Columbia Games'


The Blocks of War

With Q&A and Errata and More Fluid Game
These comments copyright 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated February 2, 2000

Columbia Games' Victory : The Blocks of War is a "generic" WWII wargame. Vaguely reminiscent of the old Avalon Hill classic, Blitzkrieg, Victory uses Columbia's excellent wooden block system rather than a conventional cardboard chit system.

The game resembles EastFront in some ways, but is very different in many other ways. For example:

  • there are no HQs,
  • there are blocks representing three different types of planes and three different types of ships [more types of each are added in the Elite Units set],
  • there is an interwoven order of firing in combat, instead of "defender fires all units, then attacker fires all units" (for example, defender fires all Fighter planes, then attacker fires all Fighter planes, then defender fires all Dive Bombers, then attacker fires all Dive Bombers, etc.),
  • the defender can move planes into combat after the attacker has finished moving units into a battle space [and mechanized units, in the elite set],
  • there are geomorphic maps rather than a fixed map,
  • more maps, units, and rules are promised,
  • each unit costs the same Production Points (PP) to build.
This last point seems to be the one I've heard the most complaints about. Indeed, the playtest rules I've seen (two different versions) both included a more complex PP system, requiring you to pay more PP for the more powerful units. This wouldn't be hard to re-introduce - and, in fact, the game seems to cry out for more optional rules.

There are some optional rules included, but not many. While the simplicity of the game is to be applauded - it is excellent for bringing beginners into the hobby - it would also be nice to include lots of optional rules for the grognards. I wouldn't be surprised if Columbia offered a second rulebook for Victory someday, full of optional rules to make it as complex and detailed as the most hardened gamer would want.

The game has some interesting twists, such as an Initiative roll, meaning you (and likewise your opponent) may get two turns in a row, allowing for potential breaking of supply lines, blitzkriegs, etc. (I've come to dislike the Initiative roll, and have introduced a Bidding for Initiative rule that works very well - see below.) The air and naval units add some complexity, but nonetheless, it still plays at a simpler level than any of the "Front" games - but is a bit more complicated than Napoleon.

More Fluid Game

To be honest, however, the game as presented feels more like WWI than WWII. There is little sweeping action - instead, players take turns fighting bloody battles over a few front-line cities. The game can bog down.

Some of the scenarios address this, but not all of them, and not fully. Even so, it's still a shame that the basic build-your-own scenario is so flawed.

Fortunately, I've tried numerous house rules over the years and have finally come up with a set that I like a lot. I love this game now! The main fix has to do with unit density - the rules as written simply have too many units in too small a space, leading to the sitzkrieg effect mentioned above. Simply doubling the map size without significantly increasing the number of units goes a long way to fixing this problem quite elegantly.

All we want now are more land maps - the naval game doesn't appeal to us that much, and the maps are heavily sea-biased.

My House Rules so far:

You can just page down to read them all, or zip to an area that interests you:

  1. Map Set-up
  2. Units
  3. Supply
  4. Initiative
  5. Other Notes
  1. Map Set-up:
    1. Players agree on whether the battle will be:
      • primarily a land battle; or
      • primarily a sea battle; or
      • a fairly evenly mixed battle.
    2. Choose starting player for map placement (nothing to do with the first turn, which is handled by the initiative rules).
    3. With terrain constraints in mind, the first player chooses one map as half his home territory.
    4. The second player chooses two boards as his home territory.
    5. The first player chooses his second board, and arranges his two boards together any way he wants, without looking at his opponent's boards. (Although it's okay to know which boards he has - just don't study them while choosing your layout.)
    6. The second player arranges his two boards together side by side, and places them so that each of his boards touches one of his opponent's boards.
      • Note: as an alternate to the above map layout, we sometimes play with one home territory map each, and a third neutral map in between. The maps are placed with long edges touching each other.
      • Or we play with some other configuration: four maps in a "T", six maps, etc.
      • We've even photocopied the blank map, cut it out to cover the middle "lake" in a largely land-map game, and colored the hexes with plain, forest, mountain and road terrain!
  2. Units:
    1. Each player secretly chooses
      • 25 units to begin the game with,
      • 5 units to use as Reinforcements (see below)
      • 10 Garrison units to start in the "dead pile" (see below)
      • 4 Supply units from the Elite Unit Set to start in the "dead pile".
      • The rest of the units are returned to the box. All future cadres must be built from these chosen units.
    2. Reinforcements:
      • In addition to the 25 starting units, each player selects five units to be reinforcements to enter the game later. These are kept separately from any dead units - do not build them as cadres!
      • Beginning with the second turn, each player rolls a d6 at the end of each Production phase. If either player rolls a "1", each player may enter one Reinforcement of his choice. If both players roll a "1", each player may enter two Reinforcements. (30.5% chance of getting at least one Reinforcement in any given turn.) A Reinforcement unit begins at full allowable CV, and must start in a home City at least four spaces away from the nearest enemy unit.
      • If a Reinforcement unit is killed, it may then be added to the dead pile, coming back as a cadre in a future Production phase.
    3. Garrisons:
      • Each player, in addition to the 30 units above, has 10 Garrison units. [I made these from blank blocks and buying two sets of labels from Columbia's War of 1812 (for $3 per set) - that game has five 2CV infantry per side with a cute crossed musket device which evokes Garrisons quite well, so two sets gives me ten per side. You could also simply use removable labels.]
      • You start the game with no Garrisons on the board, but all ten in the "dead pile" - they must be built as cadres like other dead units.
      • A Garrison has only two possible steps: 1CV and 2CV - however each side may have a total of only 10CV in Garrisons. This can be five 2CV units, ten 1CV units, or some number of each totaling no more than 10CV, such as three 2CV units and four 1CV units.
      • A Garrison fires A1-N0-G2, does not get triple fire defending cities, and fires with Engineers (i.e., after Infantry).
      • Garrisons have Move 0: they can only be moved strategically, and must always end their turn in a city or town. They may not retreat in combat! This allows them to be used to defend and hold home and captured cities, but not to march into battle, or even to hold supply line junctions outside towns, or take long sea journeys.
    4. Each player also places the four Supply units in the dead pile. These come on only during Production phases, but unlike Cadres can be built to the level of the supply available. That is, a one-point city could bring in a one-point Supply unit, and a three-point city could bring in a three-point Supply unit, if it didn't use any of its supply elsewhere.
    5. Place the units on the board following the existing placement rules.
    6. Ground units have a maximum CV of 4, and start the game at that level.
    7. Air units:
      • have a maximum CV of 3, and start the game at that level. We strongly recommend this rule! Even at the reduced CV, air units still dominate this game. In fact, we also use the following anti-bomber rules:
      • Heavy Bombers hit their own ground troops on each 6 rolled.
      • Self-inflicted flak attacks are rarer in our games than in the standard rules: for each 6 rolled in anti-aircraft fire, roll another die: on a 1, 2, or 3 you hit your own aircraft; on a 4, 5, or 6 you hit nothing.
      • Infantry units may fire twice in a battle: once at Air units and once at ground units. This represents the built-in anti-aircraft guns that most infantry units had attached to them. They fire at air units immediately after their Fighters fire, using the flak rule above. (If there are no enemy ground units, they only fire once during the turn, after their Fighters. If they fire at Air during the anti-aircraft phase, they may still use their normal combat turn to retreat. Not realistic, but we've instituted the rule to reduce the power of bombers, so we use it.)
      • We impose a starting limit on the number of air units allowed in the game per side. Depending on our mood, this is anywhere from four to seven units (usually five or six).
    8. Naval units:
      • if playing a game that is at least half a sea battle, then naval units have a maximum CV of 4, and start the game at that level, but use half CV (rounded up) against ground troops.
      • If fighting a game that is primarily a land battle, naval units have a maximum CV of 2 and start the game at that level. Their power is not halved against ground troops in this case.
      • Submarines are not very useful in Victory as written. On the rare occasions we do play naval campaigns, we simply say that on the first combat round only, subs take their combat turn first - before any planes, even. They fire normally second and third rounds. This allows them, if heavily outgunned, to retreat before any combat, or to get off one shot at enemy naval units before being discovered by planes. Otherwise, we leave 'em as they are.
  3. Supply:
    1. All cadres cost 2 PP to build and must start at CV 1 on the turn they are built. Other units, however, may regain multiple levels per turn if the supply is available.
    2. A 1-point city can be used to build a cadre, but it takes two turns worth of supply to do so. During the production phase in the first cadre-building turn in a 1-point city, place the new unit face down, with a penny on top of it. In the second Production phase, remove the penny and stand the unit up, which uses 1 supply for that production turn. If the unit is attacked by ground troops during the intervening turn, treat it as having one step for purposes of taking hits. It may not fire or retreat. It is immune to fire from air and naval units.
    3. We allow Supply units stacked with out-of-supply combat units to take the CV loss instead of the combat units. We also say that units stacked with a Supply unit are in supply, regardless of whether or not they can trace a supply line back to friendly cities. This means they can cut supply lines!
    4. Isolated Cities: an isolated city can only supply a number of units equal to the number printed in the city space. Other units will be reduced 1CV each appropriate supply check phase. The definition of an isolated city varies, however:
      • Home Cities: for a home city to be considered isolated, all road spaces which exit/enter the city and are directly adjacent to the city must be occupied by enemy ground troops. In addition, it must not be able to trace supply via sea spaces to another home city.
      • Cities outside the home map: it is easier to isolate a city outside the home map. In this case, simply cutting the road supply lines anywhere along the route will do (and blocking the sea supply, of course) - you don't have to be adjacent to the city to cut supply lines.
  4. Initiative: Instead of rolling for initiative - which can have disastrous effects - we bid Supply for initiative. It works great, and is highly recommended!
    1. Each player has eleven cards of the same suit from a deck of cards - the ace through ten and any one face card. Treat the ace as a "1".
    2. Instead of an Initiative die roll, each player secretly chooses one card and places it face down on the table. When both have chosen, reveal them.
    3. The cards Ace through ten mean you're willing to give up 1-10 production points currently stored on Supply units in order to gain the initiative. A face card means zero production points.
    4. The player who chose the higher card (with a face card being the lowest, and ace the next lowest card) wins the initiative. If tied, then use the dice system described in the regular rules.
    5. The winner of the initiative must reveal enough Supply units (anywhere on the board) to cover his winning bid. He reduces the units by the amount of Supply he bid, then stands them upright if they have any Supply left, or removes them if they don't. If he doesn't have as much Supply as he bid, he loses it all and loses the initiative!
    6. If the loser chose a face card, he loses no supply. However if the loser chose any card between one and ten inclusive, he loses only one supply no matter how much he bid. Again, reveal the Supply unit and adjust it.
    7. In case of a tie, both players lose zero supply if that's what they bid, or only one Supply if they bid anything else.
  5. Other Notes:
    1. Actually not a rule change, but just bringing a rule to your attention that we didn't figure out for over a year! Note that if the attacker wins the space before all units have fired three combat rounds, those who have not yet fired in the third combat round may still retreat during their turns, even if there are no enemy units left in the space ... thus you don't always have to occupy the space you just attacked and won. OR ... you could simply import the rule from Pacific Victory which says that the victor gets a free adjustment immediately after combat: units in the combat space may move to adjacent friendly or neutral spaces and/or units in adjacent spaces may be moved into the combat space.
    2. I also realized I would never use the Desert map as it was, so I altered it. I drew four new roads in and added a town. It is now playable, though still not as good as the other maps in most ways.
That's it - the basic scenario re-written ala SOS. Enjoy, and let me know what you think of it! The rest of this page is from 1998.

I wrote the following just after getting the first map expansion set, Maps 5 & 6. It's not very useful as written, largely because the desert map is nearly unplayable as printed - see my modification above.

Scenario Using Maps 1 through 6

Each side gets an agreed-on amount of blocks or strength points to start. (25-35 full-strength starting units would work well.)

Map set up: (some of these map numbers should be upside down, but I can't do that in ASCII ...)

     |                     3A  |                     5B  |
     |            |            |            |            |
     |                         |                         |
     | 3B         |            | 5A         |            |
     |                     2B  |            |        4A  |
     |            |            |                         |
     |                         |            |            |
     | 2A         |            | 4B                      |
     |                     1A  |            |        6B  |
     |            |            |                         |
     |                         |            |            |
     | 1B         |            | 6A                      |

One side starts with maps 3 and 5, plus all extensions of land connected to land on those two maps. They also start with Lindai Island, Barcastle Island, and Garby Island. (30 PP in centers.)

The other side starts with maps 1 and 6, plus all extensions of land connected to land on those two maps. They also start with Elgin Island. (30 PP in centers.)

Agree on a victory condition - 45 centers might be a very long game, so perhaps 40 to 42 might be more reasonable.

Q&A and Errata

Errata from Grant Dalgleish, Victory co-designer:

change the phrase in 3.3 Army Units, under Marines, from

"... but are restricted to Sea or Coastal hexes"
"... but may not cross all-land or all-river hexsides."
(This means that if they want to cross a peninsula, they have to hug the coast.)

Questions on Columbia's Victory, answers by Grant Dalgleish of Columbia Games:

  • Q : Can a convoy (ground units moving at sea by strategic move) retreat in combat? If so, do they move after Carriers?
  • A : YES and YES

  • Q : Air Stacking: do Air units in an airbase count as ground units for stacking, or is the +2 air stacking true whether they are flying or not? That is, at the end of my turn, can I have four army units and two air units in a city in a clear hex, or just two army units plus two on-the-ground air units in such a hex?
  • A : +2 is on ground or in air. A city can have 4 ground units and two planes (on ground or in air).

  • Q : Building new units: are you limited to the unit mix you started the scenario with, or simply to the entire unit mix? That is, if I'm playing the Quick Start scenario, can I build new units from the 30 units I chose not to start with, or only from the 20 I started with?
  • A : The entire mix (unless players want to limit themselves). [Comment by sos: I think it's better to limit yourselves that way, and that's how we play.]

  • Q : Does an airborne unit flying to a paradrop have to "take off" from an airbase? Can it move by ground in the same turn it airdrops, before taking off?
  • A : It has to fly from an airbase. No ground move first or after.

Four-Map Game: I received the following e-mail from Max Sewell, from a phone conversation with Tom Dalgleish, co-designer of Victory:

Player 1 sets down his map. Player 2 sets down his maps, followed by player 1 setting down his last map. There is actually NO ADJUSTMENT (it probably was a mistake to use the term adjustment at all, when they seem to have meant placement). The idea is that players make their choices and live with them.

As to map placement in general, Tom seemed to think that most people would be setting up in the manner illustrated in the rulebook sidebar, but that players could set up anything they "could live with." That is to say that the rectangle shape illustrated was not a required layout, and theoretically players could set up zig-zag layouts, or whatever suited them. He said that as more maps are created, he expects more unusual layouts. He's seen 5-map layouts with a center map having one map attached to each outer edge, creating a cross, with players using the center map as neutral ground.

The following rules were sent to me with the request that I put them on my web page. I am happily doing this, but neither endorse nor disapprove of them - at least at this time. :-)

Optional Weather Rules

by Brian Leet

(Mostly Untested)

Each turn of the game represents one month of time. A roll is made on the weather table before initiative is determined. This roll decides the weather for the month. The roll is modified according to the month of the year (see below).

At the beginning of the game (if desired) a row of hexes may be specified as being the edge of the northern freeze. In the winter all hexes from this row north will become unnavigable. In addition you may also choose to declare the war to be taking place in colder or warmer environments by setting a constant + or - modifier to all weather rolls.

The current table is generically representative of the northeastern U.S. and central Europe. Most wars should probably start sometime from May to August.

No claim is made that these rules are balanced in anything but the most basic of scenarios. Generally they favor the aggressor in the summer and the defender in the winter. I also think they will devalue air units a bit. Note that combat is in no way effected by these rules, only movement and in some small cases step reductions.

The following weather conditions may exist:

  • HOT: Any land unit must stop when moving into a desert hex unless moving entirely along a road.
  • CLEAR: There will be two player turns this month. The player winning initiative moves first and third. The other player moves second and fourth. Production is done only at the end of the month. Supply is only checked for after moves three and four. Marines may establish beachheads after the any move, but Airborne may only make a single air movement during the month.
  • LIGHT RAIN: The normal movement value for all air units not moving to a desert hex is reduced by 1 for the turn. Other air movement (strategic and response) is unaffected.
  • HEAVY RAIN: No air movement of any type is allowed to or from non-desert hexes. Normal movement values at sea are reduced by 1 for the turn.
  • MUD: All land units not moving entirely along a road or in the desert may only move one hex this turn.
  • SNOW: No land unit may move over a mountain hexside unless moving entirely by road. Air unit normal movement and response distances are reduced by 1 for the turn unless from and to desert hexes.
  • FROZEN: No land unit may move over a mountain hexside unless moving entirely by road. Treat all marshes as forests. Treat all northern water as containing shoals. All canals are not navigable. Any naval unit not in a port and located in northern water or a canal will lose one step this turn. This loss may not eliminate the last step in a unit.
  • BLIZZARDS: No air movement of any kind is allowed except from and to desert hexes. Normal movement values for land and naval units reduced by one for the turn.
Weather Chart: (Roll a single die once and add the monthly modifier.)
  1. HOT
  2. HOT
  3. CLEAR
  4. CLEAR
  9. MUD
  10. SNOW and MUD
  11. SNOW and FROZEN
  12. FROZEN
  13. FROZEN
Rolls less than 1 are considered HOT and greater than 14 are considered BLIZZARDS and FROZEN.

Monthly Modifiers:

January:        +7
February:       +8
March:          +6
April:          +4
May:            +1
June:            0
July:            0
August:          0
September:      +1
October:        +3
November:       +5
December:       +6

[End Brian Leet's submission]
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