid I’d mess them up. The 3D figures are quite nice, especially the hulking Mk V. The remaining counters are flat and irregularly shaped, representing the ground troops facing off against the monster tank(s). These counters are very nice, as their print is large, the icons are very easy to see and decipher at a glance, and the irregular shape (i.e., not square) from unit type to unit type means they’re even easier to take in at a glance.

The map itself is not all that striking, as it looks more like the surface of Mars than anything else. If you look at it like the war-torn battlefield it is supposed to be, that helps, but it still looks more like an alien landscape. It’s littered with craters (ominously looking like volcanoes), which are impassible, and criss-crossed with ridgelines, which are impassible to most units. Both of these can be fired over, though. The way these are laid out means there’s going to be some obvious choke points for player movements, but these abound. For an Ogre, it might become obvious what direction it’s going in from the get-go, as the thing moves pretty slow even at full movement potential. There are a few ridgeline overlays included in the counter mix, so you can change things as you wish in that regard.

At its heart, Ogre is very simple – you put a giant Combine tank (or tanks, plural) on one side of the hexagon-based board, itself a long alley of broken terrain that looks like it has seen better days. On the other side are the various small-scale yet individually potent Paneuropean forces, including a headquarters that the Ogre is looking to flatten beneath its massive treads. That is, in fact, the goal of the Combine Ogres – to destroy the Paneuropean HQ. Of course, the latter is looking to stop that from happening. This face-off might sound simplistic – and in fact, this is part of why I had zero interest in this game back in the day – but this belies a great deal of tactical choices and outcomes in the game. Deceptively so, in fact.

At first glance, you’d probably think the same thing, that the game doesn’t look like it has much going on. And it sounds decidedly one-sided. After all, what chance do infantry (even power-suited infantry) have against a tank that is bigger than a city block and has enough firepower to flatten Rhode Island in one salvo? How long can normal tanks last on such a battlefield when facing a monstrosity such as this? Does the defense simply bum rush the Ogre in the hopes of whittling it down quickly? Do they go for the treads to slow it down, or go after its massive armament to reduce its firepower? These, and many questions, came to mind. As a first-time player, it slowly dawned on me how chaotic this game can truly be, and in all honesty that’s very appealing.

My first game was, of course, a pathetic mess because I played it wrong. I moved the Ogre Mk III four spaces instead of three for some reason (and did this several times). About three-quarters of the way through, I finally realized my error, and I had no idea why I was hung up on ‘4’ as a movement rate for it. Ugh. Still, even though the Combine goliath moved swiftly across the board, it became readily apparent to me that the Paneuropean forces didn’t have much of a chance in the hands of an amateur (me). The Ogre’s choices are pretty simple compared to that of their opponents – you look at the map, decide the best course of action, and trundle forward, zapping anything that dares get too close. In the introductory scenario, where it’s one Mk III Ogre versus a couple dozen enemies, that’s all you do Ogre-wise.

As for the Paneuropeans, well…you have a ton of units to move around, and by far I think this is the much more challenging option of the two sides. Using these units effectively is key to stopping the Ogre, and this as I learned means going for the treads to slow the mammoth down. Unfortunately, it takes a LOT of hits on its treads to slow an Ogre Mk III down. Even more for a Mk V!

But, stopping an Ogre is the best way to win, and by that I mean removing its mobility. If you destroy all of its tread points, and it cannot move, it cannot fulfill its scenario requirements most likely (usually involving destroying the enemy HQ and exiting the map edge beyond). If the Paneuropean forces get gutted in the process, well…a victory is a victory, right?

A lot of strategies are discussed on BoardGameGeek, and there’s lots of articles on SJG’s website too, including this one  that’s way too min-maxy for my tastes, but the math is not wrong. The opinions as to what approach is best, for either side, are as numerous as there are players – but they all seem to agree that treads are indeed an important target. When you think about it, it sounds stupidly obvious, but in game, you might be blinded by the monster’s bristling weaponry and think those have to be your main targets.

This is compounded even more so by the damnable Mark V Ogre. It has more of everything – main and secondary armaments, missiles, antipersonnel weapons, and treads. It moves three hexes per turn, just like the Mark III, making it even deadlier. It would be great to put this thing up against other Ogres…but you can’t do that, unless you want to play an Ogre Mk III in the same side’s color (red) against the Mk V. However, you have options; by purchasing a very inexpensive expansion pack (Ogre Reinforcements), you double the potential of your base game.

OGRE REINFORCEMENTS PACK

That potential cost me about twelve dollars US off of Amazon, and in my opinion, this plus the base game is more than enough for any casual Ogre player. (Prices may vary, as different sellers have different prices and availability, of course. The same goes for the base game…or any other Amazon product, really.)

For me, a completely casual player of Ogre, this addition brings this game to its full potential.

This pack adds three more Ogres, all for the Paneuropean side. It also adds another 56 counters, most of which are units for the Combine side. Finally, two more Command Posts are added, both for the Combine side. This pack balances both sides out so you’re not always having to play a Combine Ogre versus a swarm of Paneuropean troops; you can mix and match now, and even have proper Ogre-versus-Ogre fights.

For me, a completely casual player of Ogre, this addition brings this game to its full potential. Maybe not Designer’s Edition potential (ha!), but definitely for someone of the same mindset. As I’m likely to only ever play this game solo, this pack doubles the potential for creating battles. A true test of tactical skill at this game would be, to me anyway, having both sides with the same units in a free-for-all and see which side has the last unit(s) standing, and this expansion lets you do just that.

It also adds eight scenarios, too. Where the basic game’s manual discusses an introductory scenario and suggestions for future set-ups (in terms of points of offense for the side defending against Ogres), this one does the same, but also gives you specific set-ups if you’re looking for a bit more guidance in creating games.

CONCLUSION

If you’re looking for a light, easy-to-get-into, quick-set-up-and-put-away wargame, then this should have the first spot on your shelves, to be honest. While the 6th Edition takes up a heck of a lot more space than the original Ogre (in its little Car Wars-sized box), the box makes a statement of sort. You can’t miss the giant “OGRE” logo on the sides of it.

If you have a chance at getting the Designer’s Edition, well…good luck to you. After a bit of research it looks like Steve Jackson Games says it’s out of print, and normally $100. So, of course, the resellers will let a copy go for astronomical prices (as of this writing there’s one on Amazon for $209, and while I get the economic reality of supply and demand, this kind of thing rubs me completely the wrong way). I can’t imagine the production costs for Designer’s Edition, which I’ve only drooled over through photos online, so who knows if they’ll ever get to

 


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