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Damnation: The Gothic Game is a last-person standing game of killing your friends.  Throughout the game, you will probably find yourself...

Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview

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

October 2019

Damnation: The Gothic Game - Preview


Damnation: The Gothic Game is a last-person standing game of killing your friends.  Throughout the game, you will probably find yourself cackling with glee as you submit your friends to the fiendish rooms and traps littered throughout the Vampire’s castle.  Of course, everyone will be trying to do the same to you so don’t laugh too quickly.

Gameplay

There are some simple mechanics to this game which reflect the game’s original printing nearly 30 years ago. Move aside roll-and-write; roll-and-move and player elimination are alive and well if this game is anything to go by. Generally, I don’t like either of these dated mechanisms but the designer of this game has taken sensible steps to reduce the annoyance factor of both.  The new design has added an abundance of features and variation to the game to keep fans of the original and modern-gamers appeased.
6 unfortunate souls - ready to die
The roll-and-move irritation is actually turned into a welcome decision space by two of the game's mechanisms; a hand of up to five action cards, and your character’s talents.  The cards can be played during your turn for a variety of effects and each player has access to four talents which may allow them to affect their movement.  Of these talents, two will be common to all players (these common talents allow you to roll an additional movement die or to re-roll a die) and the other two talents will be unique to that character (some also affecting movement).   Together, the cards and talents give you lots of immediate decisions every turn to mitigate a ‘bad’ roll.  Although after multiple plays of this the only bad rolls are those in which your opponents are controlling your movement.  Don’t let this happen.
The Gentleman, about to not be gentle
Once you’ve used a talent you must discard a talent token, you start with three.  During the game, you will recover talent tokens but you can never have more than three tokens and you can never have more than one token on a talent, ready to use. All players have a unique inherent talent which could be used each turn if applicable without spending a token.  I haven’t played enough to see if the characters are all balanced but in the majority of the games, I have had the player who ends up controlling the Vampire is favoured – more on that character later.

It’s a rare thing to play a game with player elimination these days; even if you’re obviously losing and there is no chance to catch-up, a lot of games require you to limp along making weight.  Not so in Damnation: The Gothic Game.  This game outright wants to kill you, apparently there are 49 different ways to die … but I guarantee that if you are the first to die you won’t be looking to join another game, you’ll stay and watch the rest of the carnage unfold.  Not only does the game play in about 60 minutes but it’s so much fun watching instadeath happen to the snivelling git who caused your own untimely demise.
The Aristocrat is walking a dangerous path
During a players turn two d6 are rolled, the first indicates the number of spaces your character can move (a natural 6 allows an additional movement roll to be made) and the second is a ‘castle die’ which can land on 1 of 4 unique faces.  The first is a castle, which allows you to draw a card into your hand or as an immediate event; the candle face allows you to move an extra space – it’s surprising how often that extra space can be tremendously helpful; a trap face, which prevents you moving past any trap during your movement – a lovely sight for your opponent if they have the power of adjacency…and finally a blank face after which nothing happens.
Move 8 (exploding 6) and draw a card
If you end your movement on a space adjacent to another character, or within range of one of your weapons (cards in hand) you can choose to control the movement of that character on their next turn or attack them.  As tempting as it is to constantly attack all the things, the power of adjacency is really where the serious damage can be done.  Moving a character into a trap or slide space is a delicious feeling.  It could either mean instadeath or even better, a slow demise into the depths of hell as they try in vain to escape their doom <Mwah hah ha>
Can you see the Grim Reaper?
Most rooms have some unique rules that apply if a character enters them.  In general terms whenever a character enters a room not only will they be safe from anyone declaring the power of adjacency or attacking them but they will also draw a card from that room’s specific deck of cards.  This could either be an immediate event, an action for later use, or a weapon.  These cards and their inherent humour are really what make this game stand out for me; each deck is themed to the room and the art and flavour text are great, but most importantly their effect on the overall gameplay is a huge positive.
There are lots of cards to enjoy
Just when players are starting to get comfortable with the game's rules, the game will pull the rug out from under your feet after a players death in which a Deathknell card is revealed.  These cards alter the fundamental rules of the game so that each game is never boring or feels the same.  I haven’t seen any ‘game-breaking’ cards in the Deathknell deck, each one I have seen has caused some amusement and then often another quick death followed by another Deathknell card reveal - rinse and repeat.  Once players start dying, it’s often a case of who can hang on the longest and you won’t need to hang around for long!
Every piece of art is unique
However none of that talks about the Vampire, at the start of the game everyone is just your average scum-bag looking to kill every other scum-bag in the castle.  The first scum-bag that enters the Vault will become the vampire and will start mercilessly preying on the rest of the players.   The vampire just has to end their movement on another scum-bags’ space to bite and kill that player.  However this power comes with a great vulnerability, the vampire only has six turns in which to hunt before he needs to return to his coffin.  There are lots of lovely thematic touches like this littered throughout this game which complement the art and feel of this gothic horror world.
Vampire doing his thing
With a full complement of 6 players the game will take a little over an hour.  However, it does reward repeated plays.  On my first two plays of this (with different groups) everyone was initially quite timidly exploring the castle without following the core-ethos of the game, i.e. attempting to kill your friends as quickly as possible.  Just exploring the castle in itself was quite a fun game (due to the card art and flavour text) but nothing like the cut-throat brutality of players who know what to expect and are familiar with the rules and are looking to kill you from the first turn.
Nobody's dead yet
I had a four-player game of this with 3 new-to-the-hobby gamers and we were all playing inside 15 minutes.  I may have missed a few rules out as I was learning myself but it’s not a long teach despite the variety of general rule exceptions.  Once players are familiar with the game a turn will generally be finished inside 20 seconds at the most.  There is already very little downtime for any player and even less if you’ve claimed the Power of Adjacency over an opponent.
The current crop of visitors
I would recommend this for gamers and non-gamers.  It’s easy for non-gamers to grasp the more traditional roll and move mechanic but there's enough here to keep your generalist gamer happy too.  It won’t appeal to many self-confessed Grognards nor anyone with a delicate temperament. If you can’t see the funny side of being kicked when you’re down (figuratively) or have been known to flip a table or two because of a bad roll or an event killing your character, then move on, you won’t like this game. 

Components

I have only played on a prototype prior to the Kickstarter launch and I have no doubt that some of the components and content will change.  However, the thing that most struck me about these components at this stage of development was the art throughout the game.  Every card has unique art and there are lots of cards in this game.  The art also has a very distinct and consistent style across all components, which was not something I was expecting to see of a prototype.  The artists have done a fantastic job.
A difficult, but worthwhile room to enter

Criticisms

The only criticisms that I have not already addressed (i.e. roll-to-move and player-elimination) is one of scaling and a lack of rules reference. The game suggests 3 to 6 players. I would recommend a minimum of four.  At three players the castle feels a little empty, unless there are 3 tortured souls hanging around the table to see the rest of the gruesome death action, (watching their friends’ characters die).  This is a similar feeling I get when playing a league match of blood bowl, often a non-playing coach will attend pitch-side to see all of our respective failed rolls, injuries, deaths and laugh.  As long as you approach this game with the same humour you’ll be in for a good time.  At four or more players the game shines.

The lack of a rules reference meant I was regularly looking up the unique rules of rooms when characters entered them.  I'm sure that knowledge will come after 3 or 4 games but it was a common request to either have an on-board legend for each room or player-aid.  I feel a bit miserly even commenting on this as it is a prototype and I'm sure the designer will want to address this for the final design.

Conclusion

Damnation: The Gothic Game is a self-published production coming to Kickstarter at exactly the right time in its development.  Blackletter games are very much an indie games company taking on the behemoth of the modern board gaming market and they have every reason to be proud of their first game.  It’s often hilarious, mostly bloody and full of surprises.  Go take a look at the Kickstarter page when it launches on October 24th.

Publisher: Black Letter Games
BGG Page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/273955/damnation-gothic-game
Players: 3-6
Designer: Kris Rees - redesign of The Gothic Game
Playing time: 1 hour (ish)


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Okinawa! by Tiny battle Publishing  It is April 1945. The Allies are bombing Japan with Superfortresses from...

Okinawa! by Tiny Battle Publishing Okinawa! by Tiny Battle Publishing

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

October 2019

Okinawa! by Tiny Battle Publishing





Okinawa!

by

Tiny battle Publishing









 It is April 1945. The Allies are bombing Japan with Superfortresses from the Marianas Islands. Okinawa is the next island closer to Japan. It is actually large enough to have ports and could be used as an emergency strip for the bomber streams to and from Japan. Iwo Jima was the last island that the Japanese would try to defend at the beaches. It has taken them a while, but the Japanese have worked out two different strategies to deal with the US invasions. The first, as mentioned, is not to defend the beaches, but tunnel in and defend the most defensible part of the island. This hopefully would negate at least some of the US's overwhelming firepower. The second is the 'Divine Wind' Kamikaze. This is the name of the storms that saved Japan from the Mongol Invasions almost 800 years ago. So, the stage is set for the game.

 This is what comes with the game:

176 counters with which to stage your desperate struggle.
1 striking 22x17-inch map.
1 rulebook to rifle through.
1 Player Aid Card to call in reinforcements.
A non-military issue Ziploc bag to billet your troops.

You’ll need to requisition two D6 from your divisional quartermaster.

(Tiny Battles quips not mine, but I like them.)





 This is the sequence of Play:

Reinforcement and Amphibious Assault Phase
Command Phase
Air and Naval Operations Phase
US Movement Phase
US Combat Phase
Japanese Movement Phase
Japanese Reserve Phase
Japanese Combat Phase
End Phase

 The counters are 5/8's in size. They are your typical plain Jane NATO counters. The main thing is that they are large enough and the colors used make them easy to read. The map is mostly of the Southern part on Okinawa. It does have plenty of off map boxes for all of the different areas and holding stations. It is easy to read and well done. The color choices on it match the counters as far as being easy on the eyes. The rulebook is twenty eight pages in length and is in color. The components are all well done without any flair. They are of a high standard, but not 'artistic'. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a game that is meant to be played, not a work of art for the wall.




The Scenarios include:

1. Start of the Nightmare - Turns 1-4 and does not cover the Air    Campaign
2. The Shuri Line - Turns 4-9 The Air Campaign is abstracted
3. The Thunder Gods  - Naval-Air Scenario Only
4. Okinawa! A Fools Day's Work - Turns 1-12 Full Campaign
5. Okinawa! Free Setup - Turns 1-12 Free Setup




 What actually makes the game unique is the designer's ideas and the choices he has made behind those ideas. The later Pacific battles are to some gamers, in a word, boring. The Japanese are tunneled in and the US and Allied forces have to burrow them out. Oh, you do have the occasional Banzai charge. Playing the Japanese, let alone the Allies, to some people borders on tedium. But I digress; back to the designer. His historical notes are worth the price of the game by themselves. He realizes that the Kamikaze campaign was not some last ditch hare-brained foolish idea. It was a well thought out decision that fit the realities of the Pacific campaign at the moment. The 'Great Marianas Turkey Shoot' had shown the Japanese that conventional air strikes against the Allies were useless. They only resulted in the loss of the plane and pilot for NO REASON. The Allies had become so advanced in Carrier Warfare that they were practically invulnerable. As the designer shows, the Kamikaze were able to not only lessen the Japanese losses, but they actually damaged the Allies. A Japanese pilot that attacked an Allied Carrier force was a dead man at this stage of the war. There was no way around it. He could spend his life futilely trying a conventional attack or spend it by actually damaging the enemy. That was the choice, pure and simple. The designer 'gets' it. He is one of the few (very few) people who understand the actualities of the Pacific War at the time. He is not finished in his heresy though. He  also understands that the last cruise of the Yamato (Operation Ten-Go) was not a one way ride to Valhalla. It was a military operation meant to coincide with a large kamikaze attack. The Yamato had enough fuel to get to Okinawa and back. The Yamato's sister ship Musashi had proven that she could take punishment like no other battleship ever, and still keep up a good speed. Because most of the US pilots had concentrated on the Musashi, the other ships escaped mostly unscathed in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The timing of Operation Ten-Go is one of the Japanese player's biggest ace up his sleeve.




 There is one design decision that I am iffy about. This has to do with the difference of opinion between the Japanese Commander Lieutenant General Ushijima and his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Isamu. Isamu was still a proponent of the Bushido way of Japanese warfare. Meaning that the will of the Japanese soldier was more important than the physical reality of the Allies' firepower. Because Isamu actually forced his view on the commander twice during the battle, the game mechanics follow this. The Japanese player has to roll on the '32nd Army Stance Table' during his part of the turn's Command Phase. The table is different for each of the three months of the battle. If 'Defense' is the result of the die roll, then the Japanese Player can do whatever he wants that turn. If it comes up 'Counterattack', then he must attack with at least two regiments or lose the game. Only one counterattack per month must be mandated. If the Japanese Player attacks on his own with at least two regiments that fulfills the monthly obligation.  




 So, we have deduced that I agree with most of the designer's way of thinking. What about the darned game? It plays well from either side. Yes, the Japanese are mostly just trying to defend as long as possible and inflict as many casualties on the Allies as possible. You can attack as the Japanese, although as a strategy I believe it falls flat as it did in reality. If they had not attacked out of their bunkers, the battle would have lasted longer. As the Allied commander (there is a British Carrier Force with you), you have to take the Island as quick and as casualty free as possible. The Japanese player wants to be like murderous fly-paper that you just cannot get rid of. The game rules turn what could be a slog into as interesting a conflict as it was in reality. The Allies have tremendous Naval and Air Forces at their command. They can pummel the Japanese pretty much every turn if they are left alone. The Japanese Player has only ten 'Kikusui' (air strikes) to unleash on the Allies for a full game. He cannot afford to strike every turn. I liked the first game Tiny Battle Publishing sent me to review even though it was a bit unconventional. This game, due to the designer's fore thought is a great representation of the battle. Thank you Tiny Battle Publishing for allowing me to review this gem. You can find some links below.

Robert

Tiny Battle Publishing:

Okinawa!:

My review of ' Rifles in the Pacific':





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UNDAUNTED: NORMANDY from OSPREY GAMES This is a review I've been waiting to get to in a rather full schedule for several...

UNDAUNTED: NORMANDY UNDAUNTED: NORMANDY

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

October 2019

UNDAUNTED: NORMANDY

UNDAUNTED: NORMANDY

from

OSPREY GAMES

This is a review I've been waiting to get to in a rather full schedule for several weeks.  Undaunted: Normandy has hit a perfect niche in my wargaming collection.  I've become a big fan of David Thompson's designs which have started to attract several companies' attention, as evidenced by the superb system introduced in DVG's Pavlov's House reviewed on the blog some time back.  This is a system perfectly designed for his follow up game, Castle Itter, soon to be released once again by DVG.  However, Undaunted: Normandy takes a very different path that does have a few similarities with one of his earlier designs, War Chest.

For me, all these designs belong to the school of "design for effect" - in other words, designs that capture the atmosphere in broad brush terms with effective and easily manageable rules.  This is certainly the case here with Undaunted: Normandy, a light tactical game of small squad engagements set in the early days of the Normandy landings of WWII.  Using a simple system built on a modified deck-building principle, the rules can be assimilated in very quick time.  For an experienced gamer the whole set of rules can be taken in more or less at a first read through, but the game is also admirably suited to the novice gamer who will benefit considerably from the programmed-learning type of presentation. 

Like many games at this level the terrain is supplied by a set of double-sided tiles of very good quality, thick cardstock that cover the standard range of landscapes.  Apart from the identifying number and letter used for locating the correct tiles for a given scenario, a single or double number presents the amount of cover provided by the terrain.  One aspect that has caused some discussion is that there are no issues of line of sight.  This certainly makes for ease of play and when you look at the tiles you can see why such rules simply would not work.


The units are an interesting combination of cards and counters.  The latter are circular and of a really satisfying size and solidity.  They are also what you will manoeuvre across the map, but each unit is also represented by a number of identical cards both in your current deck of cards and in a reserve display laid out in front of you.




This is one of the game's original mechanics that I'm particularly impressed by.   Typically a unit will consist of its counter and up to five cards.  In game turns you might like to consider these cards as the equivalent of the steps a counter might represent in a conventional hex & counter war game.  However, totally different from any war game I know, a number of these "steps" will be in your play deck according to the very clear presentation in the scenario set up and later more may be introduced by using one of the abilities of each player's leader cards, either the Platoon Sergeant or one of the Squad Leaders.

Another neat idea is that these latter figures do not appear as actual counters on the map.  Only your Combat units have the circular discs that move and fight for control on the map.  These are grouped into three squads [lettered A, B and C] consisting mainly of  basic riflemen, a couple of machine gunners, a mortar team, a sniper and a few scouts.  Apart from different fighting abilities,  units have a number of other differing abilities.  

The scouts, for example, play an especially important role as they are the only ones that can move into an as yet unexplored new tile.  In doing so, they place a scouting marker [a great binocular icon!] which then allows other units to then move onto the tile.  By contrast, only riflemen have the ability to place a control marker in a scouted tiles and so it goes on.
A range of many of your troops

This creates a hugely enjoyable situation and leads to many of the agonising choices that a player has each turn,  First of all, what units will you find in your four cards drawn from your deck at the beginning of a turn.  Each player will then have to choose one to play face down to determine who gains the initiative and plays out their hand first.  As each type of card has a number and the higher the number the more powerful the card, do you sacrifice a powerful card to get the initiative or risk your opponent going first?

Each turn you'll play all the cards in your current hand, making decisions with each card on whether to move or fire or take control of a tile.  Machine gunners also have the decision whether to fire to inflict a hit or suppress, while Mortars have first to target a tile as an action, before they can fire on it, though when they do fire they have the great advantage of potentially being able to hit every unit on the tile.

Both the Platoon Leader and the Squad leaders as mentioned have the Bolster ability to bring in more cards from your Supply into your play deck for a particular unit thus allowing the possibility of activating a counter more than once.

All this and more is very clearly laid out in the rule book in a very easy to understand set of rules, while the Scenario book helps the learning process, if played through in sequence, as scenario by scenario more and more of the different units and their functions and capabilities are introduced.  For an experienced gamer the first few scenarios may be a little too limited to make the best of experiences.
However, there are twelve Scenarios in total, based on historical situations which provide a good range of variety.  The mixture of taking control of a specified number of location points or pinning your opponent along with the varied set ups produce a mix of intriguing puzzles for how best to achieve your goal and use your men.




Here's one of the more unusual ones where both sides begin virtually in contact from the very start.  All scenarios can be played as stand alone ones or can be grouped into shorter or longer campaigns where you gain a point for every scenario won, but then total the number of casualties suffered in the course of the campaign and deduct a victory point from your score for every 10 casualties you lost.  Great idea!  
A typical page of Scenario details
All this is contained in a compact box, neatly compartmentalised, as you can see, but like so many useful inserts, the sections holding the cards would benefit from being just a little larger.  If you sleeve your cards, as I do, they simply don't fit in and the amount of usage and shuffling in this game will make sleeving a very worthwhile practice.  



This is a very small niggle set against what is in every other respect a very, very  good well presented and designed game that I think deserves to find a home in any war gamers' collection.  It is a first-rate game for introducing new players to the world of war games while giving more experienced gamers an exciting and rewarding dip into a light, fast, tactical bout of combat.  

I hope there will be expansion decks and scenarios that take us to other celebrated WWII battlefields on the Eastern Front or Pacific with more specialised units.   Personally I'd love to see a few paratroopers dropping from the skies.   While hopefully waiting for just that to happen, I expect the lure of the game to encourage many of us to have a go at creating a favourite episode or two of our own!

As always many thanks to the publishers, in this case Osprey Games for kindly providing the review copy.  As a celebrated publishing company of such a fantastic range of military books that's catered for so many years to my love of military history, it's great to see their development into this other major way to explore our military world.

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The original Close Combat came out over 20 years ago, and was one of my very first introductions into the world of wargaming. Someone of...

Close Combat: The Bloody First Close Combat: The Bloody First

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

October 2019

Close Combat: The Bloody First



The original Close Combat came out over 20 years ago, and was one of my very first introductions into the world of wargaming. Someone of great gaming taste downloaded and installed the demos for the original games onto a PC in my junior high computer lab. I later stumbled across them, was enthralled with the depiction of realistic tactical combat, and here I am writing reviews for a wargaming website twenty years later. Needless to say, Close Combat as a series has a secure foothold in my mind. Since that time, the license shifted to Matrix Games, where a few additional iterations of the game have been made over the years, but only now has the series made the significant step into the world of three dimensional graphics. Does Close Combat: The Bloody First capture the spirit of the old while boldly striking into new territory? Well..sometimes. 

The Bloody First follows the story of the Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division of the US Army as it fights its way through World War II. The game features three campaigns, and a total of 11 operations spanning North Africa, Sicily, and finally Normandy. You'll lead your company of riflemen across open deserts, rough hills, and bocage country. The scope of the game is impressive and flexible. You can hop into any single battle you want, or play an operation spanning a handful of connected skirmishes, or go for a full campaign encompassing several operations. Then, of course, there is the grand campaign linking it all together into one very long venture. Each way of playing will lead you to approach the game a bit differently. Your troops aren't just faceless rifle squads and machine gun crews, as every single man has his own name and stats. Surviving battles will lead each soldier to gain experience, awards, and become better fighters. While playing the grand campaign, you would most certainly develop a few favored squads of veterans, units that you can rely on, but also don't want to lose so far into the war. If simply playing a one-off battle, you might put winning the fight far above keeping any particular units out of extreme danger. 


Regardless of how you choose to play, as commander of a rifle company, you begin each battle by choosing which of you squads to field. Usually you will only put a couple of platoons into any one battle, alongside some support assets, like tanks and engineers, from other units. I really enjoyed this freedom, since it lets you shape your tactics before the battle even begins. Your missions include a variety of offensive and defensive scenarios, in which you will fight the Axis over control of various points around a map. Rarely will you come even close to routing the enemy from the map entirely, it's usually enough to simply break their morale and take a couple of additional locations. Depending on the operation and how things go, you might fight again on the same map, with different starting positions based on how the previous battle turned out. There are some touches here like destroyed tanks remaining on the map from one skirmish to the next. Between battles you will be given options like advancing rapidly, waiting to regroup, or conducting a daring night attack. This gives a bit of say over the overall strategic picture, in addition to the tactical fights themselves.


Now let's get to the meat of the game, the tactical battles. As mentioned before, The Bloody First takes the big step into 3-D graphics, which is a radical shift from the previous Close Combat games, where the player was looking straight down on a battlefield populated by sprites and 2-D terrain. In those older games, it was difficult to see the contours of the terrain and just how tall a hill or ridge was. Here the 3-D engine is used to great effect to create realistic looking terrain, with plenty of bumps and low-spots for infantry to maneuver through. However, many of the maps feel very small and restrained. Often, after you hit go, your forces will almost immediately be in contact with the enemy, and the fighting will not cease until the scenario ends. Now, I know the name of the game is Close Combat, but we are going to need just a little room to maneuver! Some of the maps are larger, but even so something about the scale of the game leads to them still feeling cramped most of the time. This is really a game about quick battles at the smaller scale of things, and that is okay, but just know that is what you are getting.

In terms of the core gameplay, infantry vs infantry combat, I think the game does things quite well. When ordering your men about, little silhouettes appear to show you exactly where they can or can't take cover, making it very easy to see their exact destination. Combat occurs at a very realistic feeling pace. Set up a couple squads of riflemen a hundred yards from each other in good cover, and they will pop away at one another to little effect. Maybe one guy will get hit every few minutes. Catch that enemy rifle team in the flank with a machine gun, and they will immediately start taking casualties and be forced to flee. At close range the fighting gets bloody, as the little digital soldiers will start hurling grenades back and forth. The game is at its best when the scenario is focused on the infantry combat. Add any vehicles to the fray and suddenly things feel a bit off kilter, especially in the early campaigns where there is almost no way for your infantry to harm even a lowly armored scout car.


For me, the weakest area of the game has to be any time armored vehicles take to the field. On some of the smaller maps, and especially given the open desert terrain of North Africa, a single tank can control the entire battlefield, destroying infantry at will. If both sides have armor, things aren't much better. The tank on tank combat feels very random, with two stationary tanks sometimes spending several minutes repeatedly shooting at and missing each other, even at very short range. In all of the scenarios I played, it simply never felt very satisfying. The AI for vehicles also seems weaker than that of the infantry. In one scenario I played, one enemy tank charged straight into my starting area immediately after the scenario started. Not a great move. Their other tank sat at the back of the battlefield, never moving an inch. Not a great tactic either. The game could definitely use some work in this area.

The other area of the game I must be critical of is some of the graphics and sound. Sound effects wise, the gunshots and explosions all sound pretty decent, making for a noisy and realistic battlefield. However, when there isn't any shooting going on, the game is completely silent. Some ambient background noises would go a long way here. Maybe the wind blowing, distant explosions, that sort of thing. Add to that the lack of animation for trees/bushes/grass swaying in the wind, and a washed out color palette, and you get a very static feeling battlefield outside of active combat. My final gripe here is the voice lines for units. There just aren't very many, and you'll often hear the same one played multiple times in a row. 


Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. The environments look gorgeous, with a very natural flow to the terrain. This is where the game benefits the most from the switch to 3-D. These look like very real places, created with a careful attention to detail. The maps are strewn with little flavorful bits like farm carts and hay bales that can be used as cover.  The infantry models, on the other hand, aren't so great. I understand this is not a game made with stunning graphics in mind, but the infantry here have almost no detail to them, and have muddy textures to boot. You won't be able to see exactly what the models look like though, since the camera is very restrictive and won't let you tilt down very far, or zoom in too close. The vehicles look alright, but aren't anything to gawk at, and besides, you can't zoom in very close to get a good look at them anyway. The effects like explosions, tracers, and smoke all work well enough to create a lively battlefield, but again are just okay. I harp on the graphics only because the game falls, to some extent, into that same trap that so many series fell into back in the early 2000's when they transitioned from tried and true 2-D graphics into first attempts at 3-D graphics. The 3-D allows for some cool new things, but it's hard to deny that the previous 2-D entries in the series (e.g. Panthers in the Fog, Gateway to Caen) were, arguably, more aesthetically pleasing. 

Also, despite the modest graphics, the game tends to stutter a bit here and there, like the engine is struggling to run smoothly for no apparent reason. I expect this can be patched out soon enough.


Now, I've dinged the game for quite a few things, but this comes more from a place of love than anything else. As a fan of the series, I wanted the game to be a bit better than it is. That said, it does a lot of things well, and some things better than its peers. The game is very accessible, with a UI that makes it easy to get the information that you need. Units have colored arcs showing you at a glance what direction they are facing and their current posture, and red arcs that pop up to let you know they are taking fire from a general direction. Important events pop up in a list you can click on to jump immediately to the action. Giving orders can be done in two different ways, so you can do whichever feels natural to you. A very handy LOS tool lets you move the mouse around and dynamically visualize what can be seen from any particular point. The aforementioned soldier silhouettes show you exactly where your men will go when you give them an order, and can be drug around to line up exactly how you desire. The game should be easy to learn for beginners, and like riding a bike again for series veterans. 

The combat offers some great moments, like when a squad of riflemen breaks under an enemy attack, but then Private Johnson suddenly goes into "heroic" mode and stands his ground, single-handedly fending off an enemy assault. Your overall strategy and tactics do have a real effect on the outcome, as a passive approach will usually get muddled results, while carefully maneuvering your squads while suppressing key enemy positions will yield a decisive victory. These moments are satisfying, and left me feeling like a good commander who made a difference. Despite all of those moments, the game simply lacks a certain spark. There is a core here that does something right, but the game overall needs a bit more polish to really shine. 


Close Combat: The Bloody First may be the necessary learning step for a classic 2-D series as it transitions into the world of 3-D. Hopefully the game can be improved somewhat through patches, and I really look forward to seeing how the next iteration of the series shapes up. There is a market out there for people who want some realistic tactical combat, but don't want to spend hours wrestling with learning something like a Combat Mission or Graviteam Tactics game. Close Combat could very easily be that series.

Close Combat: The Bloody First is available directly from Matrix Games, as well as on Steam and GoG.

- Joe Beard








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Hitler Strikes North The 1940 invasion of Norway by Quarterdeck International  I will start with a question -...

Hitler Strikes North The 1940 Invasion of Norway by Quarterdeck International Hitler Strikes North The 1940 Invasion of Norway by Quarterdeck International

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

October 2019

Hitler Strikes North The 1940 Invasion of Norway by Quarterdeck International





Hitler Strikes North

The 1940 invasion of Norway

by

Quarterdeck International






 I will start with a question - why Norway? The answer lies in this quote: "If the mines of Lapland had ceased working, the blast furnaces of the Ruhr would have shut down too" (Rolf Karlbom). You could also add in the much larger threat to British sea lanes if the Uboats etc. could use Norway's ports. The hard part of the operation is that you are literally bearding the English Lion, or in this case, megalodon to come and take a bite. Scapa Flow, the British Royal Navy's main base, is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Norway. Germany's Navy was small and completely untried. Their ships were mostly newer than the British ones, but their worth in combat was an unknown factor. Without there being a naval part to the Invasion of Norway, the German plan was doomed to failure. 






 We will look at the components first. The maps are well done and easy to read. They are composed of most of Norway, the Northern tip of Scotland and some of Denmark. The counters are 5/8" and are also easy to read, but relatively plain. They come However, for the purist, they come with the corners already rounded. So, you can put your clippers away. The Player Aid Cards are in black and white on hardstock paper. There are supposed to be seven of them (1,2,3,3A,4,5, and one sheet that has Contact/Evasion tables). The only problem was that my copy did not come with #2. There is a copy of this sheet on the game's BGG page (I will post a link). So I just printed out that one card. This is actually a Chinese/English version. The Chinese Player Aid Cards are actually in color and laminated, and there are three of them. The problem with them is that the printing on them is very small, to fit all of the information on three double-sided PACs. The rulebook is in black and white, but the rules are succinct and easy to follow.


 This is what comes with the game:

2 x 22 x 17 inch maps
6 Player aids
216 Die-cut playing pieces
24 page rule book


 The game is interesting, because the German player rolls the dice to see what his goals are for the actual game. The player checks the die roll against the German Goal Determination Table (this is on the missing #2 card). The German Player's goal is either to exit Raiders into the Atlantic or to invade Norway. Strangely the German Player can choose to invade Norway if he rolls for Raiding. The Allied Player is only shown what his opponent's goal was at the end of the game. 


 This is the sequence of play:

5.1 Introduction of any Reinforcements takes place for both sides. Airfields adjacent to captured cities become German. Detach any destroyers at this time. Bardufoss and/or Weather roll if appropriate (See 9.51 & 15.0).
5.2 Movement.
Players may attempt to evade and/or divide up forces being shadowed (see 6.44).
Shadowed forces move and declare where they stop at and shadowing forces proceed with them.


5.3 German Air Reconnaissance Phase (see 6.22).
5.4 Mutual Search Phase. At night, only surface warships may call out a hex. Any sighted forces now proceed to evaluate the contact and if combat will occur (See 6.4).
5.5 Combat takes place. Combat occurs in the following order:
Submarine combat.
Surface ship combat at sea, followed by any combat with Coast Defense Batteries (EXCEPTION: see 9.21).
All ships on each side are revealed to each side (see 8.21).
All Gunnery is allocated before rolling dice.
SPECIAL SHADOWING/CONTACT (see 8.3).
Salvo Chasing is declared before gunnery combat (see 8.26).
Shielding is declared (see 8.27).
Gunnery Combat takes place.
Torpedo attacks are allocated and then executed.
Air combat.
Paratroop drops are now resolved (only in daylight). Check to see if any ports/airfields fall.
Norwegian and Danish warships are retreated if appropriate (See 9.31).
5.8 Complete the turn and move the turn marker forward one box.





 One of the game's greatest strengths is the amount of what ifs that can be played out in the game. There are Optional Rules including: The Bismarck and the Graf Zeppelin among many others. Luck plays a large part in the game, or actually die rolls. If the Royal Navy catches you with its big gun ships, it is usually lights out. The German Player must rely on his speed to get him out of trouble. One thing I was not aware of was the lackluster performance of German torpedoes in this campaign. The Luftwaffe, which became a large threat to the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, is not anywhere near as potent here. This is as it was historically so it fits right in. As you can see below, there is even a chance for the French Navy to get involved in the melee.





 The is the games second release. It was originally released in the 1980s. The original release was thought of highly by wargamers. It seemed to make an even larger splash when it was released in Japan. The game has had some large changes from the first edition. Many of these were added by the developer Jack Greene from co-writing a book called "Hitler Strikes North". The price of the game is worth it if only for this one paragraph from the designer Jack Greene: "These game rules are not to be picked apart by a rules lawyer. They are an attempt to use logic and historical understanding of the period and players should adopt the same attitude. Otherwise, play somebody else's game". This should be made a standard and stamped on the face of all game rulebooks.






 I was given this game to review and did not pick it. The Norway Campaign or the surface raiding campaign in WWII does not really interest me that much. Much to my surprise, the game actually grew on me and is a very good representation of the campaigns. I now know this because the game made me do a lot of reading and investigating into the campaigns themselves. Any game that can do that has already paid for itself in opening up closed minds. This one not only did that, but as a game plays very well. Because of time constraints I was only able to play it solo (you can play any game solo). Its nuances would make it work as a very good two player game. Thank you very much Quarterdeck International for allowing me to review it.

 I somehow missed an email from QI about the missing Player's Aid Card. They had let me know that it was MIA and had sent a replacement for me to print off. I just found the email after the review was posted. 

Here are links to QI and some of their games:

https://www.quarterdeckinternational.com/

https://www.quarterdeckinternational.com/store/hitler-strikes-north-game

https://www.quarterdeckinternational.com/store/togo-game

https://www.quarterdeckinternational.com/store/moravian-game

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/181547/pac-4



Robert


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Spain in Arms A Military History of The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by E.R. Hooton  Every once in a w...

Spain in Arms: A Military History of The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by E.R. Hooton Spain in Arms: A Military History of The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by E.R. Hooton

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

October 2019

Spain in Arms: A Military History of The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by E.R. Hooton







by








 Every once in a while you come across the exact book that you have been waiting to be written. This is one of those for me. Every book I have read on The Spanish Civil War has been, in reality, a political history of the war with the military history thrown in as a side note. This is a military history plain and simple. It does have the needed political history for someone who has not read about the war, but it does not get dragged down into the convoluted political history behind the war. The Spanish Civil War politically makes the French Revolution political gyrations seem incredibly simple in comparison. 

 This is a list of what is in each chapter:

Prologue
Chapter 1: Madrid Front February-March 1937
Chapter 2: The New Armies and weapons
Chapter 3: Northern Front April-October 1937
Chapter 4: Republican offensives July-October 1937
Chapter 5: The Nationalist Advance November 1937-October 1938

Chapter 6: The Last Battles; July 1938-February 1939

 The book does come with a few pictures of the major players and some troops etc. It also comes with maps, actually twenty of them, which should be standard fare in military history books. The maps are not as informative as I would like, but it does help the reader immensely in following the action. 

 I am forever indebted to the author and publisher for this book. In most books I have read about the war, I was finally forced to pick and choose what I would read after I reached the middle of some of those tomes. They weren't bad books, just not what I wanted to read on the conflict. This book cuts all of the fat and gristle away to give you only the juicy meat of the military history. We are always shown the German Condor Legion's assistance to the Nationalist cause. This book shows exactly how much larger the Italian contribution was to the nationalist victory. Thank you Casemate Publishers for the chance to review this excellent book.

Robert

Author: E.R. Hooton


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THE MAGNATES from PHALANX GAMES QUALITY QUALITY QUALITY This may seem like it's becoming an obsession with me, but when...

THE MAGNATES THE MAGNATES

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

October 2019

THE MAGNATES

THE MAGNATES
from
PHALANX GAMES

QUALITY QUALITY QUALITY

This may seem like it's becoming an obsession with me, but when games are so consistently well produced it's still got to be celebrated and The Magnates deserves being celebrated.


As Phalanx Games is a Polish company, it may come as no surprise that its theme derives from the complex history of Poland and Lithuania  and this is presented on a stunning mounted board depicting five Provinces that up to five players will struggle to gain area control of by having placed the most estates in them.


To achieve this each player will use an identical hand of thirteen cards. These large, Tarot-size cards depicting 12 noblemen and one noble lady are most gorgeously illustrated with their portraits and  a brief historical note on each personage.  In total, that's 65 individual historical portraits with information and below is an example of just one player's hand.

While the front of each set presents a splendid heraldic crest and motto.
In addition there are 25 Conflict cards depicting historical battles, which though contributing little written information, add strongly to the physical splendour of the components.
Finally, a deck of Privilege cards completes the array, with icons related to game play, more stylish illustrations and text explaining their specific effect when played.
Besides so much finery there is a range of other physical items depending on whether you have the first or second edition.  In the first edition all these are excellent wooden pieces, whether the few unique ones for special purposes ...
or each player's set of estate markers in their own colour.  In the second edition, the latter are replaced by the type of very colourful cardboard markers here displayed for use by the red player [typically my favourite choice].
Some strong opinions have been expressed by those who favour the simple wooden pieces, though I personally prefer these detailed artistic images of stately houses.  So, this is a game that appeals hugely to the eye in all its art work and is backed by an equally stunning rule book with page after page of rules minutely illustrated with pictorial examples of every step of the system.
Nor is it a system that is heavy on rules or over long to play.  In brief this is a game of area control largely governed by the cards gained through a series of blind auctions.

There are four Rounds of three basic Phases: the first Phase is the Senate  in which each player will in turn play three cards from their hand of 15 cards, one card each on three out of the four Senator cards shown in the picture below.
Each Senator card bestows an advantage and is won by the player playing the highest card.  The first card, and a very powerful card indeed of these Senator cards, is the Primate [a religious title] designated by the ecclesiastical mitre which gives the owner the ability to decide the winner of all tied bids throughout the rest of a Round.

In the second Phase [the Sejm], players play five of their Family cards to gain Privilege cards.  These speak for themselves as they give a variety, usually, of one off-bonuses that can be played in the course of the game, some immediate on receiving the card, some when the player chooses and some have special scoring abilities at the end of the game.  [Hint: these latter can be very important.]

Finally there is the Conflict Phase where five Conflict cards are randomly revealed according to set rules and placed in their appropriate positions on the board.  Each player uses their last five Family cards to secretly place one against each of the five Conflicts.  Once again all are revealed and the total of all the cards played against a Conflict card determines whether the players have won the battle.  This is vitally important, as if the players don't win three out of the five Conflicts, the game ends and everyone loses!

I know a few players who don't like this type of "spoiling" mechanic, but I feel it is absolutely essential to prevent players not just using high point cards in the first two Phases.  Besides it gives a definite frisson of tension during the Conflict and as always there are rewards for the player of the highest card in a victory and penalties for all players in a defeat plus an extra penalty for the player of the lowest numbered card.

As you can imagine, the basic mechanics are very, very simple: play all thirteen of your cards over the three Phases.  It is the game play and the interaction of player dynamics and personalities which make The Magnates such a success for me.

First of all judging which Senator and Privilege cards to play your stronger cards on is both an art and a gamble.  Success is never certain. A typical example is when it's discovered that all the players have thought a card is so valuable that [a] each player has gone for it or [b] they've all decided that they won't manage to win it and so have played lower value cards.

Secondly, the fact that the play of Privilege or Senator cards can often change card values whether to boost or weaken values, so that once again there is a high level of uncertainty to every decision.  Personally, I really rate this sort of challenge and uncertainty and love the sustained anticipation level of the game as the outcome of each card play is revealed, but I have found some who dismiss this element as too luck dependant.

Other players who I've found less enthusiastic  about the game are those who go overboard for what's been labelled "victory point salad" games i.e. games that have a multitude of varied means to gain victory points.  Not that I don't like that type of game, but The Magnates simply provides its enjoyment and excitement from different factors.

Two I've already outlined and the third is the one I mentioned at the start: that this is above all an area control game.  This builds up Round by Round with players vying for Dominance [having more Estates in a Province than all the other players ' Estates combined] or Advantage [having more Estates in a Province than any other individual player].  These bring in the basic victory points, but don't forget those Privilege cards too that may boost your tally and above all beware the power of the Primate card in deciding ties - it's a real double-edged sword.  It may bring you a temporary advantage or even allow you to grant it to another player, but you will also be stacking up potential "enemies" who may exact their justice on you when they too become the holder of the Primate card!

If you too enjoy a beautifully designed game with the features of the system that I've presented then I'd strongly recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Magnates and it's a big thanks to Phalanx for giving me the opportunity to review this edition. 

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