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!

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.

Valor & Victory Digital Review

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

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

Valor & Victory Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Valor & Victory’s goods:

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

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

Here are the not goods:

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

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

Valorous, Not Quite a Victory

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

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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

Here’s the link to the game, We make nothing if you click on this.

Massive Slitherine Sale on Steam

This one caught me by surprise a bit, but there is a massive sale on slitherine/Matrix titles happening right now on Steam, and there are some great deals on great wargames that everyone should be checking out!

Discount Highlights

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock 80% off

Warhammer 40,000: Gladius 76% off

Fantasy General II 51% off

Combat Mission Shock Force 2 and Black Sea  30% off

Gary Grisby’s War in the East 70% off

Special bundles include:

Hardcore Wargames 66% off

Grand Strategy & 4X 69% off

Warhammer Strategy Bundle 78% off

Strategy Legacy 65% off

Some of my Personal Recommendations

Check out Fantasy General II. The latest DLC Evolution just dropped and I reviewed it a couple days ago. It’s fantastic, and so is the base game. If anyone needs to see what a modernized wargame can look like, look no further than Fantasy General II.

Shadow Empire is an excellent 4x game with deep RPG elements and an amazing world generation. Games are dramatically different depending on the type of world you build, but there is a consistent focus on logistics, tactics, and empire building that I adore. Definite one more turn vibes.

Strategic Command WWI is one of my favourite comfort games. The tactical gameplay is deep enough to keep you thinking, but the overall mechanical load is light enough that it’s very playable after a long day of hard work.

Warhammer 40k: Gladius managed to get away with something I didn’t think was possible. What if you got rid of diplomacy in Civilization? Guess what, it works. Each faction plays very differently, and the emphasis on combat highlights one of the best bits of the Civilization series with AI that can put up a competent defense.

The Sale lasts until Monday, so check it out before it’s too late!

-Joe

Valor & Victory News: An Excellent Print & Play Making it to the Digital World

Valor & Victory began life as a Print-and-Play board wargame developed by Barry Doyle. It also has the special honour of being the first Print-and-Play boardgame I ever downloaded. I wrote about the process in a now lost article, but it was a compelling bit of hobbying that unfortunately never made it back with me when I moved to Ontario. Looks like I don’t have to worry too much though, as a new digital version of Valor & Victory is fast approaching from Slitherin/Matrix!

How Does Valor & Victory Play

I quite like how Valor & Victory played on the tabletop. Reminiscent of Advanced Squad Leader with a much less complicated ruleset, Valor & Victory saw players fight man to man actions in a WWII setting. The base download was set in Normandy ’44, but there were tons of official and fan made additions covering most of the second world war.

The digital game seems to be following in the footsteps of the boardgame faithfully. Gameplay will still revolve around the same basic rule structure, dividing play into the following phases: Command, Fire, Move, enemy Defence, and Advance. Since units fire or move, for the most part, and opportunity fire is a constant threat, games of Valor & Victory were quite tactical and enjoyable.

What Does the Digital Version Offer?

I’m happy to see that there will be a decent number of scenarios out of the box with 20 official offerings. There is also a scenario editor which means there is about as much replayabilty as was on offer in the basic Print-and-Play set. I’m happy to see that mutliplayer will be included too in both PBEM and Hotseat modes.

While we’ve only see a little bit of what the full game has to offer, I’m optimistic about what Yoboware Games and Slitherine/Matrix can put out.

Check out the trailer here!

-Joe