one evening in South America

pictorial review/play-through of the wargame – War of the Triple Alliance

If you wish to know more about the game please visit NAC Wargames webstore.
Additionally, and for the complete wargamer, if you wish to use the boardgame as the campaign companion for miniatures battles the Perry twins have done an entire line especially for this conflict, visit the Perry Miniatures web.

It all started with civil strife in Uruguay.

Brasil intervened and backed up the opposition to the ‘de facto’ government. Paraguay had a mutual assistance treaty with Uruguay in case of aggression from either Argentina and Brasil but couldn’t help unless marching through Argentinian territory and being denied to do so by Argentina.

( photo from the War of the Triple Alliance Companion Book )

The rest is history.

Having been asked by an acquaintance to ‘review’ the game I struggle with doing it as I cannot find the correct way to do it, due to English not being my native language, lacking the “engineer eye” for a fair analysis, and not being anywhere close to a ‘writing trade’ in career.

All I got is a table, the game and an unbiased mindset to explore the material while not being completely ignorant of the theme.

I had this game in the purchase list since it was announced as it is one of those moments in military history that deserves to be known and wargamed. It does tell the tragic history of an entire nation that has no parallel in the modern world. The game does justice to it by providing the sandbox necessary to explore it and wins the right to be played at the most demanding historical wargames homes.

So it started.

After half dozen experiments to get the flow of the rules well, and more so understand the ones I got wrong and why, I setup a full play through… which I have yet to complete. For reasons that will be explained.

I took some pictures to illustrate a quick action report I did live on Twitter so I will be using those but be warned, reader, that the photos do not represent the entirety of the game nor every aspect of it. Also understand that each mindset will see the representations in each of them in a different way. Some will see a small part of history, others the inherent game mechanism, others a story unfolding.

The Paraguayan ‘blitz.
Early on a hard push against Argentina and Brasil and deny control of the major inland waterways. Solid strategy and helped by Argentinian rebels ‘Federales.

The game is made up of the classic colours for wargames – red and blues – which I found out was both inspired and true to the historical uniforms ( in more than a way! ). Paraguay and allies are red. The Alliance is blue.

The Alliance is always player One and Paraguay is player Two. Each turn is a sequence for each. There is no turn limit nor time scale but, in a rather intelligent design move, Pedro Martiñez defined the events deck to be the turn counter.

This allows for two things. One being variable length and never a set piece X amount of turns. The second is that not all events will happen but may happen, as only one card can be played in a turn albeit more than one card can be drawn.

There are no cards in hand and all non used are discarded, while winning the Victory Points indicated, so it is easy to imagine that in a turn draw of five cards a lot of historical events may well not happen.

Both mechanisms provide a variation that is very much felt every time one plays the game and it is wonderful to never know when the game will end.

At the very start of the game Uruguay is allied to Paraguay albeit having a very very weak army. The Alliance can only use Brasil and its territory in the opening turn. Paraguay and Uruguay can use everything.

Obviously the main objective for the Alliance is Montevideo, the Uruguayan capital. This provides a handful of event cards and Victory Points early on. But it is easier said than done as relocation of the opposition troops can provoke the Brazilian army some delay and see Paraguayan forces advance rapidly against Argentina.

Brasil faces stiff opposition when moving towards Montevideo.
( shock marker not included in game )

The gameplay revolves around control of territory. Some areas will provide nothing while others will provide access to event cards, victory points and Reinforcements.

The map is point to point layout, which I believe is the best option for it due to the massive area of operations ( although the battles took place in a very tight rectangular area ) and the nature of the terrain.

I can perfectly understand the design decision made. With hexagons it would just be a brutal slog through the jungle. With zones it probably wouldn’t represent the “Quadrângulo” correctly – name given to the most strategic area, where the major rivers passed, and where the big battles took place.

The Major rivers are the highways to move troops about and bringing in reinforcements.
Controlling the locations and form a complete chain of supply is just good strategy.
The image shows how the initial Paraguay attack into Argentina was successful due to control of the river. This also means a fast way to retreat and relocate, if needed.

Also this particular conflict is very interesting in both the operational aspects and more so the logistics given the best option to move troops and supplies was and is to use the rivers. The game reflects this perfectly with both Transport and Movement phases and control of the river points is crucial for victory and bringing up reinforcements to the front. Any break in the chain of supply is a nightmare and there’s a superb particular element in the game that gives both players an headache but will write about that later.

As shown in the previous image the Paraguayan player managed to carve deep into Argentina and even take one of the main cities – Santa Fé – while also advancing in the East side against the Brazilian border areas, all to control the waterways. Obviously the counter attack of Brasil was swift and pushed back to prevent a collapse of the Argentinian capital ( which would provide instant Victory for Paraguay ! ).

Military leaders are represented by their own pieces and serve the most important task of providing the armies with possibility of Combat.

That’s right and you are reading it correctly. Only armies commanded by a Leader may advance into an area that has enemy troops, thus able to revolve the Combat phase.

And…there’s only three Leaders per side. There I said it !!! And no, i’m not finished. Because I like credibility so much I forced myself to use the Leaders optional rule. When you finally get your own copy of the game you will totally understand WHY of this decision – even mentioned to Pedro that this rule should be the norm rather than an option.

With that knowledge, any Leader that is unable to be activated is a big problem and when certain events transpired the Allies had to accept the fact that not everything would be going their way all the time. One Leader unable to act is a third of the army that cannot enter Combat. That is a handful in this conflict.

Each card that is put to use will affect the opponent side throughout his own next turn. This one was played after the counter attack of the Allies started and bought precious time for the Paraguayan armies to consolidate and not be attacked while split up.

The Combat resolution is actually the simplest form that can be imagined and is a simple mini game of dice strength. I tend to give a bit more character to the visuals when certain results are applied.

As the example shows, hit equal or lower to provoke casualties in opposing unit ( there’s slots 1 to 6 ). Personally I always move a unit forward when it provokes casualties and fully across when it destroys the enemy unit. Looks good in the photo, in my opinion. The follow up is the end battle screen with the casualties. In this case the Brazilian army decided to Retreat.

Combat is always mandatory when it happens for 1 turn and then sides can decide whether to continue fighting or retreat.

Retreats may only happen to areas controlled by own side, even if empty, and here lies one of the interesting aspects of the irregular guerrilla ‘civilian’ forces present in the game.

As it can happen at the worst times possible…

An interesting sequence of events provoked the entire collapse of the Paraguayan strong position in the South. I named it in one of the images posted as the ‘blitz, and not having secured the home front ( try to do it with only 3 Leaders ) a serious threat arose instigated by the Allies.

There’s a lot of such events throughout the war.
Earlier I alluded to the Paraguayan side having used the Federales against Argentina.
Now it was the time for Brasil to unleash deep Amazon tribes into Paraguay.

The game does not wash history and presents the player with all the options that are authentically possible. This means a use of indigenous tribes and provoking slaves uprisings. Yes, Brasil kept the institution until 1888 but in practical terms well into the early 20th century. This gave the Paraguayan armies an opportunity to rally a lot of disaffected to harass the enemies and the same happens to Brasil and Argentina and Uruguay raising these guerrillas behind enemy lines.

I mentioned earlier on that only armies with Leaders can perform Combat, but all forces can perform Movement and Transport and having enemy units behind your lines means locations will fall under their control – any unit passing through an empty location will flip the allegiance.

Paraguay immediately sends a Leader to deal with the situation – possible in an instant because it controlled the entire length of the river !

Caballero is dispatched North as soon as news arrive that some tribes were attacking settlements. It would be a good move except what happened next…

With a Leader in position it could then perform Combat against the enemy units and destroy them in detail. The major mistake of the Paraguay player was to not have garrisoned the areas with Militia sooner, which would obviously block any advance from enemy irregulars, but the harm was done and must make do.

The Allies had a play up their sleeve next.

The Political aspect projects itself into the operational level via the Leaders.
I must say that is a great “mind game” to balance the act but also forces the players to commit to their chosen course of action. None has the possibility to do everything, and definitely not everything at once.

The Allies provoke a breakdown in Leadership and with Caballero stopped in his tracks the big hammer coming from the North – Brasil had accumulated quite a cavalry force up there – the Paraguayan player saw no chance but to completely revert the course of the war and instead of pushing more into conquering Argentina’s Capital city – instant victory – it decided to go for attrition in own territory.

Solano moves back to Paraguay but gives a final order for the biggest army available to try to push one last time and destroy the biggest threat in the South posed by the Brazilian army.

The battle proved to be a Pyrrhic victory for Paraguay and in hindsight provoked the destruction of its army and the capture of Estigarribia.

The balance act between attack and defense is delicate and the hopes of Solano resided on the fact of a smashing defeat of Osório and a fast push to Buenos Aires, as Miltre’s force still had to content with the Federados blocking its way.

Alas the battle bloodied both sides, Osório decided to retreat and trap the Paraguayan army as the entire area to retreat was cut off by the several detachments converging around it in the following turns.

With no chance to be reinforced and no retreat option ( must be a own side controlled area ) the army was destroyed and Estigarribia captured.

The overview of the complicated situation for Paraguay right before the army in the South gets destroyed.

Paraguay at this point had a solid chance to still pull the Victory, leading comfortably in points and with only 4 cards left in the deck.

Four cards means four turns maximum but can be less if locations that grant cards are captured, so it is possible that those 4 cards could be drawn in an instant and Victory assured…

At least in theory.

Locations only grant cards once, and there was absolutely none that the Paraguayan forces hoped to reach so they would have to endure and hope for the best.

That’s when the situation just hit them in the face full force.

“You cannot pick a fight with everyone around you and hope to win.” – that’s the lesson to be learned as the Allies play their turn Event.

This was a crucial moment in the war. It drove all hopes for a potential marginal victory into a certain defeat, even if costly for both sides.

The last three cards suddenly turn into 5. That’s five full turns without any chance of becoming less.

At this point the Paraguay player had only one decision to make.

To sue for peace or to fight on, like it happened in reality, and see 70% of the population of Paraguay dead and wounded.

No decision has been made. The table is left as is. Paraguay must weight choices… game is still going…

It is, as with all military history, a very tragic moment. More so because it is often forgotten but one that actually shaped the modern South America and ultimately the World.

The War of the Triple Alliance is a wargame that truly models the conflict in a credible and very authentic way. That looks to no bounds nor barriers to model the exact conditions of the period into the game.

It is a very accessible wargame, with very easy rules to understand and the rulebook is perfectly written. The Companion book sets the tone perfectly and explains every Event card.

I would point out that I got issues with the light blue colour font in the blue counters and the opposite as well, the light red in the red counters and also the diminutive font size ( and yes, names in that area of the world are long and weird ).

Other than that is a perfect wargame for anyone not familiar with the conflict and for anyone wanting an accessible ruleset to play ( and also learn ).

Thank you.

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