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.

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.

Valor & Victory Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Preview Build

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

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

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

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

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

V&V is Getting There, But It Needs Work

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

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

Worthy of a Valorous Victory?

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

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

-Joe Fonseca

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

Warhammer 40k Battlesector: The First Six Missions

The embargo is lifted and I am free to report on my time spent with the latest press build of Warhammer 40k Battlesector! While the core mechanics remain mostly as they were in the previous preview, we now have access to the overarching campaign, or at least a few missions of it, allowing me to ramble on about how I think the game will hold up on release. Oh, and there’s also a sexy photo mode which has been used to embellish this article. No, no, I’m not a trained photographer, thank you, thank you.

Story Time on Baal Secundus

Having access to the first six missions in chronological order finally allows me to dig into the burgeoning narrative of Battlesector. Don’t worry, there won’t be any spoilers here. The story revolves around the integration of the new breed of Primaris Space Marines into the ranks of the Blood Angels. The Blood Angels and their homeworld of Baal have just been devastated by the terrifying Leviathan Tyranid Swarm, during a battle that was so fierce it opened portals to Chaos and unleashed demons across the planet. Only a last second intervention by everyone’s favourite goodytwoshoes Roboute Guilliman and Primaris Marines saved the day.

Now some of these new marines have been assigned to 8th company and the cleanup of Baal Secundus. That’s where you come in. It’s up to you to test their skills as they’re led by grumpy old regular marines. The narrative fits into that comfortable warhammer 40k game narrative niche that doesn’t really do anything crazy, but also doesn’t have to as long as it gives us gruff space marines talking about the grimness of war and how unpleasant the xenos are. We certainly get that in the narrative. There is some room for interesting things to develop with the threads that have been left to us in the preview, so I hope things play out in an interesting fashion, but I’m not super keeping my hopes up for anything groundbreaking.

The Campaign Layer

This is the most tabletop part of Battlesector. Between missions you are free to add or subtract units from your army from a stable of Space Marine favourites like Aggressors, Intercessors, and Land Speeders. Each of these cost points and each mission has a point limit, so you won’t be able to take everyone with you each time. Each squad has the option to change out their weapons, but I didn’t really get to experience that in the preview.

Completing objectives and bonus objectives grant you tokens that can be spent on tech trees for each of the Commander characters in your army. These tech options range from passive abilities like increased heath, to active abilities like the option of calling in air support. I personally like the added depth of the campaign layer and actively tried to preserve my squads, especially those who had served with me for more than a couple missions. It’s a light campaign layer, but I like it.

The Game So Far

I still like how Battlesector plays. There is a lot of tactical consideration to be had on every turn. It may seem like the tyranids are a push over, but any real mistake will see your space marines splattered. I like the emphasis on ideal ranges for weapon types and the management of abilities to maximize damage.

The objectives have been pretty varied so far with the exception of the final irksome objective in each map: Kill all remaining tyranids. I wish that weren’t such a constant. They do a good enough job of getting in close so you can kill them, but in general it promotes a very methodical style of play where each encountered unit is dealt with in turn. Some variety here could go a long way in mixing up how missions feel. At least there is no turn time limit.

Aside from that quibble, I’m enjoying myself and I’m sure at this stage that I’ll enjoy the full game. I’m honestly just waiting to see where they take the mission structure and if the gameplay will develop well as more units and challenges are introduced. There is definitely a lot to pull from for inspiration, and what they have here is solid to say the least.

Oh, and there’s a sexy Photo mode. Refer to cool pictures again.

-Joe

Home of Wargames Live NEW GAMES!

Slitherine just finished with their Home of Wargames Live Event and there was quite a bit of new stuff to take in. From interviews to game previews, the talk was very professional and very interesting. The future of digital wargames looks bright. Here are our favourite announcements!

Warhammer 40k Battlesector

I’ve personally had a lot of fun with both previews of 40k Battlesector, but the trailer showed some stuff off that I haven’t had a chance to interact with yet. The army building and upgrading gives it a bit of a tabletop vibe, but the gameplay is still very computer wargame feeling, which isn’t a bad thing. Dealing with proper Line of Sight, optimal weapon ranges, and the relentlessly attacking AI is definitely fun, but feels more like a PC wargame than the tabletop. There is a cool photo mode to get some great screenshots to show off. It’s been a lot of fun to play the previews, and our full preview will be coming soon!

Combat Mission Cold War

Bil Hardenberger from Battlefront emphasized the sandbox nature of Cold War, with several years and therefore different styles of warfare to implement in scenarios. They’ve also included a wide variety of equipment for the different factions and terrain types. Also, cluster munitions for the first time (oh my!) I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Distant Worlds 2

The supposed Stellaris Killer! No release date yet, but apparently it’s coming along. It was great to see the game in action for the first time. The graphics are looking great and it’s nice to see the full zoom from galaxy to home world and back. The ship design screen looks expansive. Like I could get lost building ships for hours. Same for the research and technology tree. There is just so much there. Clone troopers? Yes please. The preview dealt with some pirate problems, and it sounds like the diplomacy and military systems are pretty involved. When the devs talked through an invasion of an independent world, I thought it might really do what I want a game like this to do. I really hope Distant Worlds 2 lives up, because I’m hankering for a new deep space game. Also, giant space spiders!

Starship Troopers Live Gameplay

We finally get to know more! Mostly Single Player focused RTS game controlling the Terran Army and attempting to not get your guys ruined by tons of bugs. This is a game based on the movie license, but looks like its trying to keep the film’s tongue in cheek anti-militarism and over the top violence. Check out my first preview/rant about the different versions of Starship Troopers. There is some emphasis on pushing outwards to capture radio towers, which give you resources .It’s looking like a fun defensive focused RTS, but it’s also clear that the game is far from finished at this point.

Valor & Victory

This is my favourite tabletop squad level game, and I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on a proper digital version. It’s a great system and it looks like there is a lot of scenarios and the possibility to make new scenarios after launch. From the talk given by Lance Craner, V&V is almost ready with just some AI tweaks and writing to handle.

WEGO World War II: Stalingrad

A Wego hex based wargame covering the battles around Stalingrad. This looks really interesting to me. Orders are given by both sides and then executed at the same time. I can’t wait to see how this works out with multiplayer. If it does what I think it should, I can see this really taking off as a new way of playing hex wargames.

Campaign Series Vietnam

Oh I’ve been waiting for this for so long. It looks like the wait has been worth it. The Campaign Series has a lot of depth to it, and it looks like they aren’t skipping on the amount of content that is going to be present in this one. The inclusion of the French-Indochina war period is especially welcome.

-Rapid Fire New Games!-

Master of Magic

Master of Magic is a reboot of a classic 4x fantasy game helmed by the developers of Thea the Awakening, Muha Games. Master of Magic has its own well developed fantasy world to draw from. Players take on the roll of a wizard battling to become the best wizard of them all. The development team has some experience doing this kind of game, so I’m glad it’s in their hands. There is city management, army composition, and most importantly, massive world altering spells. There are five schools of magic, and depending on how many books a wizard has in a school, more or less spells are available. There should be some fun spell manipulation. It’s currently in early alpha, but looks like a promising reboot of an old classic!

Scramble: Battle of Britain

Scramble is a WEGO dogfighting wargame that pits squadrons of WWII aircraft against each other in an innovative system. Players issue orders, then play out in real time, and at the very end they get to see the entire dogfight play back in its entirety. That sounds like a great feature to me, and the 3D art and design is beautiful. Players get a set amount of time per aircraft to individually deal with its flight path, its pitch, roll, and all that while planning for future combat. With a multiplayer feature allowing for split control of different squadrons, I’m looking forward to this as a great multiplayer game. There are also campaigns, and squadron management, aircraft customization, and a lot of other upcoming features like gamepad support. But the focus is on match play with other humans. Really one to keep an eye on.

Broken Arrow

Wow this looks good. From a new team headed by a veteran of Eugen of Wargame/Steel Division fame, this looks like an interesting new bit of competition in the real time modern war wargame space. They say they’re trying to find the sweet spot between action and realism, and I really hope they get there. The visuals are amazing at this point. This is a combined arms game with a lot of detail, including unit customization. There are shore landings, air insertion of men and vehicles, and even tactical nukes.

Stargate Time Keepers!

-Joe Fonseca

Slitherine Home of Wargames, Battle Sector Preview, and FOG II Medieval: Reconquista upcoming!

Here’s the official Let’s Talk About Wargames post reminding you all to check out Slitherine’s upcoming live event “Home of Wargames Live 2021+” a full afternoon event covering a bunch of new games from Slitherine. While there are a few we know about, like Warhammer 40k Battlesector, Distant Worlds 2 (YES!) Starship Troopers Terran Command, we also get first looks at four unannounced projects!

LTAW has also gotten its hands on a new preview of Battlesector, and from May 11th will be featuring written (and if I can figure out my settings) video content about what to expect from the full game!

Finally, Field of Glory Medieval: Reconquista is just around the corner and you can expect a full review, some more battle reports, and some streaming/video content of multiplayer matching going foward!

Check out the event and stick around for a lot of new content coming down the pipeline!

-Joe

Warplan: Pacific Review

Often when I talk about digital wargames I think about how can I classify them to help give readers a quick sense of what to expect. Sometimes trying to pinpoint the right word or phrase is difficult, sometimes I have no trouble at all. Warplan: Pacific falls into the latter camp. This is a digital board wargame. Think of everything you like and don’t like about pulling out your favourite larger than average board wargame and Warplan: Pacific has it. All of it.

Ok, It’s A Boardgame, But Really What Is It?

Warplan: Pacific is an operational level wargame covering the Pacific Theatre of the Second World War. This includes every major nation involved from December 1941 to September 1945. There is also a good Second Sino-Japanese War scenario that ends where the Pacific War begins. The map is large, with 80km per hex, and units generally at the division level. The object of the game is as grand as its scale. The Allies must force Japan to surrender, and Japan must hold on until the clock runs out.

With a game of this scale players are covering pretty much everything, from island hopping, to trade interdiction, to jungle fighting in Burma, and the massive slog across China. There are a number of generic units for each land, sea, and air, with the ability to customize some as the game goes on, giving units engineering or dedicated anti-tank attachments, for example.

On each turn, players will be spending their unit’s operation points to move and fight, track trade routes and logistics, and manage resources to build new units for later in the war. Battles can happen on land, in the air, or at sea and the factors that influence combat are fairly straight forward, and an odds calculator helps keep things in perspective.

Warplan: Pacific has pretty much everything I expect a game like this to have, but for some reason, it just didn’t really click with me. When playing for this review, I found myself doing a few turns and then saving and quitting. There was nothing overtly wrong or uncomfortable with the game. In fact I like most of its systems. But for some reason the spark was just never really there. I’ll try to get into it below. But be assured that I spent a long time thinking about why that might be for me personally, and it may not apply to you.

Warplan: Pacific Is Good, But Maybe Not Great?

First and probably most importantly for something reading this and considering picking Warplan: Pacific up. It is a good game, and an understandable one, but it requires work.

There is no proper tutorial in Warplan: Pacific, instead the Second Sino-Japanese War scenario doubles as an intro scenario. But the truth is, this is a game for which the manual is required reading. No reasonable amount of play will allow you to divine that attacks under 4:1 odds are risky, that DD units placed on convoy routes have a 12 hex radius for protection, or the tricky system for committing and supporting naval landings. I know I’m not a genius tactician by any stretch, but it took me three restarts at the Second Sino-Japanese War scenario, reading the manual to figure things out as I went, before I was comfortable with jumping into the main scenario. I don’t really think that is a good intro to any game.

Now that isn’t to say that Warplan: Pacific is needlessly obtuse. Once you learn what everything means and how it interacts (again, a lot of front-loaded reading) almost everything is there in game for your consideration. The information on each token is digestible. There are a variety of settings for what information is displayed on counters. The Build, Convoy, Report, and Combat Log tabs have pretty much everything you’ll need to understand what’s happening on a given turn. The map is readable, and moving units and attacking is a piece of cake. I even think that Warplan: Pacific has one of the nicer systems for visually displaying enemy movement and combats in the previous turn, supplemented by the very handy Combat Log.

The AI is competent, at least on the defensive. The game recommends playing the full campaign as the allies because the AI struggles to manage all the Allies’ units late in the war. While I have encountered the AI make some overly aggressive plays, like throwing tons of units into my entrenched and supported units along the Irrawaddy or getting their subs sunk in well protected convoys, for the most part they are a worthy adversary. They try to make encirclements and cut supply lines on land at least, and know when to push against tiring or weakening units along the line. I’m perfectly content playing against it, at any rate.

The boardgame qualities shine through with the simplicity of the overall system and what players can do on a turn. There is no counter stacking, HQ units automatically give a bonus to friendly units. Naval counters are just organized by their lead ship type (so a CV counter instead of counters for each ship that would normally accompany a carrier) and aircraft can be on either Mission mode or Support mode. Supply and Logisitics are just as important, but they function like boardgame supply, with units tracing a line that is reduced over rough terrain back to a supply zone. This means a turn is completeable in a decent amount of time. No three hour turn one here. Things are abstracted yes, but not in a way that I feel hurts the game.

So…What’s my problem? Why doesn’t it click for me? I love the setting, I have several actual boardgames that cover this period. It just… doesn’t do it for me. It’s good. It does everything I want a game like it to do. I was nonplussed that I had to read the entire manual cover to cover to feel like I could make the most of the game, but that generally ends up happening for most wargames these days still. (Still don’t think it should!)

I think Warplan: Pacific is exactly the right game for some. Perhaps I need to give it another shot after some time away, but for now I’ll be taking a break from Warplan: Pacific. I think it’s good. I really do. Maybe you’ll think it’s great?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Warplan: Pacific is a solid operational wargame with a good boardgame-like feel. There is a lot of required reading, but afterwards the game flows well and players have a lot to work with. It’s definitely a good game.

-Joe Fonseca

Slitherine provided a review copy of Warplan: Pacific. You can find the game here: Warplan: Pacific. LTAW earns nothing if you buy Warplan: Pacific from this link.

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2: Review

Two pilots died last week performing reconnaissance missions near Leningrad. One was shot down, the other when his plane crashed of its own accord. They were both flying Ju 88D-2s. I investigate. The Ju 88D-2 has a reliability of 15, an armour of 1 with a durability of 42 and a maneuver of 20. It is armed with four 7.92mm MG15s and three High Level Cameras. I check production. Ju 88D-2s are due to be phased out by June 1941 in production yards across Germany. Looking at those yards, I can see that we’re having a little trouble meeting that goal. None of the facilities producing Ju 88 Airframes are damaged, but there is a delay of 130 units at Bernburg. Perhaps that delay is why those reconnaissance pilots died last week? Perhaps they would have been able to sortie in the superior Ju 88D-1 had production kept to schedule? Perhaps not. The real question I have to ask myself, when I pull out and see that they are two of 65,038 men to have been killed so far, alongside 40,950 disabled, is why what I discovered matters? The short and beautiful truth of Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2, is that it doesn’t, not really.

My involvement in the entire air war of last week was a single click, and the fates of two pilots in slightly outdated craft has no bearing on what I do when I click to confirm Air Group Missions for next week. What the AI does with that information is for it to handle, unless I want to handle it.

There are tons of map aids and toggleable lenses to make sure you have the info you need.

The magic of War in the East 2 is that I actually think it managed to pull of what many had hoped for. It’s playable for the non-hardcore crowd, if players are willing to put a little time into figuring out the absolute basics. It can seem daunting, to be sure, but the elements are all in place to not only make the smaller scenarios learnable and enjoyable, but also open the door to the excellent deeper level strategies hiding beneath the surface of War in the East 2.

There is just so much content packed into this one game that sometimes I can’t believe it. What I definitely can’t believe, despite trying my level best to disprove it, you actually don’t need 70% of the information that is sitting at your fingertips. The way the AI manages the air war is entirely competent, to the point that I didn’t feel like I was disadvantaging myself by leaving it alone. Depot construction can be handled by the AI, and production is entirely automated. All of it is there for interested players to dig into, but it is not necessary to enjoy the fruits of 2 x 3 Games labour.

You know that feeling when you get lost scrolling Wikipedia? When one article links to another and before you know it you’re 10 articles deep and an hour has passed. It might not have been an hour, but that happened to me repeatedly while playing War in the East 2, including my deep dive into the loss of 2 recon aircraft above. It’s fun to go digging into the complexities that War in the East 2 offers. Individual combats can be reexamined to see what ranges units opened fire at, what support elements were committed and how they impacted organization, how many squads, teams, and vehicles were destroyed or disabled. It’s like opening up a massive encyclopedia of your own version of the German-Soviet War, and I love it. But enough gushing, how exactly do you play and what are those essentials I mentioned above?

Air Groups can be micromanaged or left to the AI

How Does War in the East 2 Play?

The core of War in the East 2 resembles a classic board wargame. units are divisional in scale, with ground hexes representing 10 miles per hex and week long turns. Units maneuver based on movement points that are expended per hex entered and for combat. Smaller than division level units, like specialized companies, are abstracted into a support system. The air war sees squadrons organized into air groups that are given mission types and areas of operation. Air missions are carried out before ground units move, though air units committed to ground support and air superiority will operate during the ground phase.

There are some key components of play to remember when first getting into War in the East 2 . First, support units. Units must be in range of their HQs to be issued support units during engagements. Critically, getting support during decisive attacks (which take more movement but start with (close to) full offensive power) requires the unit to be in range of their HQ without the HQ having moved that turn. Second, placing units in reserve is incredibly powerful on the defense, as it allows the local commander to commit reserve units up to 6 hexes away. On the offensive, the range is 3 hexes, but it is still very powerful. Third, logistics are very important, let the AI handle depot management. But be sure to send rail units to repair railways behind the line. Finally, Decisive attacks require at least 6 movement points (modified by terrain) and that more than one unit can be attached to a decisive attack by highlighting it while shift is held down. There, you’ve got all you need to win the tutorial scenario. Go get ’em.

But seriously. The amount of core information that is actually required to do decently well in War in the East probably amounts to less than 500 words. The amount of information that can go into learning how to do decently in War in the East is the 500 page manual.

Smaller scenarios are much more manageable and still tons of fun.

But What Do I Really Think?

You can probably tell that I like War in the East 2. I do. I didn’t really get into the first game this way, because the complexity, coupled with the clunkiness and scale, turned me away. Now I’m happy to see that, while War in the East 2 looks about the same, the underlying engine is much crisper and cleaner. I don’t find me PC lagging much, only occasionally with mutli-unit moves, and sorting through the excel like menus was snappy.

I’ve had a good deal of fun with the smaller scenarios. I like the more focused approach that I think allows the board game like feeling of War in the East 2 shine through, though I understand the appeal of the full campaign. I’m still plugging away at it.

The amount of information is staggering.

But, to talk about the AI. I haven’t had any problems so far with the enemy’s ability to defend itself. It won’t be as competent as a human player, because nothing is, but I personally haven’t seen anything stupid happen. Playing as both the Soviets and the Germans, I’ve seen the enemy target weak spots, try to encircle and cut off supply, reposition to better defensive positions to cover airfields and key targets, and generally be a proper opponent. This is always the scary part with complicated wargames, but the fine folk at 2 x 3 Games should be commended. Perhaps I’ll see something break as the long war scenario drags on, but nothing has happened yet.

The only true downside is that I did have to go fishing for that core information to get the game up and running. Everything is there but it is not presented in the nicest way. A proper tutorial would actually make this the ultimate entry level to complex monster wargame on the market. Another thing is that I can believe that people who have spent a lot of time with War in the East 1 might see this as a marginal upgrade. I don’t agree, but for the cost, it is best to be sure of where you want to spend your money. It’s excellent, but how much you’re going to get out of it after sinking 500 hours into the first game is something you need to think deeply about.

A built in encyclopedia gives historical information for almost every unit.

A Triumph?

Yes, of course it is. War in the East 2 has dashed quite a few of my fears and presented me with something I really didn’t think they could pull off. I can sit down and play a smaller scenario and not feel like I’m doing work, but all of the information I could ever want is right there at my finger tips should I want it. It’s glorious. Sometimes I just want to hit ‘go’ on the air war and let it handle itself. Sometimes I want to manage missions. the fact that I can choose is just amazing. If the game had ever piqued your interest, I’d recommend it. Even if it seems daunting right off the bat, the essentials can be learned quickly, the rest slowly, and a good time had right out the gate. It’s excellent, and worth your time.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A masterpiece and the perfect example of a game that works well with variable complexity. Entertaining and fun to lose yourself in, War in the East 2 will be the pinnacle of monster digital wargaming for some time.

-Joe Fonseca

*LTAW received a copy of WiTE2 for the purposes of this review.

Warhammer 40k Battlesector Preview Impressions

I’ve recently had the pleasure of taking the preview of Warhammer 40k Battlesector out for a spin and thought I’d spend a little time going through what I liked and didn’t like, to hopefully give you prospective Primaris Space Marines out there something crunchy to think about (just don’t tell your Chapter Librarian, this might count as heretical thinking.)

The Story So Far: Warhammer Ham Cooked Right

I had access to a tutorial designed to show me the ropes and two missions from the 20 mission single player campaign. Each mission took part during a different part of the story, so I can’t comment on the narrative much at this point. Suffice it to say that the snippets I did get to experience are exactly as ’40k’ as I expected them to be. Be ready for large men talking loudly at each other in angry voices about their emperor, their duty, killing things, and all the usual goodness that goes with it. Tack on some Blood Angel specific lore, like dealing with a perpetual closeness to heresy, the thirst for blood they’re always lamenting, and the dire straits of this particular Tyranid infestation and you’ve got yourself some top of the line grimdark content. Just don’t be expecting any serious science fiction. Warhammer has always been over the top and the games are best when they embrace the silliness of the universe with a straight face. Battlesector, so far, does this, and I’m happy with it. I don’t expect I’ll be remembering this story for years after I’m done, but I might be concerned if I did, truth be told.

Warhammer 40k Battlesector: How Does It Play?

This is a tactical game where players take control of a suspiciously tabletop accurate ‘army’ and try to accomplish objectives in a turn based, action point driven combat system. It’s nice to see armies broken up into their roles like the tabletop game, with Landspeeders classed as Fast Attack and so forth. Each unit has an ability bar with movement, attack, and special options that are all hot keyed. It’s immediately intuitive. Each unit has a set number of movement points and action points and can spend them in any order to position themselves, activate free actions, or attack with action points.

I love that the user interface offers statistics and damage information on top of clearly indicating what it will cost to get a unit to do what you want it to. You can move extra spaces, for instance, but doing so uses up action points and the map highlights these extra spaces in red. After a few turns it became very easy to maneuver units without having to check for any hidden numbers, something I find important in a fast paced wargame like this. There are tactical considerations, like overwatch, extra damage from rear attacks, and a lovely fog of war system that brings in sound as a hint for where enemies might be coming from.

So the core is fun, fast paced, and easy to get your head around, but I have some minor worries about what was not shown during this preview. Since the main enemy this time around are the Tyranids, a swarming race of alien bug types, your Primaris Space Marines are always going to be outnumbered, and the AI’s primary method of engagement will be to rush your positions. Thematically it works fine, but I’m hoping to see how intelligently the AI handles the sometimes complex tactical situations it faces. Enemy AI is definitely capable enough to prioritize damaging weak units, but I did catch it occasionally targeting something farther away from an important objective because it was wounded, rather than meaningfully try to stop me from accomplishing my goals.

It remains something to keep an eye on. If there are non-Tyranid enemies in the final game I’d expect them to act more intelligently, but I won’t be able to tell until we get there.

Objective and Unit variety were also pretty good for a preview. The Tyranids have some standard troopers yes, but battlefield controlling Venomthropes create poison clouds that obscure shooting and inflict damage in an area and flying Gargoyles shake things up. For the Space Marines, jump pack equipped assault troops complement the heavy and slow aggressors, and Land Speeders act as squishy recon. I was happy with what I saw and am really looking forward to customizing an army during the campaign.

Final Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw in this preview, and I’m expecting great things from Black Lab Games if they continue down this path. The only thing that caused me any concern was the tactical responses of the enemy AI, and I’m worried how much the ‘Tyranids are swarm aliens’ will be used to cover up unresponsive AI. Holding off hordes of aliens is fun, don’t get me wrong, but I want to see that there will be variety in the encounter types available in the full game. For fans through, this is shaping up to be a no brainer. Fun 40k narrative, fast paced tactical gameplay with clear UI, beautiful models on grimdark battlefields.

I had a lot of fun, and I’m not just saying that because the inquisitor behind me is reading what I type…(help!)

-Joe Fonseca

Let’s Talk About Wargames received a preview key from Slitherine Games for the purposes of this Impressions Piece

Also: Apologies to those looking forward to youtube coverage. I disastrously lost my footage twice over, including the rest of the footage used in the battle already started on our channel. A new system might be in order and has been requested from the machine cults on Mars.

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2: First Impressions

I knew there was no way that I could do War in the East 2 justice in the short time I had with it, but that won’t stop me from offering some first impressions of the newest behemoth in wargaming as I keep battling across the wide expanse of the Soviet Union in preparation for a full review. Will the new game do enough to win over new players and satisfy old hands both?

Launching War in the East 2 for the first time I was immediately struck by how much cleaner the presentation was. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still an old school wargame through and through, with menus to navigate before play and little selectors for AI nation control, but it feels better. There is a charming intro cinematic, tool tips on the main menu are informative, and the overall setup is easy enough for a new player to navigate without much help.

Once you load up a scenario, the tutorial scenario in my case, you’re greeted with the familiar Gary Grigsby charm. There is still a couple button bars across the top of the screen and windows and dropdown menus populate with that familiar ‘click’ noise. But again, it’s cleaner. the top bars readily give up their function, and are generally intuitive, the system seems to process my inputs quickly, and everything just looks sharper.

But that’s where the initial simplicity ends. Beyond lies only the true terror of Grigsby. I kid, but it’s at this point that all players, new and old, will need to crack open the massive rulebook or at least take a peek at the nine one page guides that helpfully explain the core functions of gameplay and management. Video tutorials are forthcoming, which should help new players, but I couldn’t track them down during my brief time with the press release version of the game, I assume they’re packaged with the full release build. Thankfully the guide sheets are a great start, and, I should mention, anyone who has spent any decent amount of time with War in the East 1 or War in the West will be right at home. The biggest change that hits you right as you start is the new air war system. Based on the air management of War in the West, this system sees you (or the AI thankfully) manage air missions and logisitics before ground actions can occur. I like this over an integrated system as it allowed me to better plan and make use of intel.

Another major change evident from an initial few hours is that the AI can be tasked to take control of quite a few systems. Yes, you’re right, they’re probably bettered managed by hand, but in the interest of actually making progress through a campaign, and simulating a bit of command and control issues, I like assigning the AI to take care of stuff I don’t feel like managing. It’s another thing that, when presented well to new players, will probably encourage more adoption than the rough and tumble old-school style of the first.

I haven’t played enough to really gauge the AI yet, though they haven’t done anything stupid yet, I’m happy to report. When I get through a proper campaign (or at least enough of one to properly judge the game in a full review, I’ll come back to the AI).

The amount of information in War in the East, is nothing short of amazing. When you’re tired of getting lost enjoying the massive and readable manual, you can take a break by getting lost in the game’s TO&Es, stat blocks, and included encyclopedia. There’s a lot to take in and it’s clear that a lot of passion went into War in the East 2’s production.

The basic controls are immediately recognizable and core gameplay elements should be familiar for veterans, so for them, I’m inclined to suggest hopping in to War in the East 2 at your earliest convenience. I see nothing here so far that would turn me off having spent a good amount of time with War in the West in the past. For new players, it may still seem daunting, but the information is much more accessible than it has ever been, and if a monster game like this seems at all appealing, I recommend taking the plunge.