Unity of Command 2: Moscow 41 Review

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

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

Note the amount of reconstituted units.

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

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

120% losses, folks.

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

CONCLUSION

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

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia Review

Going into this review I must admit something important. Something that some of you may find disturbing and unnatural. I am a HUGE fan of the classic AGEOD series of wargames. I mention this because SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia comes to us from Philippe Thibaut, designer of the original Europa Universalis and the AGEOD series, and his team. The AGEOD legacy is clearly evident, and while I’m about to go in depth as to how Tunisia differs, it’s best to remember that I have a personal attachment to this game’s forbearers.

How does SGS Afrika Korps Play?

Afrika Korps: Tunisia is a turn based operational level wargame where players take command of either side of the 1942-43 Battle for North Africa during the Second World War. Players take control of American, Commonwealth, and French forces or their German and Italian enemies, moving brigades, air support, and supplies around a colourful area map of the region.

Gameplay is more regimented than most wargames, with several distinct phases controlling the flow of a turn. These phases cover reinforcements, the play of special strategic cards, air attacks and movement, ground movement, battles, and any post-fighting shuffling that might happen. Personally, I enjoyed this structure because it helped minimize some of the analysis paralysis I know was a problem with older AGEOD titles. Being presented with a giant blank canvas full of units and options made those classic games a challenge to approach. Here I found the familiar ground presented to me in a clearer and more concise format.

Secondly, the structured turns, in addition to the card play mechanics and transparent dice mechanics, gives SGS Afrika Korps a distinct board game quality, one that is reinforced by the overall presentation of the game. As my wall of board wargames will attest, I like the feel of a good board wargame and found SGS did a solid job of presenting itself as such. This is an aesthetic and gameplay choice that some might not mesh with, but those who appreciate board wargaming and like the transparency and simpler rules that a board game-like PC game provides will be happy with SGS Afrika Korps.

Battles, whether they are air bombardments or conventional ground based attacks, operate along similar lines. Both sides will take it in turn to attack the other in rounds. Units like artillery will fire first, and certain special units, like Panzer Brigades or scouts, have special rules that will alter the standard flow of battle. I appreciate that a lot of the obfuscated information that hindered AGEOD games is now out in the open in SGS. Each unit’s roll of the die will be laid out during the battle to fly by as quickly or slowly as players like.

The importance of unit composition, like including artillery, air support, and scouts in most fighting formations gives players clear goals to strive towards, highlighting the supply and reinforcement issues that plagued this campaign. It will often be difficult to bring a balanced force to bear against your opponent, but when it happens, it really feels like you made it happen.

The cards may put some people off, but I enjoy what they add to the game. Like with board wargames, cards with special situational events on the help to simulate the wider war without bogging down players by forcing them to learn a million extra rules. Just know that the skillful use of tactical cards during battle and strategic cards during a turn will be an important part of SGS’s wider strategy.

Visuals and Feel in SGS Afrika Korps

Visually, I like what Tunisia has to offer. It is a relatively standard tabletop set up, but the unit graphics and photographs on the cards are nice. The only complaint I have here is that some unit art appears to be recycled, and I found myself highlighting units to remind myself if this indistinct French infantryman was a Zouave unit or a mechanized brigade. It’s odd because so many units have their own art, but not all.

There are several ways to control units, and that seems like a nice accessibility feature. moving stacks can be done by dragging and dropping or by right clicking, which brings up a coloured radius of areas that the stack can reach. A lot of information can be toggled on and off including supply maps and area stacking limits. There are a few video tutorials, but for those unfamiliar with the old AGEOD games, a few turns of trial and error will probably be necessary to come to grips with how Tunisia flows.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed my time with SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia. It felt like a natural evolution of the AGEOD formula into something more accessible, understandable, and perhaps enjoyable for those who might have been put off by that series’ complexity. I appreciate the board game feel and aesthetics, but understand that some might be put off by the transparently game-y aspects of Tunisia. I think it’s worth exploring and am looking foward to more from SGS.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A fun, accessible, and pretty game that carries the AGEOD feeling into a new era. Definitely not for everyone, but for board wargame lovers or those who liked the concept, if not the execution, of the classic AGEOD titles.

A Steam Code was provided to Let’s Talk About Wargames for the purposes of this review. The game is available on Steam and through the SGS website. LTAW doesn’t get anything if you click that link.

Age of Sigmar 3.0: A Test Game

My friend and I decided to finally take the plunge and try out the game that replaced Warhammer all those years ago: Age of Sigmar. A lot has changed both in terms of rules and in terms of the game’s background lore, and wading back into Age of Sigmar for it’s 3rd edition release was actually a lot more fun than I had anticipated.

As a brief reminder of my tabletop qualifications, I’ve been a steady player of Warhammer Fantasy since my 12 year old self managed to scrap together enough for a 6th edition starter set. My friends and I all slowly chipped away at armies using our middling-at-best understanding of the rules and a lot of proxy-hammer to have a grand old time romping around the Old World. We’ve stuck with miniature wargaming, dipping into 40k, historical, and skirmish games all while continuing to build and play to Warhammer Fantasy. Until Games Workshop destroyed it.

Since Warhammer died and we took a bit of a break, we’ve been playing (when not COVID restricted) One Page Rule’s Age of Fantasy Regiments, which I’ve said numerous times on this blog and elsewhere is my favorite game system ever. But now that things are open and a new edition of Age of Sigmar just dropped, we thought we’d give it a shot.

The Realm of Ghur

The Age of Sigmar

Our battle, as per the 2021 General’s Handbook, takes place in the feral plains of Guhr, a realm suffused with wild magic and a vicious will to survive. Our battle plan (read: scenario) was “Savage Gains” rolled from a list in that same handbook. While we both anticipated a grueling weight-lifting competition, instead we found a fairly standard ‘control the enemy’s objective’ scenario with a little twist. Objectives were worth more the further into enemy territory you went, and on the 3rd turn of 5, the player going second was able to remove a single objective, denying remaining points.

Our armies, my wife’s wonderfully painted Warriors of Chaos and my friend’s High Elves (Now Slaves to Darkness and Lumineth Realm Lords in Age of Sigmar parlance) were arrayed across the beautiful and Guhr appropriate table at our local gaming store Game Knight League, ready to fight.

The Lumineth host before the lines met.

The Battle

Earning the first turn, The Lumineth Realm Lords calmly organized their detachments. Archers, spearmen, and the dreaded blade masters maintained a tight formation while they move to secure key junctures of the rapidly flowing rivers that cut through this region’s mountains. Their leaders, wizards all, cast wards of protection and accuracy on their soldiers, only minorly bothered by the tug of Chaos at the edge of their minds. On the far flank, a lone Hero emerged from the undergrowth to deny passage to any Chaos warriors who might try to get the drop on his allies. Spying only a pathetic Chaos Spawn, the Hero swiftly put it out of its misery with several well placed arrows. Back on the other side of the battlefield, archers opened fire. Sensing the oncoming taint of corruption, arrows loosed at high arcs towards unseen targets. Drawn to the immense power of a Demon Prince of Nurgle, several shafts found their mark, but it was not enough to bring down the beast, who quickly healed himself using his dark god’s power.

Bolstered by the laughter of their dark god, the more mobile forces of Nurgle charged across the rivers, Chariots crashing through the water and demonic steeds leaping the gap to come down with thunderous weight on the other bank. Seeing an unholy speed that belied the gross bulk of the warriors approaching them, the Blade Lords holding the center repositioned themselves at the edge of a tangled wood, blocking the path to their home objective and dominating a pass between two mighty peaks.

Two key river junctures on the left and right, with a mountain pass in the middle, made up the battlefield

The lone Hero, satisfied at having removed the taint of the Chaos spawn from the realm, almost didn’t hear the wingbeats that brought a second Demon Prince of Nurgle hurtling out of the sky to land almost on top of him. Far away, The main host of Nurgle advanced, drawing closer to the arranged elven warriors, the sky about them darkened with a plague of flies. Lumineth archer showed their skill as arrows filled the sky and managed, beyond all reason, to navigate the clouds of flies that surrounded the oncoming horde to find gaps in armour and slits in visors. The horde was slowed, but not stopped.

Eventually arrows could do no more and the mighty hosts clashed. Chariots crashed into steady ranks, wreaking bloody havoc before being brought down by pin point accurate blades and spears. The Spearmen of the Realm Lords, emboldened by their leader’s magic, were a glowing engine of death. Dozens of hulking warriors and even a demon prince fell before their efficient onslaught. It took the might of the Putrid BlightKings, scions of Nurgle’s Will, to turn the tide. As the spear elves slowly began to fall before weight of the advance, the weeping of the Scinari Cathallar took the pain of his fellow realm lords and weaponized it, turning their suffering and sorrow into pure energy that wracked the brains of the assaulting Chaos Warriors. When the dust settled and the flies were silenced, none but Fecula, Sorceress of Nurgle remained on that bloody field.

Warriors of Chaos and Lumineth Spearmen and Blade Lords move to meet on the critical juncture, a now desolate plain that will forever be known as the field of flies

A mountain away, The advanced forces of Nurgle’s host were struggling. The Blade Lords used the forest to their advantage, striking out at the Chaos Kngihts as they blundered through the gigantic trees. Even farther afield, The Lone Hero dueled with the Demon Prince over control of a key ford. He put up a valiant fight but could not contain the fury of the beast. Eventually, a triumphant and bubbly laugh signaled the Demon’s victory, and the capture of the ford. The triumph was short lived, as the Hero had managed to stall the beast long enough. The battle had shifted and the ford he died beside was no longer strategically critical.

While their soldiers butchered each other on the wide plain that would evermore be known as the field of flies, The Chaos Lord confronted the Leader of the Lumineth. It was he who Nurgle had told his champion to slaughter, and so he did swifty, the sorcerer no match for the god touched warrior. His success was met with a great boon, as Nurgle saw fit to bless him with Demonhood, elevating him beyond mortality.

It was clear that the elves were in danger of losing the field of flies and therefore the key river junction. Leaving some Blade Masters to hold their flank against whatever forces might come, the archers and remaining Blade Masters repositioned themselves to take back the field. The newly minted Demon Prince, arrogant in his new form, dove upon them alone, intent on finishing the puny elves and taking the pass for his god.

A Great Demon of Nurgle

His hubris would be his undoing, as the combined might of the remaining archers was more than enough to send his newly twisted soul into the void of Chaos. This left only a handfull of BlightKings and a Demon Prince alive on the field. Though the BlightKings pulled their weight in the final moments of the battle, they were brought down, leaving the Lumineth Realm Lords in control of the key remaining juncture and their own home area.

Though the Field of Flies will remain rotten for generations, the three key mountain passes remain in the hands of the forces of Order, the Lumineth earning a sizable, if costly, victory over the forces of Chaos.

Demon Prince and Lumineth Realm Lord

Game Review

Age of Sigmar is fun! At first we were both overwhelmed with the sheer number of special rules we had to look up. I’m sure we both missed some here and there. But the management of Command Points, Hero Abilities, and combat activations made every turn feel important and full of meaningfully tactical decisions.

The victory conditions, tied to objectives instead of merely killing opposing forces, kept the game up in the air until the final couple of turns when in quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to overcome the Lumineth lead.

Lumineth Realm Lords

The most important part was that the game was entertaining and led to a lot of fun emergent narratives. The duel between Demon Prince and Lone Hero. The Sad-ening of my warriors killing most of the unit, and the overeager Demon Prince spawning out of my general only to be shot down with his hubris. It helped that we had mostly painted armies and a beautiful battlefield, but I’m more than ready to hop into a new Age of Sigmar Army. It was a great night out, and isn’t that the point of tabletop wargaming?

HighFleet Review

Thousands of meters above a sparse desert, filled with ruins and angry warlords, a small fleet of combat airships cruise to their next objective. The commander of this grand fleet sits in his command room, staring at a map. Various lights blink and alarms buzz intermittently. Encoded messages are intercepted by the comms team as the fleet sends out a strike force to hit the upcoming town before they can call for reinforcements, just as tactical nuclear missiles are fired at the main fleet by an enemy strike force some hundreds of kilometers away.

HIGHFLEET RULES.

The player is, of course, the commander of this (high)fleet, a group of massive war-airships (air-warships?) stuck without help in NotAfghanistan, as the heir to the NotRussian Empire. The tutorial helps explain the premise of the game tidily, and introduces the main story beats, which I won’t spoil too much because although it is basic, it is a good concept. Along your journey, as your (high)fleet cruises between towns in a desolate desert you learn more about the world and the characters you can call upon for help in your time of need. And boy, will you need help.

Your (high)fleet will spend the game cruising around enemy territory, going from town to town to assault enemy defenses, grab repairs and supplies for your ships, as well as hire mercenaries to supplement your relatively tiny force. In my time playing, I’ve only had a fleet up to about 10-12 ships at max, and enemy formations can vary from just a few ships to having about an equivalent number. Worse still, the enemy seems to have easier access to big fuck-off cruisers that will pummel your ships into oblivion given the chance.

So, that’s enough lead-up I think. Let’s talk about the meat of the game: the cool-as-hell combat.

LIKE A FLASH GAME (BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

So, when faced with an enemy formation, you are given the ability to organize your fleet’s combat order, the first ship will go out to fight first, then when that one’s retreated or blown up, the following ship will come in, and so on. I thought this was confusing at first, given that the enemy will have multiple ships deployed at the same time, but Highfleet is, at its heart, a 2D aerial shooter. Your ships can fly along the x and y axes, facing off against enemy ships who want your blood. The action is difficult to sell through text, but as your destroyer thrusts above the enemy to fire several rounds of 120 mm high explosive into the roof of an enemy vessel, causing it to catch fire and careen wildly out of control, deploying escape pods before it hits the ground… well that in the industry is what we call “the good shit.”

Ships can vary between being floating fortresses, massive structures with massive cannon, missiles, and parasite planes attached, to what is essentially a thruster with some guns tied to them. Damage in combat is determined based on what type of shell/missile hits what part of the structure of your ship, and things will blow up/ fall off satisfyingly. Ships can easily spin out of control if one of their thrusters is damaged, and your landing gears can also be broken off, making landing for repairs (a mini-game you can do in towns to speed up the repair speed for a ship) a non-starter. Of course, that assumes your ship survives combat, which it easily couldn’t. Combat is generally pretty fast, with errant shots able to detonate ammo stores, but larger ships can duke it out for minutes, which feels like running a marathon. Fortunately, as your ship sustains damage against several enemy combatants, you can bring it to the side of the screen to retreat, and the next ship in rotation will appear, hopefully fresh and able to beat up on the enemy forces.

I really have to commend the developer, Konstantin Koshutin, for how good combat feels. It feels exactly as violent as it is, with ships weighing thousands of tons shooting heavy artillery at each other hundreds of meters in the air. The weight of movement and weapons feels right, and the action is visceral. A feature that is sorely lacking in Highfleet is a skirmish mode, as it would be fantastic to throw these massive beats at each other outside the context of the campaign. Speaking of which…

A MERRY TREK TO DOOM

As I mentioned above, the gist of the campaign is to move your fleet from one end of the campaign map to the other, your objective being the enemy’s capital. You are, except your current fleet, alone, and need to scavenge for supplies, ships, recruits, and allies on the way. This is an interesting and deep part of the game that I feel unfortunately doesn’t stack quite up to the excitement of the combat. Maybe I’m just not great at being the head strategist of the team, but to me, it can frequently feel like a lot of shuffling around between enemy cities to try to pick off lone transports or rushing an enemy oil depot to get a cheap refill of your tanks. It’s also very hard to come back from a losing situation, as you are being hunted by what feels like increasingly strong enemies, with your own fleet succumbing to constant attrition through skirmishes.

Thank you, Petr.

The campaign layer does have several interesting systems, such as various methods of radar detection, the ability to intercept messages from the enemy, which warn you of positions of their transports and terrifying strike fleets, and the ability to form up smaller task forces to strike around the region. These are interesting diversions on the campaign layer, but I feel like they can become just a bit of extra noise.

Added to the stack of things you have to keep track of, in addition to all the enemy fleets, your fleet’s status, the opinion of the people you’re “liberating”, you can also do some tinkering on your ships to customize them. This is a very cool feature that scares the hell out of me. All changes seem to take place immediately, and it’s not super apparent to me which part of the ship does what… through experience you can figure it out, or you might have a better idea than I do already. Unfortunately for everyone, including myself, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts instead of an engineering degree, so this doesn’t come naturally to me, but I have seen other players cannibalize ships in their fleets to build ugly but incredibly efficient monstrosities that pulverize enemy forces. I hope there’s an update to the ship building system that makes it kinder in the future, as there isn’t much of a tutorial for it, and the fear of messing up one of your few valuable ships can be felt the whole time you’re refitting.

CONCLUSION

HighFleet is a unique beast. I have complaints about it, as I’ve said, but a lot of that comes down to my personal experience with the game so far, your mileage could vary with it. Maybe you really like building ships, or maybe the strategic layer is meant for you, there are a lot of you who would probably like that.

I can say though, one inarguable fact about HighFleet though, is that the game is absolutely dripping with style. The aesthetics of the game are great, with the screen shaking on hits in battle, bullet holes puncturing the UI, you can hear crew talking and sending radio messages in combat/ landings, as well as the ambient sounds of the ships in the campaign. And the sounds and looks of the guns in combat! It’s really something great to behold, and if you’re unsure about the game, I recommend taking a look at a video of this on Youtube, to at the very least appreciate the vibes.

You can convince some locals to help you through a card-based mini-game that feels somewhat under-utilized.

I can’t really compare HighFleet to any other wargames out now, as unique as it is. If you like experimental projects oozing with cool, check it out!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Panzer Corps 2: Axis Operations 1942 DLC Review

Ah yes, Panzer Corps 2, my old friend, has returned yet again with another DLC set. I have talked before about how their DLC series, taking the player through some of the hotspots of the German campaigns in WW2, has been very good and varied so far, and each iteration seems to be better. This one is no exception so far, as the DLCs continue to add interesting scenarios to take the player through.

This DLC, as you can imagine, focuses on the eastern front, and campaigns in the Soviet Union starting in early 1942. In a change from what the normally aggressive player will be used to, there are several scenarios that call for a more defensive approach, especially the first one, which sees the player’s army surrounded. There is a nice amount of variation in these scenarios, which I want to say are great overall, because the formula of Panzer Corps 2 works really well, and what these DLCs are is essentially new map packs for your persistent army.

That being said, I have a bit of a bone to pick with this set of scenarios specifically. Perhaps it was because I began reviewing this set while I was stuck in my house with no air conditioning, but some of the scenarios felt like they took and incredibly long time to finish. I really like the gameplay of Panzer Corps 2, but defending a static position for over 20 turns with 20+ units to manage each turn can become a bit tedious.

Another thing I noticed somewhat on the 1941 DLC but moreso here, is that while the game will give you a pre-built army to work with if you don’t have an army to carry over from the previous DLC (which is a tremendous feature, by the by), you’re probably better off importing or building your own army. The scenarios are noticeably tough, at least in my opinion, and you’re better off with an army you’ve crafted yourself.

One other important thing I’d like to mention is that the end of this DLC pack has different endings, which is a first. Of course, 1942 is the year of Stalingrad, and the end of the pack brings you to there, and the ending changes based on how you perform in battle. I’m not sure how much bearing that will have on a potential Axis Operations 1943, but it is cool to see a bit of variance to the overall story of your army.

All in all, I can’t say much else about this DLC. It’s more Panzer Corps 2! Panzer Corps 2 is great! If you like the game, you’ll like the DLC. Despite my gripes, it still stands as one of the best turn-based strategy games in the WW2 sphere at the moment.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

(P.S. sorry for the lack of variety in screenshots, my HDD seems to have eaten most of them D:)

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!

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Valor & Victory Digital Review

As mentioned before, Valor & Victory is my current favourite squad level board wargame. It’s basically Squad Leader’s laid back and easy going little brother, and I’m finding myself more and more drawn to that kind of game when it comes to an afternoon of wargaming with friends. Maybe it’s the pandemic? Who knows?

In Valor & Victory, there are only a handful of rules to hammer down before diving in, but the system is robust enough to capture the fire and movement feel of WWII squad level tactics: Machine guns can wreak havoc and create fire lanes, pinning is essential on the assault, tanks can provide amazing support but can also fall victim to close infantry attack and AT guns. It’s not the most detailed game, and not the most accurate simulation, but it manages to convey what it should in games that take around 45 minutes for the experienced player. So, you know my feelings going in. That said, I’m not 100% sold on the digital version.

Valor & Victory Basics

Valor & Victory is a tactical game in which both players control leaders, squads, teams, AT Guns, and vehicles from the US, UK, and Germany fighting over geomorphic hexagonal boards representing Northern France. Each nation has a few types of squads at their disposal. The US for example has infantry, Rangers, and Airborne, each with slightly different profiles. Squads and teams can be equipped with heavy weapons and explosives that further specialize units.

Each scenario has one of three objectives: Capture key hexes, eliminate enemy units, or exit units from the board at certain spaces. The variety is there and its nice to see how far the game can take these victory conditions. But keep them in mind, they’ll become important to my frustrations with Valor & Victory.

On a given turn, one side performs a suite of actions before the opponent does the same. The command phase allows for rallying, joining and breaking down of squads, and the transfer of equipment. The Fire phase is for firing, and precludes later movement. Then movement, which can be interrupted by enemy reaction fire. Then enemy defensive fire, in which units that didn’t react fire can shoot. Then there is a final assault-move phase in which every friendly unit can move one hex. If this brings them into an occupied hex, an assault occurs.

Whether or not fire hits comes down to the roll of two dice. The total firepower of all the selected units in a hex is calculated, the dice are rolled, and the result is cross referenced to see how many casualties are taken. One casualty can be converted into a pin, but the rest need to be taken as losses.

Overall its a great system, especially on the tabletop. The simple calculation works to keep the game flowing, and there is just enough granularity to make interesting tactical choices the name of the game. On the PC though, the simplicity hurts the overall package, highlighting some of Valor & Victory’s biggest problems.

Valor & Victory Digital is…Good…If You All Make it Good.

There is a lot to like about the system, and the digital adaptation has promise, but the issue is that it depends entirely on how the community reacts to the launch, and how committed they are to mutliplayer and to scenario creation.

Here’s Valor & Victory’s goods:

The game is authentic. If you want a digital, multiplayer version of Valor & Victory that lets you play with friends across the country. You’re in luck. It does that and does it perfectly. The included scenarios are fun with friends and overarching system does what the V&V does, but it does automate some things like casualty application and defensive fire that some might want control over.

The scenario editor is great. Really, it’s fast, intuitive, and you’ll be cranking out modified ASL scenarios in no time. If the community steps up we could have a treasure trove of interesting scenarios in no time. Editors can set victory conditions, add history, deploy units and equipment, and choose from all of the included map boards in a variety of layouts.

Here are the not goods:

The AI is not great. In multiple games that I played, they barely moved. Or when they moved they did so haphazardly, dancing back and forth between positions. When the AI is tasked with taking objectives, they very rarely make decisive efforts to cross open ground, preferring to stand in cover and fire. Reasonable move to make, I suppose, but not when doing so will lose you the game. The AI is also a little wonky with its target selection. You can very easily bait anti-tank weapons to fire at infantry if they’re closer/more exposed than tanks.

The AI is better at defense, when the game becomes an exercise is how best to minimize casualties as you push towards objectives. The AI lacks a good deal of the reactive ability of a human opponent, and while I get it, AI is difficult, I was still saddened to see them put up such light resistance.

Valorous, Not Quite a Victory

The core is good! Really! If you’re going to play with friends, and if you’re going to engage with the scenario creator, Valor & Victory is great. If you’re looking for a single player board game experience, its not stellar. There is potential for updates, I believe, but I’m very optimistic to see what fans of the game will do with the resources available to them when they get their hands on it.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Valor & Victory has a solid foundation built upon a great boardgame, and the included multiplayer and scenario editor are worth checking out. The AI is not great, which limits single player enjoyment.

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At the Height of Battle: Quick Rules Review

A little while ago my wife and I actually managed to get our new miniatures from MT Miniatures onto the tabletop for a little skirmish. We haven’t really had the time to do any proper research into any historical engagements during the Imjin War, so we stuck with the tried and true method of dividing our forces and going in for the kill.

At the Height of Battle is a relatively simple rule set covering naval actions in East Asian waters in the middle ages. The starter kit that we purchased (unboxing here, painting here) had ships for the Imjin War, Japan’s fateful attempt to invade China through the Korean Peninsula.

I love simple, easy to play rulesets. I find that I have more fun when I have to worry less about granular details, especially given how busy I am these days. So bear in mind that I have that bias going into the explanation.

At the beginning of each turn both players work out the command phase, which handles morale, sinking ships, and other housekeeping. Then its on to the activations. At the Height of Battle uses a set of three cards per side that act as an initiative deck.

When your side’s card is drawn, you are free to move and fire with each unit under your control. Units are divided into squadrons with a flagship. There are rules to keep squadrons together, which help keep games looking fairly accurate, and highlight the chaos when a flagship is taken out of the action. Movement is either done by sail or oar, (or in some special cases by paddle) and is a simple system of pivoting by degrees and moving in inches. The wind must be taken into account when using sail movement, but we found that it was often more economical to use oars.

When it comes to shooting, ships have both heavy artillery, representing major armaments like catapults and cannons, and light artillery representing small arms. Each ship can fire its heavy artillery only once a turn, but can fire small arms each activation. Both have different bonuses to the opposed die that makes up combat, and successes will deal different amounts of damage, with heavy artillery more likely to deal significant damage.

It’s a good system, but we ran into one snag during our test games. Ships took “crew casualties” far too often. After the first “crew casualties” result, which halves boarding ability, further “crew casualties” results don’t do anything. So we found that almost every ship took this initial hit and then slapped at each other with boarding actions until one side took the win at the opposed die roll. Our proposed house rule is to continue halving boarding ability, rounding down, until it hits zero, for each subsequent “crew casualties” result.

When a fleet has taken half casualties, they roll for morale, given the rating of their commander, and might be forced to flee. There are plenty of other rules for ground batteries, shallow waters, capturing enemy vessels, etc. Everything you’d like to see in a quick play naval rule set.

Overall we had fun, and with the minor adjustment to crew casualties, we think we’ll be playing this one again in the future. Now I just need to do some research, and go back for more ships!

Joe

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Good, clean ruleset that offers a fun and light wargaming experience, with some minor tweeks to make it work better for us. As a complete package, At the Height of Battle is a great buy to dip your toes in miniature naval wargaming.

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Field of Glory 2: Medieval: Reconquista Review

The 11th Century to the 13th Century. A very tumultuous time in the Iberian peninsula and North Africa, as Christians and Muslims fight each other tooth and nail for the lands that now make up Spain and Portugal. Elsewhere, the Byzantine Empire expands its influence to Italy, battling the Papal States and other, smaller kingdoms in a bid to “reconquer” what had been Roman land, and that the Byzantines view as their own. Simultaneously, Norman adventurers, harkening upon their Viking heritage, arrive in Italy, looking to make fortunes and claim titles for themselves. 

Field of Glory 2 is, as we’ve talked about before, an excellent turn-based wargame, pitting mid-medieval era units against each other in big bloody battles that seem to always turn into hellish melees. While this is not always the case for the period, it’s very fun to play! And delightfully, Reconquista gives us more to play with in the period. Mentioned above are the hotspots featured in the DLC, but what’s particularly exciting (other than the fact that I get to play as the Byzantine army, who are incredibly cool in the period) is that there are a whole 20 new nations and 45 new army lists in this DLC. Holy crap, Slitherine!

You can find the full list of army lists on the Steam page, but there are several army lists here that have may differences from their northwestern European counterparts. For starters, yes, heavy cavalry is still king, but you see more variances on it than you would up north. Several of the Arab tribes have access to camelry (yes that is the real word) units, which are excellent anti-cavalry units, because as we all know, horses are terrified of camels. As a fun effect, the camels can also disorder friendly cavalry units as well, so any camelry heavy armies should make sure to keep their dromedaries and their horses a healthy distance from each other.

The Arab armies also typically have access to massed archer units, which can rain down much larger quantities of arrows than their Christian counterparts. Curiously, some of the Arab spearmen units had a description saying “mix of spearmen and archers” but the unit was 100% spearmen with no ranged element. I’m not sure whether this is intentional, to represent the cooperative nature of the Arab archer elements in the army, or if it was an oversight. A bit disappointing, as the Byzantines do have infantry units with ranged elements built in. You can quickly see why my army of choice was so feared in the period, with units typically able to whittle down their opponents a fair amount before any engagement even occurs, though the fact that half the unit has the “bow-capability” tag means that they aren’t the best in prolonged engagements.

I could continue to talk about the Byzantine army list for the rest of this review, but I would be doing the DLC a disservice if I didn’t bring up the new campaigns and battles. There are 4 new campaigns and 8 new battles in the Reconquista DLC, seeing action in Iberia and Italy, with loads of different combatants. The campaigns follow the careers of El Cid (Spanish for “The Cid”), Frederick II Hohenstaufen (the Holy Romans loved invading Italy), Muhammad II of Granada (founder of the last Muslim state in Spain), and the Norman de Hauteville clan (the aforementioned Norman adventurers). I haven’t played through each campaign yet, but there is a lot of variety with what scenarios you encounter and the maps you see.

I still have a particular fondness for the dynamic campaign tool of FOG2M, as it enables the player to follow a narrative and make decisions in between battles, and it continues as my favorite piece of Reconquista. As far as i can tell, Reconquista did nothing to change it other than to add some biomes and the army lists from the DLC, but being able to set up a 9 battle campaign where you take your Byzantine army against Andalusians and fight off Lombard reinforcements from seizing a fort you took on the previous campaign step is some marvelous gameplay. Especially nice is the fact that the new army lists also play nice with the time warp lists, so you can have your 550 BC Achaemenid Persians fight your 1200 AD Byzantines for the glory of Asia Minor.

So, should you get this DLC? Definitely. Reconquista adds a lot to the base game of Field of Glory 2 Medieval. None of the base components of the game are changed, but that’s perfectly fine; if it ain’t broke, etc. $20 for an expansion can seem a bit steep, but with the sheer amount of content in the DLC, you will definitely find something in here that tickles your fancy if you’re a fan of the base game. Do yourself a favor and grab this.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

-Jack Trumbull

Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad

I’ve been putting off this review for a long time. The fact of the matter is that this reviewer gets no pleasure from writing poor reviews. All the more so when it’s a game I really should have liked. A bit like Operation Blue itself, somewhere along the operation Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad loses its way.

I remember playing the original Cauldrons of War “concept”. It was barely even a tech demo. You set the stance of your various fronts, clicked next turn and somehow it turned into one of the most convincing portrayals of the Eastern Front I’d played. 

Fast forward, past Cauldrons of War: Barbarossa, and we are presented with Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad. It really should be a match made in heaven. The Red Army is no longer the Stumbling Colossus of 1941 and cracks are beginning to show in the Wehrmacht. Over 1942 perhaps one of the greatest military dramas of all time will play out across the Eastern Front. Glimmers of that drama shine through in Stalingrad’s portrayal of the fighting, that they remain only glimmers.

For the uninitiated, Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad portrays the Eastern Front at the strategic level with a scope equivalent to Gary Grigsby’s: War in the East. The player commands all frontline forces and directs the operations of Army Groups, smaller operational groups and fronts. Eschewing hex grids, Cauldrons of War focusses upon the big picture, creating an Eastern Front made up of various regions that change as the frontlines ebb and flow. Units are assigned to those regions answering to the higher command in charge of that area. Each HQ, whether it be an Army Group or front, has a limited amount of command points that it uses to direct the units below it. This limitation means that players must be very careful in choosing what units will do what.

These fundamentals are a strong base for Cauldrons of War. The limited command points lead to some very careful thinking on the player’s part. Furthermore, it also keeps the game moving. Too often information overload make these games very difficult to learn. The limited ability of the player to give orders in Cauldrons however means that the game moves quickly and focusses the decision-making to a few crucial orders rather than busywork.

So far, so good, unfortunately Cauldrons of War’s lightning advance through the fundamentals begins to falter as it heads deeper into the actual gameplay. For a start, the game’s writing does it no favours. It might seem like a small thing, but in such an abstract game writing is a critical part of how one becomes immersed in the unfolding story. The quite crude English only serves to remind you that you’re playing a game, rather than the gaming equivalent of a serious but approachable history book. It’s altogether a shame.

Then there’s the gameplay itself. The tutorial is adequate – at best – and if you miss or forget something the in-game wiki is quite unfit for purpose. Time and again I would try to find out what a “Grand Offensive” or a “Breakthrough” was. To me it seemed like another kind of attack.  All I seemed to do however was take away a command point for no gain. Eventually, I worked out it represents the overarching plan that your units will follow. It makes sense; but mixed up with all the other options – many of which also were along the lines of “attack” – it simply became annoying.

Fighting the interface is something of a theme with Cauldrons. Its issues run deeper than just game knowledge. With how limited command points are and how your units are assigned to different regions, making your decisions straightforward and transparent is vital. Cauldrons fails here, with the regions your units are assigned to difficult to identify through the interface. Your only option is to continuously click between the map and the HQ you are giving orders to make sure your units are going where they supposed to. For the Germans, who have less HQs than the Soviets, this is a particular problem, with Army Group South having up to a dozen regions under its direction. I want to fight the fascists/commies, not the interface.

The final weakness of Cauldrons however is one of perspective. When playing Fall Blau from either side, whose role am I playing? Am I equivalent to the Stavka or the OKW or one of the dictators themselves? Time and again I found myself asking these questions as one of the many pre-scripted decisions and events appeared at the beginning of a turn. It made little sense, with next to no resources available to the Stalingrad Front to commence its attack, for Zhukov should turn up with a wagonload of command points and a single extra army to begin operations. It’s true that many, often futile, attacks were launched on the flanks of the 6th Army’s push toward Stalingrad during the period – but it strikes me that that should be the player’s decision to cock up, rather than a scripted event. The way HQ command points are handled are equally irritating. I, as commander of all forces on the Eastern Front, able to launch night attacks on a whim, have no ability to influence what resources a HQ has available to it. Likewise, not all HQ actions are created equal. Stalingrad Front, whose fellow fronts are ordering entire armies to make massive assaults outside Moscow, will instead use all its resources for the week ferrying two divisions across the Volga. It would not be unreasonable for the Volga flotilla to use up all the week’s resources pushing two divisions across the Volga – but an entire front?

Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad is a fine achievement and, in many areas, plausibly and skilfully abstracts the enormous complexity of the Eastern Front. It is clear that the developer has done his homework and I especially enjoyed reading his explanations for many of the design decisions within the game. Many aspects work well and it was a nail-biting pleasure to see my panzers reach the Caspian Sea, even as their flanks collapsed around them. Unfortunately, abstraction is a double-edged sword. Time and again I felt I wasn’t fighting the enemy so much as the game. It is a problem Cauldrons of War: Stalingrad does not recover from.

-Charles Ellis