#FirstImpressions – Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018)

Once again, I blame @PastorJoelT on Twitter for this purchase.

Kidding aside, I am very pleased with the game. Cataclysm: A Second World War challenges my perceptions of what a grand strategy game of  World War II by delivering a game where players control the narrative of the conflict. In Cataclysm, player decisions (political and military) really matter!

GMT Games describes Cataclysm: A Second World War as:

…a quick-playing game about politics and war in the 1930s and 40s, designed for two to five players. The three primary ideologies of the time contend to impose their vision of order on the world. The Fascists (Germany, Italy, and Japan) seek to overthrow the status quo, which favors the Democracies (France, the United Kingdom, and the United States), while the Communists (the Soviet Union) look for opportunities to storm the global stage.

The description goes on to say:

Not Your Father’s Panzer Pusher

Cataclysm is unapologetically a game of grand strategy. Military pieces have no factors or ratings. The capability of your forces increases as you shift the commitment of your economy from civilian to military production. Land, air, and naval forces all have their role in prosecuting war. There is no Combat Results Table; instead, battles are resolved by opposed die rolls with a limited number of modifiers capturing the most important operational effects. The area map emphasizes political boundaries, drawing attention to strategically critical territory, encouraging players to think in broad terms of resource acquisition, control of border states, and the perception of power as the arms race plays out.

Growing up, two wargame titles epitomized “grand strategy” to me and have since influenced my thinking and perceptions.

The first was Rise and Decline of the Third Reich by designers Don Greewood and John Prados (a current favorite author of mine). Published by Avalon Hill Game Co., my gaming friend owned the Second Edition (1981). We got the game to the table a few times, the one time I remember best being an epic overnight birthday party where we actually played the full campaign game. What I remember about Third Reich is that it was long and focused near-exclusively on combat with little political choice. It is a game about “fighting” the war, but not the “whys” of the war.

The “second” game that clouds my thinking is actually two linked games. World in Flames (Australian Design Group) is a MONSTER game that covers the fighting for the entire war. I have never played a full game (up to 6000 minutes according to BoardGameGeek). The second-second game is Days of Decision II again by ADG. DoDII is a complete game of global politics starting in 1936 but it can be combined with WiF. As the BGG entry states:

The game is very detailed in its political aspect, and is more a political game than a wargame. Each country affected by the war is represented on an “ideological” chart which tracks the movement of the powers into the different spheres of influence: Fascist, Communist and Democrat. Where each country lies on this chart is vital to which country controls their decisions and forces. Political decisions are chosen from a large array of IPOs (International Policy Options) and a number of Political Options available only to the country that you’re playing.

As with WiF, I have tinkered with DoDII but never played it. The 300 minute playtime is a overwhelming frightening. These days I cannot imagine actually playing a full WiF game with DoD layered on top.

Component-wise, Cataclysm is simple. One can easily set up the entire game on a 3’x6′ table with plenty of room to lay out all the materials. The introductory/learning scenario (C.2 Days of Decision) could be played on a 3’x3′ table if necessary. There are less than 500 counters and 160 cubes*.

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Scenario C.2 Days of Decision Set Up

Rules-wise, the mechanics of Cataclysm take some learning. It’s not that they are difficult (indeed, almost everything is resolved with a simple die roll) but there is much choice. Behind each choice is a decision that must be made and Cataclysm gives the players many choices. I strongly recommend that after reading the Rulebook new players set up Scenario C.2 and step thru the Example of Play in the Playbook. It won’t take long but physically moving the pieces and reading the reasons why enhance the learning. For me learning is best actively experienced not just passively read which s why I enjoy Playbooks so much these days. Once thru reset the game to the beginning at start over. This won’t take long; Cataclysm is quick-playing and I made it thru the Playbook example and my own session in about 4 hours.

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C.2 Days of Decision – end of 1940. Germany strikes west and Paris falls

My early plays of Cataclysm challenge my perceptions of how a grand strategy game of World War II can be shown on the gaming table. Cataclysm is so much more than Third Reich because it gives the players narrative control (to steal an RPG term) over the war. Cataclysm delivers this narrative control using political and combat concepts much simpler than Days of Decision and are part of the game not an adjunct add on. In a time when I am gaming more, but actually have less time for each game, the thought of being able to play an entire war (1933 to 1950?) in 5-6 hours means this one has a real chance of landing on the table.

To me, Cataclysm: A Second World War is the love-child of Third Reich and Days of Decision. That is, a much smarter and modern love-child in that the combat and political mechanics of Catayclsm are much more streamlined that either of the former. This makes Cataclysm a playable grand strategy game – filling a niche in my gaming collection that I didn’t realize I was missing.

*(Sigh) Lots is being said about the color of the “white” cubes. Just play with good lighting.

 

 

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