Valor & Victory Preview

Valor & Victory is currently my favourite tactical squad level board wargame. It scratches the Advanced Squad Leader itch with a massively simplified ruleset that I feel promotes quicker, more enjoyable games. Originally a print and play game that I tried making for a wargamer.com article years ago, Valor & Victory has stuck around, earning its keep over other similar titles like Conflict of Heroes and Band of Brothers. (Both good games, but never quite caught on with my wife and gaming group as well as V&V did.)

V&V definitely doesn’t cover as much of World War Two in detail as it’s 600 paged core rulebook sporting older brother ASL, but the open source nature of it means that an energetic community has put out some impressive content that meshes well with the base game, creating new maps, scenarios, and army units. In fact, a modern expansion was recently released for Print and Play on Boardgamegeek. So going into this preview it is safe to say that I’m a fan of the core game. Will that make me go easy on Yobowargames and Slitherine’s digital offering, or will it make me approach with the critical eye of the hardcore fan of the original? Well, first one, then the other.

Yes! V&V is Getting a Digital Release! But How Does it Play?

I have been waiting a long time for this. V&V feels like an excellent platform to create a digital game system from, especially one that takes into account the active scenario creating community that helps make Valor & Victory what it is today.

On a turn, play is conducted in phases repeated for both sides. The Command phase allows for rallies (automatically done in the digital version), for the breakdown or recombination of squads, and the transference of equipment. The Fire phase allows all active side units to fire. Movement allows units who did not fire to move, giving the enemy a chance to opportunity fire. The Defensive Fire phase allows the enemies who did not opportunity fire a chance to shoot, then an Action/Assault phase allows every active unit to move a single hex regardless of what they did that turn. This single step can include an assault, a deadly affair that is important in taking ground.

Combat works by totaling the firepower of a unit and rolling a pair of dice. the result is modified by leadership and terrain, and a total number of casualties is popped out. The defender works out how to allocate these casaulty points by pinning, reducing, and/or eliminating units. Close assaults are a little more deadly with unpinned squads causing a minimum of casualties on both sides.

The mechanics of V&V will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time with tactical board wargames, or in the digital space with Lock n Load Tactical Digital. LnL Tactical is V&V’s primary competitor on the digital market, and it is important (however much I might not appreciate it) to keep what LnL Tactical offers in mind.

The Preview Build

The preview build I had access to contained three missions plus a tutorial. The tutorial was more of a simple mission with pop ups that explained what each phase entailed. The math, for the most part, is laid out clearly during the game so there is little worry about, but it would be nice to see some extra bits of information like movement values printed on infantry units somewhere (They aren’t in the physical game, but there’s no reason not to include that information in the digital).

When firing, the unit’s firepower and the cross section chart pops up for ease of reference. Here’s the thing though. They need to include some way to modify the speed of dice resolution. V&V is simple, and the math is simple, and I appreciate that immensely on the tabletop. But it does mean that the dramatic pause given after each roll before the chime goes off and it declares ‘miss’ is way too long. All the numbers are there, making it near instantaneous for me to look, see what was rolled, and know whether its a hit or a miss.

The included missions gave some solid examples of the kind of games that V&V can do well. Games can be small scale actions or larger battles, with one scenario even including vehicles and a couple including guns. Both types play well but the larger games allow for a lot more tactical consideration and more interesting avenues of attack and defense. The only major downside at this point is the AI. It clearly needs work. I understand that the developers have said that it was currently their priority, and I’m glad that it is. The AI left a key objective unprotected after I overran a unit in one of my preview games, and it seems to focus fire on easy kills to the detriment of strong defensive plays. I know coding AI is difficult, but it could really use a tune up before release.

The visuals and sound design is fine at the moment. I like the music and gunfire sounds and the visuals of bullets flying and little birds floating by overhead are a nice touch of animation over what is essentially a boardgame made digital. Counters are clear and easy to read, and the LOS tool and phase menu option are big, tool tipped, and expressly easy to manage.

There is an included scenario editor, and what looks like a packaged way to upload scenarios for others to try. I believe this will be the lifeblood of V&V digital’s adaptation just as it is for the boardgame itself. A lively community creating interesting scenarios with the units and mapboards in place would go a long way to giving players the authentic V&V experience and extending the lifespan of the game.

V&V is Getting There, But It Needs Work

Maybe it’s because I love V&V so much that I’m not entirely happy with the digital preview that I got my hands on. I feel like the core is there, but that some key elements need addressing, mainly AI and the option to speed up or slow down dice roll resolution. I would also be happy to see some level of control implemented in terms of casualty removal. In the board game choosing when to pin or to remove units is often (but not always if the numbers are wrong) a tactical decision in itself. Here it is handled automatically. I would like to options in the finished game.

A note on a funny bug. Bugs are an issue with any early preview and I was warned that there would be some in this build. In one game a German officer advanced onto a space occupied by two US rifle squads and an officer and rather than trigger combat, he just sort of became one with the unit. This had the unfortunate side effect of passing over control of those Americans into the hands of officer Schmidt. Now he was firing with the full might of two rifle squads and taking hits on them as I counter attacked. The extraordinary powers of suggestion that Schmidt brought to the battlefield ended my attack and cost me the game. I didn’t expect to have to deal with traitor units in that scenario (nor, do I suspect, did the developers!)

Worthy of a Valorous Victory?

I believe it will be very soon. The core is solid and the quality of life improvements that I want to see don’t seem to be entirely out fo the question at this point. When compared with Lock n Load tactical, I feel like there is a disparity in content and in the complexity of the underlying game system. There is a lot more on offer for different periods in LnL. But I like the V&V system more. But because LnL is more complicated, it benefits more from a digital adaptation. V&V is a simple, tight system that contains very little that I find frustrating to manage myself during gameplay. That leads to the funny situation that I am actually a little more annoying playing the digital version with a purposefully slow die resolution system when the math is easy enough to do in my head right away. It will be a moot point with the inclusion of a system to moderate how long the game lingers on die resolution, but for now it’s a funny quibble that I have with the preview.

As it stands, I like what I’m seeing overall with V&V, and I think with some more work it will be a solid contender on the digital boardgame market. The scenario editing tools alone make it worth looking at. I think, with enough interest, there could be an unlimited number of good scenarios. (or perhaps just adaptations of every good ASL scenario?)

-Joe Fonseca

Thank you to Slitherine/Matrix for access to the preview. Check out the game’s page here. LTAW gets nothing if you preorder this game or any other game.

Warhammer 40k Battlesector: The First Six Missions

The embargo is lifted and I am free to report on my time spent with the latest press build of Warhammer 40k Battlesector! While the core mechanics remain mostly as they were in the previous preview, we now have access to the overarching campaign, or at least a few missions of it, allowing me to ramble on about how I think the game will hold up on release. Oh, and there’s also a sexy photo mode which has been used to embellish this article. No, no, I’m not a trained photographer, thank you, thank you.

Story Time on Baal Secundus

Having access to the first six missions in chronological order finally allows me to dig into the burgeoning narrative of Battlesector. Don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers here. The story revolves around the integration of the new breed of Primaris Space Marines into the ranks of the Blood Angels. The Blood Angels and their homeworld of Baal have just been devastated by the terrifying Leviathan Tyranid Swarm, during a battle that was so fierce it opened portals to Chaos and unleashed demons across the planet. Only a last second intervention by everyone’s favourite goodytwoshoes Roboute Guilliman and Primaris Marines saved the day.

Now some of these new marines have been assigned to 8th company and the cleanup of Baal Secundus. That’s where you come in. It’s up to you to test their skills as they’re led by grumpy old regular marines. The narrative fits into that comfortable warhammer 40k game narrative niche that doesn’t really do anything crazy, but also doesn’t have to as long as it gives us gruff space marines talking about the grimness of war and how unpleasant the xenos are. We certainly get that in the narrative. There is some room for interesting things to develop with the threads that have been left to us in the preview, so I hope things play out in an interesting fashion, but I’m not super keeping my hopes up for anything groundbreaking.

The Campaign Layer

This is the most tabletop part of Battlesector. Between missions you are free to add or subtract units from your army from a stable of Space Marine favourites like Aggressors, Intercessors, and Land Speeders. Each of these cost points and each mission has a point limit, so you won’t be able to take everyone with you each time. Each squad has the option to change out their weapons, but I didn’t really get to experience that in the preview.

Completing objectives and bonus objectives grant you tokens that can be spent on tech trees for each of the Commander characters in your army. These tech options range from passive abilities like increased heath, to active abilities like the option of calling in air support. I personally like the added depth of the campaign layer and actively tried to preserve my squads, especially those who had served with me for more than a couple missions. It’s a light campaign layer, but I like it.

The Game So Far

I still like how Battlesector plays. There is a lot of tactical consideration to be had on every turn. It may seem like the tyranids are a push over, but any real mistake will see your space marines splattered. I like the emphasis on ideal ranges for weapon types and the management of abilities to maximize damage.

The objectives have been pretty varied so far with the exception of the final irksome objective in each map: Kill all remaining tyranids. I wish that weren’t such a constant. They do a good enough job of getting in close so you can kill them, but in general it promotes a very methodical style of play where each encountered unit is dealt with in turn. Some variety here could go a long way in mixing up how missions feel. At least there is no turn time limit.

Aside from that quibble, I’m enjoying myself and I’m sure at this stage that I’ll enjoy the full game. I’m honestly just waiting to see where they take the mission structure and if the gameplay will develop well as more units and challenges are introduced. There is definitely a lot to pull from for inspiration, and what they have here is solid to say the least.

Oh, and there’s a sexy Photo mode. Refer to cool pictures again.

-Joe

Rogue State Revolution Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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