Updated: Dec 4, 2019
The original Quartermaster General game was a top favourite at my local games group. Its appeal was its successful transposition of ‘euro-game’ mechanics into a traditional-looking war game.
The key drawback of QMG was that it was very much a game designed for six players and it was a much less satisfactory experience when attempted with fewer. The designer Ian Brody has been very conscious of this and his solution has been to expand the QMG range with games optimised for different numbers of players. Published by Griggling Games and the Plastic Soldier Company (PSC), Victory or Death used the QMG system for a four-player game set in the Peloponnesian War; 1914 gives us a game optimised for five players, set, as the title suggests, in the First World War.
All of the versions of QMG put players in control of asymmetric powers, each with their own different deck of cards. Players each take one action per turn and the only actions they can take are those for which they have a card. They play and score as teams (in this case the Central Powers against the Entente) but each player only knows what cards they themselves have in their hand or prepared in reserve (face down on the table). This means that every player has to be fully engaged in the game because an alpha player simply doesn’t have the information to direct the game.
Quartermaster General then is a game that should remain mercifully free of quarterbacking. As you might expect from the Quartermaster in the title, in all versions of the game, players have to keep a watchful eye on lines of supply. In 1914, players can only build, battle or take certain other actions where their armies and fleets can trace a line of supply to their ‘Home space’ (capital).
The other key dilemma that players have to juggle with is the extent to which they burn through cards to take actions. Each turn, in addition to playing a card, players can ‘prepare’ a card for future use. Cards subsequently used in this way typically act as support for or defence against an attack. Players may also discard cards to recycle a previously played card that allows them to build a fleet or army. The problem for players is that their card deck is all too finite. When the deck runs out it isn’t replenished: a player with no cards left is unable to take any actions. Moreover, if he is required to make a discard and has no cards left to do so, then his team loses a victory point for every card that he is unable to discard.
All of this means that, appropriate to the theme, 1914 is very much a game of attrition. Players will seek not just to invade territory, they will also try to get their opponents to burn through their decks. And remember, the decks are all very different - in size as well as content: while Germany starts the game with a deck of 53 card, for example, Russia has only 34.
It is the subtle interplay of action and attrition that singles this game out and makes it the best incarnation so far of the QMG system; just don’t attempt to play this particular game with fewer than five players. The rules allow for the possibility, but you really won’t be playing the game as it’s designed to be played.
Meanwhile, we eagerly await the next incarnation of QMG in a version optimised for three players...