The SGS series made its debut last year by addressing two themes, one original, that of the Winter War in ’39, with SGS Winter War, the other classic, that of the Desert War in ’41, with SGS Afrika Korps. This promising system for wargamers should this year address another interesting topic, the East African campaign that took place in 14-18. Here is an overview of what the future SGS Heia Safari will offer.
It is still too early to present you in detail the course of a game, I will show you here only the beginning of a scenario. Nevertheless, the game will offer a military dimension as well as economic and political aspects via its event card system.
SGS, yes, but what is it?
The SGS (Strategy Game Studio) system is derived from the Wars Across the World system, taking the principle but deepening it for those who want a more advanced gameplay and scenarios. It was designed by Philippe Thibaut (Europa Universalis, Ageod titles, etc.), who is no longer presented here and who is devoting a good part of his talent and experience to a new series of games on an operational scale. In other words, Wars Across the World offered a hybrid gameplay more boardgame-oriented, SGS offers a less hybrid, more wargame-oriented gameplay.
As a result, the battles, a key aspect for a wargame, are simulated here in more detail. Indeed, to sum up, the game offers more parameters to be taken into account, especially at the level of units and the combinations to be made between them in order to obtain the best possible result, depending on the situation. This while remaining fairly easy to access.
To give you an idea of the differences, I’ll try to talk more about them in a future article (e.g. see this AAR on the Sicily 1943 scenario in Wars Across the World), in SGS, the units have more varied characteristics, for example they can have up to ten “hit points”, reflecting their size, equipment, etc., and most importantly allowing for finer results. Typically, a battle can cause a unit to be partially destroyed, it will then retreat if possible, and may be reinforced in subsequent turns to return to combat. This, combined with, for example, terrain with good defensive values, or a fortification, or some special combat cards, allows for finer and more realistic results. Schematically, the gameplay is less binary, you can count on half victories, attrition over the turns, etc.. The player’s decision making is more important in SGS to influence the war.
The current system is still divided into zones, which is one of the main and relative regrets that one may have, but compared to a hexagonal-based grid, this type of cut has the advantage of simplifying movements relatively, depending on the maps. I say relatively because the simplification of a map depends in fact on its size, and therefore the number of zones simulating the different areas. The SGS game boards are larger and offer a fairly satisfactory balance between gameboard size and gameboard detail. And this affects incidentally the number of units in play and, therefore, playing time. Everyone will appreciate according to one’s expectations.
Indeed, by having a lighter cut, fewer zones to move in, we certainly lose precision in movement, but we gain in decision-making speed. By adding to this system light reconnaissance units, counters used as decoys, fog of war, entrenched positions, or leaders, we obtain a good number of tactical and / or strategic variations especially when this combines with a good wealth of cards to choose from.
Zones or hexes, you have to choose. This is a gameplay choice that must be accepted. The same as for the events and playing cards.
Games based on a deck of cards have become very frequent and popular. Once again, the principle of playing cards has the merit of making it possible to represent various and varied concepts in a more playful way, which would otherwise require more rules to be coded by the designers and assimilated by the players. The “disadvantage” being that the drawing of cards being relatively random, it adds a blur in the course of the events, and in the mastery that the player can try to have. The “advantage” being that it makes the game faster to play, and in some cases offers more contingency and therefore replayability.
This is another more or less debatable choice, but to simulate more and better (than with a deck of cards), it would take much more time for both designers and players … Let’s move on.
Let’s specify that in SGS not all cards or events are 100% random. Some of them have to be played under precise conditions, simulating major historical moments. Or allowing to limit certain actions, when for example a unit can only be activated if a specific card is played. All these features make it possible to maintain a scenario in a relatively coherent framework with regard to the situation it simulates.
The SGS system is still quite young, so it is still evolving since the first titles, and the different situations to be modeled. However, it is worth noting that it potentially offers the same very diverse range of subjects as in the Wars Across the World scenarios, but with more strategic nuances proposed.
If the game is playable with an AI, which is quite useful to discover the rules or to get used to it, it is obviously in multiplayer, here in PBEM or Hotseat, that it will take all its flavor. Especially since the scenarios (often introductory) and campaigns are not too long to play.
SGS games will offer in the future a wider range of games to play, or even create, as the game engine comes with a fairly elaborate scenario editor, which motivated players can eventually obtain to develop their own games. The first seven titles announced, two of which are already available and of which Heia Safari is the third or fourth in the works, reflect this.
The engine makes it possible to represent, especially on a scale that is, let’s say, operational, many eras and situations. To conclude this overview, here is a glimpse of the confrontation between the German Imperial forces, led by the wily von Lettow, and those of the Entente, during WW1, in Eastern Africa.
SGS Heia Safari
The game, whose title is based on a marching song of the soldiers of the time, simulates four years of conflict over fifty-two turns, each representing a month. The situation is historically very unbalanced, the Germans being on the defensive, with few troops but good leadership,while the Allies have more units, but leaders of lesser quality.
The map contains, unless I am mistaken, a little less than 400 regions. This includes naval areas (maritime or lake) and off-map areas, representing for example reinforcement or supply bases in neighboring countries (Belgian Congo, Rhodesia, South Africa, British India).
In addition, an amusing mechanism known as the Tension Index (nicknamed ‘Entente Commitment’) encourages the Entente player not to mobilize too many units, because historically these were required on the European front. Different cards will raise or lower this index.
To cut a long story short, I will only illustrate the main aspects of the starting situation in this initial article. In any case, for anyone who knows anything about wargames, the logic is fairly familiar. And if you already played games like Wars Across the World, the gameplay is similar but more thorough.
As an example of a relevant new mechanism, each zone now has a stacking limit. Each unit has a stacking value, so this must be taken into account according to the type of terrain, the forces present and the desired movements. It is therefore necessary to be familiar with the characteristics of the map and its units. The effect of this is less immediate in SGS, more spread out over several game turns, than in Wars Across the World. Similarly, the crucial aspect of supply can be compensated by certain cards, or by often fragile logistics units, represented here by carriers accompanying the infantry.
Cumulating and combining different bonuses can then either compensate for inherent terrain penalties, and increase significantly the chances of success of your attacks. As battles take place over several rounds, usually one to three, during which the morale of each side crumbles, you can quickly see how to optimize your moves. You quickly learn that discretion is the best part of valor, and a quick withdrawal in a battle can later help you harass a more numerous enemy via guerrilla tactics. This petty war aspect is the particular challenge that SGS Heia Safari offers. And one that will place you in the boots of General von Lettow, who mastered it over four years.
Let’s go, no more words, on our way to 1914 tropical Africa, Zanzibar, the Tanganyka and Kilimanjaro!
Heia Safari !
Screenshots (beta version of the game)
Images showing the start of the game (turn 1), from the german side.
This article was originally published in french, on La gazette du wargamer.