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.

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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.