Tiger Leader Review

Solitaire wargames occupy a special place in our hobby. On the one hand, being able to sit down away from the noise of modern life to escape into a tabletop game experience, whether narrative, systems focused, or even just an examination of history, can be a relaxing and almost meditative experience. On the other hand, I know plenty of wargamers who are turned off by the transparency of the randomness of a lot of solitaire games, or who don’t enjoy some of the contraints placed on players to make engaging against an artificial opponent more of a challenge.

When it comes to reviewing a solitaire only game I try to come at it from at least three angles. First, will solitaire wargamers like this? Second, will this do anything to change the minds of those who dont? Finally, what about those who have never tried one? Is it friendly enough to newcomers?

Tiger Leader, from Dan Verssen Games, is my first exposure to the ‘Leader’ system of solitaire wargames and is definitely a good first impression, even if there are some systemic foibles and strange errors that irked me as I played. But what of the three types of gamers above? Who is Tiger Leader for? Let’s dig in, shall we?

What Kind of Game is Tiger Leader?

Tiger Leader is a solitaire wargame in which the player takes control of a Wehrmacht kampfgruppe and leads them through a campaign of World War Two. After selecting a campaign and performing some initial set up, the gameplay loop of Tiger Leader sees players building a kamfgruppe including infantry, AFVs, and artillery, recruiting officers to lead these units, and then committing them to battles on a weekly basis to overcome enemy brigades. After the set number of weeks, the campaign ends (barring an auto fail) and the total score of the player’s victories are added up to see how well they’ve done.

Throughout the weeks of a campaign players will have to manage the spending of campaign points, deal with the abstract movements of enemy units, fight tactical battles on a hexagonal map, and manage the stress and experience points of officers. It’s a detailed system without being overwhelming, and it keeps players on their toes from start to finish. I quickly became fond of how the different systems of combat and management come together to offer an entertaining roleplaying wargame experience.

To break it down, the real focus of the game is managing your kampfgruppe. After selecting the campaign and mission(setting the parameters for the battles of that campaign) players are given a set of resource points to spend on officers, units, and extras like trucks and scouting capabilities. There are a ton a vehicles in the base game, so I always felt like I was spoiled for choice. Playing through the Poland campaign for instance, I was happy to be able to choose a 38(t), a Panzer II, and a Stug to support my infantry.

Each unit has its own stats for anti-personnel and anti-armour attacks, defense, movement, special rules governing movement, attacking, and stress. These stats interact with the stats of the officers that lead them. Officers begin with different skill levels ranging from recruit to legendary. Each level has different modifiers for firing, speed of action, stress thresholds, and special rules (more on those later).

Each week players divide their forces into smaller groups to attack some number of enemy brigades. Resources will be stretched very thin, and more often than not players will have to throw their units against numerically superior forces. You are the tip of the spear after all. Battles are time limited, and victory only really comes from destroying the enemy brigade.

COMBAT! and MANAGEMENT!

During Each week’s battles, a randomized set of terrain hexes are laid out to represent the battlefield. In the base game these tiles are either clear or contain soft or hard cover. There is a lot of variety, with different tiles representing Europe, north Africa, or the Russian winter. I appreciate that battles can have wildly different layouts that will obviously impact tactics as players are going to be spending a lot of time on these maps. An issue I encountered was that the manual indicated that terrain should have a visual indicator as to which level of cover a hex provides, but none of that existed on my hexes. I decided to go with ‘forests’ as light cover and ‘built up areas’ as heavy cover.

Combat itself is an interesting puzzle. Players only have five turns (unless scouts are purchased to add a turn) to destroy enough enemy units to remove the brigade from the campaign. Enemy Brigades have a threshold of damage they can take before they become understrength, offering up some victory points and reducing their capabilities. A second threshold, denoting a destroyed status, gives up the rest of the points and eliminates them from the game. Making sure your forces can do enough damage in five turns to reduce or destroy a brigade is a difficult prospect, as each brigade will have its own spread of units and its own special rules, and players will have to take on multiple brigades a week to keep up with the campaign’s demands.

Combat basics involve getting in range, rolling dice, and inflicting casualties when hits are scored and defenses overcome. Player forces will be overwhelmed, but this is balanced somewhat by how damage is modeled. Every time a friendly unit takes a hit, a random chit is pulled from a cup with some type of damage (or rarely, a miss) printed on it. Enemies go down in one successful hit. The damage that friendly units receive persist and must be taken care of in between battles by spending points or using officer abilities.

Enemies act according to a chart that breaks down units into groups and has them move according to a die roll and their options. Tanks are more likely to charge forward into combat range while mortars are content to stay back and support with indirect fire. I found the system believable and fun. A good enemy roll would see them aggressively take ground, but after they had suffered significant damage, the dice were more likely to force a cautious withdrawal to covered positions. Being able to model this with one dice roll is great, as anything that reduces overhead while playing solitaire is good in my books.

Your own units are interesting to manage. Often less skilled units will have penalties to defense, or add significant stress when forced to move and fire. Deciding when to take these hits to do an aggressive push of your own is a fun challenge. But exposing troops to enemy fire can be deadly, especially for officers.

Officers are a core part of the game’s strategy. They add special rules to the units they lead, add modifiers, and sometimes allow units to move before the enemy. They can be wounded, killed, or acquire stress as the result of enemy hits, but making it through a mission also offers experience points that see your officers grow from mission to mission, leveling up and changing their stats. It’s a great bit of progression that makes the campaigns come alive, and make it hurt even more when an officer dies to a single hit, forcing you to cross out their names on the ledger and bring in a low level replacement. Such is war.

It’s not perfect though, some officers have literally useless skills. An infantry officer that gives indirect fire to a unit will never be applicable, as the only infantry unit with more than one hex firing range already has an indirect fire rule, for example. It’s little things like this that make me think a bit more playtesting and proofreading should have gone into Tiger Leader.

Final Thoughts

Tiger Leader is fun. A lot of fun, actually. It manages to cram a lot of interesting decisions into almost every segment of a campaign’s gameplay, from spending on units, assigning forces to combats, carrying out those combats, and how to spend precious resources to recoup after combat. There’s enough content and different campaigns, missions, special events, and units to offer plenty of replayability. The core system is easy to learn, and the game doesn’t take up too much tablespace.

Component quality is also quite nice, with the map, cards, counters and hex map pieces all sturdy, easy to read, and easy to organize. Once a campaign is up and running, there is very little overhead, and I love that.

That being said. It’s not perfect. There are a lot of little errors here and there in the manual and in how units and officers interact. A lot more playtesting and proofreading could have done away with these issues. Tiger Leader is also not a simulation, as I hope you gathered from the above descriptions. It is much more a puzzle and narrative experience wrapped in a fun military setting. You’ll have a lot more fun charting the progress of your officers, repairing vehicles, watching infantry upgrade from raw to veteran, and seeing how the game reacts to your decisions than you will trying to properly replicate blitzkrieg actions. I feel solitaire wargamers will appreciate the way the systems interact to provide a engaging experience, but I’m not sure it will win over players who aren’t into the idea of a solitaire game. I would encourage those who haven’t tried solitaire games to give this one a go. It was much easier to get into than some others I’ve played.

What About Solitaire?

I said I would include these sections for every game, but yes, Tiger Leader is a pretty great solitaire experience. I bet if would even work coop, if the player spending is divided and two players each build up a portion of the kampfgruppe to send into actions. In fact, I might try to do a game like that with my wife at some point.

Will Tiger Leader Stay On My Shelf?

Yes! The problems I had with the game rarely detract from the actual play of it, and I find it creates the sort of narrative solitaire experiences I like. While I will dig out GMT’s Fields of Fire periodically, I see Tiger Leader getting more table time because it manages to deliver narratively without being quite so involved. It’s the action movie, not the documentary.

When deciding if Tiger Leader will be something you’re interested in, you’ll have to understand that it isn’t perfect, isn’t a simulation, and has some sloppy editing and playtesting. But beyond those issues, Tiger leader is a fun, easy going, narrative puzzle game that will see you sighing in relief as your favourite officer gets off with only a wound, and cursing as your Panzer IV goes up in smoke after a single lucky shell.

THANK YOU to DVG for sending Let’s Talk About Wargames a copy of Tiger Leader for review!

Check out Tiger Leader here. We don’t get anything if you click this link, so click away!

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Back With a Proper Schedule!

Hey everyone. You may have noticed a drop in the frequency of reviews and articles across the Let’s Talk About Wargames blog over the past few weeks, and I want to apologize for that. The past few weeks have been a bit of a mess with work and thesis writing taking up a lot more time than I had budgeted for.

Thankfully, the storm seems to have calmed somewhat and to prevent something like that happening again, LTAW’s blog posts will be coming at a fixed interval of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings (EST). We’ve got some great content planned including reviews of the latest from Slitherine/Matrix, a continuation of my personal attempt to review and decide whether or not to keep games in my board wargame collection, and some new pieces like unboxings, after action reports, and classic wargame analyses.

The strict schedule will help maintain some semblance of regularity in publications. Long time readers will remember some weeks with a new post a day, and others with only one or two. We’re hoping to make the blog a good spot for regular stops in one’s online weekly wargaming journey.

Come join us if you like!

Also want to take this time to again highlight the other things we do:

We run a monthly podcast discussing wargaming, games about war, and the community.

We run a twitch/youtube channel where we let’splay some wargames.

We have a discord for community discussions and hanging out.

We have a patreon that we’re hoping will allow for the purchase of more wargames to discuss/review/let’splay.

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.

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

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

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

Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 Review

How many ships are you willing to send to the bottom to secure Henderson Field? I hope it’s a lot, because Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 opens the floodgates of naval combat in the south pacific with the question, ‘what if neither side cared about tonnage losses?’ The answer, of course, is that Ironbottom Sound is certainly going to earn it’s name in this tense cat and mouse battle.

Pacific Fury is a 2 player naval wargame from Yasushi Nakagura and published in English by Revolution Games. Players represent the Japanese and US naval forces fighting over Guadalcanal and control of the all-important airfield. Players do this by creating naval task forces and committing them in a strict order to the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, hoping to take or keep control of the sea around the island, destroy enemy ships, and ferry their own troops onto the island to regain control and the initiative.

How Does Pacific Fury: Guadalcanal 1942 Play?

Each turn progresses through the same steps. First initiative is established based on which side has control of Henderson Field. The game begins with US control, giving them initiative. The event phase follows, where the non-initiating player (except on turn one) rolls for some sort of bonus. Both sides then secretly construct task forces using their available ships (they are stacked face down) and place them in sequential operations boxes. When both sides are finished, they will take turns issuing orders to their task forces, either sortieing from their home base onto the main board, or else issuing an order to an already deployed task force. Forces are not revealed until they attack or are attacked, so finding out what the enemy has requires committing some forces. The operations phase is the meat of the game, with both sides trying to outwit the other with the placement and movement of their task forces. The non-initiative player is the only one with access to transports, and getting transports unmolested to Guadalcanal is the only way to shift the Henderson Field track towards their side’s control. When all seven operations are finished, ships return to base and the process is repeated.

When surface ships enter the same space, or when Carrier Task Forces attempt to bomb an enemy task force, combat occurs. The system here is straight forward as well, with each counter prominently displaying a combat value, defense (represented by anchors) and airpower (represented by airplanes). A die is rolled per ship, and hits are scored based on the number rolled as long as it is equal or lower than the printed combat value. So a battleship with 3 combat value might score 0,1,2, or 3 hits, while a cruiser with a combat value of 1 may only ever score 0 or 1 hit. Hits are assigned to enemies, and damaged ships roll to see if they are sunk, with the value compared to their overall defensive value. I like how simply the system handles larger ships’ greater potential for damage. Air combat has some minor additional rules to represent CAP and air superiority, and they do a good job of reinforcing proper task for construction.

The rules are not complicated, there are few counters, and the turn mechanisms become clear after a round or two. A player aid expressly stating Task Force composition rules, what each type of Task Force can do, and how they are allowed to move on the map would have been a handy inclusion, but it won’t take long to figure out the Task Force composition rules and therefore speed up the game.

Mice, Cats…Who is doing the chasing?

The core gameplay of Pacific Fury is trying the mind game of task force composition and placement. Since there are specific rules for placement and actions, deducing what your opponent is doing, and trying to throw them off your own actions quickly becomes the major play. Suspecting a feint only to send your carriers to attack a different task force, uncovering the core of the enemy’s own carrier force can leave you sweating and your opponent cackling.

Actually managing to outmaneuver the enemy and get forces to Ironbottom Sound is rewarding enough, but then having the opportunity to bombard the airfield and land troops to help shift the score in your favour is more than worth whatever had to be sacrificed to get them there. Oh, and there will be sacrifices.

This leads to my only criticism of Pacific Fury, though in practice it just had my wife and I giggling at the absurdity of it. The only victory condition is who controls Henderson Field. That’s it. Neither the Imperial Japanese Navy nor the US Navy cares what it might take to seize the island. Since there are no points attached to ships, both sides are free to absolutely squander carriers, Battleships, and Cruisers to their hearts content in order to achieve victory. One of our games was so ridiculously bloody we couldn’t believe it. The US Navy had lost all but one carrier and 6 cruisers, the Japanese only marginally better off with a damaged Yamato leading the convoy of damaged cruisers back to Truk in defeat. A victory for my wife, but at what cost!?

It’s a minor quibble in what is a great game of bluffing your friends with some light period chrome. The simple mechanics and small counter density might concern some in regards to replayability, but because so much of the game relies on the mind games you’ll engage in with your opponent, the replayability is high. The only thing I really want is a proper player’s aid.

Solitaire Suitability

As with every board wargame going forward on Let’s Talk About Wargames, I’m going to include a small section about solitaire suitability. From the rest of the review, I bet you can deduce that Pacific Fury isn’t really going to cut it as a solitaire wargame. So much relies on composing task forces correctly that even randomizing enemy task forces would pretty much automatically break the rules. As for playing both sides. Unless you have the godlike mental capacity, it just isn’t going to work.

Does It Earn a Spot on the Shelf?

Another new/permanent feature for boardgame reviews. Will each game earn it’s place on my wargaming shelf or be sent along to someone else who might get a kick out of it? Pacific Fury has certainly earned a spot. It’s a nice light game that my wife and I can pick up and play as part of a gaming night. Getting into each other’s heads is always a lot of fun, and Pacific Fury really lets us get into trying to outsmart each other. It’s good fun, and as a ziplock game, takes up very little shelf space anyways. Definitely a keeper, and I’m sure it’ll get brought out from time to time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

-Joe Fonseca

As requested, here’s a link to purchase the game: Pacific Fury (Let’s Talk About Wargames gets nothing from this, a kind commenter simply asked for links in reviews) Also, I purchased Pacific Fury myself, no review copy sent.

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

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

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

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

How does Regimen: The Lions of Bukit Chandu play?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Battle of Pasir Panjang

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

A memorial on the hill today.

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

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

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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

-Joe

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

UPDATE: Solitaire Suitability

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

UPDATE: Earning a Place on the Shelf?

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

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

The Battle of Dorking 1875 – Review

“I can hardly look a young man in the face when I think I am one of those in whose youth happened this degradation of Old England – one of those who betrayed the trust handed down to us unstained by our forefathers.” –The Battle of Dorking (1871)

There is something so fascinating about invasion literature, the small genre of fiction that exploded in popularity in Britain in the waning decades of the 19th century. Casting Britain against all manner of invaders, from a collection of every power, to the upset victims of British colonialism, to Dorking’s German Empire, just about every enemy, potential or phantom, invaded Britain in the pages of magazines, books for boys, and novels.

The German Conquest of Britain: Dorking & Invasion Literature

The Battle of Dorking, written in 1871 by George Tomkyns Chesney, stands out as one of the key stories that launched the genre. Written from the point of view of a tragic veteran of the battle that lost London, it contained a sober and unfavorable analysis of Britain’s ability to protect itself in the event the Royal Navy was somehow neutralized.

Chesney was an officer of the Bengal Engineers, serving during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He later helped launch the Royal Indian Civil Engineering College, and wrote a great deal throughout his career, both nonfiction on military and civil matters, and fiction. He’s probably best known for The Battle of Dorking published first in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1871.

Dorking 1875, designed by Mark Wightman and published (both Print & Play and physically) by Tiny Battle Publishing, attempts to take Chesney’s key engagement south of London, filling in the gaps where necessary, to create an engaging wargame. While I very much enjoyed reading the designer’s research and appreciate the scale and size of the game, a few niggling problems with the gameplay make it one I don’t think will come off of the shelf very often.

How Does Dorking 1875 Play?

Counters represent battalions, batteries, and two cavalry squadron, with turns representing about an hour. The map has three height elevations and covers the area surrounding the town of Dorking including the river Mole and the road to London. The German player must push on as hard and as fast as they can, aiming to get as many units over a victory line while preserving their forces in 6 turns. The British player need only to hold the line.

Counters have a lot of information, some relating to organization, and others to battlefield circumstance. There is good diversity between the volunteers, militia, regulars, and elite forces, with artillery variation especially reflecting period issues in the British armouries.

The most critical factor on a counter is a unit’s break value. Whether from artillery fire, rifle fire, or melee combat, the attacker rolls 2D6 and tries to beat that value. Terrain can have a substantial effect on dice rolls by adding or subtracting to the targets break value. If the value is met or beaten in shooting, the target is flipped to their disorded side. If the roll can beat the target by a wide enough margin, the unit is destroyed. Melee combat is a bit more harsh, with the dice roll beating the break value by 1 or more resulting in destruction. It’s an alright system and felt very deadly, but I almost feel a CRT would have been better here.

The system is IGO UGO in phases. The initiating player will fire artillery, then the opposing player will fire, and so on. This works in general, but I found that it made for interesting movement quirks, with an aggressive Germany able to quickly close past rifle range and into melee contact. I suppose I had expected the Martini-Henry’s and Needle Rifles to be more viable at longer ranges given their accuracy and rate of fire.

The German cavalry have access to an interesting dispersion option. The counters can be removed from the map to instead be placed as a -1 on a target’s Break Value. The consequence is a 1/6 chance that the unit is broken during it’s harrasment, but it’s an easy gamble to make. The fact that the British units can’t manage the same thing is part of Dorking 1875’s attempt to simulate the difference in experience and quality between the two forces.

A Fascinating Conflict for a Game or Two

Often game strategy in Dorking 1875 boils down to the German player pushing one flank or the other hard and the British responding as best they can. Managing the more lackluster British units is quite the struggle, but entertaining for the first couple games. After a while though, the limited frontage and the scale of the invading German force means that there aren’t too many different paths to victory. There might not be the kind of replayability that keeps players returning again and again to the same battle as in other titles.

The British Library

Definitely Worth a Look, and a Read

Dorking 1875 didn’t hold my attention so much as a wargame, but as a package I’m quite impressed. The designer’s detailed introduction, conclusion, and historical notes were a pleasure to read and covered brief summaries of the opposing sides’ military situations circa 1871, a full theoretical assessment of Germany’s invasion plan, with suggested maps, and enough detail on Chesney’s life to give a solid background understanding of the conflict. Unlike some Print & Play games that end up in the recycling bin after I’ve finished with them, Dorking 1875 has earned a space on my shelf mostly due to the good writing and research of Mark Wightman.

I could even envision Dorking 1875 finding a place in classrooms as an interactive exploration of invasion literature and Brtiain’s late 19th century struggles with military preparedness and identity. The game plays quickly enough to fit in a single class.

Overall, it’s a fun package, and quite affordable to boot. I recommend checking out Dorking 1875, even if it is with reservations.

  • Joe Fonseca

You can read The Battle of Dorking on the Internet Archive here.

You can purchase Dorking 1875 from Tiny Battle Publishing here.

No money goes to LTAW for purchases. No review copy was given to LTAW.