So little, and so much has changed in 100 years. First World War saw a linear armies and cavalry beaten into destruction in Western Front and they were never seen since. Napoleonic show of uniforms was over, replaced by massacre in the muddy fields filled with barb wire, massed artillery shelling and machine guns. Tactics in the battlefield changed from maneuvering to a grinding machine of attrition. While above was true in west, it was not so in the east.
After the Great War, manpower pools were depleted and resources limited. In a way, Soviet-Polish war was a brief jump back in time where armies were maneuvered to key positions and where goal was not to gain ground but decisive battle where enemy armies would be routed in one swift blow. In the vast eastern plains, cavalryman was to be one last time the king of the battlefield. Strike of the Eagle covers this brief period of time when Polish forces sapped the advance of revolting Soviets.
Strike of the Eagle is a card driven block wargame. It means that units are represented by wooden books that stand upright, revealing the unit’s actual state only to owning player. Blocks can be rotated to indicate losses and reinforcements. Game components are excellent. Photos do not do justice over the map that is solidly mounted and spacious enough to accommodate all units that are needed in each space. Map is divided into two fronts, and there is relatively little direct interaction between southern and northern front – and in best case, one player controls each front.
Blocks themselves are very good, albeit there could be few spares in the box. In mine, one of the blocks was slightly narrower than the rest, which of course stands out a bit.
Cards are solid cardboard. Both Soviet and Polish have their own specific deck. Unfortunately some cards have slight errors which need correcting and few of the cards have texts that are not as clear as they could be. Rulebook – especially corrected edition available online – is very well written, short and concise. Actual rules have no significant ambiguities that players would need to fight over. Scenario book has brief history of the conflict and nine scenarios for two to four players.
Strike of the Eagle has one of the most interesting mechanism to hide information from the opponent that I have seen for very long time. In fact, it has the best system I have ever seen, since it does not require recording of the hidden information anywhere, but everything is in plain sight for owning player and as visual approximates to the opponent. First, units are presented as blocks mentioned above. It means that none of the actual force compositions are known to the enemy.
Game utilizes cards and every card can be used in four ways. Possible uses are: Historical event, combat modifier, reinforcement and orders. Once you have decided how you play your card (which you do not have to do) you play it face down on the table. Once both players have card in table, then they are revealed. Player without initiative does these first.
To move units in Strike of the eagle, orders are needed. No unit can move without one – and here’s the hook. You only have two orders for turn, of which one is recon. If you need additional orders, you will need to buy them by using cards. It is not straight forward that you would just indicate unit that moves – you actually have to choose from several orders what you wish to happen in the game board. Some orders (such as move out, defend or withdraw) are placed on the units, while others (such as move to) are placed on any location on the map that at least one unit is able to reach (on that token, every order must be executed by at least one unit). Recon order – very useful, can be used to see enemy units, but can also be used to deceive opponent.
Units can move, what seems initially be quite slow pace. One space for infantry and two for cavalry – unless force marching that adds an extra movement. While it looks terribly slow, it is remarkable how much one can do with right deployment of cavalry. Battlefield is far from being orderly opposing lines, but rather line punched through by cavalry spearheads. Once supply lines are threatened, any solid front rapidly collapses.
For units to perform properly, they need to be in supply. In practical terms, be within range of supply depot (key city). Unit that fails to do so, will suffer dire consequences at the end of the turn. Cavalry can draw supply from further afield than infantry, and this brings us to the next point.
Reinforcement allotment is not indicated by charts and lists. Certain key cities provide some reinforcements by default, but player may at his discretion rise more troops in course of the campaign season by using the cards to collect reinforcement cubes. Cubes are just reminder of how much new troops have been drafted and pulled into service from the depots at the end of the campaign round. Very simple and functional system.
One of the key mechanisms in the game is encirclement – or avoiding it. Every unit that flank opposing army gains significant bonus. Flanking bonuses are cumulative and if retreat is blocked, the enemy army is utterly destroyed. Head on attack will usually gain nothing but losses for both sides, but no significant victory. Since every battle won, or lost alters the initiative it is important where and how you commit your units. Fight wisely, and only the combats that need to be fought and you are well off.
Combat system is yet another gem. It does not depend on luck – necessarily. You have option to choose how much you commit to the combat but that of course consumes scarce resources of cards off your hand. You do not have to commit any, but then you draw the modifier randomly. You you commit from hand, you gain extra bonus in combat.
Victory in Strike of the Eagle is measured by victory points that are awarded from historical events, capture of key cities (supply depots) and major victories. Victory conditions are hard, and usually harder for one side than other. Game is not balanced, but that is not a bad thing at all. While Poland is more organized and efficient, Soviet rebels have the numbers and they can grind through even good defenses.
If I am entitled to deviate from the normal theme a bit, I would say that Strike of The Eagle has very similar potential to Hannibal – Rome vs. Carthage. A game I esteem very highly. Strike of the Eagle has few flaws in the card texts (apparently carryovers from original design, Eagle and a Star), and I would wish them to be corrected but besides of that package is eloquent, smooth and remarkably easy to learn. Every piece of fog of war actually works and everything brings another level of decision without added rules complexity.