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!)
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