Publisher: Victory Point Games
Game Designer: Nathan Hansen
Artwork: Ilya Kudriashov
Ages: 13 & up
Playing Time: 20 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
The Frozen Chosin
The Chosin Few from Victory Point Games is a new solitaire wargame from designer Nathan Hansen covering the events of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in the final months of 1950. Nathan was inspired to create this game after learning of the heroic efforts of US forces during the battle and sees it as a modern day Thermopylae, a sentiment in which many agree.
For those not familiar with the battle, it was a lopsided fight under terribly brutal conditions which saw 120,000 Chinese Communist Forces enveloping 20,000 Marine and Army units at the Changjin Reservoir intending to annihilate them. When it was over, the UN forces suffered nearly 12,000 casualties including 718 dead but the bulk of that number were felled by cold-related injuries. In contrast, the Chinese took 67,500 casualties with 25,000 of those KIA, earning the Chinese and North Korean’s a pyrrhic victory and a major chapter in the storied fighting history of the 1st Marine Division.
In The Chosin Few you take on the role of commander of the X Corps, the UN Allied Forces consisting of US Marines and Army in a simplified, yet quite challenging and often frustrating wargame against the game’s card and board driven AI.
The components are standard VPG quality, of which I am a big fan. I really like the graphic design of the board for this game, it uses a relief map of the Changjin Reservoir area on top of a quad cut interlocking board that fits together perfectly. While the graphics may seem a bit confusing and busy at first, they make perfect design sense when you dig in and they are key to driving the enemy AI.
VPG has taken some hits in the past over their card printing, those provided in this game are quite nice with just a few slight overruns. While some may nitpick on this, I find it part of the charm of the little game company and have no issue with it. The rule book is very well done, with only one small errata that is available on the VPG website and will have you playing in minutes.
Your task as commander in The Chosin Few is to successfully carry out three specific orders, covering four different objectives, over the span of nine days in late November and early December of 1950. The first is to move from your start point C and to take and hold A-1 and B-1, on the east and west sides of the reservoir. The Army takes the east objective, facing limited Chinese forces compared to the heavily contested western flank that the 1st Marine Division is charged with.
Phases end when the End of Orders card that is shuffled into the bottom five cards of the activity deck comes up. The first phase is the quickest with a maximum of 11 cards to work through while the others have up to 16. This may not sound like much but believe me, you’ll be willing that End of Orders card to show up the deeper you wade into the grind of this battle.
Failure of either of the first two objectives removes five cards from the deck permanently and while this may sound like a good thing, it’s usually not. The deck acts as the timer that you’re up against, so getting bogged down can cost you valuable time and possibly the game. It can be rather easy to get bogged down if you don’t mind your flanks and avenue of retreat, which in a simple way conveys the difficulties of this ‘advance in the opposite direction’ that these forces faced.
By the same token, you can risk it and elect to fail one of the orders, more than likely the first, in order to “game the system”. Losing those five cards shortens the clock a bit and can help since you’re sitting in place, forcing enemy cubes to take longer routes to you rather than cutting you off and surrounding you at the objectives. It is one strategy you can try if you find yourself failing again and again since it keeps enemy units to your flanks and coming down from the north, but remember by doing this you are sitting in place for two entire order phases.
Winning this way will be rather hollow and I feel takes you out of the immersion and desperation of the predicament that this game works hard to convey, that those on the ground felt. I definitely recommend sticking with taking all of the objectives if you can, through all three order phases to get the full experience.
Every turn follows a simple sequence:
- Draw a Card/New Activity
- Enemy Movement
- Player Actions
Drawing a card and new activity go together as each draw tells you which Lines of Departure (LOD) the randomly drawn cubes are placed at.
Enemy movement is determined by cube color. Every cube matching the colors listed will move at least once and sometimes twice, (if the color is listed two times) from their starting LOD towards your forces.
As I mentioned earlier, a quick glance at the map may seem a bit confusing but once you follow the arrow paths, they make complete logical sense. The cubes advance from their LOD’s following the white arrows, when they come to a spot that has multiple arrows the cubes move along the path that matches the color location that either of your units is on. It’s a clever and effective method to keep the pressure on you through every round.
For the first objective, the Army unit to the east has it fairly easy, contending with just one LOD in contrast to the Marine unit which faces five! The Marine unit can and will find itself quickly surrounded in many instances, which is historically accurate and smartly modeled by the balanced mix of cube colors and card orders. Even when randomized by the discards directed at the start of the order, you’ll find yourself in deep kimchee more often than not.
When an enemy unit moves into a space occupied by a US unit, a battle takes place but regardless of victory or defeat, the US unit does not displace but may suffer step losses. You roll your attack value, 3+ for Marines and 4+ for Army and if you meet or beat that target number you win the battle, successfully pushing the Chinese unit back to the location it came from. A failed defense roll also sends the cube back, but the unit that lost incurs a single step loss, knocking your combat roll number down by one with each loss until it goes past its maximum strength point value of 6.
Once you go past 6, the unit is destroyed and you lose the game and that’s a familiar situation you’ll find yourself in more often than not. This game will beat you and beat you often, like a rented mule.
This simple battle mechanism can quickly spiral out of control with just a few bad rolls, unless mitigated by air support tokens. Air tokens can interdict enemy movement into or out of a selected space, (except the one you’re on) allow a re-roll in battle or to add a +1 DRM to either your defense or attack roll. In the early phases, I strongly recommend grabbing up these CAS tokens while there is some breathing room.
This aids a bit with the heavily luck driven, single die roll battles which can sometimes detract from the enjoyment of the game when lady luck is being fickle. Since there is nothing else that affects your rolls other than these simple DRM’s and the occasional press-your-luck re-roll, you’ll definitely rely on the added +1 heavily when the Army unit gets cornered into multiple engagements. This temporarily boosts their strength point roll in battle to a 3, similar to the Marines, and gives them a better shot at surviving. As you can see, air support is usually best utilized to modify DRM’s, but they also come in very handy at clearing paths to your next objective and are effective at bottling up the onrushing Chinese forces.
Player actions are dictated by the number of actions listed the card and do not carry over, so it’s use them or lose them! Movement costs two action points (AP), recovering strength points lost sets you back 3 AP for each and attacking enemy units or gaining a close air support (CAS) token costs one point.
Successful attacks during this phase remove cubes from the map and back into the cup for future draws. This is a double-edged sword as it will free you from immediate danger but those enemy cubes will be back and more than likely where you least want them to be in a future turn.
Each phase becomes increasingly dire, as more cubes enter play and battles are fought. The first is the easiest in taking A-1 and B-1, now remember when you play that I said easiest, not easy. The second objective has you fighting your way back down the path you just took, returning to the C start point, which should have quite a bit of traffic by then. After you make it back to C, you head into the third phase, Breakout!
The Breakout order moves all LOD’s south, flanking either side of the line of retreat and as I said before, if you’ve done a good job of defeating those cubes you’ll be seeing them again, in force!
This is where those CAS tokens can play a pivotal role, if you can keep them bottled up in the north rather than destroying them and having them return to play in the new LOD’s, you’ll have a smoother go. Blocking the pursuit of the majority with air interdiction’s on the D-1 or D-2 spaces turns it into a choke point and any remnant units that re-enter play near you should be more easily dealt with.
I say this because this is how I got my second win. The first was more luck determined, the second win came from smarter use of air power to clog up the Chinese, allowing me to breakout nearly unmolested.
With that win came an immense feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, which nicely counters what felt like an endless string of frustrations prior to that and made the overall experience very fulfilling. When you play the game, you’ll nod when you get that win and say, “now I know what Moe was talking about”!
Breakout or Overrun?
Although fairly abstract, Nathan Hansen has done a fantastic job at keeping the gameplay of The Chosin Few simple while never detracting from the intense pressure of seeing masses of Chinese forces spilling over the mountains after you. The desperation and uncertainty builds with each deployment and movement of those nasty little cubes, conveying quite well the urgency and fear of the situation, along with a growing sense of futility.
The Chosin Few is not a complex game, which makes it accessible to a much wider audience and very easy to get to the table but also doesn’t leave a lot to be explored tactically on successive plays. After a while this can make the game feel a bit samey but in fairness, this isn’t meant to be a grogfest. It models the battle from 10,000 feet rather than down in the frozen mud with the ground pounders and you can experience it all in about 20 minutes, give or take.
The heavily luck driven battles can become a lesson in frustration when luck isn’t on your side. What compounds that frustration is that there’s very little aside from the air support tokens that can mitigate any bad luck, making you feel less like you’re in control and at times, just along for the ride. Despite this, I find this is a very fun game.
The game has a lite States of Siege feel to it, except here you are mobile rather than static, battling through the never ending waves pursuing you on your march. Just as in a SoS game, it can get quite overwhelming and maddening at times, but that’s the way it should be! This was not an easy battle and the game drives that home through the relentless assaults that leave you winded, yet determined to not yield. In this way, The Chosin Few is a very fun and engaging game that will always dare you to just one more play!
Company Website: http://www.victorypointgames.com
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.