Friedrich: First Impressions
I recently had the opportunity to learn Friedrich, and I jumped on it. We played a 3-player game which lasted about 5 hours. I was Russia/Sweden/France, Lance played Austria/Imperials, and Mark was Prussia/Hanover. The game lasted about 13 turns. As this was my first game, I'm not sure if that is uncharacteristically long.
Russia and Austria were quick to put the pressure on. Sweden and the Imperials didn't do much. France was ineffective, not because of Hanover's efforts, but because she drew mostly "hearts" for the first half of the game. Prussia pushed too hard into Austria and got clobbered. Russia took advantage and pushed far into Prussia. France got impatient and attacked Hanover in "spades"--despite the lack of cards--and lost 2 generals at the same time.
The Fate Deck was kind to the "allies" with cards of little or no effect coming early. Hanover pushed into the French, destroying their supply train. Prussia's losses and southern distractions allowed Sweden to have her way for a few turns. Russia threatened a win with 8 victory markers, but was unable to push a newly placed general far enough away to claim the critical final locations.
Austria was also close to victory by this point, but Prussia kept a single "fly in the ointment" general nearby, frustrating the Austrians with a series of single-loss retreats. At this point in the game, battles were often 10-15 cards long, which was fine with France. She managed to get a general and a supply train back on the board and push back at Hanover. Sweden left play with the
Russia and Austria were both one location away from winning, but these locations were too far apart for Prussia to be able to cover both with all her forces. Russia tried once and failed. Austria tried once and failed. Russia tried a second time and won!
The learning curve is much shorter than the rules would suggest. The game is fairly simple: draw cards, move generals and supply trains, conduct battles. There are no rules for interception or pursuit.
Combat itself is simple in mechanics, but there are some tricks which were not obvious to me playing the first time. As you start your turn for each nation, you draw a specific number of cards. These cards are arranged like a normal deck of playing cards (2 through 13, in 4 suits) with special Reserve cards added in. The board is broken into squares labeled with suits. When a battle is conducted, players may only play cards in the suit in which their army is located (may be different for each player), or play Reserve cards.
To start a battle, players compare army strengths (kept in secret until armies fight). The player with the lowest strength begins by adding cards until his total is greater than or equal to the opponent's. If the total is exactly equal, the opponent must play a card if he has one. If the total is greater, the opponent may play cards in the same way. At any point, if you are unable or unwilling to tie or beat the total, you lose the difference in units and are retreated away an equal number of spaces.
Sounds pretty abstract, eh? It is. If you have no spades, then you better not find yourself fighting in spades regions. If you have lots of diamonds, then you can boldly venture into diamonds. The more cards you have, the more flexibility you have.
Reserve cards count as any number from 1 to 10. Why would you want a smaller value? This is where the tactics of the game come into play. Say your opponent is up 6 in a battle. You have no cards left in the appropriate suit, but you do have 1 Reserve card. You could play it for 10 and be up 4. But now what if he plays a 13? You will be down 9, losing 9 units and retreating 9 spaces--a dire loss. Say you play your Reserve card for 5. Now you are only down 1, losing a single unit and retreating 1 space!
Another interesting way to use a Reserve card (or a normal card of the right value) is to make very high jumps. Say your opponent is up 8, and you have an 11 and a Reserve. You could be up 1 with the Reserve or up 3 with the 11. What if you made the Reserve into a 7? Now you are down 1 and can continue to play cards. You play your 11, and now you are up 10!
I find all of the above very cool, but also so abstract as to bring Friedrich almost completely out of the wargame genre. It is rightly called a hybrid. However, change the combat to a CRT or a Battle Card system (eg Hannibal), and it would probably not even be any fun.
The 3 smaller powers (Sweden, Imperials, and Hanover) seem relatively useless other than being buffers and minor threats. Fortunately, you never have to play only them (until powers are eliminated).
Each turn of play after the first 6, a Fate Card is drawn from a shuffled deck. The cards determine the order of a number of historical events that slowly bring the war to an end: various countries pull out, etc. If Fredrick the Great can last until this time, he wins.
I can see this game easily playing in 2-3 hours my next time. For now, it's an A game (will suggest) partly because I like the system, and partly because I want to try stuff now that I have seen the system in action. I don't see it ever falling below a B game (will play if suggested).
The game is very pretty and has nice--albeit small--wooden discs for the generals. I loath the cardboard standups as seen in Wilderness War and Hannibal.
Friedrich image by oceano