Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Congo

 
 
 
A few years ago 'Darkest Africa' was the setting for the games all the cool kids played, often using the excellent rules produced by Chris Peers.  As with all wargaming fads, we cutting-edge trendsetters quickly moved on to the next thing leaving boxes of Zanzabari Slavers, Azandes and Belgians languishing in their boxes.  But all of that is about  to change as the Circle of Life has turned completely and Darkest Africa is cool once again!
 
 


 
 
Congo are the latest set of rules from Studio Tomahawk, producers of the rather excellent Musket and Tomahawk rules for the French Indian Wars and have been in the planning stages for some time.  Having heard they'd been released I immediately ordered a set from Northstar and the box arrived very promptly 48 hours after the order had been pinged off to them.
 
 
The game  deliberately takes a Pulpy approach to the setting describing the setting as "an unexplored, fantasized, wild, dangerous and enchanted Africa, as imagined by newspapers at the end of the 19th Century".  Games are aimed at forces of around 30 figures from one of 4 factions...The White Men Expeditions, The Sultanate of Zanzibar, The Forest Tribes and The African Kingdoms.
 
The rulebook itself is hardback and 104 pages. It's very nicely put together with lots of photographs and illustrations.  At this point the frugal Scot in me comes to the fore and wonders if the rules could have been produced for less cost with slightly lower production values.  Don't get me wrong, the book is a really nice thing but the full page photos, while they're very pretty to look at, don't add a lot to how the game plays.  Saga and Muskets & Tomahawks (from the same company) are softback and more concise and are both excellent games.  I'm still not sure in my own head how I feel about the balance between gloss and price....I'll have to think about that one some more

Along with the rulebook you'll need a set of cards and tokens which are supplied with it.  More on these later.


The contents page


Lots of illustrations...a good thing?  Discuss...
 
 
The mechanics are relatively straightforward and use a nice combination of card activation but not totally randomised.  Each player has a hand of 7 Action Cards which give a combination of Movement, Shooting or Influence (morale) actions. In each turn they select 3 of these  to play.  Players also draw a Totem card each turn which gives additional bonuses.  Finally Witchdoctors (if you have them) have Sorcery cards.  Players then reveal their first Action Card simultaneously and the one with highest Initiative moves first.  One side (determined by the scenario) holds an Initiative Token and in the event of a tie can choose to go first, but then has to relinquish the token to their opponent.
 

Action Cards


Action Cards

 

Totem Cards


Totem Cards

Movement is similar to Saga in that Short, Medium and Long moves are used and the game comes with some nice templates for these
 
Shooting uses the same templates.  5's are needed to succeed but different troop types use different dice to reflect their skill: d6, d8 and d10s.  Casualties and events cause stress and these are shown by Stress Tokens which are drawn from a bag randomly.  Groups can also be targeted with "Terror" as an Action in some cases
 

The Movement templates and Stress Tokens etc

 
As I mentioned Witchdoctors have Sorcery determined by their Faction: effects can range from removing stress or increasing attacks, to having angry monkeys throw coconuts at your opponents.
 
The rules come with info for each Faction: each party has 2 Characters who lead the Column with groups of between 3 and 6 figures making up the rank and file.  Characters could be, for example, an Explorer or Reporter for the White Men expedition or a King or War Chief for one of the African Kingdoms.
 
Scenarios are presented, rather nicely, as newspaper articles (one is shown below).  There are 4 supplied with the rules and, despite my grumblings earlier about cost vs. glossiness, these are really nicely done.  Each one outlines background to the scenario, set up, etc and specifies any special rules that apply including entertaining random events which are picked from 2 substantial tables
 
Edit - as has been pointed out to me in the comments below, there are actually 8 scenarios which I would have realised if I'd looked at the other side of the newspaper sheets!!! 
 

One of the Scenarios


Finally the rules contain Design Notes which is something I like to see...it's always useful to get an insight into why some of the rules features were derived, and ideas for building an African Village and producing Jungle Vegetation.  Again I thought this was a nice touch

So overall the game looks fantastic.  There are some nice mechanics in there but it looks (from a couple of read-throughs) as though it would play quickly and intuitively but with a strong sense of narrative.  Yes, there is an argument about unnecessary use of photos and chatty sidebars but the rules are very attractively produced and well worth seeking out.  Already there seems to be a flurry of companies producing ranges of African tribes and assorted animals so I suspect these are going to be very popular.  Now I just need to brave the terrors of my loft to find my Darkest Africa figures....



21 comments:

  1. very nice review, thanks (looks like all those figs I painted will see the light of day :-))

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  2. Good review Alistair - thanks

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  3. My copy of the rules arrived just as I started to read your review! Very excited to give these rules a try. And as an added bonus I may actually have enough figs to field two forces already...a first as I'm a relative newcomer to this wargaming lark!

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    1. That's handy but there's always an excuse to buy some more!

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  4. An excellent review. This set was an unknown to me but now after reading your review I am tempted to add it to my collection of rule books!

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  5. Excellent review (hope I can understand them!) You do realise that the "few years ago" for Darkest Africa was actually, depressingly, 1998?

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  6. Looks fantastic, top notch review!

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  7. I am in wargame Limbo at the moment and do not need to be teased by another set of rules which seem to be top notch for fun. Good review.

    I have just checked up on the price and being a fellow Scot am leaning towards the less pictures argument with the rules being a whopping £34. I moaned years ago when they reached an average of £20, and now I am paying £30 for the new Bolt Action, I feel a blog response coming on.

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  8. Found my minis now must buy the rules

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  9. You make a very good point about the Studio's choice to go for a lot of price and a very high sticker price. I'm sure the price point make a lot of gamers hesitate to grab these rules. I'd suggest Studio Tomahawk look at Osprey's very successful range of rules (Black Ops, Lion Rampant, Honours of War, etc, etc) that sell for one-third the cost of Congo.

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    1. I must admit I'm still undecided. The Osprey books have been very successful partly because their low price makes them very accessible (and because they're generally very good rules). I know there are sets I've picked up that would have otherwise passed me by if they'd been priced at the £30 mark. On the other hand the Congo rulebook is really nicely produced and the photos and illustrations do fit really well with the setting. I suppose the bottom line is that the price didn't put me off buying the rules and I didn't feel short-changed. I guess I just have a cultural stereotype to live up to! 😀

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  10. Saga Crescent and Cross was also a pricey all-color hardcover release, which I hesitated but don't regret purchasing. This one looks quite interesting. Actually I wouldn't mind a hardcover second edition on M&T even with the price tag.

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  11. You mentioned 4 scenarios supplied with the game. However, my copy of the game gives 8 scenarios, one different on each side of the bulletin sheets...
    Even though I own the French version of the rules, I don't see why it would be different in the English one. You should check this again...
    Oh, and I must admit this is a very good review!

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    1. Yep...as we say in Glasgow, I'm a numpty!! I hadn't actually realised it was a different scenario on the other side!! :)

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    2. Happy the player who by turning around some sheets finds out he has now twice as much way of playing his newly-bought game! ;-P

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  13. I've been teetering on the edge with this one...I may have to take the plunge now you've explained the ins and outs. Thanks for the review.

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  14. I bought into Darkest Africa nearly 20 years ago when it first came out!

    Over the years, every visit to the loft would find me looking longingly at my collection wondering if I'd ever be able to play with them again!

    Having read your review, I think that time has finally come and they'll finally have a reason to reappear!!

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  15. As an old gamer, I do hestiate when I see a shiny product pitched in the £20 - £30 bracket.
    It often feels as through you're paying through the nose for "fluff" and there's no guarantee that all the gloss isn't concealing a stinker of a badly tested game.
    I therefore hesitate to buy unless I've read several independent reviews.

    However, after one game I can thoroughly recommend these rules. Easy to learn, yet full of flavour and interesting challenges. Well chosen mechanisms ensure play rattles along quickly, both players are involved throughout (you won't be thumbing through pages of tables and modifiers, while the inactive player wishes he was somewhere else).

    Fewer pictures and a soft cover might have shaved a few pounds form the price, but you're getting a full product here. You won't be "nickel and dimed" (As they say in the USA) by a the publisher stinging you for overpriced card sets, specialist dice, or magical movement gadgets.

    The rules look complete, so you're unlikely to get stung by "And here's a supplement with 4 pages of special rules and a ton of fluffy filler". We all know a few systems that have done that.

    Other costs also look manageable. I hear that a "column" (That's your force) has between 20 and 30 figures - several suppliers exist in 28mm, and I'm sure 15mm could be done with some careful searching.

    Other requirements: A bag to draw tokens from, a supply of D6, d8 and d10 and appropriate terrain.

    All things considered, a good game, with a relatively inexpensive entry point (Especially if you already have Darkest Africa figures).

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    1. Good thoughts there Stephen. I do really like the production values and as you say, it is a very 'complete' game so I didn't feel that I was going to be hit with lots of essential supplements etc. I also like games set at this level that don't require huge numbers of figures...partly due to cost but also because I know I have little patience for painting these days so it's a more manageable scale for me to get some figures actually on the table. I did think about 15mm (I went with this scale for Muskets and Tomahawks) but 28mm felt right for Africa and there are some lovely figures around!

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