Maneuver Warfare Review (1.14)

It always impresses me how creative the indie wargaming development scene can be. Seeing what innovative mechanics and systems that can come from the smallest studios expands my grinchy wargamer heart by at least three sizes. Maneuver Warfare, I’m happy to say, is definitely one of those heart expanders. It is clear that Decisive Action Games, the tiny study behind Maneuver Warfare, believes in what they are trying to do and, by and large, they are succeeding at it. A few minor issues and one glaring one hold the game back, but with more time and updates I believe Maneuver Warfare can become something truly inspiring. As it stands though, potential players must be aware of some caveats.

The premise is altogether standard, but the execution is what sets Maneuver Warfare apart. Taking control of a Panzergrenadier Battle Group, players lead their units from the invasion of Poland through to the end of the war. The gameplay happens in a pauseable real time environment as players issue orders to their units on a paper map, and watch the units attempt to carry them out. Units are generally companies or equivalent of tanks, support units, and artillery.

There are stand alone scenarios, but the true game comes from the full campaign where players take control of the same battlegroup from mission to mission. Watching commanders gain experience or die off, and husbanding resources to keep your battlegroup combat effective from mission to mission is a lot of fun. Movement used to be a struggle, but the latest couple updates (1.14 at the time of writing) have solved this major complaint of mine. Now units can be grouped and moved together as long as their command unit is intact. You can still micro each company, and I did for fine tuning, but being able to maneuver collective elements was a godsend, making sweeping movements a breeze and gameplay in general far less frustrating. Combat is generally deal with under the hood, with only a small line indicating effective fire and a combat log that keeps you up to date on losses.

As for the units, they react to enemy fire and the terrain, moving and spotting at different rates while they attempt to follow your orders. Happily, you can give general orders for what each unit should do when they come under fire. You can suggest to your recon units and artillery that coming under fire is best met with a swift retreat, but tell your tanks to keep moving and close the gap as they take hits.

Actually managing the controls of doing all this takes a bit of learning. Especially when it comes to ensuring you have the correct groups selected at a given time, but it just takes a bit of time. Overall, setting up new fire orders, calling in artillery and airstrikes, using AT guns to counter tanks, and effectively using recon is all functional and rewarding. Once players get a hold of their units the game quickly comes together. It’s fun, the tactics feel real, the AI is mostly responsive, and there’s a good amount of content.

Now, some negatives. The game is ugly, and not just in the acceptable wargame ugly. It’s poor to the point of negatively impacting potential interest, I’m sure of it. It just looks amateur. Maneuver Warfare needs to full visual overhaul to bring it up to modern gaming standards or, and I don’t say this lightly, scrapping 3D entirely for a simple 2D map and counters if that is easier. But real art is sorely needed. A yellow rectangle is identifiable as a farmer’s field, but it could look so much better. As it stands the modifiable 3D just doesn’t work. It is painfully ugly. After several hours I finally started to get used to the art, but I shouldn’t have to. Excel games can and do work. Wargames with visual hiccups can be fine too, but what Maneuver Warfare is doing is straddling the line in an awkward way that needs to be corrected. I was consistently put off by the poor visuals.

Secondly, I never really understood how the terrain affects spotting. It seems that my units could spot enemies through what I assumed were built up areas (It’s a grey rectangle, who knows?). The abstraction is certainly a plausible answer, but I wish there were more coherent lines of sight and terrain rules presented within the game.

That’s really it for my complaints, especially since the 1.14 update solved my movement frustrations. The core gameplay is good. What’s more important, the core gameplay is unique. I’m willing to be pretty forgiving, especially for indie offerings, if they’re doing something classic extremely well or going out on a limb to do something new. Maneuver Warfare definitely fits into the latter. I honestly hope that the developer takes the visual complaints to heart because, and I truly believe this, there is something special just under the surface of Maneuver Warfare that would be exposed to a much wider audience if it just looked good.

If visuals mean nothing to you and you’re looking for an interesting indie offering that feels unique, then Maneuver Warfare is definitely worth checking out. If not, perhaps waiting for further optimization and a visual overhaul is in order.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

This is a unique and fascinating Indie offering that is genuinely trying something new in the digital wargaming space. It is held back by abysmal visuals and some rough edges. If these problems are solved, Maneuver Warfare has the potential to be the start of something amazing.

-Joe Fonseca

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2: First Impressions

I knew there was no way that I could do War in the East 2 justice in the short time I had with it, but that won’t stop me from offering some first impressions of the newest behemoth in wargaming as I keep battling across the wide expanse of the Soviet Union in preparation for a full review. Will the new game do enough to win over new players and satisfy old hands both?

Launching War in the East 2 for the first time I was immediately struck by how much cleaner the presentation was. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still an old school wargame through and through, with menus to navigate before play and little selectors for AI nation control, but it feels better. There is a charming intro cinematic, tool tips on the main menu are informative, and the overall setup is easy enough for a new player to navigate without much help.

Once you load up a scenario, the tutorial scenario in my case, you’re greeted with the familiar Gary Grigsby charm. There is still a couple button bars across the top of the screen and windows and dropdown menus populate with that familiar ‘click’ noise. But again, it’s cleaner. the top bars readily give up their function, and are generally intuitive, the system seems to process my inputs quickly, and everything just looks sharper.

But that’s where the initial simplicity ends. Beyond lies only the true terror of Grigsby. I kid, but it’s at this point that all players, new and old, will need to crack open the massive rulebook or at least take a peek at the nine one page guides that helpfully explain the core functions of gameplay and management. Video tutorials are forthcoming, which should help new players, but I couldn’t track them down during my brief time with the press release version of the game, I assume they’re packaged with the full release build. Thankfully the guide sheets are a great start, and, I should mention, anyone who has spent any decent amount of time with War in the East 1 or War in the West will be right at home. The biggest change that hits you right as you start is the new air war system. Based on the air management of War in the West, this system sees you (or the AI thankfully) manage air missions and logisitics before ground actions can occur. I like this over an integrated system as it allowed me to better plan and make use of intel.

Another major change evident from an initial few hours is that the AI can be tasked to take control of quite a few systems. Yes, you’re right, they’re probably bettered managed by hand, but in the interest of actually making progress through a campaign, and simulating a bit of command and control issues, I like assigning the AI to take care of stuff I don’t feel like managing. It’s another thing that, when presented well to new players, will probably encourage more adoption than the rough and tumble old-school style of the first.

I haven’t played enough to really gauge the AI yet, though they haven’t done anything stupid yet, I’m happy to report. When I get through a proper campaign (or at least enough of one to properly judge the game in a full review, I’ll come back to the AI).

The amount of information in War in the East, is nothing short of amazing. When you’re tired of getting lost enjoying the massive and readable manual, you can take a break by getting lost in the game’s TO&Es, stat blocks, and included encyclopedia. There’s a lot to take in and it’s clear that a lot of passion went into War in the East 2’s production.

The basic controls are immediately recognizable and core gameplay elements should be familiar for veterans, so for them, I’m inclined to suggest hopping in to War in the East 2 at your earliest convenience. I see nothing here so far that would turn me off having spent a good amount of time with War in the West in the past. For new players, it may still seem daunting, but the information is much more accessible than it has ever been, and if a monster game like this seems at all appealing, I recommend taking the plunge.

Total War: Rome Remastered is a Thing

I had heard whispers on the web that a big Total War announcement was dropping today, figured “Oh are they getting around to doing a 40k Total war or Medieval 3 then?” Well I was wrong, but am pretty damn pleased to share that Total War: Rome Remastered is indeed a thing.

Rome Remastered will be dropping with the expansions from the original game, shiny new graphics, and revamped diplomatic tools (which hopefully means we won’t need to traipse across the map to make alliances or peace anymore). There will also be cross-play with Windows, Mac, and Linux, 16 more factions than in the original Rome, and a new Merchant agent that can do nefarious proto-capitalisms to your enemies and dominate the market.

Total War Rome Remastered will release April 29th, and any owners of the original Rome Total War can get it for half off for the first month after release, which will be a steal at $15 (that’s American dollars, not Canadian). Buyers will also receive a copy of the original Rome: Total War Collection, so that’s pretty cool. For more info about the game, you can check out Creative Assembly’s FAQ here.

Warhammer 40k: Battlesector’s Space Marines

Battlesector, a new turn based wargame from Black Lab Games and Slitherine set in the grim darkness of the dark grimness of the far future of Warhammer 40k, is fast approaching. With it comes the digitization of a good chunk of the new forms of Space Marine goodness that have been gracing tabletops for a few years now. Here’s a primer on all the best new forms of battlefield destruction for the uninitiated.

Now, I’m an old school 40k player. My Plague Marines are mono-posed pickelhaube sporting statues sized about 3 times too small for the current battlefields of the 41st millennium. So, I’m a little behind the times. Back in my day, Cadia was a planet, Necrons were 1 dimensional terminators, and Abadon the Dispoiler was attempting his 13th crusade for only the second or third time. (Who remembers?) But, and I say this with as much seriousness as anyone can when they’re discussing ‘roided-out space Nazis and their poor diplomatic choices: I. Love. Warhammer.

Warhammer was one of my first fantasy worlds. As a grade schooler fresh out of a showing of Fellowship of the Ring in theatre, I saw a shiny starter set for Games Workshop’s Lord of the Rings game in a hobby storefront. Entering saw me bowled over by the colour, the character, the majesty of Warhammer in a way that I think only grade-schoolers can feel. There were rat monsters, hulking armoured warriors covered in spikes, resplendent elves and dirty humans. It was awesome. Then I found the sci-fi section and was blown away again. Orcs, in space? Yes please. So began a life-long interest in the hobby and the silly fantasy worlds of warhammer and 40k. They are silly, extremely so, but silly in the best way. So, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about but are interested in what looks like an excellent upcoming tactical wargamer, prepare to get educated, straight from the publisher:

Primaris Space Marines in Battlesector

The Primaris Space Marines are a new breed of the Adeptus Astartes, genetically-engineered super warriors and defenders of the Imperium. They have been developed in secret by Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl, on Mars, on order of Primarch Roboute Guilliman. They are bigger, more resilient, more powerful and are faster compared to the original Astartes.

Inceptors

Inceptors fill the role of spearhead troops. They hit the enemy in one sudden and overwhelming blow, leaving them reeling as follow-up waves of Space Marines drive home the attack. It can use its Jump Pack to move rapidly across the battlefield and leaping above obstacles, and even use its ability Death from Above to jump and dive into an enemy, dealing armor-piercing splash damage. They can be armed with either Assault Bolters or Plasma Exterminators.

Aggressors

Clad in heavy Gravis armour, Aggressor Squads advance on the foe as walking fortresses of ceramite.  An elite unit with a squad size of 3 of heavily armed and armored Primaris Space Marines, they are capable of unleashing devastating fire on their enemies with their ability Hail of Fire. They are armed with either Boltstorm Gauntlets or Flamestorm Gauntlets, and Fragstorm Launchers.

Furioso Dreadnought:

The Furioso Dreadnought is death incarnate, a towering war machine whose fearsome weaponry is guided by a pilot buried deep within its shell. It is capable of using its Frag Cannon to fire 3 grenades in a single turn and Furioso Fists for powerful melee attacks. It will explode on death, dealing ample damage to all nearby units. It can be armed with either a Storm Bolter, a Heavy Flamer or a Meltagun.

Techmarine

Primaris Techmarines stride selflessly through oncoming fire to soothe the machine spirits of wounded war engines, deftly peeling back damaged armour plates to repair burnt-out cabling and bending warped panels back into shape with their servo-arms and mechadendrites. He is capable of invoking the Omnissiah’s help to heal mechanical units and vehicles, increase the armor of nearby units and even buff a single nearby mechanical unit by giving it more accuracy and damage through their Invoke the Machine Spirit unique ability. He is armed with a Bolt Pistol and a Power Axe.

Librarian

Through many years of learning and practice, a Librarian is a potent Space Marine Psyker capable of channeling the Warp. He can use the Wings of Sanguinius, and temporarily grow blood wings which will allow him to leap across the battlefield. Through Vision of Angelic Fury he can terrorize all enemies within a certain radius, and even conjure and throw a Blood Lance which will damage all enemies on a straight line. He is armed with a Bolt pistol and a Force sword.

Seems a lot has changed since my days on the tabletop battlefields of Warhammer, but I’m actually really interested to see how these new units shake up the gameplay of Battlesector. I’m a fan of Armageddon and Gladius, but both were a little more couched in the lore that I remember, so this is a whole new can of space worms for me. What do you think of the new lore direction and the new units?

Warhammer 40,000 Battlesector will be available on PC in May 2021, and on Xbox/PlayStation some weeks later.

Until the Last Plane Review

I want to start off by saying that I really want to like Until The Last Plane (UTLP moving forward), it has a lot of spirit and I really like what it wants to be. I have a big fondness for the subject, covering airfield management during World War 2 campaigns, and the concept, but unfortunately, the execution just isn’t quite there. It’s a tragedy! And I feel bad for not liking it! Fortunately, I feel like it can be tuned up into a winner, but for now… well, let me explain.

The gist of UTLP is that you are the commander of an airfield during WW2 during various notable campaigns. The three factions represented are the US, the USSR, and Germany. My first chief complaint is that inexplicably, we don’t have Great Britain as an option, which strikes me as bizarre. The game is about managing your resources and pilots, deciding if the cost of performing a task is worth the reward, which seems to really speak to the spirit of the Battle of Britain, but that was omitted from the game.

Anyway, the three factions have differences largely in their planes, which all have different stats, their “bonus”, which is a passive buff to the player, and in currency. The currency is the main way the “meta” of the game will change between the three factions. The Americans, capitalist pigs that we are, get cash for clearing missions, and can use that cash to buy new planes/pilots, and resources to equip those planes with. The Soviets have a system of “political influence”, in that all resources, that being fuel, ammo, spare parts, AND planes, are sent to you depending on how many “points” you have of political influence. Get enough SovietBux and you’ll be living large on your airbase (but as well all know, living large is counterrevolutionary). Lastly, the Germans have a hybrid of the American and Soviet systems. They have “command points” which, depending on the amount in the player’s bank, will trickle in resources at certain speeds. The player can also spend these points to purchase new planes with. Ther German system feels the most well-thought out, with the player needing to balance the need to purchase new planes with the influx of resources. 

I haven’t unlocked every scenario yet, but I can say that the Easy scenarios (the only ones unlocked for each faction when you boot up the game) are pretty dang easy to breeze by with the resources present. Most of the time, your planes will relatively easily avoid being shot down or not need many repairs, and the resources are plentiful so when you do need new stuff, you can afford it with relative ease. I did find that it was a bit more difficult to manage on the harder difficulties, but at the end of the day, resource management generally boils down to this: are your planes getting shot down?

Combat in UTLP is … interesting. The way any air encounter plays out is that you’ll get a notification at base that some kind of aerial encounter is occurring. There’s also a timer that you need to to click within X amount of time, or else your plane will take damage and return to base, which is in my opinion, pretty lame that you can’t opt-out of some encounters. Regardless, you click the card, and you will be taken to the encounter, which will either be air combat (defending), air combat (attacking), or a few different flavors of bombing runs. The air combat is decided by cards. You, as either the attacker or defender (you can tell who is who because the attacker will always start behind, the defender in front) alternate moves with your opponent, playing one of 3 cards that have various effects. These vary based on planes, for example, a BF109 gets a once-per engagement card that lets it move very far forward, whereas a P-47D has simpler “move slightly forward and to the right” or “move slightly backward and to the left” cards. The planes similarly get a set of 3 cards to use for defense; the goal for the attacker is to get close behind the defender by the end of the set amount of moves, while the defender has to put distance between them and the attacker. At the end of the “move” phase, a firing cone appears for the attacker at the front of the aircraft. If the defender is in it, they get shot down. If they don’t, they get away scot-free. 

The issue here is that it’s a bit simplistic. There aren’t many options for you to take, and neither for your opponent. While this does model certain planes being more agile/ having better firepower interestingly, I feel that it could be expanded upon. It can frequently feel very deterministic, whether your plane will win the combat or survive. There are some planes that only have 1 card that can be used repeatedly, so they’re basically SOL if the enemy positions themselves well, because they are forced to use cards that can put them in a worse position.

As for bombing runs, there’s a mix of different bombing missions you can carry out. For static buildings like factories or airfields, you have some crosshairs on your screen that you must click to stop as they align over the target. It’s okay enough, but what’s frustrating about these is that you can choose a height to attack from. The higher you are, the less likely you are to be interrupted by a fighter, but they can just appear and damage your plane with pretty decent consistency even at the highest altitude. It’d be nice if this started a defensive air combat encounter instead of just having RNG say “your plane is broken now.” Other bombing run missions are more fun, but very similar. There is an artillery emplacement mission that you have to line up your plane to hit as many targets as possible, and a simplified version of the factory attack mission but for moving vehicles, which I found more engaging overall.

If I could sum up what would make this game better in one thought, it’s that the player should be allowed to “pass.” This too when it comes to the missions you carry out. After you begin a mission from your airbase during a combat day, a progress bar steadily fills, and you must meet a quota of “kill x amount of planes” or “bomb y amount of factories.” And the quota is generally not too tough to meet, but once you meet it, you can’t stop. Sure, there’s an incentive to complete more combat sorties after your quota is complete and before time runs out on the mission, but you may not want to, due to the risk of your planes being intercepted during bombing runs, using up more fuel and ammo, or occasionally just crashing due to pilot fatigue. But the game forces you to still play these sorties, lest you let the timer on the encounter card run out and your planes get damaged. My solution to this is a bit cheesy, but when my aircraft return mid-mission with damaged parts or empty ammo reserves, I just let them sit and don’t maintain them until the mission is over to avoid more damage. I shouldn’t feel like I have to do that in order to keep my squadron together.

I have a fondness for UTLP, I really do. There are several bits of it I like, such as the maintaining of aircraft on the base, and I think some of the combat missions are at least fairly decent. But the game forces you to engage with parts of it that have a heavy risk-to-reward ratio, and the lack of player choice in that bothers me. I feel that a lot of these issues can be fixed through patches, but for now, I unfortunately can’t endorse UTLP. I will be happy to revisit it when patches come around though, because I want this game to be better. I’m rooting for it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull

Combat Mission: Black Sea Review

Oh no, this isn’t good. The enemy can shoot back now! Combat Mission: Black Sea continues to fascinate me with how different the actual execution of the game is from Shock Force 2. This time set in a fictional (kind of…) invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2017 where NATO intervenes, Black Sea offers an entirely different feeling of tension than its predecessor. Rather than dealing with the technicals and militias of Shock Force 2, Black Sea brings two (and a half) modern forces together in direct competition. It’s a deadly, frightening affair.

The invading Russian forces are more professional, have access to better weapon systems, and have the kind of support that was reserved for NATO in SF2. But upping the stakes by giving the enemy near parity is an excellent design choice, and one that demonstrates the breadth of what Combat Mission can offer. Black Sea is fast becoming my favourite tactical wargame, and has even prompted me, a diehard historicals guy, to start reading about modern tactics and systems.

Death can come from a long way off, proper scouting is king.

To Die Along the Dnieper

Black Sea centers around a fictional invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. This time NATO and the US step in in an attempt to dissuade Russian aggression. When it becomes obvious that they’re not going to back down, NATO steps up and a full scale conventional war breaks out. There are campaigns allowing players to take control of all three major players, the Russians, NATO, and Ukraine, each of which has access to different vehicles and systems enough to prompt different tactical approaches to each scenario. There are also a pile of individual scenarios to sink your teeth into and of course the usual staples of multiplayer and an editor.

Though there is a real-time mode, the true way to play is the turn based WEGO system. Both sides issue orders to their units and the system plays everything out simultaneously in one minute intervals. It might be a bit jarring for players coming from true IGO UGO or real time strategy games, but after a run though a scenario or two to get sorted, it begins to feel very natural and does a good job of simulating command delay.

The visuals are quite nice and the simulation runs well until battles get very, very large.

Since both the Russians and NATO forces are professional modern militaries, there is a lot to think about when engaging in any type of scenario in Black Sea. Urban combat is a nightmare. Spending minutes agonizing about potential ambush spots, figuring out where to blast holes for maneuver, and in my case at least, running at least one scout team into a wall of Russian fire.

Battles in the countryside are equally as terrifying, with long range, accurate, and deadly fire capabilities on both sides meaning that positioning tanks is just as crucial as squishy transports. In both settings, seeing a plan work out and the enemy shattered before you is a euphoria rarely felt in any strategy game, and that is due in part to the visuals.

Urban Combat is a nightmare, but rewardingly tense.

Combat Mission is Almost There!

While not dazzling, Combat Mission has enough fidelity in the visuals to become a really immersive experience. Even though there can be a little hiccup here and there with infantry animation, the fact that the whole game contains so many micro-abstractions means it never feels uncomfortable. Instead, I can sweep my camera over a gigantic map and zoom in to see exactly how my observation team is doing on the left flank before flying over to check on the angles of my Abrams. It’s such an nice system, as soon as you learn it.

The Combat Mission system itself is so tantalizingly close to being accessible. Th tutorial requires reading through a PDF which, while it does a good job of laying out the basics, ignores a lot of the nuance that makes the intricacies of Combat Mission stand out against the crowd. I heartily recommend checking out Usually Hapless’ video tutorials explaining some of the basics as it helped me immensely. A better tutorial and a bit more polish all around would go a long way here, but the core is rock solid.

Mistakes were made…

I’m frankly floored that I haven’t tried one of these games sooner. It’s because it took so long for them to come to Steam, honestly, but now that Combat Mission has sunk its fangs into me, I’m going to be making it a regular part of my gaming from here on out. It’s that good. The fact that Black Sea can create such a different feeling than Shock Force 2 is just a testament to how solid the core systems are, and I really can’t wait to check out how it handles combat in the 1980s when Cold War releases.

Combat Mission: Black Sea is an excellent tactical wargame with solid core systems, believable simulations of modern warfare, and enough content to keep players going for dozens of hours. It deserves space on your virtual shelf, even if modern wargaming isn’t your thing. It wasn’t mine until I got stuck in myself.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Joe

Combat Mission Then and Now: Checking Out 2000’s Beyond Overlord

Recently, Jack and I both have been playing the latest Combat Mission games in order to review them for the blog. Check out Jack’s review of Shock Force 2, if you haven’t, and keep an eye out for my take on Black Sea Friday! But all this playing of excellent tactical simulation games got me thinking. It may have been 20 odd years, but I have memories of playing a Combat Mission game way back in the day. Digging around I stumbled across Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord, the first of Battlefront’s Combat Mission games and a fond memory of bygone times. It turns out that GOG.com has the first three Combat Mission games for very reasonable prices, so I jumped back in to see how far the series has come.

They look like painted miniature soldiers, but they die like men.

It’s a bit clunky going back, I’ll admit. The UI has certainly seen some growth between classic Combat Mission and the more modern titles. Rather than a nice compact list of possible actions along the bottom UI, things are done with a right-click menu. Still functional, but there’s definitely an upgrade going forward. The basic mechanics of maneuvering and positioning teams is still familiar and after a few minutes of getting used to it I was back to splitting teams, order scouts forward, covering with bases of fire, and all the fun stuff you get up to in a CM game.

I decided to try my hand at the Canadian Armageddon campaign out of a sense of patriotic duty. Getting stuck in with a brigade of the South Saskatchewan Regiment it was time to clear houses and secure a small French town without armour support, of course. Why would I need that?

Just like the modern games, creating a base of fire and scouting are essential tactics.

I’m happy to report that it was just as much fun as the later CM games are. It’s decidedly messier, with map positioning and overall management less intuitive, but it’s still just as entertaining to see orders carried out, see units trying to adapt to changing situations, and cringing when a poor order leads to more casualties than you were willing to accept.

Graphically, it’s obviously much simpler, but the oversized infantry models, the fact that each figure represents a few men, and the distinctly differentiated terrain makes classic CM feel more like a tabletop wargame than the modern games. There is a bit more rigidity to every action and order, but it just reinforces the boardgame feeling.

Another Urban Environment, another delicate maneuver. From France to Ukraine

I was honestly expecting to be underwhelmed. Rose tinted glasses can only go so far and 21 years is a long time in terms of videogame development. The recent Combat Missions have really hit me with just how good they are, so I figured there must be a lot separating them from the classic models. An there is, truth be told, but the classics are still absolutely playable and do a great job of conveying the overall feel of CM, albeit with a simpler tabletop aesthetic, than I was expecting.

It helps that Beyond Overlord, Afrika Korps, and Barbarossa to Berlin are all on GOG for under $10 CAD each. They get cheaper during sales too. As an exercise in feeling old, or if the modern Combat Missions are out of your price range and you’ve already played the free demos, I’d recommend picking up one of the classics to dip your toes. There’s a lot of content and I’m absolutely floored by how well they stand the test of time.

-Joe

Combat Mission Shock Force 2 Review

The Combat Mission series is in an interesting position in terms of gameplay. The turn-based WEGO/ real-time style of the game is approachable to outsiders, yet the game has many grognard-like tendencies that make it hover between the fields of “accessibility” and “nerddom.” This is by no means a bad thing, as what Combat Mission games do, provide small to mid-sized unit tactical battles in (mostly) hypothetical scenarios, they have no peer. Shock Force 2 is no exception, providing another exceptional module of modern combat that any wargamer should check out.

First off, big ups to the fine folks at Battlefront games for narrowly avoiding prophesying another conflict with this game. As some of you readers may know, Battlefront developed Combat Mission: Black Sea, a game about Russian aggression toward Ukraine, in the years leading up to the skirmishes and fights over Crimea with Russia. Oopsie daisie! In the case of Shock Force 2, where players take part in either invading Syria as part of a US-led NATO task force, or defending it as the Syrian army, they managed to dodge the bullet by correctly pinning down the country that would see combat, but not the belligerents. Close one, guys!

Anyway, there’s the setting, but for any newcomers to Combat Mission, you might be scratching your head at the “turn-based WEGO/ real-time” reference I made earlier. To explain that, Combat Mission games are playable in two ways: in real-time like most RTS games, giving orders to units as time passes in real life, or in the WEGO style, which means both players will give orders to their troops, press the “End Turn” button, and both sides execute their plans over the course of one real life minute. Many Combat Mission players (including myself) recommend the WEGO style as it gives you time to think and give orders to the sometimes very large number of troops you can have, not to mention that waiting a minute in between giving new orders is an excellent simulation of command delay.

The typical scenario for SF2 will take place over a period of 30 minutes to an hour and 30, meaning you have about 30 to 90 turns per scenario. During that time, you can set up complex waypoints and maneuvers for your units to complete, ranging from simple move orders to in-depth and specific firing arcs, movement styles, deployment of weapons.. It’s a lot to take in, and your turns can take a long time, especially with all of the information you have to parse out. However, given that the maps can be quite large and your units move at real-life speeds, there will also be several turns where you have your units continue their previous routes, so while initial micromanagement can be painful, it’s not terrible from turn to turn.

These aforementioned scenarios are plentiful and have many different goals for each side. Typically, the attacking side will be BLUFOR (the US) against defending REDFOR (Syria) troops, who, to make up for their technological disadvantage, will typically be entrenched. This is not always the case, but these form the bulk of the scenarios, and it’s engaging to fight house-to-house in towns, rooting out enemy units that are hiding the next building over. I’ve found that fighting as the frequently outnumbered and under-equipped Syrian forces offers some of the most thrilling scenarios SF2 can offer, because it’s up to you as a player to position and order your troops wisely to make up for the fact that you will not win a one on one fight.

All this being said, there’s a few gripes I have with Shock Force, similar to my gripes with Black Sea, the previous instalment. There are some… dated parts of the Combat Mission module, including things like the lack of a volume slider, the very limited amount of available resolution sizes (though the good news is the game will probably run on an Austro-Hungarian toaster), and most damningly, the way the tutorial campaign works. You have to open the PDF and use the written tutorial as a guide for the in-game tutorial, which is just incredibly silly these days. Even then, there are so many parts of the game that the tutorial doesn’t cover, such as explaining morale steps or some of the various movement types, that you probably won’t be done learning until you’ve completed several scenarios. And that’s fine, but the addition of some tool-tips to explain exactly what a “panicked” squad will do would be an extremely welcome addition to the game. There’s so many details that most players won’t understand the importance of due to the UI, and I feel this could be helped with just a slight tune-up.

There are a few other places where I wish Combat Mission went just a bit further. There are a handful of excellent, multi-scenario campaigns available out of the box, but i can’t help thinking that allowing for a dynamic campaign creator (akin to what we see in the excellent Field of Glory 2) would beef up the replayability of the game. Also, speaking of replayability, the ability to watch replays of matches would be tremendous. A lot of the community posts AARs of their matches and there’s been interest from my non-wargaming friends to see what the hullabaloo about these games is about, would be great to show them a heroic stand my fighters made in town, or a daring assault from the attacking force’s perspective.

I have to be clear though: Combat Mission Shock Force 2 is a fantastic game. I have small, niggling concerns and complaints but really, the game stands out in its field as one of the best representations of modern combat available. The learning curve can be tricky, especially for a new wargamer, but I heartily recommend Shock Force 2 to any wargamer, newbie and grognard alike.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Regimen: The Lions of Bukit Chandu Review (Updated with Solitaire and Shelf Worthiness at the bottom of the review)

This one came out of left field for me, but I’m glad I stumbled upon it. Regimen: The lions of Bukit Chandu is a cooperative board game for 2 to 4 players that recreates the desperate defense of the Malay Regiment C Company around Bukit Chandu, part of the Battle of Pasir Panjang and the Fall of Singapore in 1942.

Each player takes on the role of an especially heroic Malay soldier as they receive wave after wave of Japanese attackers hell bent on taking the hill. Players must cooperate to move their soldiers around the board, attack Japanese forces, and prevent as many enemies as they can from penetrating the inner defenses and inflicting casualties on their unit.

Trying to stem the tide, a heroic Malay soldier faces off against overwhelming odds.

How does Regimen: The Lions of Bukit Chandu play?

On each turn, cards are drawn from a deck that dictate which forces appear and from which direction, followed by another card indicating which enemy sector moves. The Japanese will eventually make their way to the center of the board, killing a number of Malay defenders equal to their combat rating before cycling around again. If enough defenders are lost, there are too many Japanese units on the board, or all player characters are out of commission, the game ends.

Regimen is entertaining and forces a good deal of cooperation between players. If players are wounded by the Japanese, they’re down for the count until another player can get to them and spend a medical token to bring them back up. Things can quickly go south if a lucky attack knocks a player out early, but coming back from the brink is all the more exciting.

The track that details friendly and enemy positions. If the top row of friendlies is eliminated, the game is lost. As enemies enter the board, they reveal spaces that damage terrain and prevent movement.

Players are doomed from the start. The Japanese will eventually overrun Bukit Chandu, but victory comes from a single player earning 5 total respect tokens. These tokens are acquired as players defeat enough Japanese soldiers, tanks, and even airplanes. For each new respect token, a player gains a new action, but an extra enemy card will be drawn each turn as well. Winning is staving off defeat long enough to go down in history as a heroic last stand. Pretty grim stuff.

Combat is handled by rolling dice and trying to score a number of hits that can be directed against different units in the same space. the lowest die value is taken, but something like a 3 is required to shoot down enemy air units. A 3, however, is also able to deal 3 points of damage to infantry units at the rate of 1 per unit. So trying to spread out attacks or concentrate on a key enemy unit is an important consideration. Ammo counters can be spent to alter rolls, and having other heroes in the same space does the same. Enemies that survive fight back (unless there is an airplane, in which case the enemy fires first!) and have the potential to knock down a hero, requiring another to come running to help them to their feet. It’s a difficult prospect to pull a win in Regimen, and I think that’s a good thing.

Regimen is a filler game, lasting only about 20-30 minutes per play, and light on traditional wargaming but heavy on the strategy. There are a lot of ways to lose and using each player character’s special ability, (The scout’s ability to move diagonally, the gunner’s ability to reroll two dice, etc.) is fundamental to surviving long enough to claim a victory.

Sandbags stop the Japanese advance for a turn, but are destroyed as a result. The tide will keep flowing.

The Battle of Pasir Panjang

This battle, part of the doomed defense of Singapore in early 1942, has gone down in Singaporean history as a heroic last stand, and the soldiers of the Malay regiment who died on the hill, especially Lt. Adnan Saidi, have become national heroes.

A memorial on the hill today.

Bukit Chandu, Opium Hill in Malay, was a crucial stepping stone in Japan’s invasion of Western Singapore. The hill overlooks a good deal of the island and opened the way to the Alexandria depot and hospital. C Company managed to hold off several attacks before finally falling on February 15, being almost killed to a man. Lt. Adnan, who had been a major part of leading this last stand, was captured and reportedly tortured to death.

Now, there is a historical center located on Bukit Chandu with a memorial to the soldiers who died there. The legend of Lt. Adnan and the defense of the hill has seen memorialization in film, literature, and now this board game. This battle is a key part of Singapore’s national history, and the fates of the remaining defenders is still in the news. Tragically, Private Ujang Mormin, the last survivor of Battle of Pasir Panjang, recently died as a result of complications due to Covid-19.

As a product of Singapore, and made in conjunction with the Singapore National Library, and with clever core mechanics, there’s a lot to recommend checking out Regimen, at the very least, to get your fellow players interested in learning more about this fascinating and nation-building battle.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A fine strategy game covering a relatively unknown battle in the west. Makes a good filler game between heavier fare or a good introduction to cooperative boardgames. Light on traditional wargame elements, but a lot of fun to play.

-Joe

References
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflections_at_Bukit_Chandu
https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/private-ujang-mormin-the-last-survivor-of-battle-of-pasir-panjang-passes-away-due-to

UPDATE: Solitaire Suitability

Regimen is built from the ground up as an open cooperative game, but can be played solitaire with a single hero if that is something the player would like. Since the amount of enemies and their movements are tied to a player character’s fame level, it does scale. In practice though, I’d recommend playing solitaire with 2 or 4 heroes. Having more special abilities makes the game easier to actually win, and there is very little micromanagement so controlling more than one character doesn’t overwhelm. I think this fits in with the “States of Siege” type games as a light solitaire game one could bang out in half an hour and end with a fun, heroic, and depressing last stand.

UPDATE: Earning a Place on the Shelf?

This one is pretty much a no brainer. I love the idea of supporting small independent designers trying to get information out about a key, but underrepresented battle in world history. As a lighter cooperative game, it is perfectly playable and enjoyable for non-wargamers, but is also solid enough that it makes its way into my regular solitaire rotation, when I don’t have time for something big but don’t want to look at a screen for a minute longer. Definitely a keeper.

Boardgamegeek Link (I don’t have a link to an official page at the moment.) Let’s Talk About Wargames doesn’t earn anything from anyone buying this game. Though I do recommend it. Also, I purchased this copy myself.

Rogue State Revolution Preview

“Com 2 Basenji” my government’s travel agents say online. “Basenji very nice, we haev big cities and monuments and no secret bases.” I still don’t have many tourists.

Rogue State Revolution is a pretty unique game that sees you stepping into the shoes of a dubiously elected President of a not real Middle Eastern Republic that may or may not actually be a republic, depending on how you act. As President of Basenji (or “Presenji” as I am going to call it), you can hire ministers, direct the economy, order around troops, engage in diplomacy… there’s a lot going on here in what you could think is a small package. It’s still early on, but I’m really liking what I’m seeing so far.

First off: RSR is not a wargame. There’s a bit of pushing troops around on the map, but it is not a very deep system and is, so far, the blandest part of the game. I don’t think this will be the case always, as this is a an early preview and there are parts of the game that are blocked off due to still being in development. Right now, we have a pretty simple rock-paper-scissors system between tanks, helicopters, and AA units, along with infantry thrown into the mix. Combat is pretty straightforward “attack and you both lose health”, but there isn’t much thinking that goes into tactics other than overwhelming enemy forces with numbers. This can be difficult to do, as your frequent opponent will be rebels who resent your leadership, they pop up anywhere in Basenji, covered by fog of war in the desert. It can be fun hunting them down and destroying them, but the hunt is more satisfying than the kill in this case. However, bringing us to Basenji in general…

Basenji is a procedurally generated state, each time you play, a different mix on the country will appear. I’ve booted up a few Basenjis myself, and as Presenji I’ve found different sets of challenges in each Basenji, but there are a few common themes. Basenji comprises five districts, each with a varying amount of cities, villages, and people, who can have an array of values. Making these people not hate you enough to throw you out is the first goal of the game, and that can be hard to do, as every policy you enact will piss someone off. On top of that, there is a region with an ethnic minority group that you will need to attend to, lest they decide to ignite a wide-scale rebellion.

To stave off the likely defenestration of the Presenji, there are several steps you must take. The first step will always be to grow your terrible economy, to ensure you have the funds to pay for things that will help you survive. Next, start supply chains of your industry so you can produce and export goods to continue to grow your economy. Finally, use these funds and put them back into the economy or… hire more soldiers to put down any revolt. It’s basically up to the player, what kind of Presenji they want to be.

The way actions are given to the player on a given turn (in one-month increments) is through ministers. Ministers are the most important cog in the machine of Basenji, as each minister will let you take an action a month. These actions are the core of the game, covering things like building roads, building other economic buildings, adjusting the budget, taking diplomatic actions… a lot is covered by these actions. The difficult thing about your ministers is that they are all modeled as people, and have their own positive traits and shortcomings that you have to keep an eye on. And of course, they may ask you for favors or grant you missions, which the Presenji would be wise to complete, as ministers with high loyalty are more likely to stick around and give you bonuses… while low loyalty ministers may actively sabotage you. Nasty stuff.

The individual ministries of the ministers are also an important place to keep an eye on, as these are what build out the policies and characteristics of Basenji. You will task a minister to research certain policies, which sometimes unlock passive traits that toggle on, such as minimum wage giving people higher happiness but draining money from your treasury each month. Other times, these policies will unlock buildings, which is what is currently letting me build a secret base to house my [REDACTED BASENJI PROJECT, PRESENJI EYES ONLY].

So far, the game has some rough edges, and to be frank, I was somewhat apprehensive when I saw the subject material that it may be tone-deaf. However, I’m pleased to say that the writing for the game has been very good so far, and pretty tongue-in-cheek. Supplemented by some FMV scenes, you get a good sense of the witty character of the game, as well as tutorial missions showing off how to operate as Presenji. All-in-all, I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised by RSR, and there are some rough edges, particularly with the military aspects, but I have faith that RSR can grow into a regional superpower in this niche.