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Honoring Those They Led by Mark C. Yerger and Leslie K. Fiorenza    This book is very different than what I had e...

Honoring Those They Led by Mark C. Yerger andd Leslie K. Fiorenza Honoring Those They Led by Mark C. Yerger andd Leslie K. Fiorenza

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

November 2017

Honoring Those They Led by Mark C. Yerger andd Leslie K. Fiorenza


   This book is very different than what I had envisioned by its title. I assumed it would just be a litany of German World War II awards with a list of the recipients, and maybe some short bios of some of the different awardees. This book is much more than that. In this book, you will not find aces or Uboat commanders. It is strictly about German field commanders. Some of the names will be familiar to some, and some will not. Keitel, Halder, and Runstedt's careers are described in the book. It also shows the decorations they were awarded, and for what reasons they became bemedaled. The careers of Herbert Gille, Hans Hube, and Martin Grase are also shown to the reader. A chapter is also dedicated to the Spanish commanders of the 250th Infanterie Division. 

 As to be expected, the Knights Cross (Ritterkreuz) and its variants (oak leaves, swords, and diamonds in order of rank), are detailed in the commanders' lives. The German Cross in Gold, and when its recipients received it, is also delved into.

 If you are looking for a list of the different World War II German medals and their recipients, look elsewhere. If you are looking for short biographies of German Army and SS, mostly Army/Heer and the late war time period and the medals awarded them, then look no further. The book is also illustrated with many actual examples of the various awards' written certificates. The authors have liberally supplied the book with pictures of the awarded men. Most of the pictures are formal portraits of the officers, and many are of them receiving their awards from Hitler. Nine German Army commanders were awarded the highest (at the time) version of the Knights Cross with diamonds, along with two SS commanders.


Publisher: Helion & Company
Distributor: Casemate Publishers


A Wing And A Prayer Bombing The Reich by Lock 'N Load Publishing   The introduction in the manual starts ou...

A Wing And A Prayer Bombing the Reich by Lock 'N Load Publishing A Wing And A Prayer Bombing the Reich by Lock 'N Load Publishing

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

November 2017

A Wing And A Prayer Bombing the Reich by Lock 'N Load Publishing


 The introduction in the manual starts out "A Wing and a Prayer Bombing the Reich is an easy, fast playing solitaire game placing YOU in command of a squadron of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers stationed in England during World War II, starting from 1942 through the end of the war." Let's see how close this statement is when actually playing the game.

 The first thing I want to mention is that this review is based on the new version 2.2 manual. 'A Wing and a Prayer' is actually both a solitaire, and a two player game. The player commands the aforementioned squadron of Allied bombers (you can also choose B-24s) during the Second world war. With solitaire play, the dice and cards determine what the enemy flak and fighters do. When playing the two player version, the second player takes over the German forces. 

 The map is of northern France and Germany, and uses a point  to point movement system to get your bombers over the target. As the errata in the manual shows, there is still a problem with the spelling of four cities on the map. I have to stress that this is the only place where the errors occur and it does not affect game play in the least. 

 The components, including the map, are very well done as far as quality of the items and the art work. The map is actually 19" x 25". The counters are sized 1" square, and uncluttered with only four numbers on the bomber counters in the corners. There are three counter sheets for a total of 189 counters. The counters also come with clipped edges for us sticklers. The game comes with seven full sized player aid cards. The tables and writing in the manual and the other components are large and easily read. In the back of the manual there are six pages of logs etc. that can be photocopied, and they can also be downloaded from Lock 'N Load's web page.

 The manual itself is well written and thirty-two pages long. With it and the player aids, one should not have to keep referring back to it for rule clarifications. 

 Like other games about the bombing campaign your job as commander, as in real life, is to manage your crews against the damage you can inflict on targets. Your crews will face flak, fighters, and weather.

 There has been some postings about games like this 'playing themselves'; they feel the player does not have enough input into the game once the mission starts. The answer to that has also been posted. That pretty much was what it was like for a commander in the bombing war. Just like the game, you were given a target and picked the crews and the flight pattern. Beyond simply scrubbing the mission because of losses or weather, there was not much else to do. Your goal in the game is to keep enough crews to make sure the next missions get done.

The sequence of play, for single player, is:

Adjust the mission turn counter
Mission deck - add or subtract to mission deck due to year
New escort fighter types -  check on the mission turn track to see if   new fighters are available
War progress events check - check the mission turn track for these
Target for today - Draw a mission card
Target cloud cover - roll die for this check
Assign bombers and crews
Coordinate escort - check mission card

Once you are aloft this is the sequence:

Move bomber formation -  to next hex
Lead bomber and formation adjustment - adjust bomber                   formations if necessary
Loose formation check -  formation can be loose or tight
Damaged aircraft checks
Escort fighters range check - check your hex against the escorts range
Escort rendezvous site check
Flak site attack check  - if Flak is present in hex
Formation event check - check for formation events
Conduct air combat 
Repeat the above until you get to the target hex
Conduct bombing run
Return to base- repeat the above sequence until back at your base hex
Land aircraft

Once your planes have landed:

Clean up - reset board etc. for next mission
Victory points
Damaged bomber replacement and repair
Crew experience and recovery
War progress
Game end


  I will go through a mission turn next.

  The board is all setup and the next step is to choose the target for today's bombing run. The mission will be from 1942 to make it simple. The mission turns seem like the player has a lot to remember, but the game is simpler than it looks as far as having to keep track of things. Naturally, your first few turns will take longer until you get the process down pat.

 The following pics show the game map, formation card, and the squadron briefing card setup for our first mission. Thanks to Lock 'N Load I was able to download and print another squadron briefing card. The first one was lost in a small coffee flood. 

 This mission is going to be over Meaulte. I have six B-17s to use. The game starts you off with one crack, two veteran, and nine green crews. The green crews are not named as the veteran and crack crews are. My crack crew is naturally 'Memphis Belle', and my two veteran crews are 'Hell's Angels' and 'Jack the Ripper'. For escorts in 1942 you have P-47s that have a range of six. I have four escorts available due to lucky rolling. You also roll and check for 'fighter aces' with your escorts, and also with enemy fighters. Unfortunately I rolled no fighter aces for my escorts. Nothing has happened over the two channel spaces, and luckily over Lille the die roll for a flak attack came up nil. 

  Now we get to the bombing mission itself. You first check the mission card for the flak rating of the target. In this case Meaulte has a rating of fourteen. So then we check the 'combat table' to see how many one die rolls we roll against each bomber to check for flak damage. In this case it is three rolls, and each roll of six indicates damage. I have lucked out once again, and suffered no incoming flak damage. Remember this is still early in the war and I am not making a bomb run against deep enemy targets. I still have to check on 'egress' flak after our bombing run and also see if enemy fighters attack my bombers. The roll for enemy fighters puts one FW-190 in the air against us, and it is also piloted by an ace. We can use two interceptors against him and our luck is still holding out. The FW-190 is destroyed. 

 Now we get into the bombing run itself. Unfortunately, because of only six bombers and the fact that Meaulte is under heavy cloud cover, the bombers score only two hits and inflict no damage. The egress (thank you P.T. Barnum) flak does no damage either. Our trip back home over Lille again and then over the channel is uneventful. 

  The game to me is an excellent representation of the bombing campaign. Once your target and crews were chosen there was not much else to do but hang on tight and pray. The players' choices  before the mission starts are the largest factor in how your mission will go. Of course, with this many die rolls to check each time you move into a new hex, lady luck does have a large part to play in it. There are also die rolls that can give you a 'lady luck' counter to be used during your flight. I have not had a chance to play it as a two player game. As the German player you have the chance to increase the flak attacks, and you are in charge of your interceptors. You are not allowed to change history by, for example, building more ME-262s, or building them sooner. Actually both sides pretty much play exactly the hands that history dealt the people whose shoes they are filling. This is my first Lock 'N Load boardgame, and I have to say I am impressed.  I have played a lot of their different digital games like 'Command Ops' etc. down through the years, and have really enjoyed them. The AI in them is amazing. 



Command: Shifting Sands is the latest stand alone expansion for the massively detailed naval and combat simulator that is Command: Moder...

Command: Shifting Sands Command: Shifting Sands

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

November 2017

Command: Shifting Sands

Command: Shifting Sands is the latest stand alone expansion for the massively detailed naval and combat simulator that is Command: Modern Air/Naval Combat (CMANO). Developed by Warfare Sims and published by Matrix/Slitherine, CMANO is a powerful simulator that lets the player explore detailed scenarios depicting air and naval combat of every stripe since WW2 to the present and even a little beyond. Just about every ship, aircraft and submarine that has ever been built is in the game database. The primary drawback is that CMANO has a hefty price tag. There also isn't a demo, so to give curious players a chance to get their hands on the gameplay without too much of a hit to the wallet, the developers have put out several stand alone campaigns. The other two, Chains of War and Northern Inferno, featured hypothetical conflicts. Shifting Sands, on the other hand, features the numerous historical battles between Israel and its not so friendly neighbors over the course of several decades. While you won't have access to the full CMANO database, you do get to play with toys from a few different technological time periods. In several cases these scenarios depict the historical first use of some new weapon or tactic.

As mentioned, Command is a real-time simulation of air and naval combat, calculating for just about every variable you could imagine. Real time as in the game literally ticks by one real second at a time unless you speed it up. Direct ground combat is depicted to a much lesser degree, though there is no shortage of targets on the ground and things like anti-aircraft units shooting back at you. The game sacrifices a great deal in one area to make its extremely broad scope possible, the graphics. This is a game involving a lot of map staring, as simple icons representing units move around and fire little dots at each other. What the game lacks in cinematic visuals it more than makes up for with some serious number crunching going on under the hood. This game includes more details than I could possibly discuss here, but just to name a few: terrain, weather over a ground target, the temperature of the water at various depths, airspeed and weight with regards to fuel consumption, realistic time needed to rearm and refuel aircraft, and the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow all play a factor. Okay, maybe not that last one. The key point being that the developers have attempted to include just about every significant factor involved in the operations depicted. You very well may need to do some homework to fully understand what is happening in the game. Fortunately, Command makes it easy to at least get started.

Shifting Sands comes with several training scenarios, and a newbie player will be wise to go through them all more than once while keeping the manual open in another window. This will get you familiar with the core mechanics, however it won't teach you much about how to conduct a large scale complex operation on your own. There are a few great sets of videos on YouTube which can help in that regard. This is the mark of a truly great wargame: the game gives you all the tools you need to simulate a realistic battle scenario, but requires you to actually develop and employ realistic tactics to succeed. Simply launching every aircraft you have and throwing them at the enemy won't get you very far at all. You will need to analyze the situation and deploy your units with a degree of precision if you want to make a good showing. Learning all of these tactics and stratagems is part of the experience of playing the game, and shouldn't scare anyone away. I think most people buying a game like this do want to learn about those sorts of things, and the game will reward you for it.

The mechanics of the game might look overwhelming at first, but really you can get started without delving too deeply into the dozens of options and functions available. As the commander, your job isn't to micromanage every unit and weapon. The AI can do a decent enough job as long as you give it the right orders. This is done simply by choosing an area or target for a mission and then assigning units to it. There are default mission types set up for just about everything you might need, from anti-submarine warfare to air superiority ops. Within each mission, you can tweak all the finer points. Do you want aircraft to launch in flights of two or three aircraft each? Do you want your ships to investigate and potentially engage targets out side of their designated patrol zone or should they stay put? You can also set the rules of engagement and behavior for the AI at the unit and mission level, and also general orders for your entire side. These settings tell the AI how to act in various situations so that you don't have to manually intervene constantly. 

Once you have a grip on the basics, the game lets you go much deeper. For example, a ground strike mission can be built by the player selecting exactly which aircraft in a group will target which buildings and with what weapons down to the exact number of bombs dropped. You can also plot a course and set altitude and speed. Taking control like this will let you pull off much fancier maneuvers and likely see better success in the more complex scenarios. And Shifting Sands will give you more than a few complex scenarios to deal with. 

The campaign starts off with a little taste of naval action during the Suez Canal Crisis and then a solid air combat scenario that requires you to perform recon, attack, defense, and air superiority missions all at once but is still manageable. After that, it's off to the races with scenarios such as Operation Focus, the opening move of the Six Day War in which the Israelis historically destroyed almost the entire Egyptian air force. The naval scenarios tend to be much less complex, due to the smaller numbers of units involved, but are still made interesting because one major error could cost you the win. This is also an area of the world that has a ton of civilian shipping, making it tricky to pick out foes until they are either dangerously close or already firing at you. That said, the aircraft focused missions are the star of the show here. While you can play through the campaign in chronological order, you can also just pick out the scenarios you are most interested in from the list. The only difference when playing the campaign is that you must reach a certain score threshold to unlock the next mission. This should serve as a good challenge for even experienced players, since simply coming out ahead in a scenario is not enough to hit that score. You will need to accomplish all or most of your objectives while avoiding taking too many casualties.

There are also a few interesting "what-if" scenarios that round out this pack. One gives you a chance, as the Israelis, to use nuclear weapons in a last ditch effort to hold the line. Another puts you in command of the US 6th Fleet on the day the USS Liberty was attacked by the Israeli military, and in this scenario the United States responds very harshly. These are great examples of what can be done with Command system. not only can it simulate events that did happen historically, it can be used explore all sorts of hypothetical scenarios that might have played out. Of course, to access the hundreds of community scenarios that have been made over the past few years, you'll need to buy the full version CMANO. I think Shifting Sands serves as a great entry point for those curious. It's also a decent buy for veteran commanders. They get 17 well made scenarios to add to their collection, and can continue to support the develop of the system overall.

So, if you are looking for a detailed air and naval combat simulator, and don't mind the minimal graphics and sound, you really can't do better than Command. The game has been continuously updated since its release about three years ago, and Shifting Sands benefits from all of those updates. This is a great way to try out the system and see if it's for you, without plonking down $80 or waiting for a big sale. Though if you like Shifting Sands, I highly recommend getting CMANO, it's a game that you could spend years tinkering with and learning new things from. There are so many community scenarios available that the average gamer would take a lifetime to play them all. Definitely some serious bang for your buck.

Matrix Store: Link Here
Developer Website:
Command: Shifting Sands is also available on Steam.

- Joe Beard

P.S. I had to borrow my screenshots for this review from the official page, since my normal means of capturing them didn't seem to agree with Command and came out rather useless. I had some really good ones too!


This book, as the only review on the cover states, is absolutely 'an amazing story'. The author, who is somewhat famous, as fa...

Moonless Night - The Second World War Escape Epic by 'Jimmy' James Moonless Night - The Second World War Escape Epic by 'Jimmy' James

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

November 2017

Moonless Night - The Second World War Escape Epic by 'Jimmy' James

This book, as the only review on the cover states, is absolutely 'an amazing story'. The author, who is somewhat famous, as far as Prisoner of War escapees goes, takes us through his war experince being a PoW in Nazi Germany. B A James was serving on No. 9 Squadron for just two months before being shot down over Holland. The book starts dramatically with:
The parachute opened with a crack pulling me out of my terminal velocity dive with a jerk which seemed to tear me apart and then I was floating gently two miles up in the night sky over Holland. The stricken Wellington, of which I had lately been the second pilot, had been turned into a  flaming hell by the pounding flak shells and was streaking away to the east trailing fire and smoke ... on course for a target it would never reach.
 I was hooked after that opening paragraph and read the book, spell-bound the entire time. I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I, nor anyone I know, would have survived with such dignity and humour as is evident in the pages of this book. However, this is no joke book. The way in which Jimmy recounts his horrific experience is done with no animosity or malice towards his captors. And his 'voice' sounds like someone who would catch anyone's undivided attention. I can imagine him holding court in a country pub somewhere. 

The Wellington
To prove how generous this young pilot was, towards the very end of the book, at which point his and his captor's fortunes had almost completely reversed, Jimmy recounts the 'almost gentlemanly treatment we had received in Prisoner of War Camps'.  My draw dropped at that statement, the words I had read didn't tally with the gentlemanly treatment he claimed.

This isn't a book about living in Prisoner of War camps, this is about escaping from those camps. Jimmy had 13 different escape attempts to his name and was a prisoner in 9 different camps. His most famous escape was as part of The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III. In fact, it was Jimmy's job to disperse much of the soil from 'Harry' which was dug under his hut.

One of the most horrific escapes in the book was what the author called 'mole tunnels'. I don't suffer from claustrophobia, but if you do I would recommend you skip this section. A mole tunnel is dug by one escapee moving soil from in front of them to behind them until they think they've gone far enough. I can't even fathom how that is possible, but I suppose there is no telling just how resourceful humans can be in the face of desperate odds.
I am always dumbfounded when I read about the tunnels that were dug with the most basic of equipment. In tunnelling out of Sachsenhausen Jimmy and his co-conspirators only had a table-knife with a DIY serrated cutting edge as their only implements in which to cut through his floor and dig the tunnel. Just how? I would love to know; It doesn't seem possible. In fact, the resulting tunnels considering the tools they were dug with are technological marvels. They were shored-up, had electric lighting, air pumps, railways and stations!

Through Jimmy's travels through German PoW Camps he occasionally butts up against the Nazi death and concentration camps. His response to those sights feels like a very archaic mechanism to deal with personal distress. In today's world, we're encouraged to talk, to grieve and admit our stress. Jimmy, at one point, recounts how if he let any melancholy infect his disposition the war, for him, would be over, and in seeing the absolute worst that humanity could do to itself, he actively pushed those dark thoughts away.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. It's a quick read and a very interesting read. If you're at all interested and/or amazed by the ingenuity of humans, and/or horrified by just how horrible we can be to each other then you should read this book. After I finished the book, I was reminded of a question I have never found a satisfactory answer to; that is, how did the Nazi doctrine become accepted to the extent that the Concentration camp guards only defence at their subsequent war crimes trial was 'orders are orders'. How did the guards not realise their own atrocities? Any way I digress...

This is a great book and you can pick up the latest edition at Pen & Swords website for £14.99. 


Fokker Dr.I The Aces' Aircraft  by Tomasz J. Kowalski and Marek Rys   The Fokker Dr.I, short for dreideck...

Fokker Dr.I The Aces Aircraft by Tomasz J. Kowalskki andd Marek Rys Fokker Dr.I The Aces Aircraft by Tomasz J. Kowalskki andd Marek Rys

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

November 2017

Fokker Dr.I The Aces Aircraft by Tomasz J. Kowalskki andd Marek Rys


 The Fokker Dr.I, short for dreidecker  (triplane), was the German answer to the Sopwith Triplane. The German pilots were alarmed at the superiority of the British triplane to their aircraft. Per the book, Manfred von Richtofen said " the Sopwith Triplane is the best aircraft the enemy has, it has a high climb rate, is more maneuverable, does  not lose altitude in turns and is faster in a dive."

 As the book shows, the Fokker Dr.I first appeared in late summer of 1917. The first month's combat testing showed two flaws of the Dr.I. One of these flaws was that the German rotary engines were not as good as the Entente's. Some of the triplanes were actually fitted with captured enemy rotary engines. The second flaw was that the top wing suffered some failures that even  caused some fatalities. This was found to be because of moisture, and the subsequent failure of the glue and fabric of the wings. Yes, you read that correctly, these old birds were made of canvas, wood, and sometimes held together with glue; actually, even some World War II planes were. The moisture problem was taken care of by having added ventilation holes in the wing, and an improvement on the seam gluing.

 The third flaw of the triplane was known even before either side had even produced one. The flaw was the increased drag of a third wing. The world's engineers had known before World War I that a monoplane was the best design for a plane. Unfortunately, they had to make do with what could be produced and actually manufactured at the time. So the Dr.I was as nimble as a cat, but slower than most planes. By 1918, the Entente's fliers had much better aircraft, and could use 'boom and zoom' tactics against the Dr.I. Once the Allied fliers learned not to dogfight a Dr.I, its days were numbered. The slower speed of the Dr.I meant that the German fliers could not break off engagements or escape if things started to go south. 

 The book is separated into two parts. The first thirty-six pages is a history of the plane along with many pictures of Dr.I's during the war. The second part of the book is 103 pages of computerized views of the entire plane's separate parts in detail. Some of these are in 3D, and the book comes with a small pair of 3D glasses. To illustrate the amount of views, there are ten pages alone on the machine guns and ammo bins from all angles. The computerized views will allow any hobbyist to pretty much build a Dr.I from scratch if they wanted to. As with any of the Kagero books you will find not only interesting history, but also jaw dropping illustrations of whichever war machine that is being depicted.


Publisher: Kagero
Distributor: Casemate Publishers


Combat Mission: Fortress Italy, from veteran developer Battlefront is one of the many titles in their long line of tactical combat game...

Combat Mission: Fortress Italy Combat Mission: Fortress Italy

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

November 2017

Combat Mission: Fortress Italy

Combat Mission: Fortress Italy, from veteran developer Battlefront is one of the many titles in their long line of tactical combat games, and though it has been out for some time now, it continues to receive the occasional patch and engine upgrade. I've been given the chance to review it, and will use this as an opportunity to give my take on Combat Mission as a whole, and of course the contents of this particular title.  I will touch on the base game, the Gustav Line expansion, and the Game Engine 4 upgrade. However, much of this review could apply to any of the modern Combat Mission games. 

First, I have to start off by saying that Combat Mission is probably the one series I've spent more combined hours playing than any other game or series out there. I started with Barbarossa to Berlin, somewhere around 15 years ago. I still remember strolling through a game store at the mall, back when they carried not just PC games, but niche titles like the boxed Special Edition version of CMBB. I pointed it out to my mom as something I had to have, then a couple of weeks later I unwrapped it on Christmas morning. To be completely honest, at the time I didn't really understand what the Eastern Front of WW2 was all about. I was confused as to why there were seemingly endless different nations to play as, but no Americans. That said, the game was just so much fun that I couldn't stop playing, despite having little knowledge of the context for the hundreds of scenarios and campaigns. I set out to learn more about these battles, and in so doing sparked an endless thirst for learning about history, not just war and battles, but also the politics and social changes that led to such massive conflicts. Needless to say Barbarossa to Berlin is in my top five games of all time. Slap a better camera system on it and a little higher resolution and I would probably buy it all over again.

Following the initial trio of Combat Mission games (Beyond Overlord and Afrika Korps being the other two), Battlefront developed an entirely new engine which added more detail to the simulation down to the level of each individual soldier, weapon, and bullet being modeled. The first game in that series, Shock Force, had an extremely bumpy start, but eventually shaped up to be another of my all time favorite games. Since then they have released several other games and modules focused on different sections of WW2, as well as the hypothetical Black Sea depicting a full scale Russia vs USA war in modern day Ukraine. Fortress Italy came out somewhere in the middle of that pack, but thanks to the game engine upgrades, it has more or less the same features as the newest titles.

So, for those unfamiliar with Combat Mission, what kind of game is it exactly? The series is a highly detailed tactical wargame, which strives to not just crunch the numbers, but to present the combat in a highly visual fashion. The original Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord was leaps and bounds ahead of other wargames of the time, using 3D graphics to bring the battles to life. No more hexes and 2D counters, we could now see the tracers, explosions, smoke, tanks rolling down city streets and infantry charging up hills, all at the same time. The CMx2 engine took all of this to an even greater level of detail, with every individual soldier modeled down to what he can see, how many rounds are in his magazine, and how scared he is. The scale is very realistic, with some maps spanning vast distances and a single large battle taking two or three hours to play out. There is simply a level of detail here which is so much more granular than any other other game I know of. As I'll discuss a bit later though, this level of detail is not without some drawbacks at times. Combat Mission drifts more towards simulation than game, and is best approached with that in mind. 

If you have never seen the game in action, I've included a gameplay video I recorded here. A picture is worth a thousand words, so a video must be worth a million right? (NOTE: This is a rather low resolution video due to some technical difficulties, the game is much sharper "in person" than it appears here).

The game can be played in two distinct ways, either real-time or WEGO. Real time is obvious enough, you hit go and things move. You give orders on the fly and try to pay attention to what is happening across the battlefield. It's possible to pause the game at any time, which is useful for coordinating more complex maneuvers, or dealing with a sudden crisis. WEGO, on the other hand, is a turn-based system. The player gives orders to all of his units, then hits go. The next minute of action is then calculated all at once and plays out like a little movie. You can rewind and watch it multiple times, so you won't miss a single thing. The kicker here is that you have no control at all during that minute. This creates some real tension, since you can't intervene to pull a unit out of an ambush or stop a tank right before it rolls into trouble. Playing in each of these modes really does change how you approach the game. I tend to use real time for smaller battles and WEGO for the monsters. Once a battle hits a certain size, there is just no way to see everything that is going on across different sections of the battlefield.

The orders you can give in Combat Mission are much more nuanced than what is usually seen in a strategy game, especially outside the wargaming space. Movement can be done at a variety of speeds including fast (sprint), quick (jog), normal (walking), and slow (crawling). Units can also "hunt", moving forward at a deliberate pace and stopping as soon as a threat appears. Infantry can be given an "assault" order which causes a single infantry squad to automatically break into sections, one leapfrogging the other.  Every movement speed has its place, which will take new players some time to figure out. Infantry will get tired rapidly when running or crawling. It's possible to bog down an attack by having your guys exhaust themselves by running too far, leaving them unable advance further until they recover.

One part of these games that takes some getting used to are the action spaces. The game world is broken up into hundreds of small squares of terrain. However, the space inside each square is not all treated the same. Where each individual soldier is positioned can make a world of difference. For example, in space along the edge of a shell crater, one soldier might crawl down into the hole, while the other is laying in the open. You can't directly control each individual's exact position, but you can give a facing order which will cause the soldiers to take cover against that direction as best as they can. This system can cause headaches at times though, such as when a heavy machine gun team places the MG in a useless spot with no line-of-sight to the enemy, while one of the crew members is a few feet to the right and has an excellent view.

Every unit will engage the enemy on its own (unless ordered otherwise) in a semi-intelligent manner using the "tactical AI" of the game, so you usually don't need to give specific targeting orders. That said, there are many nuanced options for that as well. You can simply mark a specific target, such as a unit, building, or piece of terrain, and your unit will hammer it, or you can give a "Target Light" order which will conserve explosive ammunition. Various targeting arcs can also be set, including an armor only arc so that your AT gun won't be distracted by some infantry in a field when they should be worried about that Panther lurking in the village. I generally don't give that many direct firing orders, since it can take away from the realism of the game. This is because every single unit independently "spots" the enemy, such that if two squads are sitting next to each other, one might spot some enemies in a building and start firing, while the other does not see them at all and so does nothing. It always feels like I'm gaming the system too much if I, as the invisible omnipotent force hovering over the battlefield, direct soldiers to fire at a building because I know something is there even if they don't. Fortunately, communication between units is also simulated, so two units within shouting distance of each other will gradually share spotting information, tipping each other off about various threats.

There are also other orders available depending on the type of unit selected. Infantry squads can be sub-divided several ways, such as splitting off a two man scouting team, at anti-tank team, or simply dividing up equally for more flexibility. Notably, the standard Italian riflemen can't be split up like this due their difference in doctrine, something you must work around when commanding them. Many crew served weapons, such as mortars and heavy machine guns, must be ordered to deploy before they can function. This is because deploying/packing these weapons takes a significant amount of time. It's also possible to abandon a weapon entirely if a position is about to be overrun. Units can be ordered to hide, throw smoke (if they have it), set up an ambush, pick up ammo, get into vehicles, and more. Tank commanders can be ordered to stick their head out of the hatch for better visibility, or button up when incoming fire is expected. Thanks the Game Engine 4 upgrade, tanks can also now be ordered to move "hull down" to a given point or target. This will cause the tank to seek out a nearby position from which they can see the target, but the target can only see a fraction of the tank. This is a great quality of life feature, since the player had to eyeball it before and hope for the best.

So, I've talked at length about the mechanics, what kind of forces do you get to command in Fortress Italy + Gustav Line, and what sort of battles will you be diving in to?

There are four distinct factions at play here. The Americans, the Germans, the Italians, and the Commonwealth. Within these, there are a multitude of historical formations available to play with, equipped with all the weapons they would have actually fielded, on paper anyway. It can be interesting just to poke around and see exactly how, for example, an American armored infantry battalion was set up and how that influenced their strategy. Controlling these various nationalities and formations in battle will force you to adopt very different strategies. The Germans generally have lots of machine guns mixed directly into rifle squads, while the Italians field large squads of simple riflemen, supported by separate crew served weapons. It would take far too long to list out all the different weapons, tanks, and other vehicles are included in the game, but just trust me when I say that if it was there in real life, it's almost certainly in the game.

When you go to play a scenario, there are a few different options available: campaigns, one-off battles, and quick battles. Each campaign offers a series of linked scenarios where you use one or more formations to fight through several battles. Depending on the campaign, you may be dealing with limited artillery ammunition spread across multiple missions, or a lack of any replacements for your losses. Other times you may have all the forces and firepower in the world, but find yourself up against some very tough nuts to crack.  Unfortunately, there are only three of these in the base game (plus two training campaigns), and four rather short campaigns in Gustav Line. On the plus side, they are very well done and will take you many hours to complete. 

Next, you can play a standalone scenario. There are many more of these available, plus a few more online if you go looking for user made scenarios.  These scenarios range in size from tiny single platoon shoot outs all the way up to battalion sized brawls. While there isn't all that much difference between these battles and the campaign scenarios, the fact that you don't have to worry about using those units again in a future battle means that your strategy could trend towards being overly reckless with the lives of your men. One way scenario designers can mitigate this is by making losses count towards the final scoring of a scenario. Take the objective but lose most of your force in the process, and you could still end up with a defeat. Most of the scenarios can be played from either side, which adds plenty of replayability. These can also be played online against another player, which I'll get to later.

Finally, we have the quick battles, one of my biggest letdowns with the modern Combat Mission games. In the original games like Barbarossa to Berlin, this was where I spent 90% of my time, but in the newer games I rarely bother. This is because of a combination of several things: the strategic AI, the lack of random map generation, and the inability of the AI to select units for itself. 

I'll explain the latter first. In the newer CM games, the forces are organized using a very rigid command structure, and this bleeds over into the counter-intuitive way you select units for a quick battle. Want a couple of platoons of riflemen to make up the core of your force? Sure, just select an entire infantry battalion, then pare it down by deselecting everything except the two platoons you wanted in the first place. Want a section of combat engineers to go with them? Sure, just select an entire battalion of combat engineers...and so on. In the older games, you simply picked what you wanted directly. This is annoying, but not that big of a deal for the human player. However, the AI is not very flexible in this system. It tends to pick large formations at random, with little regard for the terrain or expected mission objectives. It isn't uncommon to see the AI choose an entire company of anti-tank guns or heavy machine guns with no support. Why? Because the formations are organized how they would appear on paper, not how they actually deployed for battle, but the AI isn't programmed to handle this. If you let the AI choose the units for both sides, get ready for five Tiger tanks versus thirty scout cars, and other such nonsensical scenarios. In the older games, you could set the AI to pick a balanced mix of units for both sides, and almost always get a nice force made up of some infantry, a couple tanks, artillery, and various supporting units. It was great because you never knew what you and the enemy were going to get, but you knew it would be fun. It almost never works out like that in the newer games, including Fortress Italy.

The other problem is how the "strategic" AI works in the newer CM games. The map maker must draw up plans for the AI to follow, otherwise it won't act at all. For hand made scenarios, this tends to work out okay, since the designer knows exactly what forces are involved and how he wants the battle to play out. It can take a great deal of testing and balancing to get it just right, but the variables are more fixed so it's possible to make a convincing AI opponent. In quick battles, however, the plans are made but the designer has no way of knowing what units will be involved, or how the battle might flow. So what you get is the AI moving units blindly along paths with no regard for whether they are tanks or infantry or a mortar platoon. They also have no regard for the objectives of the battle. In some cases it's entirely possible to avoid an enemy force, let it stroll on by, then go capture the objectives it has passed. The AI will never turn around and come back, it will simply go to the end of its route and wait there patiently until the end of time. In the older games, not only could you have randomly generated maps, but the AI would come running if you took an objective behind their line. That system wasn't perfect, since it could be manipulated as well, but it still felt much more dynamic, as the AI at least responded to what was happening. 

Okay, I'll get down off my quick battle soap box now.

Finally the absolute best way to play Combat Mission: head to head against another player. There are a few ways to do this. You can play hotseat on one computer, if you are so inclined, or online in both RTS and turn-based modes. That said, my experience has been that most play online involves the old-school PBEM (play be email) method. You play a turn, then send the file to your opponent, then they send it back, etc. Playing this way lets you take your time with the really big battles, since your opponent doesn't have to sit around waiting for your move, and one battle can be played out over weeks. You can also easily have many games going at once. While this is perfectly functional, and really the best way to enjoy the game, it's also very dated in its execution. The game file must be manually sent to your opponent and moved to the proper folder before the game is fired up, there is no in-game functionality for this at all. Fortunately, a couple of third party programs can automate this for you, but you'll have to go hunting in the forums to figure it out for yourself, there isn't any official documentation supporting it. (Hint: Search for CM Helper). You'll also have to find opponents via online forums or groups, since there is no means to do so within the game.

Anyway, once you are playing multiplayer, it can really be one of the best experiences in wargaming. Gone are the various issues of the AI, to be replaced by a far more cunning and devious human opponent. This is where the game really gets a chance to shine, as both sides use smart tactics and careful maneuvers to feel each other out and strike with a coordinated effort. Quick battles suddenly become excellent again, as you won't know what your opponent is picking for his force, but you know it will be a potent combination and possibly difficult for your own choices to handle. Some friendly ground rules can be handy here, such as an agreement on the general allocation of points between infantry, tanks, artillery, and support. Regardless, you won't know exactly what you are facing until the shooting begins, which creates a good deal of tension. You can also play the various handmade scenarios against a human opponent. Many of these scenarios are already designed to be challenging against the AI, so having a real human opponent can make them doubly so.

The sound and graphics in Fortress Italy are quite good compared to the average wargame, but definitely showing age compared to 3D games in general. Improvements have been made, but the visuals are still roughly the same as found in Shock Force, which came out a decade ago. I don't really mind that myself, since what the game is portraying remains very impressive. Hundreds of individually modeled soldiers running around on a realistically scaled battlefield, that is a feat to begin with. My one gripe is that performance continues to be an issue. There is simply a cap to what the engine can do smoothly, regardless of your PC hardware. On the plus side, the vehicle models and textures continue to be outstanding, down to the last rivet. Fortress Italy features some interesting camouflage patterns for many of the  vehicles, which are historically accurate as far as I can tell, and add some nice flavor to things. Sound is an area where Fortress Italy, like the other games in the series, is rather bland. Luckily, there are more than a few mods that one can freely download to give the gunshots and explosions a lot more punch.

The game also includes a powerful scenario editor for those who wish to build their own maps and scenarios. Unfortunately, due to the extreme time commitment involved to make quality maps in the newer CM games, there are only a few users out there with the time and ambition to do so. Since Fortress Italy is not the most popular game in the series, it has seen relatively few new scenarios made this way. 

Okay, so this review has rambled along for long enough. What is the verdict? Fortress Italy is a strong entry in the Combat Mission series. It offers a highly detailed, down in the dirt depiction of one of the most important campaigns in WW2. The terrain you will fight for is difficult; where Normandy had its hedgerows, Italy has impossibly steep hills and ridge lines. The Italians bring a unique flavor to the mix, with their hodgepodge inventory of tanks and outdated infantry. The missions are well designed and challenging, though I wish there were more, since you can never get enough. If you like the base game, you will certainly want the Gustav Line expansion, which takes the fighting from Sicily to the Italian mainland. It adds a lot of content, including the ever popular Fallschirmjager units, and a campaign where you lead the Polish forces that faced them in and around Monte Cassino. Finally, Combat Mission games are greatly improved by having all of the Game Engine upgrades. While not entirely necessary, they add many of the wishlist features that players have been wanting for years. For me, the highlights for Upgrade 4 were the changes to infantry behavior. Your virtual grunts are now smart enough to peek around the corners of buildings, and now understand the importance of proper spacing when on the move. Previously, large groups of infantry on the move had a tendency to "spaghetti" when covering long distances. They would move more or less in several single file strands, which is a very bad idea when charging a potential machine gun nest. 

Overall, I give the game a big thumbs up for fans of the genre. It just does things that perhaps only one or two other series out there even approach doing. Fortress Italy, like the rest of the Combat Mission series, has a few rough edges and is showing some age, but it still has a lot of great, afternoon consuming experiences to share with players that take it on. I think at times the Combat Mission games are almost too detailed for their own good, creating little edge cases where the simulation breaks down and takes away from the fun. However, this may just be the price for doing things so well the rest of the time, and at such an ambitious level of detail. I feel like I could write an entire article on just that thought, but I will save it for another day.

Finally, you don't have to take my word for any of this. Battlefront is one of the few game developers out there who continue to believe in the power of a quality demo being able to sell their game. Their demo for Fortress Italy contains four scenarios, including one from Gustav Line. Try it out, and see for yourself whether the game is for you.

Official Site:

Fortress Italy Page: 

Demo: Link to Demo Page

- Joe Beard


Grant's Gamble By Worthington Publishing  Worthington Publishing has graciously sent me a few of their games ...

Grant's Gamble a game by Worthington Games Grant's Gamble a game by Worthington Games

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

November 2017

Grant's Gamble a game by Worthington Games


 Worthington Publishing has graciously sent me a few of their games to review. I will start with the game Grant's Gamble. I picked this game because I have read everything I could find on the campaign, and have walked a lot of its battlefields. 

 After opening the box, I am pleasantly surprised. The game also comes with the units and an extra map piece to allow you to play McClellan's 1862 campaign. 

 The game uses small plastic blocks for the units. I have seen reviews about block games, but have never played one. The blocks need to have the stickers that represent the units attached to one of their sides. When seeing pictures of any block games before I couldn't help but think of 'Stratego'. I see now how this is just a simple and elegant way to simulate the 'fog of war'.

 The map is hardbound. It is not ablaze with colors or features, but at the scale we are playing it works just fine. The map is mostly of the state of Virginia with a bit of Maryland at the top. The game uses point to point movement to simulate the campaign. All of the components strike me as utilitarian instead of games where the developer tries to make  it a piece of artwork. There is nothing wrong with the artwork approach, but I have been playing games long enough to know it is the mechanics and rules that make a game and not the visuals. If the game is beautiful but sits on the shelf what good is it?

 After attaching all the stickers to the blocks, one thing becomes very clear. The Army of Northern Virginia and the other Confederate units are awash in a sea of blue units. I have played a good number of games about the 1864 Overland Campaign, but I do not remember the paucity of Confederate units being so visually brought home. It is probably because of the scale, which is for the most part Corps.

 The goal of the game is just as it was in history. For the Union, take Richmond or cut the railways to it. Richmond is worth ten victory points and Petersburg is worth five for both sides. The union player gets two victory points per turn if he can cut the railroad to both cities. For the Confederates, you must delay or as Lee said, 'strike them a blow'. Per Lee, if the campaign is turned into a siege of Richmond it is just a matter of time before the manpower and material of the Union wins.

 The rule book for the series is just eight pages long. The separate game rules for this game are just two pages. Worthington wanted the games in the series to be played, and not have the players debating the rules.

 The sequence of play is:

Weather roll

Check for replacements

Cap roll

First player movement

First player initiates battle

Check for victory for the second player

Second player movement

Second player initiates battle

Check for victory for the first player

End turn

 The weather roll sees if it is clear or rainy for this turn. If it is rainy all movement is reduced by one, unless it is the second rainy turn in a row, then movement is reduced by two.

 Supply in the game is rather abstract. When a unit is activated, it must trace a line to one of two points on the map without going through an enemy infantry or garrison unit for it to be in supply. Units that are out of supply lose one movement point, and may not receive replacement points. I think that cavalry should be able to block supply also. In actual fact raiding did not have a great impact in the eastern theater of war, but it did with the greater area of the western campaigns. When I am comfortable enough with the game system, I will look into supply a bit more.

The game setup for play

 Both the Confederate and union player receive one replacement point per turn.

 CAP (Command Action points)) are both at a three for each side normally. Both Grant and Lee are listed as having a command rating of seven. Using two die, if you roll a seven or above during the CAP roll you will receive one extra CAP point for your side. it takes one CAP to move a unit one point.

 Battles happen if both sides occupy a location. Battles take place on a battle board. Fortifications, mountains, and river crossings affect the odds in battle. There is a 'cavalry screening action' rule to simulate each sides cavalry ability to stop or slow enemy movement.

 There is an automatic victory rule for both sides. For the Union, it is if they occupy Richmond and Petersburg, or if the Confederate infantry strength points fall below fourteen. For the Confederates, it is if the Union infantry points fall below twenty-eight.

 Both leaders have a special ability in the game. Lee's is a reaction movement; any units stacked with the Lee piece can move to one adjacent location. Grant's ability is for the Union player to re-roll any one failed morale check during each round of battle.

 The Union player can also move one unit per turn, for two CAP points, from one friendly port to another. Thus, you can try McClellan's 1862 approach in the 1864 campaign. For the Confederates, there is a rail movement of two units per turn, at a price of two CAP points per unit. There is no rail movement allowed for the Union.

 The first battle has Grant and three corps (II,V,VI) attacking Lee in Chancellorsville with the Confederate III corps and a trench marker.

 The defender rolls six die, the number of rolls for attack are in the upper right hand corner of the unit. In this case a five, and one more die roll for the trench marker. Hits are achieved on a roll of six on each separate die. The three Union corps roll four die each (five normally, but one is subtracted for attacking across a river). The Confederates roll one six for a hit on the Union II corps, while the Union rolls two sixes for two hits on the Confederate III corps.

 After all hits are applied, the units involved must pass a morale check. You pass/fail the morale check by rolling one die per unit. If you roll a higher number than the number in the star in the upper left of the unit, you fail the check. The attacker checks his units first. In this case both sides' units all pass the checks. You can either voluntarily retreat from battle or be forced to. In this case, neither side wants to back down so we begin battle round two. The players then are able to roll two die to see if any reinforcements are available. The reinforcements can come from one movement point away. Two die are rolled and if they equal or are greater than the commander's rating, the unit can reinforce the battle. The Union player has no units near, and unfortunately for the Confederates both fail their reinforcement check rolls. The next battle has the Confederates rolling for two hits and the Union player for none. 

 After this round neither side retreats, and the Confederate II corps passes its reinforcement roll. The next battle round the Confederates make one hit roll and the Union three. On the subsequent morale check the Confederate II corps fails. 

  The Confederate player elects to retreat from battle. The side staying on the battlefield gets to roll one die for each of its units to see if they get a hit on the retreating forces. As it is during the battle rounds, you have to roll a six to get a hit. The retreating side can move one point away from the battle. If it were a forced retreat, the retreating force has to move two movement points.

 This is the situation after the Confederate move on turn one. The Confederate 1st corps has beat a retreat to be near Lee and the other two corps. If Grant attacks the isolated 1st corps, Lee's reaction move can bring the other two corps with him to the rescue. The only problem being is that because of the long movement of the 1st corps, and the retreat from battle of the other two, none of the Confederate corps are now in trenches. 

  To me, the game rules  make it feel like you are in Grant's or Lee's shoes. You want to do so much each turn, but are really hobbled by the amount of troops you can move, and actions you can take each turn. As the Union, you really want to get your corps fighting Lee's right away. On the other hand, you also want your other forces to start to put the squeeze on Richmond. As Lee you have to really pray your opponent makes a mistake that you can capitalize on. This game is a player's game. It is one that will sit on your table for a while with you playing game after game to try different strategies, and that is only the 1864 Campaign. After you are done with that campaign, you still have the 1862 one to try out.