For the old times sake, a game that has been quite interesting due to the topic and also by the design. Landships, and it’s subsequent module Infernal Machines are rather unknown titles. A platoon level game from First World War, depicting the development of armament over the years when infantry columns and cavalry phased out, and were replaced by tanks, flamethrowers, gas, machine guns and the airplane. Infernal Machines includes further developments and more importantly many new post WWI / interwar scenarios.
Landships, and even more, Infernal Machines suffer from one drawback that is greatly contributing to it’s relatively low popularity. Very, very poorly written rules. In fact, the rulebook is such that one can get the basic mechanism of the game from the base game, but by no practical way will remember all the little details, not to mention optional rules. Infernal Machines adds another layer to the game, not only interesting features and scenarios from post WWI world but also Infernal layer of rulings that are very hard to memorize or apply in practice.
Saying that loud will probably cause all the rest to run away and never look back but somewhere, deep in the rule carnage there is quite interesting game. In fact, some of the scenarios are brilliant, and even with only 75% of rules in play they are fascinating. Game itself is quite devastating as far as unit consumption is concerned. If someone would call ASL brutal, in Landships the human expenditure is way beyond. In a swift gas attack, tens of platoons die and disperse in agony and machine guns mow down cavalry like a wheat. This is of course bad thing for longevity of the opposing forces, but also a good thing. Because units die rather easily, it means that games go through in less time, but also that one cannot really rely on suicidal attacks (one could argue however that every attack in Landships is such) and wish for the best.
In many scenarios, there are not much survivors left at the end. More often than not, offensive runs out of steam after furious attack because one side or other runs out of functional platoons or front line cohesion. It is remarkably lot like reading the book “The Somme” and the descriptions of the actual events during the battle. While it is about the weapon development, there is also quite bit of strategy in the game. One cannot assume to just go over the leading trench and wish that opposition is not prepared. Offensive will eventually grind to a halt, but the question is if it does so too early and wether the costly offensive can survive the counterattack. Defensive play forces player to think how to keep sufficient forces intact for the inevitable counterattack and how to concentrate forces to where it counts. Easier than done, because someone has to stand in the front lines to make sure that the offensive player pays as dearly as possible from the initial advance.
So, what does Landships need? It needs someone to rewrite the whole in coordinated manner. Preferably by someone with good rule writing skills and understanding of the intentions of the game designer (this is especially true for spotting, and IM artillery). Alternatively, it requires patience to overcome the complexities of the rules, and opponent that is willing to do the same. Reward is there though. Landships battles are not very long. If both sides know the rules, they are usually affairs that can be played into conclusion in couple of hours and game offers tense moments (besides the rule interpretation front).
Anyone that has interest in WWI, Landships is interesting addition to collection. It is interesting study of the weapon development during the WWI and interwar years, and should probably not overlooked until someone designs game that have similar ambitions but better rules.