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.
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.
My friend and I decided to finally take the plunge and try out the game that replaced Warhammer all those years ago: Age of Sigmar. A lot has changed both in terms of rules and in terms of the game’s background lore, and wading back into Age of Sigmar for it’s 3rd edition release was actually a lot more fun than I had anticipated.
As a brief reminder of my tabletop qualifications, I’ve been a steady player of Warhammer Fantasy since my 12 year old self managed to scrap together enough for a 6th edition starter set. My friends and I all slowly chipped away at armies using our middling-at-best understanding of the rules and a lot of proxy-hammer to have a grand old time romping around the Old World. We’ve stuck with miniature wargaming, dipping into 40k, historical, and skirmish games all while continuing to build and play to Warhammer Fantasy. Until Games Workshop destroyed it.
Since Warhammer died and we took a bit of a break, we’ve been playing (when not COVID restricted) One Page Rule’s Age of Fantasy Regiments, which I’ve said numerous times on this blog and elsewhere is my favorite game system ever. But now that things are open and a new edition of Age of Sigmar just dropped, we thought we’d give it a shot.
The Age of Sigmar
Our battle, as per the 2021 General’s Handbook, takes place in the feral plains of Guhr, a realm suffused with wild magic and a vicious will to survive. Our battle plan (read: scenario) was “Savage Gains” rolled from a list in that same handbook. While we both anticipated a grueling weight-lifting competition, instead we found a fairly standard ‘control the enemy’s objective’ scenario with a little twist. Objectives were worth more the further into enemy territory you went, and on the 3rd turn of 5, the player going second was able to remove a single objective, denying remaining points.
Our armies, my wife’s wonderfully painted Warriors of Chaos and my friend’s High Elves (Now Slaves to Darkness and Lumineth Realm Lords in Age of Sigmar parlance) were arrayed across the beautiful and Guhr appropriate table at our local gaming store Game Knight League, ready to fight.
Earning the first turn, The Lumineth Realm Lords calmly organized their detachments. Archers, spearmen, and the dreaded blade masters maintained a tight formation while they move to secure key junctures of the rapidly flowing rivers that cut through this region’s mountains. Their leaders, wizards all, cast wards of protection and accuracy on their soldiers, only minorly bothered by the tug of Chaos at the edge of their minds. On the far flank, a lone Hero emerged from the undergrowth to deny passage to any Chaos warriors who might try to get the drop on his allies. Spying only a pathetic Chaos Spawn, the Hero swiftly put it out of its misery with several well placed arrows. Back on the other side of the battlefield, archers opened fire. Sensing the oncoming taint of corruption, arrows loosed at high arcs towards unseen targets. Drawn to the immense power of a Demon Prince of Nurgle, several shafts found their mark, but it was not enough to bring down the beast, who quickly healed himself using his dark god’s power.
Bolstered by the laughter of their dark god, the more mobile forces of Nurgle charged across the rivers, Chariots crashing through the water and demonic steeds leaping the gap to come down with thunderous weight on the other bank. Seeing an unholy speed that belied the gross bulk of the warriors approaching them, the Blade Lords holding the center repositioned themselves at the edge of a tangled wood, blocking the path to their home objective and dominating a pass between two mighty peaks.
The lone Hero, satisfied at having removed the taint of the Chaos spawn from the realm, almost didn’t hear the wingbeats that brought a second Demon Prince of Nurgle hurtling out of the sky to land almost on top of him. Far away, The main host of Nurgle advanced, drawing closer to the arranged elven warriors, the sky about them darkened with a plague of flies. Lumineth archer showed their skill as arrows filled the sky and managed, beyond all reason, to navigate the clouds of flies that surrounded the oncoming horde to find gaps in armour and slits in visors. The horde was slowed, but not stopped.
Eventually arrows could do no more and the mighty hosts clashed. Chariots crashed into steady ranks, wreaking bloody havoc before being brought down by pin point accurate blades and spears. The Spearmen of the Realm Lords, emboldened by their leader’s magic, were a glowing engine of death. Dozens of hulking warriors and even a demon prince fell before their efficient onslaught. It took the might of the Putrid BlightKings, scions of Nurgle’s Will, to turn the tide. As the spear elves slowly began to fall before weight of the advance, the weeping of the Scinari Cathallar took the pain of his fellow realm lords and weaponized it, turning their suffering and sorrow into pure energy that wracked the brains of the assaulting Chaos Warriors. When the dust settled and the flies were silenced, none but Fecula, Sorceress of Nurgle remained on that bloody field.
A mountain away, The advanced forces of Nurgle’s host were struggling. The Blade Lords used the forest to their advantage, striking out at the Chaos Kngihts as they blundered through the gigantic trees. Even farther afield, The Lone Hero dueled with the Demon Prince over control of a key ford. He put up a valiant fight but could not contain the fury of the beast. Eventually, a triumphant and bubbly laugh signaled the Demon’s victory, and the capture of the ford. The triumph was short lived, as the Hero had managed to stall the beast long enough. The battle had shifted and the ford he died beside was no longer strategically critical.
While their soldiers butchered each other on the wide plain that would evermore be known as the field of flies, The Chaos Lord confronted the Leader of the Lumineth. It was he who Nurgle had told his champion to slaughter, and so he did swifty, the sorcerer no match for the god touched warrior. His success was met with a great boon, as Nurgle saw fit to bless him with Demonhood, elevating him beyond mortality.
It was clear that the elves were in danger of losing the field of flies and therefore the key river junction. Leaving some Blade Masters to hold their flank against whatever forces might come, the archers and remaining Blade Masters repositioned themselves to take back the field. The newly minted Demon Prince, arrogant in his new form, dove upon them alone, intent on finishing the puny elves and taking the pass for his god.
His hubris would be his undoing, as the combined might of the remaining archers was more than enough to send his newly twisted soul into the void of Chaos. This left only a handfull of BlightKings and a Demon Prince alive on the field. Though the BlightKings pulled their weight in the final moments of the battle, they were brought down, leaving the Lumineth Realm Lords in control of the key remaining juncture and their own home area.
Though the Field of Flies will remain rotten for generations, the three key mountain passes remain in the hands of the forces of Order, the Lumineth earning a sizable, if costly, victory over the forces of Chaos.
Age of Sigmar is fun! At first we were both overwhelmed with the sheer number of special rules we had to look up. I’m sure we both missed some here and there. But the management of Command Points, Hero Abilities, and combat activations made every turn feel important and full of meaningfully tactical decisions.
The victory conditions, tied to objectives instead of merely killing opposing forces, kept the game up in the air until the final couple of turns when in quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to overcome the Lumineth lead.
The most important part was that the game was entertaining and led to a lot of fun emergent narratives. The duel between Demon Prince and Lone Hero. The Sad-ening of my warriors killing most of the unit, and the overeager Demon Prince spawning out of my general only to be shot down with his hubris. It helped that we had mostly painted armies and a beautiful battlefield, but I’m more than ready to hop into a new Age of Sigmar Army. It was a great night out, and isn’t that the point of tabletop wargaming?
Hello everyone! It’s my pleasure to announce here on the blog that Sunday September 19th and 9:00AM EST, Jack and I will be hosting the Paper Time Machines talk by legendary designer Volko Ruhnke!
Please come check out the stream for an enlightening talk about science fiction and historical simulations! Here’s the official description:
“Boardgames can transport us to different worlds by showing us on a tabletop how these worlds work. This is as true of fantasy and science fiction boardgames as it is of historical simulations, because great fantasy and science fiction draws from knowledge of human history to make its alien worlds work in coherent and realistic ways. Historical boardgame designer Volko Ruhnke will show how science fiction and fantasy boardgames and historical boardgames all share and can reveal facets of human affairs, including:
• The flow of resources in warfare: DUNE and Falling Sky (Caesar in Gaul).
• Medieval military operationa: War of the Ring and Nevsky (Teutons and Rus).
• Insurgency and counterinsurgency: Star Wars Rebellion and Fire in the Lake (US in Vietnam).”
We’ll be there to moderate questions and comments so if you want to get some words in with the big man himself about wargaming and conflict simulation, drop on by!
Solitaire wargames occupy a special place in our hobby. On the one hand, being able to sit down away from the noise of modern life to escape into a tabletop game experience, whether narrative, systems focused, or even just an examination of history, can be a relaxing and almost meditative experience. On the other hand, I know plenty of wargamers who are turned off by the transparency of the randomness of a lot of solitaire games, or who don’t enjoy some of the contraints placed on players to make engaging against an artificial opponent more of a challenge.
When it comes to reviewing a solitaire only game I try to come at it from at least three angles. First, will solitaire wargamers like this? Second, will this do anything to change the minds of those who dont? Finally, what about those who have never tried one? Is it friendly enough to newcomers?
Tiger Leader, from Dan Verssen Games, is my first exposure to the ‘Leader’ system of solitaire wargames and is definitely a good first impression, even if there are some systemic foibles and strange errors that irked me as I played. But what of the three types of gamers above? Who is Tiger Leader for? Let’s dig in, shall we?
What Kind of Game is Tiger Leader?
Tiger Leader is a solitaire wargame in which the player takes control of a Wehrmacht kampfgruppe and leads them through a campaign of World War Two. After selecting a campaign and performing some initial set up, the gameplay loop of Tiger Leader sees players building a kamfgruppe including infantry, AFVs, and artillery, recruiting officers to lead these units, and then committing them to battles on a weekly basis to overcome enemy brigades. After the set number of weeks, the campaign ends (barring an auto fail) and the total score of the player’s victories are added up to see how well they’ve done.
Throughout the weeks of a campaign players will have to manage the spending of campaign points, deal with the abstract movements of enemy units, fight tactical battles on a hexagonal map, and manage the stress and experience points of officers. It’s a detailed system without being overwhelming, and it keeps players on their toes from start to finish. I quickly became fond of how the different systems of combat and management come together to offer an entertaining roleplaying wargame experience.
To break it down, the real focus of the game is managing your kampfgruppe. After selecting the campaign and mission(setting the parameters for the battles of that campaign) players are given a set of resource points to spend on officers, units, and extras like trucks and scouting capabilities. There are a ton a vehicles in the base game, so I always felt like I was spoiled for choice. Playing through the Poland campaign for instance, I was happy to be able to choose a 38(t), a Panzer II, and a Stug to support my infantry.
Each unit has its own stats for anti-personnel and anti-armour attacks, defense, movement, special rules governing movement, attacking, and stress. These stats interact with the stats of the officers that lead them. Officers begin with different skill levels ranging from recruit to legendary. Each level has different modifiers for firing, speed of action, stress thresholds, and special rules (more on those later).
Each week players divide their forces into smaller groups to attack some number of enemy brigades. Resources will be stretched very thin, and more often than not players will have to throw their units against numerically superior forces. You are the tip of the spear after all. Battles are time limited, and victory only really comes from destroying the enemy brigade.
COMBAT! and MANAGEMENT!
During Each week’s battles, a randomized set of terrain hexes are laid out to represent the battlefield. In the base game these tiles are either clear or contain soft or hard cover. There is a lot of variety, with different tiles representing Europe, north Africa, or the Russian winter. I appreciate that battles can have wildly different layouts that will obviously impact tactics as players are going to be spending a lot of time on these maps. An issue I encountered was that the manual indicated that terrain should have a visual indicator as to which level of cover a hex provides, but none of that existed on my hexes. I decided to go with ‘forests’ as light cover and ‘built up areas’ as heavy cover.
Combat itself is an interesting puzzle. Players only have five turns (unless scouts are purchased to add a turn) to destroy enough enemy units to remove the brigade from the campaign. Enemy Brigades have a threshold of damage they can take before they become understrength, offering up some victory points and reducing their capabilities. A second threshold, denoting a destroyed status, gives up the rest of the points and eliminates them from the game. Making sure your forces can do enough damage in five turns to reduce or destroy a brigade is a difficult prospect, as each brigade will have its own spread of units and its own special rules, and players will have to take on multiple brigades a week to keep up with the campaign’s demands.
Combat basics involve getting in range, rolling dice, and inflicting casualties when hits are scored and defenses overcome. Player forces will be overwhelmed, but this is balanced somewhat by how damage is modeled. Every time a friendly unit takes a hit, a random chit is pulled from a cup with some type of damage (or rarely, a miss) printed on it. Enemies go down in one successful hit. The damage that friendly units receive persist and must be taken care of in between battles by spending points or using officer abilities.
Enemies act according to a chart that breaks down units into groups and has them move according to a die roll and their options. Tanks are more likely to charge forward into combat range while mortars are content to stay back and support with indirect fire. I found the system believable and fun. A good enemy roll would see them aggressively take ground, but after they had suffered significant damage, the dice were more likely to force a cautious withdrawal to covered positions. Being able to model this with one dice roll is great, as anything that reduces overhead while playing solitaire is good in my books.
Your own units are interesting to manage. Often less skilled units will have penalties to defense, or add significant stress when forced to move and fire. Deciding when to take these hits to do an aggressive push of your own is a fun challenge. But exposing troops to enemy fire can be deadly, especially for officers.
Officers are a core part of the game’s strategy. They add special rules to the units they lead, add modifiers, and sometimes allow units to move before the enemy. They can be wounded, killed, or acquire stress as the result of enemy hits, but making it through a mission also offers experience points that see your officers grow from mission to mission, leveling up and changing their stats. It’s a great bit of progression that makes the campaigns come alive, and make it hurt even more when an officer dies to a single hit, forcing you to cross out their names on the ledger and bring in a low level replacement. Such is war.
It’s not perfect though, some officers have literally useless skills. An infantry officer that gives indirect fire to a unit will never be applicable, as the only infantry unit with more than one hex firing range already has an indirect fire rule, for example. It’s little things like this that make me think a bit more playtesting and proofreading should have gone into Tiger Leader.
Tiger Leader is fun. A lot of fun, actually. It manages to cram a lot of interesting decisions into almost every segment of a campaign’s gameplay, from spending on units, assigning forces to combats, carrying out those combats, and how to spend precious resources to recoup after combat. There’s enough content and different campaigns, missions, special events, and units to offer plenty of replayability. The core system is easy to learn, and the game doesn’t take up too much tablespace.
Component quality is also quite nice, with the map, cards, counters and hex map pieces all sturdy, easy to read, and easy to organize. Once a campaign is up and running, there is very little overhead, and I love that.
That being said. It’s not perfect. There are a lot of little errors here and there in the manual and in how units and officers interact. A lot more playtesting and proofreading could have done away with these issues. Tiger Leader is also not a simulation, as I hope you gathered from the above descriptions. It is much more a puzzle and narrative experience wrapped in a fun military setting. You’ll have a lot more fun charting the progress of your officers, repairing vehicles, watching infantry upgrade from raw to veteran, and seeing how the game reacts to your decisions than you will trying to properly replicate blitzkrieg actions. I feel solitaire wargamers will appreciate the way the systems interact to provide a engaging experience, but I’m not sure it will win over players who aren’t into the idea of a solitaire game. I would encourage those who haven’t tried solitaire games to give this one a go. It was much easier to get into than some others I’ve played.
What About Solitaire?
I said I would include these sections for every game, but yes, Tiger Leader is a pretty great solitaire experience. I bet if would even work coop, if the player spending is divided and two players each build up a portion of the kampfgruppe to send into actions. In fact, I might try to do a game like that with my wife at some point.
Will Tiger Leader Stay On My Shelf?
Yes! The problems I had with the game rarely detract from the actual play of it, and I find it creates the sort of narrative solitaire experiences I like. While I will dig out GMT’s Fields of Fire periodically, I see Tiger Leader getting more table time because it manages to deliver narratively without being quite so involved. It’s the action movie, not the documentary.
When deciding if Tiger Leader will be something you’re interested in, you’ll have to understand that it isn’t perfect, isn’t a simulation, and has some sloppy editing and playtesting. But beyond those issues, Tiger leader is a fun, easy going, narrative puzzle game that will see you sighing in relief as your favourite officer gets off with only a wound, and cursing as your Panzer IV goes up in smoke after a single lucky shell.
THANK YOU to DVG for sending Let’s Talk About Wargames a copy of Tiger Leader for review!
A little while ago my wife and I actually managed to get our new miniatures from MT Miniatures onto the tabletop for a little skirmish. We haven’t really had the time to do any proper research into any historical engagements during the Imjin War, so we stuck with the tried and true method of dividing our forces and going in for the kill.
At the Height of Battle is a relatively simple rule set covering naval actions in East Asian waters in the middle ages. The starter kit that we purchased (unboxing here, painting here) had ships for the Imjin War, Japan’s fateful attempt to invade China through the Korean Peninsula.
I love simple, easy to play rulesets. I find that I have more fun when I have to worry less about granular details, especially given how busy I am these days. So bear in mind that I have that bias going into the explanation.
At the beginning of each turn both players work out the command phase, which handles morale, sinking ships, and other housekeeping. Then its on to the activations. At the Height of Battle uses a set of three cards per side that act as an initiative deck.
When your side’s card is drawn, you are free to move and fire with each unit under your control. Units are divided into squadrons with a flagship. There are rules to keep squadrons together, which help keep games looking fairly accurate, and highlight the chaos when a flagship is taken out of the action. Movement is either done by sail or oar, (or in some special cases by paddle) and is a simple system of pivoting by degrees and moving in inches. The wind must be taken into account when using sail movement, but we found that it was often more economical to use oars.
When it comes to shooting, ships have both heavy artillery, representing major armaments like catapults and cannons, and light artillery representing small arms. Each ship can fire its heavy artillery only once a turn, but can fire small arms each activation. Both have different bonuses to the opposed die that makes up combat, and successes will deal different amounts of damage, with heavy artillery more likely to deal significant damage.
It’s a good system, but we ran into one snag during our test games. Ships took “crew casualties” far too often. After the first “crew casualties” result, which halves boarding ability, further “crew casualties” results don’t do anything. So we found that almost every ship took this initial hit and then slapped at each other with boarding actions until one side took the win at the opposed die roll. Our proposed house rule is to continue halving boarding ability, rounding down, until it hits zero, for each subsequent “crew casualties” result.
When a fleet has taken half casualties, they roll for morale, given the rating of their commander, and might be forced to flee. There are plenty of other rules for ground batteries, shallow waters, capturing enemy vessels, etc. Everything you’d like to see in a quick play naval rule set.
Overall we had fun, and with the minor adjustment to crew casualties, we think we’ll be playing this one again in the future. Now I just need to do some research, and go back for more ships!
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Good, clean ruleset that offers a fun and light wargaming experience, with some minor tweeks to make it work better for us. As a complete package, At the Height of Battle is a great buy to dip your toes in miniature naval wargaming.
Valor & Victory began life as a Print-and-Play board wargame developed by Barry Doyle. It also has the special honour of being the first Print-and-Play boardgame I ever downloaded. I wrote about the process in a now lost article, but it was a compelling bit of hobbying that unfortunately never made it back with me when I moved to Ontario. Looks like I don’t have to worry too much though, as a new digital version of Valor & Victory is fast approaching from Slitherin/Matrix!
How Does Valor & Victory Play
I quite like how Valor & Victory played on the tabletop. Reminiscent of Advanced Squad Leader with a much less complicated ruleset, Valor & Victory saw players fight man to man actions in a WWII setting. The base download was set in Normandy ’44, but there were tons of official and fan made additions covering most of the second world war.
The digital game seems to be following in the footsteps of the boardgame faithfully. Gameplay will still revolve around the same basic rule structure, dividing play into the following phases: Command, Fire, Move, enemy Defence, and Advance. Since units fire or move, for the most part, and opportunity fire is a constant threat, games of Valor & Victory were quite tactical and enjoyable.
What Does the Digital Version Offer?
I’m happy to see that there will be a decent number of scenarios out of the box with 20 official offerings. There is also a scenario editor which means there is about as much replayabilty as was on offer in the basic Print-and-Play set. I’m happy to see that mutliplayer will be included too in both PBEM and Hotseat modes.
While we’ve only see a little bit of what the full game has to offer, I’m optimistic about what Yoboware Games and Slitherine/Matrix can put out.
Check out our Review of Slitherine’s latest addition to the Field of Glory series, Field of Glory II: Medieval. Does it live up to its predecessors? Joe finds out!
A flurry of arrows sink into the shield and flesh. The cries of wounded men rend the air drowning out the relentless marching of the approaching infantry. Spearmen grip their weapons tighter, bracing for the oncoming impact, the bright livery and shining armour of the enemy’s foot knights shaking even the toughest veteran to the core.
But then, from the right, the sound of hooves. The Prince has arrived with his battle, leading a bloody host of household knights atop monstrous warhorses. Their left must have crumbled, and now the seemingly unstoppable wave of steel and mail before the spearmen hesitate. With a cry the Prince charges down the hill and into the quickly reforming flank of the foot knights. The spearmen roar in victory before rushing to join their lord. The day is theirs!
The decision to release a Field of Glory game covering the middle ages sparked some discussion across wargaming forums. Would it be too similar to Field of Glory II? Would the middle ages provide enough variety and interesting strategic decisions for a full fledged game? What kind of material would be included anyways? Well, after spending a good few days with Field of Glory II: Medieval, I’m excited to say that the base game is exactly the kind of thing I wanted a new Field of Glory game to be, and I believe will satisfy any naysayers worried about the above. I’ll tell you why.
How Does Field of Glory II: Medieval Play?
I’m a big fan of the Field of Glory ruleset, first and foremost. A classic of the tabletop gaming world, Field of Glory has a long series of PC adaptations. Pike & Shot was one of my first interactions with a digital wargame that attempted to implement a tabletop ruleset. The graphics, while quaint, did a good job representing a bright and colorful tabletop complete with miniatures. I’m happy that FoG II: Medieval continues the trend with beautiful oversized figures, these days well animated, that carry on the spirit of a tabletop wargame brought to life.
Mechanically FoGII: Medieval does not shy away from its tabletop heritage. Units have set stats, which can be presented as granularly or abstractly as one likes, and the way players position units and how they choose to engage the enemy with those units will win or lose them the day. Dice rolls rule over all, with a healthy dose of randomization to keep things interesting. The rules work well to properly integrate command and control issues, and I’m quite happy with how the randomized numbers seem to play out. Casualty counts, for example, seem to mirror real life casualties quite well.
As for unit control, Players instruct individual units or groups to move and engage the enemy across a square gridded board representing the battlefields of Northern Europe. When units fire at each other or engage, the terrain, their relative qualities, numbers, and armaments are calculated using Points of Advantage to generate the conclusion. Once engaged, the player tends to lose control over their forces, placing greater emphasis on initial positioning and the commitment of reserves.
With a medieval battlefield, players must learn when and how to deploy the heavy hitters of their forces: Knights. The wonderfully colourful centerpieces of this digital tabletop, Knights and other heavy cavalry can turn the tide when correctly utilized. When put up against a poor match, or when outmaneuvered through an opponent’s use of terrain, they can quickly become a burden. Their implementation goes a long way to separate FoG II: Medeival from the earlier FoG II, I’m happy to report.
What is included in Field of Glory II: Medieval?
There’s quite a lot out of the box. It seems Field of Glory II: Medieval is trying to pack as much as possible into this first release, but there are some notable gaps in campaigns and army lists that allow one to reasonably speculate what future DLCs might cover. There seems to be a suspicious absence of Mediterranean, North African, Middle Eastern, and Byzantine forces that usually make the rounds in medieval wargames. I’d expect them to show up soon.
Right now, FoG II: Medieval has over 50 army lists covering most of northern Europe, including the British Iles, France and the Low Countries, German states, most of Eastern Europe and Russia, including the Mongols. There’s certainly a lot to work with, and while some units can seem familiar across different army lists (Because, as a rule, they were similar) the available composition of armies is different enough to make playing Swedes feel very different from playing the Welsh
There are 12 Historical scenarios at the time of writing, from Hastings in 1066 to Kressenbrunn in 1260. Each scenario is playable from both sides and comes with a nice write up detailing the historical significance of the battle. Personally, in the past, I’ve spent most of my time fighting and refighting Field of Glory‘s historical battles, as that is my favourite aspect of the game, and there is plenty of replayability for most of the scenarios. Some, like Hastings, may be difficult to game out differently each time, but there is plenty of variety for those looking for it.
I’m also a fan of the campaign system, introduced in Field of Glory II, that throws either a succession of historical or hypothetical battles at players. There are also the usual suspects of quick historical battles, customizable battles (for those Swedes vs. Tartar matchups you’ve always wanted to try) and a random ‘get fighting now’ button to get you right into the action. Multiplayer, using an integrated Play by E-mail system, is quick and efficient in my experience. I would have liked to see a live multiplayer option, but as long as both players are chatting though some other means, the PBEM system can be used for a game in an evening.
Field of Glory II: Medieval offers quite a bit of content out of the gate, and while some may lament the lack of certain army lists and historical campaigns, if you have any interest in Northern Europe’s many medieval battles, there’s content aplenty.
Conclusion: Should You Play Field of Glory II: Medieval?
Well, I think so, but really it comes down to a few factors. Are you looking for a pile of Medieval wargaming content? Are you content to play through campaigns and battles focused around northern Europe? Are you already a fan of the Field of Glory ruleset or any of the games in the series? Then yes, of course you should pick it up. If you’re on the fence, or haven’t experienced any of these games yet and the Medieval setting intrigues you, this is definitely an excellent starting point. I’ve already sunk quite a few hours into this gem and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.
An excellent addition to an excellent series. Just needs more Mediterranean content and it will be near perfect!
Tabletop wargaming is such a fun and satisfying hobby. Whether its for historical settings or fantasy and sci-fi, the hobby is rich, full of wonderful artistic people, and an excellent way to spend an evening in good company. From working out a particular force or battle to hobby towards, gathering the necessary miniatures, painting them up, and then seeing them in action on a table, there’s enjoyment to be had at every stage of the journey.
Unfortunately, miniatures are expensive, painting is time consuming, and the required space is generally quite extreme. From the relatively doable 4′ by 4′ up through the standard 6′ by 4′ to whatever Black Powder tries to get you to play on (I don’t have a 12′ by 8′ table Warlord, be kind!), Setting up a home gaming space can be daunting.
Alternatives to Buying Miniatures at Retail
There have been some excellent innovations in 3D printing, allowing for relatively inexpensive options for many of the most popular settings, but even that can be out of reach for many.
So I’m here to write about another alternative that I don’t believe gets the same attention as pewter, plastic, and resin do. Paper! There is really no less expensive way to get a fully functioning army on a table than paper miniatures. Now I know that paper miniatures might conjure images of crudely drawn stick figures or a rectangle with the word “Rhino” written on it, but with the right tools, the work of excellent artists, and some spare time, you can have a full tabletop ready to game in an evening or two of listening to your favourite podcast (Ahem! Episode 6: No One Seems To Know What Professional Wargames Are).
Paper Miniatures You Say? Surely You Jest?
When done correctly, paper miniatures can be absolutely stunning, as I hope some of the better done images in this article suggest. The requirements are also dirt cheap. A pair of decent scissors from your local scissor dispensary, some cheap glue, and a colour printer.
My Favourite Historical Paper Miniatures
For historicals, I love the work of Hellion & Company’s Paper Soldiers Line. Most are illustrated by legendary artist Peter Dennis. If you’ve read any Osprey books, there’s a good chance you’ve seen his work. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a convention early in 2020. He had brought his paper ancients and they were simply stunning. Stunning to the point that I immediately went to the Hellion & Co. booth and bought one of the books myself.
The miniatures can be scanned and printed or, in the case of the book I purchased, cut directly from the pages. I’d recommend going the printing route so there’s always the potential for backups. Although if you’re a little more forward thinking than I was, there are purchasable PDFs on their site which are obviously easier to print.
My Favourite Fantasy Paper Miniatures
In terms of fantasy miniatures, I’m mostly be exposed to the art of One Page Rule’s Patreon miniatures, but I love them. (Again, full disclosure, I’ve done some comission work for OPR). The art style is fun and cartoony and the optional black border makes for easier cut jobs. The campaign I wrote, Darkness Within, pits humans against vampires and their undead minions. I don’t have any miniatures for either army and so I decided to go the 2D route. It’s been incredibly easy to print off two of each sheet and go to town, creating enough for a small skirmish within a day.
There are plenty of other artists out there and a quick troll through wargamesvault reveals dozens of free and paid paper miniatures. Finding an artist or company whose work you enjoy and want to support is another fun part of this avenue of the hobby.
“I can hardly look a young man in the face when I think I am one of those in whose youth happened this degradation of Old England – one of those who betrayed the trust handed down to us unstained by our forefathers.” –The Battle of Dorking (1871)
There is something so fascinating about invasion literature, the small genre of fiction that exploded in popularity in Britain in the waning decades of the 19th century. Casting Britain against all manner of invaders, from a collection of every power, to the upset victims of British colonialism, to Dorking’s German Empire, just about every enemy, potential or phantom, invaded Britain in the pages of magazines, books for boys, and novels.
The German Conquest of Britain: Dorking & Invasion Literature
The Battle of Dorking, written in 1871 by George Tomkyns Chesney, stands out as one of the key stories that launched the genre. Written from the point of view of a tragic veteran of the battle that lost London, it contained a sober and unfavorable analysis of Britain’s ability to protect itself in the event the Royal Navy was somehow neutralized.
Chesney was an officer of the Bengal Engineers, serving during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He later helped launch the Royal Indian Civil Engineering College, and wrote a great deal throughout his career, both nonfiction on military and civil matters, and fiction. He’s probably best known for The Battle of Dorking published first in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1871.
Dorking 1875, designed by Mark Wightman and published (both Print & Play and physically) by Tiny Battle Publishing, attempts to take Chesney’s key engagement south of London, filling in the gaps where necessary, to create an engaging wargame. While I very much enjoyed reading the designer’s research and appreciate the scale and size of the game, a few niggling problems with the gameplay make it one I don’t think will come off of the shelf very often.
How Does Dorking 1875 Play?
Counters represent battalions, batteries, and two cavalry squadron, with turns representing about an hour. The map has three height elevations and covers the area surrounding the town of Dorking including the river Mole and the road to London. The German player must push on as hard and as fast as they can, aiming to get as many units over a victory line while preserving their forces in 6 turns. The British player need only to hold the line.
Counters have a lot of information, some relating to organization, and others to battlefield circumstance. There is good diversity between the volunteers, militia, regulars, and elite forces, with artillery variation especially reflecting period issues in the British armouries.
The most critical factor on a counter is a unit’s break value. Whether from artillery fire, rifle fire, or melee combat, the attacker rolls 2D6 and tries to beat that value. Terrain can have a substantial effect on dice rolls by adding or subtracting to the targets break value. If the value is met or beaten in shooting, the target is flipped to their disorded side. If the roll can beat the target by a wide enough margin, the unit is destroyed. Melee combat is a bit more harsh, with the dice roll beating the break value by 1 or more resulting in destruction. It’s an alright system and felt very deadly, but I almost feel a CRT would have been better here.
The system is IGO UGO in phases. The initiating player will fire artillery, then the opposing player will fire, and so on. This works in general, but I found that it made for interesting movement quirks, with an aggressive Germany able to quickly close past rifle range and into melee contact. I suppose I had expected the Martini-Henry’s and Needle Rifles to be more viable at longer ranges given their accuracy and rate of fire.
The German cavalry have access to an interesting dispersion option. The counters can be removed from the map to instead be placed as a -1 on a target’s Break Value. The consequence is a 1/6 chance that the unit is broken during it’s harrasment, but it’s an easy gamble to make. The fact that the British units can’t manage the same thing is part of Dorking 1875’s attempt to simulate the difference in experience and quality between the two forces.
A Fascinating Conflict for a Game or Two
Often game strategy in Dorking 1875 boils down to the German player pushing one flank or the other hard and the British responding as best they can. Managing the more lackluster British units is quite the struggle, but entertaining for the first couple games. After a while though, the limited frontage and the scale of the invading German force means that there aren’t too many different paths to victory. There might not be the kind of replayability that keeps players returning again and again to the same battle as in other titles.
Definitely Worth a Look, and a Read
Dorking 1875 didn’t hold my attention so much as a wargame, but as a package I’m quite impressed. The designer’s detailed introduction, conclusion, and historical notes were a pleasure to read and covered brief summaries of the opposing sides’ military situations circa 1871, a full theoretical assessment of Germany’s invasion plan, with suggested maps, and enough detail on Chesney’s life to give a solid background understanding of the conflict. Unlike some Print & Play games that end up in the recycling bin after I’ve finished with them, Dorking 1875 has earned a space on my shelf mostly due to the good writing and research of Mark Wightman.
I could even envision Dorking 1875 finding a place in classrooms as an interactive exploration of invasion literature and Brtiain’s late 19th century struggles with military preparedness and identity. The game plays quickly enough to fit in a single class.
Overall, it’s a fun package, and quite affordable to boot. I recommend checking out Dorking 1875, even if it is with reservations.