Design by Janko Nišavić, Vukašin Nišavić
Art by Nenad Mirković
Published by Giga Mech Games
2-4 Players | 120-180 Min.
They never told you how cold it was going to be in the trenches. They never told you about the screams of your friends. They never told you how numb you would become when you saw another unit taken out by mortar fire, and the general ordered to the charge into the next field. We didn’t ask for this fight. Serbia is a proud country, but we weren’t responsible for the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.
The news from the south tells us that the Bulgarians have joined the Germans and Austrians. The Bulgarians are reported to be marching up from the south, taking over cities as they go, only repelled by a small military band that was already in the south. In the North, bombs ring constantly as the combined forces of Germany and Austria-Hungary sweep in from the North, quickly overrunning Sabac and moving towards Belgrade….
March of the Drina is a World War I reenactment of the Serbian campaigns that began World War I, and then continued throughout the war. Each player will take control of a country, with one player being Serbia, on whom the board is centered; and one to three others players taking over the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German Empire, and Bulgaria—which are all allied, and so win or lose together.
This head to head war-game is on the lighter side of war games, with relatively simple mechanics of movement and fighting, but nicely augmented with fun standees, and a unique health keeping method and a calendar that serves both to keep the game limited to fourteen rounds, provide variables in each round, and actually teach the history of the Serbian campaigns.
The Serbians win if they can reclaim control of all of their cities including Montenegro. Everyone else wins if they can take over every single Serbian city (and Montenegro), as well as 6 cities outside Serbia and hold them for one round.
Each round beings with a flip of the calendar. Then each country takes a turn, always in this order: 1) Austria-Hungary, 2) German Empire, 3) Serbia, 4) Bulgaria. When it’s your turn each individual unit (standee on the board) can move its number of unit move points and possibly engage in battle. If it moves into the space of another player’s unit (standee), there is a battle. If you win the battle, they lose a health point and retreat one hex. If you lose, your unit loses one health and retreats to the hex from which is attacked. If it’s a tie, both units lose one health, and you still retreat to the hex from which you attacked. If you attack, you forfeit the rest of the moves for that unit this round (with the exception of artillery, which fires from a distance—and so takes no damage for a loss—then moves). Generals may never attack, but only move.
Battles are easily resolved with a little mathematic equation: (The attacking unit’s attack stat)+(the unit’s health)+(one “luck card”) vs. (the defender’s defense stat)+(the defender’s health)+(one “luck card”); the higher sum wins. In the case of artillery, they’re able to fire from a range, and so do not take damage if they lose or tie. Once you’ve moved and/or fought or just chosen to not move with every single unit in your control (which can be mighty hard to keep track of which you have and haven’t moved) your turn is over; you collect money based on the number of cities you control, and the next player goes.
Some rounds will have bonuses or penalties for certain types of units for certain countries that are somehow vaguely tied to the actual events of World War I that round is supposed to be representing. Several rounds will also include a reinforcement phase where you can pay to either place new units adjacent to a general or otherwise heal units that are still on the board (as long they’re in range of a general).
While the game says it’s for 2–4 players, as awkward as it is to have one player playing Serbia (which starts with a far larger army than any other country) and another player playing all three of the other opposing factions (which, while they have a much smaller force individually, once they are combined, are pretty much the same as Serbia), I think it would be even MORE awkward to have 3 players trying to play cooperatively and synchronize their tactics versus the one Serbian player. It says 2–4, but it would be difficult at more than 2 players.
The variability of the game comes from two places, one unique and cool and the other pretty run of the mill, and possibly terrible: 1) a secret tactical placement phase before the game starts and 2) luck cards.
1) The game starts with something I haven’t seen before, but I feel like would be a cool feature in a lot of war games: each player receives a copy of the map in miniature from a pad of paper that is a print of the map. On that map, using a little letter code, you will secretly plan the starting position of all of your starting units. Once everyone has filled out the map, you reveal and place your units. Assumably you’re placing them based on some strategy you have, but you don’t know what strategy they have, so depending on what everyone decided to do, this could begin the game in a way that will result in back and forth war, or it could be wildly unbalanced; but after a few games I think the best strategies will be become fairly obvious based on the map. Nonetheless, this is a really neat way to start a game and I would love to see more tactical games use some kind of a starting mechanic like this. With the right map and variables, this player starting variable mechanic was really cool. It maybe could have used a couple of suggestions for starting positions and starting formations just to give you ideas, but maybe not.
“Okay, now if I place a platoon up here I can plan to move down, but I’ll have this unit over here to try and flank them and come around and take those cities one at a time while the main army sets up a tactical front that they’ll be forced to deal with. But I also know that if I try coming in from the south, if they don’t defend I’ve got them, and if they do I can move further south and start bringing up a second front from the rear and box them in…”
2) The luck cards on the other hand are just as arbitrary as rolling dice, and somehow less exciting. While you go into each battle with some knowledge of which unit is stronger and more likely to win, you still each draw a luck card to calculate the final battle scores, and it could be utterly brutal. The problem is, once a unit is on a downward spiral, no amount of luck is going to stop that unit from being pounded to death quickly. The instruction book claims that you can balance out how much luck there is by removing certain cards from the deck to either have more luck or more skill. We tried the “normal” setting and the “more skill” setting and still found that the cards just made everything feel like a crap shoot. (And to be very specific, two games in a row I had an absolutely statistics defying set of good draws while Kaitlin’s draws were terrible, causing me to absolutely slaughter her whether I was playing Serbia or whether I was playing the invaders. Either way, it made for two very MISERABLE games for her while I simply dominated her. And it wasn’t particularly fun for me either. It was just a mechanical slog, like playing a game of Sorry!.)
LENGTH OF GAME
The game suggests it will be a 2–3 hour game, and it will be every bit of it. But if one side or the other makes a mistake or manages to have some major victories early on, it’s going to be a slaughter and fairly miserable time for one player or the other. At least, that was our experience.
The components are pretty average. The board is a nice and clear map of the region printed on good stock. The standees are fine, although the way they’ve pasted faces of the designers on the soldiers is just silly, but I think the cardboard standees work just as well as miniatures, and certainly it’s a lot less expensive, and with fairly nice print jobs it looks fine. There are also bland round tokens you can use in place of the miniatures. Supposedly some people found it difficult to see the map with the miniatures, but I think the tokens would take away what aesthetic appeal there is. Also, the tokens that make the health marker system very problematic, because you don’t have enough sticky magnets.
The health markers are these plain, black magnets that stick to the bottom of the standees. That’s a creative way to keep track of health and something I wouldn’t mind seeing in other games, but maybe not just plain fridge magnets that you have to count. In fact, they blended together so that is was often hard to count how many health a unit had. The fact that they just have utterly plain blacks magnets that you just count is a little odd, but the idea is unique enough if it could be implemented better.
The cards are actually fairly low quality, but they’re fine.
The player aids are pretty clear, although printed on the cheapest stock they could find, as is the military income board. The thick cardboard money is pretty funny because it seems utterly unnecessary, and in total contrast to how cheap the other boards are.
But there are a couple of BIG COMPONENT PROBLEMS:
1) The rule book is hot garbage. Whoever helped with the English translation needs to work on their English or their editing before they do another translation from Serbian to English. The game is not utterly terribly designed, just plainly designed. But the rulebook doesn’t make sense half the time, occasionally seems to contradict itself, and often assumes you remember a rule from pages before rather than just repeating the rule that it would be clarifying. They’ve tried to organize it in a way that makes sense, but it just becomes a discombobulated set of disconnected rules that you have to eventually put together. Once you’ve figured it out, it runs fairly smooth but discerning some of the rules is really difficult. We’re still not 100% sure if you’re supposed to only do reinforcing when the calendar says or if you can do it every round. We’re pretty sure you just do it when the calendar says to, but the rule book at times seemed to be contradicting itself, and we had to read and re-read and come to a conclusion based on rules that were pages apart with no reference to one another. And for a game that is ultimately pretty mechanically simple, there are a lot of rules. In the rules for setup where are no less than 7 exceptions to the setup rules! That’s a half page of exceptions to rules you just spent a page explaining, that then won’t matter for the rest of the game!
2) There aren’t enough ownership tokens and money tokens! We were constantly running out of money and the winning side was always taking over so many cities that there weren’t enough tokens to indicate they had conquered the city. There just needs to be more.
They have tried to provide an organization solution with the game, but it just doesn’t work. They need to organize the game components by country.
After so many years at war, we had become numb to it all. It was just endless repetition, and both sides felt that something good was lost. In the end, we just wanted our home back. In the end, we just wanted the fighting to end…to imagine a different ending to it all. But we couldn’t go back and change the past, and we couldn’t bring back our dead. So we mourned and tried to rebuild.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Basically, this game should be slightly better than Risk…and yet actually winds up being stale, monotonous, and unentertaining. It is lifeless war game with little excitement and tension that leaves a lot to be desired. We had a pretty terrible experience. Every game we played, once one side had managed just a couple of victories it was only a matter of time until the end. We never made it past 6 rounds before one side or the other was completely wiped out. While there are rules for a minor restart, it would have amounted to nothing worth doing, and would have just been frustrating for the losing player. There is no comeback mechanism of any kind, and once you’ve lost some key battles early on, the game is over very…slowly and painfully, and torture is a violation of the Geneva Convention.
The movement and battle mechanics are plain and simple, unimaginative, uneventful, and lifeless. With nothing else to do, it becomes repetitive and unexciting.
There are a lot of great ideas here. This is a game that has the potential for a major overhaul, with some added mechanics, the good ideas kept, some things to keep it interesting added in, some improvements to the components, the terrible ideas removed, and Drina 2.0 could be amazing! I wanted to like this game. There is something about it that seems like it should be a fantastic entry level war-game. I can tell this is a passion project by people who care. I can tell there is the spark of a good game here. It seems like it should be a good game…and it just wasn’t.
Admittedly this was our first foray into this more classical style of war game. (I mean, we’ve played Risk. We’ve also played Root, Eclipse, Memoir ’44, and Twilight Struggle. And frankly I’d rather play any of those than this. In fact, we love all those games I just named, and Root and Eclipse are in our Top 10.) I don’t know if it’s just us and this type of war game or if it’s Drina, but we did not enjoy this. And I’m pretty sure it was Drina’s fault, because we can find enjoyment in most anything. We have laughed through some terrible games. We got to a point with Drina where we were only playing to write the review, otherwise we would have quit and played something else. It was a chore. It was uninteresting, and we were glad when it was over.
It looks pretty nice on the surface. It looks cool when you open the box. It looks pretty when you set it up. But once you start playing, well…war is hell, and this is the worst hell of all: a game with a lot of potential that doesn’t deliver.
Kaitlin’s experience—0/10 (Wes’s experience was only better because he won every game, but it wasn’t really any fun because once the beat down started, it was just relentless and bland. Kaitlin had no possibility of recovery. Those luck cards, man, they can be just completely unfair…but that’s war.)