VIII Corps: The Somme 1916 is the first in a series of games written by Neal Reid and published by Vexillia Limited.
VIII Corps is a card game, currently available in PDF ‘print and play’ format, which is designed to give the players some appreciation of the difficulties faced by VIII Corps on the first day of the Battle of the Somme as the British 4th, 29th and 31st Divisions attacked the villages of Beaumont Hamel, Serre and the Heidenkopf Redoubt.
The game consists of 77 cards, which are divided into 9 Terrain cards, 39 British & 29 German Cards.
Each terrain card details a certain area of the battlefield. At the start of the game, the terrain cards are set out like so:
The objective of the game is for the British player to attack and capture two of the German Support Line terrain cards, which obviously means that they have to advance through the Front and Second line defenses first.
Each player has a hand of cards, and these are divided into a mix of Strategic and Tactical cards. Strategic Cards include different types of artillery barrage (or cards that negate them),the ability to draw more cards into your hand or to look at some of your opponents cards. Tactical Cards provide ‘Assault Points’ which are used to fin infantry attacks.
The game lasts a number of turns, which are divided into Strategic and Tactical phases. Only Strategic Cards can be played during the Strategic phase, and only Tactical cards can be played during the Tactical phase.
During the first 4 turns of the game, only the Strategic Phase is played, which represents the pre-battle artillery bombardment. The idea of this part of the game is for the British player to attempt to cause as much disruption to the German defences as possible using artillery barrages, whilst building up a hand of Tactical cards for later in the game. For the German player, it’s very much a case of damage limitation, as they will be seeking to play cards that negate the effects of barrages whilst at the same time trying to build a hand of Tactical cards to defend against the inevitable British attack.
At the start of Turn 5, the British player has a choice of whether to delay his attack, or attack as planned. If the attack is delayed, only Strategic Phases are played for a further two turns (you would perhaps delay the start of the attack to further build your hand of Tactical cards)
At the point where the British start to attack, the second phase of the turn comes into effect – the Tactical Phase.
The Tactical Phase is played after the Strategic phase of a turn, and represents the infantry attack. The British player must attempt to capture at least one terrain card in each Tactical phase – if he fails to capture a terrain card on two consecutive turns, the attack has faltered and the British player loses the game.
Most Tactical Cards have an Assault Point value on them.
The British player selects a Terrain card to attack, and then both players select a number of Tactical cards to play in the attack, the idea being to score more Assault Points than your opponent.
Once players have selected the cards that they want to play, some cards can be randomly removed by the effects of barrages, or by certain special Tactical Cards.
Finally, the number of Assault Points on each side is calculated – if the British win, they capture the terrain area, if the Germans win, they stop the attack – remember, 2 consecutive failed attacks by the British player and the German player wins the game.
So that’s the game in a nutshell, what are my thoughts on it?
In general terms, I enjoyed the game, although misreading the rules during our first play meant that the British had an easy victory – one of those times when you have to ask “Are you sure we are playing this correctly?” – we weren’t. The subsequent play was much more satisfactory.
The game is fairly abstract, and is very much a game of hand management, as the British player tries to cycle his card deck in order ensure that his attacks can keep being pressed home. On the German side, it’s very much a case of damage limitation and then throwing as much at an attack as possible in order to try to stop it.
The German ‘Wire’ card is fairly key, as it can be used to immediately stop a British attack. Whilst the British have barrage cards that can remove these from the German hand, the German player can always have a chance of drawing a new one just before a Tactical Phase, so there is a certain amount of luck involved in the game which the British player cannot legislate or plan for.
The aim of the game, according to the author is to “give you an appreciation of the problems faced on the day, and the ferocity of the battle itself” – which I think it achieves. The fact that the game has a short playing time (45-60 minutes, with the first 4-6 turns running really quickly once you know what you are doing) is a bonus as you can play the game ‘both ways around’ in an evening – something which I think is needed as each player has a very different playing experience.
There are a couple of niggles: Given the ‘print and play’ nature of the game, it would have been nice if they would have included a sheet of card backs you could print off so that you could make double-sided cards.
How about this for responsiveness? Having read this review, within a couple of hours Martin Stephenson of Vexillia posted up a full colour card back (see right) which can be downloaded from the product page on the Vexillia website to correct the ‘niggle’ mentioned above.
The rule book could also be a little more explicit, or perhaps give more emphasis in certain places to ensure clarity. It’s only by carefully reading both rule book and the detailed example of play (which are in separate documents) that you get a full appreciation of how the game works. It’s a minor quibble, but it caused a fundamental error in our first game which almost made us discard the game out-of-hand.
That aside, VIII Corps is a pretty decent game which scratches an itch and gives some appreciation of the history behind the game play, whilst combining strategical thinking with fast play – a difficult combination to achieve.
You can purchase VIII Corps: The Somme 1916 from the Vexillia via Wargames Vault. A second game in the series; X Corps, has just been published.
Disclaimer: The publisher provided a review copy of this game