When Warfighter 2nd Edition, plus all the expansions and the Footlocker arrived in an awesome package, it was like Christmas, my birthday and several other celebrations all rolled into one. But first a brief outline of the subject, which the game's subtitle -The Tactical Special Forces Card game - helps to spell out. In essence, modern small unit operations, specifically in the Middle East and the South American jungle. The main focus of my review will obviously be the core game, but with appropriate asides regarding the multiple expansions.
Warfighter may not have the word "Leader" in its title, but at a glance you might be forgiven for thinking that it is a close relation. If you have followed my series of reviews from air to sea to air/land campaigns via Phantom Leader, U-Boat and Gato Leader and most recently Tiger Leader, you might even think that there's not much to learn or be said.
Stick with me and I hope you'll shortly agree that you would have been wrong to switch off your attention now. I have no hesitation in saying that, if my accumulating collection of DVG games were to be threatened by the classic scenario of my house going up in flames and I could save only one, then Warfighter would be the one. Once more its quality, quality, quality all the way. But, for once, before looking at the nuts and bolts of the game, I'm going to plunge straight into a major aspect of game play and the level that you are going to be playing at.
Similar to games in the Leader series, Warfighter's key element is cards. Hundreds of them and at the very heart of the game are the cards that make up your force and you can't get much more tactical than this. You have three types of unit: the individual Player Soldier, the non-player soldier and the squad soldier, in what I would describe as a descending hierarchy. But each soldier card comes with an individual name - a starting point for my love of this game.
I liked the call-sign names used in Phantom Leader that took me back to watching Top Gun, then came the U-boats with their named historical commanders on the card, followed by the named Commander cards integral to Tiger Leader. Each increased the level of engagement and identification with your units, but now we're at the level where each soldier card has the name of a serving soldier and picture that they have personally submitted for inclusion in the game. I don't think that you can get a more immersive effect than that.
You really do care for each member of your team [especially as you've chosen them], but perhaps unfairly you do care just that little bit more as you ascend the hierarchy that I talked about. Your Squad soldier really seems like the basic grunt, whose card has a simple hit table for when they fire and the number of actions that they can perform depending on how many wounds they've taken. Next in line is the non-player soldier - this time the table on their card covers purely how many actions they can take, as they come with a fixed set of named weapons, equipment and skills printed on the card.
But top of the tree is the Player soldier, who has a set allowance of two actions, but then everything else is what you have decided to purchase from your stock of Resource points. Even more important - each Player soldier has a hand of Action cards [depending on their current staus; typically 5 or 6 cards, if suffering no wounds] and these cards really are the engine that drives the action. Inevitably they grab your attention and they will be the ones you try to protect at all costs.
The next feature is one that takes the world of Warfighter away from the Leader series. There are no large campaign card sheets. Instead, three sets of Mission and Objective cards: one for the Jungle and two for the Middle East, where one group of opponents are Insurgents and the other Military. There is another hierarchy here too - how tough the going will be: the Jungle set is the easiest [a relative term], next are the Middle East Insurgents and finally the toughest nuts to crack are the Middle East Military. Oh, and while we're talking about your opponents , better wise up and get down to learning the correct game parlance. These are Hostiles!
So, choose your Mission card which lists the number of Resource points to spend, the number of turns in which to complete the Mission, an Objective number*, a Loadout number [bit more about these later] and finally any specific Mission text. Then choose your Objective card. Of course, if you wish, you can just draw each of these two cards randomly for maximum variety.
From here on, the sequence of play should be pretty familiar to any of you who know the Leader games and/or have read my other reviews. Spend the Resource points to build your team of soldiers, buy their equipment and skills, draw the correct number of Action cards [that's new] and get your boots on the ground.
So, now's the right time to consider the game's playing board which is where you'll be placing your soldiers and a lot, but by no means all, of what you're going to be playing with. That playing board has come in for a lot of criticism. At first sight , it looked perfect.
Suitably dark and menacing, a seemingly very good size, clearly marked boxes for the Action deck and discards, a similar set of boxes for the Hostile card deck and discards, the Set Up sequence and Attack Sequence, an Attack Matrix, a turn track [called Mission Timer] and 10 numbered boxes, the first of which is labeled Mission and the Objective card goes in the numbered box that corresponds to the Objective number* [see above]. Unfortunately, it just isn't adequate for what has to be laid out in the game.
Consider first of all the neat, numbered Location boxes. When you decide to play a Location card that you've drawn from the Action deck, it will be placed in the next Location box. But as can be seen, most of those boxes are in the landscape orientation, so that the all-important information on the card is harder to read.
Even worse you draw a number of Hostile cards that will occupy the Location card and these may be 5 or 6 cards. Where do you put them? After all, only one fits the Location space and then you couldn't read the Location card beneath it at all. Nor can you stack them, as each Hostile card has a combat table on them and you will also need to place Suppressed or EKIA markers on them at some point. Above the Location is too cramped and soon obscures other tables.
Their task will be to make their way, Location card by Location card, until they reach the Objective card, activate it and accomplish [or fail to accomplish] the Objective goals stipulated by the card.
To help them achieve that goal will be the weapons you've selected and paid the necessary Resource points for. Below is a very small selection from the wide range at your service.
If you think a weapon is going to need more ammo than its basic allowance, then you need to buy extra before you start the Mission and you can also add refinements to these weapons from the Equipment cards that you can also buy. These are easily distinguished by their blue colour, so that they can be paired up with the weapon they've been bought for. Though, as you can see with the First Aid Kit below, some of the equipment is stand alone material that will be assigned to a particular Soldier card.
Here is most of the whole magnificent array. Lined up in front are the seven sets of expansion decks. Hiding behind them is the Container from the Footlocker Expansion, with the Scenario Booklet and extra rule set on top and the deep counter tray on the right. Most of the counters in the tray come from the basic game, whose box is in the top right of the picture, along with over two thirds of the extra counter sheet contained in the Footlocker.
The inner compartment is perfect for the Tactical Display Sheet, Rule book, Scenario book and counter tray to sit securely on top and still leave room for more ... if necessary!
The 2nd edition rule book couldn't be clearer and steps you through everything in a logical progression and even has a very broad topic outline index on the front cover, though it will not direct you to the many specific details in each section. However, once I'd played a couple of Missions, I found that I rarely needed to look back at the rules.
Combat which can be a tricky area in many games works very smoothly on a simple matrix of 1d6 and a variable number of d10s. The single d6 is rolled against the target unit's cover value, while the d10/s are rolled against the soldier or his weapon's attack value. If both the d10s and the d6 miss, then you've achieved absolutely zilch. Roll at least one d10 hit, but the d6 fails then you achieve a Suppression. Roll no d10 hits, but succeed with the d6 cover roll and you still get a Suppression. Roll at least one d10 hit and succeed with the d6 cover roll and you achieve a KIA. This Attack Matrix is on the game board, but you'll never need to refer to it, it's so easy.
There is even a basic prepared scenario with Mission and Objective selected and a small team of soldiers with their equipment and skills too. This is used to teach you the sequence of play once you have begun your Mission and includes at the end of it a few Optional rules and a very short description of how to create a Campaign. The rule booklet, as always, ends with a thorough Sample Mission described from start to finish and I really like the fact that here they have chosen to follow through and use the above pre-planned scenario that has taught you the sequence of play.
Though I find the whole pre-Mission launch part of buying your team and equipment and skills a great part of the whole game's appeal, it is sometimes very nice, especially when time's more restricted ,just to be able to sit down, choose a pre-planned Mission, quickly lay out out all you need and get into the Mission.
For this, the Scenario book is admirable with a great range, BUT that range is in large part achieved by drawing on materials and above all soldiers from the many expansions. In some cases, it is possible to substitute equivalent men and equipment from the basic game, but there is no chart to help you do this.
Indeed, even if you do have everything, the Scenario book does not indicate which expansions material has been drawn from. As I have each category [soldiers, equipment, weapons, skills, etc] sorted in order starting with the basic core cards and then in numerical order of expansion, this is a fairly quick and easy process. It does need good organisation and the willingness to put everything back in its correct slot at the end of a session - a task some might not relish!
As for game play, brilliant. The tension is palpable as your soldiers move forward from Location to Location with the clock ticking against you. Sometimes, your hand of Action cards for a soldier will contain no Location cards and so one of the precious allowance of two actions per turn will have to be spent on discarding some or all of your hand to draw more cards. This can be an even more excruciating decision if your hand contains some powerful/helpful cards. But it is rarely worth discarding only one or two of them in hope that you'll get lucky and immediately draw a Location card.
Each new Location placed demands its draw of Hostile cards; how tough will they be? How many will you encounter? Each Location and each Hostile card has a point value. So you keep drawing Hostile cards until you reach the Location value. Obviously a card of value 0 with be nowhere near as dangerous as one of value 5, but draw a lot of low value Hostiles and they can be more of a problem to deal with than a single powerful card.
Some are geared to immediately move forward into your soldiers' current Location and prevent them leaving it until they have been dealt with; others increase the cost of entering a Location; while yet others may represent up to five Hostiles to be eliminated.
An excellent rule prevents the Hostiles all directing their attention on your key soldiers. At the beginning of the Mission, each soldier is allocated a number and usually about four chits for each numbered soldier is put into a draw bag or container. As each Hostile card is drawn, you draw a numbered chit from the container that becomes that Hostile card's target. When it is the Hostile Phase of each turn, the Hostiles will open fire, if the target soldier is within range, and if not the Hostiles will move one Location towards their target.
But before that can happen, each Location that contains at least one of your soldiers has a reinforcement value that might result in an additional Hostile card being added. This is an object lesson in keeping your men together and not getting strung out across several Locations.
However, the most exciting part is mastering the sequence of actions of your soldiers and the interplay of the cards within your hand. Who fires first? Who enters the next Location first? When to draw more cards? Fire your carbine, throw a hand grenade, engage in hand to hand combat, reload now, bandage a wound - everything is there. Even the basic game has a wide range of potential actions and each expansion adds more and more alternatives and possibilities.
However, it's not advisable just to let your Action deck keep expanding, otherwise the ratio between the Location cards and all the other Action cards becomes too great. There are several ways that you can deal with this. One solution is to keep all the Action cards together and simply deal out about 75 of them and then shuffle in about 15 Location cards.
Personally, I've chosen to keep the original basic deck separate and at the beginning of each Mission I randomly remove 10 cards from it and substitute a mix of 10 from the expansions. In particular, I've kept the stealth expansion Action cards separate and only add those in when a Mission is particularly dependant on stealth. Obviously, this is only a problem if you succumb to buying all or most of the expansions. But be warned, it's hard not to resist the siren lure of just the next expansion and the next and well just one more!
With the basic game, if you were changing from say playing a Jungle Mission to a Middle East Mission, you always had the fag of having to extract the Location cards appropriate to the previous Mission's geographical region and then adding in the new region's Location cards.
The Footlocker contains one of the biggest helps to avoid this task by introducing a set of generic Location cards. These can remain permanently in your Action deck and when you draw one, you simply randomly draw a Location card from the appropriate region's set of Location cards.
As you can see I have tried to incorporate a wide perspective drawing on the essential Warfighter 2nd edition as a base point, but giving you some aspects influenced by the expansions. Now I want to conclude with a few very specific observations.
For me, Warfighter 2nd edition is an absolute must have in my collection and in anyone else's: must have for its tactical experience; must have for its quality, its atmosphere and its game play; must have for its wealth of superb cards; must have for its solitaire play; must have for the sheer enjoyment and excitement of playing this game. I say this, despite the fact that you may ditch using the game board and I strongly wish that DVG would make the board that comes in the Footlocker the standard one to be sold in the basic game. Also it's a great shame that some of the best additional features cannot easily be accessed by a simple additional purchase.
Of course, if you become truly hooked, now there is Warfighter: WWII waiting to steal away your time and feed your appetite for tactical solo wargaming. Don't say you weren't warned!