Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Book Review: Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

When it comes to WWI history, most of what one hears about is the Western Front, the British and French vs the Germans and the eventual introduction of the US to the Allies in 1917.  Outside of "Lawrence of Arabia", one almost never hears about the conflict that occurred in the Middle East during that time (unless one is an intense student of history).  Even being relatively well read, that is an area that I've neglected as well.

Eugene Rogan's 'Fall of the Ottomans' covers from roughly the last years of the 19th century to the early 1920's.  Primarily a political history, it examines the causes of the various Balkan wars, the rise of the 'Young Turks', the 'Armenian Genocide, and the decision by the Ottoman Empire to join the war on the side of the Central powers.  From 1914 to their surrender in 1918, it details all of the major conflicts not only militarily but the difficulties all sides had in logistics, the Arab Revolt, the results of the Russian withdrawal from the war, and the various 'Great Powers' deciding from the beginning on how the Empire would be divided up between them.

An excellently written and researched book, it is also well balanced when it comes to politically charged topics, specifically the Armenians.  It discusses not only the Western view but also the controversy in the numbers of claimed dead by both sides.  This was especially interesting to me as the 100th anniversary of this event took place while I was reading it and I had several discussions with a Turkish co-worker of mine.  A map is very helpful while reading.  Most of the lower ratings on Amazon are due to the Kindle edition map not being very reader friendly.

What one can take away from learning about this aspect of WWI is that there were no 'Good Guys' and that everyone was treacherous, especially the British and French. One really doesn't blame the Ottomans for joining the Central powers.  Also that as far as military action went, most of the battles were won by the side that screwed up the least, and that only by marginal amounts.  Up until the very end, incompetence seemed to be the primary factor in choosing leaders and battle plans.

For those interested in WWI and/or military history, this is a definite read.

5/5 stars.

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Game Review: Livestock Uprising by Dog Might Games

We forwent the RPG campaign for a night of boardgaming.  By diceroll of a number of selections, "Livestock Uprising" was chosen to be played.  I picked this up from a KS that I also got my dice box from a bit back.

(crappy pic,I know)

The premise from the site:

A Call to Farms

Revolution is in the air. New alliances are being formed: take control of Pigs, Cows, Goats or Chickens and raise your animal army. Use the farmland to harvest resources and marshall new forces. Direct your generals and their troops to outsmart and overcome the other factions. Take control of precious resources and use your faction's special forces to gain an edge over your foes. It is a call to farms - harvest your destiny!
Livestock UprisingTM is a tactical resource management game where you harvest farmland, marshall animal armies, and battle for control of the farm.
2-4 players
60-120 minutes.
ages 14+

Four armies to choose from. Cows, Goats, Chickens, and Pigs, each led by three Generals w/ names such as General Dumpling (chicken) and General Porker.  About half the board is placed by random tile selection, you place your barns (your headquarters) then the rest of the board is set down randomly.  This is the first strategic decision as 'resources' are based off of the tiles and bad barn placement can hurt you.  Following that, you use your generals to start acquiring resources, five of which are needed in the game, grass, hay, corn, carrots, and apples.  These are used to purchase troops w/ varying levels of defense and attack strength.  Sacrificial Sheep (0/1), Dynamite Donkeys (1/1), Bloodthirsty Llama's (2/1), Beserker Horses(2/2), and Ornery Oxen (3/3), each unit able to harvest a higher level resource allowing you to get stronger troops etc.  The higher level resources have less tiles than the lower ones so you may have to fight to get them. 

Outside of the regular troops, there are 'Special Forces' that can be purchased that give the armies some unique properties. Oxen have increased defense, Goats attack, Chickens speed, and Pigs resources.  Each player also gets three 'Command' cards that allow for alternative moves such as extra casualties, faster moves, extra resources, less casualties, etc.  There are more cards than possible players so repetition is less likely.

Once a player feels like they have a strong enough force, they can return their generals to their barn and combine them into a 'super army' with increased speed, defense and attack capabilities.  W/ no further resources able to be gathered, it then turns into a slugging match as the only way to survive is normally to form your own super army in response.

Pros:  The premise of the game is fun. Sacrificial sheep, I love it.  Several attacks were made w/ clucking sounds as the pieces were moooooved.

 It's easy to learn and the randomness of the board and the cards make each game's strategy and placement different. 

Excellent production value.  Thick card stock.  Good printing.  Useful in-box storage.  Rules and 'to print' replacement pieces available online.

Cons:  The game took a LOT longer w/ four players than 60-120 min. Closer to 3 hours even accounting for learning curve.  Plan for that.

The value of the 'Special Forces' is debateable.  The Pig's cost are high compared to their return in Defense/Attack and resources gained.  Neither the Chicken's nor Pig's special abilities carry over to the 'Super Armies' whereas the Cow's and Goat's do.

Faction colors are really dark.  Somewhat difficult to differentiate in non-ideal lighting and/or for old farts w/ thick glasses (like me).

Overall 6.5/10.  This probably won't be a regular play but will be good to fill an evening with the family.  Honestly the most points lost was due to the excessive length of play.  

Review by another player:

Here are my brief thoughts on my experience with the game tonight.  These come from my personal observations along with my several years experience playtesting miniatures games.
Animal Uprisings:  The factions in this game are equal across the board with the exception of the command cards and special forces.  The command cards offer a variety of minor modifications that can shift early and late game strategies.  The special forces seem like they should offer more flavor to each faction and to help distinguish them from each other, but in reality they don't add much.  Here's the breakdown:
Chicken:  Across the board get more speed with the added bonus of a varying level of attack and defense points.  Early/mid game this gives them great mobility, as well as being able to keep out of the reach of the other players depending on how packed the game is (in the 4-player game I was in this would not have been an advantage if everyone decided to have McNuggets for dinner).  Late game it is not as useful of an advantage due to War Parties having that same movement by default.  Overall the Chicken's have the ability to snipe other players early game, and with the right command cards can put one or more players down early on.
Pigs:  This was my faction.  The ability to get extra resources seems desireable in a game that focuses on a slow build utilizing resources.  However there is a problem with the current setup.  Early game it is a gamble whether or not to acquire your first special force.  If you go for it quickly then you risk being attacked by other players and possibly losing your investment, which is a heavy hit since you only get the one.  However if you wait till you have built up more troops then the first Special Forces Pig doesn't have as much utility as by that point you are focusing on later resources.  The biggest hindrance to the pigs is that all of their special forces stats are the same.  Given that all factions have access to the same pool of troops, this is something that weakens the pigs as the other factions have increasing numbers for each of their special forces.
Goats:  The Goats have the advantage early game with the increased attack stats.  Depending on layout they can pick and choose their resources as they want with the added bonus of having increased probability of making things more difficult for any players they deem a threat.
Cows:  Cows are similar to goats in that their special forces add defense instead of attack.  They can choose a spot and sit if they like.  Assuming that they get their special forces this gives them a slight edge.

I feel that the game is a bit bland.  The numbers roughly come out the same as it depends on who can get what resources and when.  The pigs are the weakest faction in that while they can get more resources, their special forces do not add any advantage in attack or defense points at the higher costed forces.  The bonus to defense and attack granted to cows and goats gives them a raw ability as all the factions tend to progress at the same rate more or less.  If you played a game without the special forces it would play very similarly in my opinion.  The only suggestion I can give is to create more of a noticeable variety amongst the factions rather than the minor advantages each faction already has.
Please take the above as observations of the gameplay and interactions.  This is more of a party game that people can have fun with, and my observations are intended to give you (the creators) some insight from a person's perspective who is accustomed to dissecting rules.  The game I played I enjoyed a bitter beginning followed by a surprise win from behind.  I hope you take my statements in the good humor they were intended :-)

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