Wildermyth Review

We were a bit late to this party, unfortunately. Somehow both Joe and I, both of us being big tabletop role-playing game fans, hadn’t played Wildermyth up until a short time ago. That was a mistake on our end. Wildermyth is an incredible game with some of the best character-based storytelling a tactics game has offered us since…. Ever, basically (I didn’t play Final Fantasy Tactics, don’t hate me).

So, what exactly is Wildermyth? It’s a tough question, as the structures that make it up are familiar, but in practice everything is just a bit different. There’s a map you can move members of your party around on, and they have a chance to happen into events illustrated in a sort of comic book/ fairy tale style, with your party’s characters placed there, with different dialogue depending on their personalities and relationships with other characters. That’s already a lot to take in, especially considering that there are branching dialogue options in some events.

The aforementioned map is divided into different provinces that can have buildings and resources that provide materials to your party between story chapters, and untamed wilds, where all sorts of nefarious enemies may lurk. Here, the game enters a turn-based tactics game, where you can throw present members of your party against the foe. It feels sort of like a fantasy XCOM, but that wouldn’t do the system justice, as it is its own unique beast. Your three base classes, warriors, hunters, and mystics, can acquire all sorts of crazy abilities that in any other game might make them feel overpowered. However, the balancing in Wildermyth is superb, and towards the end of a campaign, enemies can and will be absolute menaces to deal with, and your super soldier that’s been with you since the beginning can end up monster-chow.

The combat, to elaborate a bit further, is captured in a relatively familiar dual-action system, in the vein of XCOM. You can move your guy and then act, or move him twice as far, and use a “free action” during your turn. The system isn’t too complicated to initially understand, and its accessibility does the game great credit. This is a game that you can have your non-wargame-y friends play, even if you’re a glutton for punishment, things can get brutal on the higher difficulties.

In late-game battles, there’s a lot going on all at once

Each class has their own line of abilities that make them special, essentially boiling down to warriors hitting things and having melee overwatch abilities to hold the line, hunters are rogues that can sneak, lay traps, and ambush enemies, while mystics… well. Mystics are perhaps some of the most interesting magic users I’ve seen in a game like this. Rather than just blasting enemies with magic from their hands, magic in Widlermyth is centered around the environment, so your spellcasters will “interfuse” an object with their magic, and can then use their magic to make said object do a thing. If it’s a fire, they can throw the fire at enemies. If it’s a plant, they can have it grapple an enemy with vines. If it’s made of wood, they can have it explode on the enemy with a shower of splinters. The list goes on, but you can see that there’s depth behind the initially simple system.

In between these scraps, your characters will march around the procedurally generated country, rooting out monster infestations in some provinces, leading a defense against a horde of monsters in another. Every battle, every event has an opportunity to cause something new to happen, to fundamentally change your party members’ relationships with each other, or to change them physically. That’s where Widlermyth shines, in creating and telling these stories. Your starting warrior and hunter may fall in love with each other, giving them the ability to have higher crit chance if their lover is damaged in combat. They may, in between chapters of the story, have a child. Their child may become a rival of the party’s founding mystic, leading them on an ever-expanding game of one-upmanship. That child could then accept the blessings of story-telling spirits, giving them a fiery personality and the ability to shoot flames out of their hands to match. None of this is hypothetical, that’s all something that happened in one of my campaigns.

Another example, just because I love this particular character: take Garlad. He was the mystic, the spellcaster from my first campaign. His personality was somewhat sarcastic but romantic, and he had a hard time making friends with the other two members of the party. So when the wilds called to him, he accepted their call, and now he has a wolf head. Later, he happened into a storm, receiving a lightning leg for his troubles. Over time, this originally shy loner of a man was turned into a 40% bolt of electricity and 60% werewolf. His sarcasm and romance holds different meaning now considering that he is this outcast that can’t hold things very well, considering that one of his arms is living electricity and the other is a wolf claw. But he can shoot lightning out of his arm and claw people, so you win some, you lose some.

Our beautiful boy

These characters that you bond with over the course of the campaign can, upon completion of the campaign, appear in your other games, in a manner of Greek mythological figures or Arthurian knights finding themselves in many adventures, not just the first. I clapped with delight seeing Garlad appear in a later game, lightning and wolf parts all accounted for. I must admit I have a soft spot for games that highlight characters like this, that let you grow your own connection with them, and Wildermyth makes every character unique in their own way, either to start out with or through changes they undergo over time.

There’s a lot of thought that went into Wildermyth, and you can feel the love and effort that went into making each part of the game. It’s rare that I come across a game that doesn’t fall short in anything it set out to do, and Wildermyth does achieve everything it set out to do. Plus, it has great mod support, so the system looks to be quite flexible and has a burgeoning community around it.

I don’t have anything bad to say about Wildermyth. Wildermyth is a great game. Go play Wildermyth. That’s what I’m going to be doing right after I post this on the site.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

SGS Operation Hawaii: The Invasion of Oahu Review

Counterfactuals can be a lot of fun if done well. SGS Operation Hawaii is one of those interesting ones that takes a reasonable, if unlikely, premise and explores the what-if through its gameplay. The result is a tight, entertaining game that I really wish had a physical board game release!

Counterfactual: Invading Hawaii

There was talk between the Japanese Army and Navy about the potential of landing ground forces on Oahu, but never really within the timeframe of the December 7 1941 air attack on Pearl Harbor. SGS Operation Hawaii does a clever thing in positioning the landing as a small scale operation, carried out by only 2 regiments, to wreak as much havoc as possible in the limited time they can be supplied. There was never really the cooperation this kind of invasion needed between both branches of the Japanese military. The army was reluctant to do anything to support a Naval led Southward Strike, and the Navy had to fight tooth and nail for the army support it did get for its invasions in South East Asia. Operation Hawaii supposes that the army could be convinced to give up a regiment for what could be a forlorn hope. This is reflected in how Operation Hawaii lays out its objectives and the overall shorter structure of the game. The key is to destroy as many military instillations as possible as the Japanese player.

What Makes Operation Hawaii Stand Out

First and foremost, SGS games are great for their exploration of less well known military campaigns. Operation Hawaii, as a counterfactual exploring an interesting what-if, fits into that mold. There are plenty of well researched and reasonable cards in both sides’ decks that highlight the interesting confines of this potential campaign. From the Japanese potential use of ships of the Kido Butai to support attacks near the coast, to the US organization of citizens to dig trenches and build defenses, there are a lot of great cards that really sell the atmosphere.

There are also a good amount of strategic decisions for both sides to take at the beginning of the game. The Japanese player can choose where to focus their attack, and at the cost of victory points, how much support to commit to the attack. The US forces can choose their disposition (without knowing where the Japanese are coming from) and can influence their starting resources. There is a good bit of replayability as a result.

The actual action is fast and tight. There will be a lot of quick skirmishes followed up by a solid battle or two as the American forces form up to meet the Japanese attack. Therefore it becomes quickly apparent that this is a game of speed and deception. If the Japanese player can get around the US forces, they have a better chance of carrying out their objectives, if the US forces can react to and stop the Japanese, they can preserve their island and blunt the attack. It plays well.

Downsides

This is a shorter game, on average, than most of the other SGS titles I played. My first campaign took 3 hours and my second 2. I do believe there is good enough replayability to make it worthwhile, and as I see this as a digital version of a board game, the heart of it is multiplayer, but be warned about campaign length.

I also encountered a few bugs in my pre-release version. Sometimes enemy planes wouldn’t be grounded during rain turns when the game states they should be, and I was unsure if a couple cards failed to have the desired effect, or if it was merely a missing graphical indication. I did see, at the time of writing, that a decent sized patch has gone out for release, so I hope that these issues are resolved.

Final Thoughts

Operation Hawaii is an interesting, entertaining, and simple wargame that touches on a fascinating what-if and presents it in a playable fashion. I enjoyed both of my campaigns and will definitely play more. But buyers must be aware of the short time to play of each game. I think it’s worth it, but ultimately I can’t make that decision for you.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

SGS Operation Hawaii is being released today. You can check it out here. LTAW was given a code for the purposes of this review. We get nothing if you click the link.

Combat Mission: Cold War Review

I know the Combat Mission series can be a little divisive these days. The engine is older and there are some known issues that seem to accompany every release. For my own experience though, I don’t think I can look anywhere else for the sort of detailed, engrossing, and (dare I say) realistic gameplay that Combat Mission offers.

The series stands out as dominating a unique corner of our hobby, and for that alone I have to give it props. That does, however, make it harder to admit that there were some significant issues with Combat Mission: Cold War.

Soviet Paratroopers advancing on a US Listening Post

How Does Combat Mission: Cold War Play

Combat Mission is a tactical wargame focusing on the (usually) Brigade level and down combat in either real time or WEGO turns. Players issue orders to squads, teams, and vehicles and attempt to carry out certain mission objectives.

Gameplay focuses a great deal of detail on fog of war and command and control issues. What units can see and hear is far more important than how well they can shoot or how much armour their tank has. To succeed at Combat Mission requires a good deal of patience, strong tactical thinking, and a decent understanding of Second World War/Cold War/Modern combat systems.

An M60. Watch out for its Shillelagh

What is different with Combat Mission Cold War?

This is both a positive and negative part of Combat Mission: Cold War. As with every new game in the series, Cold War uses the same engine under the hood to power the battles that play out on screen. The system is starting to show its age for sure, but it is no less pretty than most other wargames. In fact, I quite like how good Combat Mission games can look with large numbers of vehicles and units moving about and shooting. It’s definitely a simulation, so units may move a little strangely here and there, but you’ll see recognizable uniforms, weapon systems and armoured fighting vehicles.

The big difference with Cold War, is, well the Cold War. Taking placing mostly in 1979, but with scenarios through 1982, this edition of Combat Mission plays out a what-if scenario of a Soviet invasion of West Germany. There are three campaigns, one each from the US and Soviet perspective as well as a third campaign focusing on the National Training Center.

Scenarios are diverse and interesting, from platoon level attacks on Listening Posts, to full brigade assaults featuring butt-loads (official term) of T-72s, to little one offs like attempting to pull an engineer platoon and their escort out of a small town quickly being swarmed by Soviet troops. I personally had less fun with the NTC campaign stuff, because I’m simply less interested in simulating simulated training scenarios, but to each their own.

The best part of Cold War is getting to experience late 70’ss and early 80’s hardware. The game is set at a time when both sides had the material and opportunity to do real damage. Seeing my M60s struggle to dent the front armour of onrushing Soviet tanks, but also how quickly an ATGM or Shillelagh can stop the dead is sweaty fun.

A good defilade position…I hope.

It’s Not All Sunshine

I’ve been singing Cold War’s praises so far, because I genuinely had a good time playing the game. But it is not perfect. There are still some persistent bugs floating around that can get annoying. I’ve had some crashes to desktop during my gameplay time, which were the worst offenders.

I was also totally unable to get a game of PBEM++ to work. I tried several times with my co-host here Jack, and even tried with a nice gentleman from the Computer Wargames Facebook Group. Every time the game failed to load correctly, crashed, or failed to load and then crashed. It was a shame, because I was very much looking forward to the PBEM++ system that I use regularly with other Slitherine/Matrix Games like Field of Glory II. I did try to reach out on the Combat Mission Discord for help, but nothing really came of it. We’re going to keep trying, because I really want to experience multiplayer through PBEM++, but it definitely impacted my impression.

Finally, as mentioned above, this is the same engine as all the rest of the modern Combat Missions, so if you’ve got a problem with how those games run or how they model things, this version won’t change your mind. I still kick myself whenever I manage to get a squad to exit a building via the wrong door and it gets them lit up in a MOUT situation.

The smoke didn’t linger for the rearguard’s street crossing. RIP the poor engineer in the back there.

Final Thoughts

I guess I was super hyped up for this release. I did enjoy what I played, but I was a little deflated by the issues I encountered trying to get it to work with PBEM++. I still think this is a strong entry in the series, and the Cold War is a fascinating setting to explore. But if you’re not someone who is already on the Combat Mission bandwagon, this won’t do it for you, I can almost guarantee it. For those who do enjoy Combat Mission, as someone who has put good time into Shock Force 2 and Black Sea, there is a lot to like here, just be prepared for worse optics all around!

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A solid entry to the Combat Mission series. Nothing revolutionary, some annoying bugs, but a good selection of scenarios and wonderfully modeled gear. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. If not, best not start with Cold War.

You can find the game here. LTAW was given a review copy of this game. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Field of Glory II Medieval: Swords & Scimitars DLC Review

Maybe I’m a simpler type, but when it comes to new DLC for games I already enjoy, I’m not looking for anything revolutionary or anything that might alter the core of a game I already like. I’m looking for good quality, well thought out additions that extend the life of the game I love, with enough content to justify the price tag.

With Field of Glory II Medieval’s latest DLC, Swords & Scimitars, I think that is exactly what you get.

What’s New in Swords & Scimitars

There is actually a lot of new content in this DLC. So much so that I have to admit that I haven’t tried it all. With 20 more nations, covering the major players of the Crusades on both sides, Byzantium, Southeastern Europe, and the Near East, 35 new units, 41 new army lists, 8 new scenarios and 4 new campaigns, you are not going to run out of interesting things to do for a long time.

I found the new campaigns enjoyable, with a special shout out to Saladin’s campaign. Sticking mostly to Western European armies and not being well versed in the original Field of Glory II, I had to learn an entirely new way of fighting using the Muslim armies. Their heavily armoured cavalry archer units and lightly armoured lancers make for an interesting core that requires different tactics from what I’m used to.

There are also some fun new additions allowing for greater permutations in random battles. Now armies can field historically relevant allies as part of their disposition. This adds quite a bit of variety, and while I haven’t seen it in multiplayer, it allows for some interesting recreations of historical engagements.

What do I think?

I wish I could get into more details, but aside from listing off the numerous games I’ve played and enjoyed with the DLCs contents, I think you’ll just have to take my word for it. If you like Field of Glory II Medieval, there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t like this DLC. The newly added campaigns and scenarios are fun, the new armies add different dimensions to the medieval mix, and the expanded content for skirmish and multiplayer modes add variety with new potential match ups.

I’ve already sung the praises of the Field of Glory series, and Field of Glory II Medieval specifically, so I’m happy to say that this DLC does exactly what is printed on the tin. It’s more of what you love in a decently priced package. Now off to the Holy Land with you!

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Swords & Scimitars doesn’t break the mold, but it doesn’t have to. This DLC pack adds a lot of great content that will keep fans going for quite some time.

LTAW received a review copy of this DLC. You can check out the DLC here. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Review

It’s rare that a hex and counter wargame truly surprises me. I, like many of you, have been playing these types of games for years, and know what to expect from our niche genre. There will be familiar mechanics around movement, unit composition, statistics, combat odds, and supply lines. There will be detailed rules, long campaigns, short scenarios, archaic multiplayer systems and decent game editors.

And then there’s Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive.

Ardennes Offensive not only shakes up the formula by adding some fascinating depth to movement, fog of war, and combat, but it also manages to introduce these fresh gameplay features in a package that is both chock full of information, but also beautifully presented and manageably learnable.

A Smaller Introductory Scenario

How Does Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Play?

Set during the so-famous-it-needs-no-description Battle of the Bulge, Ardennes Offensive offers two grand campaigns covering the full battle, and several smaller scenarios focusing in on major engagements like St. Vith and Bastogne. Turns are broken up into Morning, Mid-Day, Evening, and Night. Each hex represents a kilometer, and, in this iteration, units are calculated at the squad level, with individual weapons and stats tracked.

Ardennes Offensive uses the same base mechanics as found in previous Decisive Campaigns games (though this is my first one) as well as the stellar Shadow Empire and interesting sandbox Advances Tactics. The game is presented through a central map with unit, hex, and special information appearing on the sides and bottom of the screen. Turns are IGO-UGO, but with a new and well implemented system of interrupting fire that can halt units in their tracks. attacks are coordinated based on the defending hex, with two types of attack available: Ranged, which brings in mortars and artillery, and direct, which involves choosing the attacking units and the determination of the attack. Supply and traffic play significant roles, just as they did in the actual battle, and moving too many units over the same road in a turn will add additional movement costs to following units.

Overall, it may sound like fairly standard stuff, but Ardennes Offensive adds so many little things to the formula that make it pop.

Example of the Night Turn’s Visibility Restrictions. Legitimately Spooky.

The Little Things that Make it Pop

I need to start with my favourite part of Ardennes Offensive: Fog of War. This is the first wargame that actually gave me spooky vibes while playing. You cannot trust your eyes in Ardennes Offensive, as you cannot be 100% certain of a hex’s ownership unless you’ve got me sitting squarely in the hex.

This may sound annoying, but it doesn’t feel that way in practice. You’ll see indicators near the frontline representing sounds of unknown origin reported by your supply units as they deliver goods to the front. You’ll see a supposed frontline cobbled together from your limited understanding of enemy movements. You’ll be able to set up, and fall into, ambushes along key roads. At night, visibility is reduced to almost nothing. It is an excellent and atmospheric system that sells the initial chaos and subsequent unease of the Battle of the Bulge.

Command and Control Range clearly illustrated

Visually and auditorily, Ardennes Offensive is simply amazing. I have low expectations for most wargames, but the artwork on unit and hexes are wonderfully detailed with a painterly quality. Hexes are readable and easy to navigate. Units are identifiable right from the get go with their most prominent component showing on the counter face. But the best part are the little details. As the time of day shifts, the background for each unit card will change to reflect the overhead light. These wonderful little bits of finesse add so much to the experience. The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. There is a somber and haunting collection of tracks to accompany gameplay in Ardennes Offensive. The music is great and perfectly fits the mood of the battle. Night turns especially, with the reduced visibility, the changed map graphics, and the haunting music add up to become one of the most immersive hex and counter games I’ve ever played.

Cards allow for strategic choices like calling in air strikes or setting up road-blocks

Final Thoughts

I have only one bad to say about this game. It crashed on me more than once. I’m seeing that patches are already on the way, and I can probably blame this on my advance copy, but I do feel the need to report that it happened. Honestly though, don’t let that stop you from trying this one out.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how tight a package Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Assault was, I had trouble articulating it for this review. This is an excellent addition to the world of digital hex and counter wargaming and the new standard for what can be done visually and auditorily to make modern wargames feel modern without losing the mechanical charm we all love. There is plenty of content, the AI does a solid job, the game is learnable, and everything is wrapped up in a nice package. A must play.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Let’s Talk About Wargames were provided with a review copy of this game. You can check out the game here. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) Review

Ah yes, the good ol’ American Civil War. You can’t walk 5 feet in the wargaming sphere without tripping over 500 games set in the period. For good reason, as the war marked an evolution in tactics and strategy from the old Napoleonic style to the industrialized meat-grinders of the Russo-Japanese war and World War 1, so there’s a lot of interesting parts of the war to take a look at. The question is though, can a new game bring enough to the table to justify crowding further an already over-crowded setting? Well in the case of Grand Tactician, that answer is easily a resounding yes.

THE WAR OF SOUTHERN AGGRESSION

An early war engagement. Not to brag, but I whipped those rebels pretty easily.

First off, I want to say: boy, this game is gorgeous. It is easily the best-looking grognard game I’ve seen, with the battle maps and the overall map of the US being very detailed, coupled with a nifty transition from paper map to actual view as you zoom in and out. The cutscenes also feature live-action reenactments of Civil War battles, which adds a fun bit of extra production to the game. It can feel like you’re playing a Ken Burns documentary at times, and I mean that in a good way.

Grand Tactician is also absurdly detailed in many ways, with bridges and passes on the map being open for inspection, letting you see how many tons of food, metal, guns, ammo, etc. are transported through there in a timeframe. You can also see individual manufactories, what supplies they use, and what they produce. This information will almost never be relevant to the player, but it’s there, and the simple fact that it’s modeled certainly is something special.

Grand Tactician places the player in the vague shoes of commander of the military of the Union/ Confederacy, but also gives the player a fair amount of control over things like political policies and finances for the state. The focus of the player will always be first and foremost winning the war, and handily allows some AI control over most non-military matters to keep your tunnel vision on the task at hand.

The game plays out over a broad map of the eastern part of the US to the Midwest, cutting off around Oklahoma. The game is, shockingly, an RTS, something that scared the hell out of me the first time I booted it up. “You want me to control multiple armies over this vast expanse of country?” I said to my monitor, which didn’t answer. It’s a very daunting task, but your opponent is put in the same predicament as you, having to build armies (brigades at a time, so you can be very specific as to your army composition) and order them around the map, keeping in mind such obstacles as supplies, the support level of the state, the weapons the units are equipped with, the personalities of the officers in charge of the men, etc.

There’s a lot to keep track of, but the game does an overall pretty good job of teaching you. There is an extensive in-game manual that is very helpful, though I did have to learn some things for myself, such as how to send units to a destination by rail, or how to order special move-orders to units otherwise (hover over the orange symbol that appears after you give an order, a sub-menu appears). That all being said, things got far more interesting once I was able to muster my armies in the Spring of 1861 and finally get a look at how Grand Tactician handles battles.

WAR, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

The battle mechanics aren’t quite like any other game I’ve played. There are echoes of Total War and the Scourge of War games, but Grand Tactician has its own thing going. Each division is tied to the divisional commander, and while these units can operate independently, there are order delays, as any orders on the battlefield must be issued from the commanding general down to the divisional commanders, and from there to the individual units. This means that long marches down roads to an occupied town can result in disasters as new enemies appear but the courier is still on the way to dispatch new orders to your lead brigade, which has now been caught in a blistering crossfire. However, the AI has to play by these rules as well; it’s quite satisfying to watch little models of couriers scurry from the enemy commander when you do something they don’t like.

The act of fighting itself should be familiar to players of Empire: Total War, or the Scourge of War games. Your guys have guns, point them at the enemy, eventually someone will run. There are a lot of additional factors to consider in this formula however, including such things as the officers’ traits, the range of the combat, any cover, how experienced the units are/ if they have any specializations, or even if smoke from other fighting could potentially obscure your lines, making firing less accurate. It’s definitely a game, but it’s a hell of a simulation as well. I always feel accomplished when I manage to outflank the enemy, but never feel that it’s unfair when my own units cut and run from combat in these cases rather than their units running. Green units don’t like to stick around in combat, even if they’re winning handily.

NOTHING BUT TOMBS

I can talk for a very long time about all the positives of Grand Tactician, because it is a very good game, and if you are interested in the period or in wargaming in general, you should definitely give it a try. That being said, there are some caveats I want to mention in advance. To start with, the AI can sometimes be a bit thickheaded. It’s rarely outright dumb, but it can be a bit slow to react at times. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no multiplayer option, meaning that you can’t boot up a campaign against your old buddy you used to play co-op Total War campaigns with. The game sorely needs multiplayer, in my opinion.

Additionally, while the devs have done a great deal to make such a detailed game accessible, there are still elements of the UI or game concepts that are still difficult to parse, or, in some cases, just completely imperceptible. The economic arm of the game is one such example: I left the economy in the hands of the AI in my first campaign and ended up being millions of dollars in debt and having terrible credit, which affected my ability to recruit new units or build new ships. I tried to assert my dominance over the game systems by learning how to make the economy work to my favor, but there’s really no explanation as to how you can do anything about it, other than maybe investing in industrial subsidies in early 1861.

But at the end of the day, why should you care so much about industrial subsidies when the act of striking blows against your opponent in combat is so much fun? Because it is fun, and even thrilling at times, which is more than I can say of many of Grand Tactician’s contemporaries. I am following the future updates to Grand Tactician and the further games from this team with great interest.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

SGS Heia Safari Review

Heia Sofia does several things for me right out of the gate. One, it’s another of SGS’s boardgame-like wargames that carry on the spirit of my beloved AGEOD series. Two, it’s set in an interesting and underdone theatre of war. Three, the barrier to entry is tiny comparative to a lot of other wargames on the market. In short, it’s a very particular style of wargame, but it works for me in a way that makes it easy to play game after game.

For the First Time Into Africa’s Great War

There may be others, but as far as my experience goes, this is the first digital wargame to focus entirely on the East African Campaign of the First World War. Focusing mainly on the exploits of German General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, the narrative of this campaign sees a small but determined force of German colonial and native soldiers fighting an expansive and successful guerrilla war against the overwhelming forces of the British Empire and their allies, Belgium and Portugal. It is a fascinating campaign not only because of the totally different nature of combat in East Africa, but also because of the difficulty in maintaining supply lines, dealing with disease, and the impact of the war on local populations.

One of the first lectures I listened to from Dr. Timothy Stapleton, a colleague at the University of Calgary, was about the societal impact of this campaign on the peoples who’s homes it was fought over. Most striking to me was the absolutely brutal toll inflicted on porters and carriers. While British army personnel suffered approximately 10,000 casualties from all sources, though mostly from disease, their porters suffered around 100,000. While the German forces kept worse records, research points to around 300,000 civilians dying in the region as a result of disease and famine brought on by both sides requisitioning food and supplies during the fighting.

It is a sobering thought, but one that makes it all the more important that there be any media that touches on this subject. I wish that SGS Heia Safari probed a little deeper into this side of the war, but I do appreciate that unrest, disease, and resistance to occupation in the relevant colonies is worked into events and action cards.

How Does SGS Heia Safari Play?

Those familiar with the SGS series of games will feel right at home. There is a certain comfortable boardgamey feeling to the overall play of SGS games. Tokens represent forces comprised of multiple units that can be split and merged. Movement is area to area with terrain playing a role in battles, movement cost, and Heia Safari’s case, attrition. Cards are central, with their use governing historical events, replacements and special circumstances. Battles are fought over several rounds, where units roll dice trying to score low enough to deal damage to the enemy force. Breaking the enemy may allow for pursuits, and there are special considerations for artillery, ambushes, and fortifications. Really, everything one would expect in an operational game is present, from supply to replacements to naval and ground combat.

Overall, the Heia Safari is very quick to learn. Play advances through a set of phases, first for one player then the other, with turns comprising of one month increments. It doesn’t take very long to figure out which units are reliable, which need to be protected, and where the war is likely to turn hot. The only really learning curve is figuring out what kind of cards might come up, but managing your deck is an important part of play. There is nothing really revolutionary here besides the setting, but a good wargame is good regardless of whether or not it reinvents the wheel.

The Good, and the Not So Good

I loved my time with Heia Safari. I should get that out of the way. I love board wargames as much as digital wargames, and this title, like most SGS games I’ve played, fit nicely into that niche of digitized wargames that simplify the hassle while presenting a clean, fun, and easy game to get lost in.

The setting is the star of the show. The campaign forces very different play styles for the Entente and the German forces. The Entente player must use their resources to capture German territory without overcommitting. The fact that the commitment level is a game mechanic with meaningful impact on the Entente victory conditions is an excellent step towards forcing the player to consider exactly how important a measured advance is to a long term victory. The German player must husband scarce resources and protect a vast territory. With the game pointing to key settlements and a railway to make sure the German player can’t get comfortable running forever.

The enemy AI has so far been pretty good with tactical decisions, but less so with strategic. Playing as Germany, I was pleasantly surprised at the Entente AI’s ability to keep me on my toes and, most importantly, keep me from running roughshod over their borders. They continually applied pressure where I was weak and forced me to fall back into my own territory whenever I got greedy. Strategically, it was difficult for them to get a toehold in my territory in the first couple years of the war. British forces continually attacked near Kilimanjaro, making it relatively easy for me to set up a defense in depth to meet their attacks. The AI was competent enough to give me a run for my money in that campaign eventually, but I wish it was a little more situationally aware of the wider strategic goals. As always, Player versus player will be the best choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed the AI’s ability to punish my mistakes and to present difficult tactical situations, especially around the southern border where they were freer to maneuver.

Final Thoughts

I know I’m predisposed to like these games, but I really do think that Heia Safari presents an interesting enough campaign to warrant diving in. That is, of course, if one is alright with the boardgame style and use of cards. The game is significantly different enough to warrant two playthroughs before moving on to multiplayer.

SGS Heia Safari is dynamic, colourful, simple to learn, and an eye opening look at an important but underrepresented battle.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Let’s Talk About Wargames received a free game code for the purposes of this review. You can check out the game’s website here.

Warhammer 40k: Battlesector Review

This review took me a lot longer to write than I anticipated. I managed to write about each of the preview builds that Warhammer 40k: Battlesector experienced but when it came time to write the review of the full game, I didn’t really know how to go about it. I had already talked about how the game plays, what I thought was good and bad, and what I had hoped would change for the full release. I guess seeing that nothing had really changed between the preview and the final build threw me off. It made me want to finish literally everything to do with the game before I wrote out the review. But that didn’t happen for a long, long time.

So, apologies, but here it is:

Once More into the Battlesector

For those who missed out on our previews, Warhammer 40k: Battlesector is a tactical turn based wargame focusing on positioning and managing unit abilities to stem a ferocious tide of Tyranid invaders on a desert moon. On the surface it looks like a fairly simple game, and while it isn’t as complex as some of the other things we cover on this blog, there is still enough tactical decision-making to make it interesting. This becomes more true the deeper into the game you get. When you’re looking at the relative firepower and accuracy drop off of the bolters carried by your Primaris Marines and your Sisters of Battle to try and properly equip for a mission, it feels like a good amount of thinking.

Each mission is accompanied by a story, told through the perspectives of different heroes you get to bring along, before opening up to force composition. Equipping a force for each scenario is fairly open and, coupled with investing points into upgrades that benefit different troop types, has a lot of potential for variety.

The missions themselves tend to play our similarly each time you go through them, so Battlesector falls into one of wargaming’s (potential) traps by becoming more of a puzzle: Here is the challenge this mission presents, here are the forces you’ve built up for the mission, how will you apply those forces to this puzzle? I don’t think this is a bad thing. It gives some replayability to the game, and if you’re like me, you’ll feel drawn to completing missions a few times to try and minimize casualties.

The Really Good Bits

Since I’ve written so much about this game already, I thought I would just try to hammer down the bits that I really like, and the bits that I’m not so keen on. As always, let’s start with the good.

The narrative and presentation is suitably 40k, and that’s a lot of fun. Yes the story is hokey, but it actually pokes at some of the interesting aspects of the universe’s new changes. How would first generation Space Marines deal with this upstart second generation? What does this new crusade mean for the cherished old ways? It never really dives too deep, but it is fun. It helps that each character delivers their cutscene lines with the kind of over the top gravitas everyone expects from a 40k property.

The tactical considerations related to range elevate what could have been a turkey shoot. The enemy, being Tyranids, are aliens that tend to rush towards your soldiers in an attempt to overwhelm them. Therefore dealing with the monsters while maintaining low casualties comes down to the correct application of your force’s firepower. Each weapon has an optimal range, and it is incredibly important to make sure you’re taking advantage of that with almost every shot. Failing to do so will mean gruesome death for your marines and sisters.

Finally, the game looks and sounds great. It is nice to see such effort placed into these departments. The included photo mode is also a fun addition that allows you to highlight some of the more interesting clashes you’ll find yourself in.

The Not Really Good Bits

This is my biggest issue, and one that I complained about during the betas. Each mission ends with you mopping up every Tyranid unit on the map. Sometimes, this isn’t really an issue. Other times, there are two units left and because you sent the majority of your force one way, you need to spend turns shifting them the other way in order to finally mop up. So few missions benefit from this that I really struggle to understand why it was included.

There are only two playable factions. This game has the potential to be a fun multiplayer game and a good proxy for Warhammer 40k on the computer, but it is going to have a rocky start if there are only two factions and the rest are gated behind DLC and time. I understand why this is how it happened, but I’m thinking about the long term survivability of the game.

Conclusions

It’s fun! That’s really the take away here. Warhammer 40k Battlesector is a fun tactical wargame. It’s not overly deep, but it’s not too shallow to prevent any tactical decision-making from occurring. It’s a good romp through a well presented bit of the 40k universe with some interesting mechanics surrounding range and optimal ability use. It won’t be for everyone, but it can be for many.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

-Joe Fonseca

Slitherine/Matrix provided us with a copy of this game for the purposes of this review. Check out the game here. We get nothing if you click on that link.

Unity of Command 2: Moscow 41 Review

Been awhile, huh folks? Sorry for the delay getting this review out, it’s been a really crazy chunk of time. Speaking of crazy chunks of time, I’m here to talk about the crazy point in time during the defense of Moscow in late 1941, where the Soviet forces were constantly being pushed back, throwing haphazard globs of units into the lines to slow the advancing Germans down (more or less, anyway).

You as the player will be taking the fancy hat of Soviet Marshal, seeking to halt the German advance or at least provide speedbumps, made of lots of conscripts. It’s grim stuff, with many units bearing the “1” tag on their unit cards, signifying they will not return in future battles, likely meaning that the unit in history was wiped from existence. In practice, this means that a LOT of your units, particularly during the early part of the campaign, are expendable. It’s a strange thing to wrap your brain around, after a base game and 2 DLCs worth of campaigns based around keeping core units alive, but you will become hardened, and give nothing more than a curt nod to your conscripts as you toss them into a combat with the projected result of “5:0.”

Note the amount of reconstituted units.

All that being said, you do need men to man the lines, and can’t get too crazy with throwing bodies under tank treads. While some of the missions involve counter-punches to over-extended German lines, a lot of them are “hold these cities or else, Comrade.” Defending is an interesting change of pace from the rhythm of “attack attack attack” in the other campaigns, and I’m not wholly sold on defending in the UoC2 model. Sure, you can protect your supply lines and use your limited command points to tell your guys to pile up sandbags or use that nearby concrete truck to build a fort, but it’s a lot more passive than being on the offensive. Obviously.

Perhaps it’s because of the largely replaceable and ineffective nature of your units, but I wasn’t grabbed by this DLC like I was with the other ones. Where we had daring rushes across large stretches of steppes to seize a railroad checkpoint, we have several hexes of units twiddling their thumbs, waiting for their turn to have the German army quite literally drive over them. The places where Moscow 41 shines are where it encourages you to push back against the attackers, though frequently doing so is a fool’s errand. A particularly cunning general can take advantage of extended German lines to sneak around and cut them off, and there are a fair amount of opportunities for this, but doing so is damn hard.

120% losses, folks.

Speaking of difficulty, there’s been a bit of hubbub regarding how hard Moscow 41 is, compared to the other campaigns. I think that Moscow 41 is pretty tough, but not unfair (lest we forget Unity of Command 1). While I gripe about the passivity of sitting on the defensive, holding points is generally straightforward and attainable. The bonus objectives, which are meant to be tough to nab, are indeed very tough to capture, due to your inferior position in most of these scenarios. It’s not a campaign you should try for a “perfect” score on, by any means.

CONCLUSION

Moscow 41 is an interesting and intermittently fun diversion from the other campaigns, though more hit-or-miss in terms of standout scenarios. The focus on defending can mean a more passive gameplay approach, and this coupled with many expendable units can result in an exercise in using human molasses to stop a tank, which isn’t always fun. But when it offers chances to strike back, this is a great sample of wargaming. Also, Soviets are always fun in WW2.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull