Everything about General Orders from Osprey Games has been designed to have you crouching over and keeping the game from any prying eyes. The box can easily be secreted on the gaming shelf, it possibly might even fit inside a larger coat pocket and definitely in a standard bag. Unlike Trevor Benjamin’s and David Thompson’s previous releases of the Undaunted Games, General Orders takes an awkward size box and shrinks it down to save you game nerd embarrassment as you sit on the bus or walk from the car park to the game hall. Ironically, if gameplay options contributed to the actual weight of a game, then General Orders would be a box of mercury, with the danger of it sloshing over the sides and damaging your carpet.
The main double sided board is barely the size of a piece of A4 paper and your various hexes and components are small and perfectly formed. This isn’t some kind of criticism as it forces you to play on a smaller table and therefore have you facing your single opponent in very much close proximity, adding to the overall tension. Staring at each other while you make to big brave decisions as a general of war.
General Orders brings worker placement to the battlefield, and in doing so strips away a lot of what made the Undaunted titles feel human and cause worthy. Bands of Brothers are swapped out for simple tablet sized circular discs, where commanders are represented by slightly larger pillars of wood. Actions are decided by where you place these commanders and whether you will be advancing forward, parachuting in to areas to further your campaign, or simply raining down artillery on those below. Using rules of supply keeps you from marching on an empty stomach and charging to take on the enemies headquarters. Like normal worker placements, actions of your enemies can be blocked and prevented by simply being in a space that they covet.
General Orders is about building slowly and gaining ground while maintaining your status quo. Combat is fast and faceless but not necessarily painless. Advance into an occupied space and the defender will be rolling die with limited pips to remove troops. After which you play a pairing of attrition, where you both remove troops until either one player remains or the area is cleared of life. It is utterly brutal in how clinical it appears. As the game progresses, it is not unusual to witness a space losing nine counters in a single move as you continue on. Counters go back into the reserve at the edge of your board ready to be sent back out to the battlefield, such that you don’t have to worry about sending those difficult telegraphs to loved ones. Commanders can be assigned to the support board to give you much need reinforcements or add cards that will often help to turn the tide in your favour.
For a lot of companies, one mode would be enough to pack it up and ship it out, but with General Orders, you get a double sided board that brings in basic air combat and support. Troops need to be aware of threats from above as bombing is added to the roster and control is important in the air as much as on land. There are enough differences in the game modes to justify their existence, and it cheekily lays a benchmark for other games to do the same thing. It reminds me very much of Blitzkrieg, a game that will never leave my shelves and criminally is never played enough, with its abstract look at the theatre of war.
Winning comes down to either capturing the opponent’s headquarters or controlling the most victory stars across the map’s hexes by the end of the fourth round. You can read that sentence as many times as you want, but it still reads the same. Your time with General Orders is going to be calculated and brief, which often forces you to play more aggressively than what you are maybe used to in similar kinds of games. There are opportunities to increase the amount of commanders you can play based on holding particular areas but this is after all, all out war. Resources and advantages will often switch at several points in the game, including who leads the round.
After all of the other outings from Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Thompson, I’m surprised at the coldness and anonymity of General Orders. Unlike Undaunted: Battle of Britain, there are no specially marked counters to represent veterans or aces. You enter a game knowing nothing of the forces that you control and leave in the same veil of ignorance. It would be fair to say that the colouring of the components has you guessing which side you represent especially on the standard land side. You both draw from the same deck of operation cards. There is no lesson in history that you’ll pick up that you’ll read from cards or biographies. However, as you sit across from each other pushing tokens and holding areas, you can’t help but feel like you are in the centre of operations, and can’t dwell on the discs you’re sacrificing on every turn in order to gain the slightest advantage. If you did that you might just start to consider the whole thing is an exercise in insanity. The lesson is definitely there, but it is subtly understated and rather horrifying if you give it more than the twenty minutes General Orders spends on the table. As a sideways step in the genre, its extremely great at what it does.
You can find out more by visiting the Osprey Website
Designed by David Thompson & Trevor Benjamin
Illustrated by Alex Green
This review is based on the retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid monetary compensation for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.
If you would like to support more content on the blog then please consider backing us on Patreon. www.patreon.com/werenotwizards