Panzer Corps 2: Axis operations 1941 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Groups can be micromanaged or left to the AI

How Does War in the East 2 Play?

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

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

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

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

But What Do I Really Think?

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

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

The amount of information is staggering.

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

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

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

A Triumph?

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

-Joe Fonseca

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

Warhammer 40k Battlesector Preview Impressions

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

The Story So Far: Warhammer Ham Cooked Right

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

Warhammer 40k Battlesector: How Does It Play?

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

-Joe Fonseca

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

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

New Directions: Wargaming for the Truly Enlightened Gamer

We here at Let’s Talk About Wargames have been pretty lackadaisical in our coverage of wargames. Too often we stray from the true path of the gamer in an ill-conceived attempt to reach a (shudder) popular audience.

WELL NO LONGER

From this day forward Let’s Talk About Wargames, along with our new sponsor MONSTER ENGERY DRINK*, will be bringing you the hardest of hardcore wargaming tips, tricks, and sick dances straight from EPIC*, the best publisher and developer of digital wargaming content this side of the BattleBus.

That’s right, We’ll now be bringing you the hottest reporting for the world’s most popular wargame:* FORTNITE.

WANT TO LEARN HOW TO CONSTRUCT A FOB TO PROTECT A SUPPLY DROP?

WANT USEFUL BLUEPRINTS FOR DEFENCE IN DEPTH POSITIONING?

WANT TO SHAPE A TOWER LIKE A LLAMA FOR SOME REASON?

THEN LOOK NO FURTHER THAN:

LET’S TALK ABOUT FORTNITE*

See you on the flip side of your next Victory Royal, Bros and Brosettes!

*Not an actual sponsor.
*Please don’t sue us Epic.
*Well, there are guns, and forts, and tactics I’m sure. Pretty much a wargame.
*We’re kidding everyone. Your regularly scheduled wargaming goodness will resume once I pick my brain up off of page 304 of the WitE2 Manual. -Joe

PS I still think this is a good idea. – Jack

Maneuver Warfare Review (1.14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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

-Joe Fonseca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total War: Rome Remastered is a Thing

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

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

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

Warhammer 40k: Battlesector’s Space Marines

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

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

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

Primaris Space Marines in Battlesector

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

Inceptors

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

Aggressors

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

Furioso Dreadnought:

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

Techmarine

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

Librarian

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

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

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

Until the Last Plane Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
  • Jack Trumbull

Combat Mission: Black Sea Review

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

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

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

To Die Along the Dnieper

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Combat is a nightmare, but rewardingly tense.

Combat Mission is Almost There!

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

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

Mistakes were made…

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Joe