23 November 2019
A quick-witted dice-chucking challenge remains fun to play
World War Two in 20 Minutes” seems like an awfully ambitious tagline for a game. But Blitzkrieg!, the latest release from Libertalia designer Paolo Mori, attempts to pull it off. the result is a slick and surprisingly rich offering that crams a globe-spanning, century-defining conflict into about as much time as it takes to make and eat a sandwich.
The game hands players command of allied and axis forces fighting for control of different theatres of conflict around the world, from the bloody beaches of western Europe to the steaming jungles of south east Asia. As the war grinds on, you’ll deploy your land, sea and air forces to various regions to seize control of territories before your opponent manages to grab them.
What makes things tricky is that you’ll never be certain exactly what sort of forces you’ll have at your disposal. With each passing turn you’ll draw a succession of chips from a cloth bag representing different units. Army tokens can take control of land spaces, navy tokens can occupy the seas, while air squadrons are more flexible, able to be dispatched to any type of terrain. But with your units jumbled up in your bag, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have access to the ones you need at any given time, forcing you to fight as well as you can with the troops you have at hand.
It forces players to react to unpredictable and rapidly fluctuating circumstances, but while the heart of Blitzkrieg! lies in deciding how best to use your tanks, ships and planes, there are some other important elements to consider as you play.
Different territories come with an array of useful bonuses for their controllers. Some let you mount bombing raids which wipe out your enemy’s units before they’re able to enter the fray. Others let you draw additional chips, giving you a wider selection of forces to choose from. And some allow you to add special tokens to your bag representing spies, scientists and powerful advanced regiments, all of which can help edge you closer to victory.
It means that sometimes you’ll consider throwing units into fights you can’t hope to win, purely to secure bonuses which are vital to your strategy. While your turns are always quick and simple, they require real thought, and it’s crucial to work out which regions to aggressively fight for and which you can afford to let go.
The result is a tight, taxing and cerebral back-and-forth battle. It’s undeniably abstract, but here that almost becomes a statement in itself. In this top-down view of conflict, there’s no room to consider individual sacrifice, suffering or heroism. The human toll of war – the shattered lives and burned out cities – fades into the background. Soldiers, sailors and air crew become anonymous resources thrown at the objectives which you as their commander have decided are necessary to victory. In that, Blitzkrieg! captures a fundamental truth about armed conflict that’s absent from many far more nuanced and detailed simulations.
PLAY IT? YES
Designer: Paulo Mori
Artists: Alan D’Amico, Paul Sizer
This review originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.