The March of Progress board game: A four-sided review

The March of Progress board game is a scenario-based two-player micro war game, lasting around 20-30 minutes. It’s listed for ages 12+, but younger gamer kids (say 10+) will soon pick up the reasonably light rules.

It’s very much a war game in feel, but boiled down to the barest set of components. There are no dice rolls, with the tension instead coming from simultaneous action selection. Early scenarios are symmetric in terms of goals and forces. But two offer an asymmetric challenge.

In the box you’ll find 50+ cards, 20+ wooden pieces and six dice (used as value markers), plus separate rule and scenario books. Everything is good quality and while the cards look great, they are very much function over theme. But I think that will suit the crowd the game’s aimed at. The scenarios cover five historic battle themes, from The 30 Year War to The Second World War, with thematic relevance varying between them.

NOTE: This review is of a close-to-production level prototype, so some elements may change. It will be on general release later in 2020 – but you can help make it happen by backing The March of Progress on Kickstarter.

Teaching The March of Progress board game

Each scenario in The March of Progress board game works slightly differently, so I’m just going to go through the simplest iteration here. Others will swap out certain cards for scenario-based equivalents, or even add extra action cards. In addition, the win conditions and ways to score points can also change.

Each player has a hand of eight cards covering six actions. On each turn you’ll both pick one card and reveal them simultaneously. Then the actions are carried out in a set order (there is an initiative rule for times when you choose the same action and the order matters). Your options are move, recruit, fortify, attack, strengthen and score. Once a card is played, it is put to one side. You only get them back after you play the ‘score’ card; which you can’t play unless you’ve already played at least one other card.

The battlefield is made up of either three or four location cards: a home base for each player, plus one or two neutral locations. Dice on your home location show the strength of each of your armies (each player has access to three), plus the victory points (VP) available to you for controlling that location. Neutral locations also have an VP dice. Using the ‘strengthen’ action while controlling a location (meaning only you have troops on it) allows you to reduce the VP value of that location by one – while raising the strength of your troop strength dice by one (which applies to each of your troops).

Into battle

The ‘recruit’ action moves one of your troops from stock to your base. You have two ‘move’ cards, allowing you to move one/two troops to an adjacent location card. If a player attacks, and their opponent has troops at the same location, a battle begins. If a player has ‘fortified’ a troop, they gain +1 strength for the battle (but it can only be used to defend). While one of your two attack cards also gives you a +1. Otherwise, you simply add your current strength for each unit (as dictated by your base’s strength dice). High score wins, with the loser losing all troops. In a draw, both sides lose all troops.

Scoring usually gives you 1VP, plus the VP value of each location you control (only has your troops on it) – using the current VP value of each location. So if you’ve spend a lot of actions improving your troops, your VP for scoring can be drastically reduced. But if you’ve done that strengthening via the neutral location, you can probably hang back and defend your base to grab the win. You then take back all the cards you’ve already played, bringing you back to a full set of options.

The scenarios can really mix things up – but the basics (simultaneous choice and order of the actions) stay the same. So it’s not like learning a new game each time. I won’t go into detail on them here, as half the fun is learning each new rule tweak. But the WW2 scenario, for example, adds extra cards for German V weapons and Allied air power. While the Napoleonic scenario gives the Austrian player just five starting cards – but they can spend VP (when scoring) to add extra cards to their hand.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: What makes The March of Progress board game shine is the order of actions. Movement, recruit then fortify always happen first, meaning you’re rarely sure of that battle or scoring situation. But increasing strength is done post battle, so you can’t be relied on for a quick fix. And as there’s no random element to battles, beyond the action of your opponent, you can’t blame anyone but yourself.
  • The thinker: While fun and well designed, the base game wouldn’t stand up to a huge amount of replay value. So the historic scenarios were key to making this a hit for me: and they largely succeeded. A couple were one-and-done, but there’s enough in the Napoleonic and WW2 scenarios alone to keep me happy over repeat plays. Plus, with such a simple/light rule/component set, The March of Progress is practically asking for expansions – either player or publisher made.
  • The trasher: To draw on an old cliche, this game could just as easily have been named ‘knife fight in a phone booth’. Most scenarios are played over just three locations, meaning one move each and you’re in each other’s faces. And you really want to pillage that central neutral location for its VP, because losing VP from your own base to gain strength isn’t done lightly. You want to do it so bad, but to lose those lovely lovely VPs is such a hard trade off. Clever, agonising and fun.
  • The dabbler: I surprised myself by quite enjoying this. It doesn’t look like much, but the rules are simple and it plays fast. You soon realise the key is reading your opponent, which is of course easier said than done. And unlike ‘proper’ war games you’re never bogged down in charts – while simultaneous action selection keeps downtime to a minimum. Would I pick it off the game shelf? No. But I certainly wouldn’t veto it either.

Conclusion: The March of Progress board game

Those used to reading my reviews may have noticed a lack of ‘key observations’. As I’m privileged enough to be one of the first to get hold of the game, there’s obviously a lack of dissenting voices . But equally, I don’t have any complaints of my own.

The March of Progress sets out to be a scenario based micro war game, relying on interaction through reading and battling your opponent. And for me it completely succeeds in this. Sure, I didn’t enjoy one of the scenarios – but there are four I did. If you like the idea of simultaneous decisions which always have big consequences, but packaged in a small box with a small footprint, you can’t go wrong. Add in simple rules and a short play time, plus plenty of replay value, you have a real winner.

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