Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Atlantic Storm — The Good

Design by:  Don Greenwood & Ben Knight
Published by:  Avalon Hill
2 – 6 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

The Good. 

Oh, no … not another card game!  Actually, though, this Avalon Hill release is quite good as players try to sink and/or save Allied convoys from the dangerous Deutsche Kriegsmarine during WWII.

It’s no secret that card based games are growing in popularity, no doubt spawned by the phenomenal success of CCG’s such as Magic: The Gathering and their ilk.  People, including myself, are discovering that a card game doesn’t mean that it must involve the standard 52-card deck of playing cards.  There’s so much more you can do with cards, and, fortunately, many are doing just that.

Flush off of its success with Titan: The Arena, Avalon Hill has issued another card based game, this time using a more militaristic theme.  The game is the much touted Atlantic Storm.  The setting is World War II and involves the Allied attempt to safely guide their goods-laden convoys across the perilous Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to supply the beleaguered Allied forces.  Of course, the Germans have other ideas and are throwing everything their Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe can muster against the convoys.

Each player has a hand of six cards, known as Force cards, representing actual Allied or German forces which participated in the war.  These forces come basically in three varieties:  Surface ships, Air forces and submarines.  There are also cards which can be used in any of the three theatres, as well as bonus cards (which add to the value of the regular force cards) and special cards (storms, radar, etc.) which cause unique actions to occur if played.

Each turn the ‘dealer’ selects a convoy card which is the ‘target’.  The cards also depict actual Allied convoys which made the perilous journey across the oceans during the war.  The convoy card has several important factors printed on it:

  • The theatre of operations:  Atlantic or Arctic
  • The year of the convoy
  • The victory points the convoy is worth
  • Is the convoy a ‘fated’ one (that is, is there a corresponding force card in the deck which actually attacked the convoy during the war.  If so, the strength of that force card is doubled if played against that respective convoy).
  • How laden with goods is the convoy.

When the convoy is revealed, the dealer also names the suit which will be active in support of or against the convoy.  The suit can be either Air, Surface, Sub or Combined.  This is an important strategic decision that the dealer gets to make.  Since the role of the dealer rotates around the table with each battle, every player gets a chance to make several of these suit declarations.

Players then each have a chance to place a force card from their hand either in support of or attacking the convoy.  Players must be very careful, however, to make sure that the force card they play meets all of the criteria listed on the convoy in order to be eligible to be played:

  • The year listed on the force card must correspond with the year on the convoy card 
  • The theatre of operations must match that which is depicted on the convoy card (Atlantic or Arctic).  There are some cards which are eligible to be played in any of the oceans.
  • The force card must match the ‘suit’ named (Air, Surface, Sub or Combined).  Some cards are eligible to be used in any of the declared suits.

Further, you must keep an eye on other force cards that have been played to see if they are ‘fated’ and if you have a force card in your hand which is the affecting ship.  If another player played a force card which was ‘fated’ to be sunk by another particular card and you play that card, you immediately sink that card and take it as victory points.

Since card play is in a clockwise fashion beginning with that round’s dealer, players must decide on whether to play an Allied card in support of the convoy, or a German card in an attempt to sink it. Each force card has a value ranging from 0 – 6, and this may be supplemented with the play of an eligible bonus or special card.  Some of the cards have an unknown value which is only determined at the conclusion of card play.  This value can range from 1 – 6 (and in some special cases even higher).  After all players have had the opportunity to play a card(s) or pass, the point values of the force cards are totaled and the side (Allied or German) with the highest total wins that battle.  The ultimate individual victor of the battle is the player who played the highest valued card(s) for the winning side.  That player must distribute the convoy card and any force cards which were on the losing side amongst the winning players.  Both the convoy card and the defeated force cards have a victory point value and the winning player only has to distribute the cards evenly amongst the winners … he can choose to keep the high-valued victory point cards for himself and give the ‘crumbs’ to his fellow allies!

Negotiation is a big factor in this game.  Table talk is encouraged and necessary.  Before playing a card, it is very common try to negotiate with the other players and sway them to a particular side (Allied or German).  The only way you get to share in the victory points is if you are on the winning side.

There is quite a bit of strategic decisions to make in the game.

     · Which convoy card to select?
     · Which suit to declare?
     · Which side to support  – Allied or German?
     · Do you play your high valued force card or save it for a later date?
     · Do you use your special and/or bonus card or save them?

Victory points are mostly kept secret.  Convoy cards must be revealed, but all force cards are kept hidden.  One can surmise who the leader is, but one can’t be totally sure. Keeping records of victory points earned is verbotten!

The game is played in 20 battles, which after some experience, will likely take about an hour or so.

There is quite a bit to watch out for and keep an eye on.  A player must, at the play of each card, study all of the factors I listed above.  That, frankly, is a lot.  It does slow down play.  If you have some players who normally take awhile on their turns, it is compounded in this game.  Thus, there can be a bit of ‘dead’ time between turns, but mostly this is alleviated by constant negotiation and attempts at deal-making.

That said, the components are gorgeous.  The artwork on the cards is superb and the icons and symbols are easy to get used to and understand.  The game flows fairly smoothly and there are not too many ‘special’ rules to slow down play significantly and cause you to run back to the rule book.  A potential drawback, however, has been reported by my good internet friend Doug Adams of the Billabong Gamers:  the cards are prone to wear after repeated playings. One wonders why Avalon Hill can’t spend the necessary extra few bucks to properly plastic coat their cards.

The game, as most do nowadays, comes with a set of Basic rules and an ‘Advanced’ section of optional rules.  I strongly urge playing with  the advance rules which require the victor in battles to share the victory points earned with all of the players who were on the victorious side in that particular battle.  Under the basic rules, only the player who played the highest valued card(s) on the winning side gets to claim ALL of the victory points.  I gasped in horror as I read this rule as I found that to be the main thing that irked me about another Avalon Hill card game – Enemy in Sight.  I couldn’t digest the fact that I could spend my time and effort blasting away at a British frigate, only to have another player deliver the final shot which sends it to the bottom and then they grab ALL of the victory points and credit.  Yuck.  Well, at least in Atlantic Storm the Advanced rules offer an opportunity to fix that problem. 

Another Advanced rule I’d suggest is  the rule wherein a player selects the top two Convoy cards and plays one of the two, discarding the other.  This offers a bit more strategic options as a player can select a convoy which he is best able to attack or defend based on the force cards he holds in his hands.  Under the Basic rules, only the top Convoy card is revealed … there is no choice in the matter.

A few words of advice:  it is very important to have played the top valued card on the winning side as often as possible.  This gives you the chance to distribute the spoils (aka, victory points) as you see fit.  Of course, that means you usually selfishly get the most VPs.  Another important point, which we all discovered late in our first game, was to try to hold on to some force cards which allowed them to be played in the early 1940 & 1941 years.  There aren’t as many of those in the game so if you use them early, it is possible that you will be left with no eligible force cards to play if a 1940 or 1941 convoy appears later in the game.

The game at its heart is basically a trick-taking game with a WWII theme pasted on.  However, it does go beyond that basic theme and adds quite a few interesting strategic elements (as well as a nice theme!).  As mentioned, the amount of information that a player must keep an eye on can be a daunting task, but gets easier with repeated play.  I enjoyed the game and give it a rating of ‘6’.  Be warned, however, that it is a card game, which means that not everyone will fall in line.

 

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Responses

  1. I like the way the theme is tied to the game. A little history on each card. Playable for 2 to 5. Very nice system. (7/10)


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