Updated: Oct 24
It's a bold claim when a game sets out to recreate the Second World War in no more than 90 minutes. There are no shortage of conventional hex map and chit simulation war games but these usually involve complex rule sets and often elaborate combat charts and tables representing the impact of different weaponry and terrain.
There have been several games that set out to convey the global conflict in a more abstracted form. Ian Brody's Quartermaster General (Griggling Games) is arguably the best but it is a team game expressly designed as a six-player (two teams of three) game. Ian Brody has applied his QMG formula to other games optimised for different player counts but it's only the original that focuses on the Second World War. In Mini WWII, designer Wei-Cheng Cheng has further abstracted the conflict to create a game designed for just two players or, ideally, for two teams of two.
Like QMG, Mini WWII is card-driven. The cards here, though, function more like those in Twilight Struggle (GMT). Each card is multi-purpose. It can be used for its points value (actions cost points: for example, 3 action points to build an army or naval unit and 3 points to move them); it can be used to research on the tech tree that each player has; or, if the card matches your own faction, it can be used for its special effect. Players can choose to hold back and carry forward one card to the next game year and, in a novel twist, players are allowed to carry forward an unspent action point to their next turn in the same game year.
The mechanics work very well and make for a game that offers plenty of meaty decision-making choices. Do you take a blitzkrieg approach and launch a blistering attack on your opponents or do you invest early on in technological advancement that will give you a palpable advantage in future 'years'? (If you develop the right technology, it can, for example, significantly reduce the action point cost of building, moving and attacking).
Publishers Formosa Force have done a decent job with the components (wooden ships and tanks, and robust cards) but there's a lot of opaque iconography in the tech tree, so even after two or three plays you'll still be referring to the back page of the rule book to check what everything means. The game play is straightforward enough that the rulebook is commendably slim but it's not always as crystal clear as it could be. It must have seemed a good idea thematically to caption all of the cards in the language of the country they represent, and if you're an English speaker you won't have any difficulty identifying the corresponding German words on the cards. You may initially have greater difficulty, however, 'reading' the Cyrillic captions on the USSR cards and the Kanji captions on the Japan cards. This isn't a big deal but for a few purposes in the game, you will need to know which cards are of which type (Tactics, Operations, Logistics or Diplomacy).
We've not mentioned the game board. This is perhaps the most daring design choice. You'll be looking in vain for a world map. Instead Mini WWII plumps for an unashamedly abstract area control board, with squares, circles and octagons connected by land (brown) or sea (blue) links and by linked flags. On first sight, it looks confusing but, once you get used to it, it works; even allowing players to easily trace lines of supply.
If you're a hardened war gamer, you probably won't give Mini WWII a second look, unless perhaps as a (90 minute!) filler. For board gamers, however, there's a lot to like in this game, and enough here to reward multiple plays.