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Refight the Spanish Civil War

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Arriba Espana designed by Brian Train published by Fiery Dragon. Components: 20-page rulebook, 7 sheets of charts and tables, a 10Ēx15Ē map sheet, 264 perforated counters, and a pair of dice. Published by Fiery Dragon Games in their CounterStrike Games line, $21.95.

The Spanish Civil War has never been the subject of many wargames. Itís not a subject we know much about in the first place, usually: other than the obligatory mention as Hitlerís laboratory for his tanks and Stukas, which is usually at the start of most histories of World War II, itís been relegated mostly to footnotes. This small game modestly attempts (and mostly succeeds, far as Iím concerned) to recreate the Spanish Civil War in all of its permutations (at least those that can be gamed) and do so on a format that allows it to be played easily in an evening.

Brian Train has designed an interesting system for the game, which takes into account not just the battles of the war but political support and foreign intervention. The map is broken up into areas, sorted into provinces of between one and seven areas each. The armies move from area to area on the map, fighting one another in a rather abstract and generalized fashion, with wrinkles for various things like combat experience, artillery, tanks, and airplanes. That part of the game takes only a few minutes to absorb.

The heart of the game, however, is the Political Support Level Track. Each player vies with the other to build up his fickle Political Support Points, which (if exceptionally high or low) provide combat modifiers, and indirectly lead to foreign support or intervention. You get points on this track by controlling provinces, killing enemy divisions, receiving foreign support, and a random events table. You lose points by losing provinces, having no foreign nations intervening on your behalf or supporting you, losing friendly divisions, and of course random events. You *spend* those points to buy support or intervention from foreign nations, so that in turn you get more points. Itís all very convoluted, and it takes a while to get used to the table, but itís essential to do so, because the whole game revolves around it.

Each player gets Equipment Points each turn, which are used to buy military units. At the start of the game, the Government Player (Republicans in the history books) has three cities that generate points, and is being supported (the weaker of two favorable stances, the other being intervention) by the Soviet Union. The Rebel Player (Nationalists) has to rely on support from foreigners, but he has two large nations (Germany and Italy) and one small one (Portugal) providing points for him. He generally winds up with about the same points, or a few more, and controls provinces that begin generating points in the middle of the game. In addition to buying military units, the players can spend their Equipment Points on Asset Points, which represent tanks, artillery, and air power. Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses, and each point costs you a varying amount of EP (one die roll). If you use the optional rule, you have to smuggle them into the country, too. The military units that you buy start out as brigades, but can be built up into divisions. Divisions come in two flavors: 4-strength, and 5-strength. This seems like a modest increase, but the 5-strength unit has a 2-strength remnant second step, which can be very useful. 5-strength units can only be built once someoneís intervening on your side.

The combat system revolves around a couple of concepts. First, while thereís no stacking limitations, battles are fought between Battle Groups. Each BG may move and fight separately, and they arenít allowed to combine their strengths in any way. Once one player attacks in an area, the other player is given the opportunity to counterattack with any Battle Group he has which is in the area and was unengaged. The CRT is odds-based, with mandated strength losses for each side even when one side outnumbers the other considerably. The tableís highest odds column is labeled 5-1+, so that the attacker can almost always expect casualties. As a result, a stack of 5-strength divisions will probably wither to nothing in no time, because a loss of one combat factor will require one of those divisions to reduce itself to a 2-strength remnant (thereby costing the player 3 actual combat factors, though only one was required). This encourages the players to piggyback brigades onto their divisions, so that thereís something to absorb the inevitable losses from combat.

The Government player is also saddled with factions. There are six of these, and the Government player has two sets of units (regular army, and the International Brigades) besides these, so he really has a total of 8 armies. These include the Anarchists (of which there were actually several factions, but the designer thankfully consolidated them), the POUM (Trotskyite Communists), and the four nationalist factions, representing Catalonia, Basque, Santander, and Asturias. At the beginning of the game, these factional units are substandard, and they never get that good (they have no 5-strength divisions, and their standard of training is low) but if you donít support each of these factions every turn, you lose Political Support Points for each one not so supported. Since you have to put the units that you build for each of these factions in their home province, you must scatter your effort around the map, splintering any attempt at strategic concentration. The Rebels have only three armies, by comparison, and their restrictions are relatively mild. The one difficulty theyíre presented with is that they wish to build as many Colonial units as possible, because they have better training, but they enter play in North Africa, and can only be ferried across the water to Spain in limited numbers.

This is a fascinating little game, with a few detracting factors. I didnít like the perforated counters, which hang up on one another, hampering play. Since this is an area movement game, this isnít the issue it otherwise might be: one of the publisherís other games, a Bulge game, has hexes, and the problem there is much worse. The rules could have been a little clearer at points, and one of the charts was misprinted, and must be downloaded from the internet in its correct form. Other than those minor provisos, this is an interesting and worthwhile game, and one I highly recommend.

Reviewed by David W. Nicholas

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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