Lanzerath Ridge: latest boardgame in the Pavlov's House series

Ha! I lost faster than you did. Just played mid-week, starting a new game tonight.

I saw that you had posted an unboxing video! Do you think you might be filming a playthrough?

I’m not sure what to make of it, but my first impression is that it seems like an inexplicably pared down version Pavlov’s House. Or a gussied up prototype. Which is NOT what I was expecting. :(

Yes, I’m going to film an overview tonight, then starting a playthrough series this weekend.

This is my first foray into the Valiant Defense series, so I can’t compare this one to the others yet. And I’ve only played the one playthrough so far, lost in the second wave because I thought there were less than (x number) of flanking attackers in the wave.

I really like the Design & Art (love the map) and the connection to history. I got the companion book too, and that adds a lot of flavor.

I started typing up a bunch of thoughts, but I realize I need to play more before judging things. So far I’m enjoying it. Gameplay is more of a puzzly nature than I anticipated, which isn’t bad. To be fair I didn’t know what to expect of gameplay, just meeting it where it’s at for the moment.

I suspect the Tactics cards might ramp up the complexity of the gameplay a good bit. Have you gotten to those yet?

I have, but they’re directly from Pavlov’s House and, I’m guessing, the other two games in the series as well. I don’t like them. It’s a chintzy alternative to “tuning” or “balancing”: Here, now orcs have extra points! Now you have to earn 5 more VPs to win! Now you get a -1 on every die roll! The Harrison Bergeron School of Tuning. Ugh.

In fact, I’ve concluded I dislike the overall game quite a bit. It’s a dramatic step backwards from Pavlov’s House in so many ways. I’d even go so far as to call it simplistic. If I didn’t know any better, I’d guess I’m not the target audience.

And while the art style is certainly striking, it’s weirdly muted and impressionistic for such a conventional wargame. To me the tone of the art is out of sorts with the simple (and appropriate) “Rah Rah USA! Dirty Dozen! Wildbunch!” tenor of the action.

So, overall, I’m thumbs way down on Lanzerath Ridge, but I’d be curious to watch you do a playthrough a) to hopefully hear some of your opinion about it, and b) to see how your game unfolds, because I suspect there’s minimal replayability in this game compared to various other Frantic Last Stand tower defense style games, and even compared to Pavlov’s House.

A good bit to unpack in here. :)

I want to play a few more times before saying too much but I’ve enjoyed my first playthrough, with a few wonderings that I’m reserving judgement on. The history and the narrative generation are strong for me, and so far the gameplay has me thinking. But yeah, I’ve got to play more first. :)

Interesting, I haven’t sensed that sort of tenor of action. I’m curious what things led you to connect Dirty Dozen and Wildbunch to this game? I feel like the map and the counters respectfully highlight the history. They visited the battlefield and used satellite and historical imagery to capture what the field looked like on that morning. When I look at the map I feel the cold and quiet of a mid-December morning. And the counters have the real names of the soldiers. Most of the mechanics are centered in events that happened through the day. Admittedly it’s US-Centric history, but I feel like the game is trying to tell the story of the battle rather than create an action movie. And the history did play out in a lopsided manner, with the casualty ratio about 6 to 1 in the US favor. So yeah, my first reaction to the art and design is “history” and it draws me into the game.

Just the fact of small unit action during World War II with a handful of individual characters doing dramatic soldier stuff to hold back waves of disposable bad guys.

(In case it’s not obvious, I’ve never see The Wildbunch, which is actually “The Wild Bunch” and not, in fact, about soldiers in World War II. Doh (hat tip to @Brooski for the email correction). My familiarity with Peckinpah begins and ends with Straw Dogs. Or is it Strawdogs? I actually know almost no World War II movies. Kelly Heroes comes to mind, but I think Lanzerath Ridge is trying to hew more towards, say, individual plotlines on those Attenborough movies? I didn’t mean to imply that it was about criminals doing a suicide mission, which I believe is the premise of Dirty Dozen.)

But regardless of any bungled movie references, my overall point is that Nils Johansson choice of art style feels out of sorts with the tenor the game. I’d expect the celebration of a dozen American soldiers holding back the might of the Third Reich would have a more conventional art style, or at least a cover less reminiscent of a horror game:

At best, that looks like a game about doomed Finnish soldiers fighting a Soviet invasion.

But, really, it’s a minor point compared to my other issues with the game. And to be honest, it’s not really a complaint so much as an observation. Perhaps the point of the art style is to bring a more somber mood to the game? Or to somehow resist a more conventional and celebratory tenor of the gameplay? Whatever the case, Johansson’s art style is a definite choice and it’s a choice worth noting, regardless of how one feels about it. :)

I’m not sure how this is relevant to my comment, but I agree that David Thompson took great pains to relate his game to actual history. I hope I haven’t said anything to make you think I feel otherwise.

That strikes me as a distinction without much of a difference, but I don’t think we’re disagreeing!

And look who’s underway! @Zilla_Blitz’s series begins here:

It’s just the set-up and explanation, and I’m waiting for the gameplay, so I’ll tune in when it gets underway. But I was surprised to hear you’ve only tried it once before taping. You’re in for a couple of rude surprises, my friend. Good luck!

Yes, if you know how to play there’s no need to watch this one, for sure.

And yes, lately I’ve been leaning towards fluency with rules but not fluency with tactics and strategy when making playthroughs. I think that gives about a 50-50 chance of a respectable outcome and highlights a sense of doom/adventure/narrative/fun rather than putting an emphasis on leet play. And I feel like it gives a fresher, more raw perspective on some of the interesting decisions that games toss at us.

I don’t think I made my point clearly. I was putting that sense of history and the emotions that surround it up as the tenor of the game.

I can see your point, though, now that I think about the box cover and to a degree the card art. The map and counters are of a different style than the box cover and cards. I think the box cover is done the way it is to match the other 3 titles in the Valiant Defense series, which all have that black/red gothic tone. My first look at the game came at a conference, so I’d had a good hour or two looking at just the board and counters. I didn’t see the box until it showed up at my door, so my initial impressions came from looking at the innards of the game.

But yeah, I agree this element is more peripheral to gameplay, I just hesitate to say too much about gameplay until I’ve spent more time with the game. I hope to play/record the first wave tomorrow. :)

This might sound really petty, but I really dislike the counters for how some of the men are presumably actual pictures, and the rest are just helmets.

I understand it must have been difficult to find photographs*, and I suspect part of the issue is that some of these young men didn’t survive the war. But it’s really conspicuous that half of the men don’t have an image. I guess it’s better than the weird MIA silhouettes in Pavlov’s House, but it still stands out to me. I really like faces in games, as they’re instantly relatable. So when some of the characters have an identifiable human likeness and the others are just inert objects, I feel like that’s a problem that needed to be solved, and this wasn’t much of a solution. This was a shrug.

(And don’t get me started on the fact that the opposite side of a counter doesn’t show its squad! That’s the whole point of the Inspire action! To unflip flipped counters! So why wouldn’t you print the relevant information on the relevant side of the counter? That’s Interface 101 and wargames consistently fuck it up. (I don’t mean to single out David Thompson or DVG with this complaint, because it’s ridiculously commonplace.)

I also really dislike how the card art is just splashed willy-nilly onto some of the cards. For instance, these cards bring out the officers who push an attack past the bobwire fences:

It’s pretty obvious what’s going on there. Leadership! In the designer notes, Thompson cites reports that German soldiers wouldn’t advance unless they were ordered forward by officers.

So then what’s with the artwork on these cards?

I don’t know my Wermacht, so maybe those are some sort of NCO leaders who inspire the Germans past the bobwire? Not really the classical Nazi officer I was picturing, and certainly not the classic Nazi officer on the other cards, but they do the exact same thing. So why confuse the artwork by making these leader cards look exactly like the non-leader cards?

Speaking of, German units are really only ever a number from 1 to 3 which determines how hard they hit if they reach US troops. Other than that, they’re mostly just nodes you shoot off the board. The only notable ones are the officers who push dudes past the bobwire. So why does this unit, which has no effect on bobwire, feature artwork of cutting through bobwire?

This stuff would really bother me in a game I liked. In a game I don’t like – Lanzerath Ridge – it’s just indicative that no one gave the components much thought, so it’s hardly surprising the gameplay is similarly superficial.

Because I feel the biggest issue with Lanzerath Ridge is that it’s a once-and-done game.

Once you’ve seen how the action unfolds, you’ve seen all this game has to offer. It’s like a computer wargame where the enemy AI has a single script and the trick to winning is to learn the script and make your moves accordingly. I’m astonished at how little variability is in Lanzerath Ridge, especially compared to other similar games (even compared to Pavlov’s House!).

For instance, there will always be exactly one mortar strike on each jeep in the second wave. There will always be exactly three MG42s placed and then fired in the first wave. There will always be exactly 12 Germans on the left flank and 9 Germans on the right flank, and only during the third and fourth wave, and nowhere else in the game. There will always be the same disguised medic and the exact same mortar fire, and the same advances, and the same deck composition. The only variability are the cards that roll for placement and the possibility that you might call in a couple of artillery strikes to knock a few cards off the deck.

(Don’t get me started on the Tactics cards! Ugh. Just ugh. I can see how they might be value-added in a game like Pavlov’s House with more variability and interacting systems, but here they just call attention to the bare-bones gameplay.)

Anyway, sorry to vent so much. I had really high hopes for this based on what I knew about Pavlov’s House and based on how much I’d been hearing about David Thompson’s games. But the more time I spent with it, the less I liked it. And now I’m really bummed I don’t have Pavlov’s House instead. So if there’s anyone out there who would like to trade a copy of Lanzerath Ridge for Pavlov’s House, please ignore the mean things I said about Lanzerath Ridge and send me a PM. :)

* For something I’m planning to write, I was going to mention my grandfather, who I had been told died in WWII. But before I mention it other than colloquially, I thought I’d try to verify, since I was never really part of my father’s side of the family. My grandmother might have gotten some of the details wrong, or I might have misremembered the things she told me when I was a little kid. So one night, I Googled “Opie Chick” and went down a little rabbit hole to discover a) my grandmother got it all right, and b) a photograph. So my avatar is currently US Army Captain Opie Chick, killed in Normandy in 1944, awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, buried in France with his fellow soldiers. And inexplicably having the same mischievous look as @Jason_McMaster. Lord only knows what’s happened to the Chick and McMaster bloodlines in all their ranging through Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama!

Needless to say, I really enjoyed David Thompson writing about why he chose Lanzerath Ridge as the subject for his game.

I’ve got some thoughts on the game-related stuff, but you’ve seen this then, right?
Normandy Cemetery Register

It shows Captain Chick’s exact location. Will you go visit?

I have not! Thank you so much for showing me that. I gotta go now, there’s something in my eye… :)