The next Home of Wargames Live Event is just around the corner. On October 13th, next Thursday, Matrix will have a special 2 hours live stream about their hardcore wargames!
As some of you are aware, Matrix-Slitherine has decide to split their games with more casual strategy fare appearing under the Slitherine Banner, and more hardcore traditional wargames listed under Matrix.
It’s great to see Slitherine-Matrix give some love to the hardcore wargames with a full 2 hour event. I’m personally looking forward to seeing more from Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm and Modern Naval Warfare, and especially NEW DLC FOR COMBAT MISSION!!! but the whole list looks fascinating. Check it out below!
Games Matrix will show (new details, new DLC, new titles).
Modern Naval Warfare Flashpoint Campaigns Southern Storm Command Modern Operations Valor & Victory Strategic Command Rule the Waves 3 War in the East 2 – DLC Steel Inferno Combat Mission – New Unannounced DLC (ww2) Nuclear War Simulator Shadow Empires
Definitely pop in and give the stream a watch. We’ll be doing what we can to cover these games in more detail as information becomes available!
I’ve just gotten word from Slitherine/Matrix that the first DLC for War in the East 2 has been announced! I’m very excited for this. War in the East 2 was my game of the year last year and has consistently struck me with its elegance. I often grow tired of really heavy wargames, but War in the East can keep me going for hours and hours. More content is only going to be awesome, in my opinion. Here’s the full reveal right from the source:
“Matrix Games and 2by3 announce the first DLC for War in the East 2
Steel Inferno will release on November
Set in the East front of World War 2, Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2 was last year’s best-selling and most praised wargame. The simulation improved every aspect of its predecessor, effectively rebooting the series and giving it new life. Since its release, Gary Grigsby and his team have been working hard to improve gameplay with various upgrades. Simultaneously, 2by3 Games started work on the game’s first DLC, Steel Inferno. This expansion puts the spotlight on several major offensives that influenced the course of the war in the East. It is also expanding the gigantic map further by opening new areas throughout eight new Scenarios and two new Campaigns.
Steel Inferno covers Operations in Yugoslavia in 1944 for the first time and adds several German scenarios, such as the attack into the Caucasus. The addition of hypothetical scenarios and two new full map campaigns offer countless extra gameplay hours in historically detailed settings and what-if alternatives.
Steel Inferno DLC in details
Steel Inferno opens up new areas of the War in the East 2 map: wth 8 new Scenarios and 2 new Campaigns, it will significantly expand your War in the East 2 experience.
For the first time in the War in the East 2 series, operations in all of Yugoslavia in 1944 are covered. Finnish forces also make an appearance in the area just north of Leningrad. Several scenarios cover the German attack into the Caucasus, including a hypothetical scenario that provides the Germans with an additional army for the campaign. “Drama on the Danube” scenario places the German player in the difficult position of trying to deal with the surrender of Romania and Bulgaria, and the difficulties of the German forces in Greece trying to escape north through partisan-controlled territory.
Also included are two new full map campaigns which begin with the German Operation Citadel in July 1943 and about a month before the Soviet Operation Bagration in May 1944.
Campaign and scenario list
1943 Campaign – 3 Jul 43 – 6 Jul 45 — A full Campaign starting out with the German Operation Citadel, the largest tank battle in history. It allows players to explore the best way for the Germans to recover from the earlier Stalingrad debacle, and the best way for the Soviets to beat the Allies to Berlin.
1944 Campaign – 11 May 44 – 4 Jul 45 — A full Campaign that begins with the Soviets readying for the start of their massive Summer 1944 offensives. Within four months, these offensives led to the destruction of Army Group Center, and the capitulation of Romania and Finland. Within a year, Berlin had fallen. Can you do better?
Operation Kutuzov – 12 Jul 43 – 3 Oct 44 — Following the repulse of the German attack on Kursk, Operation Kutuzov was launched to retake Orel and push on towards Smolensk.
Road to Karelia – 22 Jun 41 – 11 Oct 41 — The first WitE2 scenario to include a section of the Finnish front. It covers the first 4 month German push to capture Leningrad, and the Finnish effort to push the Soviets out of Finnish Karelian territory, recently ceded during the Winter War.
Army Group A – Part I – Race for the Caucasus – 25 Jul 42 – 20 Nov 42 — Covers the German attempt to capture the oil fields of the Caucasus in Summer 1942. This oil could change the course of the war.
Case Blue Phase II 42-43 – 25 Jul 42 – 5 Mar 43 — Covers the critical phase of the German attack to seize Stalingrad, along with the rush south into the Caucasus. Assuming the Soviet player can hold on, it also covers the Soviet build up and counteroffensive that through the Germans back.
Case Blue Phase II 43-43 – Alternate – 25 Jul 42 – 5 Mar 43 — What if German High Command hadn’t dismantled their 11th Army after the capture of Sevastopol, but instead had kept it together to help take Stalingrad and the Caucasus. In this scenario you can find out the answer.
Army Group A – Part II – Kuban Bridgehead – 1 Feb 43 – 10 October 43 – After the loss at Stalingrad, the German 17th Army was ordered to hold on to the Kuban Bridgehead. They did for over 8 months. Can you?
AG C – Kutuzov to Bagration 43-44 – 12 Jul 43 – 2 Apr 44 — This Soviet offensive began as Operation Citadel ended, and recaptured Orel and Smolensk in less than 3 months. Can the Soviets drive further into Belorussia and destroy Army Group Center a year early?
Western Ukraine 43-44 – 3 Nov 43 – 25 Apr 44 — The Soviet push into Western Ukraine which led to their recapture of Odessa, and the Battle of the Kemenets-Podolsky pocket. A punishing offensive, but could the Soviets have done even better?
Drama on the Danube 44 – 20 Aug 44 – 5 May 45 — A complete look at the unusual and varied fighting across the Balkans in 1944-45. Starting with the conversion of Romania and Bulgaria into Soviet allies, the scenario also covers the desperate attempt of the German forces in Greece to escape north. Covers the transition of the Yugoslavian partisan war into being part of the front line, the Soviet advance through Hungary, the last major German offensive of the war near Budapest, and the fall of Vienna.”
Colour me very, very excited for this. I enjoyed working through the grand campaign, but smaller more manageable historical campaigns are a great way to get some gameplay in without having to commit to something so large. Suffice to say I’ll be breaking out my rulebook and refreshing my notes!
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.
This is getting harder and harder to do. Valor & Victory, as I’ve said many times before on this blog…and to whoever will listen, is one of my favourite squad level tactical board wargames. I liked it so much, in fact, that I purchased a properly made up copy from the designer rather than stick with the free print and play.
That means I was genuinely excited to hear that Valor & Victory was getting a Steam release from Slitherine and Yobowargames. Unfortunately, my review of the base game was not entirely positive. While I liked seeing one of my favourite rulesets on the digital tabletop, I was put off by some clunkiness, bad AI, and the fact that Valor & Victory’s simplicity, while a boon on the tabletop, was unnecessary for PC.
Out for a walk to Stalingrad
Fast forward to now, and the game’s first DLC is making its way to Steam. This DLC covers the battle for Stalingrad and some surrounding engagements. This comes in the form of 13 new maps and 14 new missions and, of course, the Soviet Union as a playable faction.
It is great to see a pile of new troops and vehicles enter the fray and if I was able to purchase this expansion for the board game, I would in a heart beat. The content is interested and quite varied from heavily built up maps to more normal fare.
Scenarios are also good, with more than one clear path to victory and some entertaining set ups. Early missions will see the Soviets hard pressed to defend against a determined German attack, but it makes it all the more satisfying when it happens!
Content, Yes. Fixes, no.
One of my biggest problems with Valor & Victory Digital was the AI. It can defend reasonably well, given that the smaller scale means less movement is necessary, but it has a very difficult time attacking. More than once I was horrified to see the enemy break through with vehicles, and, instead of push on to the objectives, simply drive around to try and shoot at peripheral units.
I am also afraid to say that some of the things that frustrated me, like no option to alter the speed of dice rolls or to impact reaction fire, are still present and accounted for. I also ran into some bugs with the camera failing to scroll correctly and with some visuals hanging up.
I will stand by my initial reaction to say that multiplayer, as a substitute for the physical multiplayer of the boardgame, is still where the game shines. That and the potential for creative gamers to make interesting scenarios using the built in tools. But when the core AI is less than challenging and there are some continued niggling issues that gnaw at my enjoyment, I’m not entirely convinced this is worth the time.
An Unnecessary but Mostly Welcome Addition
While core gameplay remains the same as the base game of Valor & Victory, I was happy to see some more game features make their way from the tabletop to the digital adaptation in a free accompanying update. Some key missing features like support artillery, snipers, and air power are very welcome. It is nice that they are going to be included for free alongside the DLC.
But that begs the question, is the DLC necessary? If you’re interested in the Soviet counters and the new maps, then yes, but if Valor & Victory didn’t excite you the first time around, there is nothing substantial enough to change that opinion.
Finally, I’m just sad that I feel I have to give this DLC, and the Valor & Victory digital system as a whole a less than positive review. I love the board game, and maybe that is influencing my take here, but there are some sloppy feeling issues that very well could have been resolved between release and now. Content is all well and good, but, like the first tie around, I’ll be sticking with the board game now that my time reviewing the digital adaptation is finished.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Some good new content will please fans of the game, but longstanding frustrations remain, keeping this from being a must buy. There are better games out there.
This is a game I’ve been waiting on for a long time. Having heard about its development years ago, I kept it in the back of my mind because it seemed like it would be right up my alley. Operational combat in Vietnam from the 1940s to the 1960s. Campaign Series: Vietnam promised a lot of content, and I was content to wait for it’s arrival. It took a while to finally arrive, but all’s well that ends awesome.
What Kind of Game is Campaign Series: Vietnam?
I suppose I’m relatively young in terms of the wargaming crowd, so it might not come as a surprise that I hadn’t ever played a Campaign Series game before, nor was I familiar with the series’ heritage at Talonsoft. I do have a boatload of John Tiller Software/Wargame Design Studio games though, so to my unknowing eyes, Campaign Series: Vietnam seemed like a polished JTS game right out of the gate. It’s not far from the mark, but there are some noticeable differences.
Vietnam is an operational wargame in either 2D or isometric 3D with counters representing platoons, teams, special units, leaders, and multiple vehicles. A traditional IGO-UGO system with reaction fire, players and the AI alternate activating their forces and spending action points to move, shoot, assault, or perform special actions. Vietnam has dozens of scenarios ranging from the French-Vietnamese War of Independence, the South Vietnamese Civil War, and the American War. The game ends its date range in 1967, and I hope this only means that DLC will be forthcoming.
‘Operation’ is the Word
This is a tactical game, in that players are controlling platoons and teams as they maneuver them around a map to complete objectives, but the scope of many of the scenarios in Vietnam really highlight the special operational limitations and expectations that accompanied the war, especially during American scenarios. To my mind, including such difficulties elevates the gameplay to something more than the simple (albeit excellently implemented) tactical combat.
Victory points are not just tied to controlling objectives, but also fulfilling special objectives, inflicting disproportionate losses, and obeying certain rules of war. For instance, many scenarios penalize you for indirect fire into villages, towns, and city hexes. There are civilians going about their business that may or may not be enemies. There are IEDs and hidden minefields. Some scenarios even touch on difficult topics like forced relocation.
Bringing the scope of the game inline with the unique experiential factors that made the Vietnam war stand out in Western consciousness is much appreciated and elevates the game to new heights.
Good Thing the Core is Rock Solid Too
After running through the tutorials to familiarize yourself with the hotkeys and general control, playing Campaign Series: Vietnam is a breeze. There are so many ways to customize the visual experience, all of which can be toggled on the fly, that I never felt I was making a mistake in control or blundering because of hidden information. Things are generally easy to control, produce satisfying results, and are backed up by the manual. The only thing I wish the tutorials covered better was command and control and supply, both of which require a quick read to confirm percentages.
The game is also appreciably difficult. The AI is quite good in my experience. My first attempt at Silver Bayonet’s landing at LZ X Ray resulted in my getting totally overrun. The NVA came on hard and fast and exploited my piecemeal entry to punch holes in my perimeter, encircle my limited improved positions, and then hammer them with arty when they finally fixed me. It took me a couple tries to really get the landing down and supported well.
I did notice a few bugs in my pre-release version of Vietnam. In one scenario the map labels failed to materialize at all. In another game the air strike icons did not go away after the successful strike, leaving me paranoid every time I wandered a unit through the hex. Small bugs, but they were there.
I’ve grown accustomed to the looks of JTS/WDS and now Campaign Series wargames. I find they have a certain charm to them, but they are nothing exceptional or very modern. I will say that Campaign Series: Vietnam is the only one from any of those series that will actually switch to the 3D view on occassion. It is far more readable than previous entries. The UI is easily navigable and I’m glad the decision was made to break the tool bar into multiple tabs.
As for the audio, its the same collection of motor noises, gun shots, and explosions this time supplemented by some ‘Vietnam-movie’ sounding music. It’s fine, again, but I turned it off fairly quickly.
Final Thoughts: Time to Run Through the Jungle
Campaign Series: Vietnam is excellent. The core gameplay is solid, the appreciation of the unique factors of the conflict are well represented, and there is a reasonable learning curve. The vast amount of content will keep players going for quite some time, and I can’t imagine a better Vietnam War game on the PC right now. Go check it out!
Rating: 4 out of 5.
An excellent wargame with a classic style and tons of content. Definitely worth your time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
It’s rare that a hex and counter wargame truly surprises me. I, like many of you, have been playing these types of games for years, and know what to expect from our niche genre. There will be familiar mechanics around movement, unit composition, statistics, combat odds, and supply lines. There will be detailed rules, long campaigns, short scenarios, archaic multiplayer systems and decent game editors.
And then there’s Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive.
Ardennes Offensive not only shakes up the formula by adding some fascinating depth to movement, fog of war, and combat, but it also manages to introduce these fresh gameplay features in a package that is both chock full of information, but also beautifully presented and manageably learnable.
How Does Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Play?
Set during the so-famous-it-needs-no-description Battle of the Bulge, Ardennes Offensive offers two grand campaigns covering the full battle, and several smaller scenarios focusing in on major engagements like St. Vith and Bastogne. Turns are broken up into Morning, Mid-Day, Evening, and Night. Each hex represents a kilometer, and, in this iteration, units are calculated at the squad level, with individual weapons and stats tracked.
Ardennes Offensive uses the same base mechanics as found in previous Decisive Campaigns games (though this is my first one) as well as the stellar Shadow Empire and interesting sandbox Advances Tactics. The game is presented through a central map with unit, hex, and special information appearing on the sides and bottom of the screen. Turns are IGO-UGO, but with a new and well implemented system of interrupting fire that can halt units in their tracks. attacks are coordinated based on the defending hex, with two types of attack available: Ranged, which brings in mortars and artillery, and direct, which involves choosing the attacking units and the determination of the attack. Supply and traffic play significant roles, just as they did in the actual battle, and moving too many units over the same road in a turn will add additional movement costs to following units.
Overall, it may sound like fairly standard stuff, but Ardennes Offensive adds so many little things to the formula that make it pop.
The Little Things that Make it Pop
I need to start with my favourite part of Ardennes Offensive: Fog of War. This is the first wargame that actually gave me spooky vibes while playing. You cannot trust your eyes in Ardennes Offensive, as you cannot be 100% certain of a hex’s ownership unless you’ve got me sitting squarely in the hex.
This may sound annoying, but it doesn’t feel that way in practice. You’ll see indicators near the frontline representing sounds of unknown origin reported by your supply units as they deliver goods to the front. You’ll see a supposed frontline cobbled together from your limited understanding of enemy movements. You’ll be able to set up, and fall into, ambushes along key roads. At night, visibility is reduced to almost nothing. It is an excellent and atmospheric system that sells the initial chaos and subsequent unease of the Battle of the Bulge.
Visually and auditorily, Ardennes Offensive is simply amazing. I have low expectations for most wargames, but the artwork on unit and hexes are wonderfully detailed with a painterly quality. Hexes are readable and easy to navigate. Units are identifiable right from the get go with their most prominent component showing on the counter face. But the best part are the little details. As the time of day shifts, the background for each unit card will change to reflect the overhead light. These wonderful little bits of finesse add so much to the experience. The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. There is a somber and haunting collection of tracks to accompany gameplay in Ardennes Offensive. The music is great and perfectly fits the mood of the battle. Night turns especially, with the reduced visibility, the changed map graphics, and the haunting music add up to become one of the most immersive hex and counter games I’ve ever played.
I have only one bad to say about this game. It crashed on me more than once. I’m seeing that patches are already on the way, and I can probably blame this on my advance copy, but I do feel the need to report that it happened. Honestly though, don’t let that stop you from trying this one out.
I was so pleasantly surprised by how tight a package Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Assault was, I had trouble articulating it for this review. This is an excellent addition to the world of digital hex and counter wargaming and the new standard for what can be done visually and auditorily to make modern wargames feel modern without losing the mechanical charm we all love. There is plenty of content, the AI does a solid job, the game is learnable, and everything is wrapped up in a nice package. A must play.
This review took me a lot longer to write than I anticipated. I managed to write about each of the preview builds that Warhammer 40k: Battlesector experienced but when it came time to write the review of the full game, I didn’t really know how to go about it. I had already talked about how the game plays, what I thought was good and bad, and what I had hoped would change for the full release. I guess seeing that nothing had really changed between the preview and the final build threw me off. It made me want to finish literally everything to do with the game before I wrote out the review. But that didn’t happen for a long, long time.
So, apologies, but here it is:
Once More into the Battlesector
For those who missed out on our previews, Warhammer 40k: Battlesector is a tactical turn based wargame focusing on positioning and managing unit abilities to stem a ferocious tide of Tyranid invaders on a desert moon. On the surface it looks like a fairly simple game, and while it isn’t as complex as some of the other things we cover on this blog, there is still enough tactical decision-making to make it interesting. This becomes more true the deeper into the game you get. When you’re looking at the relative firepower and accuracy drop off of the bolters carried by your Primaris Marines and your Sisters of Battle to try and properly equip for a mission, it feels like a good amount of thinking.
Each mission is accompanied by a story, told through the perspectives of different heroes you get to bring along, before opening up to force composition. Equipping a force for each scenario is fairly open and, coupled with investing points into upgrades that benefit different troop types, has a lot of potential for variety.
The missions themselves tend to play our similarly each time you go through them, so Battlesector falls into one of wargaming’s (potential) traps by becoming more of a puzzle: Here is the challenge this mission presents, here are the forces you’ve built up for the mission, how will you apply those forces to this puzzle? I don’t think this is a bad thing. It gives some replayability to the game, and if you’re like me, you’ll feel drawn to completing missions a few times to try and minimize casualties.
The Really Good Bits
Since I’ve written so much about this game already, I thought I would just try to hammer down the bits that I really like, and the bits that I’m not so keen on. As always, let’s start with the good.
The narrative and presentation is suitably 40k, and that’s a lot of fun. Yes the story is hokey, but it actually pokes at some of the interesting aspects of the universe’s new changes. How would first generation Space Marines deal with this upstart second generation? What does this new crusade mean for the cherished old ways? It never really dives too deep, but it is fun. It helps that each character delivers their cutscene lines with the kind of over the top gravitas everyone expects from a 40k property.
The tactical considerations related to range elevate what could have been a turkey shoot. The enemy, being Tyranids, are aliens that tend to rush towards your soldiers in an attempt to overwhelm them. Therefore dealing with the monsters while maintaining low casualties comes down to the correct application of your force’s firepower. Each weapon has an optimal range, and it is incredibly important to make sure you’re taking advantage of that with almost every shot. Failing to do so will mean gruesome death for your marines and sisters.
Finally, the game looks and sounds great. It is nice to see such effort placed into these departments. The included photo mode is also a fun addition that allows you to highlight some of the more interesting clashes you’ll find yourself in.
The Not Really Good Bits
This is my biggest issue, and one that I complained about during the betas. Each mission ends with you mopping up every Tyranid unit on the map. Sometimes, this isn’t really an issue. Other times, there are two units left and because you sent the majority of your force one way, you need to spend turns shifting them the other way in order to finally mop up. So few missions benefit from this that I really struggle to understand why it was included.
There are only two playable factions. This game has the potential to be a fun multiplayer game and a good proxy for Warhammer 40k on the computer, but it is going to have a rocky start if there are only two factions and the rest are gated behind DLC and time. I understand why this is how it happened, but I’m thinking about the long term survivability of the game.
It’s fun! That’s really the take away here. Warhammer 40k Battlesector is a fun tactical wargame. It’s not overly deep, but it’s not too shallow to prevent any tactical decision-making from occurring. It’s a good romp through a well presented bit of the 40k universe with some interesting mechanics surrounding range and optimal ability use. It won’t be for everyone, but it can be for many.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Slitherine/Matrix provided us with a copy of this game for the purposes of this review.Check out the game here. We get nothing if you click on that link.
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!
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.“
“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.”
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.