Gem Wizards Tactics Review: Like a Fun-Sized Tactics-Filled Chocolate Bar

I have to say, I’m surprised I like Gem Wizards Tactics as much as I do. I took a first look at it and thought “this looks like a hex game with a neat aesthetic” and I was right, but didn’t realize the tactical depth behind that first look. There’s enough mechanics here to keep a turn-based tactics fan pleased for bite-sized scenarios for a long time, especially considering the procedural nature of the game.

The premise of the game is thus: there’s a magical land with 7 gems, the 8th one, which is extra magical, has been discovered and now you have to fight to keep your home safe. Pretty standard fantasy premise, but the game is pretty cheeky with it. Anyway, as you begin a campaign, you get to choose one of the (currently) 3 factions to lead against the forces that would oppress you. Essentially, it’s an excuse to go beat up on enemies in a series of small scenarios. Perfectly reasonable stuff there.

These 3 factions are led by unique hero characters, that will be the heavy hitters of your force through the campaign. The Potato faction is led by Andromeda Robin, a witch that can grow fast but weak allies, and create a lightning storm centered on an enemy. The Azure Order, led by Gelf Lanz, is a knight/ mage that can also summon allies, and charge into enemies, bumping them out of position. The last faction, the Business Demons (lol), are headed by their CEO, Bill Milton, who uses money as a unique currency to buff his units. Most other special abilities cost Gems, which are strewn around the map, but good ol’ Bill loves to offer his units Predatory Loans (yes this is a real ability) for dosh.

The factional units are the stars of the show in GWT, as they all have unique skillsets that play into a faction’s strengths. Some units, such as the Potato Roll Guard, will roll forever when shoved, until they hit an obstacle, another unit, or roll off the map. Others, like the more standard Azure Order Longbow, have a special ranged attack, which is just them firing arrows, go figure. And others still, such as the Business Demon (lol) Drill Sergeant, can modify the terrain around them for fuel for future attacks. There’s a nice variety to these units, and their abilities often synchronize well with other units from the same faction. For example, several of the Potato units can create wet ground, from which Andromeda can create her seedling allies. A particularly good combo I found was using one of the Potato Splashmasters to push a Roll Guard into an enemy, and the water trail the Splashmaster left behind can be used to grow seedlings.

Each campaign sees your force choosing to deploy at a few different maps, each offering a different level of progress toward completely freeing your people, and sometimes units you can approach and recruit on a map. The new player could be tempted to focus only on recruiting new units, but making progress is important as there’s also an enemy progress counter. Yet, the only way a player can grow their forces is by rescuing units on these missions, which is necessary to bolster your army. Handy too, considering that you can recruit units from other factions and therefore diversify what your army is capable of. The scenario maps are quite nice too, with a variety of terrain features that alter attack and defense, and frequently play a role in unit abilities as well.

The goal of each scenario is to capture a number of “flags”, represented by either forcing your way into a fortified castle and having your unit capture it, or by killing certain enemy leaders on the map. This must also be done with relative speed, as more enemies will spawn in on the map every few turns, and considering that you will always be outnumbered, speed is key. No playing turtle here! The need for speed is balanced with a need to keep your forces alive, as units are persistent and your strong veteran units are essentially irreplaceable. Their basic attack and defense stats are stronger than most units, and it takes time to grow that kind of experience. 

All in all, Gem Wizards Tactics is a solid, but small, game. The combat is tight, the scenarios are tough and engaging (you will likely lose a lot until you figure out how to use your army’s abilities), and it’s easy to play in multiple sessions. It doesn’t hurt that the soundtrack and writing for the game are really good. The game isn’t that deep, but it comes in a tiny, replayable package, and if you’re looking for something to scratch a tactics itch, you can find it here.


-Jack Trumbull

Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns Review

Two things to point out before diving into the review: one, I’m a big fan of the JTS games I’ve played and two, I’m interested in the Peninsular campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. But despite that, beside dipping my toes into Scourge of War: Waterloo for about 15 minutes, I haven’t played a proper digital wargame set during the Napoleonic Wars. (Total War doesn’t count)

Pictured: Not Counting

So while I’m no newbie in terms of John Tiller Software games, I’m a fresh-faced greenhorn when it comes to anything set before the Second World War from this venerable house of wargaming goodness. While some of the UI may be familiar, there is a lot I needed to learn to get the most out of Wellington’s Peninsular Wars, and while there was some head scratching and manual skimming, I’m glad I put the required time into learning the game.

The Spanish Ulcer and The Iberian Peninsula at War

My family comes from the Aveiro District of Portugal, and so the Peninsular Campaigns have always held a fascination for me, especially when I was younger and trying to decide on an area of study for graduate school. While I didn’t settle on Portuguese history, I did do a fair bit of reading into these campaigns and the terrors inflicted upon the people of Portugal and Spain by the Napoleonic Wars.

Beginning with Spain and Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1807 and escalating with the Dos de Mayo Uprising against French occupation in Madrid in 1808, the Peninsular War saw many terrible battles and atrocities across the breadth of the Iberian Peninsula. At first allied with Napoleon, King Ferdinand VII of Spain was eventually removed in favor of Napoleon’s brother Joseph. This proved unpopular with the people of Spain for obvious reasons, kicking off one of the first major guerilla movements and beginning a war of terror and depredation that would prove to be the worst in Spanish history.

Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808

I also grew up reading Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, which gave me a healthy appetite for learning about the battles on the peninsula. You would think then that I would be all over games that represent the conflict, but time is what it is and the stars never aligned. That is until I generously recevied this review copy from John Tiller Software.

Wait, How Many Campaigns?

Wellington’s Peninuslar Campaigns, like many JTS titles, is absolutely huge. There are more than 180 scenarios including variants, with 60 or so dedicated to Human vs. AI play. As someone who has yet to put any time into multiplayer (though that may change soon!) I’m happy there are so many battles set up for solid play against the AI. There’s quite a variety of battles to cover here too, even going beyond the work of Old Nosey himself.

Scenarios range from the French quest to take Madrid and Britain’s Sir John Moore’s struggles to aid the Spanish, to Suchet in Eastern Spain, to Wellington’s two campaigns in 1812 and 1813 and beyond. There are also some stand alone scenarios hiding amongst the piles that come with Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns, like the Battle of Maida in 1806. The point is, there is a lot of content here. When I think about how many scenarios I can get out of a JTS game versus pretty much everything else, there’s really no comparison.

Part of my appreciation of what JTS does overall comes down to this overwhelming amount of content. I’ve read about Salamanca several times. But nothing makes the battle as clear for me as seeing the correct units positioned on a correct map. Maybe I’m just more of a visual guy, but seeing, and playing, these scenarios help to expand upon my understanding in a way that always brings me back to the value of wargaming for education. But that’s a topic for another day. The point is, there is a lot of content here, and if you like how the game sounds, I doubt you’ll be running out of stuff to do with it for quite some time.

Deploy the Skirmishers! How Does Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns Play?

JTS games set in any period have some key similarities in features and gameplay. First, the UI is fairly consistent and easy to understand. A row of buttons along to the top of the window provide just about every maneuver or bit of information that a commander could want, ready at their finger tips. Many of these buttons also have corresponding hotkeys, the memorization of such will make games move a lot faster. Second, there is an information panel along one edge of the screen that gives critical information about units occupying a highlighted hex. Clicking on units in this panel allows for individual orders to be given. It may look obtuse at first glance, but if you get past the dated visuals it’s an easy to work system and soon you’ll be checking LOS, deploying skirmishers, firing artillery, and positioning units within a hex in no time.

This is a phased IGO UGO game (by default, though it can be changed). The first side will maneuver, the second will offer defensive fire, then the first offensive fire, and finally the first side will initiate melee. The turn then switches to the second side where they will go about the same phases. At first this system felt a little clunky. I was coming from Panzer Campaigns and Panzer Battles and was more used to units moving without facing and finishing an entire turn (with opportunity fire), but after getting to grips with how units position themselves within hexes, how movement and morale worked, and how facing worked, I felt right at home.

The systems in Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns try their best to make players use period tactics and formations. I appreciate that the game encourages skirmishers, protecting flanks, the appropriate use of each of the three arms, and the correct application of reserves and officers.

When forces are maneuvered and battle is joined, it becomes incredibly clear that the proper management of forces, not just the application of force, is the name of the game. Rotating out units is important, as a unit’s fatigue goes up steadily and barely comes back down. Morale, especially when dealing with average or poorer units is also critical to manage, and a folly move might endanger the line. This ties into the innovative threat score.

Similar to Zone of Control in other games, there is a rating on each hex, depending on proximity to enemies of different types, that units will test against when they attempt to perform maneuvers (or even just move with an optional rule in place) failing this morale test might disorder units or cause a route. So it becomes very important to keep units together and covering each other, and to be wary about how close enemy cavalry can get. It can be disastrous to fail to form a square because you waited too long and the threat value in a hex grew too large for the maneuver to go off without a hitch.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but suffice to say I was impressed with the way the game used base and optional rules to push a period feel and keep battles flowing ‘correctly’. I rarely felt like I was battling the system itself after my first couple of outings and, for a game of the scope, that is something I definitely look to when judging quality.

Not Always A Country of Wine and Songs

It’s pretty clear that I like Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns. Perhaps not as much as the Panzer Campaigns and Panzer Battles that fired my interest in JTS’s systems so long ago, but I do like it quite a bit, and will continue to play it at least until I make it through every scenario at least once, but it’s not perfect.

The enemy AI is often fairly good, but occasionally makes baffling moves. More than once I’ve seen a decent enemy line collapse into a mob, or seen the enemy retreat in relative good order from a position only to start wandering the long way through heavy woods to the next objective. It doesn’t happen too often, and the enemy AI is good on the defensive especially, but occasional hiccups can only be attributed to poor generalship so many times. I personally didn’t find it too bad in most of the scenarios I played, but I understand that some are very sensitive to this sort of thing, so be warned that you will probably run into questionable AI moves here and there.

I am also not impressed with the 3D graphic view. I understand that this is something that Wargame Design Studio is working on for all JTS titles and so it may improve later on, but as it stands the game is best played with counters in the 2D view. Perhaps in future the 3D view will be worth using, but it is not that time now.

Is Wellington’s Campaign a Campaign for You?

Not a long list of complaints eh? Well bah humbug, I had a good time with Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns. The minor AI hiccups and a 3D graphic view I’ll never use hardly detracted from the fun I had working through these scenarios.

The gameplay is tight, the UI, once accustomed to, is easy to navigate, the scenarios are detailed and entertaining, the AI is competent (mostly), there are dozens of multiplayer scenarios. The list of pros far outweigh the cons. If this is your first time looking at a JTS game, I’d perhaps recommend one set during the Second World War, but for those who are familiar or are only interested in the period of the Napoleonic Wars, this is a fine entry point. Try to wrangle some friends for multiplayer too. It will significantly extend the life of this already massive game.

Tight, fun, absolutely massive, and dripping with period charm. Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns is a great addition to JTS’s venerable lineup.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

-Joe Fonseca

War on the Sea: Review

Fundamentally, a good game is one which is easy to play whilst simultaneously offering compelling choices. The game itself should be easy, it is the decisions that should be hard. Killerfish Games’ latest release: War on the Sea succeeds in one sense but fails in the other. Like the Japanese after Midway, this failure is one that War on the Sea cannot recover from.

Midnight. August 10th 1942. 30 nautical miles east of Guadalcanal. Four old Japanese destroyers go into action against an unknown enemy force. Their commander assumes he faces a superior force. The plan: as soon as the enemy is spotted, launch torpedoes and then make good their escape. Their commander assumed wrong. The “superior” enemy force is in fact two destroyers and four transports. A good night for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

When War on the Sea works, it really works. Throughout the above engagement, I felt like I was playing something out of Tameichi Hara’s Japanese Destroyer Captain. My plan was written by my (possibly faulty) recollection of one of Hara’s own engagements. Such considerations are what War on the Sea could be – in a few more months or even a year.

War on the Sea is the ultimate evolution of Killerfish Games’ previous offerings. Its submarine warfare mechanics are more or less lifted from Cold Waters. Surface combat likewise owes much to Atlantic Fleet. With such an excellent pedigree, War on the Sea is a dream game for many. Naval combat in the Pacific theatre in “real” time? Who could ask for more? With the scope, scale and variety of actions on offer, I suspect it has been Killerfish’s dream all along. The design of the campaign suggests to me that Killerfish hopes to offer more campaigns in different theatres as well.

As it is, the single campaign currently on offer, Guadalcanal, playable from either side, is more than enough. One need only watch Drachinifel’s excellent series on that campaign to see why it is the perfect introduction to the format.

Unfortunately, it is the campaign where War on the Sea’s problems begin. It is too much of sandbox whilst simultaneously hamstringing player choice. At the start of a campaign the player has nothing. It is up to them to choose their ships. Great right? To an extent, but how is the new player meant to know what they should choose? For the veteran meanwhile, the decidedly unhelpful user interface means that organising your fleet is far more effort than it needs to be, especially when it comes to organising scouts.

So much for freedom, what about limitations? Put it this way. Your scouts are shadowing an enemy force. You send your torpedo bombers in. But they can’t engage. As far as I can guess, since the enemy fleet has already been identified and the game has given you a choice to attack, the game now decides that you don’t need that choice again. You’ll have to wait for the enemy to be lost in the fog of war again (a matter of hours) before you can attack. It would appear that War in the Sea somehow manages to discourage scouting. The same issue means that enemy scouts, once contacted, can’t be shot down by scrambling fighters.

Similar issues occur in organising your fleet. Whilst aircraft and ships in the same area will take part in the same battle, two groups of the same type (i.e. ships and ships or aircraft and aircraft) won’t. Possibly I’ve been unlucky – but it’s hard to argue with two formations being right on top of one another and then entering battle to find only one formation present. Specialised formations (say, having a flotilla of destroyers supporting your squadron of cruisers) thus appear to be not only useless but outright dangerous – as a cruiser squadron that is caught by an ambushing submarine will be sitting ducks. Similarly, while the AI has had no problem organising combined strikes of fighters and bombers, I for the life of me cannot order up more than one type at a time. Why it is impossible for an airfield or carrier to launch multiple types, together or separately, is unclear.

War on the Sea’s campaign holds so much promise. Its scope, format and freedom should make it the holy grail of naval wargaming. Yet these problems – and I’m cutting out a great many more – say to me that somewhere along the line things went very wrong. I cannot know whether time ran out, problems were not identified, beta testers were not attentive, the engine was too limited or some other fault, but the result is a campaign that, between glimmers of brilliance, is critically flawed.

War on the Sea’s campaign could have been saved by tactical combat. Although the battles are indeed a stronger experience, it’s not enough. The good first. The spirit of Cold Waters makes the submarine combat great fun. Hunting enemy fleets with destroyers circling makes every action exhilarating (though your submarine coming under air attack is dull as ditch water and needs a look at – see above – ahem). Similarly, the fundamentals of surface combat: gunnery, detection, damage control, feel right. Pretty, though not amazing, graphics hold up well. The smoke and star-shells of night battles are particularly impressive. Likewise, damage effects are also suitably impressive for what is happening below decks – but ironically are in some ways a come down from Atlantic Fleet.

With the fundamentals of naval combat so strong, it’s too bad it’s let down by all the clicking. One example: every ship, even ones in a formation, must be given a target individually. In order to fire, I must then order each and every ship individually. If a formation is ordered to fire – only the first ship will open up. The rest will sit and watch. In a game like Atlantic Fleet, where battles were turn-based and small, this was fine. In real time, with much larger forces, not so much. These issues extend to how the player directs gunfire and even into how air combat works. Exciting as it is to have bomb-skipping and other techniques in a naval game, at heart War on the Sea is weighted down by far, far, far too much micromanagement. Even with generous use of the pause button, it just isn’t any fun. I am left with the distinct suspicion that War on the Sea was designed and tested by a culture that plays these kinds of games in a very specific way – one alien to everyone outside the club.

All the issues described above can be solved. Maybe in a year, maybe in six months, the odds are that every issue I’ve covered will be fixed. I sincerely hope they are.

Since I began writing this review at least two small updates have appeared. The fundamentals are there. War on the Sea has the power to be a very good game, but I can only review what I have in front of me. For the moment, a critically flawed campaign and naval combat that is complicated for the sake of it makes it a game that, I cannot recommend at full price. The only consolation I can offer is that, if Cold Waters is anything to go by, War on the Sea can look forward to a lot of work going forward. It needs it.

-Charles Ellis

Field of Glory II: Medieval Review

Check out our Review of Slitherine’s latest addition to the Field of Glory series, Field of Glory II: Medieval. Does it live up to its predecessors? Joe finds out!

A flurry of arrows sink into the shield and flesh. The cries of wounded men rend the air drowning out the relentless marching of the approaching infantry. Spearmen grip their weapons tighter, bracing for the oncoming impact, the bright livery and shining armour of the enemy’s foot knights shaking even the toughest veteran to the core.

But then, from the right, the sound of hooves. The Prince has arrived with his battle, leading a bloody host of household knights atop monstrous warhorses. Their left must have crumbled, and now the seemingly unstoppable wave of steel and mail before the spearmen hesitate. With a cry the Prince charges down the hill and into the quickly reforming flank of the foot knights. The spearmen roar in victory before rushing to join their lord. The day is theirs!

Behold the flower of French Nobility!

The decision to release a Field of Glory game covering the middle ages sparked some discussion across wargaming forums. Would it be too similar to Field of Glory II? Would the middle ages provide enough variety and interesting strategic decisions for a full fledged game? What kind of material would be included anyways? Well, after spending a good few days with Field of Glory II: Medieval, I’m excited to say that the base game is exactly the kind of thing I wanted a new Field of Glory game to be, and I believe will satisfy any naysayers worried about the above. I’ll tell you why.

How Does Field of Glory II: Medieval Play?

I’m a big fan of the Field of Glory ruleset, first and foremost. A classic of the tabletop gaming world, Field of Glory has a long series of PC adaptations. Pike & Shot was one of my first interactions with a digital wargame that attempted to implement a tabletop ruleset. The graphics, while quaint, did a good job representing a bright and colorful tabletop complete with miniatures. I’m happy that FoG II: Medieval continues the trend with beautiful oversized figures, these days well animated, that carry on the spirit of a tabletop wargame brought to life.

Mechanically FoGII: Medieval does not shy away from its tabletop heritage. Units have set stats, which can be presented as granularly or abstractly as one likes, and the way players position units and how they choose to engage the enemy with those units will win or lose them the day. Dice rolls rule over all, with a healthy dose of randomization to keep things interesting. The rules work well to properly integrate command and control issues, and I’m quite happy with how the randomized numbers seem to play out. Casualty counts, for example, seem to mirror real life casualties quite well.

As for unit control, Players instruct individual units or groups to move and engage the enemy across a square gridded board representing the battlefields of Northern Europe. When units fire at each other or engage, the terrain, their relative qualities, numbers, and armaments are calculated using Points of Advantage to generate the conclusion. Once engaged, the player tends to lose control over their forces, placing greater emphasis on initial positioning and the commitment of reserves.

With a medieval battlefield, players must learn when and how to deploy the heavy hitters of their forces: Knights. The wonderfully colourful centerpieces of this digital tabletop, Knights and other heavy cavalry can turn the tide when correctly utilized. When put up against a poor match, or when outmaneuvered through an opponent’s use of terrain, they can quickly become a burden. Their implementation goes a long way to separate FoG II: Medeival from the earlier FoG II, I’m happy to report.

What is included in Field of Glory II: Medieval?

There’s quite a lot out of the box. It seems Field of Glory II: Medieval is trying to pack as much as possible into this first release, but there are some notable gaps in campaigns and army lists that allow one to reasonably speculate what future DLCs might cover. There seems to be a suspicious absence of Mediterranean, North African, Middle Eastern, and Byzantine forces that usually make the rounds in medieval wargames. I’d expect them to show up soon.

Right now, FoG II: Medieval has over 50 army lists covering most of northern Europe, including the British Iles, France and the Low Countries, German states, most of Eastern Europe and Russia, including the Mongols. There’s certainly a lot to work with, and while some units can seem familiar across different army lists (Because, as a rule, they were similar) the available composition of armies is different enough to make playing Swedes feel very different from playing the Welsh

There are 12 Historical scenarios at the time of writing, from Hastings in 1066 to Kressenbrunn in 1260. Each scenario is playable from both sides and comes with a nice write up detailing the historical significance of the battle. Personally, in the past, I’ve spent most of my time fighting and refighting Field of Glory‘s historical battles, as that is my favourite aspect of the game, and there is plenty of replayability for most of the scenarios. Some, like Hastings, may be difficult to game out differently each time, but there is plenty of variety for those looking for it.

I’m also a fan of the campaign system, introduced in Field of Glory II, that throws either a succession of historical or hypothetical battles at players. There are also the usual suspects of quick historical battles, customizable battles (for those Swedes vs. Tartar matchups you’ve always wanted to try) and a random ‘get fighting now’ button to get you right into the action. Multiplayer, using an integrated Play by E-mail system, is quick and efficient in my experience. I would have liked to see a live multiplayer option, but as long as both players are chatting though some other means, the PBEM system can be used for a game in an evening.

Field of Glory II: Medieval offers quite a bit of content out of the gate, and while some may lament the lack of certain army lists and historical campaigns, if you have any interest in Northern Europe’s many medieval battles, there’s content aplenty.

Conclusion: Should You Play Field of Glory II: Medieval?

Well, I think so, but really it comes down to a few factors. Are you looking for a pile of Medieval wargaming content? Are you content to play through campaigns and battles focused around northern Europe? Are you already a fan of the Field of Glory ruleset or any of the games in the series? Then yes, of course you should pick it up. If you’re on the fence, or haven’t experienced any of these games yet and the Medieval setting intrigues you, this is definitely an excellent starting point. I’ve already sunk quite a few hours into this gem and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.

An excellent addition to an excellent series. Just needs more Mediterranean content and it will be near perfect!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Joe Fonseca

The Battle of Dorking 1875 – Review

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

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

The German Conquest of Britain: Dorking & Invasion Literature

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

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

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

How Does Dorking 1875 Play?

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

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

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

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

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

A Fascinating Conflict for a Game or Two

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

The British Library

Definitely Worth a Look, and a Read

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

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

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

  • Joe Fonseca

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

You can purchase Dorking 1875 from Tiny Battle Publishing here.

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