Overview Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal was released in 2016 and is a squad-level, tactical, hex and counter wargame. The Pacific ...

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal & US Army Expansion Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal &  US Army Expansion

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



Overview

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal was released in 2016 and is a squad-level, tactical, hex and counter wargame. The Pacific Theatre of WWII holds a massive interest for me; despite my living a figurative stones throw away from a lot of European WWII history.  I am just in awe of the willing and persistent sacrifice of both sides' combatants in a theatre that arguably comprises the most bloody battles of WWII, Guadalcanal included. To say I was eager to review this game would be an understatement.

CoH:Guadalcanal focuses on the landings of the US Marines onto the strategically important island of Guadalcanal and their subsequent defence of the island and the vital airfield it offered to the Americans. This action was at an early part of the Pacific War and is the first major allied offensive against the Japanese who had been enjoying a string of victories as they successfully invaded large chunks of real-estate in the South Pacific.  I think it is useful for wargamers to understand the context in which any wargame is set and Academy Games have done a fantastic job setting-the-scene with a rule-book littered with designers notes and a three-page [campaign introduction] that describe the strategic situation in which the players cardboard chits find themselves.
Inside pages of rules and firefight book

Gameplay

The game contains 12 firefights that play out the Marines defence of Guadalcanal against increasing numbers of Japanese forces. The rule-book follows a programmed instruction method whereby players can read a scant 9-and-a-bit-pages of rules before playing the first fire-fight (I estimate that includes about 3 pages of examples and designers notes). 

If you are an experienced wargamer, there are lots of similarities to other rule sets that will enable you to be up and playing very quickly, for example the Line of Sight and blind hex rules were very familiar and the overall terrain defensive modifiers are almost exactly the same as in other tactical-level wargames. These similarities are all wrapped in a combat system and turn structure that is completely unique, as far as I can tell, to the Conflict of Heroes line. The rules are also very well written and littered with a plethora of gameplay examples, it was a rare case where I had to look up a rule in which either it wasn’t immediately obvious from reading the rule or there wasn’t a relevant example to clarify the situation.
The first firefight
Many good wargames reduce the IGOUGO problem by allowing an opponent to Op Fire a moving stack or react to a move. CoH completely removes the IGOUGO problem by alternating turns between players after every action is resolved. The players only have 1 active unit at a time and 7 action points to spend on that unit. The different actions cost a different number of action points and when they are all spent, or if a player decides to activate another unit, that counter is flipped to its 'spent' side. I really like this mechanism, it not only indicates which units have already moved (my memory is very grateful) but it removes any down time as you're only waiting for your opponent to make one action e.g. a single unit moves one hex, before it rolls back to you. It also means that as a player you're constantly having to evaluate whether your plans remains sensible in light of your opponents last move or whether you should adapt and activate a different unit, potentially losing Action Points.

All combat actions are quickly resolved by 2d6 modified by unit attributes and the environment. The combat system is very intuitive, easy to teach and if you're reading the rules by yourself, to learn. In essence you add the firing units Attack Rating to 2d6 for your Attack Total. The Defender adds any defensive modifiers from terrain to their Defence Rating. If the attack value is greater than or equal to the defence value that unit is hit. When a unit is hit another counter is placed face-down underneath which will affect the units attributes and available actions. Two hits on the same unit eliminates that unit. That's essentially it, although the action cards do add a nice layer of immersion.
The Action Cards
The combat system is really quick and I didn't feel that it was missing any crunch that we wargamers often yearn for. Attacking units use one of two Attack Ratings printed on the counter dependent on whether their target is a vehicle or personnel target. Defending units use one of two Defence Ratings printed on the counter depending on which direction the attack is coming from.  In my experience the direction individual units are facing is rarely modelled in wargames. Here, it is seamlessly integrated into the combat and adds a level of tactical consideration that I enjoyed e.g. should I activate this unit to turn and face the encroaching enemy and receive the best defence possible thereby losing my opportunity to attack with this other unit?

In overall terms of complexity this game is a little lighter (and maybe more fun?) than GMT's Combat Commander series, which does suffer a little with the IGOUGO problem. To stretch a bad analogy, if Advanced Squad Leader is like completing and filing your own tax return (some masochists enjoy it), Combat Commander would be like planning a monthly budget and realising that you've actually got money left over (always nice to see), CoH:Guadalcanal is like getting lucky after taking a punt at the betting shop (Let’s try that again…). In my face to face plays of this I felt like I was having more fun for a very similar level of enjoyment when compared to Combat Commander series.  If I did score games this game would get top marks for fun and also for the amount of [historical backgrounds] provided for each firefight. Academy Games have a reputation of releasing fun, educational games and in that they've excelled themselves with CoH:Guadalcanal.


Fully loaded box

One of my biggest dislike of many wargames, and I still play them so it's not that big, is that in a lot of them the players have a perfect knowledge i.e. the players can see all terrain and unit attributes and plan accordingly, there is no fog of war. This is not necessarily a bad thing in a wargame as long as the scenario is balanced, you're then playing against your opponents tactics and trying to mitigate the randomness of the dice. However, there is an extra level of immersion when you're fighting with fog of war modelled. CoH does a good job of this as your opponents do not know what effects their hits are having on your units and players can attempt hidden movement, or even setup hidden, in cover terrain. This is a very important tactic of the Japanese player and when it works it is, depending on your perspective, either a beautiful moment of bravery or an excruciating loss. Unfortunately, you're not provided with anyway to mark hidden movements but the rule-book recommends to print out maps from the Academy Games website to record hidden units on. You can also download all of the firefights and rule-books for the entire CoH system and expansions which I think is a good sign for the level of support that this game continues to receive.
Firefight 4 - Japanese have held out so far...
There are very clear differences between WWII-era military forces of America and Japan, their moral, funding, equipment, ethos etc. feel different in reality and should feel different when playing them in a game. In this game, and many others, I am always pleased to see those differences being part of the game system. Apart from the usual elements of Attack Rating and morale or Defensive Rating being different depending on the unit and nationality you also get a pool of hit counters specific to each nationality. I should highlight that in each firefight the Japanese player has to add from 1 to 5 'No Hit' counters into their mix. This is a great boon to the Japanese player effectively giving their unit an occasional additional hit, or more, before it is destroyed. This is a subtle yet very effective way of modelling the apparent bravery/personal disregard of the Japanese troops under a 'banzai charge' for example.

However, the biggest change to the CoH system is the addition of Bushido Points for the Japanese player. This allows the Japanese player to achieve firefight-specific objectives to get Bushido Points which give them more Command Action Points (CAPs) per round. CAPs are distinct from Unit Action Points and allow players to interrupt their ‘activation’ and use other fresh units to immediately react to their opponents actions.  This is a necessary escape from the on-rails Unit Action Point system and it gives players a real feeling of making important and timely tactical decisions.  The Japanese player should always have an eye on those point-awarding objectives.  The Command Action Points also permit easy balancing of the game when pitting players of vastly different experience of the game against each other, which I found really useful when introducing the game to newcomers and it is not often considered in wargames.
Command Tracks and Players Aid

Components

The counters, which break the wargame mould of 1/2" and 5/8" counters, are a glorious 1" of real-estate to pick up and stack, as with all CoH games.  On a purely physical accessibility measure this wargame beats any other that I have seen. I can see wargamers with poor eyesight being able to play this when other wargames are no longer legible. Additionally, Academy Games have provided a hard plastic organiser in which to store all the counters. This is hands-down the best stock insert I have ever seen in a wargame; other wargame publishers should take note. There is more than enough room in it for all the counters from the base game and the expansion to be, not just stored, but even organised into nationality, unit type and even system counters by type as well. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that, after the outlay in time and money of storing other wargames' counters.
Left to Right: ASL, Combat Commander, Conflict of Heroes
Best Insert Ever
The maps, of which you get 4, are satisfyingly geomorphic and depict the terrain in a photo-realistic style, the trees even have shadows!  Initially, I didn't like the artwork on the maps, thinking that it was just getting in the way and too busy, but these criticisms largely evaporated through game play. The only minor gripe with the components that did remain is that the hex sides and hex numbers sometimes were too dark to immediately discern them against heavy jungle hexes but this was not a significant hindrance.
Into Mirkwood

The Expansion

The expansion adds 5 firefights and several more units with which to play with. The first firefight of the expansion - The Last Banzai, The Fight for Henderson Field: The Second Night, picks up where the 11th firefight of the base game finished, i.e. at the end of the first night during the Fight for Henderson Field. This is a really nice touch and provides players with sense of continuity between the base game and the expansion. These two scenarios are however 4 player, behemoths and I couldn't arrange a 4 player game to cover the two firefights so we played two-player and still had a blast.
Some of the expansion components

Criticisms

In an ideal world I would have liked the expansions firefights and units to have been included in the base game as they feel like an integral part of the base game. The game is excellent without the expansion but the expansion’s firefights have to be printed from the Academy Games website. The OCD collector in me would have liked them to be in the same book or at least a book of the same paper and print quality as the base game’s firefight book. You only get a single page of paper introducing the new units and rules for mine along with a single punch-board of tokens which costs $25, this feels a little steep.

Prior to each round starting, which is made of any number of player turns, the players roll 2d6 for initiative which determines who is going first. This can be altered be spending Command Action Points but this mechanism felt a little arbitrary and I recall one player looking a bit annoyed that they had lost the roll six times in a row. C’est la Vie!

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this game, and not just for its theme. The combat system is simple yet it captures everything that I would want and it exposes the nuance in different fighting attributes of both forces whilst remaining balanced. It could almost be classed as introductory wargame but even a veteran wargamer would find a lot to enjoy in this system.  There are no game-slowing table look ups and your actions and decisions come around so quickly, sometimes it’s a relief when the Round ends and you can take a short breather; I want all my wargames to have this quality. I will still evangelise for Combat Commander, but now I may be inclined to offer this up as a more fun experience, i.e. less downtime, fewer rule look-ups and plays quicker than other tactical squad-level games.

I would like to thank Academy Games for the review copy of this game.

Publisher: Academy Games
Players 2 – 4
Designer: Uwe Eickert, Gunter Eickert, Dean Halley
Playing Time: 60 minutes to 120 minutes
MSRP: $90

You can currently get the Guadalcanal and US Army Expansion bundle from the Academy Games website for a sale price of $80.

Shortest Trip to Earth by   Interactive Fate and  Iceberg Interactive If Shortest Trip is telling you one thing, it’s that sp...

Shortest Trip to Earth Shortest Trip to Earth

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Shortest Trip to Earth

by  

Interactive Fate and  Iceberg Interactive




If Shortest Trip is telling you one thing, it’s that space is a pretty terrible place.  There are asteroids to avoid, giant space worms looking for their next meal, even a race of rat people trying to burn holes in that metal tube you call a spaceship.  The space faring survival game, currently in early access on steam, is all about getting your crew of poor saps out of the coldest depths of space back to the warm embrace of, you guessed it, Earth.

Your crew's time in each star system will mostly be spent traveling
between planets looking for resources.

Finding their way back to earth requires your crew to warp between star systems using up what limited resources they have.  Your crew will spend their time in most systems looking for additional resources;  in particular the search for fuel seems like the never ending priority.  Resources can be found in most systems through mining planets, bargaining with traders, or through other random events. But space isn’t as empty as your crew may hope and often they will encounter opposing spaceships resulting in a battle that may result in new modules that can be fitted into your ship.  Or typically in my case, a  game over screen requiring a restart from square one.

It’s combat where Shortest Trip shines.   Combat mostly  requires you to direct individual crew members to manage ship modules like shields, weapons, sensors and so on.  But mostly, your crew will be busy running around the ship fixing whatever mounting damage they can before their only way home comes apart.   Considering that you mostly issue these orders in real time while choosing enemy ship modules to target and how to divide the ship's energy among your own modules, and you get what the game play is like.  The hectic nature of the  game play always feels like things are  a moment from going terribly wrong.  In other words, it’s exactly what you think space combat should feel like.  It’s ultimately a blast that will keep you coming  back for more punishment.

But wait a second,  this is all starting to sound a little familiar isn't it.   Of course it does, Shortest Trip is strikingly similar to FTL released almost six years ago right down to the colorful graphics.  A game that is also about  the realtime management of a spaceship crew as they venture through space.  FTL is a good game; a very good game.   So, I won’t necessarily complain about the developers borrowing heavily from FTL.  And besides,  maybe after six years fans of FTL are ready to see what can be added to the formula FTL seemed to help perfect.


Even patching holes require the right resources.  
What Shortest Trip does add to  FTL’s formula is mostly complexity. For example,  instead of just fuel, you will now have to manage multiple resources.  Your crew will require food (imagine that) and raw materials to patch up holes in the ship.  Combat can involve fending off multiple ships at once. Planets in  star systems can be explored in a non-linear fashion. Crew members and ship modules come with numerous stats to obsess over.  Good or bad, these additions tend to make the overall experience an even more difficult one than FTL ever was.

If you played FTL to death and are looking for more, or just want to try your hand a managing a spaceship with all odds against you, Shortest Trip is definitely worth a try. But is it worth purchasing during early access?  The multitude of star systems are divided among ten levels with only the first five levels current available.  The last five levels as well as additional ships, modules, weapons, crew, and so on are promised as the game approaches release in January.  That being said, there is still plenty of content to keep a wanna be captain busy for some time.  If you plan to wait for a full release, I do plan to revisit game during that time to see what's new.

If you want to begin your trip back to Earth, head onto steam to purchase Shortest Trip.

Preview of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games and Veitikka Studios  It is big and it is beautiful, and it ...

Preview of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games and Veitikka Studios Preview of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games and Veitikka Studios

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Preview of Armored Brigade

by

Matrix Games

and

Veitikka Studios










 It is big and it is beautiful, and it is all dolled up to come to your home in a short while. I believe it was Ty Bomba who said "Nato, Nukes, and Nazis" sell wargames. By the amount of gamers that want to wargame a possible World War III, I believe he is right. In lieu of a box cover I have used this pretty painted pachyderm.







Main Menu Screen




 I have had the privilege bestowed upon me by Matrix Games and Slitherine to take the soon to be released Armored Brigade for a spin. To sum up the game in one word, it is 'excellent'. The game play and components added are exactly what you would want and expect from a Cold War gone hot land game. Each side's night fighting capabilities etc. have been factored in. However, the greatest part of the game are the abilities that the game gives you when you generate your own missions. First,we have the maps; you can make your own or use any size that come with the game. These can be from as small or as large as you want. One of the very interesting parts of the game is that neither side knows exactly where all of their objectives actually are. The years that the game can model the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces are from 1965-1991. You have four preset choices for your forces: Armored, Mechanized, Infantry, or Dynamic, although you can pretty much mix and match for any force you want for both sides. So, you can see that the player gets to play with a vast amount of choices to make any mission you can envision. Unlike many other World War III games, this does include Finnish forces.

 At the moment there are no campaigns, and few scenarios that you can jump right into. As we mentioned, the mission generator is pretty easy to use, so you will be up and firing in no time. In talking with the developer, campaigns will be added as DLCs later on. This game is meant for single player only right now.


 Just remember that these screen pictures are still of a preview version and they could change.

Here is the link to the trailer:
Fulda Gap Map


 I had downloaded and played the free version a few years ago and it was a good game. Now it has really grown up. The game has been described as a cross between the Close Combat Games and Command Ops. I think that hits the nail right on the head. The following Twitch stream of the game is all encompassing. Just so you know, it is over 2 1/2 hours long. About half of the video is on how many choices you have in generating a mission. Yes, there is that much stuff to play with. The other half is actual game play. Here is the link:
https://www.twitch.tv/videos/320309527


 Armored Brigade also has dynamic weather which you can see in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXnAMa9XeoY&feature=share 

Warsaw Pact Setup For The River Crossing Scenario

This Is A Close-up Of The Above Scenario
 

 

Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing   Hitler, the worlds worst poker player from 1941 on, was just as fool...

Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



by










 Hitler, the worlds worst poker player from 1941 on, was just as foolish in his foray in North Africa as elsewhere. The Germans had had to intervene once more for the Italians' sake in a theater of war. The Afrika Korps under Rommel gave as good as it got into late 1942. The German North African campaign is a study in what not to do logistically. Because of early foolish decisions on their part, the supply to their North African troops was spotty at best. The Afrika Korps is then beaten at the Second Battle of El Alamein in early November 1942. Then the Afrika Korps begins reeling backwards towards Tunisia. Next, the Allies invade North Africa with the Torch landings. Hitler decides to double down on a bad hand and proceeds to put in as many troops as he can spare into Tunisia instead of cutting his losses. This is the back drop for the first battle between the American Army, with some Allies, against the German Army. This battle was, in reality, a relatively inconsequential one in the scheme of World War II battles. The Germans had no real master plan for the battle (the game shows this nicely with its mechanics). All they could possibly do is forestall their inevitable defeat for a little while. So that is it for the history. 



First Counter Sheet



 Here is the components that come with the game:


  • BCS rulebook (version 1.1, in full color)
  • Two BCS Charts and Tables
  • BCS Crib Notes Booklet
  • BBF Game Specific Rulebook
  • Two 22” x34” Full Color Game Maps
  • 560 Counters (one sheet of units and one BCS marker sheet)
  • 6 scenarios total, 3 one-map scenarios
  • Box and Dice 




One part of the Map


 These are the scenarios that are included:


  • Kasserine Campaign, 2 maps, 10 Turns
  • Operation Spring Wind, 1 map, 4 Turns
  • Mid-Campaign Start, 2 maps, 5 Turns
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 1 map, 5 Turns
  • End Campaign Start, 2 maps, 3 Turns
  • High Water Mark, 1 map, 3 Turns 




Another part of the Map


 The game itself is the second one in the 'Battalion Combat Series'; the first one was 'Last Blitzkrieg' about the Battle of the Bulge. If one were able to travel in time to say 1978, one would really only be surprised about how the components and rules of the game were miles apart from any other game you looked at. This game does not come with all the bells and whistles that some new games come with, but so what? This is a hex and counter game that any wargamer from 1978 would immediately recognize and probably want to play. Age is a thing that varies in many different things. A forty year old Ali or Tyson, not good. An eighty year old Rolls Royce is a work of art. So just because the game follows an older pattern does not really mean anything. If the original pattern for a dress still looks good today, why change it? An aside: I have no problems with bells and whistles and actually like them, however a game does not have to have them to be good. The old analogy of putting lipstick on a pig works well here.



Marker Counter Sheet




 The first thing you will notice about the components is that while the game does come with two full counter sheets, the amount of units is very small. You will not need to be juggling stacks or using tweezers in this game. The game's complexity is higher on the scale than most of the games I have been reviewing lately. To explain, this is not a knock on the game. Sometimes a deep war game is exactly what the doctor ordered. The fact that the longest scenario is ten turns, coupled with the fact that there are so few counters, helps the learning curve immensely. The game states that it is a medium complexity one, with solo gaming also getting a medium.



Back of the box



 The sequence of play is:

1. Pre-Turn Phase
   1. Reinforcements and Weather
2. Assignment
    1. Both players can change units to (or from) support and/or assign (or reassign) Arty Asset Points. There is no Assignment phase on the first turn of any scenario.
3. First Player Determination
    1. If not assigned by the scenario, both players roll two die. The highest wins.
    2. Activation Phase: Players alternate Activating Formations
    3. Flip and/or orient  HQs to their Unused sides.
4. Game Turn End
 

   As with most series games, there is a rulebook for the actual series and another smaller one for the game itself. The series rulebook is forty pages long. It is in black and white, with some red inserts for certain game features. The rulebook also has a good number of colored examples of play. The rulebook for the game itself is sixteen pages long. The actual rules for Baptism by Fire game are only four pages long. The rest of the booklet are the scenario setups and it also has four pages of designer notes and historical background. There are also two 'Series Rules Crib Notes'; these are for version 1.1 , and are very handy for the players. The charts and tables for the game are on a two-sided sheet. The maps are very well done and pleasing to the eye. They are somewhat colorful given the terrain they have to show. The counters are 1/2" in size and I have to admit they are a bit busy with the printing on them. Older eyes might have to glance at them more than once to make sure exactly which one you are looking at. They use the standard NATO symbols so that is a help. The ground scale in the game series goes from 500m to 2km per hex. The maps are huge in comparison to the amount of actual unit counters. There are two full sheets of counters, but roughly one third are actually unit counters. The Designer notes explain that because of the actual conditions during the battle, many stories show how bad the mud conditions were. The road network is much more important than most people are used to in North Africa games. One of the game's main points is to show the infighting on the Axis side about what exactly this offensive was supposed to do, or what its goal was. Rommel, Kesselring, and the Italian High Command all had their spoons in the soup. The campaign game starts on 2/14/43. The real suspense starts on the 2/19/43 turn. It is then that the Axis player pulls a chit to see which objective he is really going for; is it Tebessa or Le Kef? So up until that turn the Axis player must try and make some headway to both just in case. The Allied player is equally left in the dark for the entire game, but can usually guess by the 2/19/43 turn which one the Axis player has pulled. The other scenarios all start with the Axis player knowing what objective he is headed toward. One of the other designer features that went into the game is that the American forces did not in reality perform as badly as they have been portrayed. There were some problems at the higher echelons, but the actual individual units showed themselves pretty tough for their first time seeing the elephant. The game's other rules follow the typical wargame ones with some of its own takes on the subject. Zones of Control, Terrain effects (on movement and combat), Command radius for HQs, Stack Activation and Movement, are all here. One rule that is different than most is the ability for a player to try for a Second Activation of a Formation in one game turn. The way this is handled is immediately after the first Activation, the owning player rolls a die and checks it against the HQ's Rolled Activation Number. Attack and defense during combat is decided by the addition or subtraction of Combat Modifiers. Then two die are rolled to determine the actual consequences of combat. This is called the Combat Table instead of the CRT.


 The game is, for lack of a better word, tense. It is mostly due to the above design decisions. The game rules are based on the real world strategy of keeping your units together as a cohesive force. A player who willy nilly throws separate units about the board will pay for it. To help the new player even more, there is even a glossary of the terms used throughout the Series Rulebook on page four under '1.6 Terms'. There is also an excellent 'Designers Notes' section in Series Rulebook. This goes into the gestation of the game series and all of the thought processes that went into the rules. You will see that the Battalion Combat Series was an offshoot of the Operational Combat Series. It is a very interesting read and follows the designers' rough road to actually bring this series to what it is now. I know the first game in the series 'Last Blitzkrieg' received many kudos, but it is a monster game. Baptism by Fire will allow many players who were put off by the latter's sheer scale to enjoy the series with a much smaller time stamp. For someone who has only a small interest in the North Africa campaign, I seem to be reviewing a lot of games about it. Even with my lack of interest(I am not interested in the Battle of the Bulge either), I know a good game when I play one. The way that the game keeps both sides guessing in the longer scenarios is excellent. The Axis player has to try and push forward to both objectives. He cannot afford to gamble on one or the other. The position is reversed for the Allied player. He must defend both objectives as well as he can. MMP have come up with a real winner. Having short scenarios which only use one map makes the game playable for even people with limited space, or who can only keep a game up for so long.

 I received permission from 'Hugewally' on BGG to post these excellent inserts for the  counter bags for this game. I have never seen their like, and am kicking myself for not thinking of something like it much sooner. Speaking of BGG, the game was a nominee for the Golden Geek Best Wargame of the year in 2017.





 The game has been given a high rating by players on BGG, and here is the link to the game on BGG:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/207568/baptism-fire-battle-kasserine






Robert

 

  

Aggressors Ancient Rome by Slitherine  In the Eastern Mediterranean, the age of the Diadochi (Alexander's S...

Aggressors Ancient Rome by Slitherine Aggressors Ancient Rome by Slitherine

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Aggressors Ancient Rome


by


Slitherine






 In the Eastern Mediterranean, the age of the Diadochi (Alexander's Successors) has passed. It is now the age of the Epigoni (the offspring of the Diadochi). The year is 280 B.C. and Pyrrhus of Epirus is about to invade Italy and start a war with Rome, and anyone else near him. Let us not forget that Rome was in peril. Hannibal supposedly listed Pyrrhus as the second greatest general right after Alexander. The stage is set for you to become the next great conqueror of the Ancient World. Most of the states you can play are still young and vigorous. Of course, it is up to you to make sure they keep their vigor, and do not go long in the tooth or worse.


Choosing your country in the historical scenario


 Aggressors Ancient Rome is another 4X(EXplore, EXpand, EXploit, EXterminate) type game. So, the first question is why did anyone bother to make another one? We have been inundated with 4X games from AAA ones to small indie games. To be honest, the genre rarely grabs my attention. Most are just poor facsimiles of the newest Civ game at the time. Pick your numeral from I-VI. History is usually only given lip service with the addition of a historical leaders name. I am very pleased to tell you that this game is mostly none of the above. It does have some mechanics from some of its well done predecessors, but doesn't fall into the pitfalls of the worst ones.


First screen when starting the historical scenario

 So let us look at the game itself. Instead of rewriting the game's information, I will use the description from Slitherine:

 "A mix of deep gameplay and rich historical flavor, Aggressors lets you relive history as the ruler of one of the mighty civilizations of the Mediterranean world. Will you bring glory to Rome and conquer the Mare Nostrum? Will you build an immortal trading empire with Carthage? Will you bring the light of Athens to the world? Or maybe you will restore the rule of the Pharaoh? Choose one of twenty available factions and conquer the world.

 You can manage all aspects of your empire: war, trade, internal politics, diplomacy, cultural development. Play on your strengths, beware of your weaknesses. The ancient world is brutal, for no mercy shall be given to the defeated. Vae victis!

 Rich historical flavor

A lot of time and many sleepless nights were put into historical research in an attempt to give a real historical feeling to the game. The game’s systems are tailored towards a faithful representation of history.

A world which feels alive

Twenty factions, from migrating barbarian tribes to advanced empires which interact with each other through an extremely detailed diplomatic system. Make use of more than ten available diplomatic agreements, including the possibility of forming Federations and Confederations as well as affecting nations and provinces in your Sphere of Influence.

Real strategic decisions

Experience the incredibly deep combat system, with each unit having its abilities and traits, and terrain truly affecting the war outcome in a meaningful way. Army morale and the supply system are crucial and need to be taken into account. You will need all your guile and strategic mastery to triumph on the battlefield.

Detailed political & economical representation

Rule your empire by managing its internal politics and developing its economy. Establish trade routes to reap wealth, ensure the loyalty of your citizens, manage demography, technological research, internal reforms, laws… the tools at your disposal are endless and seamlessly integrated with each other. Citizens react to the current situation and they can move to other places when they are not happy.

Customize your own world

You have complete freedom: you can decide to start with an advanced nation surrounded by newer civilizations, or you can decide to start as a young tribe, ready to take on an older and decadent empire… or you can decide to completely randomize the map and play in a randomly generated world. The choice is yours!

Easy to learn

Aggressors is very easy to learn thanks to the extremely clear tutorial and tool tips. Dive in the game gradually and explore all the options available to you."



Antigonid Start



 When using the historical start, each nation is presented with the situation it was dealing with at the time. There has been no cookie cutter used to make the different civilizations. Playing each one does feel different than playing another one. For those of you who want a random game, the game can be set up to play that way with random maps etc. The developers, Kubat Software, stress that the game is meant to be incredibly mod friendly. When playing a random map, the civilizations do not start with a city; this type of game will make a regular 4X player feel more at home. You will have to work from the bottom up in your civilization. 



Starting as Rome


 My kudos to Kubat Software for their very well done tutorials. There is both a basic and advanced tutorial for three civilizations: Rome, Carthage, and Ptolemaic Egypt. Most tutorials in games seem to be slapped together at the end, if they are present at all. The ones in Aggressors take the player by the hand through the game.


Starting Rome map


 So does the game hit the sweet spot or leave a nasty taste in your mouth? Aggressors is definitely a game I am glad was produced. The game is much deeper and more complex than others in the genre. Playing it feels like you are leading Rome or the Antigonids to the preeminent position in the Mediterranean. You do not get the feeling that you are playing civilization B of A,B,C,D,E. The attention to detail, and even more important to historical detail, is evident while playing. I will add that being a historical gamer, the random start leaves me completely flat. I am not interested in that type of game at all. However, there is certainly enough in the historical setup to keep me happy for quite a while.


Resources Map


 There is one item that struck me the minute I started the game, so I do want to mention it. The Antigonids start in what is actually Macedonia. This is about right for the time or close to it. However, the Macedon player actually starts in Thrace. Absolutely loving the age as I do, my head went a-tilt. The devs at Kubat have explained  how they had to deal with the actual Antigonids. At the time of the start of the game, they also had to deal with the fact that Ptolemy Keraunos was king in Macedon (soon to be killed by the Galations). I will accept their slight adjustment of history for gaming sake.


Objective Map


 There is one other thing I wanted to point out. This is one of the best posts I have ever seen a developer make; it is in the Slitherine Aggressors forum: "(DEVELOPER CALL) Do you want to help us with new scenarios?" This is the way to support your game.



Build Facility Map


Robert

Red China Mao Crushes Chiang's Kuomintang 1949 by Gerry Van Tonder   This book is about a little kno...

Red China: Mao Crushes Chiang's Kuomintang 1949 by Gerry Van Tonder Red China: Mao Crushes Chiang's Kuomintang 1949 by Gerry Van Tonder

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!




by









 This book is about a little known historical epoch in China's history. The book starts with the story of Sun Yat-Sen. He is the person most responsible for the fall of the Chinese Empire. Now, Empire would be a strange word for the disjointed country that China was at the time. The Western Powers had used a fillet knife on China during the last 100 years. The road toward China being a puzzle missing many pieces had started in the early 19th century. Shortly after that China was torn apart for two decades by the Taiping Rebellion. This killed tens of millions of Chinese. At the start of the twentieth century, China was further embarrassed by the results of the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxer Rebellion had unified a lot of Chinese for the express cause of ridding the country of foreigners and their influence. Unfortunately, its collapse and the warfare involved brought only more concessions to the west. 

 The book continues with the history of Puyi, the last emperor of China. He was forced to abdicate as a child, but was brought back as a puppet emperor by the Japanese for Manchukuo (this was the Chinese area of Manchuria with some surrounding areas). The Japanese aggression in the 1930s and 1940s is also delved into. The Communists were originally a part of the 'United Front' with the Kuomintang. The National Revolutionary Army put Chiang Kai-shek into power in 1925. He was now the leader of the Kuomintang. This was supposed to be the government of China, but instead only held sway over the Southeastern part of China. The rest was ruled by warlords who ran the other parts of China as their personal domains. Chiang Kai-shek did his best to wrest some of the country back from the warlords in the next few years. Chiang also purged the Kuomintang of all Communists and after some tense fighting the Communists were almost completely wiped out. This led to the 'Long March', where the Communists tried to put as much territory between themselves and the Kuomintang. Soon after the Japanese put pretenses aside, and their predations on China became an actual war. The Communists and the Kuomintang entered into somewhat of a truce until the invading Japanese were defeated. 

 The main part of the book starts right after the Japanese defeat in 1945. The Communists and Kuomintang were poised for their final battle over the control of China.

 The book itself is a small one at 127 pages. It does however pack a large punch into a small frame. The history of the war between the two from 1945 to 1949 is gone through. The book also goes into the reluctance of the United States to back Chiang and the Kuomintang. This is somewhat surprising given the United States policy in Asia after this (The Korean and Vietnam Wars to stop the spread of Communism). For a short book it also goes through the Soviet Union's involvement with both the Kuomintang and Communists, along with other not well known history. For anyone who is looking to know the broad sweep of this moment in history, or is looking to start delving deeper into it, this book is a must. It is the perfect jumping off place for more reading.


Author: Gerry Van Tonder
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishers 

 

The box in all its American 2-2-0 glory. The Last Spike is a simple economic game that plays in about 45 minutes. That time is accura...

The Last Spike The Last Spike

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!



The box in all its American 2-2-0 glory.
The Last Spike is a simple economic game that plays in about 45 minutes. That time is accurate for your first game and if every one at the table is familiar with the rules the game still plays in about 45 minutes... The rules are one of the simplest I have come across, almost as light as a party game which is a little strange coming from Columbia Games. This game serves as a very basic introduction to railway games, economic games or block games, take your pick, but you're not getting a comprehensive induction to either of those genres by playing this. However, don't think I didn't like it either, I did and it's in my 'games to take to game group bag' from now on; read on for my thoughts.

I have had this game for months waiting for a review but every time I'd pull it down, or take it to a game group, it wouldn't get played because the box is not as attractive as games from a triple-A publisher like Asmodee, or FFG.  The game, or at least my attempt to play it with both of my gaming groups, almost became a bit of a joke so I pounced on some unsuspecting house guests, neither of whom are/were gamers for my first play.  Even my wife (Queen of the non-gamers, at least that's what it feels like to me!) played it and spoiler alert... everyone enjoyed it. 
The quiet early game
My wife even went so far to say that although she thought she would hate it, primarily because of the drab brown box it came in, she would definitely play it again; that's a massive two thumbs up from me.  My gaming group were reluctantly subjected to this game the week after, on my insistence, and we played with a full complement of 6 players, which the rule book advises is not the ideal number of players (3-5 being optimum) and no real slow down in play was noticed. 

Your turn consists of playing one of the four track tiles in your hand, buying a city card and refilling your hand of track tiles back up to four.  There are a few exceptions to this for example if a track connecting two cities is completed by your track, the city will pay out to every player who has bought the connected cities cards, i.e. invested in that city.  The end of the game immediately happens when a continuous route from Saint Louis to Sacramento can be traced. This action will also bequeath a $20,000 bonus to the player who place the eponymous 'last spike'. 
City Investment Cards
Each track piece can only be placed in a specific spot, indicated by the coordinate on the tile and the matching coordinate on the board, e.g. B3 or Z1 etc.  This allows you to play a little tactically by holding back pieces that you know your opponents are waiting for, although this does severely limit your own hand from 4 pieces to 3, and you have to balance your satisfaction from denying your opponents a big pay day, with limiting your own opportunities. I think the longest I've held onto some track, hoping to cause an opponents bankruptcy (it never happened) was about 6 turns. 

Talking of money, you start with $35,000 denoted by white red and blue wooden discs ($1, $5 and $10 respectively).  Although I described this as an economic game it doesn't ever feel like you're going to run out after that first pay day. I have seen a player down to $4,000 as they had heavily invested in one city (not recommended by the rules) and it hadn't payed out in the early game.  I would have like to see a slightly tighter economic game, especially at higher player counts - it never felt like money was an issue and by the end of the game every one is as rich as Croesus. 
The train-robbing end game
The winner is simply the person with the most money, bearing in mind the $20,000 bonus for laying the last spike, at the end of the game. The end-game is where this game is best. During the early stages of the game it doesn't really feel like you're doing much as the board is relatively empty and your track lays don't feel like they have much consequence; other than looking to see which Cities are most likely to pay out earliest. However, the end-game feels very different; by then everyone has a firm grasp on all the rules (achieved by the second round) and is attempting to work out how to be the last player and getting the $20K bonus.  This is largely down to the tile draw but delaying tactics can buy you some time and sometimes the game.

Unfortunately that end-game tension does not have an early game comparison. The beginning of the game feels more like a full on cooperative game with no 'take that' present, yet in the last 10 minutes the game morphs into a hybrid between all working towards the same goal and doing their upmost to crown themselves winner, or denying others that chance. 


"Hunky Chunky ... Game Blocks"
Some would see the very simplistic game play as a negative but this game (in terms of game play alone) went over very well with my family, my pseudo-non-gaming-but-will-humour-him-if-necessary friends and my game group. The one resonant criticism that those groups all had was the components. They criticised the board, the box and even the counters which I don't think is particularly fair, but it does highlight that I think this game would be most enjoyed by a non-gamer who will probably not be enticed by the aesthetic of this game. The tired-but-have-got-time-for-one-more-game type of gamer (I fit nicely into that category on game night), can easily overlook those criticisms and in fact would champion small publishers releasing interesting games that maybe don't have the production quality of the big hitters.

The blocks are the familiar nice and chunky size of those in a block wargame and I have no issues with the stickers or cards.  However, I'm not a fan of the money, although it does its job, unmarked denominations feels a but under-produced. The board and box are fine, nothing more, although maybe not what you would expect these days. However, as a small publisher, I would rather Columbia Games continue to publish games with solid game play like this, than waste their money trying to match CMON's latest Kickstarter.
The box slip cover
I was pleasantly surprised by this game, the game play is very easy to pickup, and is the perfect game to play either at a game group whist waiting for another table to finish up, or to introduce the very basics of train, economic or even block games to someone. There is variable game play, as you progress through the game it gets progressively meaner and there certainly are some interesting tactical decisions to be made later on. The components are a bit of a mixed bag, I really like the blocks, I didn't like the money discs, and everything else was perfectly fine.

I would like to thank Columbia Games for sending this review copy of the game and also send my apologies for taking so long to convince my friends to play it... Somehow I don't think it'll take so long to get it back to the table now that they've tried it.

You can still pick up a copy of this at many online retailers or direct from Columbia Games if you want to support a small independent board game publisher directly for $39.99 which I think is a very fair price for the amount of wood in the box. They also publish the rules on their website here.