Session Report – Cataclysm: A Second World War (Introduction)

Prior to the advent of Covid-19 related social distancing, Saturday 21st March 2020 was highlighted in my diary with bright pink highlighter pen and double circled.

It was Cataclysm Day.

A day set aside in its entirety for one purpose. A full 3 player game of Cataclysm: A Second World War from GMT Games.

Box Cover
Cataclysm Box Cover

Cataclysm is a grand strategic game that allows players to re-imagine the course of World War 2. It takes players from the political beginnings in the early 1930’s through to a potential conclusion in the late 1940’s.

This extended scope allows players to experience the political and economic build up to war in both the European and Pacific theatres. Players need to juggle domestic and ideological commitments to manoeuvre themselves into a strong military position before the inevitable outbreak of war.

There is a lot going on in Cataclysm. Far too much for me to sensibly cover here. However, a brief overview follows.

Game overview

(Feel free to skip to the next non-italicised section if you are familiar with the game)

In a full 3 player game, each player controls one ideology – Democratic, Fascist or Communist – plus the nations that follow that ideology. The United Kingdom, United States, and France in the Democratic ideology. Germany, Italy, and Japan in the Fascist ideology. The Soviet Union are the sole Communist power. 

Historically accurate events such as Lend Lease, the atomic bomb or Soviet Military purges are all represented either by specific rules or event chits. How players use these events is largely up to the player. The US could drop the atomic bomb on Germany, for example.

Turn order and event occurrence is based on a chit pull system. Tokens (or ‘Chits’) are pulled randomly from a cup and the drawn chit is resolved. Although certain chits are placed into the cup each turn, and players add their own, no-one knows when a specific chit will be played. This system provides an increased degree of variation and replayability and also adds a fantastic ‘Fog of War’ effect. However, players can ‘interrupt’ the chit draw process to play a previously reserved chit. Essential, if there is one action that players feel must be taken that turn.

No Combat Factors


Actions are split into two types: Political and Military.

Political actions occur when ‘Flags’ are drawn from the cup. These actions are focused on the non-military build up to war. For example, they allow players to expand into new territory through non-violent means, to improve their political stability, to increase a faction’s economic focus on the war effort, form alliances within an ideology or take a faction specific special action.

Military actions are taken when an Offensive chit is drawn. These are the predominantly related to the war itself. Units can be built or moved, civil war in neutral countries supported or Operations taken. The Operation action is focused on the military conquest of territory through combat.

Combat is dice based but does not rely on combat factors. Instead modifiers are used to determine combat advantage or disadvantage. For example two dice are rolled as standard, however, having air superiority provides an extra die.

The loser incurs losses based upon the winner’s dice roll divided by the loser’s dice roll. For example, if the winner rolls a 6 and the loser a 4 ,the loser will incur 1 loss. Dice rolls of 6 and 3 respectively would equate to 2 losses.

Broadly speaking, the game end is triggered by political collapse leading to the total surrender of an ideology or the surrender of two nations within an ideology. The winner is determined by victory points based upon the number of territories controlled.

Cataclysm two map set up
It doesn’t fit!

In Previous Episodes…

Phew! That’s a lot to consider and I’ve barely scratched the surface of Cataclysm’s multiple interweaving systems. Suffice to say it’s a brilliantly designed game and I love it.

I had been looking forward to my next full game since the end of the last, 6 weeks earlier. Although I had played the introductory scenario solo, this was my first playthrough of the full game. After a tentative start as we familiarised ourselves with the rules, we got stuck in.

Europe had been the focus for most of the game. The Fascist powers conquered much of Europe and North Africa while the Democracies repeatedly failed to ally. Then the Soviet player decided to make a grab for resources in Persia. The first time he did this was a costly failure. The second time even more costly as the Japanese took advantage of a very weak Eastern border.

Still insisting that Persia was the key to success, the Soviet player finally took control of the region only to be forced to surrender on the very next chit draw as the Germans swarmed through the Ukraine.

We were hooked. As soon as the game ended we immediately decided to book another date to prove that Persia was not the key to Soviet success.

But it was not be…

The Eagle and the Sun

As my calendar turned to the first weekend of May, I decided that it was high time to play Cataclysm again.

Solo this time, running all ideologies, all factions and both maps. The full game. One player.

The box was open. The components sorted. The maps on the table. Then I was informed that the family dining table was needed for other purposes this weekend.

What purposes? I cried.

Family dining!

Thwarted, I moved to the coffee table in the lounge.

Thwarted again! The maps hung apologetically off all sides of the table, the political display and faction cards strewn across the floor.

Eagle and the Sun set up
C4: The Eagle and the Sun set up

Time to try a new approach. A half map scenario would fit (more or less). 

But which one? ‘Days of Decision’ with its focus on European build up to war? ‘The Patriotic War’, a Germany vs Soviet shown down? ‘Hitler’s War’, ETO wargame done Cataclysm style?

Wait, what’s this?

‘The Eagle and the Sun’. An expansionist Japan facing off against a not yet fully allied US and UK.

A race against time to stop Japanese expansion before the end of the European War and Soviet involvement in the Pacific.

Would the Japanese be able to conquer and hold onto enough territory before game end or would the Allies stop them?

Pacific Ocean spanning naval battles, Chinese Civil War, conflict in and for the UK’s colonies over the course of just three turns.

I’m in!

Continued Reading