So, starting with the very latest and newest map that I downloaded this evening (another fun offering from Mr. Mark Bauer, I might add), I offer my humble opinion of "Ancient World-Leuctra":
First off, any new map that gets me up to turn 75 on the random "Easy" level in my 1st game, just to finally win, gets an automatic 4 Stars! 2nd up, if said same game (in the following Games 2 & 3) kicks my butt and hands it to me both times on a shiny silver platter twice in random "Hard" mode, well, Hell, that makes it 5 Stars, in my book.
So ends this first Map Review...
FYI: I tend to gravitate towards WWI & WWII games, so future reviews may lean heavily in this favour.
K, 1st off, I have to say, I just love the "El Alamein" map/board. It's just enough historical accuracy mixed with game needs to make a fun game. I've played this particular game probably at least 50 times in the last long while or so and I can tell ya, either Rommel or Monty, you have a fifty-fifty chance of winning! (that is, when the game is set @ RANDOM/HARD level)
EDIT: El Alamein would probably work better agains the AI without the neutral hexes. AI spends too much effort capturing hexes that give no income.
WWII Battles: Iwo Jima
This map makes you work for it no matter which player you decide to play. As the Imperial Japanese Commander you have to finely balance your forces in the first few turns so that you can make a maximum Kamikaze attack on one (or, if extremely daring, more) American battleships. But, you must also slowly and grudgingly give up ground after the initial American landings. Make them pay for Airfield 1! And make them pay triple for Hill Peter! Meanwhile, watch your north and south coast routes of access. The Quarry in the south and Hill 199+Nishi in the north are critical points in the Japanese defence. Probably will not last long, but anyway, still critical.
As for the American side... first few turns, be sure to mind your battleships. I keep between 20-25 infantry in my BB HQs until the first Kamikaze attack drops. Hit him with all your armour the first turn on the landing beaches, but then begin to prepare for Turn 2 and later. This particularly means that BOTH Admiral Nimitz & General Smith should prepare their armour forces for immediate counter-attacks against Kamikaze-captured Battleships. Hence, the Quick Reaction Force you need to immediately establish once hitting the beaches. You have to also drive on Airfield 1, get the forces together for drives on BOTH the north & south coasts, watch out for crazy Banzai attacks outta Mt. Suribachi, and that is only the first half of the island! It can be a real hard slog, but that is a good sign. If things are flying left, right and through your centre line, that is certainly not a good sign!
Player Addendum: This particular map is quite clean and clear and easy to grasp at a glance, except for one minor exception. The bonus hexes OUTSIDE of the Main Bonus Zones (ie., those being Mt. Suribachi, Airfields 1 & 2, the Quarry, Motoyama Airfield & HQ, Kitano Pt. and the American battleships) are not indicated on the regular map with some sort of icon. They can be found in the Bonus screen obviously, but an asterisk or some such visual cue on the regular map would be beneficial. I know, I know, it be a nit-picky thing, but it is also the wee, small things that can make a great game!
Game Glitch Note:
In my copies of this game, in both CastleVox and LuxAlliance, the KODOS AI seems to be dormant, maybe pining for the fjords, or just actually dead. When the AI is set to KODOS, none of the AI players move or attack thoughout the entire game. Hence, the above review is based soley on Hawk and Polymath AI settings (single player).
Ok, now THAT was FUN! I do not ever recall reading in the histories about the Fantastico et Gloriouso Battles of the Great Italian Navy within the Atlantic Theatre of Operations. However, the incomparable Admiral Angelo Parona just this very few moments ago conquered in the following order : Miami, Norfolk, Newfoundland and then Liverpool, leaving the lowly Kriegsmarine to take the northern Scottish port of Dunbartonshire. This all happened with all AIs set to KODOS. Gotta try the Admiral Donitz command next. Stay tuned... this game seems to have lots of unexpected fun, no matter that the Italians are starting in Gibraltar of all places! LOL
Right then... So, I have found that no matter which HARD level player you set your AIs at (either all Hard/Random or Hard/Poly, Hawk or Kodos), it's still a relatively easy win when playing Admiral Donitz. My most difficult wins always seem to come with Sir Max Horton and the Royal Navy. This is usually due to a combination of amazing Italian daring, courage and dash coupled with some Kriegsmarine help along with a significant amount of American hesitance and/or outright incompetence in the first few turns. None the less, Sir Max and the RN are still the most satisfying wins in this game (that is, of course, my most humble opinion. Others may differ.) As for the Yanks, be very wary of massing U-Boats combining with Italian subs for a run at Miami, Norfolk AND/OR Newfoundland. They'll most likely come through the African Convoy bonus zone AND/OR the Northern Convoy zone. This is paricularly true if your ally Sir Max's AI is set at KODOS, or so I've found in the 15 or so games of this board I've played.
Map/Board expansion (let's call it Ver.2.0)
NEW CONVOY ZONES/ROUTES:
1) Gibraltar-Malta-Alexandria (for the British in Egypt)
2) Sicily/Italy-Libya for DAK (Deutsches Afrikakorps) in Libya/Egypt
3) Okay, I'm assumming that the Royal Navy under Sir Max also includes the Royal Canadian Navy as well, since, as we all of course know, having studiously studied our Modern Canadian History curriculm in High School, that Canada at the end of WWII ended up having the fourth largest navy in the world after The USN, RN and IJN. I kid you not. Look it up ... in the Encyclopedia Britannica at your local library, not online, of course (I'm old-school that way). Anyway, my point is, we could have an extra player out of a Halifax, Nova Scotia base/castle as the RCN in this game. Even that change, call it Ver 1.1, would be fun.
4) The full Murmansk Convoy over the northern coasts of Norway/USSR right through Murmansk and into the White Sea to Arkhangelsk. Hmm... does the Baltic Sea fit into this equation, too, or is that getting too "nit-picky"? Then there's the Turks, the Dardenelles, Bosphorus and Black Sea, also... Oh, my... this could require a Ver.3.0 to cover Russian naval involvement in the Baltic and Black Seas. And I just realized, OMG! What about the Vichy French fleet in Marseilles, Oran and Algiers?!