Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster Series


Milton Bradley’s Gamemaster Series
A Review of a Great Series

by Michael Montesa

The Gamemaster series of games put out by Milton Bradley in the mid ’80’s
are some of the most often played games on my shelf. The most successful
and well known game of this series is of course, Axis & Allies. But there
were four other games in the series, each of which focused on some period
of history and in one case a (very) speculative future. In all the games
save one, the scope is epic; the choices you make affect the future of the
world. Very cool!

Axis & Allies covers WWII. Conquest of the Empire covers the Roman Empire
in the 2nd Century. Samurai Swords (aka Shogun) deals with 16th century
Japan. Broadsides and Boarding Parties takes on the 17th Century as well.
Finally Fortress America looks at the “early 21st Century”.

All of the games came in big gorgeous boxes, covered with equally beautiful
artwork. Each game had really big colorful gameboards and 3D components,
easy to read rules, and best of all, bags just full of bits! These games
all came with 200+ pieces on average. As a miniatures freak I really
appreciated this, and the visual appeal of these games is part of the
reason why I and my friends continue to play these games.

Axis & Allies is still in print. Samurai Swords was re-released a few years
ago and is now OOP again. The other games are not likely to ever be
resurrected. A shame really; this series had a lot of potential. A
questionnaire I found in one of the boxes asked what other topics players
would like to see a Gamemaster game done on. Choices included the U.S.
Civil War, Napoleonic Wars, Medieval period, fantasy, and sci-fi. If
only….

Capsule reviews and comments on each game follow. Art/Presentation covers
first, the box art, then the map board, game pieces, and other components.

Axis & Allies
Subject: WW2
Players: 2 – 5
Gameplay: 4
Art/Presentation: 4/4
Availability: Good
Comments: Just type in Axis & Allies on your search engine and you will see
just how popular this game is. Wargame enthusiasts may decry its
“simplified” take on WW2 (even as they set it up to play it) but if you
consider A&A a “wargame” then it is easily one of the best selling wargames
of all time. Axis & Allies is interesting in that the “sides” are uneven,
that is, three players (the Allies) vs. two (the Axis). The cooperation
necessary to win the game for either side is what makes this game so
interesting. Russia cannot hold if the UK doesn’t draw off German
resources; the Allies need the US player to correctly time and direct its
forces to wallop the fascists; Germany and Japan both need each other to
squeeze the Russians out as soon as possible. The game does seem to follow
a certain pattern after a while, with each nation making certain
“no-brainer” moves. But by this time, the players are already experimenting
with the multitude of variants that are available for the game. Axis &
Allies has stood the test of time and is a great addition to your gaming
library.

Samurai Swords (Shogun)
Subject: 16th Century Japan
Players: 2 – 5
Gameplay: 4
Art/Presentation: 5/5
Availability: Good (but out-of-print since last year)
Comments: Not only does Samurai Swords have perhaps the most stunning art
of the Gamemaster series, it is an excellent game. Each player controls a
host of samurai, bowmen, spearmen, and gunners in a bid to become Shogun,
the military ruler of Japan. Unlike A&A, this game is every samurai for
himself. Deals are only good as long as they are politically necessary and
only the strong will survive. The figures for this game are astounding, as
are the other components; foam trays shaped like castles, castle
pieces,plastic swords, coins, even a ninja figure! Fortunes can change
quickly as last turn’s power broker becomes this turn’s goat. Players bid
money for turn order and for hiring the ninja, as well as the usual buildup
of forces. Although not a very hard game to learn the depth of the game is
excellent. Players have to think several turns ahead to get on top and
stay there, and until the competition is taken down a few notches, it’s
anyone’s game. The battles have a very unique feel to them that captures
some of the essence of the game’s setting very nicely. Games can take a
long time to finish however, but the fast-play rules help somewhat. This
one is a winner, no doubt.

Fortress America
Subject: USA Invaded!
Players: 2 – 4
Gameplay: 5
Art/Presentation: 3/4 Early editions of the game actually have Saddam
Hussein on the cover! Later editions have Hussein disguised with a beard,
moustache, and sunglasses!
Availability: Rare; occasionally seen on the used games shelf; often sold
on Ebay
Comments: I like this game for its sheer anachronism; the US is invaded by
a coalition of nations; the Eastern invaders (presumably all of Europe, led
by the Soviet Union), the Western Invaders (a vaguely defined horde of one
would assume are Asian nations), and the Southern Invader (an equally
ambiguous army of Latin American nations). It was printed at the height of
the Cold War (in 1984) so you can see where the politics of the time
informed the game world. But, goofy premise aside, this is a really good
game. This one is three against one; the foreign hordes against a lone
American defender. The system starts the US player off relatively weak,
but able to grow in strength each turn. Conversely, the invaders are
strong to begin with but attrition will do them in if they don’t win a
swift victory. Initially, everyone thinks the invaders can’t lose, but when
the US tactics are figured out it goes the other way. Then both sides have
their tactics down and Fortress America becomes a contest where even late
in the game, no one is sure who is going to win. It takes a while to reach
this level of understanding in the game and so, unfortunately, many stop
playing before they really get into it.

Conquest of the Empire
Subject: 2nd Century AD Roman Empire
Players: 2 – 6
Gameplay: 3
Art/Presentation: 3/3
Availability: Rare; often sold on Ebay
Comments: The large number of players, winner takes all victory
conditions, and offense oriented game system make Conquest of the Empire
one of the series most volatile titles. The players must quickly make a
few important alliances and then set about conquering everyone else (until
it’s time to break those alliances of course). The game’s big weakness is
the catapults, which act somewhat like Punic panzer tanks. House rules can
balance them out however. The game also features a unique and interesting
mechanic; inflation. As the game progresses and the players get richer,
the price of combat units (legions, cavalry, and catapults) and other
improvements (cities, walls) goes up. Once certain thresh-holds are
broken, things double and later triple in price. Roads allow fast movement
between provinces and are a mark of civilization (if you can spare the
money to build a city to connect them to…) Another thing you can do, if
the enemy hordes are threatening to capture one of your cities, is to burn
it down to deny it to the enemy before you are destroyed. A definitely
Pyrrhic victory.

Broadsides & Boarding Parties
Subject: Pirates of the Carribean!
Players: 2
Gameplay: 2
Art/ Presentation: 3/4
Availability: Very rare, even on Ebay (and expensive)
Comments: Broadsides & Boarding Parties is easily the most visceral and at
the same time simplest of the Gamemaster series. While the other games in
the series are strategic in nature, B&B is decidedly tactical. It’s
basically a ship to ship battle between a pirate ship and a Spanish
Galleon. Players start off by maneuvering smaller ships into gunnery range
(Broadsides) on the battle board. Should the two ships collide
(intentionally or not) the ship-to-ship boarding action begins (Boarding
Parties). The centerpiece(s) of the game are the two magnificent ship
models, complete with masts, cannon, crew, and a captain (too bad there’s
no little plastic parrot). The ships are over a foot long and very nicely
detailed, as are the other figures. On the down side the game system moves
the ships around with a very simple card driven system, and the gunnery and
boarding action is really a die-rolling contest. The game can get
repetitive pretty quickly. House rules for wind and other factors can
really improve game play. If you are lucky enough to have two sets you can
even try multi-ship battles!

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