Modern Land Battles: Review

I’ve been on a bit of a ‘modern war’ kick these last few weeks. Some friends used the recent giveaway of Eugen’s Wargame: Red Dragon on the Epic Store as an excuse to educate me in the game, and I’ve been having a lot of fun trying to learn it. Trying to play Wargame: Red Dragon has taught me that I am far slower than I realize at competitive real time multiplayer games. But, because the theme (warfare in the 1980s-2000s) is interesting and I want to play something a little more manageable, I decided to break out DVG’s Modern Land Battles: Target Acquired as the next game on my ‘review-the-whole-shelf’ wargaming quest.

What Kind of Game is Modern Land Battles?

It’s exactly what it claims to be, so that’s easy! Modern Land Battles is a card game in which two players (or more) build a force of different units from one of 6 included factions (Britain, US, Israel, Arab Multinational, Insurgents, USSR, and China) and fight to earn victory points by destroying the enemy and capturing terrain. It’s not a complicated game, and I don’t think it needs to be.

Let’s start with the basics: There are three areas laid out on the table, the center represents the main engagement area that both sides are fighting over, one side represents maneuvering for superior flanking positions, and the other represents capturing strategic locations. both sides begin with their forces arrayed in up to three rows at the center location. Which row a unit is in is important, as different weapon systems have different ranges.

On a given turn, players can either prepare, which allows them to refresh activated units and draw action cards, reinforce, which requires spending cards to bring new units into the fight, maneuver, which allows a unit to reposition itself on one of the flanks and attempt to either earn superiority points or capture terrain, firing artillery, which is pretty self explanatory, or playing a card.

Hand management is key to finding victory on Modern Land Battle’s battlefields, as cards are used not only to conduct attacks and defensive actions, but also manage your ability to maneuver easily, reinforce, or counter enemy actions. The only way to refresh your hand is with a prepare action (or some terrain cards) thereby giving up an entire action, so care and good timing is essential.

When playing a card to attack or defend, the type of ammunition it supports determines which units can fire. The system is simple, with attacks divided between small arms, cannons, and missiles. These each have a range as well, so the position of units within each area is also important. When attacking, players roll four 10 sided dice trying to beat the armour of the unit they’re engaging. Each unit has four hit points before it is destroyed, and any damage reduces the amount of dice thrown by 1 per damage token.

There we go, that’s the entire game. It’s very fast and the simple rules means that standard sized engagements will take at most half an hour. With only a few things to keep in mind, mostly about weapon ranges and how units are positioned, there is very little overhead to drag play down.

What Do I think of Modern Land Battles?

The introduction mentioning Wargame: Red Dragon wasn’t just for show. I honestly felt like I was playing a tabletop version of that videogame when we set up Modern Land Battles. Combat is frenetic and fun, but deeper than I anticipated. Hand management, timing prepare and reinforcement actions, and knowing when to use reaction cards all require a good bit of thinking. But the strategy might fall a little flat if that was all there was to it. Luckily, it isn’t.

The game changer with Modern Land Battles are the three fronts. Each are essential for victory, and of course it’s impossible to pay enough attention to all three, making for tense decisions as the battle ramps up. The center is the main arena, and not having any units there is an instant loss. Divert too many reinforcements to either flank and the game will be over no matter how good your flanking bonus is.

That flanking bonus though, gives a +1 to each combat die roll in the center, so ignoring it will mean serving up your units to your enemy on a silver platter. The terrain cards on the other flank offer victory points and bonuses, meaning that if you ignore it your enemy can win purely by capturing enough land, no matter how well you’re doing in the center. It’s a wonderful abstraction of modern combat that forces players to think while not burdening them with any complicated systems.

Finally, the inclusion of so many factions means there’s a lot of opportunity for replayability, whether to set up hypothetical confrontations or historical ones. I just wish there was some sort of included campaign system or something to encourage linking games together. Perhaps as an expansion?

Can it work as a Solitaire Game?

I suppose, though I feel like trying to play Modern Land Battles solitaire will sap a lot of the speed and frenetic fun out of it. There are BETA rules written by Adraeth Montecuccoli on Boardgamegeek, but I haven’t tried them. I’m sure with some tweaking even just playing both sides, perhaps with restricted hands, might do the trick, but since so much of this game revolves around outsmarting your opponent with force composition and skillful card play, you’ll be missing out. I’m sure there are other solitaire games out there that tackle these types of conflicts, but I think looking for it here would be a mistake.

Does It Earn A Spot on the Shelf?

Yup! My wife and perpetual wargaming partner had a blast with this one, and so did I. I’m sure it will enter our regular rotation as a good filler game. I’m sure we’ll play multiple rounds in a row again, but the snappy nature of the Modern Land Battles just lends itself so well to a quick game here and there. The tragic thing is that Modern Land Battles might have displaced another game of similar depth but with increased play time and complexity, GMT’s Maneuver. (We shall have to see if the bell tolls for it during it’s own review!)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Simple, fun, lots of different units to play with, Modern Land Battles is the frantic filler wargame my wife and I have been looking for. It’s earned a permanent spot on the shelf and I’ll be keeping an eye out for any expansions. The only things holding it back is a lack of game to game continuity and historical scenarios.

-Joe “One of these days I review one I don’t want to keep” Fonseca

Fantasy General II: Evolution Review

You know it’s going to get good when one of the first things you do in a campaign is eat your siblings for getting uppity. Fantasy General II: Evolution is the latest expansion for the already excellent Fantasy General II released in 2019. The third official DLC, Evolution places you in control of the Lizardfolk Szzlag as he attempts to devour his way to prominence across the Broken Isles.

I had the pleasure of reviewing Fantasy General II on its release, and I was very surprised with just how good a job the developers, Owned by Gravity, managed to do conveying the spirit of the classic 1996 game while modernizing a whole heap of systems. If nothing else, go check out the base game when you get a chance. It’s a good game and worthy of a playthrough. Now, to the swamps!

Szzlag and his warriors creep through the kelp towards a Hooman settlement. Tonight we feast on Hooman Egg!

Fantasy General II has generally done a good job of creating a fascinating fantasy world and backed it up with good game narratives in the base game. The story of Falirson and the Empire was entertaining and I’m glad to see that Szzlag’s story is as well. The writing, possible decisions, and outcomes all reinforce the fact that Lizardfolk are not human and do not share a lot of human sensibilities. Theirs is an eat or be eaten world of hunting and raiding where weakness means a swift death. Don’t let Szzlag be weak. Don’t let Szzlag be human, it may save you later!

Evolution goes that extra mile and demonstrates the nature of this harsh world through gameplay. The game does an excellent job out of the gate of introducing you to a totally different playstyle. Lizardfolk are not the strongest fighters out there, but they are excellent ambushers and full of crafty light infantry. Since Lizardfolk can maneuver quickly through water tiles, and can even hide in deep water and kelp forests, setting up ambushes and luring enemies into traps is the name of the game. Just watch out for the carnivorous fauna! Setting up an ambush and seeing it go off without a hitch is second only to massive encirclements for giddy wargaming highs. There is nothing quite as fun as watching the enemy’s giant crab trigger 3 different ambush moves and defensive fires as they move to attack an exposed gaggle of newts.

Dragon Rider versus Giant Enemy Crab. Guess what? We’re going to eat it too.

Eventually, you’ll encouter Hoomans, with their fantastical trinkets, floating hovels, and distinct lack of swimming ability. The dichotomy between fighting humans on the coast and fighting humans in land is amazing, and requires a very different approach. Pelting humans with javelins and stones from the water while luring ships to underwater ambushes is great fun. Hiding in the jungle, sacrificing newts to lure humans out of position so your weaker units can scrape some advantage, is equally so.

On the campaign layer Lizardfolk play very differently as well. Szzlag and some high tier units require evolution points to upgrade. These are generally acquired by eating notable Lizardfolk, which quickly becomes tied to the central narrative of the campaign. In addition to evolution points, liquid mana is a key resource. This is acquired by raiding certain settlements or, more reliably, whenever a friendly unit dies. Now the cost of hiring a new unit of newts can be weighed against the value of their death. If these units can be killed in a manner that serves an ambush, well then, everything turns up Szzlag!

That battles take place on land and in the marshes and deeps of the Broken Isles keeps things interesting.

I was generally enthralled with this expansion. Lizardfolk make you think and play very differently from most wargames, not just from the base Fantasy General II experience. The campaign can be made more difficult though a few settings, but I felt the difficulty was good, punishing foolish mistakes and rewarding careful plays. I rarely sit down for several hour gaming sessions anymore, but I found myself making time in the evening to get through a mission or two. I really had fun.

Fantasy General II was already a great wargame and this expansion does about everything I’d hope an expansion would do. Gameplay is significantly different, the narrative is interesting, and the campaign is engaging throughout. Definitely check out Fantasy General II: Evolution if you have any interest at all.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Joe Fonseca

War on the Sea: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Charles Ellis

Field of Glory II: Medieval Review

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

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

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

Behold the flower of French Nobility!

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

How Does Field of Glory II: Medieval Play?

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

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

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

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

What is included in Field of Glory II: Medieval?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Joe Fonseca