Mare Nostrvm – an (almost) Retro Review

This is a guest review from friend of the blog Jack Molasky, a master of Field of Glory series who has been playing PC strategy games since ’96. Check out his Youtube channel for Field of Glory series AARs.

Mare Nostrvm is a WEGO game of tactical naval combat from the early Classical era to the civil wars that ended the Roman Republic, developed by Turnopia and published by Slitherine in 2017. It’s a subject that has seen almost no realistic portrayal in PC gaming, though there have been representations on the tabletop (Trireme and War Galley, most notably). The game has a core of well thought out systems and an opinionated, unforgiving take on the difficulty of commanding fleets during the era. For a certain type of wargamer it’s a great buy, but it’s not meant for everybody (nor was it meant to be), and it does suffer from the common wargame problem of not being particularly welcome to a newcomer.

One thing to note – the game is just battles, there is no linking campaign. Gamers who enjoy tactical games for their own sake, read on. Those who require a Total War or even Ultimate General style campaign to put everything in a personalized context should pass.

The game depicts all the hazards and excitement of naval warfare of the era – boarding, ramming, flaming projectiles, the corvus, raking oars, ships getting trapped in sinking wreckage, general chaos and confusion. These systems are well thought out in the sense that their general concepts are explained in the concise (31pg) manual, but both manual and game are fuzzy on the actual math. For example, a ship with a high ram rating and a well-trained crew moving at high speed (enabled by well rested rowers) has an elevated chance to successfully ram a ship that is grappled. But when your ship succeeds or fails to ram the enemy – you won’t know exactly why. There is nothing like the combat log in the Field of Glory games, which, while it doesn’t give an exact % chance for every occurrence, does break down all the factors that went into the result. This leaves prospective admirals to learn by practice and gut feel – no doubt the more realistic approach, but not necessarily something everyone has (or should have) the patience for.

In addition, the WEGO format is full minute long turns. This means it is often very difficult to give precise orders, and a fair amount of educated guesswork goes into what the enemy is going to do. I think this was a purposeful design decision, to force players to recognize just how important keeping reserve squadrons or holding back portions of squadrons can be. Just as the first volley was the deadliest in gunpowder warfare, your attacks in Mare Nostrvm are always most effective when conducted by well ordered squadrons with fresh rowers, full crews of marines, crisp oars, and a commander who hasn’t gotten himself killed yet. Players who incline toward bulling ahead will bounce off this model hard, but I can’t entirely blame them – these concepts can only be learned through trial and error, the game doesn’t really try to explain them.

Speaking of commanders, they play a key role in the game. Units outside of command range are basically useless. They cannot be given orders by the player and spend their time trying to get back into command range. They will defend themselves, but keeping your squadrons organized is crucial. Commanders can also give special bonuses. If a commander is killed, another ship will take command of the squadron with a reduced command radius.

The combination of initially inscrutable mechanics with a hefty dose of RNG means that players who play wargames for the satisfaction of creating the perfect plan should stay away from Mare Nostrvm. It *is* possible to come up with a strong plan that gives you a Major Victory in game, but chaos, confusion and luck all have quite a bit to say. More than the minutiae of turn-to-turn combat, a player will be successfully thinking in terms of squadrons – which to keep in reserve, how many turns it will take to reorganize a squadron that is scattered from ramming attempts, boarding actions, and, you know, being on fire.

Graphics and sound get the job done. Compared to most wargames, the ship models and rotating camera view are a treat. Compared to any AAA title well… let’s just say Mare Nostrvm was a largely one man indie show, so that’s not a fair comparison.

Wargamers who enjoy the gradual loss of command and control as a battle continues, who don’t mind or even appreciate the influence of the unpredictable, who can look past stylistically consistent rather than high fidelity graphics and have an interest in the era (even if they haven’t read their Thucydides – yet) owe it to themselves to check out Mare Nostrvm. Normally it sells for $19.99, but it often goes on sale for as little as $5.99 – the cost of a craft beer at a nice bar, or 2-3 regular ol’ beers at a dive. Mare Nostrvm should entertain the right type of wargamer for much longer than either.

Jack Molasky

Check out Jack’s Youtube channel for Field of Glory series AARs!

Valor & Victory: Stalingrad DLC Review

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.

-Joe Fonseca

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.

LTAW received a copy of this game for review. You can find the game here. We get nothing if you click that link.

We have a Patreon! If you want to support us check it out. We’ll use any funds to purchase more wargames for review!

Campaign Series: Vietnam

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.

French paratroopers rush through rice paddys to secure their target.

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.

There are tons of scenarios. Tons.

‘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.

Airstrikes are getting a little close around LZ XRAY. But then so are the enemy.

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.

The 2D mode is still very pretty and easy to read.

Adequate Audio-Visuals

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.

There is a full editor I didn’t even touch!

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.

-Joe Fonseca

Here is a link to the game’s page. We get nothing if you click that. LTAW does receive review copies of games.

We do have a patreon if you would like to support us directly. We use it to buy wargames. Shockingly.

Combat Mission: Cold War Review

I know the Combat Mission series can be a little divisive these days. The engine is older and there are some known issues that seem to accompany every release. For my own experience though, I don’t think I can look anywhere else for the sort of detailed, engrossing, and (dare I say) realistic gameplay that Combat Mission offers.

The series stands out as dominating a unique corner of our hobby, and for that alone I have to give it props. That does, however, make it harder to admit that there were some significant issues with Combat Mission: Cold War.

Soviet Paratroopers advancing on a US Listening Post

How Does Combat Mission: Cold War Play

Combat Mission is a tactical wargame focusing on the (usually) Brigade level and down combat in either real time or WEGO turns. Players issue orders to squads, teams, and vehicles and attempt to carry out certain mission objectives.

Gameplay focuses a great deal of detail on fog of war and command and control issues. What units can see and hear is far more important than how well they can shoot or how much armour their tank has. To succeed at Combat Mission requires a good deal of patience, strong tactical thinking, and a decent understanding of Second World War/Cold War/Modern combat systems.

An M60. Watch out for its Shillelagh

What is different with Combat Mission Cold War?

This is both a positive and negative part of Combat Mission: Cold War. As with every new game in the series, Cold War uses the same engine under the hood to power the battles that play out on screen. The system is starting to show its age for sure, but it is no less pretty than most other wargames. In fact, I quite like how good Combat Mission games can look with large numbers of vehicles and units moving about and shooting. It’s definitely a simulation, so units may move a little strangely here and there, but you’ll see recognizable uniforms, weapon systems and armoured fighting vehicles.

The big difference with Cold War, is, well the Cold War. Taking placing mostly in 1979, but with scenarios through 1982, this edition of Combat Mission plays out a what-if scenario of a Soviet invasion of West Germany. There are three campaigns, one each from the US and Soviet perspective as well as a third campaign focusing on the National Training Center.

Scenarios are diverse and interesting, from platoon level attacks on Listening Posts, to full brigade assaults featuring butt-loads (official term) of T-72s, to little one offs like attempting to pull an engineer platoon and their escort out of a small town quickly being swarmed by Soviet troops. I personally had less fun with the NTC campaign stuff, because I’m simply less interested in simulating simulated training scenarios, but to each their own.

The best part of Cold War is getting to experience late 70’ss and early 80’s hardware. The game is set at a time when both sides had the material and opportunity to do real damage. Seeing my M60s struggle to dent the front armour of onrushing Soviet tanks, but also how quickly an ATGM or Shillelagh can stop the dead is sweaty fun.

A good defilade position…I hope.

It’s Not All Sunshine

I’ve been singing Cold War’s praises so far, because I genuinely had a good time playing the game. But it is not perfect. There are still some persistent bugs floating around that can get annoying. I’ve had some crashes to desktop during my gameplay time, which were the worst offenders.

I was also totally unable to get a game of PBEM++ to work. I tried several times with my co-host here Jack, and even tried with a nice gentleman from the Computer Wargames Facebook Group. Every time the game failed to load correctly, crashed, or failed to load and then crashed. It was a shame, because I was very much looking forward to the PBEM++ system that I use regularly with other Slitherine/Matrix Games like Field of Glory II. I did try to reach out on the Combat Mission Discord for help, but nothing really came of it. We’re going to keep trying, because I really want to experience multiplayer through PBEM++, but it definitely impacted my impression.

Finally, as mentioned above, this is the same engine as all the rest of the modern Combat Missions, so if you’ve got a problem with how those games run or how they model things, this version won’t change your mind. I still kick myself whenever I manage to get a squad to exit a building via the wrong door and it gets them lit up in a MOUT situation.

The smoke didn’t linger for the rearguard’s street crossing. RIP the poor engineer in the back there.

Final Thoughts

I guess I was super hyped up for this release. I did enjoy what I played, but I was a little deflated by the issues I encountered trying to get it to work with PBEM++. I still think this is a strong entry in the series, and the Cold War is a fascinating setting to explore. But if you’re not someone who is already on the Combat Mission bandwagon, this won’t do it for you, I can almost guarantee it. For those who do enjoy Combat Mission, as someone who has put good time into Shock Force 2 and Black Sea, there is a lot to like here, just be prepared for worse optics all around!

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A solid entry to the Combat Mission series. Nothing revolutionary, some annoying bugs, but a good selection of scenarios and wonderfully modeled gear. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. If not, best not start with Cold War.

You can find the game here. LTAW was given a review copy of this game. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Field of Glory II Medieval: Swords & Scimitars DLC Review

Maybe I’m a simpler type, but when it comes to new DLC for games I already enjoy, I’m not looking for anything revolutionary or anything that might alter the core of a game I already like. I’m looking for good quality, well thought out additions that extend the life of the game I love, with enough content to justify the price tag.

With Field of Glory II Medieval’s latest DLC, Swords & Scimitars, I think that is exactly what you get.

What’s New in Swords & Scimitars

There is actually a lot of new content in this DLC. So much so that I have to admit that I haven’t tried it all. With 20 more nations, covering the major players of the Crusades on both sides, Byzantium, Southeastern Europe, and the Near East, 35 new units, 41 new army lists, 8 new scenarios and 4 new campaigns, you are not going to run out of interesting things to do for a long time.

I found the new campaigns enjoyable, with a special shout out to Saladin’s campaign. Sticking mostly to Western European armies and not being well versed in the original Field of Glory II, I had to learn an entirely new way of fighting using the Muslim armies. Their heavily armoured cavalry archer units and lightly armoured lancers make for an interesting core that requires different tactics from what I’m used to.

There are also some fun new additions allowing for greater permutations in random battles. Now armies can field historically relevant allies as part of their disposition. This adds quite a bit of variety, and while I haven’t seen it in multiplayer, it allows for some interesting recreations of historical engagements.

What do I think?

I wish I could get into more details, but aside from listing off the numerous games I’ve played and enjoyed with the DLCs contents, I think you’ll just have to take my word for it. If you like Field of Glory II Medieval, there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t like this DLC. The newly added campaigns and scenarios are fun, the new armies add different dimensions to the medieval mix, and the expanded content for skirmish and multiplayer modes add variety with new potential match ups.

I’ve already sung the praises of the Field of Glory series, and Field of Glory II Medieval specifically, so I’m happy to say that this DLC does exactly what is printed on the tin. It’s more of what you love in a decently priced package. Now off to the Holy Land with you!

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Swords & Scimitars doesn’t break the mold, but it doesn’t have to. This DLC pack adds a lot of great content that will keep fans going for quite some time.

LTAW received a review copy of this DLC. You can check out the DLC here. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Review

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.

A Smaller Introductory Scenario

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.

Example of the Night Turn’s Visibility Restrictions. Legitimately Spooky.

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.

Command and Control Range clearly illustrated

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.

Cards allow for strategic choices like calling in air strikes or setting up road-blocks

Final Thoughts

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.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Let’s Talk About Wargames were provided with a review copy of this game. You can check out the game here. We get nothing if you click on this link.

Warhammer 40k: Battlesector Review

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.

Conclusions

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.

-Joe Fonseca

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.

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.