Risk it for a district
If you like a bit of history with your Pandemic, may I introduce you to Radetzky: Milano 1848?
This is a co-operative game where players take on the role of the citizens of Milan, rising against the occupation of the Austrian Empire – in particular Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky and his soldiers.
Milan is divided into districts, which get more overrun with Austrian troops as the game progresses. Players must balance reclaiming districts under Italian control – five are required to win the game – with fighting Austrian soldiers and replenishing their hand of cards to be able to continue the resistance. The choice of actions each turn is quite simple – pick up cards, move, fight or take over a district – but, as with any good co-op game, winning is the hard part. Radetzky’s forces are also taking over the districts, their troops are ever growing and the clashes between Austrian and Italian forces could go to either side.
If all of the above sounds somewhat familiar, it could be because you’ve probably played Pandemic before. However, even if the core feel and play style of both games is similar, Radetzky brings its own ideas to the table – some of which work better than others.
Even though it is not unheard of for Pandemic to introduce combat mechanics into its ‘clear the cubes’ gameplay – the recent Pandemic: Fall of Rome saw legionnaires fight against barbarians through the addition of dice rolling – Radetzky takes the same idea further with a twist. Players use cards from their hand to engage in rock-paper-scissors battles with a randomised AI deck, where cannonballs beat swords, maps beat cannonballs and so on.
Although not overly imaginative, the use of cards can offer a bit more certainty in a fight. For example, if you have all three types in your possession, you are guaranteed to win at least one round. However, the game also encourages the players to push their luck and continue the fight – with the risk that one loss could render the whole encounter obsolete and return enemy soldiers back to their posts.
Yet, the players don’t have too much choice – the resistance needs to continue and, to avoid being overrun with enemy cubes, you’ll need to tempt fate. Other players can help out in the fight as well if they are in the same district, and the advanced variant of the game comes with other helpful mechanics. If the players dare to take on Radetzky himself, they will definitely need to team up. While the battle with Radetzky is tough – almost impossible to win on your own – it is worth challenging him, especially if the board becomes too flooded with enemy cubes.
Radetzky: Milano 1848 is primarily cube management with the fighting mechanics on the side. If a district gets four cubes or more, it is lost. If there are too many cubes in the castle they will spill out into the districts, à la Pandemic’s outbreaks. If Radetzky moves to another district, he will 'infect' it and areas around him with cubes. If players run out of cubes in the supply, the game is over. The co-operation part of the game is anticipating which districts are in the most danger, orchestrating how to get there and the best way to cover the most ground while being efficient. Sometimes the districts will have to be sacrificed, but that’s just part of the hard choices the game dares you to make.
Radetzky: Milano 1848 won't teach you much about the history of insurgents in 19th-century Milan, although its historical dressing may at least tickle your curiosity and inspire you to open a Wikipedia page. Its real-life grounding does successfully give the game a distinct character and atmosphere that help it stand out – something that Radetzky needs in the face of an ever-growing collection of Pandemic spin-offs with a variety of themes. While Radetzky: Milano 1848 does a couple of things differently that manage to spice up its gameplay, it may be not enough to justify owning both this and Pandemic in the same collection – however, this might not be the game to ditch...
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Radetzky: Milano 1848 earns its rank in the echelon of tough co‑operative games. It punishes every mistake and requires precise and well-planned teamwork between the players. Its only major flaw is the lack of gameplay originality.
Designer: Alberto Barbieri, Marco Garavaglia, P.S. Martensen
Artist: Simone Murgia, Sara Gioria
Time: 30-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 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.