Blitzkrieg 1940: Hannut et Stonne Review

This was my first wargame magazine purchase a few years ago. my FLGS had a slightly dinged up box in the clearance section for a very good price, and as I was just getting into board wargames, I thought I’d take the plunge. It took quite a while to actually get the game on the table, and a little longer to figure out how to even play it correctly, but it served as a functional entry point to chit pull systems and some of the basics of wargaming like command, counter reduction, and CRTs.

Now that I’m on a reviewing quest its time to go back, give the magazine another glance, and give Blitzkrieg 1940 a couple plays to see if it will make the cut and earn a permanent space on the shelf.

What Kind of Game is Blitzkrieg 1940?

I spoiled it a little above, but Blitzkrieg 1940 is a two player chit pull wargame covering the Battle of Hannut and the Battle of Stonne in Belgium and France in 1940. The emphasis is on tank versus tank combat and gives the French some much deserved attention.

This is a very straight forward small counter wargame, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sometimes you just want a good old fashioned simulation, and this is the kind of game Blitzkrieg 1940 tries to be. Units have attack values, armour/defense values, movement values, and range values printed on their counters, and instead of NATO symbols there are pictorial representations of the leading element of a unit. I prefer this to NATO in almost everything but massive table hogs where recognizing units at a glance is easier with the symbols, but I understand where the preference for universal symbols comes from.

On a given turn players pull chits associated with different formations from a cup, but there are some fun little things that change up the formula. A replay token allows a formation to act a second time at the cost of exhaustion, and a general token allowed for the use of multiple units if some activation tokens were held in reserve. Artillery and air support, where applicable, was also in the cup ready to be drawn at the most opportune moment.

Combat, both firing and close assault were simple to work out, with combat in general being less deadly and more about suppressing and forcing retreats. The stars of each force are the tank units of course, and there are little shifts to the combat resolution when tanks have to deal with moving along through rough ground. There are a lot of little touches like this in Blitzkrieg 1940 that I like. I appreciate that using road movement for vehicles required sacrificing combat power by forcing tank units into a column.

So, Is It fun?

In general, yes. My wife and I enjoyed playing Blitzkrieg 1940. The mechanics are straight forward, the chit pull system simulates some battlefield chaos but allows for potential to control that chaos, and each battle offers a different type of game.

There’s really not much to say about it. I wish units were slightly more effective at destroying one another, in Stonne especially control of the town went back and forth repeatedly (which I admit is historically accurate and probably fine for 90% of players), and I wish the rules were laid out a little nicer. That’s it. I don’t have anything really earth shattering to reveal about Blitzkrieg 1940. I think it falls into the ‘more fun’ side of magazine games that I’ve managed to take a look at, but it really didn’t do anything so spectacularly that I feel the need to brag about it here. It’s a perfectly fine wargame. I bet someone who is especially interested in the period will get a bigger kick out of it, but for the rest, it’s perfectly playable.

I think the biggest issue is one that troubles a lot of smaller simulation games. Once you’ve played through each scenario once or twice, you’ve seen pretty much everything that Blitzkrieg has to offer. It does what it says on the tin but I don’t think that is enough for my wife and I to keep it in our regular rotation of wargames. It’s fun sure, but so are a lot of other games and I really don’t see anything spectacular here.

What About Solitaire?

Chit pull automatically makes a game more solitaire friendly, and since there is no hidden information I believe Blitzkrieg 1940 would work reasonably well as a solitaire game. The only issue comes from the ability to hold forces in reserve once they’re drawn from the cup. Setting up for killer combos will still be mitigated by the randomness of the cup draw, but the ability to manipulate how you use what comes out of the cup, while awesome for head to head, is kind of diminished in solitaire. Since everything else is perfectly serviceable, I feel the best case solitaire experience would be setting up one of the games, sitting down with a nice drink and the magazine, reading through the accompanying article, and then playing a game as a historical exercise. Absolutely a good time, but it feels like something that can only happen twice, once per scenario.

Will Blitzkrieg 1940 Stay on the Shelf?

No, unfortunately. The game is fun, but the lack of enduring replayability means that, in the verdant field that is my overstuffed shelf, this one really doesn’t have a place. It’s unfortunate, because I don’t think this is a bad game at all. It’s just a game that probably wont see much more table time, and for that reason I think it’s time to pass it on to someone else who might enjoy the scenarios at least a couple of times.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Perfectly serviceable chit draw wargame covering some less popular engagements. Great for a game or two, but by then everything to be discovered will be discovered.

Joe Fonseca

LTAW did not receive a review copy of this game. This was purchased. I cannot find a solid link to where to purchase it. My best guess would be through boardgamegeek’s Geek Market. Again, no affiliation. Or honestly just drop us a line and we can work something out if you really want a copy.

In Memoriam: John Tiller

I don’t have much to say, other than we at LTAW are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of John Tiller, a man who’s name is synonymous with classic wargaming and one of the titans of our community.

John Tiller Software and Wargame Design Studio’s Battles of North Africa was one of the first games that I reviewed for Wargamer.com back in 2017, and it amazed me. After playing that I went back and snagged a few older games, and had just as much fun with them, prompting me to ask to review as many future releases as Wargamer could give me! The system has an endurance and an elegance which makes the massive scenarios enjoyable and digestible. Playing through these games was one part of my transition into enjoying more complex wargames.

I know there is so much more to an individual than the games they create, but the work John Tiller did will forever be foundational to digital wargaming. My condolences to his family.

From the obituary, the family would appreciate any contributions to John’s favorite charities: Atlanta Food Bank, the Salvation Army or other charity of your choice.

Stellaris: Nemesis Review

3.0 already? Stellaris has only been out for a few years, but we’ve just hit another large milestone, as the official third full version of the game released with a new DLC, as is Paradox’s wont. Nemesis brings some new and, in my opinion, greatly needed, changes to the late game, but there aren’t unfortunately many changes to the early game.

The free 3.0 update that came alongside Nemesis added, among other features, a new espionage system, somewhat similar to the system in Hearts of Iron 4. Essentially, an empire will know vague details about other empires in terms of scientific advancement, military strength, etc., based on the “Intel” level the empire has on them. Various things can give you more intel on other empires, but the main way to do so is to assign an envoy to an empire. That’s all in the free update.

Spooky business.

What Nemesis adds is the ability to use the envoy as a spy in the target empire. Based on the amount of time they’re placed in the other empire, the spy can embark on several missions against the other empire, varying from relatively harmless intelligence gathering to active sabotage of buildings and infrastructure. These missions all have difficulty levels, which is based on the encryption level of each empire involved, and you can use “assets” gained through missions or over time to help increase a mission’s success chance… there’s a fair amount of depth to this minigame.

Unfortunately though, as interesting as it is, it’s somewhat lackluster and a hassle to engage in. Most empires only have a few envoys, and the utility of using an envoy for espionage rather than to increase diplomatic weight or to bolster a Federation seems, to me, to be lesser. I want to note that I tend to play in larger, more crowded games, with many empires, so the effect of a single spy on one of 15-20 other empires isn’t as impactful as it might be for a player in smaller galaxies. It’s a shame because I like the system, but the reward for putting time and resources into it doesn’t measure up to what you’re missing out on. 

Space Geckos are always the equivalent to Civ’s Gandhi. Hate these dudes.

The other main features of Nemesis, however, are quite good. The “Become the crisis” or the Galactic Custodian role both deal with the end-game of Stellaris, and heavily change what that can look like through playthroughs. First: the “Become the Crisis” option. This option allows empires to take the place of the normal end-game crisis themselves. By taking one of the ascendancy perks through the Unity tree (which needs some TLC but that’s a discussion for another time), you can start down your own path to megalomaniacal interstellar supervillainy. Fun! The long and short of it is that you get “Menace” points for doing various dickish, bastardly, and otherwise evil acts, and with these points, you unlock various benefits over time, somewhat like the Federation tree, but for evil guys. Which you will be, if you follow this tree.

Being the crisis culminates in the player getting ships that can destroy stars, which they use to fuel a certain kind of doomsday weapon. If they charge it up, they win. This drives an interesting form of end-game conflict, where players would normally fight intergalactic hordes of eyeballs, evil robots, or ascendant empires, other empires (or you!) will now be the end-game Big Bad. It’s reminiscent of the very good “realm divide” feature from Total War: Shogun 2, where everyone hates you when you get strong enough. And you will indeed be strong if you follow this path successfully, as the empires that build up Menace get various bonuses that let them perform space genocide/ imperialism more efficiently. It’s a fitting climax to a game, and makes me wish other Paradox games had this kind of climax to campaigns. As a brief aside: I haven’t been able to play many full games of Stellaris since the release of the DLC, so I can’t comment on how likely the non-player empires are to take this path, but I had heard they might not be super likely to at this time, so keep that in mind.

Image shamelessly stolen from Stellaris Dev Diary 199 because I hate playing the bad guy.

The other big option is that of Galactic Custodian, sort of the “good guy” counterpart to becoming the crisis. Essentially, much like how the Galactic Community can elect Council Members, so too can the Galactic Community can nominate a Council Member to be Galactic Custodian. What this does is turn that empire into a super Council Member, or, as my nerdy historian brain likes to think of it, into a Cincinnatus. A temporary dictator, meant to directly counter crises (and indeed, AI are more likely to vote for someone to fill this spot during a crisis), and is given extra privileges to be able to do so. At first, this is limited to the ability to manipulate the voting period of the Galactic Community and the ability to build a Galactic Defense Force, which is like a Federation fleet but draws from the entire Community, rather than a single Federation. However, the Custodian can pass measures to increase their power and term limit, eventually making their seat indefinite. 

But why stop there? The Custodian can then proclaim a Galactic Imperium, with themselves as the head. This measure, if passed, grants many privileges to the now Emperor, who will become in many ways, the top dog of the Galaxy. All empires in the Galactic Community are still nominally independent, but the Emperor can propose strict laws on what relations member empires can have with each other. Of course, unhappy member empires can, with the new espionage tool, attempt to undermine imperial authority and spark a civil war over the Imperium, with the Galactic Community returning to the spotlight should the rebels succeed.
This kind of flavor is huge in spicing up the mid-late game of Stellaris matches, giving players more to either strive for, or be wary of. It promotes large, climactic, end-game conflicts that can tell a great story, and that is the driving factor of what makes grand strategy games so interesting: the stories told by the rise and fall of empires. With Nemesis, there are far more options than before for empires to both rise and fall. If you like freedom in your Stellaris games, get Nemesis.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Bloody Mohawk: The French and Indian War Review

Bloody Mohawk had the potential to fill an open space on my wargaming shelf permanently. As a small footprint, low counter density, rules light game covering the French and Indian War, it fulfills the beer and pretzels requirement to be the kind of game my wife and I keep around to fit in the filler game section of our collection. We formed quite the sophisticated (read: overly complicated) system of filler games versus main event games as part of this whole downsizing quest, and there are spaces that need filling as we like to change up the Fillers almost every time. Despite that, it seems as if Bloody Mohawk is doomed to be sold on. It was tough to arrive at this conclusion, but we did, and I’ll explain below.

How Does Bloody Mohawk Play?

Bloody Mohawk is an introductory wargame from Bill Molyneaux and published by Lock ‘n Load Publishing. Players control either the British or the French and their Native American allies as they complete a whopping twelve scenarios covering important and even legendary engagements from the French and Indian War.

Bloody Mohawk is an IGO/UGO system with phases. The first player will move, the second will fire defensively, the first will fire offensively, then switch. I appreciate the defensive fire/offensive fire system as it makes for more tactical decisions on both sides when maneuvering forces. It matters what targets you’re giving to your enemy before being able to shoot, and I like that.

Counters are diverse, from British grenadiers to French Courier de Bois, and some have special rules that add to the tactical depth of the game. A lot of French units, for example, have a green ‘F’ printed on their counter giving them free movement through woods. Native American allies are also given special rules to reflect their combat prowess. On the offensive, when the enemy is not behind defensive works, they are allowed to throw two dice and choose the best result. To offset this and represent less traditional drill, their reduced side has significantly less power.

Combat is simply a matter of throwing a 10 sided die for the unit attacking, adding and subtracting modifiers like terrain, leaders, scenario modifiers like rain, and in the case of cannons, range. Fall within the unit’s combat power range and a hit is scored. If a leader is present with the suffering unit, they have a 50% chance of going down with the hit, making the correct application of leaders something else interesting to think about. There are also rules for retreating after taking damage, and following up. All pretty basic wargaming stuff, but that makes sense considering this is meant to be a basic wargame, and it was a basic wargaming I was looking for when I picked it up way back.

So What’s my Problem?

The last time my wife and I sat down to play Bloody Mohawk, we went through scenarios one to six. (It is a fast playing game) Unfortunately, we found that only in two of the six scenarios did we really feel there was much of any game to be played.

The first scenario, for an example, is basically won in one turn with the roll of a single die. If the French unit survives the first turn attack, it has a chance of escaping. If not, it dies. Now I understand that this is a tutorial scenario to get complete non-wargamers used to the rules, but it carries on from there. The scenario involving the rescue of a child is also decided by one die roll. If her family is eliminated, the French can easily walk her off the map before the reinforcements have any opportunity to do anything. Similarly the inability of the French to fire on the first turn of the Sideling Hill scenario means that they will receive overwhelming fire before the French player can actually do anything.

I have no problem with lopsided scenarios. They’re a staple of interesting wargaming. I do have a problem with scenarios that don’t allow for one side or another to act. After doing some investigating it seems like the designer, Bill Molyneaux encourages players to alter scenarios however they like, and perhaps Bloody Mohawk’s many short scenarios would be better if I took the time to do that, but I just really don’t have the patience to rebalance a scenario to make it playable. I do understand that this is an intro level game meant in part for parents and children to play after discovering it on a trip to a local heritage site, but I question the validity of the scenarios that will leave on side doing very little thinking, or even dice rolling. Where a bit more decision making could have both sides playing the game, here a parent will basically have to sit back and let their child play the favoured side, or else risk a ‘Why bother? I don’t even get to act before you win.’

It’s a shame, because the larger scenarios can be fun. When there are enough units on both sides and the maps are large enough to allow for maneuver, there’s a fun beer and pretzels wargame here. But it’s less than half of the scenarios given in the book. If I just wanted to play Bloody Mohawk’s Plains of Abraham scenario (a fun one) I feel I’d be better served finding a game that does only that, but better.

Production Woes

Some of my major complaints however, come from the questionable production quality. On the surface, Bloody Mohawk looks great. The counters are clear and nicely illustrated. The maps have beautiful art, and the components in the published version are thick card and good quality chits. But that’s where it ends.

There are typos everywhere. Simple grammatical errors litter the rules and scenarios. There are errors in some scenario descriptions including a scenario objective to burn a camp with no hexes indicated and no visual on the map representing a camp. (We guessed it was the three clear hexes, but who knows?) Finally, for some reason, a unit’s combat value is listed as 1/x. 1/7 for French Line, for example. I could not figure out what the 1 was for. There was nothing about it in the rulebook. It turns out, after looking on BGG, that it represents the range on the die that indicates a hit. Apparently there was an issue for new gamers seeing a single digit and not understanding that one must roll beneath that number for a hit. Fair enough, that’s a perfectly valid reason to change the counters. But I cannot understand why it is not then written 1-7 instead of 1/7. Perhaps that is nitpicky, but I had to go look it up and that felt unnatural. It’s just a little sad again given this is a game meant to draw people into our hobby, that anyone paying for this will see some shoddy copy editing and strange design choices.

Solitaire Suitability?

Bloody Mohawk is a clean IGO/UGO system with no hidden information and dice based combat. It’s the perfect example of a nice light solitaire ruleset that anyone can lay out and crank out scenarios in a short time, if they have the mind to play both sides without any AI support. But, all of my balance and scenario issues stand, though I can understand that lopsided games, even if they are lopsided to the point of one side barely doing anything, are more fun solo. Playing solitaire can also give an opportunity to test out altering scenarios and devising house rules unhindered. Perhaps this really will shine as a solitaire experience if one goes in knowing there’s work to be done. It’s not my type, but I can see it.

Final Thoughts/Will it Stay on my Shelf?

Since I’m no longer comfortable buying Lock ‘n Load Publishing games, Bloody Mohawk might have ended up my only remaining game from them, but I think it’s tragic that a lot of the problems I have with the game comes from its unfortunately shoddy production, less so its content. Some real copy editing, some proper playtesting, and a few passes by quality control could have done a lot to make this game more enjoyable in the long term. I don’t want to fight a game or house rule things to make them work, but I can understand that some people greatly enjoy that aspect of the hobby and for them there is a nice canvas in Bloody Mohawk.

There is probably a fun game in there for a carefully curated attempt to get non-wargamers into the hobby, and I love the fact that this was developed for that audience and to be distributed at heritage sites to help get a younger generation into the idea of experiencing history though games. I’m just disappointed that it doesn’t feel like enough work went into making the product the best it could be. This is the first game I’ve reviewed for this little quest that I won’t be keeping, and I’m kind of sad I’m saying that. I’m sure it’s a great game for some people out there, but its definitely not for us in the long run.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Simple, clean wargaming hindered by shoddy production, poorly playtested scenarios, and heaps of typos. There is some fun in there, but with less than half of the scenarios providing a good gaming experience, the price, and the time required to house rule it, should be taken into consideration.

Joe Fonseca

I purchased Bloody Mohawk on my own with a discount. No review copy was provided. Here is a link to the game’s store page. LTAW makes nothing if you buy it. Bloody Mohawk from LnL

Panzer Corps 2: Axis operations 1941 Review

Panzer Corps 2, I wish I knew how to quit you. The base game of Panzer Corps 2 delivered one of the best turn-based strategy experiences in a WW2 setting in the last several years, up there with Unity of Command 2 in terms of quality. The campaign followed a German army along several historical and non-historical paths in the well-known romps across Europe. The several DLCs that have released since then have focused on the lesser-known areas of the war, and 1941 is no exception.

For starters, when most people hear 1941, they think of Stalingrad, Barbarossa, and that’s pretty much it. But the Germans were very active in the Balkans in early 1941, before the push up into the USSR proper, and the campaign reflects this. You start off on what I like to call “the beach episode” of the German campaign, as you must lead a small force to link up with Prince Paul of Yugoslavia as the rest of your army relaxes by a lake (seriously).

The following scenarios are more serious, but I admit that the levity of the start was a nice change of pace from the usual serious tone of these missions. To that point, Panzer Corps 2 has never been a game that focuses on the “dirtier” aspects of the war, and while Joe and I both have thoughts on that (listen to episode 3 of the podcast for more thoughts on that), but even so, a different story beat is nice to break up the monotony of “oh great, World War 2 again.”

The Balkans themselves are a nice detour that gives some nice diversity to the current pantheon of World War 2 wargames, which seem to keep treading the same stomping grounds of North Africa, Normandy, Stalingrad, Normandy, Market Garden, Normandy, and Normandy. The conflict in the Balkans is certainly largely overlooked, and it’s nice to see the perspective on it from Panzer Corps.

So, let’s talk strategy. Your army starts out pretty well-seasoned, if you are just jumping into the DLC series now. If you played the previous DLCs, you can actually import your army between the campaigns, which is a super cool feature that I unfortunately did not get to use, having not finished the previous campaign. Several heroes will also be assigned out, if you’re starting from scratch like I did, ensuring your army are a bunch of hardened bastards by the start of the campaign.

And you’ll need hardened bastards! Your men will very typically be outnumbered by the opposing forces, and while the enemy does not typically have equipment that can match yours, they make up for it with massively overstrength units, I’ve seen some units with 20 points of strength, which is terrifying. The AI hasn’t lost its edge either, and I foudn that it excelled at picking off isolated units of mine. The hardiness and experience of my troops helped, but not always. Be warned: do not start with this campaign if you’re new, it will mess you up and hurt your feelings. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have any inherited units to feel bad about losing, but it can still be a rough slog.

The Balkans are a very hilly area, and the scenario maps you’ll see will be indeed very hilly, which spell trouble for the typically armor-heavy German armies. The enemy forces love to lurk in forests and on top of mountains, as well as on the few highways that snake around the maps. Punching through single units is typically not difficult, as your units win most man-to-man fights, but you can easily get bogged down. While the devs promised to make time limits more forgiving in the recent DLCs, you can find yourself being pressed for time frequently, and there is a pressure to overextend your forces regularly.

That being said, the combat still plays very well and provides a tight combat experience. The variety in maps and objectives is great, and any veteran of the series should welcome the deeper dive into the campaigns, as it gives you more of a chance to play Panzer Corps 2. If you take nothing else away from this review, understand this: this DLC is more good Panzer Corps 2 scenarios. If you like Panzer Corps 2, this DLC is for you. If you don’t like Panzer Corps 2, there’s not anything here to change your mind. All in all, what we have here is a solid addition to the growing collection of Panzer Corps 2 campaigns, and is one I’m glad to have played.

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull

Modern Land Battles: Review

I’ve been on a bit of a ‘modern war’ kick these last few weeks. Some friends used the recent giveaway of Eugen’s Wargame: Red Dragon on the Epic Store as an excuse to educate me in the game, and I’ve been having a lot of fun trying to learn it. Trying to play Wargame: Red Dragon has taught me that I am far slower than I realize at competitive real time multiplayer games. But, because the theme (warfare in the 1980s-2000s) is interesting and I want to play something a little more manageable, I decided to break out DVG’s Modern Land Battles: Target Acquired as the next game on my ‘review-the-whole-shelf’ wargaming quest.

What Kind of Game is Modern Land Battles?

It’s exactly what it claims to be, so that’s easy! Modern Land Battles is a card game in which two players (or more) build a force of different units from one of 6 included factions (Britain, US, Israel, Arab Multinational, Insurgents, USSR, and China) and fight to earn victory points by destroying the enemy and capturing terrain. It’s not a complicated game, and I don’t think it needs to be.

Let’s start with the basics: There are three areas laid out on the table, the center represents the main engagement area that both sides are fighting over, one side represents maneuvering for superior flanking positions, and the other represents capturing strategic locations. both sides begin with their forces arrayed in up to three rows at the center location. Which row a unit is in is important, as different weapon systems have different ranges.

On a given turn, players can either prepare, which allows them to refresh activated units and draw action cards, reinforce, which requires spending cards to bring new units into the fight, maneuver, which allows a unit to reposition itself on one of the flanks and attempt to either earn superiority points or capture terrain, firing artillery, which is pretty self explanatory, or playing a card.

Hand management is key to finding victory on Modern Land Battle’s battlefields, as cards are used not only to conduct attacks and defensive actions, but also manage your ability to maneuver easily, reinforce, or counter enemy actions. The only way to refresh your hand is with a prepare action (or some terrain cards) thereby giving up an entire action, so care and good timing is essential.

When playing a card to attack or defend, the type of ammunition it supports determines which units can fire. The system is simple, with attacks divided between small arms, cannons, and missiles. These each have a range as well, so the position of units within each area is also important. When attacking, players roll four 10 sided dice trying to beat the armour of the unit they’re engaging. Each unit has four hit points before it is destroyed, and any damage reduces the amount of dice thrown by 1 per damage token.

There we go, that’s the entire game. It’s very fast and the simple rules means that standard sized engagements will take at most half an hour. With only a few things to keep in mind, mostly about weapon ranges and how units are positioned, there is very little overhead to drag play down.

What Do I think of Modern Land Battles?

The introduction mentioning Wargame: Red Dragon wasn’t just for show. I honestly felt like I was playing a tabletop version of that videogame when we set up Modern Land Battles. Combat is frenetic and fun, but deeper than I anticipated. Hand management, timing prepare and reinforcement actions, and knowing when to use reaction cards all require a good bit of thinking. But the strategy might fall a little flat if that was all there was to it. Luckily, it isn’t.

The game changer with Modern Land Battles are the three fronts. Each are essential for victory, and of course it’s impossible to pay enough attention to all three, making for tense decisions as the battle ramps up. The center is the main arena, and not having any units there is an instant loss. Divert too many reinforcements to either flank and the game will be over no matter how good your flanking bonus is.

That flanking bonus though, gives a +1 to each combat die roll in the center, so ignoring it will mean serving up your units to your enemy on a silver platter. The terrain cards on the other flank offer victory points and bonuses, meaning that if you ignore it your enemy can win purely by capturing enough land, no matter how well you’re doing in the center. It’s a wonderful abstraction of modern combat that forces players to think while not burdening them with any complicated systems.

Finally, the inclusion of so many factions means there’s a lot of opportunity for replayability, whether to set up hypothetical confrontations or historical ones. I just wish there was some sort of included campaign system or something to encourage linking games together. Perhaps as an expansion?

Can it work as a Solitaire Game?

I suppose, though I feel like trying to play Modern Land Battles solitaire will sap a lot of the speed and frenetic fun out of it. There are BETA rules written by Adraeth Montecuccoli on Boardgamegeek, but I haven’t tried them. I’m sure with some tweaking even just playing both sides, perhaps with restricted hands, might do the trick, but since so much of this game revolves around outsmarting your opponent with force composition and skillful card play, you’ll be missing out. I’m sure there are other solitaire games out there that tackle these types of conflicts, but I think looking for it here would be a mistake.

Does It Earn A Spot on the Shelf?

Yup! My wife and perpetual wargaming partner had a blast with this one, and so did I. I’m sure it will enter our regular rotation as a good filler game. I’m sure we’ll play multiple rounds in a row again, but the snappy nature of the Modern Land Battles just lends itself so well to a quick game here and there. The tragic thing is that Modern Land Battles might have displaced another game of similar depth but with increased play time and complexity, GMT’s Maneuver. (We shall have to see if the bell tolls for it during it’s own review!)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Simple, fun, lots of different units to play with, Modern Land Battles is the frantic filler wargame my wife and I have been looking for. It’s earned a permanent spot on the shelf and I’ll be keeping an eye out for any expansions. The only things holding it back is a lack of game to game continuity and historical scenarios.

-Joe “One of these days I review one I don’t want to keep” Fonseca

Stellaris: Nemesis is Releasing Soon (and so is Dick 3.0)

Soon, it will be time for my space foxes to ride again, to conquer the galaxy with new bits and bobs. That’s right, a new Stellaris DLC is coming out this Thursday (that’s April 15th), and boy is it chock-full of new things to do with your space empires.

Nemesis has several interesting features, key ones listed below:

  • Espionage: now as a formalized system, you can both learn more about other spacefaring races and feed them misinformation about your own. You can also, of course, get up to mischief with your spies to sabotage and steal from your competitors.
  • Crisis Schmisis: your empire can take the mantle of “Galactic Custodian” to protect from end-game crises, giving you emergency powers to beat back the hordes of… whatever the crisis is. Or, you can also become the crisis yourself, following a path of choices that lets you become a galactic supervillain, complete with the ability to “end all of existence.” Sounds fun!
  • New ship sets: Cosmetic ship sets, which are always nice. These in particular are influenced by famous sci-fi pieces, so keep an eye out for some familiar looking craft!

As usual, the DLC will release alongside a free update, that marks Stellaris’s ascension to 3.0 (the “Dick” update, named after noted author Philip K. Dick), which is pretty remarkable, considering HOI4 is still working on their 1.11 update. Anyway, if you’d like to get back out there in the galactic space and conquer things in the name of the empire/the hivemind/space communism/ your bottom line, looks like Nemesis could be a good fit for you. Expect a full review, though likely later this month.

-Jack Trumbull

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2: Review

Two pilots died last week performing reconnaissance missions near Leningrad. One was shot down, the other when his plane crashed of its own accord. They were both flying Ju 88D-2s. I investigate. The Ju 88D-2 has a reliability of 15, an armour of 1 with a durability of 42 and a maneuver of 20. It is armed with four 7.92mm MG15s and three High Level Cameras. I check production. Ju 88D-2s are due to be phased out by June 1941 in production yards across Germany. Looking at those yards, I can see that we’re having a little trouble meeting that goal. None of the facilities producing Ju 88 Airframes are damaged, but there is a delay of 130 units at Bernburg. Perhaps that delay is why those reconnaissance pilots died last week? Perhaps they would have been able to sortie in the superior Ju 88D-1 had production kept to schedule? Perhaps not. The real question I have to ask myself, when I pull out and see that they are two of 65,038 men to have been killed so far, alongside 40,950 disabled, is why what I discovered matters? The short and beautiful truth of Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2, is that it doesn’t, not really.

My involvement in the entire air war of last week was a single click, and the fates of two pilots in slightly outdated craft has no bearing on what I do when I click to confirm Air Group Missions for next week. What the AI does with that information is for it to handle, unless I want to handle it.

There are tons of map aids and toggleable lenses to make sure you have the info you need.

The magic of War in the East 2 is that I actually think it managed to pull of what many had hoped for. It’s playable for the non-hardcore crowd, if players are willing to put a little time into figuring out the absolute basics. It can seem daunting, to be sure, but the elements are all in place to not only make the smaller scenarios learnable and enjoyable, but also open the door to the excellent deeper level strategies hiding beneath the surface of War in the East 2.

There is just so much content packed into this one game that sometimes I can’t believe it. What I definitely can’t believe, despite trying my level best to disprove it, you actually don’t need 70% of the information that is sitting at your fingertips. The way the AI manages the air war is entirely competent, to the point that I didn’t feel like I was disadvantaging myself by leaving it alone. Depot construction can be handled by the AI, and production is entirely automated. All of it is there for interested players to dig into, but it is not necessary to enjoy the fruits of 2 x 3 Games labour.

You know that feeling when you get lost scrolling Wikipedia? When one article links to another and before you know it you’re 10 articles deep and an hour has passed. It might not have been an hour, but that happened to me repeatedly while playing War in the East 2, including my deep dive into the loss of 2 recon aircraft above. It’s fun to go digging into the complexities that War in the East 2 offers. Individual combats can be reexamined to see what ranges units opened fire at, what support elements were committed and how they impacted organization, how many squads, teams, and vehicles were destroyed or disabled. It’s like opening up a massive encyclopedia of your own version of the German-Soviet War, and I love it. But enough gushing, how exactly do you play and what are those essentials I mentioned above?

Air Groups can be micromanaged or left to the AI

How Does War in the East 2 Play?

The core of War in the East 2 resembles a classic board wargame. units are divisional in scale, with ground hexes representing 10 miles per hex and week long turns. Units maneuver based on movement points that are expended per hex entered and for combat. Smaller than division level units, like specialized companies, are abstracted into a support system. The air war sees squadrons organized into air groups that are given mission types and areas of operation. Air missions are carried out before ground units move, though air units committed to ground support and air superiority will operate during the ground phase.

There are some key components of play to remember when first getting into War in the East 2 . First, support units. Units must be in range of their HQs to be issued support units during engagements. Critically, getting support during decisive attacks (which take more movement but start with (close to) full offensive power) requires the unit to be in range of their HQ without the HQ having moved that turn. Second, placing units in reserve is incredibly powerful on the defense, as it allows the local commander to commit reserve units up to 6 hexes away. On the offensive, the range is 3 hexes, but it is still very powerful. Third, logistics are very important, let the AI handle depot management. But be sure to send rail units to repair railways behind the line. Finally, Decisive attacks require at least 6 movement points (modified by terrain) and that more than one unit can be attached to a decisive attack by highlighting it while shift is held down. There, you’ve got all you need to win the tutorial scenario. Go get ’em.

But seriously. The amount of core information that is actually required to do decently well in War in the East probably amounts to less than 500 words. The amount of information that can go into learning how to do decently in War in the East is the 500 page manual.

Smaller scenarios are much more manageable and still tons of fun.

But What Do I Really Think?

You can probably tell that I like War in the East 2. I do. I didn’t really get into the first game this way, because the complexity, coupled with the clunkiness and scale, turned me away. Now I’m happy to see that, while War in the East 2 looks about the same, the underlying engine is much crisper and cleaner. I don’t find me PC lagging much, only occasionally with mutli-unit moves, and sorting through the excel like menus was snappy.

I’ve had a good deal of fun with the smaller scenarios. I like the more focused approach that I think allows the board game like feeling of War in the East 2 shine through, though I understand the appeal of the full campaign. I’m still plugging away at it.

The amount of information is staggering.

But, to talk about the AI. I haven’t had any problems so far with the enemy’s ability to defend itself. It won’t be as competent as a human player, because nothing is, but I personally haven’t seen anything stupid happen. Playing as both the Soviets and the Germans, I’ve seen the enemy target weak spots, try to encircle and cut off supply, reposition to better defensive positions to cover airfields and key targets, and generally be a proper opponent. This is always the scary part with complicated wargames, but the fine folk at 2 x 3 Games should be commended. Perhaps I’ll see something break as the long war scenario drags on, but nothing has happened yet.

The only true downside is that I did have to go fishing for that core information to get the game up and running. Everything is there but it is not presented in the nicest way. A proper tutorial would actually make this the ultimate entry level to complex monster wargame on the market. Another thing is that I can believe that people who have spent a lot of time with War in the East 1 might see this as a marginal upgrade. I don’t agree, but for the cost, it is best to be sure of where you want to spend your money. It’s excellent, but how much you’re going to get out of it after sinking 500 hours into the first game is something you need to think deeply about.

A built in encyclopedia gives historical information for almost every unit.

A Triumph?

Yes, of course it is. War in the East 2 has dashed quite a few of my fears and presented me with something I really didn’t think they could pull off. I can sit down and play a smaller scenario and not feel like I’m doing work, but all of the information I could ever want is right there at my finger tips should I want it. It’s glorious. Sometimes I just want to hit ‘go’ on the air war and let it handle itself. Sometimes I want to manage missions. the fact that I can choose is just amazing. If the game had ever piqued your interest, I’d recommend it. Even if it seems daunting right off the bat, the essentials can be learned quickly, the rest slowly, and a good time had right out the gate. It’s excellent, and worth your time.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A masterpiece and the perfect example of a game that works well with variable complexity. Entertaining and fun to lose yourself in, War in the East 2 will be the pinnacle of monster digital wargaming for some time.

-Joe Fonseca

*LTAW received a copy of WiTE2 for the purposes of this review.

All Bridges Burning: The Game that Made Me a Solitaire Wargamer

I finally had the opportunity to play a three player game of All Bridges Burning, the latest Counter Insurgency (COIN) game from GMT. It was the final thing I had to do before before being comfortable to review the game. It was great fun, probably the most fun way to play, but afterwards thinking about the experience I had a bit of a realization about solitaire play and about how different, but equally entertaining both solitaire and multiplayer versions of the game were to me.

My review will be coming to the wonderful Meeple Mountain (Check them out!) in the near future, but since I was in a reflective mood I thought I’d take the time to think out loud about my time with All Bridges Burning, simultaneously my first exposure to the COIN system, and, perhaps not shocking given the title, the game that really made a true solitaire wargamer out of me.

Counter Insurgency games have a difficult task to perform. Trying to represent tricky, often convoluted historical situations where front lines are fuzzy, combatants are as likely to be ordinary people caught up in a terrible situation as trained soldiers, and the horrors that come with that kind of war are on the table for all to see is no small feat.

There is a lot of potential for pitfalls, as the separation from politics and humanitarian issues that some ‘traditional’ wargames can get away with is inescapable here. Not that I believe that you can truly separate war (or wargames) from the political and diplomatic situations that led to them, but the specifics of what is covered or brushed over by a wargame is very different in a COIN situation.

All Bridges Burning’s Finnish Civil War (1917-1918) is particularly tricky to represent, given the grassroots nature of a lot of Red and White actions, but also because of the dearth of easily available academic material. Yet the designer V.P.J. Arponen has done an excellent job in my estimation of not only creating an engaging game (again, more of that in the review) but also a vehicle for transmitting historical information in a way that presents a digestible and, dare I say, empathetic look at an underrepresented historical event.

While this is true of the game at two and three players, Solitaire offers the kind of stress free environment that really lets the designer speak to you. Though it took me a little bit to wrap my head around the solitaire system, the innovations with COIN’s card driven system meant that after a few turns, I was off to the races. It began to feel less like a board game and more like sitting down with an academic text. Just as I approach an academic history, asking it questions, listening to arguments, and evaluating evidence to the best of my ability, playing All Bridges Burning encouraged me to do the same. It was presenting me with its own academic argument through its play and its supplemental materials.

I know that I’m not unique here, I’m sure most if not all wargamers enjoying engaging with the designers and developers and their interpretations of history through play, but now I really consider solitaire play allows the time necessary to really engage with historical interpretation and presentation. I had as relaxing a time playing All Bridges Burning as I have when reading for my dissertation, and that is something I think should be celebrated. I already appreciated wargames for their ability to give me a tactile engagement with the history I read, but this is on another level that I’m glad to have discovered for myself. I’ve finally figured out what solitaire wargamers have known forever.

All Bridges Burning has definitely piqued my interest in reading more about the Finnish Civil War, and getting my hands on other COIN games to see what their designers have to say. That is a pretty good endorsement for checking out All Bridges Burning, I think.

-Joe Fonseca

Warhammer 40k Battlesector Preview Impressions

I’ve recently had the pleasure of taking the preview of Warhammer 40k Battlesector out for a spin and thought I’d spend a little time going through what I liked and didn’t like, to hopefully give you prospective Primaris Space Marines out there something crunchy to think about (just don’t tell your Chapter Librarian, this might count as heretical thinking.)

The Story So Far: Warhammer Ham Cooked Right

I had access to a tutorial designed to show me the ropes and two missions from the 20 mission single player campaign. Each mission took part during a different part of the story, so I can’t comment on the narrative much at this point. Suffice it to say that the snippets I did get to experience are exactly as ’40k’ as I expected them to be. Be ready for large men talking loudly at each other in angry voices about their emperor, their duty, killing things, and all the usual goodness that goes with it. Tack on some Blood Angel specific lore, like dealing with a perpetual closeness to heresy, the thirst for blood they’re always lamenting, and the dire straits of this particular Tyranid infestation and you’ve got yourself some top of the line grimdark content. Just don’t be expecting any serious science fiction. Warhammer has always been over the top and the games are best when they embrace the silliness of the universe with a straight face. Battlesector, so far, does this, and I’m happy with it. I don’t expect I’ll be remembering this story for years after I’m done, but I might be concerned if I did, truth be told.

Warhammer 40k Battlesector: How Does It Play?

This is a tactical game where players take control of a suspiciously tabletop accurate ‘army’ and try to accomplish objectives in a turn based, action point driven combat system. It’s nice to see armies broken up into their roles like the tabletop game, with Landspeeders classed as Fast Attack and so forth. Each unit has an ability bar with movement, attack, and special options that are all hot keyed. It’s immediately intuitive. Each unit has a set number of movement points and action points and can spend them in any order to position themselves, activate free actions, or attack with action points.

I love that the user interface offers statistics and damage information on top of clearly indicating what it will cost to get a unit to do what you want it to. You can move extra spaces, for instance, but doing so uses up action points and the map highlights these extra spaces in red. After a few turns it became very easy to maneuver units without having to check for any hidden numbers, something I find important in a fast paced wargame like this. There are tactical considerations, like overwatch, extra damage from rear attacks, and a lovely fog of war system that brings in sound as a hint for where enemies might be coming from.

So the core is fun, fast paced, and easy to get your head around, but I have some minor worries about what was not shown during this preview. Since the main enemy this time around are the Tyranids, a swarming race of alien bug types, your Primaris Space Marines are always going to be outnumbered, and the AI’s primary method of engagement will be to rush your positions. Thematically it works fine, but I’m hoping to see how intelligently the AI handles the sometimes complex tactical situations it faces. Enemy AI is definitely capable enough to prioritize damaging weak units, but I did catch it occasionally targeting something farther away from an important objective because it was wounded, rather than meaningfully try to stop me from accomplishing my goals.

It remains something to keep an eye on. If there are non-Tyranid enemies in the final game I’d expect them to act more intelligently, but I won’t be able to tell until we get there.

Objective and Unit variety were also pretty good for a preview. The Tyranids have some standard troopers yes, but battlefield controlling Venomthropes create poison clouds that obscure shooting and inflict damage in an area and flying Gargoyles shake things up. For the Space Marines, jump pack equipped assault troops complement the heavy and slow aggressors, and Land Speeders act as squishy recon. I was happy with what I saw and am really looking forward to customizing an army during the campaign.

Final Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw in this preview, and I’m expecting great things from Black Lab Games if they continue down this path. The only thing that caused me any concern was the tactical responses of the enemy AI, and I’m worried how much the ‘Tyranids are swarm aliens’ will be used to cover up unresponsive AI. Holding off hordes of aliens is fun, don’t get me wrong, but I want to see that there will be variety in the encounter types available in the full game. For fans through, this is shaping up to be a no brainer. Fun 40k narrative, fast paced tactical gameplay with clear UI, beautiful models on grimdark battlefields.

I had a lot of fun, and I’m not just saying that because the inquisitor behind me is reading what I type…(help!)

-Joe Fonseca

Let’s Talk About Wargames received a preview key from Slitherine Games for the purposes of this Impressions Piece

Also: Apologies to those looking forward to youtube coverage. I disastrously lost my footage twice over, including the rest of the footage used in the battle already started on our channel. A new system might be in order and has been requested from the machine cults on Mars.