For a little while at least, I’m going to put away the big shiny bits, the decks of cards and the 4-sided dice. It’s time to get an old-fashioned, rock ‘em-sock ‘em wargame on The Big Table.
Is there any better subject matter for a back-to-basics counter-pusher than the Eastern Front of World War Two? I think not! So out of the box, on the table, all trimmed out and ready to go I’ve got one of the newest titles from GMT Games, The Caucasus Campaign.
The game is a division-level treatment of the 1942 fighting in the Caucasus (duh…), a theater often overlooked in gaming – but which nevertheless carried immense strategic significance. The Germans begin the game bottled up (sort of) around Rostov, and strike south to try to grab the resource-rich Cacusasus from the Soviets. Historically, German efforts were short-circuited by a little affair around Stalingrad – but they were also finding themselves becoming worn ragged at the end of a lengthy logistical chain in the face of ever-improving Soviet resistance.
In some respects, the game begins as a classic ‘quality vs quantity’ confrontation. The Germans have a handful of very potent, highly mobile divisions. The Soviets are the rag-tag survivors of the disastrous 1942 campaign in the south, stiffened by a few stronger divisions here and there. They somehow have to survive the initial onslaught and build a defense of the vital approaches to the rich Georgian oil fields, while simultaneously inflicting enough damage on the Germans to eventually stall the advance.
Graphically, it’s a very nice package. Nothing tricky or cute; it’s simple, clean and accessible. The whole thing screams “play me!” when I look at it. Call me an old fart, but I don’t think game graphics have to be photo-realistic or naturally-patterned or the pinnacle of industrial art in order to be successful. I’m a 20-plus-year veteran of newspaper editing and I want my ‘info graphics’ to provide me with information – easily – and not dazzle me with the genius of their creation. The graphics in The Caucasus Campaign are bold and clear, which I find very appealing.
For the record, I’ll state that heading into this game I’m a bit biased. I think that the designer, Mark Simonitch, is one of the most clever designers in the industry. He doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary; rather he seems to have a knack for taking familiar mechanisms and making them seem uniquely suited to the topic at hand. His “Ukraine ’43″ is still one of the most memorable games in my collection, and “Ardennes ’44″ was also a fine game – if, perhaps, a bit ‘chrome-y’ in places. I’m just digging into The Caucasus Campaign, but it seems already another outstanding example of the familiar given a few twists and turned into something with a unique feel.