1944: Race to the Rhine is a game, that aroused last year considerable acclaim and its limited availability made wrinkles on foreheads of many board game fans. Originally Polish game from Waldek Gumienny and Jara Andruszkiewicz has a novel approach to the topic, original game mechanics and high quality processing. Published under flag of Phalanx games.
Year 1944 and World War II are central themes of the game. If you are inclined to tokens and have just sharpened your cutter, we must disappoint you right at the beginning. Race to the Rhine is war game like Risk or Memoir ´44. In other words: yes, game leads us into trenches of greatest conflict in human history, but not to simulate a specific campaign and give you the opportunity to command historically accurate units. Race to the Rhine instead stands with one foot on solid logistical euro games and with the other on race, who will first reach the finish line.
„After all, we don´t want do make a war game. We want to make a logistics game! “
– Waldek Gumienny
Up to three players will assume roles of General Patton, Field Marshal Montgomery and General Bradley. Each of them has his road to the Rhine river on game board and person, who first gets to its shore in a timely manner and will have an uninterrupted supply line… wins the game. But it is not so easy.
“ I ended up with positions for three players. Of course, I had an idea of the fourth player being Rundstedt, but there is not much fun playing in the losing side.“
– Waldek Gumienny
At the beginning of the game, players occupy positions in the bottom of the map. Patton and Brad have three army corps, each represented by a wooden counter, Monty reigns four army corps, but his route to the Rhine along the coast is lined with enemy forces and for him to obtain additional supply points, he will have to make war on Ardennes. Brad has at first glance easy way, but his great weakness is supply, which must be imported all from his bases. Patton begins in forward positions, but even his advantage is only illusory. Basically, each player has a slightly different strategy and must adapt to given conditions and special features of his army.
In their turn, players always choose two actions from six available. Absolute must is picking up supplies. There are three commodities in the game: fuel, ammunition and food. Each corps has its own card and limited number of fields, within which this army may carry supplies. Soldiers gradually consume them. Gasoline is turned into motion, ammunition for fighting and food to keep them able to fight (or possibly to feed hungry population). Supplies are received on base and they must be transported to outposts via trucks. In the second available actions, player can take a certain number of vehicles from common stock, that are subsequently placed on game board and allow to transport a limited amount of supplies. Everything is more complicated, than it seems. Path can not be used repeatedly. Moreover, when all trucks are used, supply phase is on their heads and Army Corps will call for meal – if players do not have it, their men refuse to fight. Player must therefore continually address, how and where transport supplies to their units, which, moreover, are moving away with each round.
„At first, I was using the wooden stickers from the The Settlers of Catanto represent the long columns of trucks. “
– Waldek Gumienny
Movement of units around the map is subject to paying fuel – after consuming a canister, unit may finally move. If you enter into foreign unoccupied city – it is necessary to reveal top card of the engagement deck . Each player has his package with ratio of events, enemies, begging people etc. It is possible, that further progress will depend again on sacrifice of resources or more fighting.
If you are looking for dice, believe that they are used only in solitaire. They are not required during normal match of Race to the Rhine. When it comes to a fight, you only have to discard cubes from the respective corps card – they represent ammunition. It is not too difficult to beat some common units and when unit has at least some ammunition with them, they are able to shoot through. But the problem is fortified areas and places, where swastika reigns. It does not suffice, that each player has his or her deck, from which he draws whenever entering a new area, but there is also common deck full of strong German units, that need to be dealt with, if you want to enter their territory. At that moment, it could be perhaps best suited to call in air support and paratroopers. Even this is possible, even though it is very abstract and ultimately means only +1 over there.
„Simply moving goods, trucks and corps would make the design too much of a Eurogame. War is always chaos, and I needed some to put inside the game. Cards. “
– Waldek Gumienny
At first glance it might seem, that 1944: Race to the Rhine is a lot of solitaire game, where each player has a „track“ and tries to reach the Rhine as soon as possible on it. Different players mutually make almost no contact. This is only one side of the truth. It is not possible to take your army and attack allies next to you, nor would it fit thematically. Your goal, therefore, remains sustainable progress forward and conquest of German positions. However, at the end of each turn, player receives a possibility to switch sides for a moment and place German tokens, representing the axis forces, on the board. This allows to gradually spread this plague across countries. Each territory under the rule of the Germans then presents a serious obstacle for advancing teammates and so it is possible to noticeably slow them down. You can even disrupt supply lines and players must then return and restore their lost path.
„The first thing to do was to make the players hurry up since currently there was no reason to do so. “
– Waldek Gumienny
Excessive delays may mean, that none of the players is able to get to the Rhine in time. Number of German forces tokens, that are placed on the map at the end of turn by players, is limited. When a moment comes, when there is nothing to take anymore, end of the game comes. And all that despite the fact, that none of the commanders did manage to stand on banks of the Rhine. Winner is then determined by number of medals, that are awarded throughout the game for conquest of significant positions and defeating powerful German troops.
This is basically THE only controversial mechanism. Game works well, if players take on the primary objective of the game right down to the Rhine and medals are only considered some insurance. If you should be focused on collecting them, this can dramatically change character of the game and it affects the atmosphere. Rules even allow to place German troopers in front of your own units. Yes, if you are rushing towards the Rhine, it makes no sense. Their usage is then better, when placed on path of your opponents. But on the other hand, if your aim is collecting medals, it may happen, that you will welcome a group of Germans, who jump out from behind a tree stump next to your heavily armed units. To enjoy the game, it must be approached really like racing game, where the alpha and omega of everything you do is to break through to the other side and win the game with all the pomp and circumstance. Not on something so low like… collecting points.
Whole game ends in two hours and sometimes even less. It depends on experience of players. From the beginning easy process begins to complicate very early and players have to solve a number of important decisions each round. Many players could mind, that this is ultimately a war game with basically no shooting. Whole fight is minimized to sacrificing appropriate amount of cubes. Some players also have criticized shallow depth of historical details. But these are all features of the game and it would be quite unfair to criticize them. It was not the goal to make war game full of bloody shootings and roaring bombs. 1944: Race to the Rhine is a racing game with euro elements in logistics – although this connection is at first glance a somewhat unconventional thing to see. However, not only within its specific category – this is a very good game. There are multiple paths to victory, each of three commanders has to play slightly differently and luck in cards pleasantly revives distribution of raw materials. Everything is reflected by a perfect workmanship.
Game box looks already very clean and tasteful and after unpacking, you can not help but to be excited. Game map is large and beautifully crafted, cards contain historical photos. In addition, entire game contains no text, everything is solved by a simple and clear iconography. Piotr Słaby, author of graphic design, did a fantastic job.
We already knew a long time ago, that there are interesting games born in neighboring Poland. 1944: Race to the Rhine is further proof of this. The unusual connection of game mechanics makes it possible to enjoy a game with war theme without having to sink in difficult rules of orthodox war games or adhering to many details. Some moments will force you to optimize your disposition on the map and ensure the best functioning supply. Only then will your army move forward quickly enough, and maybe be the first to break through German lines. This is original game, which however does not suit everyone.