So, I played my first game of Paths of Glory today. If you don’t count Twilight Struggle or Risk and Risk 2210AD, then I suppose Paths of Glory is my first official war game.
My brother and I played (or muddled through) six hours of it (he was Central Power, I was Allies) and we only reached Turn 10 of 20, Summer of 1916 with the VP at 9, or +1 in my favor. It was emotionally grueling, mentally exhausting and psychologically draining. I still feel worn down and burnt out hours after the fact as I write this.
I suppose that’s exactly what Ted Raicer was going for. From a ludo-narrative perspective, it really captures (what I can only assume) what it was like to be a general in World War I.
Just this interminable pressure poking, prodding at you, puncturing your skin once in a while. This constant weight on you… dealing with multiple threats coming at you from several fronts… while doing it with not-enough time, not-enough resources, not-enough anything. Always feeling like you wanted, no needed, to do more, but you couldn’t.
Now, I think most people would read what I just wrote and be completely turned off.
But I’m personally looking forward to my next game here. Yes, it was taxing, but it was also an experience that left you feeling rewarded in a deep, profound way. Was it fun? Sure, if the above description sounds “fun” to you. It’s extremely fun if you’re into that kind of intellectual sadomasochism.
But the more important point here to make is… it was a rewarding experience.
I don’t know how to explain this without sounding like an elitist. But the closest analogy I can come up with is when I got into Criterion films a few years back. Criterion is a company that curates and reprints classic films. A lot of them foreign films from the 60s. A lot of these films aren’t easy to watch. They have unanswered questions. There’s no typical Hollywood endings here. They show you a side of humanity that’s tough to watch. Either it’s really truthful and it’s painful to see yourself in that light… Or it’s really gruesome and ugly, and you want to look away, but the abyss is staring right back at you.
Ultimately — at the end of the film, you’re left with a deep sense of something. You can’t exactly put a finger on it but you “felt” something. And I don’t mean the kind of hyper-kinetic energy you’d get from a Marvel film, or a pseudo-sentimentality you might get from today’s dramas… but something even deeper inside your soul. And the film resonates with you for days, even weeks. Whereas with most Hollywood movies, you forget about it the next day.
See? I told you I would sound like a snob.
Anyway, that’s what I got after playing six hours of Paths of Glory. I was left with a weighty “something”.
Now, I have to make a strong point about the exhaustion here.
This game is exhausting because nothing explosive happens. It’s definitely not Risk where you can send troops in, take over a bunch of lands, and have an explosive “shoot for the moon” turn. No. Paths of Glory is very much in the flavor of WWI. You give a little, you lose a little, you have 50,000 men die on you and all you’ve gained is a few inches.
And because I played the Allies, I was constantly on the defensive. My brother played VERY aggressive as Germany historically had to knowing it was fighting two fronts. And I was constantly hanging by my fingertips. I had to raise new armies, replace the men I lost, and maneuver what’s left on the bloody battlegrounds to keep the line.
The Western Front was especially ugly.
Here’s the thing…
I knew going in that this game was asymmetrical like Twilight Struggle. I knew, as Allies, I needed to play defensive. But I guess I didn’t know just how defensive I had to be. Because when I did attack (which was rare), I almost always regretted it and wished I sent in more reinforcements instead.
I know I made mistakes here. I think I royally screwed up by not playing Moltke when I had a chance to. I was so busy using the cards for OPs and RPs, that I misjudged the value of some of the events.
I know I screwed up by not playing Entrench too. I realize now the trench bonuses are just too valuable. The thing is, with the German armies at 5-3-3… they really have a huge advantage over all the Allied Powers. France with its 3-3-3 armies just kept getting murdered. Russia, although numerous, were 3-2-3. That 2 Loss Factor was just brutal.
And fucking Serbia. Seriously. Screw Gavrilo Princip. Screw the Black Hand. Screw them for starting this war. They are a useless country that I’m starting to think… maybe next game, I can just let them die off.
Veterans of PoG. Can I do this? Is this strategically sound? Can I just let Serbia die?
We also got two of the rules seriously wrong:
12.1.6 No space can be attacked more than once in a single action.
12.2.6 Play Combat Cards: …and which have not been used in a previous Combat during this Action Round.
My brother made a LOT of illegal attacks because we glossed over this rule. In one Action Round, he had three German spaces attack Verdun separately. And since the winner got to keep the combat cards they used, we both assumed, you could keep using them for the next battle.
So the fact that I still managed to hold the French line somewhat… I’m actually quite proud of it.
Now, here’s another question for the PoG veterans. Should I bring in Italy or Romania when I have a chance to? Because I always felt like the high RPs on those cards were so much more valuable than adding another country. And I always had French armies and corps in my Eliminated Box to bring back to life. Like… constantly. I had at least 2-3 armies and 4-5 corps sitting in there all the time. Half the game I was replacing French armies. Is this normal?
OK - that’s it for now. I’m going to read the rules again to see what else I missed. Thanks again to /u/flyliceplick, /u/anjru, /u/gamerthrowaway_ and /u/mneffi for suggesting/encouraging these GMT games.
Originally posted on Reddit here.