Battle Brothers, from Overhype Studios, is a game which took me by surprise in the best way. The first time I sat down with it and sta...

Battle Brothers Battle Brothers

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




Battle Brothers, from Overhype Studios, is a game which took me by surprise in the best way. The first time I sat down with it and started playing, my only thought was "How has no one made a game like this before?!"  This is one of those occasional titles which reminds you why you started playing video games in the first place. In case you haven't guessed yet, I really enjoyed the game. Read on to find out all the details, or just go buy the game now.

In Battle Brothers, the player takes on the leadership of a small company of mercenaries making their way in a low-fantasy world. The world, and everything in it, is randomly generated each time you start a campaign. Towns, each of different size and containing different amenities, are scattered across a world divided between a few noble houses. There is also a massive area of the world map which is completely shrouded in mystery at the beginning of your campaign. One will immediately be reminded of Mount & Blade when beginning their wanderings through the world, and if you played that classic, you will feel right at home here. Between these towns runs a network of roads cutting through forests, grasslands, deserts, swamps, and mountains. Trade caravans, squads of soldiers, and even other mercenary bands travel the roads. Lurking in the shadows on every side are groups of baddies, waiting to strike the defenseless peasants. This is where your mercenary company steps in to make some coin.

The opening of a battle.

The company begins with just three men, all that remains after the opening events of the campaign. Using your limited budget, you must recruit additional mercenaries and buy them some equipment. This is where some of the wonderful little details of the game start to work their magic. In each village a number of men can be found looking for work. Each one has a background story describing what brought him to take up the mercenary life. Some are appropriately cliche, some are dark, and some are hilarious. Based on their skill level, these men all have different prices to join your company, and will demand a certain wage each day. Early on you will be forced to settle for recruiting a few drunks and beggars, but as the game progresses you can afford the more experienced soldiers and sellswords to replace your losses. 

And trust me, you will have losses, even on the easiest difficulty setting. I highly recommend playing with the Ironman setting turned on. Much like XCOM, the game loses a great deal of its tension without the ever present danger of permadeath for your soldiers. All of these men have unique traits and skill levels that give them character and value. Losing one of your first members, hours into the game, will hit you hard. Seeing a new recruit get cut down by a bandit in his first outing can be equally gut wrenching. Keep your men alive and they will grow ever more powerful, gaining bonuses to a variety of stats and perks. They will also tend to pick up scars and the occasional permanent injury. These kinds of wounds can reduce their stats a great deal, which may force you to send a battle hardened veteran into peaceful retirement.

A world waiting to be explored.

Your men also need equipment. Managing the war gear for your entire company is one of my favorite parts of the game. It takes the appeal of outfitting your characters in an RPG and multiplies it by a dozen or more soldiers. Each man can be equipped with weapons, armor, head gear, and accessories. How you equip your force is entirely up to you, and will be important to your strategy. The type of attacks a soldier can make in battle depend entirely on what you put in his hands. Archers can rain down arrows from behind your lines. Soldiers armed with shields can form a solid shield wall to hold off enemy melee attacks. However, men wielding two handed axes can chop right through those shields. There are a ton of different types of weapons to try out, and you will want to have a good mix. As the game progresses you will be able to buy or scavenge ever more deadly and exotic items.

Some towns are less impressive than others...

The actual fighting in Battle Brothers is done in a turn based format on a hex grid. Combatants on each side go in order based on their initiative, a value which can change over the course of the battle due to fatigue. Each character has a number of action points which are used to move and take actions. Each weapon typically has a couple of distinct attack options, or an attack and some kind of defensive stance. Each time a combatant is hit, his body or head armor will take some damage, and some damage will get through to his hit points. Shields and helms can be destroyed in the midst of the fighting. All sorts of wounds can be inflicted, from broken bones to dismembered ears, and all kinds of bloody unpleasantness in between. These wounds are reflected clearly on the soldiers duking it out. A fresh fighter will look completely different from a bloodied man, barely on his feet towards the end of a battle.

During the combat, the player must keep an eye on more than just hit points. Each man has a resolve score which determines how long his morale will hold up when things aren't going great. Letting a soldier get isolated and surrounded will cause this score to plummet, and usually wind up with him dead. Events like the death, or especially decapitation, of fellow mercenaries will cause a team-wide drop in morale. Taking out an enemy will pump it back up. As the game goes on you will find a few extra ways to help raise morale when things look bleak.  Another number the player must watch is fatigue. Every action builds up some fatigue, another value unique for each mercenary, and in longer battles this number can max out, reducing how many actions a unit can take on his turn. Deeper into the game you will face many longer battles where giving soldiers a chance to breath must factor into your decision making. 

An ugly fight where I lost some good men.

The combat in Battle Brothers keeps me coming back for more, and even hours into a campaign it does not lose its appeal. This is because the game, despite being randomly generated in many ways, offers a satisfying difficulty curve. Early on you will face bandits that are as poorly armed as your own men. After a few successful jobs your force will pick up some better equipment and be able to make mincemeat of any rag tag thieves and bandits of the world. Just as you start to feel invincible, however, the game will throw a nastier enemy force at you that will test your tactical ability. Sometimes you will even be forced to retreat, lest you watch your entire company be wiped out one by one. 

Checking the company gear. Up to 20 mercenaries can be in your company at once.

It's in these tougher fights where the tactical combat really shines.  Deciding when to play conservatively, and when to make a push, can win or lose a battle. The weapons, accessories, and perks of individual fighters must be taken into consideration. Beyond your control, and keeping things tense at all times, is the off chance of a lucky blow. Your best swordsman could be badly wounded by an arrow before he even swings his blade. An inexperienced new recruit, armed with a dagger and not much else, could slip in a killing blow on a tough enemy.  It's a system where good play is rewarded, but the chaos of battle can lash out at any time.

Between fights, the player sends his merry band from town to town looking for new contracts. These contracts start off simple, mostly jobs to go fight brigands harassing the locals. Later on you will get more difficult and lengthy assignments, such as patrolling through a large area for the local duke, or tracking down mysterious artifacts. I especially liked the occasional caravan escort job that went without an enemy daring to attack you. Your men didn't break a sweat, and you still got paid! Payment is always negotiable in Battle Brothers, and you will do well to be a hard bargainer if you want to get rich. You can ask for a portion of payment up front if you need a little cash for food, or ask to get more after the job is done, if you are simply looking for maximum payout. 

You can usually push for a bigger payout, but sometimes the client will walk away.

As you take actions in the world, the world will react. Each town and house has an opinion of you, which will improve as you help them out, and plummet if you take action against them. You also have an overall reputation score as a mercenary company, which you must improve to get the better paying jobs. The deeper into a campaign you go, the more interesting these dynamics become. At some point you will almost certainly make enemies, whether you want to or not.  If you survive long enough, the world will eventually be faced with a variety of calamities, including a war between the noble houses, an invasion of orcs, or the arrival of undead armies.

Browsing for new recruits.

I haven't talked about the mini choose-your-own-adventure moments that pop up during your travels, but I will leave those for you to discover and enjoy yourself. There is also the matter of keeping your company stocked with a variety of food and other supplies, the ambitions you can pursue, and inhuman dangers which reside in the more remote parts of the world. There is just so much this game has to offer that it will keep you busy for a long time. 

Not all of your enemies are human...

Even with all the content in he game, it's clearly a candidate for more of everything, you really couldn't have too much variety here. More quests, character backgrounds, events, enemies, world ending disasters, and weapons are always welcome.  Some areas I would love to see expanded in a patch or DLC down the road would include deeper interactions with towns, more options for running the company itself, a more complex perk system, or even introducing more fantastical elements like magic or taking a step forward in tech (why not both?). 

If you have read this far and are still interested in the game, I strongly urge you to go buy it. This is easily my favorite game of the year so far. Not because it has flashy graphics or an amazing storyline, but because it ticks so many boxes of what I want a game to be. It is fun through and through, and feels polished from the moment the game begins.

Battle Brothers is out now and available on Steam.
http://battlebrothersgame.com/

- Joe Beard


Need your input:) If you are thinking about developing a PC wargame or have developed or currently developing a PC wargame that would be ...

Reaching out to those who want to develop a PC wargame.. Reaching out to those who want to develop a PC wargame..

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

Need your input:)


If you are thinking about developing a PC wargame or have developed or currently developing a PC wargame that would be to niche for one of the big publishers to take up would you welcome a publisher who specialises in exactly what you are doing..to publish wargames with innovative gameplay that would be seen as to much of a risk or not likely to be profitable enough by the big major publishers or cover more niche theatres i.e not just WW2 West Front etc.

Also any of you out there who want to get into game development and can code? Would you like to convert well known boardgames to the PC? To become a possible in house development team?

We'd like to hear from you, what you'd like from a publisher, what you feel you'd need to get your game to release etc.

So email me at j__rimmer@hotmail.com

Developed by Every Single Soldier and published by Slitherine Games/Matrix Games, Afghanistan '11 is the new version of a uniq...

Afghanistan '11 Afghanistan '11

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





Developed by Every Single Soldier and published by Slitherine Games/Matrix Games, Afghanistan '11 is the new version of a unique game formula first utilized in Vietnam '65. In both games, combat is only a means to an end: winning the hearts and minds of a nation. In Afghanistan '11 (A11) the player must deal with multiple new layers of strategy in order to achieve that goal. To get a look at the flow of the gameplay, check out my two part AAR. 

Part 1 and Part 2. 

Dealing with an insurgency is one of the most frustrating problems for modern military forces. Fighting a enemy that appears from among the civilian population, and then fades away again, makes conventional tactics far less effective. All the tanks and fighter jets in the world won't help you defeat an ideology, if the local people support it. This leads us to the key to victory in A11, winning over the local population to your cause. 


The strategic overview screen helps you keep track of the big picture.

Players in A11 will certainly spend a lot of time sending troops into battle, ordering airstrikes, and deploying special forces via helicopters. However, most of these actions will be done in support of more strategic objectives like clearing IED's from highways, connecting isolated villages with roads, and sending supplies to those villages to earn their cooperation. To keep operations running smoothly, the player will also need to consider logistics. Every unit in the field only has enough rations/fuel to operate for around four or five turns before it needs return to base or be resupplied. Supplies can be delivered by truck, helicopter, or emergency drops. To really be effective, the player will need to build Forward Operating Bases (FOB's) in order to project their power further out from HQ. 


A supply convoy moves south  as Taliban forces descend on FOB Bravo.

There is another important factor the player must consider at all times: Political Points (PP). Every new unit brought into the theater, every casualty sustained, and even every movement a unit makes will cost you PP. Defeating enemy forces and clearing away opium fields, among other actions, will bump this number up. The player is also able to influence the occasional election of a new president of Afghanistan using these points. A more friendly government will make your life easier, while a pro-Taliban leader will make life miserable. 


Pick who you will support and if you will spend PP to help him win.

As you can see, A11 mimics the troubles of the real conflict on several levels. Simply running around fighting the militia and Taliban groups active on the map will get you nowhere. These enemy forces have no base that you can destroy, and will never stop coming at you. Instead, the player must keep those foes at bay with one hand, while building up infrastructure and civilian relationships with the other.

A11 is a turn based game in which each of your units has a specific number of action points they can use to move, fight or perform other actions each turn. There are about a dozen different unit types, each with an important role to play in your strategy. Infantry units can go into villages to collect intel, sweep an area around themselves for IED's, and of course fight the enemy head on. Husky mine sweeping vehicles are crucial for keeping roads and highways clear of IED's so that you can move convoys of supplies and troops around the map quickly. Don't leave home without one, seriously! Transport trucks are a cheap way to resupply FOB's and take UN aid to villages, while the far more expensive Chinook helicopter does the same job with the advantage of zipping around through the air. There are also Blackhawk helicopters, MRAP transports, special forces squads, artillery, and engineers to build things. If you have the PP available, you can call in Stryker APC's and Apache gunships to add some serious firepower to the battle. 


The game has an effective series of tutorial missions which teach you about all the different units and how to use them. The tutorial covers the basic strategic concepts needed for victory, but it will still very much be a trial by fire when you take on your first real mission. This is because the gameplay is open ended and lets you as the commander approach a mission in whatever way you see fit. Will you build up a network of FOB's and roads to create a permanent presence all over the map, or will you bring in numerous helicopters to move everything by air. Likely you will need a mixture depending on the the local terrain and distribution of villages.

There are two different ways to play the game, either the 18 mission campaign based on real world events, or the randomized skirmish mode. The scenarios take the core gameplay and add a few twists, but the skirmish mode alone will keep any player busy. 

Let's take a spin through what a typical skirmish match entails. You will begin the game with an HQ and nothing else. Looking out across the randomly generated map you will see a highway, some roads, mountains, deserts, maybe a river, and the key feature that the game revolves around: villages. Each village has a flag indicating its current political leaning. Keep the villages leaning towards the government or coalition and you will have smooth sailing. Let a village slip into the grasp of the local militia, or even the Taliban, and that area of the map becomes more dangerous.


Not a good neighborhood.

There are several actions you can take to get those villages on your side. Using your engineer units to connect those villages to the main highway and build a water supply is the most permanent way to accomplish this. However, it requires a significant investment of PP and time. Additionally, that new infrastructure then becomes a target for your enemy and forces you stretch your forces even further. You can also win hearts and minds by delivering UN aid to the villages using either supply trucks or Chinooks. This is an especially good way to influence the more remote villages that you may not be able to reach otherwise. Clearing IED's and destroying enemy units will also boost support in your favor. 

The sum of your efforts will be shown in the hearts and minds score, always visible at the top of the screen. Your goal in a skirmish is to get this number past a certain threshold and keep it there until the final turn. Keeping it high will help with the presidential elections which occur a few times during a typical match. Getting a more favorable candidate in office will often make your actions cheaper and enemy actions less frequent. Let that score lapse and your PP will start slipping away. If your political position back home gets too abysmal the game will end prematurely. 

Now, while you are working to win the people over to your side, what is the enemy doing? Enemy forces come in two flavors, numerous yet weak militia and the more resilient Taliban. The militia forces will pop up all over the map, and then attempt to place IED's and cause other trouble for you. One hit from any of your combat units will either destroy them or send them scattering in every direction. Taliban units will initially only appear along the eastern edge of the map, representing Pakistan, and then move in to try and influence villages and cause other problems. These Taliban groups take two hits to destroy. Hit them only once and they will flee momentarily, only to regroup and continue with their mission. If a village falls completely into the grasp of the Taliban, they will then begin spawning nearby.

Combat in A11 is simple on the surface. Select a combat unit and mouse over an enemy to see your percentage chance of winning. Click to carry out the attack and hope for the best. The strategy comes in deciding which units to use for combat and when. It is always favorable to destroy the enemy by using artillery, airstrikes, or gunships, because sending in ground forces carries the risk that they will take casualties or even be destroyed. Losing a unit this way is a real one-two punch, since you lose political points immediately and must spend more to replace that unit. FOB's come with a free mortar unit for defense, but it has limited ammunition. More ammo must be brought in from HQ to keep the shells flying. Heavy artillery guns can also be brought in to an upgraded FOB if you need serious defense. 


Funding cuts can make a difficult situation even worse.

This is a good time to discuss upgrading FOB's. When a FOB is initially placed, it serves as a safe harbor in the field for your units. Units resting there will be slowly resupplied, but cannot replace their losses. You can choose to add on to a FOB with a field hospital, vehicle repair yard, and/or heavy artillery pit. These upgrades are expensive, so you must decide which FOB's are worth upgrading, and to what extent. A fully upgraded and supplied FOB can allow you to maintain a powerful force far away from your HQ. The logistics of keeping that FOB manned and supplied is something you will need to plan ahead of time.

Another item you must consider as part of your long term strategy is the training of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). On specific turns you will be expected to have achieved a certain ratio of ANA to coalition combat units in theater. Towards the end of a match you will be forced to hand complete control over to the ANA, so you need to have stabilized the area by that point if you don't want to watch all of your hard work be wiped away. Training the ANA is one of the jobs of your extremely useful special forces units. While stationed at your HQ, these units can train ANA artillery, APC, and helicopter units. Move them out to a FOB and they can begin training ANA infantry. The ANA troops are not as good in combat as the American forces, but are better for visiting villages.


An ideal result!

Did I mention the part about visiting villages yet? Like I said at the beginning, this game has a lot of strategic layers happening all at once, which made it difficult to find a logical flow for this review! Anyway, each village has a campfire in it that will begin to burn whenever new intelligence is potentially available. You will need to send in an infantry unit to visit with the village elders and see what they can learn. Sometimes your men will come up empty, but other times the location of an IED, opium field, or enemy unit will be revealed on the map. An exposed enemy unit makes easy prey for an airstrike. Getting eyes on the enemy is always the trickiest part of combat in this game, so revealing units in this way is very helpful.  The availability of intel in a village will refresh over time, so you will want to be constantly sending out patrols to keep the information flowing. This means that your units can't just sit around in their FOB's, they must be constantly moving around the map. Again, this is where logistical planning early on can pay dividends later.


That is a lot of IED's. Remember, always bring your minesweeper on any ground expeditions.

That point, long term planning and logistics, is really what makes this game compelling in my eyes. It's not a game where clever tactical maneuvering of your forces matters much, and it's not a game where putting the biggest weapons in the field will bring you victory. This is a game where thoughtful planning of a strategy requires thinking through how you will keep that strategy in motion. Ultimately, supply trucks and engineers are more critical to your mission than Apache gunships. Of course, that Apache might need to be on hand to save those supply trucks from a surprise ambush!

I find it difficult to come up with anything I greatly disliked about this game. The combat could perhaps be more interesting, especially in terms of infantry combat, but that is not really the true focus of the game.  The game can be very frustrating at times, but that is a direct result of the mechanics imitating the real conflict, and not an issue with the game itself. One problem I had with Vietnam '65 was that you essentially played the same scenario every time, with only the terrain changing. A11 addresses this issue with its lengthy campaign of hand crafted scenarios, each with unique goals added in to the standard game loop.

Afghanistan '11 is a significant step up from Vietnam '65, improving on that formula in every way to create a much richer experience that draws fresh ideas from its setting. I give this game a strong recommendation with my usual caveat that it won't be for everyone. If your groove is tactically maneuvering units to achieve fire superiority and outflank your foes, you won't find that here. However, if you enjoy big picture strategy and careful planning, this game has it in spades. There are so many factors pulling for your attention that you will have some sort of interesting decision to make every turn. I look forward to seeing where they take this series next, and how they will top this experience.

Afghanistan '11 releases March 23rd and is available directly from Matrix Games or on Steam.


- Joe Beard


Part One   THEATER OF OPERATIONS: The Game I would like to introduce you to Theater of Operations (ToO) . On the surface it appe...

Theater of Operations: The Game (Pt 1) Theater of Operations: The Game  (Pt 1)

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

Part One
 
THEATER OF OPERATIONS: The Game



I would like to introduce you to Theater of Operations (ToO). On the surface it appears to be like most WWII operational level wargames, but it doesn’t take long to realize this title has a number of unique qualities that set it apart from others in this genre. Players take control of either the Axis or Allied forces as they battle in 1944 through the hedgerows of France, the Soviet steppes, or the mountains of central Italy. In each scenario you will direct the forces under your command to crush your foes.

But what sets it apart? To start with ToO will allow multiplayer (up to 8 players) to be assigned various command roles in each scenario. Next ToO will allow players to fight out tactical engagements “manually” using however they wish, and input the battle results back in to ToO. These aspects are discussed in far more detail below. First I will go over the core game features. A comprehensive video can be viewed here:



Core Features

* Operational level combat as the Allies or Axis in the European Theater of Operations in 1944
 
* PC/Mac (mobile platforms planned for future release)

* We-go style of turn based play (explained below)

* A detailed combat resolution system

* Scenarios can be small (a few kilometres of land) to huge (thousands of kilometres of land)

* Scenario editor to allow user created scenarios

* Typical unit size: battalion, some company-sized

* Accurately depicted units based on actual tables of organization

* Players can organize powerful battle groups of units to perform assigned tasks

* Artillery units can perform missions to interdict enemy units and movement, counter-battery, and battlefield support

* Engineer units can bridge rivers, lay mines, clear mines, and fortify units

* Limitations due to command and control (or lack thereof)

* Fatigue, casualty levels, unit cohesion, supply levels, equipment levels, and more are tracked for every unit

* Detailed supply system to create real life limitations to commanders

* Various terrain and weather impacts

* Fog of war

Unique Features

 ToO will allow up to 8 total players to be assigned command roles. If a given side has more than 1 commander, then additional players are assigned command roles as subordinate commanders. For example, if a player is commanding a corps sized force that contains two divisions of troops, then additional players may be assigned roles as division commanders, and/or regimental commanders. Subordinate commanders are only responsible for the troops under their command. There is no hard limit to the number of roles a given player may be assigned. There will also be flexibility to allow role reassignment after the game has started. This can add lots of exciting possibilities for your war gaming experience! You can watch our video on command roles for a more thorough explanation


The other major unique feature is that  players may opt for battles to be played out using other tactical level games instead of using the in-game battle resolution system in ToO. ToO will produce battle data to players (we call it an order of battle) to allow them to manually resolve tactical battles whenever they wish. Players may use whatever game system they want (other computer games, miniature battles, board games). Once the tactical battle is complete, players can input the battle results back into ToO. This means that ToO can act as a dynamic campaign layer for players who enjoy tactical level games. This aspect also creates lots of gaming opportunities, just use your imagination! You can watch our video on tactical battle resolution for a more thorough explanation


 
Game Scope

 The base game will contain scenarios in Normandy, Italy, and Eastern Front in the summer of 1944. The game scope will be expanded by DLC to different areas and time periods. I hear the groans now about DLC, but if you don’t want to play in North Africa of 1942 then simply avoid this DLC. Only buy the area and time periods that interest you!

Game Play

 Players take command of Axis or Allied forces (primarily but not limited to German, US, British and Commonwealth, and Soviet troops) and re-write history. A great amount of detail and analysis has been included to help simulate military operations. Players are rewarded for carefully planning their actions and taking calculated risks. Players will have to deal with real life limiting factors such as terrain, weather, fatigue, supply, time and space planning factors, and random SNAFU’s to name just a few. 

 Play will be scenario based with each side attempting to meet their assigned victory conditions. Scenarios can range in size from a small regimental engagement all the way to commanding multiple corps of troops and everything in between. Scenarios can last a few hours to weeks covering a few kilometres or thousands of kilometres of land. Game map granularity will be 100 meter “tiles” which will allow dynamic unit movement and placement at the operational level. The game will include a scenario editor that will allow players to create their own scenarios.

 Players can issue various orders to the units under their command, and units will attempt to carry them out to the best of their ability. Many unit types can be split apart and organized with other units to create a hybrid unit called ‘battle group’. It can be a combined arms force that is issued orders like any other unit and sent in to combat.

What is “We-go” style gameplay?

We-go style means there are 2 phases to each turn: Orders Phase and Action Phase. During the Orders Phase, players simultaneously issue new orders to their units while the game action is paused. Once all players have completed issuing orders the Action Phase commences. During the Action Phase players may only watch as units attempt to execute their orders until the turn ends and a new Orders Phase begins. Staff reports will be provided to help summarize key events during the previous Action Phase.

Where the Project Stands Today

In short we are early in the development process. The game concept and design is advanced and is ready for formal beta testing, however the actual computer coding is not very far along at all. I will explain in greater detail at a later time, but the level of complexity with the project means we need to acquire a funding source to dedicate full-time programming. We are always interested in talking to people that are eager to help that have any sort of computer development related skills (programming, art or sound), or people with lots of money looking to donate to the cause! ;)

Future Plans

Once the base game is ready for public sale and enough DLC is prepared to go with the initial release, providing greater amounts of DLC will be the initial priority. We will also look at getting mobile development underway just as soon as possible. If ToO sells well enough, Steve at Battlefront.com has indicated on their forum that they are willing to join forces in an effort to allow their Combat Mission series of games to interface directly with Theater of Operations. See for yourselves on the BFC forums: http://community.battlefront.com/topic/109632-operational-level-game-announcement/page-3#entry1444644

As ToO matures additional titles can be prepared. Some examples would be a companion game covering the air war in WWII, and different time periods for Theater of Operations (perhaps Cold War).

By 

Matt McCoppin  (In Part 2 I'll talk in detail about the development journey so far. Coming soon)

ToO Website Link


ASL AAR by Ian Willey         Being without a computer set up for VASL has meant no ASL for the last few weeks so when James wa...

ASL AAR by Ian Willey ASL AAR by Ian Willey

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

ASL AAR by Ian Willey

 
 
 
 
Being without a computer set up for VASL has meant no ASL for the last few weeks so when James was available for a FTF game I was hardly going to turn it down was I? What to play was as easy really as both James and myself have copies of PiF and with so many to choose from I went towards the back of the pack picking out BFP-140 Iron Greeting.

Heroes in Blackpool is less than two weeks away so I wanted something that included AFV's so as to help clean off the rust as James has had less play than I of late. This scenario has the Russians defending against a Polish counter attack starting with seven squads and a 37L ATG. James by comparison had thirteen squads and six tanks (my six come on as reinforcements with a further four squads). The boards are both new, BFP R & Q with Q sporting the new stone and wood mixed material buildings we had playtested way back.

I took one look at James set up and knew I was in trouble. He was set to punch straight through my forward defence and I had little behind it to stop him. I would have to scramble the rest of my troops from the flank to try and slow him down. Turn three reinforcements seemed to be a long way off.

I was fortunate that James kept his prep relatively light, though I had a forward 447 squad broken. He then ran two half squads into real squads which he had expected to be dummies and this slowed him down a little. I defensive fired with quite good results and started to relax. Big mistake, James advance fire broke another squad on the main defence and another on my right flank.

My turn 1 was all about moving units to try and occupy the last of the victory building locations and keep out of Polish LOS. Where I did stand and fight though I did break a couple of stacked squads. 

James turn two saw him use a platoon of three tanks to cut off rout paths costing me a squad and DM'ing another. He was to do this on turn three as well! I expected him to move faster but he was content in cutting off another unit in the expectation of breaking it later. Again I started to relax when my defensive fire broke yet more Poles but again I paid the price. By the start of Polish turn 3 I had lost two squads, a third was ripe for the taking and another had suffered ELR and become conscript.

James to cover his broken stack on his left flank kept a pair of squads back, this was smart thinking as I would have happily sent a squad or leader off to keep them DM but it did even the odds a little in the front line. He made the mistake of leaving one three tank platoon in motion and the other was operating in effect behind my lines. He was now mopping up the first of the three VC buildings and had troops ready to take the second during close combat which they did with ease.

My turn three saw a key Polish unit break to prep which allowed me to get three of the four reinforcing squads into the edge of the village. My tanks having 22MP's meant I was able to come round behind his motion platoon and set up for a turkey shoot. The other three ran into the village and blocked the open route into the last VC building. At last I was starting to apply my will on the game.

James quickly took out a tank that I had allowed him a shot at. The only compensation was that it meant his platoon was staying in position. A move round the flank and freezing a squad or two was what I had feared. The three ambushed tanks scuttled off surviving all my fire much to my annoyance. But James had paused in his attack, I would get troops into the last victory building in force before he could attack it. 

The ambushed platoon had positioned itself such that one tank of his could still fire on mine but I was to fire first. My next shot was a CH burning his tank out and with the smoke generated reduced the effectiveness of his kill stack. I packed the building with troops and awaiting his next turn.

James attacked heavily in turn five but half his attacking troops were broken. The tanks mostly ignored each other going after infantry but just as it seemed the Poles would get into the building a lucky sniper broke the lead squad.

My fifth turn failed to break any of James units, here we go I thought as the defensive fire phase came round. I suffered the one broken squad which was replaced in the advance phase. I had the building loaded with troops adjacent for a last turn counter attack if required. With troops upstairs as well as down I was in an extremely strong position going into the Poles last turn.

 
 
James prep failed to break any of my troops, it was his turn to try and survive defensive fire but without the +3 cover. As you would expect he suffered a few breaks and enough pins that meant he could not advance into the two ground level hexes to try and break me in my last turn. It was now mathematically impossible to win and James conceded.

So how did it play? Well I thought I was on the losing side from the moment I came back in the room post James set up. Through the first two turns I went from your losing to just maybe you can do it. Turn three actually had me thinking I had a better chance of winning if James did not attack hard. In the end it kind of worked for me that he did try for the building rather than trying to isolate it. My tanks simply put him off. Turns 5 and 6 I finally felt in control as his infantry were slow at rallying.

As for Poland in Flames as a product? Well I have playtested a fair few so I already know it has some excellent scenarios in it and whilst I don't think this is a future classic it does allow both sides to mix up attack and defence so it should get some solid play and it's small enough to get played through in an evening. I would be happy to play it again and it's always good to have a scenario where the Poles are attacking.

Ians Blog

Editor: Hopefully the first of many ASL AARs from Ian:)
 Be sure to check his blog

   

Let's Play: Graviteam Tactics, Shilovo 1942 DLC, Part 001 POCKET SLAUGHT... Let's Play: Graviteam Tactics, Shilovo 1942 DLC, Part 001 POCKET SLAUGHT...

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V-COMMANDOS from Triton Noir A solo/cooperative game of small unit commando actions drawn from historical situations. Hopef...

V-COMMANDOS V-COMMANDOS

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

V-COMMANDOS

from Triton Noir


A solo/cooperative game of small unit commando actions drawn from historical situations.




Hopefully you've seen the appetiser for the game and the linked contest to win a canvas picture of one of the stunning pieces of artwork from the game. Stunning sums up many aspects of V-Commandos.  The box art, which like many games is replicated on the rule book cover, sets the mood and game flavour admirably.  The comic book element inevitably took me back to childhood copies of the paperback series of Commando comic books and even W.E.Johns' Gimlet series, which featured one that I read entitled King of The Commandos.

Like Heroes of Normandie by Devil Pig Games, this is certainly Hollywood's version of WWII, but I'm glad to say that Triton Noir, the publishers of V-Commandos, have not gone the whole hog [no pun intended] for the total cigar-chomping cartoon style that Devil Pig opted for.  In fact much of the card artwork makes me think that the Noir from this company's name has had the stronger influence.



These Tarot-size cards could so easily have just been plain backed, but the choice to go with these scenic pictures adds substantially as always to the atmosphere of the game.  Equally effective are the many tiles that are used to build up the terrain for each scenario.



Here are two of the sheets of tiles [in this case, small and medium size] that you'll use to build up the terrain.  At this point, it's worth explaining the meaning of the word "terrain" in this game.  Terrain is a geographical playing area made up of several tiles - in some scenarios, the whole playing area may constitute as many as five terrains.  

In some cases, you will find your commandos having to split up in order to achieve objectives on different terrains; in others, you may have to work your way through a sequence of terrains achieving your objectives as you move from terrain to terrain.

Here is, chronologically, the first scenario, Operation Time Pencil.  The name on the map card of Bruneval and accompanying historical photo of the radar station easily identifies this first scenario as based on the Bruneval Raid in February 1942.

 The playing area is made up of three terrains: the Forest, the Radar Station and the Villa.  As you can see, each terrain has specific instructions relating to it, for this individual scenario.



Below are the cards for each of the three terrains, showing you how to lay out the tiles.  The darker panels with black edging are room tiles and the pale panels with faint grey edging are open tiles.



The next picture shows how you might build up the tiles to create the Radar Station.  The two lorry markers show were German reinforcements arrive and the two blue triangles indicate the location of the Commandos' Objectives explained in the Scenario cards.


In creating the terrain, you're free to use whichever tiles you wish, provided that they are appropriately open tiles or building tiles.  The one aspect that has drawn some criticism is that there are scenarios that involve as the terrain such areas as a battleship, a shipyard and dock, and bridges.  None of the tiles remotely resemble these and so you do have to employ what the old "willing suspension of belief ".  In other words, you've got to pretend that the tiles in front of you are a battleship etc. 

I can understand the limitations of the tiles might not be able to recreate some of those, but I would have thought at least a range of tiles could have been produced that would at least include enough to build a credible bridge!  Frankly, though, that is the only detail that doesn't match the otherwise excellent features of this game.

So, on to considering some more of these excellent features.  Certainly, the very good quality, circular, cardboard discs that represent the many single-man figures in the game are high on that list.  I had imagined buying and painting some commando figures [of which there are many fine products on the market], but soon decided that I much preferred what you see here.



These are your five commandos, drawn from different nationalities and with different attributes.  This base set comprises a scout, an officer, a sniper, a sapper and a medic.  My immediate reaction was to lament the absence of the French Resistance and hoped that Triton Noir would soon produce an expansion to remedy that lack.

You can guess my delight to find that just such an expansion is already available.  [I have yet to discover whether it might also contain some tiles that make a bridge!]

Equally effective are the many German soldier counters.  Here are the ordinary regular infantry, nicely done in different poses, some with helmets or caps and even a few bare-headed.  Small attention to varied detail like this is a big plus for me, instead of just churning out a generic image.



Added to these are a few regulars with sledgehammers [oh yeah!] and some special guys [identified by the black edge to the counter] and a few dummies.  Note that the number of white cube markings show the number of dice rolled when these units fire at your commandos.



Among the many other smaller tokens are equipment for the commandos, spotted tokens, 20 doors [open on side/closed on the other], the lorry tokens mentioned already that indicate where German reinforcements enter, objectives and alarms [crucial to all scenarios] and open/closed trapdoors.

Before we come to the reading material - the rules - there remain the 5 large cards, one for each of your commandos


and a handsome deck of Event Cards.



What amazed me was that the game contains dual sets of all the large cards and Event cards along with separate rule and training books in both English and French!

There isn't a single item that falls short of the highest standards of production and the rule book is no exception.  The 24 pages are more like glossy, thin card with a very durable and substantial feel.  They are easy to read and follow with plenty of illustrated examples and accompanying artwork. 

It's very well organised, taking you through the three Phases of the game: Event, Commando and German.  These are followed by information on Commando Selection and Commando Health - no, they don't have to have travel injections, it's about getting injured, critical condition and, gulp, elimination!  The good news [especially if you are playing a cooperative game] is that, if your commando dies, another commando is drawn from your reserves to rejoin the scenario.  Your new commando will have some initial limitations [like, no equipment], but you know how resourceful you are!

There are also sections on Equipment and Escorting a Character that occurs in some scenarios and one of the longest sections, called Play An Operation is on the process of setting up an Operation [i.e. scenario]

The rules pause at three points to direct you to the training manual that provides three mini-scenarios to help fix in your head the section you've just gone through.  Though very simple, I would strongly recommend following the format, as I found them very effective in achieving their intended goal of consolidating learning the rules.

At the very heart is the concept of STEALTH.  A commando counter will automatically be flipped to its stealthy side when entering a small tile where there are no German units and commandos may always enter a medium sized tile in stealth mode by using up two of their three Action pts.  However, commandos must always flip to their visible side when entering a large tile.

Whenever a commando in stealth mode enters a tile with enemy units on or vice versa, each commando must roll one die per enemy unit to see if they are spotted.  Roll 1 or 2 and you're spotted.  Though not wholly necessary, it's a nice touch that the twelve dice provided are customised with a partial eye symbol on the 1 and 2 faces.



Attention to small details like the dice all add to the sense that care has gone into producing a quality game.  Attention to detail is also a prominent factor in the rule book.  As I read rules, I have a bad habit of thinking, "... but what if?"  I failed to break this bad habit, as I went through the rules for V-Commando and each time the answer to my "What if?" was a few paragraphs later or clear in an example.  It was an object lesson in being more patient in my reading and testimony to just how good these rules are.  They are thorough, without being burdensomely lengthy, and easy to follow.

I mentioned earlier the value of using the three training scenarios, but that value is in helping you fix the rules in your head so that you have minimal reference to the rule book later, not because you need them to understand the rules, as is often the case with some rules sets.  What impressed me most was the section on the German A.I. that runs the Enemy Phase of the game.  Moving and shooting in games where your opponent is A.I. determined are often hyper complex and encyclopaedic in length.  In part, this is because the rules in V-Commando are well pared down. 

Remember stealth, well if your commando is in stealth mode, he can't be seen or shot at.  If visible, he is seen and able to be shot at, if he's on the same tile as the German unit or an open adjacent tile or a room tile that has an open door.   No arguments about line of site.   Movement is governed by equally straightforward rules that depend on only two factors: if any commandos are visible, then German units move one tile towards them by the shortest route - if all commandos are stealthy, then German units move one tile in the compass direction displayed on the Event card currently drawn for that terrain for this turn.

Perhaps this random factor may not suit some people, but, hey, this is the movies, haven't you seen the Germans in films from The Guns of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen to the more recent Inglourius Bastards rushing around while the good ole Brits or Americans sneak about, just out of sight from them?

Finally, the rules take us to Play An Operation.  In all other games that I own or have played, this would form part of a separate booklet that would also contain all the Scenarios.  Triton Noir have decided to go with the novel idea of providing the nine scenarios in the form of pairs of high quality, double-sided, cards.  This decision has added enormously to the already very satisfying ambiance of the game.

The first of each pair of cards names the Operation with an accompanying map and, on the reverse of the card, a background to and the objectives of the Operation.





The second card in each pair shows the terrain to be set up for the Op on one side and, on the other side, any Special rules that apply to a specific terrain and/or the initial Set-Up.   So to continue with the example of Operation Time Pencil, three terrain will be needed and each terrain has its Special rules, but in this case there are no Special rules relating to initial Set-Up.




Finally, the necessary terrain cards are placed out on your gaming table and the requisite tiles chosen to build up each terrain.




As you can imagine, with the biggest Operations involving five separate terrains, there aren't enough tiles to lay out all the terrains at one go.  The format for handling all the Operations is that the tiles for each terrain in the left most column are laid out.  Then, when the objectives have been completed on each of these terrains, the terrain card is flipped over to show completion and the terrain tiles are removed and the next column's terrains are built from the necessary tiles.

This whole process is, as far as I'm aware, wholly original.  The combination of the two pairs of cards for each Operation allows for great variety as, for example, though you may be operating in forest terrain in several Operations, the differing Special rules and objectives created for that forest terrain imbues the scenario with its own qualities. 

The cards are also a fantastic design feature for those who will soon want to create their own favourite Operations.  My own personal wish immediately turns towards Holland as, though a couple of the Operations included in the game involve bridges, neither are influenced by that epic bridge at Arnhem.  For others who like bridge scenarios, their goals might take them instead to Remagen. 

However, that's just a dream for the moment, as the nine provided in V-Commando will certainly task your skills.  Each terrain of an Operation forms its own mini-puzzle to be solved with the vagaries of the dice ready to throw a spanner in the works.  Just in case you turn out to be a prodigy of success, all the Operations contain one Veteran Special rule.  Once you have played Operations with the Standard set of Special rules, you can add in the Veteran Special rule which adds additional difficulty and always increases the number of German reinforcements you will have to face!

As a game that can be played cooperatively, it has a good RPG feel and, especially gaming with friends, it can be great to discuss what actions each commando will take and what order they'll activate in.  Outcomes and die rolls all become that bit more tense.  But, by preference [and perhaps sheer greed], I can't help saying that solo play is my favourite.  I just want to be the guy organising my team of commandos.

So, by now, I doubt that you need to be told that for me V-Commandos is an out and out winner in every category. And, please, if you need to ask the question [as has been asked on at least one game site] what does the V stand for in the game's title, just think Winston Churchill!  In fact, if you do need to ask the question, perhaps running a commando might not be your best choice yet!

Good luck and keep Stealthy!!!!