is a World War II global conquest game put out by Eagle Games, one of the newest entrants into the wargame industry.
Time: 1-4 hours
Difficulty: 4 (of 10)
Attack! also has a simultaneously released supplement, the Attack! Expansion, but this core game is 100% playable on its own.
Attack! comes with:
- 1 map
- 1 game manual
- plastic troops for 6 players
- 8 red battle dice
- 2 blue regular dice
- 1 deck of economics cards
- 1 deck of navy cards
The map is six panels in full color. It depicts the Americas, Europe, and Africa (the Pacific front being saved for the expansion). It's fairly attractive, depicts territorial regions clearly and also shows "sea lanes" for amphibian movement. (Some of these lanes go off the map to the west, again for the Expansion).
The rulebook is 24 pages in glossy full color. It's very clearly written and absolutely laden with examples--exactly what a game rulebook should be. There's also a set of helpful charts on the back, listing possible actions and unit costs (though I would have preferred a sheet of paper or cardstock that could have been given to each player).
The troops are fairly normal for the current standards of plastic figures in a war game. They're highly detailed and the flash is mostly hidden by its placement along the angles of the figures. The troops come in six different colors: gray, tan, beige, dark green, dark blue, and red. There are four different troop types: tanks, planes, infantry, and artillery.
Each troop types come in two different sizes, meant to represent units of one and five respectively, but unfortunately they're much too close in size. The larger troops are maybe 15-20% larger in each dimension than the smaller troops; for some units like the tanks, this difference is pretty easy to see, but the infantry were easy to mix up, and the planes were almost impossible to tell apart in the two sizes, even when we were carefully looking at them both. Fortunately we didn't find need to use the 5-troop units in our playtest; for longer term playing you might want to dab paint on the larger figures to make them easier to pick out.
It's also worth commenting that the troops come still affixed to their runners in the box (a not-uncommon practice for games with this many plastic pieces). It takes about 5 man-hours to separate them all with any degree of precision. The artillery and the infantry were each somewhat troublesome. The artillery could not be twisted from the runners because of their skeletal infrastructure, and thus had to be cut out. The infantry were attached to the runners at their base and thus sometimes when twisted out there was too much runner left affixed, prevening the infantry from standing up. I found a Leatherman tool very useful--scissors for clipping and a knife for the detail work.
The dice are all brightly colored with very clear and distinct markings. The red dice show the four unit types and are used to determine hits (as discussed below), while the blue dice are normally pipped six-siders, numbered 1 to 6. A pair of normal six-siders for each player would have been a bit more useful, but most gamers will be able to make up the difference.
The two decks of cards are both colorful and well-designed graphically. Each has a standard, quality piece of art--9 different ones total between the two decks for the 9 different types of cards.
The economics cards list the output of regions on the board. The deck is divided into five types of output, which are clearly marked by both name and color and which each having an economic value between 1 and 4.
The navy cards depict one of four different types of ships; each also lists all the special rules for that ship type, which is invaluable during play.
The Attack! box unfortunately doesn't have any sort of tray to hold all these pieces and cards. A set of 6 Ziplock sandwich bags and 2 rubber bands will do the trick, but isn't as classy as a built-in storage tray.
I did feel that the game was missing various markers to help players keep track of things. For example, you can take 3 different actions during each turn, but there's no where to keep track of which action you're on--and it's quite possible to forget given that some actions can be quite long. Four or five times during our playtest game we had to backtrack through a player's actions to figure out where they were.
It would also have been nice if there were special markers to keep track of pending battles--since you do all your movement during an action, then conduct all related combat. This is particularly important early in the game when you're invading neutral countries, and thus don't have the benefit of seeing two differently colored pieces in a region to remind you that there was an unconducted combat there. We ended up placing small six-sided dice in regions to remind us of upcoming battles.
Somewhat related is the fact that the board didn't have any spaces to place various cards, such as the naval and economy decks. Worse, there isn't any designated space for the naval battles, which could involve laying out up to two rows of eight cards each. Clearly, players will figure out ways around all these absences, but a board that integrated them all would have been superior.
Overall, Attack! is a graphically beautiful game that's a pleasure to play just because of the pieces. The absences and minor flaws I note are issues, but still Attack! rates above average in Style: "4" out of "5".
The Game Play
You start a game of Attack! off with a small army consisting of 24 figures (12 infantry, 6 tanks, 4 artillery, 2 planes) and 5 naval cards (1 battleship, 2 submarines, 2 destroyers).
You keep the naval cards in your hand and place the figures on the board. There's a somewhat complex algorithm for placing the figures, which ensures that the first and last players aren't especially advantaged (or disadvantaged). The end result is that each player ends up with his 24 figures divided between 4 regions on the board (each region being a largish area like Germany, White Russia, New England, Amazonia, or Angola; there's 30 or 40 on the board total). Finally, each player chooses one of those areas as his capitol and places a special Capital City piece on it.
Each player is then given one Economics card for each of his four regions; this is a common idea in the game: whenever you get a new region, you get a new economics card (and conversely whenever you lose a region, you lose a card). These cards will be used later on whenever a player decides to "Build New Units".
Then, the players begin to take their turns. Each turn each player gets to take 3 actions from a menu of of 7. With the exception of "Diplomatic Blitz", each player can only take each action one time during a turn. (Diplomatic Blitz can be done more--up to 3 times in a turn, clearly.)
The 7 possible actions are: naval battle; move; blitzkrieg move; strategic move; diplomatic blitz; build new units; and trade. Usually each player will build units each turn; beyond that he might do two types of moves if he's being aggressive or a couple of diplomatic blitzes if he's going for neutrals.
Here's more explanation of the 7 potential actions:
Naval Battle: Only one person can "control the seas" at a time. At the start of the game, the first player to take the "Naval Battle" action just places his forces at sea, but if any additional players take the "Naval Battle" action they must fight the existing controller.
Naval battles are fought in rounds. Each round each player lays all of his naval ships out in a row, each ship across from an opponent's ship. Battles are then fought in a series of one-on-one clashes, with each player rolling two six-sided dice for each clash, and the player with the higher total winning. There are four different types of ships, and each has a slight advantage:
Destroyer: +2 vs Subs
Submarine: +2 vs Battleships
Battleship: +2 vs Destroyers, 2 hits to sink
Aircraft Carrier: +1 vs. any other ship type; +1 to adjacent ships too
Whenever a ship wins a clash the first ship in the opponent's line takes a hit, which allows for a bit of strategy in placement. After each round, each player has the option to retreat. Eventually, the lost standing, non-retreated player takes (or keeps) control of the sea.
Move: This allows you to move each of your pieces on the board, 1 space for infantry and artillery, 1 or 2 spaces for tanks and planes. Besides moving on land, region by region, there are also sea lanes which allow you to cross the oceans, as well as sea regions which let you hop to and from lots of nearby regions (e.g., the Mediterranean Sea Region). The person currently in control of the sea can block this "Amphibian Movement" if he so desires.
Land Combat: Some movement will probably just be rearranging of your troops, but you'll also be invading countries, both neutral and enemy. The neutral countries are those currently unoccupied. You flip an Economics cards to see what troops are stationed there (a set of troops is listed at the bottom of each card) and then fight them. Otherwise, you must fight whatever troops your enemy already has stationed in his locale.
Combat goes like this:
- Attacker chooses 4 of his troops to commit (or however many he has in the region, if less).
- Defender chooses 4 of his troops to commit (or less).
- Defender rolls dice for his units, destroying attackers.
- Attacker refills his troops to 4, then rolls, destroying defenders.
- Number of committed troops now goes up to 5. Defender goes, then attacker.
- Number goes up to 6 ... etc.
The actual dice rolling method is simple and intuitive. You roll one special Attack! die for each unit you've committed--other than tanks which get two dice each. (And, the minimum number of dice is always two, even if you're down to one non-tank unit.) The dice are each printed with the four different types of units on their faces: infantry, artillery, and tanks on one face each; planes on two faces; and one blank face.
After you roll you match results to units. For each die that you can match to a unit that hasn't already been matched, you score a hit and eliminate an enemy unit. For example, if you had one of each unit in an attack, and rolled tank, infantry, plane, artillery, you'd score 4 hits (lucky you!). If you had those same units in a fight and rolled 4 planes you'd just score 1 hit, because you only have 1 plane committed.
When you score hits you remove enemy units in a specific order: infantry, then tanks, then artillery, then planes.
Land battles continue until one side is totally eliminated. The other side takes the region (and an Economics card from his opponent, or in the case of a neutral territory, the Economics card which lists the troops he fought).
Blitzkrieg Move: If you've already done a normal Move during a turn you may take an additional action to do a Blitzkrieg Move. This lets you move tanks and planes a second time (and lets them attack a second time too). Clearly, it can lead to Land Combat (q.v.).
Strategic Move: This is a totally different type of movement which lets you rearrange any of your troops in a connected set of regions. These connections may include Sea Lanes, but that can be blocked by the player with control of the sea. Basically, this allows you to prepare for defense or an offensive (and in the latter case may be followed by a regular "Move").
Diplomatic Blitz: The bloodless way to take over neutral regions. Roll a die. You need an 8+ if you're adjacent to the region and a 9+ otherwise. If you're successful, you take over the region (with a starting troop of 1 infantry). If you fail, everyone at the table gets an opportunity to roll a 9+ to take the region.
Build New Units: You can build new units by using "Production Points" which are based on the Economic cards that you've earned from the regions that you've taken over. Each economic card has 1 of 5 "suits": factories, oil, minerals, rail transport, or population. Each card also has a value of 1 to 4. You figure out your production points by first collecting together any sets of the first four suits (one of each of the types but population); each of these cards in a set is worth 2x the value of their number. You then add the value of any cards not in a set. This total is your production value.
You use your production points to purchase new units as follows:
You must spend all your points during your action; excess are lost. Units may be put in any region you control.
Trade: Finally, you can choose to trade economic cards with other players. This is typically done to acquire sets, but may also be part of an aid aggrement or an alliance. The person in control of the seas can block trades if you don't have a region adjacent to your trading partner.
And those are the 7 actions. So how does the game end?
Winning the Game: The game continues until either one player is eliminated or a set time limit is reached. (We choose 2.5 hours after setup was complete in our playtest.) At that point the player with the most regions is the winner, or the player with the most land units in the case of a tie.
Relationships to Other Games
Any packaged wargame with a modern setting and aimed at a mass audience must out of necessity be compared to the big three: Risk, Axis & Allies, and Diplomacy. In levels of complexity, simulation, and cognition required, Attack! clearly falls on the spectrum somewhere between the first two and thus can be best compared to those.
In many way Attack! simply feels like a much more modern design than any of the older models. It's clearly intended to be much more accessible than its brethren, with its limited game length, its basic rules, and its obvious combat mechanics, and I think it succeeds on all counts.
Risk: Attack! is more complex than Risk and allows for more strategic complexities. It has a somewhat smaller luck element than Risk, but it's clearly still there. Personally, I think Attack! is a considerably better designed game too.
Axis & Allies: Overall, I think Attack! is much more similar to Axis & Allies, though in this case Attack! falls on the "less complex", "less strategic" side of things, though not by a huge amount. To some extent, I think the game have different goals. Axis & Allies is a more careful simulation of WWII; this increased veracity leads to decreased replayability and variability. Attack! is a much more freeform, abstract game, that uses WWII as a veneer, but not a core emphasis, thus increasing replayability but decreasing simulation aspects. (Attack! is also notably cheaper than A&A, and thus might be more appealing to a player stepping up from Risk.)
Diplomacy: Finally, Attack! is clearly a far cry from Diplomacy (just as A&A is). Diplomacy is a game requiring high levels of cognition and socialization, while Attack! treats itself much more as a game.
The Game Design
Attack! is, overall, a well-designed wargame that's easy to play and accessible. Here's some of the better game design points:
Good Simplicity: The game does a very good job of outlining a very simple, easy-to-comprehend set of rules. There's little opportuity for confusion and all the players will have the hang of the game within a round of play.
Good Level of Strategy: Despite those simple rules there's great strategic possibilities in Attack! With 4 different land unit types, 7 different actions, and the opportunity to take most of these actions in any order, there's a lot of possibilities, allowing you to follow a number of different paths to victory, from outright conquest to quiet diplomacy and trade.
Good End Game Conditions: Finally, Attack! gets kudos for realizing that it's no fun to be knocked out of a game early, and that it's no fun to play that last 1-3 hours of a war game which simple involve grinding down your opponents' final forces. By ending the game at the first player death or an arbitrary time limit, Attack! keeps the game in the "fun" space.
Here's the design aspects of the game that don't work as well:
Abstract Background: Although the game is theoretically set in the WWII era, that's mainly stage dressing. The political map matches the period and the various units are appropriately drawn, molded, and named, but beyond that the game could be set in just about any era. This is made particularly obvious by the fact that starting position is utterly arbitrary, and has nothing to do with the Axi s and Allied powers of WWII. This problem could at least be partially alleviated by the creation of "scenarios" which define starting positions for different players, something that easily could be produced by Eagle Games on the net.
Unit Imbalance: Some of the units seems imbalanced versus their cost. In particular, the two strongest units each seem too expensive. The naval Carrier, at a cost of 20 PP, is in no way is as valuable as 2 battleships or 4 subs. The cost of a plane at 15 PP, three times the cost of an infantry unit, isn't quite as bad because it does have some nice flyover powers, but still was a very rare purchase in our game.
Timed End Game Can Be Abused: The problem with any game that's based on a specific time ending is that it can be gamed, with players making last-ditch attacks that leave them totally exposed because they know that there won't be future turns. A better solution is almost always to use a slight random element so that the game end can't be predicted absolutely.
Peaceful Tactics Too Well Rewarded: The tactic of peacably taking countries over with diplomacy and not fighting other players is too well rewarded for a game called "Attack!" A player taking this tactic can do very well in the endgame, when he still has pristine forces, combined with a decent economic backing thanks to his diplomatic takeovers.
Overall, Attack! is a well designed game that was fun to play and which I know I'll be playing again. I'd give it "4" out of "5" for Substance.
The only substantive complaints that I've seen about Attack! seem to come from die-hard wargamers, who've played Diplomacy, Axis & Allies, 3 variants of Gettysberg, and any number of other battles. They don't like the fact that Attack! doesn't follow all of the "wargaming standards". Some of them, for example, don't like the fact that you can seize a neutral country through diplomacy, build it up, then attack; while others seem to dislike the fact that the game isn't played to the bloody (boring) end. As far as I can tell, many of these complaints are sheer conservatism, born of a belief that wargames should be built "a certain way". But it also suggests that Attack! might not be the game for diehard wargamers.
On the other hand Eagle Games looks like they're doing a great job of introducing fun, new war games to a new generation. Attack! fits into the existing pantheon somewhere right between Risk and Axis & Allies and is well recommended for casual wargamers who may not be willing to devote days to miniature battles, but still enjoy pushing plastic pieces around a board for an evening, as part of a well-designed, modern game.