Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ottoman Sunset Review

Since getting Soviet Dawn, I've continued to explore the States of Siege series.  It's been extremely interesting to look over the broad range of titles available.  But I eventually settled on the one most like Soviet Dawn, Ottoman Sunset.  It shares probably the most design elements with Soviet Dawn, as it should since it has the same designer.  Although Ottoman Sunset displays more cohesion between the parts, as well as better overall balance.  But I'm getting ahead of myself!

So today I'm reviewing Ottoman Sunset, another game in the States of Siege series by Victory Point Games.  It was designed by Darin A. Leviloff, and was published in 2010.  It takes place in the Ottoman Empire during World War 1.  Your job is to see the nation survive a war it historically collapsed during.

Rule Summary

To set up Ottoman Sunset, first you separate the cards into their blue Morning, yellow Mid-Day, and grey Dusk Event cards.  The first set of cards you'll play with are the blue Morning Event cards, so shuffle those and set them to the side.  Then you lay out the map, and place the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and Sinai fronts on their weaker side, on the highest numbered space of their labeled track.  All the other counters are placed off to the side, although you will find it helpful to sort out the Off-Map Theater battle counters, Coup counters, and the counters for the inactive fronts.

Ottoman Sunset at the start of a game

Each turn, you will flip over an Event card from the deck, and perform it's instructions.  Usually this just involves advancing a front down it's track, closer to the Ottoman capital of Constantinople.  Some locations on the board have a flag.  These are strategic sites, and when a front advances on it and past it, the National Will decreases.

A few of the events you're going to see.
Sometimes more creative events happen, including fronts retreating, new fronts entering the map, or the you may earn certain advantages.  Two events in the deck will instruct you to shuffle in more cards, first the yellow Mid-Day cards, and lastly the grey Dusk cards.

This event causes an
Off Map battle
One important reoccurring event type is the Off-Map Theater battle.  The event will instruct you to fight one, and you'll have to roll a die, rolling above the value printed on the counter to succeed.  Rolling lower is a defeat, and rolling equal is a draw.  Your victories and defeats will effect the National Will.

There are two events that require special notice.  The first you will encounter is an event which instructs you to resolve the British Forcing the Narrows event.  When this event comes up, the British attempt to sail on Constantinople by sailing up a heavily fortified straight.  You'll roll once for each defensive emplacement, reducing the British Fortitude if you roll equal to or under the value of the defense.  Once the British have lost 4 Fortitude, they abandon the attempt.

All the Kaiserschlacht counters
The other important event is the Kaiserschlacht.  This was an all out offensive launched by Germany.  From this point, until the end of the game, you have to fight a Kaiserschlacht battle.  There are 6 Kaiserschlacht battle counters, and you'll fight them starting in order.  After that, at the end of each turn you'll refight one of them, determined randomly by a die roll.  This can result in large shifts in the National Will!

Now you finally get to take actions!  Each event card instructs you on how many actions you get.  The first type of action you can take is to attack a front.  All you do is roll a die, and if you roll above the front's printed value, you push them back one space.  Everything else is a failure.  You can also spend one action to add defensive installations to the Narrows minimap.  Lastly, you can devote resources to the Off Map Theaters, by spending two actions, and placing a +1 DRM counter on the box for that Off Map Theater.  This can be pivotal in ensuring victory in Off Map battle, and keeping your National Will high.  You can also spend these counters later, for a bonus action.

Play continues until one of four things happens.  If you survive all the cards in the event deck, you win, and you calculate your victory score.  This mostly revolves around the strength of your National Will, as well as the location of each front on the map.  Unfortunately, there are three different ways you can lose.  The most common will be that a front advances all the way into Constantinople, conquering the Ottomans.  In this case, you calculate your defeat score by counting the number of event cards that were not yet played.  The other two ways to lose result in an automatic crushing defeat, the worst kind of defeat!  If your National Will ever falls to -4 or less, or if the British successfully Force the Narrows, you lose.

Timelapse of play.

How accessible is the game to new players?

If you've played another game in the States of Siege series, Ottoman Sunset will be a piece of cake.  And if you haven't, it may be the best place to start.  The rules are well laid out, relatively short, and with plenty of examples.  Including an extended play example of several full turns.  It doesn't get much better than that.

There are only a few subsystems to master in Ottoman Sunset, and just a handful of special events.  Namely the Narrows minigame, and the Kaiserschlacht.  Besides that, most of the turns will be rather easy.  Some fronts advance, and you'll spend your actions in a straightforward manner to drive them back.

What could have been done better?

Coming from Soviet Dawn, I found the reference material is slightly worse in Ottoman Sunset.  Every counter in Soviet Dawn has what it does printed on it's back side.  Only some of the counters in Ottoman Sunset do.  For example the Fortress you can place at Gaza doesn't mention how it works, since it's back side is a damaged version of the Fortress.  There is also nothing on the board or the counters describing how to roll for the British forcing the narrows event.

So those things were a little bit of a let down.  They are relatively easy to remember, granted.  But Soviet Dawn did such an amazing job with referencing rules on the map or on the counters, that I was a little let down that Ottoman Sunset only sort of did.

What are the feelings the game evokes and why?

All the various advantages
you may end up with.
Overall, Ottoman Sunset feels a lot more fair and manageable than Soviet Dawn.  I didn't find that a single unlucky streak would end my game as quickly as in Soviet Dawn.  The game also starts out more manageable, with most fronts beginning at a strength of 2 or 3, as opposed to Soviet Dawn's 3 or 4.  It also seems that not all the fronts are active as often as they are in Soviet Dawn.  It's also easier to get fronts off the map, and it feels like there are more favorable events, and less brutally crushing negative events.

You will earn a few tricks up your sleeve as the game goes on.  Certain advantages that you know you will get eventually.  Like the Asia Corps which gives you a +1 DRM against a single chosen front for an entire turn.  This is opposed to Soviet Dawn where any advantages you may earn must be randomly rolled for, not just once, but twice.  The first to earn the advantage, and the second to determine which advantage you get.

Why is Ottoman Sunset so enjoyable?

Ottoman Sunset successfully took the quick playtime, and rapid pace of Soviet Dawn, and made numerous improvements to player agency, and the cohesion between the various mechanics of the game.  In Soviet Dawn the military fronts, political track, and reorganization tables felt like completely different core systems bolted together.  In Ottoman Sunset, the National Will is closely tied to the status of the military fronts, as well as the Off Map Theater battles.  The only element of Ottoman Sunset which feels oddly divorced from the rest is the British Forcing the Narrows minigame.

With 5 victories, 2 defeats, 1 draw, and 1 Strategic site lost, the National Will ends up at 2.

I especially appreciate the National Will track, and how it more accurately reflects your performance over the course of the entire session, as opposed to Soviet Dawn's political track which measured a much more abstract and arbitrary quality.

Ottoman Sunset also preserves the fantastically robust scoring system that I've come to love so much in States of Siege games.  So there is never a reason to just flat out quit the game.  You can always try to last just one more card, and get just a slightly better score.  And when you win, you can always try to win even better!  Logging your scores, and competing against yourself is a huge draw with these games, and Ottoman Sunset is no exception.

Long term strategy, short term tactics, both or neither?

Ottoman Sunset definitely feels a lot more strategic than Soviet Dawn.  You'll have to decide quickly how much effort you want to spend defending the narrows, and dumping resources into the Off Map Theaters.  Largely because it feels like the beginning is the only time you'll have the breathing room to spare those extra resources.  Being able to bank actions to spend later at a 2:1 ratio is also extremely helpful, and gives you a good feeling of control, even if it is costly.

In the immediate future though, you may find yourself scraping by turn to turn.  Once you've lost a few Off Map Theater battles, you may be desperately trying to keep the National Will from collapsing.  Things start off easy, but once the fronts begin devouring strategic sites, you'll be desperate to push them back to a safer distance.  No longer can you let a front get right up against your capital, confident you can push them back later.

Are the dilemmas the player is presented with of sufficient quality?

There are a lot of great key events in Ottoman Sunset you'll be anticipating while making decisions.  Probably the biggest one is the opportunity to put down a fortress in Gaza.  This can be a life saver, and absolutely worth giving up 2 actions that turn.  But you must have the Sanai front pushed back beyond Gaza to put it down.

The Narrows minimap
Also, the knowledge that the Mesopotamian front will perform a full retreat at some point may encourage you to let them advance early on.  And all sorts of bizarre things happen to the Caucuses front, with it weakening, strengthening, coming and going.  It's also the most frequent front you are forbidden from attacking, and the specter of that will usually encourage you to keep it back after a few close calls.

Possibly the worst threat is the British in the Narrows, which will show up at some point after the Mid-Day cards have been shuffled in.  You really don't want to be caught unprepared for it, since once the card is drawn, there is absolutely nothing further you can do.

What could have improved the dilemmas?

The one thing Ottoman Sunset won't do is make you think you are playing against an opponent.  It's an event driven game without any AI to speak of.  You aren't trying to outwit the game, you are hedging your bets against the event deck.  I don't really see any way around this that wouldn't violate what the game is at it's core.  It's just the nature of the beast.  But it's something to be aware of.  If you are looking for a solo game that can occasionally trick you into thinking you are playing against an actual person, you will want to look elsewhere.

Physical component design and limitations?

Ottoman Sunset is currently one of VPG's Gold Banner games, a series of games which put on display their absolute best production quality.  Yes, it's still print on demand, however now they use a fancy laser cutter on some pretty solid cardboard.  It gives a lot of fully manufactured games a run for their money!  The pieces come out perfectly, without the ratty corners, or an obvious top and bottom that die cut counters have.

Look at how great these are!

The board is truly top notch.  It comes in 5 large puzzle pieces, and fits together snugly.  The game also comes with numerous standees, which really look great thanks to the precision laser cutting.  In fact, the laser cutting is so good, I think this is pretty much the only counter based game that I haven't clipped!  Not that the extra thick, heavy duty counters would have fit in my clipper anyways.

What could have been better?

There is one area where Victory Point Games consistently drives me nuts.  The card quality is barely tolerable!  I love to riffle shuffle and bridge my cards.  Sadly, my cards for Ottoman Sunset have actually developed an odd ripple pattern.  When they were fresh out of the box, they came bowed one way.  However repeated riffle shuffling has just bent them sharply in the middle instead of bowing them the other way.  It's extremely strange looking.  They just aren't cards that hold up to shuffling even remotely well.  Which is a shame because you will want to thoroughly shuffle the cards at least 3 times each game.  Once for each stage of the war.

Long term prospects?

So here's the funny thing.  There is a lot I like about Ottoman Sunset over Soviet Dawn.  It feels more fair.  I feel like I'm in more control over the outcomes.  The game mechanics feel more fleshed out, and better tied together thematically.  Overall it provides a more consistent experience.  So I should like it more than Soviet Dawn right?

But I don't.  I must be a masochist, because I find it a little boring compared to Soviet Dawn.  It's just a little too manageable.  I have a little too much control over the outcome.  Oh I still lose.  But it's definitely much easier than Soviet Dawn.  Winning feels like less of an accomplishment in Ottoman Sunset.

I still play Ottoman Sunset a lot.  In fact, I usually go running back to it once Soviet Dawn has thoroughly wiped the floor with me 12 games in a row.  But I think for me, it'll always be my #2 game in the States of Siege series.

1 comment:

  1. I am a little late to the party, but I just bought this (and Hapsburg Eclipse) yesterday. The two can be merged into one game...