Review of Saalfeld Prelude to Jena
Review by David Lent
Saalfeld is a $9.95 minigame from Decision Games about the battle between Napoleon’s Grande Armee and the Saxons with their Prussian allies near Saalfeled. Historically, the French won with light losses, but the Prussians and their allies certainly had good enough forces to win.
Decision Games has stated on the packaging that this game uses a simplified version of the Musket & Saber system and that this game is very low in complexity. I beg to differ. This system is more complex than most other mini/micro game I have ever played and I’ve played most of the micro games produced since the late 1970’s. Calling a game very low in complexity implies it is perfect for gamers new to wargaming. Khe Sanh ’68, Kyber Rifles, Caesar’s War and Cactus Air Force are some of the Decision Games’ titles that are perfect for beginning wargamers. Saalfeld with its Quick Play Musket & Saber system is not. This is a game for wargamers with at least some experience.
The components included with this game are a core rulebook, scenario rulebook, counters and a map. These components are of more than sufficient quality considering the ultra-low price tag.
Musket & Saber Quick Play rules are the core rules. This is a rule set that seems geared toward maximum realism at the cost of smooth playability. Some of the rules are not simplified enough and there are a lot of inconsistencies. E.G. in most games, the reverse side of a counter is its second step. In this game, infantry have the second step on their reverse side, but artillery and cavalry (who are both single step units) have a reverse side. For artillery and cavalry, it represents the ineffective state. Why couldn’t the reverse side be blank and some type of disruption counter be used to represent an ineffective state? Another area that could have been simplified is the retreat/routing rules. Every time I played this game, my eyes were glued to the rulebook to look up cavalry, artillery and retreat rules. Excessive rulebook consultations ruin the flow of the game and lessen the fun. There are some cool rules though, such as the ability for infantry to form squares when facing cavalry. One thing you have to watch out for is the fact that you are required to attack all enemies in your zone of control and any you don’t attack get to counter-attack you.
The scenario rules include instructions on how to setup the forces, victory conditions, skirmish attack rules, combat results table and terrain effects chart. The skirmish rules add value to the game and my opponent used skirmishing very effectively against me during our second game. The combat results table is way too detailed for a minigame. I couldn’t believe a “Quick Play” game would have such an overly detailed CRT requiring having to first roll to see what section of the table is used and then having to roll a rout or morale check to see what happens from there. My opponent has been a wargamer since the late 1960’s and expressed severe reservation about this CRT, so it’s not just me.
Saalfeld’s map is 11” x 17” and has basic terrain features and a 6-turn track. The art is nothing special, but that’s fine for a $9.95 game. There are hexes on the map that you need to be the last to occupy in order to get a major victory. It would have been helpful if a “star” or something was printed on those hexes. At the beginning of the game, I had to put a dime on each victory hex so they would be easy to keep track of.
There are three levels of victory in Saalfeld – major, minor and a draw. We’ve already discussed how to get a major victory, but minor victories are awarded for the most victory points. Each enemy unit or leader eliminated gives 1 victory point and units or leaders you capture give 2 victory points. In both games I played, the winner had a minor victory.
How is the gameplay? It’s a fast, historical game that’s balanced enough that either side could win. However, this is a “Pushing” game. Not many units or leaders will be captured or eliminated. Most of the game play involves retreats and routs. This is historically what often happens in a battle, but it’s not as fun as a bloody game. The rules do allow some cool things to happen; such as a surrounded unit has the capability of breaking out by retreating a unit and advancing into its old position. I’ve played some games where that isn’t allowed because they don’t allow you to advance while in an enemy’s zone of control.
My overall opinion of this game is it’s a very fairly priced game that is geared toward those who prefer historical realism to smooth gameplay. I had to consult the rules more often playing Saalfeld than some games that have 28 page rulebooks. I think those who have played the “Regular” Musket & Saber will learn these rules easily and may actually prefer them. However, I think beginners will have trouble learning this game. In other words, buy it if you have at least some wargame experience and are interested in the Napoleonic era or avoid it if you are new to wargames.
Buy your own copy on eBay.
Watch the unboxing video below: