Mare Nostrvm – an (almost) Retro Review

This is a guest review from friend of the blog Jack Molasky, a master of Field of Glory series who has been playing PC strategy games since ’96. Check out his Youtube channel for Field of Glory series AARs.

Mare Nostrvm is a WEGO game of tactical naval combat from the early Classical era to the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic, developed by Turnopia and published by Slitherine in 2017. It’s a subject that has seen almost no realistic portrayal in PC gaming, though there have been representations on the tabletop (Trireme and War Galley, most notably). The game has a core of well thought out systems and an opinionated, unforgiving take on the difficulty of commanding fleets during the era. For a certain type of wargamer it’s a great buy, but it’s not meant for everybody (nor was it meant to be), and it does suffer from the common wargame problem of not being particularly welcome to a newcomer.

One thing to note – the game is just battles, there is no linking campaign. Gamers who enjoy tactical games for their own sake, read on. Those who require a Total War or even Ultimate General style campaign to put everything in a personalized context should pass.

The game depicts all the hazards and excitement of naval warfare of the era – boarding, ramming, flaming projectiles, the corvus, raking oars, ships getting trapped in sinking wreckage, general chaos and confusion. These systems are well thought out in the sense that their general concepts are explained in the concise (31pg) manual, but both manual and game are fuzzy on the actual math. For example, a ship with a high ram rating and a well-trained crew moving at high speed (enabled by well rested rowers) has an elevated chance to successfully ram a ship that is grappled. But when your ship succeeds or fails to ram the enemy – you won’t know exactly why. There is nothing like the combat log in the Field of Glory games, which, while it doesn’t give an exact % chance for every occurrence, does break down all the factors that went into the result. This leaves prospective admirals to learn by practice and gut feel – no doubt the more realistic approach, but not necessarily something everyone has (or should have) the patience for.

In addition, the WEGO format is full minute long turns. This means it is often very difficult to give precise orders, and a fair amount of educated guesswork goes into what the enemy is going to do. I think this was a purposeful design decision, to force players to recognize just how important keeping reserve squadrons or holding back portions of squadrons can be. Just as the first volley was the deadliest in gunpowder warfare, your attacks in Mare Nostrvm are always most effective when conducted by well ordered squadrons with fresh rowers, full crews of marines, crisp oars, and a commander who hasn’t gotten himself killed yet. Players who incline toward bulling ahead will bounce off this model hard, but I can’t entirely blame them – these concepts can only be learned through trial and error, the game doesn’t really try to explain them.

Speaking of commanders, they play a key role in the game. Units outside of command range are basically useless. They cannot be given orders by the player and spend their time trying to get back into command range. They will defend themselves, but keeping your squadrons organized is crucial. Commanders can also give special bonuses. If a commander is killed, another ship will take command of the squadron with a reduced command radius.

The combination of initially inscrutable mechanics with a hefty dose of RNG means that players who play wargames for the satisfaction of creating the perfect plan should stay away from Mare Nostrvm. It *is* possible to come up with a strong plan that gives you a Major Victory in game, but chaos, confusion and luck all have quite a bit to say. More than the minutiae of turn-to-turn combat, a player will be successfully thinking in terms of squadrons – which to keep in reserve, how many turns it will take to reorganize a squadron that is scattered from ramming attempts, boarding actions, and, you know, being on fire.

Graphics and sound get the job done. Compared to most wargames, the ship models and rotating camera view are a treat. Compared to any AAA title well… let’s just say Mare Nostrvm was a largely one man indie show, so that’s not a fair comparison.

Wargamers who enjoy the gradual loss of command and control as a battle continues, who don’t mind or even appreciate the influence of the unpredictable, who can look past stylistically consistent rather than high fidelity graphics and have an interest in the era (even if they haven’t read their Thucydides – yet) owe it to themselves to check out Mare Nostrvm. Normally it sells for $19.99, but it often goes on sale for as little as $5.99 – the cost of a craft beer at a nice bar, or 2-3 regular ol’ beers at a dive. Mare Nostrvm should entertain the right type of wargamer for much longer than either.

Jack Molasky

Check out Jack’s Youtube channel for Field of Glory series AARs!

Valor & Victory: Stalingrad DLC Review

This is getting harder and harder to do. Valor & Victory, as I’ve said many times before on this blog…and to whoever will listen, is one of my favourite squad level tactical board wargames. I liked it so much, in fact, that I purchased a properly made up copy from the designer rather than stick with the free print and play.

That means I was genuinely excited to hear that Valor & Victory was getting a Steam release from Slitherine and Yobowargames. Unfortunately, my review of the base game was not entirely positive. While I liked seeing one of my favourite rulesets on the digital tabletop, I was put off by some clunkiness, bad AI, and the fact that Valor & Victory’s simplicity, while a boon on the tabletop, was unnecessary for PC.

Out for a walk to Stalingrad

Fast forward to now, and the game’s first DLC is making its way to Steam. This DLC covers the battle for Stalingrad and some surrounding engagements. This comes in the form of 13 new maps and 14 new missions and, of course, the Soviet Union as a playable faction.

It is great to see a pile of new troops and vehicles enter the fray and if I was able to purchase this expansion for the board game, I would in a heart beat. The content is interested and quite varied from heavily built up maps to more normal fare.

Scenarios are also good, with more than one clear path to victory and some entertaining set ups. Early missions will see the Soviets hard pressed to defend against a determined German attack, but it makes it all the more satisfying when it happens!

Content, Yes. Fixes, no.

One of my biggest problems with Valor & Victory Digital was the AI. It can defend reasonably well, given that the smaller scale means less movement is necessary, but it has a very difficult time attacking. More than once I was horrified to see the enemy break through with vehicles, and, instead of push on to the objectives, simply drive around to try and shoot at peripheral units.

I am also afraid to say that some of the things that frustrated me, like no option to alter the speed of dice rolls or to impact reaction fire, are still present and accounted for. I also ran into some bugs with the camera failing to scroll correctly and with some visuals hanging up.

I will stand by my initial reaction to say that multiplayer, as a substitute for the physical multiplayer of the boardgame, is still where the game shines. That and the potential for creative gamers to make interesting scenarios using the built in tools. But when the core AI is less than challenging and there are some continued niggling issues that gnaw at my enjoyment, I’m not entirely convinced this is worth the time.

An Unnecessary but Mostly Welcome Addition

While core gameplay remains the same as the base game of Valor & Victory, I was happy to see some more game features make their way from the tabletop to the digital adaptation in a free accompanying update. Some key missing features like support artillery, snipers, and air power are very welcome. It is nice that they are going to be included for free alongside the DLC.

But that begs the question, is the DLC necessary? If you’re interested in the Soviet counters and the new maps, then yes, but if Valor & Victory didn’t excite you the first time around, there is nothing substantial enough to change that opinion.

Finally, I’m just sad that I feel I have to give this DLC, and the Valor & Victory digital system as a whole a less than positive review. I love the board game, and maybe that is influencing my take here, but there are some sloppy feeling issues that very well could have been resolved between release and now. Content is all well and good, but, like the first tie around, I’ll be sticking with the board game now that my time reviewing the digital adaptation is finished.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Some good new content will please fans of the game, but longstanding frustrations remain, keeping this from being a must buy. There are better games out there.

LTAW received a copy of this game for review. You can find the game here. We get nothing if you click that link.

We have a Patreon! If you want to support us check it out. We’ll use any funds to purchase more wargames for review!

Campaign Series: Vietnam

This is a game I’ve been waiting on for a long time. Having heard about its development years ago, I kept it in the back of my mind because it seemed like it would be right up my alley. Operational combat in Vietnam from the 1940s to the 1960s. Campaign Series: Vietnam promised a lot of content, and I was content to wait for it’s arrival. It took a while to finally arrive, but all’s well that ends awesome.

French paratroopers rush through rice paddys to secure their target.

What Kind of Game is Campaign Series: Vietnam?

I suppose I’m relatively young in terms of the wargaming crowd, so it might not come as a surprise that I hadn’t ever played a Campaign Series game before, nor was I familiar with the series’ heritage at Talonsoft. I do have a boatload of John Tiller Software/Wargame Design Studio games though, so to my unknowing eyes, Campaign Series: Vietnam seemed like a polished JTS game right out of the gate. It’s not far from the mark, but there are some noticeable differences.

Vietnam is an operational wargame in either 2D or isometric 3D with counters representing platoons, teams, special units, leaders, and multiple vehicles. A traditional IGO-UGO system with reaction fire, players and the AI alternate activating their forces and spending action points to move, shoot, assault, or perform special actions. Vietnam has dozens of scenarios ranging from the French-Vietnamese War of Independence, the South Vietnamese Civil War, and the American War. The game ends its date range in 1967, and I hope this only means that DLC will be forthcoming.

There are tons of scenarios. Tons.

‘Operation’ is the Word

This is a tactical game, in that players are controlling platoons and teams as they maneuver them around a map to complete objectives, but the scope of many of the scenarios in Vietnam really highlight the special operational limitations and expectations that accompanied the war, especially during American scenarios. To my mind, including such difficulties elevates the gameplay to something more than the simple (albeit excellently implemented) tactical combat.

Victory points are not just tied to controlling objectives, but also fulfilling special objectives, inflicting disproportionate losses, and obeying certain rules of war. For instance, many scenarios penalize you for indirect fire into villages, towns, and city hexes. There are civilians going about their business that may or may not be enemies. There are IEDs and hidden minefields. Some scenarios even touch on difficult topics like forced relocation.

Bringing the scope of the game inline with the unique experiential factors that made the Vietnam war stand out in Western consciousness is much appreciated and elevates the game to new heights.

Airstrikes are getting a little close around LZ XRAY. But then so are the enemy.

Good Thing the Core is Rock Solid Too

After running through the tutorials to familiarize yourself with the hotkeys and general control, playing Campaign Series: Vietnam is a breeze. There are so many ways to customize the visual experience, all of which can be toggled on the fly, that I never felt I was making a mistake in control or blundering because of hidden information. Things are generally easy to control, produce satisfying results, and are backed up by the manual. The only thing I wish the tutorials covered better was command and control and supply, both of which require a quick read to confirm percentages.

The game is also appreciably difficult. The AI is quite good in my experience. My first attempt at Silver Bayonet’s landing at LZ X Ray resulted in my getting totally overrun. The NVA came on hard and fast and exploited my piecemeal entry to punch holes in my perimeter, encircle my limited improved positions, and then hammer them with arty when they finally fixed me. It took me a couple tries to really get the landing down and supported well.

I did notice a few bugs in my pre-release version of Vietnam. In one scenario the map labels failed to materialize at all. In another game the air strike icons did not go away after the successful strike, leaving me paranoid every time I wandered a unit through the hex. Small bugs, but they were there.

The 2D mode is still very pretty and easy to read.

Adequate Audio-Visuals

I’ve grown accustomed to the looks of JTS/WDS and now Campaign Series wargames. I find they have a certain charm to them, but they are nothing exceptional or very modern. I will say that Campaign Series: Vietnam is the only one from any of those series that will actually switch to the 3D view on occassion. It is far more readable than previous entries. The UI is easily navigable and I’m glad the decision was made to break the tool bar into multiple tabs.

As for the audio, its the same collection of motor noises, gun shots, and explosions this time supplemented by some ‘Vietnam-movie’ sounding music. It’s fine, again, but I turned it off fairly quickly.

There is a full editor I didn’t even touch!

Final Thoughts: Time to Run Through the Jungle

Campaign Series: Vietnam is excellent. The core gameplay is solid, the appreciation of the unique factors of the conflict are well represented, and there is a reasonable learning curve. The vast amount of content will keep players going for quite some time, and I can’t imagine a better Vietnam War game on the PC right now. Go check it out!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An excellent wargame with a classic style and tons of content. Definitely worth your time.

-Joe Fonseca

Here is a link to the game’s page. We get nothing if you click that. LTAW does receive review copies of games.

We do have a patreon if you would like to support us directly. We use it to buy wargames. Shockingly.

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