Publisher: Victory Point Games
Designer: John Welch
Artist: Tim Allen
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Genre: Solo States of Siege game of the French Revolution
Reviewing games in VPG’s States of Siege line is like settling down with a new story from a well-loved author; you might be familiar with the writing style but the tale to be told will be new. Such is the case with John Welch’s Levée en Masse. Although this title has been out since 2010, this was the first opportunity I had to sit down with the game. The game puts you at the head of the French Revolution and how well history remembers your struggle, against foes both internal and external, is in your hands. As the protector of France you’ll need to take on various enemies and guide it to a new era of republicanism. You’ll battle to keep invading armies from the gates of Paris, do your best to minimize unrest in the capital city, raise armies of liberation, all the while looking to strengthen the movement politically.
To begin, I’ll just remind the reader this is a Victory Point Game and Elliott and I have covered the facts of the components and what to expect from the company a multitude of times: Not a lot of flash and dash but solid gameplay all around. I will make mention that VPG is cranking up the component quality with their new Gold Banner line but those changes will be tackled in upcoming reviews.
Levée en Masse (LeM) was the fifth title in the SoS line and actually is a bit lighter in mechanics than some of the later games in the series. This makes LeM a great introductory game to the series for someone to give a go to see if States of Siege is up their alley. The rules are straightforward, many key points are summed up on the game board, and gameplay is governed by a standard of many VPG releases – a deck of event cards.
The decks are split into three periods: Blue, white, and red. The blue deck is the beginning of the revolution running up to the execution of King Louis XVI. The white deck tackles the Reign of Terror. The red deck concludes the game and represents the rise of the Republic. Each card is a breakdown of the military, political, and social portions of game play and will be resolved in that order. The cards also contain flavor text (as just about all VPG cards do if memory serves) that help create a nice narrative flow to the proceedings. Plus, you just might learn something new about the revolution you didn’t already…
The game board consists of various tracks in which you’ll negotiate the turbulent waters of holding armies at bay while looking to negate the influence of the monarchy and despotism. Players familiar with the SoS line will recognize the mechanics of this right away and if Paris becomes occupied the game is an automatic defeat.
Every turn you’ll draw one card and resolve the military actions first. This area of the card tells you what armies move closer to Paris while at the same time may indicate attack modifiers against any particular invader that turn.
Following military actions the political portion of the card is resolved. As previously mentioned you’ll be looking to promote the republic at the expense of despotism and the monarchy so you’ll make adjustments to those tracks as well. Having the republic as the highest value politically gains you an additional military action that turn while it will cost you an action if the monarchy is ahead of you.
Finally, you’ll look to the social portion of the card as this lets you know how many actions you have available for this turn. It’s important to take into account what positive modifiers you may hold as this can go a long way in determining what you look to achieve. This last portion of the event card will also indicate if Paris is up in arms and you’ll need to address that if it occurs.
As with all games in States of Siege, you never have enough actions to go around and that’s certainly the case with LeM. With your limited actions you can improve the republic or hinder despotism or the monarchy; Attack an invading army in the hopes of pushing it back one box on its progress toward the capital; attempt to bring one of two armies of liberation into play thus scoring you additional points at the end while making it more difficult for the invaders; Restoring order in Paris.
The game ends in one of two ways: an automatic loss if an army occupies Paris or the final card is played from the red deck. If you make it to the final card draw (and that may be an achivemet in itself) you’ll still have to total your victory points to see how you did. This can range from a major triumph to a shocking defeat. In case you may be wondering the historical tabulation, according to the game, was a minor victory.
LeM is surely no walk in the park as all of your actions success or failure is based on a die roll. This can lead to some frustration as you might be making all the right calls but rolling all the wrong numbers. The game plays quickly enough where you won’t be stewing for long as you can easily reset the board, reshuffle the decks, and give it another go. The event cards are divided into the three distinct decks so there is some scripting to the game, especially since the first and last cards of each deck are predetermined, yet there are additional optional rules allowing for completely randomizing each deck or even putting the cards in order to play a more historically and chronologically accurate game.
Levée en Masse may not be everyone’s cup of tea due to the scripting I mentioned or the fact that making good die rolls plays a major factor in winning. That said, there’s luck in all things and the French Revolution did boil down to some unusual twists of fate. If you’re looking for an interesting title to explore the revolution in a short amount of time while having to stay on your toes this is certainly a worthy buy!