SGS Operation Hawaii: The Invasion of Oahu Review

Counterfactuals can be a lot of fun if done well. SGS Operation Hawaii is one of those interesting ones that takes a reasonable, if unlikely, premise and explores the what-if through its gameplay. The result is a tight, entertaining game that I really wish had a physical board game release!

Counterfactual: Invading Hawaii

There was talk between the Japanese Army and Navy about the potential of landing ground forces on Oahu, but never really within the timeframe of the December 7 1941 air attack on Pearl Harbor. SGS Operation Hawaii does a clever thing in positioning the landing as a small scale operation, carried out by only 2 regiments, to wreak as much havoc as possible in the limited time they can be supplied. There was never really the cooperation this kind of invasion needed between both branches of the Japanese military. The army was reluctant to do anything to support a Naval led Southward Strike, and the Navy had to fight tooth and nail for the army support it did get for its invasions in South East Asia. Operation Hawaii supposes that the army could be convinced to give up a regiment for what could be a forlorn hope. This is reflected in how Operation Hawaii lays out its objectives and the overall shorter structure of the game. The key is to destroy as many military instillations as possible as the Japanese player.

What Makes Operation Hawaii Stand Out

First and foremost, SGS games are great for their exploration of less well known military campaigns. Operation Hawaii, as a counterfactual exploring an interesting what-if, fits into that mold. There are plenty of well researched and reasonable cards in both sides’ decks that highlight the interesting confines of this potential campaign. From the Japanese potential use of ships of the Kido Butai to support attacks near the coast, to the US organization of citizens to dig trenches and build defenses, there are a lot of great cards that really sell the atmosphere.

There are also a good amount of strategic decisions for both sides to take at the beginning of the game. The Japanese player can choose where to focus their attack, and at the cost of victory points, how much support to commit to the attack. The US forces can choose their disposition (without knowing where the Japanese are coming from) and can influence their starting resources. There is a good bit of replayability as a result.

The actual action is fast and tight. There will be a lot of quick skirmishes followed up by a solid battle or two as the American forces form up to meet the Japanese attack. Therefore it becomes quickly apparent that this is a game of speed and deception. If the Japanese player can get around the US forces, they have a better chance of carrying out their objectives, if the US forces can react to and stop the Japanese, they can preserve their island and blunt the attack. It plays well.

Downsides

This is a shorter game, on average, than most of the other SGS titles I played. My first campaign took 3 hours and my second 2. I do believe there is good enough replayability to make it worthwhile, and as I see this as a digital version of a board game, the heart of it is multiplayer, but be warned about campaign length.

I also encountered a few bugs in my pre-release version. Sometimes enemy planes wouldn’t be grounded during rain turns when the game states they should be, and I was unsure if a couple cards failed to have the desired effect, or if it was merely a missing graphical indication. I did see, at the time of writing, that a decent sized patch has gone out for release, so I hope that these issues are resolved.

Final Thoughts

Operation Hawaii is an interesting, entertaining, and simple wargame that touches on a fascinating what-if and presents it in a playable fashion. I enjoyed both of my campaigns and will definitely play more. But buyers must be aware of the short time to play of each game. I think it’s worth it, but ultimately I can’t make that decision for you.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

SGS Operation Hawaii is being released today. You can check it out here. LTAW was given a code for the purposes of this review. We get nothing if you click the link.

Combat Mission: Cold War Review

I know the Combat Mission series can be a little divisive these days. The engine is older and there are some known issues that seem to accompany every release. For my own experience though, I don’t think I can look anywhere else for the sort of detailed, engrossing, and (dare I say) realistic gameplay that Combat Mission offers.

The series stands out as dominating a unique corner of our hobby, and for that alone I have to give it props. That does, however, make it harder to admit that there were some significant issues with Combat Mission: Cold War.

Soviet Paratroopers advancing on a US Listening Post

How Does Combat Mission: Cold War Play

Combat Mission is a tactical wargame focusing on the (usually) Brigade level and down combat in either real time or WEGO turns. Players issue orders to squads, teams, and vehicles and attempt to carry out certain mission objectives.

Gameplay focuses a great deal of detail on fog of war and command and control issues. What units can see and hear is far more important than how well they can shoot or how much armour their tank has. To succeed at Combat Mission requires a good deal of patience, strong tactical thinking, and a decent understanding of Second World War/Cold War/Modern combat systems.

An M60. Watch out for its Shillelagh

What is different with Combat Mission Cold War?

This is both a positive and negative part of Combat Mission: Cold War. As with every new game in the series, Cold War uses the same engine under the hood to power the battles that play out on screen. The system is starting to show its age for sure, but it is no less pretty than most other wargames. In fact, I quite like how good Combat Mission games can look with large numbers of vehicles and units moving about and shooting. It’s definitely a simulation, so units may move a little strangely here and there, but you’ll see recognizable uniforms, weapon systems and armoured fighting vehicles.

The big difference with Cold War, is, well the Cold War. Taking placing mostly in 1979, but with scenarios through 1982, this edition of Combat Mission plays out a what-if scenario of a Soviet invasion of West Germany. There are three campaigns, one each from the US and Soviet perspective as well as a third campaign focusing on the National Training Center.

Scenarios are diverse and interesting, from platoon level attacks on Listening Posts, to full brigade assaults featuring butt-loads (official term) of T-72s, to little one offs like attempting to pull an engineer platoon and their escort out of a small town quickly being swarmed by Soviet troops. I personally had less fun with the NTC campaign stuff, because I’m simply less interested in simulating simulated training scenarios, but to each their own.

The best part of Cold War is getting to experience late 70’ss and early 80’s hardware. The game is set at a time when both sides had the material and opportunity to do real damage. Seeing my M60s struggle to dent the front armour of onrushing Soviet tanks, but also how quickly an ATGM or Shillelagh can stop the dead is sweaty fun.

A good defilade position…I hope.

It’s Not All Sunshine

I’ve been singing Cold War’s praises so far, because I genuinely had a good time playing the game. But it is not perfect. There are still some persistent bugs floating around that can get annoying. I’ve had some crashes to desktop during my gameplay time, which were the worst offenders.

I was also totally unable to get a game of PBEM++ to work. I tried several times with my co-host here Jack, and even tried with a nice gentleman from the Computer Wargames Facebook Group. Every time the game failed to load correctly, crashed, or failed to load and then crashed. It was a shame, because I was very much looking forward to the PBEM++ system that I use regularly with other Slitherine/Matrix Games like Field of Glory II. I did try to reach out on the Combat Mission Discord for help, but nothing really came of it. We’re going to keep trying, because I really want to experience multiplayer through PBEM++, but it definitely impacted my impression.

Finally, as mentioned above, this is the same engine as all the rest of the modern Combat Missions, so if you’ve got a problem with how those games run or how they model things, this version won’t change your mind. I still kick myself whenever I manage to get a squad to exit a building via the wrong door and it gets them lit up in a MOUT situation.

The smoke didn’t linger for the rearguard’s street crossing. RIP the poor engineer in the back there.

Final Thoughts

I guess I was super hyped up for this release. I did enjoy what I played, but I was a little deflated by the issues I encountered trying to get it to work with PBEM++. I still think this is a strong entry in the series, and the Cold War is a fascinating setting to explore. But if you’re not someone who is already on the Combat Mission bandwagon, this won’t do it for you, I can almost guarantee it. For those who do enjoy Combat Mission, as someone who has put good time into Shock Force 2 and Black Sea, there is a lot to like here, just be prepared for worse optics all around!

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A solid entry to the Combat Mission series. Nothing revolutionary, some annoying bugs, but a good selection of scenarios and wonderfully modeled gear. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. If not, best not start with Cold War.

You can find the game here. LTAW was given a review copy of this game. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Field of Glory II Medieval: Swords & Scimitars DLC Review

Maybe I’m a simpler type, but when it comes to new DLC for games I already enjoy, I’m not looking for anything revolutionary or anything that might alter the core of a game I already like. I’m looking for good quality, well thought out additions that extend the life of the game I love, with enough content to justify the price tag.

With Field of Glory II Medieval’s latest DLC, Swords & Scimitars, I think that is exactly what you get.

What’s New in Swords & Scimitars

There is actually a lot of new content in this DLC. So much so that I have to admit that I haven’t tried it all. With 20 more nations, covering the major players of the Crusades on both sides, Byzantium, Southeastern Europe, and the Near East, 35 new units, 41 new army lists, 8 new scenarios and 4 new campaigns, you are not going to run out of interesting things to do for a long time.

I found the new campaigns enjoyable, with a special shout out to Saladin’s campaign. Sticking mostly to Western European armies and not being well versed in the original Field of Glory II, I had to learn an entirely new way of fighting using the Muslim armies. Their heavily armoured cavalry archer units and lightly armoured lancers make for an interesting core that requires different tactics from what I’m used to.

There are also some fun new additions allowing for greater permutations in random battles. Now armies can field historically relevant allies as part of their disposition. This adds quite a bit of variety, and while I haven’t seen it in multiplayer, it allows for some interesting recreations of historical engagements.

What do I think?

I wish I could get into more details, but aside from listing off the numerous games I’ve played and enjoyed with the DLCs contents, I think you’ll just have to take my word for it. If you like Field of Glory II Medieval, there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t like this DLC. The newly added campaigns and scenarios are fun, the new armies add different dimensions to the medieval mix, and the expanded content for skirmish and multiplayer modes add variety with new potential match ups.

I’ve already sung the praises of the Field of Glory series, and Field of Glory II Medieval specifically, so I’m happy to say that this DLC does exactly what is printed on the tin. It’s more of what you love in a decently priced package. Now off to the Holy Land with you!

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Swords & Scimitars doesn’t break the mold, but it doesn’t have to. This DLC pack adds a lot of great content that will keep fans going for quite some time.

LTAW received a review copy of this DLC. You can check out the DLC here. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Review

It’s rare that a hex and counter wargame truly surprises me. I, like many of you, have been playing these types of games for years, and know what to expect from our niche genre. There will be familiar mechanics around movement, unit composition, statistics, combat odds, and supply lines. There will be detailed rules, long campaigns, short scenarios, archaic multiplayer systems and decent game editors.

And then there’s Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive.

Ardennes Offensive not only shakes up the formula by adding some fascinating depth to movement, fog of war, and combat, but it also manages to introduce these fresh gameplay features in a package that is both chock full of information, but also beautifully presented and manageably learnable.

A Smaller Introductory Scenario

How Does Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Play?

Set during the so-famous-it-needs-no-description Battle of the Bulge, Ardennes Offensive offers two grand campaigns covering the full battle, and several smaller scenarios focusing in on major engagements like St. Vith and Bastogne. Turns are broken up into Morning, Mid-Day, Evening, and Night. Each hex represents a kilometer, and, in this iteration, units are calculated at the squad level, with individual weapons and stats tracked.

Ardennes Offensive uses the same base mechanics as found in previous Decisive Campaigns games (though this is my first one) as well as the stellar Shadow Empire and interesting sandbox Advances Tactics. The game is presented through a central map with unit, hex, and special information appearing on the sides and bottom of the screen. Turns are IGO-UGO, but with a new and well implemented system of interrupting fire that can halt units in their tracks. attacks are coordinated based on the defending hex, with two types of attack available: Ranged, which brings in mortars and artillery, and direct, which involves choosing the attacking units and the determination of the attack. Supply and traffic play significant roles, just as they did in the actual battle, and moving too many units over the same road in a turn will add additional movement costs to following units.

Overall, it may sound like fairly standard stuff, but Ardennes Offensive adds so many little things to the formula that make it pop.

Example of the Night Turn’s Visibility Restrictions. Legitimately Spooky.

The Little Things that Make it Pop

I need to start with my favourite part of Ardennes Offensive: Fog of War. This is the first wargame that actually gave me spooky vibes while playing. You cannot trust your eyes in Ardennes Offensive, as you cannot be 100% certain of a hex’s ownership unless you’ve got me sitting squarely in the hex.

This may sound annoying, but it doesn’t feel that way in practice. You’ll see indicators near the frontline representing sounds of unknown origin reported by your supply units as they deliver goods to the front. You’ll see a supposed frontline cobbled together from your limited understanding of enemy movements. You’ll be able to set up, and fall into, ambushes along key roads. At night, visibility is reduced to almost nothing. It is an excellent and atmospheric system that sells the initial chaos and subsequent unease of the Battle of the Bulge.

Command and Control Range clearly illustrated

Visually and auditorily, Ardennes Offensive is simply amazing. I have low expectations for most wargames, but the artwork on unit and hexes are wonderfully detailed with a painterly quality. Hexes are readable and easy to navigate. Units are identifiable right from the get go with their most prominent component showing on the counter face. But the best part are the little details. As the time of day shifts, the background for each unit card will change to reflect the overhead light. These wonderful little bits of finesse add so much to the experience. The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. There is a somber and haunting collection of tracks to accompany gameplay in Ardennes Offensive. The music is great and perfectly fits the mood of the battle. Night turns especially, with the reduced visibility, the changed map graphics, and the haunting music add up to become one of the most immersive hex and counter games I’ve ever played.

Cards allow for strategic choices like calling in air strikes or setting up road-blocks

Final Thoughts

I have only one bad to say about this game. It crashed on me more than once. I’m seeing that patches are already on the way, and I can probably blame this on my advance copy, but I do feel the need to report that it happened. Honestly though, don’t let that stop you from trying this one out.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how tight a package Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Assault was, I had trouble articulating it for this review. This is an excellent addition to the world of digital hex and counter wargaming and the new standard for what can be done visually and auditorily to make modern wargames feel modern without losing the mechanical charm we all love. There is plenty of content, the AI does a solid job, the game is learnable, and everything is wrapped up in a nice package. A must play.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Let’s Talk About Wargames were provided with a review copy of this game. You can check out the game here. We get nothing if you click on this link.

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.

Let’s Talk About Wargames Weekly Roundup 2021/08/06

Hey folks! This will be a special, weekly column where we review what we reviewed, talk about what games we’re playing (for review or otherwise), drop some facts about new podcast content, and other news of that nature!

Jack: This week, my AC continued to be broken (and has been since the beginning of July. I crave death.), so I snuck downstairs late at night to my PC when it’s cooler, as the PC room is obviously the hottest area in the house. I got a bit of time in on the latest Panzer Corps 2 DLC, which is an interesting pivot for the DLC series that I appreciate, more on this to come as I get more playtime in, of course. Similarly, I played a little bit of Highfleet, which reminds me of some of those old flash games you’d find online years ago, but in a good way. Certainly very unique! Full thoughts on the way there as well.

In my time stuck in my room with my work laptop, I haven’t been able to do much wargaming besides, but I did watch an 80’s classic and prepare to play the associated board game, which is baffling that it exists. Expect a review soon of a game that makes light of a certain “danger zone.”

We’re also recording a new episode over the weekend with a guest, in which we’ll be talking about the gaming community and how it treats certain members, both as players and as developers. Expect that episode out towards the end of the month!

Pictured: An online game

Joe: I’m struggling! Work is still eating up 90% of my time and trying to get some gaming in for reviews in that final 10% is a bit of a challenge. But I am happy to say that I’m enjoying what I am getting my hands on.

I’m getting closer to completing Warhammer 40k Battlesector, and I’m happy to report in the meantime that my initial opinions have not changed very much. We’ll have to see what the end game content does for me.

I’m also chipping away at another more traditional wargame that should delight those of you who are interested in some classic JTS action. Hopefully that will come out as soon as I finish another couple scenarios.

Finally, and happily, the latest drops from Microprose are looking to be something special. With Jack’s take on Highfleet forthcoming, and my own look at Carrier Command 2, fans of outlandish and stylish wargaming have a lot to look forward to.

Some Official Updates from Publishers:

Slitherine is happy to report on the progress of Masters of Magic with this neat update about in-game events:

“There are several different types of events in Master of Magic, and they will all make a comeback in the remake: The map of Master of Magic is filled with various locations that can be explored by the player.  These include things like fallen temples, ruins or mysterious caves where both treasure and challenge may await. There are also three power nodes, Sorcery, Nature and Chaos, and the magic towers that serve as portals between Arcanus and Myrror. All of those locations have an event attached to them, so that the appropriate path will trigger – combat if there are defenders, or loot if it is abandoned. Those events are fairly straight forward and apart from some extra fluff here or there, they will remain unchanged.

“The land is scattered with the ruins of some past civilizations. Who were they, where are they now? No one knows. Beware, this place may be guarded.”

All of the random events from the original MoM are returning, but they are slightly modified. In the remake, we want to give the wizard a chance to react to some of those events, instead of them being a simple notification of what occurred. You will always have the option to simply accept the default result, but in some cases, you will be able to either alter or even avoid the consequences. This will typically be achieved by offering a payment via mana/gold or other means that an event may respond to.”

Slitherine also released a new dev blog about Distant Worlds 2: You can read it here.

Age of Empires IV’s closed BETA is underway having started on August 5, and while personally we haven’t managed to get in on that, I’m cautiously optimistic about how AOE4 is shaping up. Let us know (if it won’t break a NDA) how much fun you’re having if you’re one of the lucky thousands who got in on it.

We hope everyone has a happy and safe weekend.

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

Valor & Victory Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Preview Build

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

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

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

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

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

V&V is Getting There, But It Needs Work

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

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

Worthy of a Valorous Victory?

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

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

-Joe Fonseca

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

In Memoriam: John Tiller

I don’t have much to say, other than we at LTAW are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of John Tiller, a man who’s name is synonymous with classic wargaming and one of the titans of our community.

John Tiller Software and Wargame Design Studio’s Battles of North Africa was one of the first games that I reviewed for Wargamer.com back in 2017, and it amazed me. After playing that I went back and snagged a few older games, and had just as much fun with them, prompting me to ask to review as many future releases as Wargamer could give me! The system has an endurance and an elegance which makes the massive scenarios enjoyable and digestible. Playing through these games was one part of my transition into enjoying more complex wargames.

I know there is so much more to an individual than the games they create, but the work John Tiller did will forever be foundational to digital wargaming. My condolences to his family.

From the obituary, the family would appreciate any contributions to John’s favorite charities: Atlanta Food Bank, the Salvation Army or other charity of your choice.

Maneuver Warfare Review (1.14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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

-Joe Fonseca