Quick Look: Trench Club
Designer: Philipp K. Berger
Artists: Philipp K. Berger
Publisher: PKB Games
Year Published: 2021
No. of Players: 1-4
Ages: 14 +
Playing Time: 120 – 240 minutes
Rating: 8. 2
During the First World War, France and Britain wrestle with Germany and Austria-Hungary for the dominance of a decisive front section. Take on the role of a general and send your troops into battle. Barrage enemy units with artillery fire and attack them with your tanks and infantry or surround and annihilate them.
Trench Club is a complex strategy game in which, in addition to attack strength and armor of the troops, their tactical setup, combat experience, damage and terrain have a decisive influence on the outcome of the battle. Since each unit brings its own strengths, you must cleverly assemble your army to win the victory over your opponents.
- Exciting strategy game set in World War I
- Complex combat system
- Nevertheless easy to learn rules
- Detailed miniatures
- For 1-4 players (age 14+)
- 2-4h duration (~1h per player)
Day 0 / Minutes 239 – Victory. The enormity of the great war in humanities psyche is not even fathomable in today’s world but what can be appreciated, studied and play tested is the tactical strategy and might of the firepower that was born from this time period of conflict. Trench Club by PKB Games takes a snap shot of the General’s War Room and brings it to your table top a century later. From Saddle slung horse infantry raids to the rolling iron known today as tank assaults, my imagination immediately thrusted me and my group into that dim-lit war room with the spotlight shining bright onto the tabletop where every roll determined the life and death of well…no one thankfully!
Upon receiving my shipment from the door to the table , the package weight gave me a moment of pure gaming euphoria with the anticipation of a box packed full (and I mean FULL) of parts and pieces that make up the design of this challenger. The dice alone included 51 twelve-sided dice that clocked-in weighing more than my premie son at birth.
The setup is a simple process that is best done with the intro walk-through found in most all rulebooks. I want to note that though the rules glaze over a couple of actions that required further online investigation, the introduction and procedures to pull this mammoth miniature and component heavy game out and onto the gaming table was very well written and articulated within the start of the rulebook. If you are like me, the actual black and white historical picture from the times used to correlate with the miniatures in play provided the backdrop in context that I would expect from a quality World War 1 focused engagement.
The unit miniatures provide great detail to support not only the cost of the game but the expectation most gamers are becoming use to within today’s 3D printing tech world. The amount that is offered is very generous again for the price point. PKB Games could have easily provided just one of each unit within the 4 countries offered in this base set. (Great Britain, Germany, France, and Austria-Hungary) They, instead, give you two sets along with additional printed tokens to provide the required unit expansion needed to conquer the board within a standard game played.
These miniatures are then, however, arranged in groupings that don’t quite feel thematic or fit in any company or battalion like structure if you are a hardcore military historian. Though, I can see where thorough play-testing most likely placed them together for balance at the off set and it did cause a rethink of how to strategize movement. Given the one hex range of most units, many of our games ended up having non-similar units clustered together around a bridge or cross-road area doing damage until the luckiest rolls broke through the mayhem. Some could argue that is how many of the encounters happened in real life but often dilutes much of the terrain strategy that could be included in each game. The designer Philipp Berger is very active online and encourages players to post improvements they felt provided an improvement to game play. Kudos to Philipp. Another realization early on is that unlike the name, only a very small portion of the base game strategy and focus is in trench warfare that some would argue made up the majority of WWI strategy. This of course would make for a very stale game where if real historical days were like minutes in game play nothing would move for a hour at a time. An advance rule option can be found in the back of the book that I feel should be included in play to best fulfill the theme and expectations of a WW1 battle.
The meat of this review most importantly is in the absolute LOVE for the mechanic that Philipp Berger created which permeates throughout every moment and helps direct strategy throughout play. It is CLOSE to revolutionary in the way you track damage and experience modifiers for each unit. All designers and war gamers should adopt or give him royalties on the next expansion of Warhammer, Flames of War, Bolt Action, and all others. No more plus 1 counters littering the maps terrain or plus modifiers from the scratch of a log sheet. Oh the number of times I missed adding XP modifiers that would have turned the tides in many skirmishes. Each unit is ensconced on two poles that accumulate small color coded cylindrical “pups” ( a small piece of pipe ). Each reflect the number of damage points taken and how battle torn the vehicle or infantrymen are at any point in the game. Upon firing upon the enemy, the higher the level of experience, given each time the unit hits on prior plays, the better the odds of hitting baddies in the future. This single feature can tip the scale in battles as well as help determine one very important victory condition in the game.
Victory is achieved in one of three ways: Control all of the Forts that are laid out on predetermined locations at the start of the game or elimination of ALL enemy units which would surely lengthen the time to play a single game. Lastly, the great satisfaction of forcing your opponent into a surrender. This, as mentioned above, can be realized visually on the board with these “pups” and provides a way to create the important moments in war where the losses and lack of trained forces drive the defeated to lay down arms. We found in our play that you can see the momentum of the battle and save complete embarrassment of being down to that one lone soldier hiding in the forest dragging the game out for no valid reason as some war games require. Again, it is truly something any war gamer should take part in and experience.
To top it off, the tactile feel and love for rolling dice is delivered above most games as well. A two-handed fist full of 12-sided dice roll is required at the outset that feels like laying down the led across a field at your local shooting range. Counting hits is enjoyable as you sweep away the duds and leave behind the reminders that you are in control of the battle. (Maybe) For those with limited table space or those who twitch at the sight of uncontrolled rolls bouncing off the table cliffs only to be found days later under the couch, you might have to prepare yourself. And a gamer with the notorious “Sticky hands” that can’t seem to do the simple task of dropping a die in front of him but finds a way to fling it across the room, I recommend get yourself a dice tray or a box with 4 boarding walls to encage the wildness of the rolls. There are so many dice, a dice Tower would turn into a vertical traffic jam of road raging “critz” or in this case, combat hits!
Each unit is showcased on a single placemat that extends this simplified approach to operation. The Movement, attack strength to hit, and armor integrity of each unit is illustrated within each section of the unit’s stats on the single page. There are special rules for damage fragmentation along with values to buy and repair each vehicle or recruit new soldiers all found within this same area of the identified unit.
Currency is created through the use of war bonds that represent one, five, or ten credits handed out in paper form. Though the quality of these bills are my least favorite thing within the components, they do represent the times and how countries increased cash to pay and manufacture more vehicles during war time. Each player gains these bonds by controlling one of the NINE forts on the map. You receive 3 bond credits per fort at the conclusion of your turn in which you control. You control these forts simply by moving a unit into any occupied or unoccupied fort. This was the other area of limitation found in the game initially. I found the hero box version with special forces much more valuable when you add the pill box units that are included to each fort for defense. This makes the simple grab-and-go area control mechanic more engaging and realistic to the war effort. Forts under your control are also key in conducting repairs to your units during your turn of play.
Turns consist of one player taking the following actions in order before moving to the
next player: Move Troops. The hex based system has a specific number of hexes a unit can move per turn with the obvious slower infantry moving 2 to most vehicles moving at range 4. Air support delivers an impressive 10 movements and helps deliver damage across the board. Each hex has a movement cost from .5 for roads to 1.5 for forests that you must mathematically travers with each unit on route. Next is Name your Attacks. Unlike many games that dictate simultaneous combat, Trench Club gives advantage to the attacker in the game and all damage is felt when the opponents make their next attacks. Damage reduces your total number of dice used on your next attack and is visually well represented with a stand alone chart provided in the game. This may be a bit concerning to those looking for more balanced play but it does add to the real-time strategy of your next move. The player calls out what unit is attacking what enemy unit one by one. Combat then proceeds and the dice begin to fly. Players resolve ALL rolls which is quite a feat at the beginning of the game and less so as the units are removed at a faster rate than one can purchase new ones. The next step is the collection of money. The active player counts up all forts they conquered that turn or those which they still hold at the remainder of their turn and deposit the war bonds into their respective coffers. Finally, they can use those spoils to either repair units to full health (While maintaining their advanced or veteran status) or purchase fresh conscripts and new tanks rolling off the assembly lines back home.
These steps to some may go quick but for others it could feel like the proverbial molasses in winter. Hence the inclusion of the hourglass timer. Not sure about most, but when I see one in any box I get a wee bit of anxiety as I worry that my limited skill set will be the cause of a elongated game of over thinking it. And with the number of units on the board early on, that is often a problem. This game requires an early agreement by players to decide if game play will be that of a much longer strategy focus and terrain evaluation to maximize positioning or a much more casual “lets go here and see what happens” response and then – ROLL DICE!
Overall, I love the combat mechanics and minis with the pole identifiers. Unlike many games before it that has mass appeal, It’s clean and identifies units with experience very well. I do feel the victory condition of having to take over all nine forts is less appealing, but does shift the focus of simply trying to eliminate your enemy to win into a more strategy game of unit positioning and area control. All nine, however, is a daunting task and requires you in most cases to have to engage with all units at some point anyway. Philipp mentions HOUSE RULES in the last lines of the rulebook which I am a big fan of, probably because I too enjoy game design and development. I see the optional advanced scenarios offered in the rulebook and others such as focusing on ONE city (fort) or an area of interest like a bridge, which was often fought over for months or in some cases years, as a great addition to game play.
The bottom line is this game may not be for the heavy war gamer, but is a great introductory game for those entering the hobby. Though, again, those designers out there could lean a lot from designer Philipp Berger and think he should license the design for royalties to the like of the well known publishers previously mentioned to better their systems of play. This game makes me want to be a cheerleader; belly shirt, spandex and all for its continued success. Trench Club gives me hope that the best is yet to be designed. The creativity and game changing combat mechanics deserve the recognition placing it among the top of its class and deserves your time and money to experience it first hand. I look forward to expansions of countries, units, and encourage the design of new scenario based skirmishes that could focus on infantry only, tank and air battles on mapping locations of historical significance and applying this system to the encounter.
There is no way to deliver the madness, chaos, and shire evil of what man can do to one another within a table top game. We can, however, dig up bits of history of the Bobs, Toms, Johns, and other brave men (often boys) that lived within the hellish worlds of the trenches of World War 1 and explore the tactical side of what made this fight so unique. Trench Club by PKB Games delivers that experience with every die roll made and brings a bit of GLORY to your game nights at your gaming table.