Type: Area Control

Time to play: < 180 minutes (Teaching: 30 minutes)

Best played with: 3 players

Normally, I would only review a game after 10+ plays; but with longer games I find that you get to grips with the game in fewer plays and new players would benefit from that early game advice – I know I would have! Triumph and Tragedy is one such game – it will probably take less than three hours but it might always run on in a tense fight for key provinces across the board.

So, what is it? Triumph and Tragedy sets you off into the World War II theatre with 3 players taking the West, the Axis and Russia. However, this is not a simulation. You start in 1936 and it’s up to you as players what happens next – Germany might not storm France, Britain might not provide protection commitments to key countries around the axis, or perhaps the war begins with a Russian push to take India. The options are wide ranging and including the players avoiding war altogether.

At it’s heart though, and at some point to win or prevent another player winning, war is likely. Diplomacy and influence will only get you so far in this game, and then the tanks roll in. This is most commonly the axis player, for whom the game is immediately focused on expansion and game positioning. The Russian and West players are by structure a more responsive role – unlikely to launch an early attack on Germany, but certainly controlling their satellites of influence is key to managing the axis expansion.

The game runs in three key phase  – production, diplomacy and military. The production phase is determined by your resources from the end of the last game turn and require three areas (population / resource / industry) to be kept in balance. This is most difficult for the Russian / West players who need to prepare their industry for war in the early game. The production phase is the chance to buy cards for the next phases, or buy/develop troops.

The diplomacy phase is a complex card play to buy influence of certain countries. This is the chance to expand without breaking world agreements but other players will counter your cards, and some cards will allow you to place tokens straight to the map – before the card can be cancelled!

The last phase is split into three rounds of military movement – using those leftover diplomacy cards, you can shift units around the map and when they move into combat (with a neutral or player) the dice roll. Hits are unlikely in this game which allows you to scale down have millions of units to just a few in each fight. However this generally throws the advantage to a defender or indeed to those who can gather a large air force to strike with. It’s also worth using the three phases in combination to get that victory (and not just attacking in the last). More on that in my strategy tips!

So, if you made it through all that movement & fighting you are back to the start – a new year and a new round of production. Checking of course if anyone has won the game – a combination of science, economics and sheer military dominance (two opponent capitals) offers players a variety of ways to win. However, watch out because the likely winner shifts over time and it becomes more likely that science / economics will dictate the victory in the long game.

This game is incredibly engaging because it draws upon the variety of starting positions and incentives for the three key superpowers of 1936. You can play this game as another player and find hugely different incentives and experiences – that’s part of the joy here. The game does a great job of providing incentives for different players which lead to interesting outcomes. Also, this game is a great short option for fans of the axis & allies franchise – these great world war games which drive the players to create interesting and diverse military tactics to overcome their opponents.

However, this game (likely many of this type) is very co-dependent. If the other players aren’t at the same level, then one player may be better positioned to win on the back of the weaker player. If Russia is a new player, for example, and Germany can rush France and succeed in operation Sea Lion then it’s game over before Russia got involved. It’s tough to balance this out except through repeated plays.

The other weakness with the game is the operational capacity for errors. It’s smart that the players hide their pieces and only reveal for combat. It’s clever that you turn the units to show increased strength. It’s also incredibly clever that there are border limits when engaging, but not for airplanes or fleets. However, all these really clever rules means that the best intentions might still lead to an awful situation of a position that cannot be reversed / rebalanced and was not in the rules.

Last notes:

  • If you like a complex, asymmetric war game that still places value on the economy and science – or simply a war game where table talk is not as big a necessity – this is a great choice
  • If you hate to roll a dice and need a 1/6 outcome, do not buy this game or even look at the box! This is such a common dice roll…
  • If you win at this game then you have played well, but it’s time to take up another player (particularly the axis!)