SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia Review

Going into this review I must admit something important. Something that some of you may find disturbing and unnatural. I am a HUGE fan of the classic AGEOD series of wargames. I mention this because SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia comes to us from Philippe Thibaut, designer of the original Europa Universalis and the AGEOD series, and his team. The AGEOD legacy is clearly evident, and while I’m about to go in depth as to how Tunisia differs, it’s best to remember that I have a personal attachment to this game’s forbearers.

How does SGS Afrika Korps Play?

Afrika Korps: Tunisia is a turn based operational level wargame where players take command of either side of the 1942-43 Battle for North Africa during the Second World War. Players take control of American, Commonwealth, and French forces or their German and Italian enemies, moving brigades, air support, and supplies around a colourful area map of the region.

Gameplay is more regimented than most wargames, with several distinct phases controlling the flow of a turn. These phases cover reinforcements, the play of special strategic cards, air attacks and movement, ground movement, battles, and any post-fighting shuffling that might happen. Personally, I enjoyed this structure because it helped minimize some of the analysis paralysis I know was a problem with older AGEOD titles. Being presented with a giant blank canvas full of units and options made those classic games a challenge to approach. Here I found the familiar ground presented to me in a clearer and more concise format.

Secondly, the structured turns, in addition to the card play mechanics and transparent dice mechanics, gives SGS Afrika Korps a distinct board game quality, one that is reinforced by the overall presentation of the game. As my wall of board wargames will attest, I like the feel of a good board wargame and found SGS did a solid job of presenting itself as such. This is an aesthetic and gameplay choice that some might not mesh with, but those who appreciate board wargaming and like the transparency and simpler rules that a board game-like PC game provides will be happy with SGS Afrika Korps.

Battles, whether they are air bombardments or conventional ground based attacks, operate along similar lines. Both sides will take it in turn to attack the other in rounds. Units like artillery will fire first, and certain special units, like Panzer Brigades or scouts, have special rules that will alter the standard flow of battle. I appreciate that a lot of the obfuscated information that hindered AGEOD games is now out in the open in SGS. Each unit’s roll of the die will be laid out during the battle to fly by as quickly or slowly as players like.

The importance of unit composition, like including artillery, air support, and scouts in most fighting formations gives players clear goals to strive towards, highlighting the supply and reinforcement issues that plagued this campaign. It will often be difficult to bring a balanced force to bear against your opponent, but when it happens, it really feels like you made it happen.

The cards may put some people off, but I enjoy what they add to the game. Like with board wargames, cards with special situational events on the help to simulate the wider war without bogging down players by forcing them to learn a million extra rules. Just know that the skillful use of tactical cards during battle and strategic cards during a turn will be an important part of SGS’s wider strategy.

Visuals and Feel in SGS Afrika Korps

Visually, I like what Tunisia has to offer. It is a relatively standard tabletop set up, but the unit graphics and photographs on the cards are nice. The only complaint I have here is that some unit art appears to be recycled, and I found myself highlighting units to remind myself if this indistinct French infantryman was a Zouave unit or a mechanized brigade. It’s odd because so many units have their own art, but not all.

There are several ways to control units, and that seems like a nice accessibility feature. moving stacks can be done by dragging and dropping or by right clicking, which brings up a coloured radius of areas that the stack can reach. A lot of information can be toggled on and off including supply maps and area stacking limits. There are a few video tutorials, but for those unfamiliar with the old AGEOD games, a few turns of trial and error will probably be necessary to come to grips with how Tunisia flows.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed my time with SGS Afrika Korps: Tunisia. It felt like a natural evolution of the AGEOD formula into something more accessible, understandable, and perhaps enjoyable for those who might have been put off by that series’ complexity. I appreciate the board game feel and aesthetics, but understand that some might be put off by the transparently game-y aspects of Tunisia. I think it’s worth exploring and am looking foward to more from SGS.

-Joe Fonseca

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A fun, accessible, and pretty game that carries the AGEOD feeling into a new era. Definitely not for everyone, but for board wargame lovers or those who liked the concept, if not the execution, of the classic AGEOD titles.

A Steam Code was provided to Let’s Talk About Wargames for the purposes of this review. The game is available on Steam and through the SGS website. LTAW doesn’t get anything if you click that link.

Bloody Mohawk: The French and Indian War Review

Bloody Mohawk had the potential to fill an open space on my wargaming shelf permanently. As a small footprint, low counter density, rules light game covering the French and Indian War, it fulfills the beer and pretzels requirement to be the kind of game my wife and I keep around to fit in the filler game section of our collection. We formed quite the sophisticated (read: overly complicated) system of filler games versus main event games as part of this whole downsizing quest, and there are spaces that need filling as we like to change up the Fillers almost every time. Despite that, it seems as if Bloody Mohawk is doomed to be sold on. It was tough to arrive at this conclusion, but we did, and I’ll explain below.

How Does Bloody Mohawk Play?

Bloody Mohawk is an introductory wargame from Bill Molyneaux and published by Lock ‘n Load Publishing. Players control either the British or the French and their Native American allies as they complete a whopping twelve scenarios covering important and even legendary engagements from the French and Indian War.

Bloody Mohawk is an IGO/UGO system with phases. The first player will move, the second will fire defensively, the first will fire offensively, then switch. I appreciate the defensive fire/offensive fire system as it makes for more tactical decisions on both sides when maneuvering forces. It matters what targets you’re giving to your enemy before being able to shoot, and I like that.

Counters are diverse, from British grenadiers to French Courier de Bois, and some have special rules that add to the tactical depth of the game. A lot of French units, for example, have a green ‘F’ printed on their counter giving them free movement through woods. Native American allies are also given special rules to reflect their combat prowess. On the offensive, when the enemy is not behind defensive works, they are allowed to throw two dice and choose the best result. To offset this and represent less traditional drill, their reduced side has significantly less power.

Combat is simply a matter of throwing a 10 sided die for the unit attacking, adding and subtracting modifiers like terrain, leaders, scenario modifiers like rain, and in the case of cannons, range. Fall within the unit’s combat power range and a hit is scored. If a leader is present with the suffering unit, they have a 50% chance of going down with the hit, making the correct application of leaders something else interesting to think about. There are also rules for retreating after taking damage, and following up. All pretty basic wargaming stuff, but that makes sense considering this is meant to be a basic wargame, and it was a basic wargaming I was looking for when I picked it up way back.

So What’s my Problem?

The last time my wife and I sat down to play Bloody Mohawk, we went through scenarios one to six. (It is a fast playing game) Unfortunately, we found that only in two of the six scenarios did we really feel there was much of any game to be played.

The first scenario, for an example, is basically won in one turn with the roll of a single die. If the French unit survives the first turn attack, it has a chance of escaping. If not, it dies. Now I understand that this is a tutorial scenario to get complete non-wargamers used to the rules, but it carries on from there. The scenario involving the rescue of a child is also decided by one die roll. If her family is eliminated, the French can easily walk her off the map before the reinforcements have any opportunity to do anything. Similarly the inability of the French to fire on the first turn of the Sideling Hill scenario means that they will receive overwhelming fire before the French player can actually do anything.

I have no problem with lopsided scenarios. They’re a staple of interesting wargaming. I do have a problem with scenarios that don’t allow for one side or another to act. After doing some investigating it seems like the designer, Bill Molyneaux encourages players to alter scenarios however they like, and perhaps Bloody Mohawk’s many short scenarios would be better if I took the time to do that, but I just really don’t have the patience to rebalance a scenario to make it playable. I do understand that this is an intro level game meant in part for parents and children to play after discovering it on a trip to a local heritage site, but I question the validity of the scenarios that will leave on side doing very little thinking, or even dice rolling. Where a bit more decision making could have both sides playing the game, here a parent will basically have to sit back and let their child play the favoured side, or else risk a ‘Why bother? I don’t even get to act before you win.’

It’s a shame, because the larger scenarios can be fun. When there are enough units on both sides and the maps are large enough to allow for maneuver, there’s a fun beer and pretzels wargame here. But it’s less than half of the scenarios given in the book. If I just wanted to play Bloody Mohawk’s Plains of Abraham scenario (a fun one) I feel I’d be better served finding a game that does only that, but better.

Production Woes

Some of my major complaints however, come from the questionable production quality. On the surface, Bloody Mohawk looks great. The counters are clear and nicely illustrated. The maps have beautiful art, and the components in the published version are thick card and good quality chits. But that’s where it ends.

There are typos everywhere. Simple grammatical errors litter the rules and scenarios. There are errors in some scenario descriptions including a scenario objective to burn a camp with no hexes indicated and no visual on the map representing a camp. (We guessed it was the three clear hexes, but who knows?) Finally, for some reason, a unit’s combat value is listed as 1/x. 1/7 for French Line, for example. I could not figure out what the 1 was for. There was nothing about it in the rulebook. It turns out, after looking on BGG, that it represents the range on the die that indicates a hit. Apparently there was an issue for new gamers seeing a single digit and not understanding that one must roll beneath that number for a hit. Fair enough, that’s a perfectly valid reason to change the counters. But I cannot understand why it is not then written 1-7 instead of 1/7. Perhaps that is nitpicky, but I had to go look it up and that felt unnatural. It’s just a little sad again given this is a game meant to draw people into our hobby, that anyone paying for this will see some shoddy copy editing and strange design choices.

Solitaire Suitability?

Bloody Mohawk is a clean IGO/UGO system with no hidden information and dice based combat. It’s the perfect example of a nice light solitaire ruleset that anyone can lay out and crank out scenarios in a short time, if they have the mind to play both sides without any AI support. But, all of my balance and scenario issues stand, though I can understand that lopsided games, even if they are lopsided to the point of one side barely doing anything, are more fun solo. Playing solitaire can also give an opportunity to test out altering scenarios and devising house rules unhindered. Perhaps this really will shine as a solitaire experience if one goes in knowing there’s work to be done. It’s not my type, but I can see it.

Final Thoughts/Will it Stay on my Shelf?

Since I’m no longer comfortable buying Lock ‘n Load Publishing games, Bloody Mohawk might have ended up my only remaining game from them, but I think it’s tragic that a lot of the problems I have with the game comes from its unfortunately shoddy production, less so its content. Some real copy editing, some proper playtesting, and a few passes by quality control could have done a lot to make this game more enjoyable in the long term. I don’t want to fight a game or house rule things to make them work, but I can understand that some people greatly enjoy that aspect of the hobby and for them there is a nice canvas in Bloody Mohawk.

There is probably a fun game in there for a carefully curated attempt to get non-wargamers into the hobby, and I love the fact that this was developed for that audience and to be distributed at heritage sites to help get a younger generation into the idea of experiencing history though games. I’m just disappointed that it doesn’t feel like enough work went into making the product the best it could be. This is the first game I’ve reviewed for this little quest that I won’t be keeping, and I’m kind of sad I’m saying that. I’m sure it’s a great game for some people out there, but its definitely not for us in the long run.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Simple, clean wargaming hindered by shoddy production, poorly playtested scenarios, and heaps of typos. There is some fun in there, but with less than half of the scenarios providing a good gaming experience, the price, and the time required to house rule it, should be taken into consideration.

Joe Fonseca

I purchased Bloody Mohawk on my own with a discount. No review copy was provided. Here is a link to the game’s store page. LTAW makes nothing if you buy it. Bloody Mohawk from LnL

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2: Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Air Groups can be micromanaged or left to the AI

How Does War in the East 2 Play?

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

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

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

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

But What Do I Really Think?

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

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

The amount of information is staggering.

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

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

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

A Triumph?

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

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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

-Joe Fonseca

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

New Directions: Wargaming for the Truly Enlightened Gamer

We here at Let’s Talk About Wargames have been pretty lackadaisical in our coverage of wargames. Too often we stray from the true path of the gamer in an ill-conceived attempt to reach a (shudder) popular audience.

WELL NO LONGER

From this day forward Let’s Talk About Wargames, along with our new sponsor MONSTER ENGERY DRINK*, will be bringing you the hardest of hardcore wargaming tips, tricks, and sick dances straight from EPIC*, the best publisher and developer of digital wargaming content this side of the BattleBus.

That’s right, We’ll now be bringing you the hottest reporting for the world’s most popular wargame:* FORTNITE.

WANT TO LEARN HOW TO CONSTRUCT A FOB TO PROTECT A SUPPLY DROP?

WANT USEFUL BLUEPRINTS FOR DEFENCE IN DEPTH POSITIONING?

WANT TO SHAPE A TOWER LIKE A LLAMA FOR SOME REASON?

THEN LOOK NO FURTHER THAN:

LET’S TALK ABOUT FORTNITE*

See you on the flip side of your next Victory Royal, Bros and Brosettes!

*Not an actual sponsor.
*Please don’t sue us Epic.
*Well, there are guns, and forts, and tactics I’m sure. Pretty much a wargame.
*We’re kidding everyone. Your regularly scheduled wargaming goodness will resume once I pick my brain up off of page 304 of the WitE2 Manual. -Joe

PS I still think this is a good idea. – Jack

Maneuver Warfare Review (1.14)

It always impresses me how creative the indie wargaming development scene can be. Seeing what innovative mechanics and systems that can come from the smallest studios expands my grinchy wargamer heart by at least three sizes. Maneuver Warfare, I’m happy to say, is definitely one of those heart expanders. It is clear that Decisive Action Games, the tiny study behind Maneuver Warfare, believes in what they are trying to do and, by and large, they are succeeding at it. A few minor issues and one glaring one hold the game back, but with more time and updates I believe Maneuver Warfare can become something truly inspiring. As it stands though, potential players must be aware of some caveats.

The premise is altogether standard, but the execution is what sets Maneuver Warfare apart. Taking control of a Panzergrenadier Battle Group, players lead their units from the invasion of Poland through to the end of the war. The gameplay happens in a pauseable real time environment as players issue orders to their units on a paper map, and watch the units attempt to carry them out. Units are generally companies or equivalent of tanks, support units, and artillery.

There are stand alone scenarios, but the true game comes from the full campaign where players take control of the same battlegroup from mission to mission. Watching commanders gain experience or die off, and husbanding resources to keep your battlegroup combat effective from mission to mission is a lot of fun. Movement used to be a struggle, but the latest couple updates (1.14 at the time of writing) have solved this major complaint of mine. Now units can be grouped and moved together as long as their command unit is intact. You can still micro each company, and I did for fine tuning, but being able to maneuver collective elements was a godsend, making sweeping movements a breeze and gameplay in general far less frustrating. Combat is generally deal with under the hood, with only a small line indicating effective fire and a combat log that keeps you up to date on losses.

As for the units, they react to enemy fire and the terrain, moving and spotting at different rates while they attempt to follow your orders. Happily, you can give general orders for what each unit should do when they come under fire. You can suggest to your recon units and artillery that coming under fire is best met with a swift retreat, but tell your tanks to keep moving and close the gap as they take hits.

Actually managing the controls of doing all this takes a bit of learning. Especially when it comes to ensuring you have the correct groups selected at a given time, but it just takes a bit of time. Overall, setting up new fire orders, calling in artillery and airstrikes, using AT guns to counter tanks, and effectively using recon is all functional and rewarding. Once players get a hold of their units the game quickly comes together. It’s fun, the tactics feel real, the AI is mostly responsive, and there’s a good amount of content.

Now, some negatives. The game is ugly, and not just in the acceptable wargame ugly. It’s poor to the point of negatively impacting potential interest, I’m sure of it. It just looks amateur. Maneuver Warfare needs to full visual overhaul to bring it up to modern gaming standards or, and I don’t say this lightly, scrapping 3D entirely for a simple 2D map and counters if that is easier. But real art is sorely needed. A yellow rectangle is identifiable as a farmer’s field, but it could look so much better. As it stands the modifiable 3D just doesn’t work. It is painfully ugly. After several hours I finally started to get used to the art, but I shouldn’t have to. Excel games can and do work. Wargames with visual hiccups can be fine too, but what Maneuver Warfare is doing is straddling the line in an awkward way that needs to be corrected. I was consistently put off by the poor visuals.

Secondly, I never really understood how the terrain affects spotting. It seems that my units could spot enemies through what I assumed were built up areas (It’s a grey rectangle, who knows?). The abstraction is certainly a plausible answer, but I wish there were more coherent lines of sight and terrain rules presented within the game.

That’s really it for my complaints, especially since the 1.14 update solved my movement frustrations. The core gameplay is good. What’s more important, the core gameplay is unique. I’m willing to be pretty forgiving, especially for indie offerings, if they’re doing something classic extremely well or going out on a limb to do something new. Maneuver Warfare definitely fits into the latter. I honestly hope that the developer takes the visual complaints to heart because, and I truly believe this, there is something special just under the surface of Maneuver Warfare that would be exposed to a much wider audience if it just looked good.

If visuals mean nothing to you and you’re looking for an interesting indie offering that feels unique, then Maneuver Warfare is definitely worth checking out. If not, perhaps waiting for further optimization and a visual overhaul is in order.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

This is a unique and fascinating Indie offering that is genuinely trying something new in the digital wargaming space. It is held back by abysmal visuals and some rough edges. If these problems are solved, Maneuver Warfare has the potential to be the start of something amazing.

-Joe Fonseca

Combat Mission: Black Sea Review

Oh no, this isn’t good. The enemy can shoot back now! Combat Mission: Black Sea continues to fascinate me with how different the actual execution of the game is from Shock Force 2. This time set in a fictional (kind of…) invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2017 where NATO intervenes, Black Sea offers an entirely different feeling of tension than its predecessor. Rather than dealing with the technicals and militias of Shock Force 2, Black Sea brings two (and a half) modern forces together in direct competition. It’s a deadly, frightening affair.

The invading Russian forces are more professional, have access to better weapon systems, and have the kind of support that was reserved for NATO in SF2. But upping the stakes by giving the enemy near parity is an excellent design choice, and one that demonstrates the breadth of what Combat Mission can offer. Black Sea is fast becoming my favourite tactical wargame, and has even prompted me, a diehard historicals guy, to start reading about modern tactics and systems.

Death can come from a long way off, proper scouting is king.

To Die Along the Dnieper

Black Sea centers around a fictional invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. This time NATO and the US step in in an attempt to dissuade Russian aggression. When it becomes obvious that they’re not going to back down, NATO steps up and a full scale conventional war breaks out. There are campaigns allowing players to take control of all three major players, the Russians, NATO, and Ukraine, each of which has access to different vehicles and systems enough to prompt different tactical approaches to each scenario. There are also a pile of individual scenarios to sink your teeth into and of course the usual staples of multiplayer and an editor.

Though there is a real-time mode, the true way to play is the turn based WEGO system. Both sides issue orders to their units and the system plays everything out simultaneously in one minute intervals. It might be a bit jarring for players coming from true IGO UGO or real time strategy games, but after a run though a scenario or two to get sorted, it begins to feel very natural and does a good job of simulating command delay.

The visuals are quite nice and the simulation runs well until battles get very, very large.

Since both the Russians and NATO forces are professional modern militaries, there is a lot to think about when engaging in any type of scenario in Black Sea. Urban combat is a nightmare. Spending minutes agonizing about potential ambush spots, figuring out where to blast holes for maneuver, and in my case at least, running at least one scout team into a wall of Russian fire.

Battles in the countryside are equally as terrifying, with long range, accurate, and deadly fire capabilities on both sides meaning that positioning tanks is just as crucial as squishy transports. In both settings, seeing a plan work out and the enemy shattered before you is a euphoria rarely felt in any strategy game, and that is due in part to the visuals.

Urban Combat is a nightmare, but rewardingly tense.

Combat Mission is Almost There!

While not dazzling, Combat Mission has enough fidelity in the visuals to become a really immersive experience. Even though there can be a little hiccup here and there with infantry animation, the fact that the whole game contains so many micro-abstractions means it never feels uncomfortable. Instead, I can sweep my camera over a gigantic map and zoom in to see exactly how my observation team is doing on the left flank before flying over to check on the angles of my Abrams. It’s such an nice system, as soon as you learn it.

The Combat Mission system itself is so tantalizingly close to being accessible. Th tutorial requires reading through a PDF which, while it does a good job of laying out the basics, ignores a lot of the nuance that makes the intricacies of Combat Mission stand out against the crowd. I heartily recommend checking out Usually Hapless’ video tutorials explaining some of the basics as it helped me immensely. A better tutorial and a bit more polish all around would go a long way here, but the core is rock solid.

Mistakes were made…

I’m frankly floored that I haven’t tried one of these games sooner. It’s because it took so long for them to come to Steam, honestly, but now that Combat Mission has sunk its fangs into me, I’m going to be making it a regular part of my gaming from here on out. It’s that good. The fact that Black Sea can create such a different feeling than Shock Force 2 is just a testament to how solid the core systems are, and I really can’t wait to check out how it handles combat in the 1980s when Cold War releases.

Combat Mission: Black Sea is an excellent tactical wargame with solid core systems, believable simulations of modern warfare, and enough content to keep players going for dozens of hours. It deserves space on your virtual shelf, even if modern wargaming isn’t your thing. It wasn’t mine until I got stuck in myself.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

-Joe

Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns Review

Two things to point out before diving into the review: one, I’m a big fan of the JTS games I’ve played and two, I’m interested in the Peninsular campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. But despite that, beside dipping my toes into Scourge of War: Waterloo for about 15 minutes, I haven’t played a proper digital wargame set during the Napoleonic Wars. (Total War doesn’t count)

Pictured: Not Counting

So while I’m no newbie in terms of John Tiller Software games, I’m a fresh-faced greenhorn when it comes to anything set before the Second World War from this venerable house of wargaming goodness. While some of the UI may be familiar, there is a lot I needed to learn to get the most out of Wellington’s Peninsular Wars, and while there was some head scratching and manual skimming, I’m glad I put the required time into learning the game.

The Spanish Ulcer and The Iberian Peninsula at War

My family comes from the Aveiro District of Portugal, and so the Peninsular Campaigns have always held a fascination for me, especially when I was younger and trying to decide on an area of study for graduate school. While I didn’t settle on Portuguese history, I did do a fair bit of reading into these campaigns and the terrors inflicted upon the people of Portugal and Spain by the Napoleonic Wars.

Beginning with Spain and Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1807 and escalating with the Dos de Mayo Uprising against French occupation in Madrid in 1808, the Peninsular War saw many terrible battles and atrocities across the breadth of the Iberian Peninsula. At first allied with Napoleon, King Ferdinand VII of Spain was eventually removed in favor of Napoleon’s brother Joseph. This proved unpopular with the people of Spain for obvious reasons, kicking off one of the first major guerilla movements and beginning a war of terror and depredation that would prove to be the worst in Spanish history.

Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808

I also grew up reading Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, which gave me a healthy appetite for learning about the battles on the peninsula. You would think then that I would be all over games that represent the conflict, but time is what it is and the stars never aligned. That is until I generously recevied this review copy from John Tiller Software.

Wait, How Many Campaigns?

Wellington’s Peninuslar Campaigns, like many JTS titles, is absolutely huge. There are more than 180 scenarios including variants, with 60 or so dedicated to Human vs. AI play. As someone who has yet to put any time into multiplayer (though that may change soon!) I’m happy there are so many battles set up for solid play against the AI. There’s quite a variety of battles to cover here too, even going beyond the work of Old Nosey himself.

Scenarios range from the French quest to take Madrid and Britain’s Sir John Moore’s struggles to aid the Spanish, to Suchet in Eastern Spain, to Wellington’s two campaigns in 1812 and 1813 and beyond. There are also some stand alone scenarios hiding amongst the piles that come with Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns, like the Battle of Maida in 1806. The point is, there is a lot of content here. When I think about how many scenarios I can get out of a JTS game versus pretty much everything else, there’s really no comparison.

Part of my appreciation of what JTS does overall comes down to this overwhelming amount of content. I’ve read about Salamanca several times. But nothing makes the battle as clear for me as seeing the correct units positioned on a correct map. Maybe I’m just more of a visual guy, but seeing, and playing, these scenarios help to expand upon my understanding in a way that always brings me back to the value of wargaming for education. But that’s a topic for another day. The point is, there is a lot of content here, and if you like how the game sounds, I doubt you’ll be running out of stuff to do with it for quite some time.

Deploy the Skirmishers! How Does Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns Play?

JTS games set in any period have some key similarities in features and gameplay. First, the UI is fairly consistent and easy to understand. A row of buttons along to the top of the window provide just about every maneuver or bit of information that a commander could want, ready at their finger tips. Many of these buttons also have corresponding hotkeys, the memorization of such will make games move a lot faster. Second, there is an information panel along one edge of the screen that gives critical information about units occupying a highlighted hex. Clicking on units in this panel allows for individual orders to be given. It may look obtuse at first glance, but if you get past the dated visuals it’s an easy to work system and soon you’ll be checking LOS, deploying skirmishers, firing artillery, and positioning units within a hex in no time.

This is a phased IGO UGO game (by default, though it can be changed). The first side will maneuver, the second will offer defensive fire, then the first offensive fire, and finally the first side will initiate melee. The turn then switches to the second side where they will go about the same phases. At first this system felt a little clunky. I was coming from Panzer Campaigns and Panzer Battles and was more used to units moving without facing and finishing an entire turn (with opportunity fire), but after getting to grips with how units position themselves within hexes, how movement and morale worked, and how facing worked, I felt right at home.

The systems in Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns try their best to make players use period tactics and formations. I appreciate that the game encourages skirmishers, protecting flanks, the appropriate use of each of the three arms, and the correct application of reserves and officers.

When forces are maneuvered and battle is joined, it becomes incredibly clear that the proper management of forces, not just the application of force, is the name of the game. Rotating out units is important, as a unit’s fatigue goes up steadily and barely comes back down. Morale, especially when dealing with average or poorer units is also critical to manage, and a folly move might endanger the line. This ties into the innovative threat score.

Similar to Zone of Control in other games, there is a rating on each hex, depending on proximity to enemies of different types, that units will test against when they attempt to perform maneuvers (or even just move with an optional rule in place) failing this morale test might disorder units or cause a route. So it becomes very important to keep units together and covering each other, and to be wary about how close enemy cavalry can get. It can be disastrous to fail to form a square because you waited too long and the threat value in a hex grew too large for the maneuver to go off without a hitch.

I’m really just scratching the surface, but suffice to say I was impressed with the way the game used base and optional rules to push a period feel and keep battles flowing ‘correctly’. I rarely felt like I was battling the system itself after my first couple of outings and, for a game of the scope, that is something I definitely look to when judging quality.

Not Always A Country of Wine and Songs

It’s pretty clear that I like Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns. Perhaps not as much as the Panzer Campaigns and Panzer Battles that fired my interest in JTS’s systems so long ago, but I do like it quite a bit, and will continue to play it at least until I make it through every scenario at least once, but it’s not perfect.

The enemy AI is often fairly good, but occasionally makes baffling moves. More than once I’ve seen a decent enemy line collapse into a mob, or seen the enemy retreat in relative good order from a position only to start wandering the long way through heavy woods to the next objective. It doesn’t happen too often, and the enemy AI is good on the defensive especially, but occasional hiccups can only be attributed to poor generalship so many times. I personally didn’t find it too bad in most of the scenarios I played, but I understand that some are very sensitive to this sort of thing, so be warned that you will probably run into questionable AI moves here and there.

I am also not impressed with the 3D graphic view. I understand that this is something that Wargame Design Studio is working on for all JTS titles and so it may improve later on, but as it stands the game is best played with counters in the 2D view. Perhaps in future the 3D view will be worth using, but it is not that time now.

Is Wellington’s Campaign a Campaign for You?

Not a long list of complaints eh? Well bah humbug, I had a good time with Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns. The minor AI hiccups and a 3D graphic view I’ll never use hardly detracted from the fun I had working through these scenarios.

The gameplay is tight, the UI, once accustomed to, is easy to navigate, the scenarios are detailed and entertaining, the AI is competent (mostly), there are dozens of multiplayer scenarios. The list of pros far outweigh the cons. If this is your first time looking at a JTS game, I’d perhaps recommend one set during the Second World War, but for those who are familiar or are only interested in the period of the Napoleonic Wars, this is a fine entry point. Try to wrangle some friends for multiplayer too. It will significantly extend the life of this already massive game.

Tight, fun, absolutely massive, and dripping with period charm. Wellington’s Peninsular Campaigns is a great addition to JTS’s venerable lineup.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

-Joe Fonseca

Field of Glory II: Medieval Review

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!

Behold the flower of French Nobility!

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!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Joe Fonseca

Total War: Warhammer 3 Trailer and Facts

So, Total War: Warhammer 3 has been announced! Cool! We saw this one coming from a ways off. Here’s a quick primer on what we know is coming in the third instalment of the Warhammer Total War games.

New Factions!

So off the bat, we have Kislev, the notable Russo-Poles with Winged Hussars and polar bear mounts available to us. Cool! We also see what seem to be some Chaos Dwarves in the trailer, although it looks like they might not be their own faction, as CA has said that the four Chaos Gods will be represented, but not the Chaos Dwarves specifically.

The other big news is that Grand Cathay will be in the game! Cathay is a less-known name in the Warhammer fantasy universe, but a lot of people were very excited for them, the fantasy equivalent to ancient China as the Empire is to the HRE.

New Map!

We don’t know the exact details but there is a map shown in the trailer that shows a path to Grand Cathay itself, which notably exists far to the east of where the previous games took place. We can rest assured that we’ll be seeing new places when we get to stomping around again.

Mortal Empires… 2!

At some point, preumably after launch, the map will be merged with the existing maps from Total Warhammers 1 and 2, creating an absolutely gigantic map for any owners of both previous games. This will be a crazy-big map, and we’re looking forward to running around bashing heads in on it.

Other Stuff!

There are other things that CA mentioned in the aforementioned FAQ, which you can find here.

Let us know what you’re most excited for in the comments below!

Jack Trumbull

Starship Troopers: Terran Command

Today there was a burst of excitment surrounding the upcoming Real Time Strategy game Starship Troopers: Terran Command, and since Slitherine was kind enough to send us a press package, I thought I’d take some time to talk about the game, my thoughts on Starship Troopers in general, and show off some screenshots.

Starship Troopers (1959): The Book that Launched 40,000 Power Armour Suits

Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is an important piece of science fiction literature, not least of all for helping to pioneer the concept of space marines, acting as infantry in powered armour, that we all know and love today. It also, like most good science fiction, tried to engage with interesting political and social hypotheticals.

Starship Troopers envisions a world in which participation in government is gated behind civic service. While this can be done through other means, the primary way for individuals to earn their citizenship is through service in the military, and it is clear from the book that there is quite a lot of propagandizing and motivating factors encouraging the youth of the world to seek citizenship this way.

Heinlein does not shy away from discussing his ideas throughout the book. In fact a large chunk of it focuses on the training and education of the protagonist Juan Rico (notably revealed to be Filipino at the end of the book, suggesting that Heinlein’s Federation has abandoned racial and gender prejudice, but that’s another topic) enroute to becoming an infantryman. This talk can get a bit heavy handed, idealistic, and bizarre by modern standards, but it is still presented well.

The war against the Arachnids honestly feels like background noise to Heinlein’s philosophical discourse, though I admit that Starship Troopers does an incredible job of writing believable science fiction military talk.

Starship Troopers (1997): Biting Satire and Biting Bugs

The Paul Verhoeven and Edward Neumeier film, released in 1997, went in quite a different direction. The two read Heinlein’s futuristic military society as overly fascistic and set out to make a parody. They certainly succeeded, potentially moreso than they realized, when Starship Troopers became a hit not just for its biting satire, but also for it’s goofy and over the top depictions of futuristic warfare.

The intent to satirize was certainly dead center though. The film’s opening mirrors shots from 1935’s Triumph of the Will. The overly bombastic way the film represents life in the Mobile Infantry, right alongside the horrors of combat and the brutality of the Terran Federation’s war against the Arachnids, create an impossible clash of tone that…is frankly just perfect.

Michael Ironside, according to a certain widely sourced internet encyclopedia, in a 2014 interview stated he asked Verhoeven, “Why are you doing a right-wing fascist movie?” Verhoeven replied, “If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn’t work, no one will listen to me. So I’m going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships but it’s only good for killing fucking Bugs!”

Starship Troopers: Terran Command (2021) Would You Like to Know More?

It is the film version of Starship Troopers that Slitherine and developer The Aristocrats are bringing to player’s monitors this year, and it looks to be carrying the spirit of the 1997 film about as well as I could have hoped.

Promising “a genuine Starship Troopers feel” the game brings horrible violence to life as you send boisterous and gung-ho soldiers repeatedly into the meat grinder. It looks like dismemberment (for everyone involved) terrified screams, and all manner of explosions will really get you in the mood to earn your citizenship. Honestly it looks like they’re faithfully bringing the tongue-in-cheek patriotism along for the ride, and I’m glad to see it.

As far as gameplay is concerned, as players are in control of the Terran Federation soldiers, there is an emphasis on holding the line, maneuvering through terrain to best nullify Arachnid advantages, while simultaneously building up your forces to bring the fight to the bugs. There is a full 21 mission single player campaign with an overarching narrative, emergent missions, and a pacing script that should work to keep things fresh.

With missions spanning the infamous attack on Klendathu from the film, to the desert planet Kwalasha, I’m hoping there will be enough varied content to keep the gameplay fresh. As the developers have stated they’re pulling from all of the films in the series (I’ve seen none of the sequels) it sounds like there’s a lot for them to work with. I for one am pretty eager to see how they handle such lopsided forces.

Though there’s no multiplayer, the included skirmish maps will hopefully offer some longevity. These maps include Kill Count, Advanced Skill Tests, and Survival Missions, and I’m personally looking forward to keeping my poor guys and girls alive for as long as I can.

Joe Fonseca