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Interview with Games Designer,  David Thompson Today, I’m going to be putting some questions to David Thompson , the games designer ...

Interview with Games Designer, David Thompson Interview with Games Designer, David Thompson

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

October 2018

Interview with Games Designer, David Thompson

Interview with Games Designer, 
David Thompson

Today, I’m going to be putting some questions to David Thompson, the games designer currently best known for the superb solitaire game, Pavlov’s learn something of his background, gaming thoughts and future designs.

The obvious and easy factual starter is what was your path into the gaming world? 

I began my gaming life when I was about 10 or 11. I started with AD&D. At the time, AD&D was making the transition from 1st to 2nd edition. My brother and I had picked up the core rule books for 2nd edition, but the campaign setting info for the 1st edition of Forgotten Realms. We had no clue they were different editions - and we didn’t care! The game kept us busy for countless hours. We also dabbled with things like HeroQuest, but we always came back to D&D. RPGs were my primary gaming interest through my late 20s and into my 30s. I knew about some other tabletop gaming stuff - mostly things like miniatures (Warhammer and the Clix games specifically come to mind), but it wasn’t until I was married and had kids that I discovered “hobby board gaming”. 
Once I discovered everything that board gaming had to offer, I jumped into the deep end and never looked back.

Do you consider yourself more of a wargamer or more of a Eurogamer and why?

Wow. Great question. My favorite game type is the Waro/Weuro (Wargame-Euro hybrid). But I would take that a bit farther and say that any political or historical game (including those with a war theme) and Euro mechanisms are my favorites (think games like Freedom: the Underground Railroad, 13 Days, etc). 
I spend more time working on wargame designs than Euros, but more time playing Euros (they are much easier to get to the table with my family).

Which games stand out for you on the way to deciding to design your own game?

A Few Acres of Snow (AFAoS) is probably my single biggest design inspiration, Halifax Hammer*be damned! [*a move credited with being an unstoppable game winner]  I love deck-building and deck-manipulation as a core mechanism; it allows for the ability to model all sorts of interesting things in an elegant way. AFAoS was one of the first to take deck-building and tie it to a spatial element. This influence can be seen in many of my designs (some that are still in development with publishers), but even my abstract strategy game War Chest owes some of its lineage to AFAoS.

What were some of the other influences and reasons that led you to design and produce your first game? 

My first game design has never been published, but gives a good idea about my path to board games in general and design specifically. About the time I got married and had my first child, I was looking to create a game that borrowed from some of my favorite game inspirations. I wanted to make a game that combined tactical elements from tabletop RPGs like D&D, gameplay from tactical RPG video games like Final Fantasy Tactics, and miniature tabletop games like Mage Knight (the original Clix game from Wizkids, not the board game). At the time I really didn’t know about board games, and there weren’t very many examples of board game / miniature game hybrids (now 1,376 of them are released every week on Kickstarter!). So, the result of this was a game I created called Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse. Over the years this design has been signed by a couple publishers but never actually made it to publication. The core design concept (a streamlined board game / minis hybrid) is no longer unique, which makes it a tough pitch these days, but it helped me discover the world of hobby board gaming and will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Your first professionally published game, I believe, was Armageddon, which was co-designed with Chris Marling and published by Queen games.  Can you give us some idea of that experience and your choice of topic? 

In 2014 I moved from the US to the UK. I landed in a village just outside of Cambridge, where there is an amazing designer and playtest community. One of the designers there is Chris Marling, and we instantly became friends. Chris had been working on a core mechanism for a game he called From the Ground Up. The conceit was a city-building game set in a post-apocalyptic setting with a unique sort of auction/area influence mechanic. We worked together on the game for a year or so. At Spiel 2015, we pitched the game to Queen. It was one of our first meetings of the con, and Queen signed it on the spot. It’s extremely rare to have a game signed on the spot by a publisher, so we were super happy. The next year, the game was released at Spiel. Queen pushed it big time at the con, with a huge roll out, including something like 40+ demo tables. To say the experience with my first published game was a positive one would be an understatement.

Your most recent game Pavlov’s House was a Kickstarter project published by Dan Verssen Games.  First of all, what was the experience of being part of a Kickstarter project like and secondly of working with DVG? 

I’m going to flip my response around, because I think it’s a more natural flow. 
Working with DVG has been both unique and great. It’s unique in the sense that I essentially did all the design, development, and art for the game. Dan and crew at DVG were responsible for working with the printer, fulfilling the game, and customer service. So, from a creative control perspective, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. Everything in the final game, for better or worse, is my fault! And Dan, Kevin, and Sarah at DVG had to work on all the stuff that I have zero interest in.
I was a collaborator on the Kickstarter, which meant I could modify the page, respond to questions, etc. Pretty much everything except change stuff like pledge levels. If you had to define the Kickstarter experience in a single word, the word would be “stress.” I was a nervous wreck in the days leading up to the launch. I assumed a handful of people would be interested in Pavlov’s House due to it having been a fairly popular print-and-play project on BGG. But I had no idea it would get the support it did.

[Got to say that doesn’t surprise me, i.e. the huge support the game got - as I was one of those hooked from the very start by topic, mechanics and the company that was going to publish the game and, of course, inspired me to both review the game and then ask you to do this in-depth interview.]

But moving on. Is there a particular group of gamers or games club that has helped you with playtesting? 

There are a few different groups that I use for testing. Like I mentioned earlier, I lived near Cambridge for the last four years. Playtest UK is the world’s largest design and playtest group, and there is an extremely talented and active chapter in Cambridge. The designers in the group (folks like Brett Gilbert, Matthew Dunstan, Chris Marling, Trevor Benjamin, and more) are always gracious with their time, and provide amazing feedback. And there’s a core of great playtesters who will provide honest, critical feedback.
I also use my personal game groups, once a game is beyond the initial design phases. With these tests, I’m usually more interested in observing the group and gauging the play experience rather than looking for critical feedback.
And then there are remote testers who either create a print-and-play copy of the game or test the game online. I use Tabletop Simulator to both design and test games, and I usually make a playtest version available to those who want to test it for me. In the past I have also used Tabletopia and Vassal for this purpose. 
In the end, I get a good combination of critical feedback from designers and dedicated playtesters, in-person gaming groups, and blind playtesting using both physical and digital implementations.

What was it like to experience being at UK Expo 2018 demoing some of your games?  Any particular stories to tell there? 

I attended UKGE every year I lived in the UK (from 2015-2018). It has been amazing to see the convention change over time. It has grown so quickly, and is run so well. In prior years, I was primarily there to play games and pitch to publishers. In 2018, I was able to demo one of my new releases (Orc-lympics, published by Brain games), show off the pre-production copy of Pavlov’s House, and show off a prototype of a game I have that’s coming out within the next year or two from Phalanx (a post-Cold War political strategy game called Europe Divided). 
The single best experience from the convention was meeting up with Andrew Powell. I had met Andrew in person for the first time the previous year at UKGE. Prior to that, we had chatted online due to his interest in Pavlov’s House. Andrew became one of the most impactful testers for Pavlov’s House - so much of his input changed the game for the better. He also introduced me to a Facebook Group (Solitaire Wargamers) that has become an amazing support community for my designs, and ultimately led me to working with DVG on the game.

Your other game, War Chest, published this year is a very different, more abstract design.  What took you down this different road? 

The road to War Chest was a long, winding one. I mentioned earlier that its lineage can be traced back to influences like A Few Acres of Snow. Just around the time I was moving to the UK, I had started working on a World War 2 platoon-level deck
building game. After the initial design was complete, I began to develop it with a close friend and design partner (Trevor Benjamin). As we were finishing the development of that game, Trevor suggested the idea of boiling the game down to a MUCH more streamlined design and replacing deck-building with bag-building. The initial sketches of that concept still look very much like the final, published version of War Chest, though we iterated on it for a year, running countless playtests to ensure balance across all the different unit combinations. Despite its elegance as an abstract strategy game, it is extremely asymmetric and provides for a TON of possible unit combinations because you draft your group of unique units. I’ve never been happier with the final result of one of my games. AEG spared no expense with the production, using extremely high quality chips for the units, and the graphic design (by the super talented Brigette Indelicato) is elegant and beautiful.

Another recent design Castle Itter is currently in development too, I believe. Can you tell us something of the game and any details of its possible release? 

Castle Itter is based on an amazing WW2 story. If you’re not familiar with it, stop reading this now and go Google it. [I did – and I really recommend that those of you reading this do so too!] Prepare yourself for a story so amazing that people wouldn’t believe you if there wasn’t historical proof. In short, Hitler is dead and the war in Europe almost over, but remnants of the SS fight on. In the game, US tankers and infantrymen join with Wehrmacht infantry, an SS officer, French VIP prisoners, and an Austrian resistance fighter to defend a medieval Austrian castle against an SS assault. See - I told you it was unbelievable! Castle Itter was the design where I first created the tactical game elements that were also featured in Pavlov’s House. The game is being published by DVG and is set to launch on Kickstarter in early-to-mid November 2018.

Personally that’s fantastic news for me.  However, the game I really would love to see taken up by one of the major companies is the embryo design you mentioned earlier, Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse.   What are the possibilities of seeing that happening? 

Well, as I mentioned before, Skirmish Tactics Apocalypse was my first game design and my first love. I spent years (literally, about five or six years) working on the design. Over time it has been signed by a couple publishers but never made it to publication. I’ve made the entire game (three settings, six factions) available as free print-and-play files, and the game can be played for free on Tabletop Simulator. I’ve considered pitching it to publishers, but the market for hybrid minis/board games is so crowded these days that I’m not sure how much demand there would be for it. But I’ll never say never.

I don’t think I’d be a lone voice in saying I would love to see it snapped up.  I know what you mean about the crowded market, but everything I’ve seen of your designs makes me believe there’s still room for at least one more sci-fi tactical hybrid! 

Finally, I’d really like to thank you for taking the time to reply to all my questions and wish you every success with all your future projects.  


Stalingrad Inferno on the Volga by Vento Nuovo Games    Rattenkrieg; the word conjures up visions of hell on ...

Stalingrad Inferno on the Volga by Vento Nuovo Games Stalingrad Inferno on the Volga by Vento Nuovo Games

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

October 2018

Stalingrad Inferno on the Volga by Vento Nuovo Games


 Rattenkrieg; the word conjures up visions of hell on earth. It speaks to us of enemies fighting and dying for yards or feet. Soldiers of both Germany and Russia collapsing exhausted meters away from each other, trying to get some sleep. Food or water, their thirst and hunger would never be able to be satisfied. It was death, plain and simple, with just a trickle of soldiers able to carry up supplies to the 'front lines'. Some houses had Russians on one floor and Germans on the next in a weird puzzle like creation. The battle has been called 'Verdun on the Volga'. This was because it was one of the few World War II battles that approached the desperate fighting for little or no gain as in the Western Front in World War I. In this review, we take a look at Vento Nuovo Games 'Stalingrad Inferno on the Volga'.

Back of the Box

 Let us first take a look at what you get with the game:

33" x 24" map of the city and it's environs
Over 130 wooden blocks and markers
More than 90 Russian and German Combat Units
Six, six-sided die
Two metal miniature planes
Rules for Solitaire and Multiplayer
Four Difficulty Levels
Two Red Draw Bags 

Rules Manual

 Like the two other games I have reviewed of Vento Nuovo's, the components are very well done. The blocks are smaller than their other games at 5/8". The map is the masterpiece of the components. It represents 30 km of the the Volga' with each hex being a huge 1.1km in size. It was made by piecing together different air reconnaissance pictures right before the storm hits the city. The area of play has 109 of these extra large hexes. The Germans control only four hexes in the beginning. The playing cards are also very well done. The are also easy to read with very well done pictures.
 The German Card Deck gives the player four different Leader cards to possibly play: Paulus, Hoth, von Richtofen, and Linden. As an example, the Hoth card gives the player the use of Combined Force Bonus and Blitz movement. 

 The Soviet Cards have three leaders: Chuikov, Zaytsev, and Khrushchev. The Chuikov card allows the Soviets to always perform Opportunity fire when defending and Soviet Hasty Attacks are now Deliberate Attacks.

The game offers FOUR different modes of play:

Solitaire (German player versus Soviet AI)
Cooperative (two German players vs Soviet AI)
Competitive:2 (German player vs Soviet Player)
Competitive:3 (two German players vs Soviet Player)

Dice etc.

 The game itself has only one scenario, but it does have some 'what if' changes to troops, etc. This will make it either easier or harder for each player or solitaire play. The game is big and the rules try to add as much history and flavor as they are able to. However, this is not a monster game in length or rules. Game play was designed with a one hour gaming session in mind. So this is a players game, not a stare at the board for an hour before each move. The rule book itself is only twenty pages long. It is in full color and uses large type so it is easy to read. The rules are explained well and are simple, yet let us use a word used to describe other VN games: elegant. The designer describes his long fascination with the battle of Stalingrad. He also goes into detail about the numerous sources he has used to make the game. 

This is the turn sequence of play:
1. Call for Reinforcements
2. Make One Long Movement
3. Make up to Two Short Movements
4. Make One Hasty Attack
5. Make One Deliberate Attack 

Blocks from both sides

 The Germans have a chance to win the game, just don't dawdle like they did once they first got to the city. L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace. Get to the Volga' as quickly as possible. For the Russians, it is the complete opposite. Do not waste your troops. Dig in and let the Germans come to you. Only counterattack when it is absolutely necessary, or you see that your enemy has made a mistake you can take advantage of. The game achieves its design in being a fast paced game that you could probably play though a few times on game night.

Wooden play aids

 These are the victory conditions for both sides:
German Decisive Victory:
A.The Germans control all six Soviet Spawn Hexes OR
B. There are no Soviet Units on the mapboard

Soviet Decisive Victory:
A. 10 German Units (each of the five Units marked 'R' count double) OR
B. Immediately when the last Card is drawn from the Soviet deck

Draw bags

 The game has so many different ways to play. You can play: Easy German Level, Easy Soviet Level, Impossible German Level. There are also additional rules that the designer recommends to play with. The game lists the solo mode as having a 'Soviet AI'. Unlike most games, this one can actually boast of this. Many times, games are built from the ground up as a two-player game, and then have a solo mode tacked on at the end. The short easy to understand rules will have you playing in no time. Your first few games will naturally take longer, but the later ones will be just as advertised. Vento Nuovo Games has been able to take a large complex battle and tame it to simple to follow rules. However, they have not made it a 'beer and pretzels' game. It is deep and full of historical flavor. 'Un bellissimo e bellisimo gioco'. Google translate gave me two different versions, so I hope it works. Unfortunately, all I know is Italian swear words.



Two Deaths at Amphipolis Cleon VS Brasidas In the Peloponnesian War by Mike Roberts   Ah, the Peloponnesian Wa...

Two Deaths at Amphipolis by Mike Roberts Two Deaths at Amphipolis by Mike Roberts

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

October 2018

Two Deaths at Amphipolis by Mike Roberts

Cleon VS Brasidas In the Peloponnesian War


 Ah, the Peloponnesian War; what would be a better day than to sit back and just read a book about it. What would make it better is to read a great book about it, like this one. Firstly, it is misnamed. The book goes back into history before the Peloponnesian War, and then continues with a full history of the war up until the duel at Amphipolis. The book then naturally goes through the history of the war in that period. What follows is an epilogue about what happened right after the death of both men.

 In the book, Brasidas is described as pretty much an unusual Spartan. He has many ideas that are not very Spartan in nature. He also appears to be rather quick thinking. This is another trait that the Spartans were not known for at the time. Cleon, on the other hand, shows up as a typical Athenian crowd pleasing type of politician. 

 Brasidas is really the main character in the book once he shows up in the war. The clash between Brasidas and Cleon is at the end of the book, right before the epilogue. Brasidas and his very un-Spartan ways of conducting war, and his successful campaign in the north of Greece to attack the Athenian allied cities there, is gone into detail. Brasidas is an explorer and a man who seems to love adventure. He has in many ways an Athenian outlook, and not a Spartan one. The Athenians were very lucky that Brasidas died when he did. They were also lucky in that no other Spartans were willing to take up his mantle at the time. 

 I have actually read this book about two times in the short time I have had it. This was mainly because it really gives the best information on the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. The book is also very clear and concise on the above history. I have read other books by the author and am looking forward to reading many more. Mr. Roberts co-wrote the two volume 'The Wars of Alexander's Successors'. He also wrote 'Hannibal's Road', a history of the Second Punic War in Italy. Do yourself a favor and pick up a book of his; you will not be let down. 

Author: Mike Roberts
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishers


Nations At War Compendium by Lock 'N Load Publishing   The Nations at War Compendium is exactly that. It is a r...

Nations At War Compendium by Lock 'N Load Publishing Nations At War Compendium by Lock 'N Load Publishing

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

October 2018

Nations At War Compendium by Lock 'N Load Publishing


 The Nations at War Compendium is exactly that. It is a repackaged volume of all of the Nations at War scenarios from the Lock 'N Load Line of Fire Magazine, Airborne, and Operation Cobra expansions. This is a list of what you get with the package:

Four Double Sided Seasonal Maps
Two Counter Sheets With Over 175 Counters
One Color Module Booklet
Thirty-one Scenarios
Three Campaigns Totaling An Additional Thirteen Scenarios


 This is the list of some of the scenarios:

Escape At Dunkirk
Jubilee - Dieppe Raid
Barce Libya
Juno Beach D-Day
Point 213 - Michael Wittmann at Villers-Bocage
Operation Goodwood

The three campaigns are:

Operation Cobra

 The compendium says that you need both White Star Rising Second Edition and Desert Heat Second Edition. They are required for the scenarios in it. However, I have checked through the scenarios and with what you receive with White Star Second Edition and the counters and maps from the compendium, it seems that you can play most with just them. There are a few that Desert Heat Second Edition are essential for. The new maps and counters also mean that a player's imagination can run even wilder with homemade scenarios.

 These add on scenarios and campaigns for the Nations at War games are well worth the cost. You get a lot of bang for the buck (sorry had to). As you can see, one of the scenarios allows you to try and recreate Michael Wittmann's mayhem at Villers-Bocage or play the English and try to stop him. The aforementioned scenario, along with the two Operation Goodwood scenarios, are my favorites of the ones I have played. The compendium just adds to the depth and breadth of the Nations at War games.



Overview Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal was released in 2016 and is a squad-level, tactical, hex and counter wargame. The Pacific ...

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal & US Army Expansion Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal &  US Army Expansion

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

October 2018

Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal & US Army Expansion


Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal was released in 2016 and is a squad-level, tactical, hex and counter wargame. The Pacific Theatre of WWII holds a massive interest for me; despite my living a figurative stones throw away from a lot of European WWII history.  I am just in awe of the willing and persistent sacrifice of both sides' combatants in a theatre that arguably comprises the most bloody battles of WWII, Guadalcanal included. To say I was eager to review this game would be an understatement.

CoH:Guadalcanal focuses on the landings of the US Marines onto the strategically important island of Guadalcanal and their subsequent defence of the island and the vital airfield it offered to the Americans. This action was at an early part of the Pacific War and is the first major allied offensive against the Japanese who had been enjoying a string of victories as they successfully invaded large chunks of real-estate in the South Pacific.  I think it is useful for wargamers to understand the context in which any wargame is set and Academy Games have done a fantastic job setting-the-scene with a rule-book littered with designers notes and a three-page [campaign introduction] that describe the strategic situation in which the players cardboard chits find themselves.
Inside pages of rules and firefight book


The game contains 12 firefights that play out the Marines defence of Guadalcanal against increasing numbers of Japanese forces. The rule-book follows a programmed instruction method whereby players can read a scant 9-and-a-bit-pages of rules before playing the first fire-fight (I estimate that includes about 3 pages of examples and designers notes). 

If you are an experienced wargamer, there are lots of similarities to other rule sets that will enable you to be up and playing very quickly, for example the Line of Sight and blind hex rules were very familiar and the overall terrain defensive modifiers are almost exactly the same as in other tactical-level wargames. These similarities are all wrapped in a combat system and turn structure that is completely unique, as far as I can tell, to the Conflict of Heroes line. The rules are also very well written and littered with a plethora of gameplay examples, it was a rare case where I had to look up a rule in which either it wasn’t immediately obvious from reading the rule or there wasn’t a relevant example to clarify the situation.
The first firefight
Many good wargames reduce the IGOUGO problem by allowing an opponent to Op Fire a moving stack or react to a move. CoH completely removes the IGOUGO problem by alternating turns between players after every action is resolved. The players only have 1 active unit at a time and 7 action points to spend on that unit. The different actions cost a different number of action points and when they are all spent, or if a player decides to activate another unit, that counter is flipped to its 'spent' side. I really like this mechanism, it not only indicates which units have already moved (my memory is very grateful) but it removes any down time as you're only waiting for your opponent to make one action e.g. a single unit moves one hex, before it rolls back to you. It also means that as a player you're constantly having to evaluate whether your plans remains sensible in light of your opponents last move or whether you should adapt and activate a different unit, potentially losing Action Points.

All combat actions are quickly resolved by 2d6 modified by unit attributes and the environment. The combat system is very intuitive, easy to teach and if you're reading the rules by yourself, to learn. In essence you add the firing units Attack Rating to 2d6 for your Attack Total. The Defender adds any defensive modifiers from terrain to their Defence Rating. If the attack value is greater than or equal to the defence value that unit is hit. When a unit is hit another counter is placed face-down underneath which will affect the units attributes and available actions. Two hits on the same unit eliminates that unit. That's essentially it, although the action cards do add a nice layer of immersion.
The Action Cards
The combat system is really quick and I didn't feel that it was missing any crunch that we wargamers often yearn for. Attacking units use one of two Attack Ratings printed on the counter dependent on whether their target is a vehicle or personnel target. Defending units use one of two Defence Ratings printed on the counter depending on which direction the attack is coming from.  In my experience the direction individual units are facing is rarely modelled in wargames. Here, it is seamlessly integrated into the combat and adds a level of tactical consideration that I enjoyed e.g. should I activate this unit to turn and face the encroaching enemy and receive the best defence possible thereby losing my opportunity to attack with this other unit?

In overall terms of complexity this game is a little lighter (and maybe more fun?) than GMT's Combat Commander series, which does suffer a little with the IGOUGO problem. To stretch a bad analogy, if Advanced Squad Leader is like completing and filing your own tax return (some masochists enjoy it), Combat Commander would be like planning a monthly budget and realising that you've actually got money left over (always nice to see), CoH:Guadalcanal is like getting lucky after taking a punt at the betting shop (Let’s try that again…). In my face to face plays of this I felt like I was having more fun for a very similar level of enjoyment when compared to Combat Commander series.  If I did score games this game would get top marks for fun and also for the amount of [historical backgrounds] provided for each firefight. Academy Games have a reputation of releasing fun, educational games and in that they've excelled themselves with CoH:Guadalcanal.

Fully loaded box

One of my biggest dislike of many wargames, and I still play them so it's not that big, is that in a lot of them the players have a perfect knowledge i.e. the players can see all terrain and unit attributes and plan accordingly, there is no fog of war. This is not necessarily a bad thing in a wargame as long as the scenario is balanced, you're then playing against your opponents tactics and trying to mitigate the randomness of the dice. However, there is an extra level of immersion when you're fighting with fog of war modelled. CoH does a good job of this as your opponents do not know what effects their hits are having on your units and players can attempt hidden movement, or even setup hidden, in cover terrain. This is a very important tactic of the Japanese player and when it works it is, depending on your perspective, either a beautiful moment of bravery or an excruciating loss. Unfortunately, you're not provided with anyway to mark hidden movements but the rule-book recommends to print out maps from the Academy Games website to record hidden units on. You can also download all of the firefights and rule-books for the entire CoH system and expansions which I think is a good sign for the level of support that this game continues to receive.
Firefight 4 - Japanese have held out so far...
There are very clear differences between WWII-era military forces of America and Japan, their moral, funding, equipment, ethos etc. feel different in reality and should feel different when playing them in a game. In this game, and many others, I am always pleased to see those differences being part of the game system. Apart from the usual elements of Attack Rating and morale or Defensive Rating being different depending on the unit and nationality you also get a pool of hit counters specific to each nationality. I should highlight that in each firefight the Japanese player has to add from 1 to 5 'No Hit' counters into their mix. This is a great boon to the Japanese player effectively giving their unit an occasional additional hit, or more, before it is destroyed. This is a subtle yet very effective way of modelling the apparent bravery/personal disregard of the Japanese troops under a 'banzai charge' for example.

However, the biggest change to the CoH system is the addition of Bushido Points for the Japanese player. This allows the Japanese player to achieve firefight-specific objectives to get Bushido Points which give them more Command Action Points (CAPs) per round. CAPs are distinct from Unit Action Points and allow players to interrupt their ‘activation’ and use other fresh units to immediately react to their opponents actions.  This is a necessary escape from the on-rails Unit Action Point system and it gives players a real feeling of making important and timely tactical decisions.  The Japanese player should always have an eye on those point-awarding objectives.  The Command Action Points also permit easy balancing of the game when pitting players of vastly different experience of the game against each other, which I found really useful when introducing the game to newcomers and it is not often considered in wargames.
Command Tracks and Players Aid


The counters, which break the wargame mould of 1/2" and 5/8" counters, are a glorious 1" of real-estate to pick up and stack, as with all CoH games.  On a purely physical accessibility measure this wargame beats any other that I have seen. I can see wargamers with poor eyesight being able to play this when other wargames are no longer legible. Additionally, Academy Games have provided a hard plastic organiser in which to store all the counters. This is hands-down the best stock insert I have ever seen in a wargame; other wargame publishers should take note. There is more than enough room in it for all the counters from the base game and the expansion to be, not just stored, but even organised into nationality, unit type and even system counters by type as well. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that, after the outlay in time and money of storing other wargames' counters.
Left to Right: ASL, Combat Commander, Conflict of Heroes
Best Insert Ever
The maps, of which you get 4, are satisfyingly geomorphic and depict the terrain in a photo-realistic style, the trees even have shadows!  Initially, I didn't like the artwork on the maps, thinking that it was just getting in the way and too busy, but these criticisms largely evaporated through game play. The only minor gripe with the components that did remain is that the hex sides and hex numbers sometimes were too dark to immediately discern them against heavy jungle hexes but this was not a significant hindrance.
Into Mirkwood

The Expansion

The expansion adds 5 firefights and several more units with which to play with. The first firefight of the expansion - The Last Banzai, The Fight for Henderson Field: The Second Night, picks up where the 11th firefight of the base game finished, i.e. at the end of the first night during the Fight for Henderson Field. This is a really nice touch and provides players with sense of continuity between the base game and the expansion. These two scenarios are however 4 player, behemoths and I couldn't arrange a 4 player game to cover the two firefights so we played two-player and still had a blast.
Some of the expansion components


In an ideal world I would have liked the expansions firefights and units to have been included in the base game as they feel like an integral part of the base game. The game is excellent without the expansion but the expansion’s firefights have to be printed from the Academy Games website. The OCD collector in me would have liked them to be in the same book or at least a book of the same paper and print quality as the base game’s firefight book. You only get a single page of paper introducing the new units and rules for mine along with a single punch-board of tokens which costs $25, this feels a little steep.

Prior to each round starting, which is made of any number of player turns, the players roll 2d6 for initiative which determines who is going first. This can be altered be spending Command Action Points but this mechanism felt a little arbitrary and I recall one player looking a bit annoyed that they had lost the roll six times in a row. C’est la Vie!


I really enjoyed this game, and not just for its theme. The combat system is simple yet it captures everything that I would want and it exposes the nuance in different fighting attributes of both forces whilst remaining balanced. It could almost be classed as introductory wargame but even a veteran wargamer would find a lot to enjoy in this system.  There are no game-slowing table look ups and your actions and decisions come around so quickly, sometimes it’s a relief when the Round ends and you can take a short breather; I want all my wargames to have this quality. I will still evangelise for Combat Commander, but now I may be inclined to offer this up as a more fun experience, i.e. less downtime, fewer rule look-ups and plays quicker than other tactical squad-level games.

I would like to thank Academy Games for the review copy of this game.

Publisher: Academy Games
Players 2 – 4
Designer: Uwe Eickert, Gunter Eickert, Dean Halley
Playing Time: 60 minutes to 120 minutes
MSRP: $90

You can currently get the Guadalcanal and US Army Expansion bundle from the Academy Games website for a sale price of $80.


Shortest Trip to Earth by   Interactive Fate and  Iceberg Interactive If Shortest Trip is telling you one thing, it’s that sp...

Shortest Trip to Earth Shortest Trip to Earth

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

October 2018

Shortest Trip to Earth

Shortest Trip to Earth


Interactive Fate and  Iceberg Interactive

If Shortest Trip is telling you one thing, it’s that space is a pretty terrible place.  There are asteroids to avoid, giant space worms looking for their next meal, even a race of rat people trying to burn holes in that metal tube you call a spaceship.  The space faring survival game, currently in early access on steam, is all about getting your crew of poor saps out of the coldest depths of space back to the warm embrace of, you guessed it, Earth.

Your crew's time in each star system will mostly be spent traveling
between planets looking for resources.

Finding their way back to earth requires your crew to warp between star systems using up what limited resources they have.  Your crew will spend their time in most systems looking for additional resources;  in particular the search for fuel seems like the never ending priority.  Resources can be found in most systems through mining planets, bargaining with traders, or through other random events. But space isn’t as empty as your crew may hope and often they will encounter opposing spaceships resulting in a battle that may result in new modules that can be fitted into your ship.  Or typically in my case, a  game over screen requiring a restart from square one.

It’s combat where Shortest Trip shines.   Combat mostly  requires you to direct individual crew members to manage ship modules like shields, weapons, sensors and so on.  But mostly, your crew will be busy running around the ship fixing whatever mounting damage they can before their only way home comes apart.   Considering that you mostly issue these orders in real time while choosing enemy ship modules to target and how to divide the ship's energy among your own modules, and you get what the game play is like.  The hectic nature of the  game play always feels like things are  a moment from going terribly wrong.  In other words, it’s exactly what you think space combat should feel like.  It’s ultimately a blast that will keep you coming  back for more punishment.

But wait a second,  this is all starting to sound a little familiar isn't it.   Of course it does, Shortest Trip is strikingly similar to FTL released almost six years ago right down to the colorful graphics.  A game that is also about  the realtime management of a spaceship crew as they venture through space.  FTL is a good game; a very good game.   So, I won’t necessarily complain about the developers borrowing heavily from FTL.  And besides,  maybe after six years fans of FTL are ready to see what can be added to the formula FTL seemed to help perfect.

Even patching holes require the right resources.  
What Shortest Trip does add to  FTL’s formula is mostly complexity. For example,  instead of just fuel, you will now have to manage multiple resources.  Your crew will require food (imagine that) and raw materials to patch up holes in the ship.  Combat can involve fending off multiple ships at once. Planets in  star systems can be explored in a non-linear fashion. Crew members and ship modules come with numerous stats to obsess over.  Good or bad, these additions tend to make the overall experience an even more difficult one than FTL ever was.

If you played FTL to death and are looking for more, or just want to try your hand a managing a spaceship with all odds against you, Shortest Trip is definitely worth a try. But is it worth purchasing during early access?  The multitude of star systems are divided among ten levels with only the first five levels currently available.  The last five levels as well as additional ships, modules, weapons, crew, and so on are promised as the game approaches release in January.  That being said, there is still plenty of content to keep a wanna be captain busy for some time.  If you plan to wait for a full release, I do plan to revisit game during that time to see what's new.

If you want to begin your trip back to Earth, head onto steam to purchase Shortest Trip.


Preview of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games and Veitikka Studios  It is big and it is beautiful, and it ...

Preview of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games and Veitikka Studios Preview of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games and Veitikka Studios

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

October 2018

Preview of Armored Brigade by Matrix Games and Veitikka Studios

Preview of Armored Brigade


Matrix Games


Veitikka Studios

 It is big and it is beautiful, and it is all dolled up to come to your home in a short while. I believe it was Ty Bomba who said "Nato, Nukes, and Nazis" sell wargames. By the amount of gamers that want to wargame a possible World War III, I believe he is right. In lieu of a box cover I have used this pretty painted pachyderm.

Main Menu Screen

 I have had the privilege bestowed upon me by Matrix Games and Slitherine to take the soon to be released Armored Brigade for a spin. To sum up the game in one word, it is 'excellent'. The game play and components added are exactly what you would want and expect from a Cold War gone hot land game. Each side's night fighting capabilities etc. have been factored in. However, the greatest part of the game are the abilities that the game gives you when you generate your own missions. First,we have the maps; you can make your own or use any size that come with the game. These can be from as small or as large as you want. One of the very interesting parts of the game is that neither side knows exactly where all of their objectives actually are. The years that the game can model the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces are from 1965-1991. You have four preset choices for your forces: Armored, Mechanized, Infantry, or Dynamic, although you can pretty much mix and match for any force you want for both sides. So, you can see that the player gets to play with a vast amount of choices to make any mission you can envision. Unlike many other World War III games, this does include Finnish forces.

 At the moment there are no campaigns, and few scenarios that you can jump right into. As we mentioned, the mission generator is pretty easy to use, so you will be up and firing in no time. In talking with the developer, campaigns will be added as DLCs later on. This game is meant for single player only right now.

 Just remember that these screen pictures are still of a preview version and they could change.

Here is the link to the trailer:
Fulda Gap Map

 I had downloaded and played the free version a few years ago and it was a good game. Now it has really grown up. The game has been described as a cross between the Close Combat Games and Command Ops. I think that hits the nail right on the head. The following Twitch stream of the game is all encompassing. Just so you know, it is over 2 1/2 hours long. About half of the video is on how many choices you have in generating a mission. Yes, there is that much stuff to play with. The other half is actual game play. Here is the link:

 Armored Brigade also has dynamic weather which you can see in this video: 

Warsaw Pact Setup For The River Crossing Scenario

This Is A Close-up Of The Above Scenario



Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing   Hitler, the worlds worst poker player from 1941 on, was just as fool...

Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing

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

October 2018

Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing


 Hitler, the worlds worst poker player from 1941 on, was just as foolish in his foray in North Africa as elsewhere. The Germans had had to intervene once more for the Italians' sake in a theater of war. The Afrika Korps under Rommel gave as good as it got into late 1942. The German North African campaign is a study in what not to do logistically. Because of early foolish decisions on their part, the supply to their North African troops was spotty at best. The Afrika Korps is then beaten at the Second Battle of El Alamein in early November 1942. Then the Afrika Korps begins reeling backwards towards Tunisia. Next, the Allies invade North Africa with the Torch landings. Hitler decides to double down on a bad hand and proceeds to put in as many troops as he can spare into Tunisia instead of cutting his losses. This is the back drop for the first battle between the American Army, with some Allies, against the German Army. This battle was, in reality, a relatively inconsequential one in the scheme of World War II battles. The Germans had no real master plan for the battle (the game shows this nicely with its mechanics). All they could possibly do is forestall their inevitable defeat for a little while. So that is it for the history. 

First Counter Sheet

 Here is the components that come with the game:

  • BCS rulebook (version 1.1, in full color)
  • Two BCS Charts and Tables
  • BCS Crib Notes Booklet
  • BBF Game Specific Rulebook
  • Two 22” x34” Full Color Game Maps
  • 560 Counters (one sheet of units and one BCS marker sheet)
  • 6 scenarios total, 3 one-map scenarios
  • Box and Dice 

One part of the Map

 These are the scenarios that are included:

  • Kasserine Campaign, 2 maps, 10 Turns
  • Operation Spring Wind, 1 map, 4 Turns
  • Mid-Campaign Start, 2 maps, 5 Turns
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 1 map, 5 Turns
  • End Campaign Start, 2 maps, 3 Turns
  • High Water Mark, 1 map, 3 Turns 

Another part of the Map

 The game itself is the second one in the 'Battalion Combat Series'; the first one was 'Last Blitzkrieg' about the Battle of the Bulge. If one were able to travel in time to say 1978, one would really only be surprised about how the components and rules of the game were miles apart from any other game you looked at. This game does not come with all the bells and whistles that some new games come with, but so what? This is a hex and counter game that any wargamer from 1978 would immediately recognize and probably want to play. Age is a thing that varies in many different things. A forty year old Ali or Tyson, not good. An eighty year old Rolls Royce is a work of art. So just because the game follows an older pattern does not really mean anything. If the original pattern for a dress still looks good today, why change it? An aside: I have no problems with bells and whistles and actually like them, however a game does not have to have them to be good. The old analogy of putting lipstick on a pig works well here.

Marker Counter Sheet

 The first thing you will notice about the components is that while the game does come with two full counter sheets, the amount of units is very small. You will not need to be juggling stacks or using tweezers in this game. The game's complexity is higher on the scale than most of the games I have been reviewing lately. To explain, this is not a knock on the game. Sometimes a deep war game is exactly what the doctor ordered. The fact that the longest scenario is ten turns, coupled with the fact that there are so few counters, helps the learning curve immensely. The game states that it is a medium complexity one, with solo gaming also getting a medium.

Back of the box

 The sequence of play is:

1. Pre-Turn Phase
   1. Reinforcements and Weather
2. Assignment
    1. Both players can change units to (or from) support and/or assign (or reassign) Arty Asset Points. There is no Assignment phase on the first turn of any scenario.
3. First Player Determination
    1. If not assigned by the scenario, both players roll two die. The highest wins.
    2. Activation Phase: Players alternate Activating Formations
    3. Flip and/or orient  HQs to their Unused sides.
4. Game Turn End

   As with most series games, there is a rulebook for the actual series and another smaller one for the game itself. The series rulebook is forty pages long. It is in black and white, with some red inserts for certain game features. The rulebook also has a good number of colored examples of play. The rulebook for the game itself is sixteen pages long. The actual rules for Baptism by Fire game are only four pages long. The rest of the booklet are the scenario setups and it also has four pages of designer notes and historical background. There are also two 'Series Rules Crib Notes'; these are for version 1.1 , and are very handy for the players. The charts and tables for the game are on a two-sided sheet. The maps are very well done and pleasing to the eye. They are somewhat colorful given the terrain they have to show. The counters are 1/2" in size and I have to admit they are a bit busy with the printing on them. Older eyes might have to glance at them more than once to make sure exactly which one you are looking at. They use the standard NATO symbols so that is a help. The ground scale in the game series goes from 500m to 2km per hex. The maps are huge in comparison to the amount of actual unit counters. There are two full sheets of counters, but roughly one third are actually unit counters. The Designer notes explain that because of the actual conditions during the battle, many stories show how bad the mud conditions were. The road network is much more important than most people are used to in North Africa games. One of the game's main points is to show the infighting on the Axis side about what exactly this offensive was supposed to do, or what its goal was. Rommel, Kesselring, and the Italian High Command all had their spoons in the soup. The campaign game starts on 2/14/43. The real suspense starts on the 2/19/43 turn. It is then that the Axis player pulls a chit to see which objective he is really going for; is it Tebessa or Le Kef? So up until that turn the Axis player must try and make some headway to both just in case. The Allied player is equally left in the dark for the entire game, but can usually guess by the 2/19/43 turn which one the Axis player has pulled. The other scenarios all start with the Axis player knowing what objective he is headed toward. One of the other designer features that went into the game is that the American forces did not in reality perform as badly as they have been portrayed. There were some problems at the higher echelons, but the actual individual units showed themselves pretty tough for their first time seeing the elephant. The game's other rules follow the typical wargame ones with some of its own takes on the subject. Zones of Control, Terrain effects (on movement and combat), Command radius for HQs, Stack Activation and Movement, are all here. One rule that is different than most is the ability for a player to try for a Second Activation of a Formation in one game turn. The way this is handled is immediately after the first Activation, the owning player rolls a die and checks it against the HQ's Rolled Activation Number. Attack and defense during combat is decided by the addition or subtraction of Combat Modifiers. Then two die are rolled to determine the actual consequences of combat. This is called the Combat Table instead of the CRT.

 The game is, for lack of a better word, tense. It is mostly due to the above design decisions. The game rules are based on the real world strategy of keeping your units together as a cohesive force. A player who willy nilly throws separate units about the board will pay for it. To help the new player even more, there is even a glossary of the terms used throughout the Series Rulebook on page four under '1.6 Terms'. There is also an excellent 'Designers Notes' section in Series Rulebook. This goes into the gestation of the game series and all of the thought processes that went into the rules. You will see that the Battalion Combat Series was an offshoot of the Operational Combat Series. It is a very interesting read and follows the designers' rough road to actually bring this series to what it is now. I know the first game in the series 'Last Blitzkrieg' received many kudos, but it is a monster game. Baptism by Fire will allow many players who were put off by the latter's sheer scale to enjoy the series with a much smaller time stamp. For someone who has only a small interest in the North Africa campaign, I seem to be reviewing a lot of games about it. Even with my lack of interest(I am not interested in the Battle of the Bulge either), I know a good game when I play one. The way that the game keeps both sides guessing in the longer scenarios is excellent. The Axis player has to try and push forward to both objectives. He cannot afford to gamble on one or the other. The position is reversed for the Allied player. He must defend both objectives as well as he can. MMP have come up with a real winner. Having short scenarios which only use one map makes the game playable for even people with limited space, or who can only keep a game up for so long.

 I received permission from 'Hugewally' on BGG to post these excellent inserts for the  counter bags for this game. I have never seen their like, and am kicking myself for not thinking of something like it much sooner. Speaking of BGG, the game was a nominee for the Golden Geek Best Wargame of the year in 2017.

 The game has been given a high rating by players on BGG, and here is the link to the game on BGG: