While I own a fair number of board games, I have never done an unboxing, let alone a review of one. My reviews up until now have been of digital wargames. So in a sense this is like coming home. My purchases of boxed wargames have mostly been of older games with a few newer ones here and there.
I have not really been that much of a fan of tactical games, since in my youth we played a lot of what I call 'squad argument'. I don't remember that much playing, but I do remember a lot of arguing. Give a man with a pocket protector a set of wargame rules, and he turns into an armored warrior on the side of right. I am, however, an equal opportunity gamer. I'll give pretty much any game a try. I will do the unboxing etc. with the game components and also use a very well done vassal port of the game.
Flying Pig Games is the board game company that has brought us Old School tactical. They also publish, among others, 'Night of Man' a tactical futuristic game, and '65' a game about the early battles in Vietnam. Yaah! magazine that is up to issue six now, is also published by them. It contains a game in every issue. They are also doing a kickstarter right now for Old School Tactical: volume II West Front.
The game is (guess what) a tactical one about the eastern front battles in 1941 and 1942. It is important to remember that this is before Tigers and Panthers were around. In most scenarios with tanks playing as the German you will be undergunned, and under armored. The German antitank guns are woefully under powered and undersized. The PAK 36 that you will use in some scenarios was nicknamed the door knocker by German troops.
Okay, so the game components are first rate. The next part up is the game play and the rules. I cannot stress enough on the actual game pieces, but if it sits on the shelf because the game play is terrible and the rules are unintelligible, what is it worth? Does the game play like a tactical east front game? Is there any immersion factor?
The manual is only twenty one pages long and is well written and easily understandable. It has color shots of the units and some illustration of game play inside.
In the scenario briefing you will be given map coordinates. These are used for you to setup the four map edge markers that cordon off the field of battle that you will play in. The next listing is control hexes; these are given a victory point amount to asses at the end of the game. Then comes the scenario turn length, special rules, and off board assets, air strikes and artillery. Next will be the victory conditions for the scenario and the setup for your and the enemy's forces on the map. Mostly that is listed as map edge or near this unit etc. There is a lot of leeway in most scenarios for the players setup. You aren't handcuffed into putting X unit into hex 41Y for the most part. The victory conditions are mostly in controlling certain hexes on the map. It is a large scenario book with 27 scenarios. The scenario booklet is well displayed with clear and concise info for the player to use. There is no ambiguity here.
The infantry counters have their stats displayed across the top of the counter. From left to right they are firepower, range, defense, and movement. The range is in white with all the others in black, with movement being the larger of the three in black. Crewed weapons counters show, starting in the left lower corner, that they are not allowed to move and fire. Next, in a clockwise manner, is the Maximum AP firepower. Across the top next comes HE firepower. Next in white is the maximum range, followed by defense and last is foot movement. Both crewed weapons and vehicles have a red triangle in the upper left corner to denote facing. Vehicles have more info than either of the other counters, and you also need the corresponding unit data card to decide combat. At the lower left corner in black is their secondary firepower followed in white by its range. Next in a clockwise manner is the maximum AP firepower. In line across the top is HE firepower followed in white with its range. In the upper right hand corner is the unit's movement allowance, and whether it is tracked or not. Right underneath movement is the unit's front defense, and its flank defense. Leader counters have no firepower (except in melee combat), and have their command range in a white circle. The counters also show the attention to detail in this game's construction. The counters simply pop out easily, and I have not had to deal with chunks of cardboard stuck to them or use a razor knife at all.
The Player aid cards have the usual board game info. There is the terrain chart, turn sequence, artillery, air strike, bogged down, and rally info on one side of them. The other side has the infantry combat, and vehicle combat tables.
The turn sequence follows this format. The way your turns are counted is different from most games. If the scenario is for seven turns you start with the marker on seven, and count down. When you get to the number one for the turn marker and all of the impulse points are expended, then both players roll one die and add them up. If you get seven or greater, you both will get an extra turn. I like this, especially for the side that almost had a victory or captured that victory point hex. It gives you one more chance to complete your mission. Reinforcements are then added to the game map. You than can attach leaders and weapons. Then you get to roll for the various scenario rolls. These would be the chance for off board artillery etc. Then you have your rally and vehicle bog rolls. The players then both roll two dice for the initiative. High roll, as usual, wins. Then next part of the sequence is to roll for each side's impulse points. The number of die to roll is set by the rules of each scenario. Every action taken by your units costs impulse points. The game mechanic is to let one side use an impulse point and then to switch to the other player, unless there is a pass. The impulse point system in one way forces a player's hand. If you have less impulse points that your adversary you can choose to pass, and the other player continues with his turn. If you have the same or greater amount of impulse points, and don't want to use any on your units, you must expend one to pass. When both sides' impulse points are exhausted then that turn ends. A unit is allowed to move once and fire twice during a turn. The melee phase comes next. For melee to occur, a unit has to assault a hex containing an enemy counter. This costs one impulse point. You can choose to group move. This costs two impulse points, and you can also group assault for two impulse points. Unlike other games, you then just mark the hex and wait until all other movement and firing has taken place before deciding the effect of the assault. No terrain or fortification modifiers are used to resolve the melee. The melee results are usually bloody and quickly resolved. At times though, the melee can be unresolved and lock the combatants in the hex for the subsequent turns. During the following turns you are allowed to add other units to the melee. You are allowed to use opportunity fire against a unit the other player is moving. The opportunity fire rules add a tenseness to the game. Do you wait until the unit has completed its move, and possibly have a better chance at fire combat or miss your chance completely, due to line of sight? You announce it and then spend an impulse point for it. If there is no effect the enemy unit may continue its move. Then you add up the victory points from both sides. In some scenarios the victory points will not be tallied until the end of the game. You keep track of casualties for both sides on the casualty track. This is important, because for every five points a side loses to casualties, one impulse point will be deducted from the player's impulse point rolls.
The game has an interesting 'gut check' rule. The 'gut check' number is listed in each scenario briefing. The player has to roll two die to check against any shaken/broken results on the combat tables. If the number rolled is the same or greater than the 'gut check' number then the shaken/broken result is ignored.
Each scenario can also have hidden units added into the mix. These will not be found until an enemy unit tries to enter the hidden unit's hex. If a unit is in a structure hex, and it is attacked by heavy weapons ie. off board artillery or air strike etc., there is a check to see if there was a structure collapse. A light structure will collapse on a roll of a five or six, and a heavy structure will collapse on a roll of six. Line of sight is pretty straight forward, and can cause points to be deducted from the firing die roll.
One luck card is drawn randomly at the start of the game. Unless the scenario rules state differently, the luck cards can be used during a players impulse, and do not cost any impulse points to play. Some cards can only be used for vehicles. If agreed to by the players, the manual states that in an infantry only scenario the vehicle cards can be kept out of the deck when choosing them.
The game is quick, easy, and relatively simple to play. It has a lot of nuances, but two players should be able to hash out the rules in no time and start playing. The play is relatively bloody, and resolved in a timely manner. You are going to be playing this game and thinking, not decoding the rule book.
There is a free download available of the rules:
A print and play version is available also for download. It retails for $25.00, but the game itself is a steal right now for $75.00. You would also be missing out on the extremely well made components of the game.
The game is certainly not a simple one, yet it is also not a game where you get bogged down in the rules, and stultifies game play. This game, while not really being 'old school' in a technical sense, is a very good thing. It allows the players to play and have a good time destroying their cardboard enemies. This game will not sit on the shelf with all of the other 'might have beens'.
Looking at all the different comments around the web most people, like me, are very happy if not ecstatic about the game. There are a few posts about rule questions etc., but what game doesn't have them. Sometimes it is the reader's and not the writer's fault (see above). I would like to see some more scenarios that use a larger part of the map. With small maps it can get stale because the defender and attacker both know where they are going to set up and move toward. Larger map usage would allow both sides to try out numerous combinations of play. One could make house rules and make some scenarios larger on the map, and just add more to the scenario length. It doesn't have the postage stamp size maps that some games have, so that is definitely a plus.
Game: Old School Tactical
Publisher: Flying Pig Games
Designer: Shayne Logan
Date of Review: