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Your planet is under assault from ugly, violent invaders. Your innocent people have been killed by the score. Resistance to the host...

Attack of the Earthlings Attack of the Earthlings

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

February 2018

Attack of the Earthlings

Your planet is under assault from ugly, violent invaders. Your innocent people have been killed by the score. Resistance to the hostile aliens is the only option. Will you lead your people to victory over the evil invaders, these...humans?  That's the premise of Attack of the Earthlings, a new tongue-in-cheek tactical combat game that puts the player in command of deadly alien creatures fighting the humans  who are trying to rob a planet of its resources.

The humans are members of Galactoil, your typical evil galactic space corporation, have landed a huge drill on the surface, which carries the entire corporation within it. Starting down in the lower levels, you will fight your way all the way to the top over the course of several scenarios. At the very top is the Board Room, where all those smug executives are just waiting to get eaten by vengeful aliens. Each level gives you different tasks to accomplish, and occasionally throws some surprises at you. Early on you just need to kill off all the humans, but in some you must complete goals like defending a set location against waves of ever stronger enemies, or rescuing another alien before turning on the humans together.

Carol is looking just a bit under the weather. But certainly is not host to an alien parasite...
The heart of your force is the matriarch, a powerful creature which can kill humans, eat them, and then use the resulting biomass to spawn underlings at a frightening rate. The basic units you spawn, called grunts, can be evolved into three specialized units using more biomass. There's a sneaky backstabbing form, a big bruiser with lots of health, and a frail ranged unit.  The matriarch is powerful in combat, but losing it will immediately end your mission, so you will mostly rely on units created mid-scenario. Between levels you can spend points to upgrade the units and make them far more powerful. Some of these upgrades give direct stat boosts, while others give the unit type an entirely new ability. The better you perform in each level (winning quickly, taking few losses, among other factors), the more points you will be able to invest. Levels can be replayed for a higher score if you do poorly the first time around.

Attack of the Earthlings uses a turn-based combat system that should be familiar to fans of XCOM and the like. You get a limited number of action points for each unit each turn and can use those points to move or use abilities.  Each of the previously mentioned classes has a role to play on the battlefield, and your strategies open up as units gain more abilities. Depending on the "terrain" and your personal style, you may lean on one type of unit more than another.  For example, there are vents scattered around the levels that let units quickly move behind enemies or traverse large distances, but only the smaller classes can fit into them. On the other hand, you may be facing enemy types that punish melee attackers, so you will need to switch your ranged unit and pick them off from afar. The additional abilities you gain are key to winning the tougher fights as the game goes on. You'll soon be able to lay traps, distract enemies, and even mind-control humans to act as scouts and saboteurs. 

An important aspect of the combat is how stealth plays an important role. Enemies all have vision cones that your units must avoid to stay unnoticed. If they spot one of your creatures, the humans can react immediately and alert other nearby humans. Once alerted, guards will move their vision cone much more erratically and seek out your units. Your best course of action is to get to the flanks or behind every enemy and take them out one by one. Many of your actions, like opening doors, killing humans, or spawning new grunts generates sound. The range of the sound is visualized, so you can see if an action will draw the attention of a human. You can use this to your advantage often times, if you get creative.

The game includes some wonderful dialogue by the human characters, hitting various alien movie tropes and general humor. Since this is humor involving people being murdered and eaten by monstrous aliens, it of a decidedly dark and over the top style. Just wait until you bump into the most unfortunate turret to ever exist. Its AI was programmed to love and protect humans, but no one loaded it with ammunition. Hilarious tragedy ensues. I seriously laughed out loud at this game more than a few times.

The game is filled with wonderfully dark humor.
For those looking for a solid tactical strategy game, something like XCOM but without the global strategic layer to worry about, Attack of the Earthlings is a perfect fit. The only negatives I could come up with are the handful of bugs I ran into and the lack of much replayability. The bugs I reported and got a quick response that they are being worked on. The lack of replayability might be a bigger negative for some. The campaign contains a set number of scenarios, and once you finish them, which will maybe take ten hours or less, there isn't much left to do. There isn't a random scenario generator or anything else other than chasing a higher score. What is there is great, but you will finish it in fairly short order.

Attack of the Earthlings is available on Steam for $25.

Official Website:

- Joe Beard


V-COMMANDOS: SECRET WEAPONS If you are unfamiliar with the core game, I'd suggest looking at my original review , before going...


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

February 2018



If you are unfamiliar with the core game, I'd suggest looking at my original review, before going any further.  Otherwise, read on.  Perhaps, because V-Commandos up to now has largely been available directly from Triton-Noir, the publishers, it has created limited impact on the gaming scene.  This is a great shame, as the quality of production is excellent and I really don't think there is another game out there quite like it.  However, I've just received the good news [which you can read here] that it will be imminently available in the UK both through retail outlets and as always directly online.
An initial glimpse inside the box!

If you know the core game or have read my previous review, you'll know that Stealth is the key word and a significant aspect of play.  Going in hard with all guns blazing with immediately draw down on you a rush of enemy reinforcements and all too likely failure of your mission. 

However, as an expansion, Secret Weapons provides a new set of Operations thematically linked that will bring you more than a fair share of high octane, explosive action this time.  This fact jumps out at you as soon as you look at the sections in the Rulebook on Additional Equipment and Special Units.  Panzerfausts, mortars and gas barrels do not make for a quiet time!

When you look at the Operations themselves and the buildings related to them the prospect of dramatic action gets even more certain.  An airfield and two U-boat bases, along with a V2 rocket site and attempting to guard a stolen V1 rocket until an RAF plane can land to recover it, while blowing up nearby V1 rocket launch ramps as a distraction will truly set alarm bells ringing.

The whole expansion follows exactly the same format as the original base game, which is essential for play.  Every facet of the game is added to, starting with three new Commando characters: the Butcher, the Intelligence Officer and the Mortar Gunner.  Once again each card that outlines their special abilities and weapons is double-sided with modified or different elements on each.  As before, you can judge which side's strengths suits a particular Mission and also adds to the variety of the action.  The Mortar Gunner is perhaps the most conventional of the trio and the Intel Officer [the rather femme fatale figure on the box and rule cover] the most original in her specialities.
Though a purely cosmetic detail, I like the touch of signalling the character's nationality by the national flag edging to each card.  So, we discover that the Intel Officer is of Polish nationality.

Along w
ith three new characters come three new weapons: two of them, the panzerfaust and the mortar, add a hefty bang to the action, but the third I like even more and that's the smoke grenades and their effect.  These add to the signature stealth element of this system as they cause large tiles [where you are always visible] to be treated as small tiles[where you usually are able to remain hidden]; a very simple way of creating the concealing effect of a smoke grenade, though logically one that ought to generate more enemy attention rather than less! 

The final new piece of equipment, gas barrels, is not technically a weapon, but once you blow one up it eliminates all units on a tile unless they are wearing gas masks.  This point brings us nicely to some of the new enemy units - nine regular German soldiers with gas masks.  How convenient!  These nine replace nine of the original regular soldiers in the core set.  Also added to the German forces are a number of paratroopers, the Fallschirmjagers.

Representing all these items on the playing area are plenty of new tokens, as well as plenty more additions to those already provided in the basic game.  In fact, two sheets worth.
In the countersheet above you can see this mix of the old and the new.  The latter are the circular counters for gas barrels [marked with skull and cross-bones], panzerfausts and gas grenades, as well as two Goliath-nests for the other special unit, the Goliath - a mini remote-controlled tank packed with explosives.  The addition to already familiar counters are the grey oblong open/closed door markers and truck markers that indicate enemy entrance positions, as well as a few +1/-1 Action Tokens.

Beside the counters, there are plenty more Event cards which continue to add more colour and unpredictability to the action too.
Equally impressive are 13 more double-sided tiles for indoor/ outdoor locations.  

The set of 13 new tiles on their outdoor side before being pressed out of the sprue.

There are 5 new Operations presented, as before, not by a scenario book, but by a set of highly atmospheric cards, with plenty of sensationally dramatic scenes on them, like this one.

Each Operation's information is supplied by a set of two cards: one card gives the name of the Operation, its date and a map of Europe to locate it geographically.   

On the other side is a diagram of the terrains involved in this Operation and how they link up.  For those of you unfamiliar with the game, it's important to remember that the word "terrain" is not used of the individual tiles, but to describe a location created from placing a number of tiles.  To illustrate what I mean take a look at the next picture, which is the reverse side of the map for Operation Chained Eagle.

Each of the four areas seen above are what the game calls a "terrain", which then has to be created from a choice of tiles.  So, the Hangar is assembled following the diagram on the appropriate card, which also gives you information on the actions that have to be taken to complete this element of the Operation.

The other card provides an overview of the Operation.
and its reverse side gives specific supplementary information for added components, actions or restrictions relating to each terrain. 
So, here we see that the Commandos at the Hangar get extra equipment, while the Fuel Depot is set up with two reinforcement entrances removed from the terrain and the Test Facility has the awesome information that certain tiles are removed turn by turn to represent the building being swept by fire and any units on those tiles, whether the enemy or your own Commandos, are eliminated!!

However, as you can imagine, creating even one of these terrains takes up several tiles and a fair amount of game space.  This is fine for small Operations with only one or two "terrains".  But in this expansion, even the three smallest Operations involve three terrain and the other two operations are of four and five terrains respectively.

This can be dealt with by setting up one terrain at a time, completing the action on it and then moving on to construct the next terrain and so on.  However, as all five Operations begin with two terrain side by side, but with no ability to move from one terrain to the other, you're far better setting up each of those terrains immediately and playing them in parallel.  For realism, this should be how the action is executed.

This last suggestion also leads me to a factor which may influence your decision to add it to your collection.  First, I judge that it is very much intended for cooperative play.  You really want to be running two teams of Commandos controlled by a minimum of one player for each team.  That's not to say that you can't take on even the largest Operation playing solo, but it will take a significant amount of time.  The second point really amplifies that last statement; even if you do game with two or more players, be prepared to expend several hours for these are substantial scenarios.

It seems to me that the only reason why you might decide not to take the plunge with this expansion is if you have no access at all to a group happy to play for several hours.  Even with my preference for solo play in this type of game, Secret Weapons certainly convinces me that for this game multi-player has its appeal too. 

Everything in the package deserves your full attention and appreciation of the quality and the immersive game play.   These are richly rewarding, narrative-producing Operations.  I can't wait to see what the next expansion, V-Commandos: The Resistance brings.

Once again thanks to Triton-Noir for kindly providing a review copy.


Combat Infantry by Columbia Games  Tactical games, much more than operational or strategic ones, have been left ...

Combat Infantry by Columbia Games Combat Infantry by Columbia Games

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

February 2018

Combat Infantry by Columbia Games


 Tactical games, much more than operational or strategic ones, have been left in a quandary. The problem is how to represent movement, fire, and elapsed time in a coherent and logical manner, without the rules approaching the size of 'War and Peace'. Some of the most heated discussions online and off are about tactical games, and how each game does or doesn't fulfill the above in the gamer's eye. 

 Combat Infantry portrays the Normandy landings, and the fighting in the Bocage right after them. It is strictly a U.S. infantry and their supports against the Germans. More add-ons are planned to include other armies and terrain. 

 Columbia Games states "The game delivers a high level of tactical realism, yet is very playable". If you were going to sum up this game in one sentence, I do not think you could do better.

 The rule book is only twelve pages long. The game is a block game and uses that format to simulate the 'fog of war'. One innovative rule is that once a tank moves or fires, its block is shown face up for both sides to see. The designer states that infantry could locate and distinguish between tanks by their engine sounds. Listening to the different cars around my neighborhood in the morning, I believe he is correct. 

 The game focuses heavily on the command part of small unit tactics. You have both PHQs (platoon headquarters), and CHQs (company headquarters) to order your units with. The command/leadership rules really require the player to maintain unit integrity. As in real life, mixing up units from different commands is not a successful tactic. The game does not use cards. In another innovative way, the game also has no combat results table. I know, heresy, simply heresy. As I said, the rules are not long and are well written. It will not take long at all to start playing.

 It was meant to be a two player game, but the solitaire gamer has not been forgotten. You can play it just playing both sides, and there is an optional rule for a chit pull system for the enemy activation.

 The game's two maps are 16.5" X 22", and they represent the beaches and some territory further in. They are hard cardboard maps. The scale of the hexes is 100 meters per hex. The blocks are standard and there are 66 for each side (green and black). There are also 22 yellow markers to show smoke etc. The only problem with the rules and maps are in relation to the Bocage hedgerows. The rules are written as if the hedgerows were actually represented on the hex sides, where they are actually portrayed in the hex itself. It is really not that big of a deal, and once you understand the gist of the rules it becomes a non-issue. The line of sight rules are also easy to understand. The game comes with all of the rules and markers needed for tactical gaming ie. counters for foxholes, mines and barbed wire etc. Their are also rules for airstrikes. The game rules can be downloaded here:

 Here is a link to the games FAQ:

 This is the sequence of play:

1.0 The active player on the first turn is specified by the scenario. In each successive turn it is determined by a high roll on one ten die.

1.1  The active player activates any one HQ per company. When commanding multiple companies, the player will have multiple HQ activations, each resolved one by one.

1.2  Units in command (or have passed a no-command roll) can do one of the following actions: Rally, Fire, Special Action, Move. HQ actions take place after all other commands.

1.3 Assaults, units that have moved into an enemy occupied hex now trigger up to three rounds of combat per assault. 

 After all activations are resolved, the enemy player now conducts his player turn. Player turns alternate until both players complete four player turns. This then ends one game turn.

 This is just a synopsis.

 Deciding victory in the game is standard and straight forward. In each scenario certain hexes are victory hexes, and each eliminated enemy unit adds to your score.

 The rule book contains a 'what's not in this game' section, with an explanation of why. Some of these are:

"Opportunity Fire:
Opportunity fire, always a difficult game routine, was not that common in reality. World War II infantry and vehicles simply did not move through open terrain without clinging to every tiny bit of cover available, nor without fire support to keep the enemy heads down. The standard 'fire and move' tactics, where one or two platoons gave fire support, allowing the third platoon to move, was specifically intended to eliminate enemy opportunity fire".

"Status Markers:
Status Markers should not be missed. Cluttering maps and units with markers such as 'used', suppressed', or 'final fire' is not necessary. Units are upright, face-up,  or face-down depending on their action"

 Units have their blocks revealed by tilting them face-up when firing. One hit is scored for each die roll that equals or is less than the firing unit's (modified) firepower. So there is no need to cross reference a table. The unit either hits or misses. If it is a hit, the target unit's strength has one step deducted, and the block is flipped to its appropriate side. 

 You can use a headquarters unit to rally any unit under it, as long as it is in command range. If the rally attempt succeeds, the unit gains one step back to its strength. The unit is then flipped down on its face, and can do nothing else that turn.

 So, the question becomes does the game system work, and the answer is a resounding yes. One thing to keep in mind is that movement points are expended crossing hexsides, and not entering the hex. There are some innovations and changes from the usual in tactical games. So gamers should approach the game with an open mind, and not automatically look askance at it. Columbia Games has succeeded in making a highly realistic, but fun and fast wargame to play. As mentioned, different armies and theaters are to be added, and I am looking forward to them.



Wars of Succession by Ageod Distributed by Slitherine   It looks like we are back in the 1980's again. There is en...

Wars of Succession by Ageod Wars of Succession by Ageod

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

February 2018

Wars of Succession by Ageod

 It looks like we are back in the 1980's again. There is enough 'big hair' in this game to fill the places of a few hundred rock bands. It was an age of mighty giants, and some rather important short people (Peter the Great was 6' 8", and Louis XIV was 5'4"; it is amazing what heels and a tall wig will do). This game has it all for military history nuts: Marlborough, known as 'Corporal John', and the 'last Viking', Charles XII. Charles XII being one of the few to push back against the coiffures of the day. Battles from this time resound through the centuries. Poltava and Malplaquet, to name two among the many others. Well, enough of the history. What about the game?

 Ageod wargames have the ability to make gamers swear by them, or some to swear at them. I for one have never understood the latter. Ageod puts out obscure games that many others wouldn't touch. I like the engine and have never really had an issue with their games. Many people say that the AGE engine does its best work with wars earlier than the 20th century. I do not know if I would agree with that statement, but I have read many write ups praising this game, and I am in complete agreement with them. We can finally play not only the 'Great Northern War', but also the 'War of The Spanish Succession' on the computer, and as a bonus all in one game. 

   The game comes with five different scenarios. They are:

1. Grand campaign 1700 Great Northern war

2. Italy Scenario 1701-1702

3. Grand Campaign war of The Spanish Succession 1701

4. Spanish Succession 1706 Campaign

5. Spanish Succession 1709 Campaign

 The Italy scenario acts in some ways as the tutorial scenario, but only because of it's small size. So there really isn't a tutorial to play. Although to be honest the AGE engine has been around for a good long time, and there are plenty of YT videos and writes up about how to play Ageod's games. 

 Warfare, in this age and later, was much different than the late 20th century. Many more soldiers died of disease than in action with the enemy. Straggling and just plain running away from armies was rampant, even though if caught the punishments inflicted were draconian. If there is one thing that this game can teach you about 18th century warfare it is that your army, even if you are successful, can melt like an April snow storm. As the old adage goes, 'professional soldiers study logistics, amateurs study tactics'. It doesn't make a bit of difference if you have the greatest plan in your head for an offensive if you arrive at your destination with 1/2 of your army wasted from the ravages of dysentery. An old joke between American Civil War soldiers was 'how are you?' the answer was invariably 'passing well'. The weather in this game also plays a crucial part, as it should. In the 1709 campaign in Russia, birds died in the air mid-flight from freezing. You could also ice skate from Germany to Sweden across the Baltic. The world suffered from the 'Little Ice Age' from the 16th to 19th centuries.

  The game's scenarios do not play or seem like they were cut out by a cookie cutter, meaning that it actually feels like you are commanding an army and nation in this age. This is not a nation builder simulation, so do not confuse it with Ageod's 'Pride of Nations'. This is meat and potatoes for a wargamer and the AGE engine; even if it is long in the tooth, it still gives the wargamer a great experience. 

 The map is beautiful, and fits right in with the previous Ageod maps. The game turns are thirty days, and the form of the game is WEGO. This is where both sides command their forces to move etc. for the next turn, and then both sides move simultaneously. This means that each side does not have a clue of what the other is planning. You may attempt to attack your opponent, and then find he has moved in another direction. This means that this game has a very high 'fog of war'.

 The icons or pictures of the various commanders are very well done. I have to knock the game for one thing. The 'Wild Geese' (Irish Fleeing English Rule), and the Swiss are not in their red uniforms.

 The AI is good enough to keep you on your toes, and if you find the game much easier than some of us, the AGE engine has a ton of preferences to be changed to make it more of a challenge.

 The above shows the situation as it was in early 1709. The French had constructed a system of defense called 'Ne Plus Ultra' (literally 'no further'). The French nation was also on its last legs. They had been fighting wars for almost all of the last forty years. Crop failures and losses had meant that this was actually the last army they had to put in the field versus Marlborough. Marlborough determined to take the city of Mons. This set the stage for the greatest battle of the War of The Spanish Succession Malplaquet. Marlborough won the field, but at such a cost that Villars was able to report to Louis XIV "If it please God to give your Majesty's enemies another such victory they are ruined".

 The story of the campaign of Poltava in Russia where Charles XII finally faced defeat is just as thrilling. 


 The above screen shows the results after a battle.

 I am an unrepentant Ageod fan boy. I have every game that is in the long line of antecedents of this one. I still enjoy playing them, and this new beauty is one of the best as far as myself and many others are concerned. 



Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts   This is a book that has been...

Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts

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

February 2018

Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts


 This is a book that has been sorely needed. We hear about Hannibal's trek to Italy, and across the Alps. This is followed by his first battles culminating in the Battle of Cannae which is usually all we find. The next years from 213-203B.C. are mostly completely glossed over until his return to Africa and loss at Zama. Reading some of the accounts of the Roman generals during this time leaves us in a quandary. Invariably they have Hannibal losing battle after battle with the accumulated losses in the hundreds of thousands. Yet we know this cannot be true. So many losses are patently false, and the cities that went over to him would have switched sides to save their own hides. In actual fact his generalship, while superb in the first years in Italy, put him in the elite of ancient generals. It is the decade of 213-203 B.C. that cements his claim to fame to be the greatest of them. Carthage was no longer a naval power, so the help he received from home was minimal at best. It was his own brain and skills that kept a motley mercenary army together, and dangerous to the very end. In actual fact he was not forced from Italy, but left to deal with Scipio's threat to Carthage.

 Mr. Roberts cuts through all of the cobwebs and untruths to give us what really happened during all those years. He shows us that the Romans did have their triumphs and successes, but that Hannibal remained a tiger pent up in a smaller and smaller cage. On the Roman side the author shows us the exploits of Gaius Claudius Nero (what an unfortunate name) whose generalship has mostly been forgotten. 

 The book casts a piercing light into a time that is shaded in much shadow. I have read some of the author's earlier works and they, along with this book, makes me hope for many more. 


Book: Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203B.C.
Author: Mike Roberts
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishers


878 VIKINGS: INVASIONS OF ENGLAND from Academy Games If you've read my thoughts on games of 2017 and the year to come, you...


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

February 2018





Academy Games

If you've read my thoughts on games of 2017 and the year to come, you'll have had a brief glimpse of what will be my opening statement.  This game has been on my radar from the moment it was announced.  Having lived for the last 43 years in a town called Ormskirk in northern England whose name is allegedly derived from a Viking settler called Orm is but one reason for this fascination.

But I suspect the real reason is the age old allure from childhood onwards of stories both historical and mythic of the one word that struck fear and trembling into hearts - Vikings.  I am quite sure Academy Games would have been assured of success just by putting out that one word both as the title and as the only information needed about the game.  Still it helped that the name Academy Games was also part of the package!

Not only did that guarantee a quality production, but the little subscription on the box: Birth of Europe signalled that this was undoubtedly linked to an already well-established series, Birth of America.  If you are familiar with that series you'll have a good idea of what to expect.  So, without more ado, let's head for the back of the box [well you've seen the front already] and its contents.

If you are familiar with the Birth of America series, you may be surprised to see that the small cubes that represent the different forces units in these games are now little plastic figures.  They are very small indeed, but perfectly formed.  How you will view them is very much a matter of taste.  Personally, I much prefer them to the wooden cubes.  Others have expressed their liking for cubes. Chacun a son gout!

On the right are the red Viking Berserkers, to the rear the black Viking Norsemen, centre are blue English Housecarls, fronted by green English Thegns and finally on the left yellow Fyrd.  I do not intend to get in to any arguments about the use of the anachronistic  word English or the Housecarls rather than Huscarls or even why we've got one group purely of Berserkers.  No doubt there will be some of you out there doing just that, but for me this is a broad-brush game rather than an historical simulation.  As the advert for the Birth of America series proclaims - "Simple & Fun" and 878 Vikings continues that happy pronouncement with great success.

Though wooden cubes do the job well, I rather like this move to something that gives a little more visual appeal and all the other components add plenty of that.  The map of England continues the trend for pastel rather than strong primary colours.
As can be seen, the areas [called shires in the rules] stand out very clearly divided by their white borders, a small, but welcome detail and the set up for the two English factions at the beginning of the game are clearly marked too.  The pale blue circle at top right is used for placing units that flee from battle.

A set of customized dice and deck of cards for each faction and cardboard Leader standees constitute most of the remaining play components, along with a wooden Round marker, a series of cardboard discs and a large black bag and 4 large plastic cubes, one for each faction.
Nice large, customised dice
 Leader standees, with a rather red-nosed Alfred to the fore

Leader sheet, plus Viking markers for controlled cities

As with the high standard of so many games in current times, the many cards that are central to game play are of good quality and add a strong vibrant colour to the game.  [Some buyers have been unfortunate regarding inconsistency in the colours and poor alignment, but my own copy showed none of these problems. Also, Academy Games have a fine customer record on dealing with any problem.]

Each faction has their own set of cards.  The white cards seen below form the deck of Leader cards lettered from A to C and drawn in alphabetical order and the yellow cards are the Fyrd cards that are randomly drawn from in every battle where the English are defending a city.

Here you can see them in the perfectly constructed tray that not only holds all the components when packed away, but is designed to hold each faction's deck at an easily accessible angle for drawing.  Even the dice are neatly accommodated too, though you will want those permanently out on the table in easy reach, as there is plenty of dice-rolling to come. 

All this is backed by a very well laid out and detailed Rule Book, which opens with a first class depiction of the opening set-up.

Clearly labeled and numbered it takes you carefully through many key points that will augment your understanding of the rules.  Though there is an index to the whole set of rules, it is virtually superfluous to needs as the rules are very straightforward and accompanied at each key point by excellent examples, such as the full page one that accompanies the rules for the Battle Phase.

Only the presentation of the distinction between Leaders moving and battling first, followed by Armies without leaders moving and then battling has caused some confusion.

Following the rules section there is a substantial 2 page explanation of many of the different types of cards in the game, two short scenarios [Northumbrian Raids and the advanced scenario:Alfred's Gambit] and everything is rounded off with 5 pages of an Historical Overview.  This latter opens with an extract from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Perhaps if I'd had a copy of 878 Vikings back in my dim and distant university days, translating chunks of the above Chronicle might have been less dry and dusty!  Accompanying this historical outline are brief, pen-portraits of the significant Viking leaders [plus one female character, thought not included as a leader in the core game] and, of course, Alfred The Great, who makes his appearance on Turn 5. 

From physical components, I'll turn to how game plays, starting with an image of the set up of my most recent game, which was every bit as breathless and exciting as all that I've played so far.

The game can be played by 2- 4 players [and, like many other such games, solitaire, if you can be suitably mentally compartmentalised].  With two players one takes the Housecarls and Thegns and the other the Berserkers and the Norsemen, with 3 players one player takes both factions of one side and with four players each player takes one of the four factions.  The game play is admirably suited to whichever number of players you have, as communication between allied players is total team work, with both players on one team being able to look at their fellow player's cards and discuss and suggest actions and card play.  

There are seven Rounds maximum.  The game has the potential to end immediately if the Viking side has captured 14 cities or there is an even more likely ending.  At the end of any Round [from Round 5 onwards] that both factions of one side have played their movement card called the Treaty of Wedmore, then the game finishes and the Vikings are the victors if they have captured at least 9 cities - if not, the English are the victors.

In each Round the order in which each faction will take their turn is randomly decided by the draw of one faction cube at a time from a large black bag!  The only exception to this at the beginning of Round one when the black cube of the Norsemen faction must  automatically be first.

Each faction's turn begins with the placement of reinforcements.  This a very asymmetrical process with very different rules for each of the two sides.  For the Viking side, the first of their team's faction cube that comes out of the black bag will draw a new Leader card that determines on which coast his forces will land and the number of units that will accompany him.  A very important concept is that, provided an Army contains units of both factions of one side, then either player on that side can move such an Army when it is their turn. i.e. if an Army has Berserker and Norsemen units in it, then the Berserker player can move and battle with them on his/her turn and the Norsemen player can similarly move and battle with them when it is his/her turn.  Obviously the same is true for the Thegns and the Housecarls.
The consequences of this rule can be seen in this photo taken on Round one.  The first cube has to be black so the Norsemen begin the game and the very first Leader card is always the same as their is only one Leader card with the letter A.  As it happened, in the game I took shots of for this review, the next faction cube to be drawn was the red Berserkers.  So, with the Viking team getting two turns in a row, they made substantial inroads right across the north.

This is one of the hugely enjoyable aspects of game play.  As you wait to see which faction is drawn from the bag next, tension and anticipation constantly runs high for this and so many other reasons in the game.  Viking reinforcements are always significantly more than the English ones, as they are determined by the number of reinforcements on the Leader card.  For example, that very first Viking Leader brings 17 Norsemen and 8 Berserkers with him. 
[Notice how the Vikings have continued  their sweeping success - for the moment.]

When English reinforcements arrive, one is placed in each Reinforcement city for each icon of that faction's units.  As a result these reinforcement cities are prime Viking targets from the very beginning of the game to help diminish their sources.  They are also along with ordinary cities the goals for victory.  Reinforcements also include units that have fled from earlier battles. 

This is one of the very best inspirations of the game both for reinforcements and for battle resolution.  The specialised dice for rolling in battle include symbols of a fleeing soldier. For each one rolled a unit is removed to the blue circle I mentioned earlier.  Often the English player gets most of his/her supplementary reinforcements from this source, as the various English faction dice contain more fleeing symbols than on the Viking dice.  Far be it from me to comment on this bias, historical or not!

After the Reinforcement Phase, you play one of your cards that shows how many Armies you may move and how far each army may move.  Very simply a card that shows 3/2 means that a maximum of three Armies may each be moved up to 2 areas.  An Army constitutes any member of units in one area either with a Leader or without. 
Typical Movement cards

What follows is the one point that has caused some confusion, mainly because the Rule book divides play into the Leader Phase, the Movement Phase and the Battle Phase. If you choose an Army with a Leader, it must move first and resolve any battles that occur immediately. The Leader may pick up and drop off units as he is moved. If a battle is won by the Leader's Army and he has movement points left he can continue to move and partake in further battles, but with one point of movement lost if the battle isn't won on the first round of dice rolling.   [For the first four turns, the Vikings have free reign as they are the only ones with Leaders, until Alfred arrives with a comparatively feeble Army of 7 units - still every little helps.]

Then any Armies without a Leader can be selected. So, continuing the example above where the card showed a maximum of three Armies, you would now be able to move 2 Armies that didn't have a Leader.  But these leaderless Armies may not pick up or drop off units and must all be moved before any battles, caused by them entering an enemy occupied area, are resolved.
[A later stage of the game shows central England largely occupied by the native English with part of southern England having fallen under Viking sway.  It also dramatically shows how fortunes can change.]

These small nuances of play are very successful and innovative, as is the Battle sequence.  Each faction rolls its own special dice: this combined with specific limits on how many dice can be rolled are for me more of the quality concepts of the game.  Berserkers may roll a maximum of two, as can Housecarls, while Thegns roll a maximum of three dice.  An additional feature is that whenever the English are attacked in an area containing a city, they draw a Fyrd card which will add from two to five yellow temporary Fyrd units to the battle.  These are marvellous canon fodder for helping protect your other units, though they do have a tendency to flee! Also at the end of a battle, even if the English win, any surviving Fyrd units are removed from the board.
Here are the two extremes of what you might get to supplement your defending English battle line: a solid five units, nicely illustrated with an older, clearly better armed individual or a paltry two units with a picture of a feeble, lanky individual who's clearly incubating a dark-age dose of  something nasty!

Adding to the uncertainty of battle and other elements of the game are the Event cards.  In total each faction has a deck of 19 cards of which you will only ever play with 12.  You always include cards numbered 1-7 that are movement cards.  In the base game, you then add Event cards 8 -12.   When you feel comfortable with game play [or if you're a daring type, right from the start], you choose 5 Event cards from the whole set of cards 8 - 19 to craft your hand.

Again, I rate this highly.  But there are pros and cons depending on your temperament and especially on your attitude to randomness.  I've chosen that last word very carefully, because a few who have reacted less favourably to 878 Vikings have done so on the cry that there's too much luck involved.   I would agree that there is a fair number of random elements;  starting with the play order being determined by blind draw, battle dice [if you can't live with dice, then as they say, "if you can't stand the heat, better get out of the kitchen"] and Event cards.  Frankly, only the random player order seems any different from the majority of board wargames, whether light like 878 Vikings or heavy like the Napoleonic La Battaille series.

I like the uncertainty of choosing five from the full range of Event cards, as I'm very happy to play a game in which my actions react both to the known determinants, but try to plan to cope with the unknown as well.  However, if you do prefer more control, either just play with the initial first five Event cards [or show you opponent the five you have chosen before shuffling them into your final deck of 12 cards].  That way you do not know exactly when these Events will occur, but know what you will eventually have to face and, as the Rounds progress, you know that the likelihood of the appearance of those not yet played is growing stronger and stronger.

This is obviously not the intention of the game, but I offer it as a suggestion for those who want less uncertainty.  Whatever your preference, the cards are very well designed and strikingly visual, illustrated in dominant colours that I hope will  please those who thought the map a little too pale in palette.  They contain clear instructions, backed by an additional two pages of explanation of many of them in the rule book.  They also have attractive side banners that are colour-coded to each faction so that you know exactly in which player's turn they can be played and text tells you in which Phase they can be played.  

Above are two such Event Cards: both belonging to the Norsemen player.  The Black side-banner showing the Norsemen player can play it in his own turn, while the blue/green side-banner indicates the Norsemen player can play it during either the Thegns' turn or the Berserkers' turn. Below the title of the Event you can see which Phase it is played in.

The resulting combination of all that I have described of gameplay provides a swift flowing game of action and reaction.  There is very little downtime, even with four players. In battles, all players who have units involved will be rolling dice and possibly playing an Event card, while discussion of tactics, which Armies to move and where, how many units to drop off or pick up, what targets to prioritise, will flow freely throughout the game.

All in all, a fun game with plenty of action and one whose subtleties of strategy reveal themselves the more you play.  This first in the series entitled Birth of Europe contains many of the features found in its parent series Birth of America, but for me 878 Vikings is the best in the line to date.  I would love to see this system brought to the Wars of the Roses or the 100 Years War.  So, Academy Games I hope you might be listening!