By Mark Rivera from Boardgames in Blighty
Review – The Pocket at Falaise from Against the Odds Magazine
Designer – Ted Raicer
Graphics – Greg Grando
Thanks to Against the Odds Magazine for providing a copy of this game for review purposes
Ted Raicer is a well-known designer of a number of popular and respected war games, mostly set in WWI and I was very pleased to receive a copy of his game, The Pocket at Falaise, which looks at the allies’ attempt to cut off and destroy the German forces in Normandy. Historically, much destruction rained down upon Hitler’s forces from the Allied armies but enough of the German forces escaped through the unclosed pocket to fight on and prolong the war. Could things have been different?
A 2 player game, The Pocket at Falaise gives you the chance to find out.
As with all of the Against the Odds Magazine games, you get a well produced magazine with a main article about the historical events portrayed in the game and and number of other articles which will be of interest to the war gamer. The standard is top notch with a glossy production, excellent artwork and well-written material. The game comes with rules, a 22″ by 34″ game map which is simply gorgeous to look at and gives you a good sense of the terrain problems face in Normandy. You also 198 cardboard counters representing the forces engaged in the battle and other informational counters. The artwork is mostly well done on the counters.
I had 2 visual problems. The unit designations on the counters are very important for set-up and on some of the counters, it is very difficult to read. The size of the counters and amount of information along with the colors used seems to be too much for some of the counters. I understand that the colors are used to make it easier to spot units from the same formations but this can cause problems. Larger counters and a larger map would have been better but I understand that there are limitations in a magazine game format. Added to this, is the difficulty and confusion caused by the initial unit placement information on the map. In some cases, it isn’t totally clear which units the brief information is referring to. This meant that it took me quite a while to set the game up. Someone has created an easy set-up sheet indicating the hex-grid numbers for each unit. This should have been included in the original rules.
Visual challenges aside, the game does look great when set up.
Edit – There is a downloadable easy to set up PDF available on ATO’s website here:
The sequence of play is clear and works well allowing you to get into playing, not getting bogged down with loads of technicalities. The game plays out in 10 turns as follows:
German Special Counterattack Initiative – This game is all about the Germans trying to escape the Allied pocket before it closes and once per game, the Germans have a chance to launch a special counterattack to try and rescue the situation to some degree.
Allied Airstrike Availability and Bombardment – during day turns, the Allies can cause problems for exposed German units
Corps Command Pool, Activation and Action Rounds – The core mechanic of the game is a chit-pull mechanism where Corps chits are randomly pulled and Corps are activated for movement and combat. The first 2 turns allow the Germans to have the first 2 activations.
This process works very well and provides the players with some tricky decisions. On the one hand, the Germans need to bug out as soon as they can, but need to do so in a managed way as there are few roads to quickly retreat and it will be important to stall the Allies where possible, particularly in that threatened gap between Falaise and Argentan. Not an easy feat at all. There is some punch left in the German units and they need to be used thoughtfully making the most of defensible terrain, but not get overly committed to combat and enemy contact or risk getting caught in the closing trap. The Allies, on the other hand have tough terrain to deal with, enemy units with some bite, and thinner forces at the Falaise gap. Very interesting and challenging. The turn process works very well and the chit-pull mechanic makes this a game of uncertainty even in the face of eventual certainty that the Germans will retreat and a fair amount of their forces will get cut off. The question of the game is, can the German minimize destruction or the Allies maximize it?
Did it work for me?
I found The Pocket at Falaise relatively easy to learn with clear rules and the design and gameplay strong and effective. Most importantly, its fun and interesting to play. I actually think that it may work best as a solitaire game, basically as a puzzle to solve and it works very well this way. There are solitaire play guidelines included with the package. I’m not convinced that it is as much fun for the German player. Perhaps a 2 game match with players exchanging sides to see who can do better. In any case, this is a solid design with no real problems in how it works. There is a strong story which meets my expectations and the chit-pull mechanic absolutely keeps you on your toes as you have to react to the activation circumstances as they are presented to you. Very nice. The visual problems are issues but otherwise, a fine addition to the collection of anyone interested in the Normandy campaign.
Boardgames in Blighty rating – 7 out of 10
No – this game is aimed at war gamers
For more information go to – http://www.atomagazine.com/