I Survived Quartermaster General
Behold him, standing there, bewildered and exhausted, wild eyes casting about. He whispers something, though you cannot hear until you lean in close. Closer, he beckons. Then, from between cracked lips: I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
What could it mean? Possibly that this poor dude had to spend a weekend playing Quartermaster General.
The Pros/Cons List
Even though I don’t spend many words on the other folks I play games with, Space-Biff! wouldn’t have a single opinionated paragraph to its name without them. Not only do they play the games, from the fascinating to the very worst, but they also give me their constant and valuable input, and my reviews are often an amalgamation of their perspectives and my own. If I absolutely hated a game but the others loved it, I reevaluate. If I’m alone in my love of something, I try to see through their critical lens. Between the dozen of us, or however many there are that week, I like to think we get a decent range of feelings on each game.
After playing Quartermaster General a few times, we went through the same routine that concludes every new game. I pulled out an index card and my handy purple pen (befitting my royalty), and asked what they thought. There were six of us, one for each of Quartermaster General’s six WW2 nations because we’d discovered the weekend prior that this is one game that doesn’t really work with fewer than a full complement. In response, three said the game was “okay,” and the others said they were completely unimpressed.
We go through this a lot. “Okay” is a non-answer, so I recast the question with a more informative bent: Would you play it again?
No, they all said. Nah. Never.
Which isn’t to say we didn’t find a handful of pros to put on our list. “It’s fast,” someone said. True enough! Our longest play of Quartermaster General had probably taken around 70 minutes. “It’s simple.” Yes indeedy! All you do on your turn is play a card, resolve it, check to make sure your people are in supply, and score points. It’s incredibly simple, even if scoring on every single turn means that it’s actually really dang hard to keep accurate score, just because you’ll forget to do it now and then. But yes: simple. “It’s a team game, that was nice,” said our friend who loves team games, probably because he’s terrified of being alone for the rest of his life.
The list became more strained after that. “It reflects WW2,” someone noted. “The Axis gets an early start and then the Allies catch up because of the US’s huge economy.” Someone else pointed out that it has a slightly interesting hand management thing going on.
Alright, yes. Let’s talk about that.
Hand Management Is a Lot Like Army Management, So I’m Told By Reliable Sources
As I said above, a turn in Quartermaster General mostly consists of playing a single card. There are eight types, and none of them are particularly tricky to figure out. Again, it’s a simple game.
The first couple let you build armies or navies, placing them adjacent to a place you already control. You also have to consider supply, but this is also pretty straightforward, usually meaning that you have to trace a line back to one of the map’s many supply territories that you already control. If your supply gets cut, you have a turn to replace the army or navy that was removed, lest all your troops “out of supply” be taken off the map. This means your land and sea battle cards, both of which immediately remove an adjacent enemy army or navy, can cause some real damage if played at the right moment. If you’re paranoid about that, most nations can make use of response cards, which you deploy face-down on your turn to be revealed later, usually to block attacks.
There are a few other cards to consider. Event cards can have any of a number of effects, status cards stick around for persistent bonuses, and economic warfare revolves around draining your opponents’ decks, since once they run out, you’re stuck with whatever you have left in your hand.
In theory, you’re closely managing a combination of these cards, picking the most opportune time to play each and sometimes discarding extras to draw a wider range of stuff into your hand, though of course this will drain your deck.
Unfortunately, this is where the game’s biggest problems come to the forefront, as some cards are conditional (letting you battle in a specific pair of territories, for instance, which requires you have armies ready to fight near there) but others are not (like the USSR card that just kicks Japan out of China, possibly costing them even more troops if it severs their supply — with no cost in discarded cards, nearby armies, nothing). Which is to say, some cards are always useful or very powerful while others are about as much use as a K-ration in a swanky restaurant.
“Not All Cards Are Created Equal,” said Hitler
The variable strength of your cards can often determine the entire course of the game. For example, in two of our matches, Italy was blocked early on when the UK managed to set up a fleet in the Mediterranean before Italy had drawn a build navy card or a useful event, meaning Italy spent two entire games stuck in its corner of the world with very little to do other than piddle around and discard cards until it got exactly the right combination that would let them get rid of the British fleet, hope the British wouldn’t instantly rebuild it this time, and then finally break out with their own fleet. Could they have done anything on land? Sure, though they lacked the armies or the right cards to do much other than offer the most marginal support as Germany battled the USSR.
Or there’s the time that the US player drew all his status cards, meant to represent the slow gearing up of the US economy, at the end of the game. Or when the USSR smashed Germany because Germany didn’t draw any land battle cards. Or when the Japanese ran out of cards because they desperately needed to combat the encroaching US navy and simply didn’t have the right cards at hand. Or when the Axis lost the entire game thanks to a cheap-shot event card that removed an army on the other side of the world and therefore cost them their supply lines.
Where most hand management games at least give you some degree of control over the proceedings, Quartermaster General gleefully undoes the most carefully laid plans with the most whimsical whims of your draw deck.
Look, I can see this being an okay game, though it feels too severely whittled down in its current state to be much more than a curiosity. You must have six people to play or it stinks, and you must have a good idea of what can appear out of all six of the nation decks or it stinks, and you must have the patience to play a few matches to learn those things before you can focus on preempting the game’s stupidest one-shot cards and strategies. Or it stinks.
Even then, once you get over that tedious learning-hump, you’ve still got this bare-bones game underneath, with such severely limited options that you’ll probably be bored of the game by the time you’ve really learned its nuances. Like the other members of my group, I just can’t conceive of playing it enough to reach that point.
One last thing. Worrying about some supply lines doesn’t make you a quartermaster general, so if you want to play a game about logistics, might I recommend the sublime 1944: Race to the Rhine instead?