This review copyright 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated March 28, 1997

Nieuchess, 1961 from Avalon Hill, is an interesting step in the development of the wargame. Before this, Avalon Hill had already produced a generic wargame (Tactics II) - with this game, they went one step further and produced an abstract one.

Nieuchess is an introductory level wargame. As a game for teaching beginners, it's excellent. As a full-blown wargame for grognards, however, it lacks quite a bit.

During the 1960s, I played a lot of wargames. One of my regular opponents lived just two houses down the block, and we played quite often. I was able to beat him repeatedly at most of the wargames I had back then (and I had everything AH made), but he was a good sport : despite my ~80% victory level, he kept coming back for more. So to keep things even, every now and then I'd bring out Nieuchess. I don't know what it was about the game, but I just couldn't beat him at it, try as I might. He must have won 90% of our Nieuchess games, which gave him no end of joy and frustrated me something fierce - I was young, and the competitive spirit burned brightly in those days. Mind you, I didn't do that badly at the game with other opponents - probably close to 50% - but he seemed the master of Nieuchess to me. I should probably let him write this review, but I've lost contact with him, alas.

The board is "plain" (to put it kindly) or "ugly" (to be more frank). The rules are simple, a generic version of AH's 1961 wargame rules. The pieces are all pawns - there are no numbers on them, and all are equal in combat and movement abilities. Each player has twenty pawns.

Terrain is greatly simplified : there are plain spaces (lots of these), impassible spaces, a single transportation line running down the center of the board, from deep in red territory to deep in blue territory, some invasion spaces near the rear of each area, and production centers. The board is small - half the size of D-Day - and each player has a home territory that is identical to the other. There are four approaches to the enemy capital : a left flank, center, right flank, and rear invasion. Each of the flanks is separated from the center by a ridge of impassible terrain, with three one-hex gaps in it to allow some minimal traffic. The invasion launch areas are in the rear of your lines, to the sides. This is also where the enemy invades you : any unit on an invasion space can move to any other invasion space on the board.

The object is to destroy the enemy, of course - I believe you can also win by occupying both his production centers. Each turn you can bring on two pawns (if any have been destroyed), then move as many of your pawns as you wish, then conduct any combat. Combat includes the usual 1960s AH table of 1-4 to 6-1. Results include the usual Attacker Eliminated, Exchange, Attacker Back 2, Defender Back 2, Defender Eliminated.

That's all there is to it. You get a little taste of the basic elements of warfare : choose a front, option to invade, objective to capture, use of quicker transportation, attacking at different odds, soak-off, one unit holding a pass against many, end-run maneuvers, etc.

I've seen grognards on the net sneer at Nieuchess as being beneath their dignity. But it's not a bad game, really, and is an excellent choice for introducing young players to the hobby - something the hobby needs. And every time I read someone putting the game down, I can't help but wonder if the same thing happened to that player as happened to me : did they get soundly whopped at Nieuchess by someone they felt they should have been able to beat? Do they blame the game, then? I don't blame the game, and didn't back then, either. I just assumed the game simulates a situation which brought out the best in my friend. I don't remember blaming luck, even in those competitive days - I think he simply out-thought me given the situation at hand.

At any rate, the game is long out of print, and not likely to be redone, so this article is probably a waste of electrons. If you can find one cheap at a yard sale, by all means pick it up. I don't know what it goes for among collectors, but it's probably not worth that much as a game, to be honest. I'd like to see AH rerelease it in an inexpensive format - but the temptation to tinker with it would probably ruin it, in my opinion. Even back then we tinkered with it. I still have some extra pawns (with markings painted on them) and rules written by an editor of the AH General in 1965 for spiffing Nieuchess up. He introduced Corporals, Sergeants, and Officers, with combat values of 2, 3, and 4 respectively. While that sounds like an improvement, it actually wasn't : there's something about the basic simplicity of the game that works better than fancy innovations. Of course, I'm tempted nowadays to try introducing a faster unit or two, rather than stronger, but that might not be any good, either. Maybe I'll just leave it as it is.

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