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TASK FORCE  CARRIER BATTLES IN THE PACIFIC FROM VUCA SIMULATIONS Task Force has an exceptional pedigree.  Designed by Ginichiro Suguki and o...


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

March 2023






Task Force has an exceptional pedigree.  Designed by Ginichiro Suguki and originally published as a boxed game by Epoch Co in 1982, it re-appeared as an issue of Command Magazine Japan in 1996 and then returned once more in a boxed format for Japan Wargames Classic 1 in 2009.  Now Vuca Simulations has brought out a stunningly up-gunned edition.  The company has already established a reputation for quality and this latest game deserves to have deluxe appended to its title!

It arrived as a very weighty package indeed.  Not surprising, as the contents are some of the most substantial imaginable.  The description in the section Game Equipment Explanation is very misleading, especially the simple statement "Four map sheets."  Admittedly, one is a small paper map for the Introductory Pearl Harbour Scenario, but the other three are double sided mounted mapboards.  Two are 59cm x 42 cm and one is 40cm x 28cm. All are impressive, if perhaps a little dark.

Mapboard for Battle of the Coral Sea
There are two identical fleet formations sheets, similarly mounted  and each is 59cm x 21cm.  For much of the game this is where virtually all your units will be displayed.  What you see below is further evidence of the attention to quality that Vuca Simulations have rapidly gained a reputation for.  The top half of the picture is the Japanese fleet display itself, the bottom half is simply the reverse side of the Allied fleet display - not as expected a blank white expanse, but a coloured, stylised map grid.  A third mounted display sheet is shared by both players for their land bases.
Front and back of the Fleet Displays

Before you even get to the many counters and markers [588 in total!], there are a further  8 play aids, comprising two identical Player Aid Charts and 6 double-sided Scenario Set-Up displays.  Unlike most games, all these are not paper or thin flexible card, but thick, rigid card-stock.

Front and back of a Player Aid Chart

Just one of the six Scenario Set-Up Cards
Just looking at the set up card gives a hint of the quality of the unit counters and markers - five sheets in total.  The combat units are, as to be expected, predominantly US and Japanese, but also covering the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands.  

They reflect the same high quality of all the other components being perfectly die-cut with rounded corners.  The naval units are standard double length style, with all having a dark blue background and the nationality differentiated by a coloured diagonal in the top left corner.  Named ships are in both Japanese characters and English script.  Aircraft are the typical smaller square counters, carrying the abbreviated name of either their carrier or land base -  a very helpful detail.

Lovely piles of the many naval units

Rounding out the playing pieces are a wide range of markers, covering fleets [including dummies], naval unit damage, reconnaissance chits - always important in carrier warfare games - flight deck damage and ship withdrawal .

The all-important Rulebook

Last to be mentioned, but as always absolutely critical to any game are the Rules Booklet and Scenario Booklet.  Both are attractive glossy, double columned products.  The Rules Booklet I was very interested to see is only 20 pages even when counting the front and back cover.  I was immediately interested to read in the Rules' introduction that you could approach them in two ways; either by reading the whole rulebook or learning with the help of tutorial scenarios.  It is stressed that the latter is very much for beginners, but I thought I'd have a look at the approach using the learning tutorials, which involve the first four Scenarios.  My expectations were based on my early years of learning to play the celebrated Squad Leader in which you progressed from section to section of the rules, with each section followed by a scenario that provided a fully fledged game..  

Task Force takes a very different route.  You are directed to the Scenario book and are told which numbered rules' cases to use in Scenario 1, play it and then go on to Scenario 2 where you're advised which rules you need to add on to those learnt in Scenario 1 and so on through the first four Scenarios.  I would have been happy with this method, except for the fact that I'd count only the fourth and last of the tutorial Scenarios as giving anything that resembles a game, as each of the first three can be played in under ten minutes.

The very attractive Pearl Harbour map

The first, Pearl Harbour, has its appeal, partly because of its subject and its lovely map, but it is purely a very simple, brief solitaire experience of Air to Surface combat with victory conditions that I can't imagine achieving without exceptional dice rolling.  Still it does the intended job of introducing air to surface combat and application of the novel damage system which is a feature I really like.  Scenarios 2 & 3 are very, very brief and I feel are essentially there because they were part, I assume, of the original game.  They play their part for the absolute beginner and the more experienced gamer would probably have set out some counters in a similar way to practice parts of the rules.  Still, I felt that having a whole double-sided board produced purely for these two Scenarios was unnecessary, as they could just as easily been played out on either side of the board for Scenario 4 and Scenario 6.  

Apart from this one aspect, my view of the game is wholly positive.  Not only are the rules clear and easy to assimilate, but they accomplish all that I would look for in focusing on a purely naval and air simulation of moderate complexity.  

The first section, Game Equipment Explanation, presents all the necessary standard information about the types of units.  For naval units the key numerical factors are anti-air, firepower and durability.  The latter is for me one of the best concepts in the game and one that I'll shortly discuss in depth in the next section which includes combat and damage.  It then outlines the different markers, the tables on the Player Aid Charts and Fleet and Aircraft Status Sheets.

Next, Standard Procedures, explores the differences to play of Night and Day turns, ZOCs, the use of Fleet Markers and Setup of Scenarios and, very significantly, Combat Hits and Damage, which I'll explore in some detail now.  This is where the durability factor is crucial and it's important to note that only naval units have durability.  The number of hits inflicted in combat is measured against a ship's durability factor to see what damage is taken.  There are three levels of damage: Minor, Significant and Critical.  As an example of how this works, take a ship with durability factor of 8.  Any hits less than this durability factor of 8 would cause no damage at all.  If exactly 8 hits are scored, then place a Minor Damage Marker on the ship.  If a ship suffers no more hits before the Admin Phase of the current turn, the Marker is flipped to its Emergency Repairs side.  However, if a ship takes exactly one more hit than its durability, the unit is flipped over which shows that it has Significant Damage. With our example ship of durability 8, 9 hits would cause the ship to be flipped over to its reverse side.  The reverse side shows a smaller durability factor.  Any new hits less than this durability factor will cause no damage, new hits exactly equal to its new durability factor would cause a Critical Damage marker to be placed and any further hits  would sink the ship.  To read this sounds much more complicated than it is when you have the ships in front of you and the necessary chart and damage markers.  Hits against all aircraft and destroyers and transports are handled by conventional losses.

Various markers including detailing crucial information

This section of the rules also handles how Fleets are formed, merged or rearranged and the use of dummy fleet markers.  The latter are particularly important for this system, as for most of the game, the Fleet markers are all that will be placed directly on the map.  Unlike some naval games, this is not a double-blind system where each player sets up all their ships on their own separate map that remains hidden behind a player screen.  Instead each player has their own Fleet Display Sheet, on which all their units are placed.  Surprisingly, keeping these displays hidden is an Optional rule, explained in the section on setting up a scenario, by the fact that the game is designed for beginners.  For any players other than beginners, I would say that keeping your displays hidden is an absolute must for enjoyment and excitement. 

The final part of Standard Procedures covers elements of SetUp which mainly relate to a variety of distinctions between the composition of Carrier and Fleet Task Forces and a few points about the Aircraft Status Sheet.

All this constitutes the first 10 pages of the Rule Book and the final 10 pages take you through the Sequence of Play, which has 5 Steps.

Naval Movement Phase

Mainly this covers the movement of your Fleet Markers, both real and Dummy ones.  The only other markers that appear on the maps are Withdrawal markers that indicate individual or very small groups of ships that have been forced to withdraw because of the extent of their damage.  The result is a very uncluttered map and plenty of uncertainty as to what each Fleet marker contains and whether it is a dummy or not.  As a result, this Phase moves very swiftly, especially until the point at which fleets are within potential reconnaissance range.  Any Dummy Fleet markers in the ZOC of an enemy Fleet marker are then removed from the map.

Naval Combat Phase

Any genuine opposing Fleet markers that are adjacent and in each other's ZOC are now turned up to reveal their Fleet number and combat takes place.  If there are several fleets on each side adjacent in a single group, the Initiative player decides which fleet will participate in which battle and the order in which they will be carried out.  During a night battle, it is very simple - all ships engage in fire; naval battles during the day are handled differently.  With these day battles, a curious rule involving gun range determines which ships can fire. Normally only ship types with the longest range may fire, unless both sides agree that a ship type of a shorter range and all those of higher ranges may fire.  I cannot see the realism in this rule, but it does make for some interesting choices at times.  The Initiative player allocates all targets first and then fires; the non-initiative player then does the same.  Normally, the results of all fire is applied simultaneously, unless a Scenario specifically rules otherwise or both players agree to incorporate the optional Surprise Attack rule in a custom-made scenario.

The image above shows the different displays for a Carrier Fleet TF [circle defence] and a purely Naval Fleet[linear defence].

Aircraft Operations Phase

For me, this is the heart of any carrier game and where clarity of rules is at its most important.  Task Force Carrier Battles succeeds admirably, especially in its use of Aircraft Status Displays, as shown below.  This level of detail is an absolute delight for me, with planes on deck [the Ready boxes] or below deck in the hangar [Reserve boxes], the ability for allocation to Raids and CAP and finally boxes for the aircraft returning from Raids and CAP.

The rules take you carefully through each step, marshalling the sequence clearly and effectively.  Full marks to the rules here, which I have often found clumsily or confusingly described in many other carrier games.  Carrier displays provide opportunity for several nuances that I like, all of which are evidenced in Task Force.  An essential one is that carriers caught with aircraft in the Ready box may suffer aircraft losses and extra damage damage to the carrier. Others include the fact that launching or landing aircraft may be affected by ship damage or that aircraft may return to alternative carrier or land bases if within range and able to receive that type of aircraft [absolutely essential if your original base is damaged or sunk!].  A limit of 4 full units may be in the Ready box and it's noted that if you wish to create your own Scenarios set in the later war years this maximum can be increased.
Aircraft Display being used for British Carrier Formidable

Once in the air and on a Raid, all the expected actions come in to play.    Both players first move their planes simultaneously to their targets - a good point is that raids can be made only against Fleet markers that are either detected or partially detected.  I love the comment in the rules at this point, " Now that you have both finished moving your aircraft, let's move on to the serious part of the Operations Phase."  Much as I enjoy the essential cat and mouse search element of the game, I'd also add the phrase " most exciting" to "serious"!
 So, each battle is resolved in the following order:
Air-to-Air combat: defending Cap must pair off against enemy fighters, before any may be assigned to attack enemy bombers.
Air-to-Surface combat [i]: surviving bombers are allocated to individual ships or land base and anti-air fire is resolved. *[see note on illustration below]
Air-to-Surface combat [ii]: surviving bombers carry out their attacks
Return to Base : surviving aircraft, both attackers & defending CAP return where possible to a carrier or land base.  Note that there may be CAP that was flown where no Raid took place, but you still need to return them too.

*The image above exemplifies how you might allocate your aircraft when attacking the two different types of Fleet. I'd strongly recommend producing a larger display for this, mainly to avoid using and thus revealing the hidden displays, but also to enable spacing out all the units very easily.

Reconnaissance Phase

Not surprisingly, reconnaissance is skipped during night turns, in addition you can't conduct searches on the final two turns of daytime either.  I assume this might be explained by the risks of returning in dwindling daylight.  However, it does mean that only six out of the 12 turns in a full day can be used for searches.  

These searches do not involve the actual movement of your aircraft and are allocated slightly differently for the two sides.  The Allies receive them on the basis of 2 Recon chits per CV and CVL and 1 or 2 Recon chits per land base depending on the Scenario, while the Japanese receive 1 chit per CVL, 1 chit per land base and 1 chit per CV up to and including Midway, after Midway this increases to 2 chits per CV.  An explanatory note attributes this difference to the less diligent Japanese reconnaissance that took place until after the defeat at Midway.  These little details either explained in  design notes added alongside a rule or built directly into a rule are among some of the factors I value in any game and contribute neat touches of flavour to Task Force.

The resolution of your searches is carried out by your placing randomly drawn Recon chits from a bagful of them and your opponent reporting on the results on the unrevealed side.  Again an excellent touch and, as you can only search within 8 hexes of your own ships, do make sure that you have more than one fleet marker within range or you've just given away your own position!

Administrative Phase

This is very swift to carry out. First of all, any ship that had an Emergency Repair marker on at the beginning of the turn and has not received any hits this turn removes the marker.  Next any ship that has received a Minor Damage marker this turn flips it to the Emergency Repairs side.

Next, move the turn marker on one box and, if it's now the first Night turn of the day, return all Recon chits used during the current day to the draw bag or whatever container you're using.

To sum up the rules, they are clear, well set out and easy to understand and refreshingly short for the overall detail achieved.  Turns flow swiftly and smoothly.  Ship to ship engagements, if and when they occur, are very quick and easy to execute and the central focus of any carrier battle game, the raids on the opponent's fleets and bases are worked out with great satisfaction and enjoyment using the well designed fleet and carrier displays.

The Scenario booklet is equally well presented and contains a rich diversity of material.  The first three Learning Scenarios have good brief historical outlines, with the Pearl Harbour one providing a detailed list of the full forces historically involved and even a run-through of an exemplified play through.  The Main Scenarios are rated as Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced  and once again provide succinct historical background, full set up instructions and any special rules.

Here is a full list of Scenarios followed by a few personal comments on some of the Main Scenarios.

  Learning Scenarios

Scenario 1 Pearl Harbour

Scenario 2 Sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse

Scenario 3 Battle of the Java Sea

Scenario 4 Carrier v Carrier [fictional]


Main Scenarios

Scenario 5 Battle of the Coral Sea

Scenario 6 Battle of Midway

Scenario 7 Battle of the Eastern Solomons

Scenario 8 Combined Fleet v Pacific Fleet [fictional]

Scenario 9 Indian Ocean Raid [fictional]

Scenario 10 The Battles of Santa Cruz Islands and Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

Scenario 11 Solomon Islands [Custom Scenario]  This last Scenario

Inevitably, Scenario 6 Midway, though classed as Beginner level, has a special appeal having gamed this in so many different ways over the years.

Scenario 10 The Battles of Santa Cruz Islands and Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.  

I'd strongly recommend this, as it constitutes two battles with the results from the first strongly influencing the nature of the second battle - an element I  wholly enjoy and it involves Guadalcanal, another battle zone I've played over in many other games.

Scenario 9 Indian Ocean Raid [fictional]

Though I much prefer historical scenarios in any game, this I found fascinating.  Rather than calling it "fictional", this is a classic "what if scenario?"   The historical raid might be called a damp squib, as prior warning allowed the commander to have diverted most of his ships away to another base.  This scenario allows you to explore how the battle might have played out if those diverted ships had been there.  It also means that as a Brit, I get a proper battle, even if I might lose it!

Scenario 11 Solomon Islands [Custom Scenario]  This last Scenario is especially important as it helps to exemplify how to create your own custom scenario and was originally published in Command magazine Japan.  Wholly enjoyable in its own right, it also serves as a lead in to the final section of the Scenario Booklet - Creating New Scenarios.  Alternate orders of battle are provided drawn from a mixture of updated OOBs and differing source opinions on the battles.  The developers have even included a number of additional units in the counter mix to facilitate this.

There's even a brief section on running a double-blind version with separate boards and a referee and, last but not least, there are two pages of Strategy and Tactics tips divided into Basic overall ideas and a few specific pointers for the main Scenarios. 

I hope your stamina has got you this far, but Task Force Carrier Battles in the Pacific is packed with such a diversity of material to explore and is definitely a rich addition to Vuca Simulations well deserved reputation for quality.  So, it's many, many thanks to them for providing this review copy and allowing me to take you on a journey through it. 


  Strategy & Tactics #338  Russian Boots South, Conquest of Central Asia by Strategy&Tactics Press  When you talk about Strategy&...

Strategy&Tactics #338 Russian Boots South, Conquest of Central Asia Strategy&Tactics #338 Russian Boots South, Conquest of Central Asia

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

March 2023

Strategy&Tactics #338 Russian Boots South, Conquest of Central Asia

 Strategy & Tactics #338 

Russian Boots South, Conquest of Central Asia


Strategy&Tactics Press

 When you talk about Strategy&Tactics magazine the word venerable comes to mind. Unfortunately, the word also has some connotations attached to it. Such as: old, no longer of use, and perhaps stodgy. In sports, it is definitely used to convey a loss of a competitor's edge. As in, he was a venerable contender for the crown. Yes, you can call Strategy & Tactics venerable, but only if you are thinking of its direct meaning. Merriam Webster's says this: "calling forth respect through age, character, and attainments". Only in this respect is Strategy & Tactics to be thought of. Even if it had been around since I was young it still has the competitor's edge. If you compare it to any other history/wargaming magazine of today it can easily hold its own. To be honest, it has only gotten better over the years since its first release. This review is about S&T's #338 issue. Let that number sink in. You should also see the writers and designers' names that have graced its issues. There you will find a plethora of our hobby's notables. That is enough of the past; now let us look at this issue and the ones to come. Here is some of its index:

Russian Boots South: The Conquest of Central Asia
   By Joseph Miranda

Hill 395: Korea, October 1952
   By Jon Cecil

The Gallipoli Campaign, Part 2: A Strategic and Operational Analysis 
   By John D. Burtt 

End of the Safavids: The Battle of Golnabad, 1722
   By Vernie Liebl


  Will Russia Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?
   By Gilberto Villahermosa

  Syria Update
   By Andrew Mulholland

  The Cuban Air Force in 2022: A Shadow of its Former Self
   By Javier Romero Munoz

For Your Information:

  Assyrian Siege Warfare
   By Cam Rea

  Anti-Communist Uprisings in the 1950s
   By Maciej Lonasz

  Operation Fork: The Allied Invasion & Occupation of Iceland
   By Jon Cecil

  As usual the magazine is filled with many more historical tidbits. 

 To be honest, I really did not know anything about the Russian conquest of Central Asia during the 19th century. I assumed that those areas were taken over much earlier. I have read about the 'Great Game' between Russia and England, but that is almost entirely about their actions in and about Afghanistan. I also knew very little about Persia and its history after the age of Timur. Opening up an S&T issue has always been an immense pleasure of mine. This is because I learn at least one thing, if not many more, new about military history. 

The Central Part of the Central Asia Game Map

  Russian Boots South is the name of both the issue's game and the largest article in this issue. This is one of the greatest points about wargaming that I absolutely love. You not only get to read about the actual history, but you also have a chance to be in the protagonist's shoes as it were, even if you do not have any intention of playing the game. The map that comes with the game will make that point in history much clearer to you. 

 The next article is about the battle for Hill 395 from October 5th to 15th 1952. While reading about the first attacks to take the hill from the South Korean defenders, the movie The Battle of the Bulge came to my mind. The defenders rolled napalm charges down the slope toward the Chinese attackers. This is another excellent article that, as usual, is full of maps. The lack of maps is a sore point in many military history books. S&T has never had this problem. 

 Tha next article is the second of two parts on the entire Gallipoli Campaign. This really caught my attention. As I grow older my interest in all things about World War I has skyrocketed. The Gallipoli Campaign is one of WWI that I especially like to read about. 

 Then we go into the 'End of the Safavids: The Battle of Golnabad 1722'. Reluctantly I have to admit that I do not ever remembering hearing or reading about this ruling house of Iran. I certainly never heard of the battle that brought the Safavid Empire to a close after ruling for 221 years.

 As I stated, the rest of the articles and the smaller insets about military history are there as they are in every issue, chock full of information that makes an old grognard blush for not knowing them.
Assorted Counters

  As mentioned, the game inside this issue is 'Russian Boots South: Conquest of Central Asia'. The area of the game is bordered by the Caspian Sea, Persian Empire, Kingdom of Afghanistan, and China. You will play either the Russians or the different Khans in the game.

 The map itself is 22" X 34" with the hexes representing roughly fifty-three miles across. The map is just as good as one you would find with any boxed wargame. The color scheme and the terrain depiction works very well on the map. There are 176 5/8" counters. The hexes on the map are also nice and large. The troop counters represent 1000-5000 men. The rules are done in normal size type and are sixteen pages in length. There are three scenarios. Each game turn represents a span of one to six years. The rules are done in full color. The only thing they are missing are examples of play. However, this is a magazine and only has so much room to stuff all it does between its covers.

 The game system is based on other games for S&T: They Died With Their Boots on, Julian, and Sepoy Mutiny. This is one of the games that wargame magazines were made for. I would be surprised if many wargaming companies would take on a relatively unknown part of history like this. S&T has brought many of these games that are a niche of a niche to the wargaming table. 

 The game is a good one. It takes a while to get used to the terrain and your troops. There is a 'Great Game' table that marks the level of how each player is doing in the game. The higher the number, the better it is for the Russian player. The lower the number, the Khanates are doing better. To make the fog of war more interesting there are also an Incident Table and a Fortunes of War Table. The designer, Joseph Miranda, has added these optional rules to make the game even better:

The Russians can build the Trans-Caspian Railroad. The 
Railroad connects Krasnovodsk to Khokand fortress. 

26.1 Starting the Railroad
Railroad Construction is done as part of the Russian 
activation of the Caucasus Sub-command, during the 
Movement sub-phase. To start Railroad building, the 
player must have a Railroad Engineer in the start hex 
(Krasnovodsk). Expend one OP (8.0) to move the 
Railhead marker in the hex. 

26.2 Continuing the Railroad 
To further extend the Railroad, move the railroad 
engineer unit up to its movement factor along 
contiguous railroad hexes. For each such hex, expend 
one OP and move the Railhead marker. 

26.3 Railroad Movement 
To use Railroad movement, a mobile ground unit starts 
or moves onto a railroad hex. Expend one MP and 
move the unit an unlimited number of hexes via 
contiguous railroad hexes. If the unit has movement 
factors remaining, it can continue to move normally. 
Railroad and non-railroad movement can be combined 
in the same Movement phase. 
EZOC: A unit may start in in an enemy ZOC when it 
begins rail movement . It must cease its rail movement 
when entering a hex in an enemy ZOC. (This is a special 
case for 15.0). 

26.4 Railroad Supply 
Units on a railroad are automatically in supply if they can 
trace a line of railroad hexes back to a Russian 
controlled port or fortress hex. All intervening hexes 
must be clear of enemy units and their ZOC. 
ZOC do block rail lines of supply. 

26.5 All the Live Long Day 
Only Russian mobile ground units can use the railroad. 
Once built, a railroad hex can not be destroyed. 
The railhead marker has no other effect on play. 
The Railroad Engineer can also move without building RR 

26.6 RR and Victory Points 
When playing a scenario ending on Turn 8, modify 
Victory Points (5.2) by one of the following: 
No RR built: -6 
RR reaches Geok Tepe: -3 
RR reaches Merv: 0 
RR reaches Bokhara: +3 
RR reaches Samarkand: +6 
RR reaches Khokand: +9 

27.0 MORALE 
Historically, winning big battles did much to shift overall 
morale in Central Asia. 

27.1 Incident Markers 
1) if the attacker plays an Abject Lesson marker and 
pursues into a fortress, raise the Great Game index by 
2) if the attacker plays an Agent marker and pursues into 
a fortress, lower the Great Game index by one. 
Note: these effects are in addition to the index shifts for 
gaining control of the fortress. 

In the 1870s the Russian military went through an 
extensive reorganization and modernization of 
armaments. Therefore... 

28.1 On turns 1 to 3: 
1) Recruiting: the Russians pay one additional OP for 
each regular cavalry, infantry and artillery unit 
recruited. Other units are recruited per the Outfitting 
2) Cavalry Pursuit: Russian regular cavalry can Pursue 
only one hex instead of two hexes (19.0). 
27.2 Starting with turn 4: 
The above special cases are dropped; use the normal 
rules for Recruiting and Pursuit. 

Historically, both the Russian and British empires were 
reluctant to engage in open armed conflict with each 
other. Therefore... 

29.1 Open War 
The first time in a turn a Russian unit attacks a British 
Empire unit or vice versa, raise the Great Game index 
by one. Open War is applied on each such turn. It is 
applied only once per turn, regardless of the number 
of such attacks. 

29.2 Empires Only 
This applies only to the three Russian and the British 
Empire Sub-commands, not to other Sub-commands 
controlled by the players. 

29.3 Apocalypse in the Steppes 
If as a result the Great Game Index is pushed above the 
max number, the game comes to an immediate end 
(special case for 7.1). Check victory per (5.2)"

 Thank you S&T for allowing me to review this issue. The components and magazine are up to their normal level of history and gaming goodness. I will soon have a review posted about S&T issue #339 Saddam Moves South: What If.


Strategy&Tactics #338 Russian Boots South, Conquest of Central Asia:


  Fight for a Throne The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered by Christopher Duffy  'Bonnie' Prince Charlie and the '45 has always been...

Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered by Christopher Duffy Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered by Christopher Duffy

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

March 2023

Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered by Christopher Duffy

 Fight for a Throne

The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered


Christopher Duffy

 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie and the '45 has always been one of my favorite historical times. Even though, I would have fought on the losing side. It stands to reason, because one of the first songs I was taught as a child in parochial school was the 'Skye boat song'. The first part of the song:

"Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,

Onward! the sailor's cry.

Carry the lad that's born to be king!

Over the sea to Skye."

 I later grew to like the taste of Drambuie, supposedly a favorite of Prince Charlie. Enough about me; let us head toward the book.

 Prince Charles Edward Stuart landed in Scotland on the 23rd of July 1745. He was called the 'Young Pretender' (his father James Francis Edward Stuart was called the 'Old Pretender'), because his grandfather James II was forcibly removed from the English throne in 1688. The author shows us that the Jacobite (not to be confused with the Jacobins) cause had many adherents in the British Isles and Ireland. This book goes through all of the history of the Jacobites before we get to the '45. 

 The prince landed in Scotland against the wishes of his father and in the company of seven gentlemen. While discussions about him landing had always included a good number of French troops (He and his father lived in France. Louis XV used them as pawns against George II of England), he landed with no troops whatsoever. The sheer lunacy of his act of essentially invading Scotland with a total of eight men should be clear.

 The author goes into all of the twists and turns of Scottish Highlands politics of the time. He shows us how Charlie was able to raise a rag tag army that came much closer than it should have to taking George II's throne. He had even been able to invade England before his Scottish troops and lairds pulled him back to Scotland. The story continues through their retreat to the Highlands. They were being chased by British Regulars and their rotund commander the Duke of Cumberland. He was George II's favorite son and George III's brother. Because of his harshness in the Highlands, he was nicknamed the butcher. The book goes into how the Jacobite cause was virtually wiped out after the last battle on English soil Culloden was fought.

 One thing that the book has enormous amounts of is large wonderfully clear maps. In Appendix II there are thirteen! weather maps corresponding to the major events of the campaign. This book is certainly one of the best books I have read that allows the reader to keep up with where and when by the use of these spectacular maps. I have seen books that have maps that look like the author drew them on a drink napkin in the dark. 

 Thank you, Casemate Publishers for allowing me to review this large, 600+, pages work. This is an excellent history of the Jacobites and the '45. Did I mention that it has maps?


Book: Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite '45 Reconsidered

Author: Christopher Duffy

Publisher: Helion & Company

Distributor: Casemate Publishers


 SONG FOR WAR FROM INVICTA REX Song for War came to my attention some time back when seeing it mentioned in ZillaBlitz's list of top te...


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

March 2023





Song for War came to my attention some time back when seeing it mentioned in ZillaBlitz's list of top ten games, even though it hadn't even been launched on Kickstarter.  After his later videos unboxing and playing through some turns I was sold on this game enough to contact Chris Helm at Invicta Rex.  This led initially to a transatlantic phone call and then a session discussing and playing Song for War with Chris and his fellow designer, Seth Stigliano, on Tabletopia!
There is a lot to unpack both literally and figuratively.  The setting is the whole Mediterranean theatre of WWII presented in an area map painted in some of the richest and most dynamic colours, whether land or sea.  It is eye-poppingly stunning and clear, but clear! The land masses stand out dramatically against the sea areas which are themselves striking, both in changes of colour and in the scattering of depth numbers.  Though the latter play no functional part in game play, they add to the feel of you as supreme commander, pouring over just this sort of operational/strategic map in your nation's war room.

The whole shebang- map, units, markers etc...

Next up are the units - which explains the game's serious heft factor. That's because the proto-type units are wooden with images of the units pasted on.  The final components will remain solid wood pieces, but with even more sumptuous silk-screen printing.  There is a magnificent range, covering various types of ships, aircraft and land units.  Here too the colours are strikingly bold: Germans in red, Italians in yellow, British in blue and US in green.  Not exactly conventional, but you certainly won't confuse them and the whole effect of map and counters is amazing.  You just can't wait to be manoeuvring your units around on this stunning vista.

A closer look at just a small number of units
As you can guess from the four nations, this can accommodate from two to four players.  Perhaps too, because of the desire to accommodate four players, one of whom will be the US, the time span of the main Scenario [6 Turns] is from just before the landings for Operation Torch in November 1942, while a second shorter scenario [4 Turns] starts in April 1943.  Personally, there's more than enough action here to satisfy me with either time span, but the lack of an earlier starting date has been a disappointment for some. My initial thought was that with the physical components at your disposal, I imagined enterprising aficianadoes would be hot on the trail of self-designed preludes.  However, having met the designers, albeit via online video, I'm not surprised that they're already responding by working on just such earlier scenarios.  

More of the stunning counters and map design
To return to those four players, you'll be playing as two teams of two cooperative players.  That in itself appeals to me, because like many other aspects of this game it adds to the sandbox element of the game's concept and intention.  Player personality may definitely exert an influence here.  Will your co-nation player be an accommodating partner or will the sort of historical rivalries that bedevilled Allied relationships raise their head, as each of you thinks they know best how to pursue this war. 
It's worth emphasising the sand box nature of this game that I've just mentioned.  This game will only go down an historical road if all the players choose to follow it.  This is NOT a game scripted by its rules to pursue a largely defined historical path.  In fact, some of its most innovative elements will, I think, lead you in the opposite direction. 
British ships in deadly danger from Italian forces

Song for War's conception certainly visually has roots back in the designers' younger days playing Axis and Allies and conversation with them confirmed that, but in all respects they have equally achieved their goal to produce something richer and deeper and truly innovative. They've also succeeded in producing a system that is both highly interactive, while retaining a high fun-level factor - an element that has been singled out by all the enthusiastic video reviewers. 
Before moving on to explore the overall system in more detail, I'd like to take you through some of the details regarding the final finished product.  What you already see in the prototype is stunning in its own right, what you will get in the released game will be even more so.

The map from the Axis perspective
First of all that gorgeous map will be mounted in two sections, each of six panels combining to form a 54"x 31" playing area.  The majority of the many [475 to be precise] units will be  silk-screened on painted wooden pieces, while the 24 unique pieces will be in 3D plastic.  The hidden fleet dials will be cardboard fastened by a plastic rivet and each of the four nations will have a very solid Play Aid detailing all the relevant information for each unit.  Victory objective markers will also be wooden and each nation has a small deck of National Support cards.  Finally the Rule Booklet is a substantial full colour print measuring 330mm x 330mm.
All this, even in its prototype form, was enough to do more than get my attention.  Added to this were the extensive playthroughs on YouTube presented by reviewers and the designers themselves.  However, the absolute certainty that I wanted this game was cemented by having the opportunity to explore directly the system via Tabletopia with the two designers, Chris and Seth, and discuss with them their intentions and the background to the game and its design.
The British Play Aid

At first sight, each game Turn [called Stages] appears fairly conventional and consists of four Phases.  
Phase One : Tactical
Phase Two : Victory 
Phase Three : National Support
Phase Four : Resupply
Phases 2 - 4 are very swift to execute.  
Victory Phase 
This is the simple observation of the VPs  racked up this turn by each of the two sides, Axis and Allied.  These are scored for a variety of Objectives and the total will be visually recorded by wooden tiles which are placed against  a printed scale on the edge of the map.  No need to do even the simplest of addition.  The linear placement of these tiles will always record exactly what the score is at any point in the game. Both sides have totals which, if achieved, immediately win the game.
National Support Phase  
At the beginning of this Phase, each nation will draw 2 cards from their individual deck of National Support cards and will also be given a very small number of National Support tokens which they can spend to buy these cards.  Tokens may be saved from Stage to Stage and the cards cover four categories -  Strategy, Unit Upgrades, Unique Units and Events.  All of these will impact play either temporarily or in the long term.  It's for you to decide which cards to buy  and when you play them.  Plenty of decision making and flavour here.
The distinctive backs of each Nation's National Support Cards

Resupply Phase
Each nation gains supply points from the Objectives they control and can purchase new units with them.  The rules for this Phase are still simple, but a step up from most games, as each Objective is rated for Land, Sea and Air supply and obviously you can buy only the appropriate type of unit with its corresponding supply type.  Add to that the additional effect on your supply of controlling shipping lanes on the map and you can see just one significant way the designers have sought to create a much more detailed and realistic game, with simple, clear rules.
Tactical Phase
Though the first Phase in each Stage, I've kept it for last, as it is the heart of the game, will occupy most of your playing time and contains all of the most innovative elements of this game.  The designers' goals were to achieve a highly interactive system with little downtime that would appeal to a wide range of gamers.

The table showing all Movement steps and all Combat steps

Here is how they have achieved their goals. The first, and in my view, most significant decision was to divide the Tactical Phase into six separate Movement steps, with some lighter, faster units [e.g. fighters] having the ability to move [and potentially attack] in more than one of the Movement steps.  To explain further I shall outline play in Stage 1.
Being an odd numbered Stage, the two Allied Nations go first.  [On even numbered Stages, the Axis go first.] So they perform Movement Step 1- fighters and submarines move and as they move into an enemy occupied area they place a Combat marker and then resolve any legal attacks in the order shown on the Combat steps side of the table above.  Any defending enemy units that can legally fire do so.  This combat is simultaneous and as in many games, Combat is only mandatory when entering an area solely occupied by enemy units; on entering a contested area it's optional. 
Next the Axis nations repeat exactly what the Allies did - moving their fighters and submarines, marking where combat must occur and both sides performing eligible fire simultaneously. Each of the first five Movement steps follows this identical pattern creating an exceptionally highly interactive system of movement and combat.  
Movement step 6 is different, as all aircraft simply return to eligible bases or aircraft carriers.  Beware moving aircraft moving in earlier turns and being out of range of bases to return to.  Beware even more the enemy capturing your base/s!
This intertwining of Movement and Combat is, as far as I'm aware, the unique design concept and one that has been developed to make play engrossing and above all a fun experience. Inextricably part of this is the equally innovative handling of Combat.  Virtually all units are divided into one of three categories of Firepower shown by a colour code: blue, yellow or red. Similarly, each unit will also be designated as belonging to one of three defensive Armour colours; once again blue, yellow or red.  This hierarchy of colour from blue to red runs from weakest to strongest.  So a unit of blue Firepower can only hit a unit of blue Defence armour, whereas a unit of yellow Firepower can hit units that have either yellow or blue Defence armour.   To make this system even easier to operate, there are matching blue, yellow and red dice.  In among this are a very, very few special units that have the greatest strength and these are coded black!!  A further look at the British Player Aid below shows that for this nation blue and yellow predominate.

Every single piece of information needed is to be found on this one Player Aid for each nationality.  Movement, Armour type and Firepower type along with a variety of symbols that tell you what type of units you can attack, any special abilities that the units possesses and the cost to buy the unit in the Resupply Phase.  Consequently, each of your units simply displays a very familiar identifying image and an equally familiar lettered designation e.g. a tank symbol and the letter T.  The final item of information on the Player Aid is each unit's Firepower hit number.  No complicated combat charts, just a simple "to hit" number - roll equal or higher on a 12-sided dice and you've scored a hit.  Another factor I welcome wholeheartedly in the Combat system is that normally a unit can only fire on units that are of the same or lesser Defence colour as the Attacking unit's Firepower colour.  However, a neat addition allows two units of the same Firepower to defer their attack until the very last step of Combat in order to fire on a unit whose Defence Armour is one colour level higher 
Alongside these broad, overarching, distinctive elements of the system are some additional simple features either not generally found in most war games or here given greater definition without greater complexity of rules.  These include features such as: units when moving can attempt pass-through movement at the expense of suffering a simple defensive die-rolls; and more nuanced distinctions between eligible targets   

An area marked for Combat
[note the black marker indicates the Axis are the Attackers]

Only one area has raised a question and that is solo play and, in particular, the lack of a designed solo system.  As a gamer who began in the fairly early days of the hobby, when approx. 75% of gamers played entirely solo for lack of anyone else, the simple and only solution was play both [or even multiple sides] to the best of your ability.  All I would say for Song for War is that virtually everything that makes its system so innovative and special - namely its high degree of interaction, multiple simple steps, multiple avenues of movement and multiple paths to capturing the crucial Objective areas - make a solo system either impossible or would produce an A.I. that would remove the very fluidity, variety and flexibility that is the heart of this game.  I, for one, will happily want to explore this game solo playing all sides as best I can, while seeking every opportunity to play it with all number of potential players, whether two, three or four. 

A final look at the whole picture 
Behind the qualities of this game are the co-designers and producers of this game, Chris and Seth, who have been incredibly generous of their time in discussing and allowing me to share in game play with them and readily respond on the various internet platforms to all questions and suggestions.

So to sum up, here are the key factors that make me consider this game an absolute must-have.




  The Hill of Death: Champion Hill by Tiny Battle Publishing  I will be the first to admit that I knew very little about the campaign to tak...

The Hill of Death: Champion Hill by Tiny Battle Publishing The Hill of Death: Champion Hill by Tiny Battle Publishing

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March 2023

The Hill of Death: Champion Hill by Tiny Battle Publishing

 The Hill of Death: Champion Hill


Tiny Battle Publishing

 I will be the first to admit that I knew very little about the campaign to take Vicksburg and some other events in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. So, I did what every other red blooded grognard would do and I read up on it. For me, wargaming is as much about the playing of the game as it is in learning about the history of what is depicted.  Rather than me just spouting off some history that I just assimilated I will leave it to the master, Hermann Luttmann, to describe the history and the game.

"The Hill of Death is the first game in the new "Shattered Union" American Civil War series by Tiny Battle Publishing. The series is designed to be accessible and fast-playing, suitable for gamers of any experience level. It is based firmly within the core design philosophy of the Blind Swords and Black Swan systems, but will focus on more obscure or over-looked battles and campaigns, including some fictional "what if" battles that could have occurred during the war. The entire series is governed by one relatively simple set of standard Series Rules, which are altered in each game by a few Game Module specific rules.

The Hill of Death is the first Game Module in the Shattered Union series and covers the entire Battle of Champion Hill. This critical engagement was fought just outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi on May 16th ,1863, between the Union Army of the Tennessee (under Major General Ulysses S. Grant) and the Confederate Army of Vicksburg (under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton). Grant successfully landed his Union army on the shores of the Mississippi River and quickly advanced inland towards the Mississippi state capital of Jackson. General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate force made only a token effort at defending the city and then Johnston instructed Pemberton to sally forth from the Vicksburg fortress and attack Grant’s line of supply. On the morning of May 16th, Pemberton’s Army of Vicksburg was in route to fulfilling that mission when it received new orders from Johnston to turn around and join him near the town of Clinton. Pemberton hesitated and as he contemplated his next move, Grant about-faced the Union army. Leaving most of Sherman’s Corps to hold Jackson, he began a determined advance against Vicksburg and Pemberton’s strung out and confused Rebel army. The Battle of Champion Hill was underway, and the fate of Vicksburg hung in the balance."

 This is what comes with the game:

1 – 17" x 22" Map

189 – Counters

45 – Cards

1 – Player Aid

1 – Series Rulebook

1 – Game Module Rulebook

5 – Six-Sided Dice (Red, White, Black, Blue and Gray)

 So, Mr. Luttmann has developed a third rule set of games for American Civil War Battles. This can only be a good thing for us grognards (Along with being a terrible thing for our wives and wallets. Come to think of it, someone should use wives and wallets somehow in a game or company title. Maybe even a gaming convention named 'Wallets sans Wives') 

 If you did not know, Tiny Battle Publishing is the little brother of 'Flying Pig Games'. To illustrate the difference just look at A Most Fearful Sacrifice and this game next to each other. Unlike David and Goliath you do not have to pick a side with these two. With Tiny Battles games you get the best of both worlds: great games with a very small footprint and quick play. You do not have to build on an addition to your house and buy a regulation pool table to set up your copy of A Most Fearful Sacrifice.

 The map is smaller than usual for most games at 17" x 22". However, this is to be expected from a company named Tiny Battles. It looks even smaller because the hexes are one inch wide. So, there is no trouble with cardboard clutter. The map is very well done and very easy on the eyes. It is one of those maps that you would like to copy and put on your wall. As you can see, it is easy to see what terrain each hex is made of. The addition of the names of the different families and their dwellings is a nice touch. It also helps to use the map to follow along with books about the battle. The counters are large at 3/4". They are extremely easy to read, and you can eschew your magnifying glass when playing. The colors are the standard blue and butternut for the Union and Confederate units. The game comes with one large 11" x 17" double sided Player Aid. It is in full color and made from hard stock and laminated. It really reminds me of a restaurant menu in size, color, and the type size. One side has all of the tables needed for the game. The other side has the Sequence of Play etc. on it. Like most games in a series there are two different Rulebooks: one for the series and another for rules that will only apply to the game itself. The Series Rulebook is fifteen pages long. It is made of your normal rulebook paper and is in full color. The type is a bit small but still readable. There is an index included on the first page. The game Rulebook is only eleven pages long with the last page of the Rulebook being another copy of the tables used in the game. The rules take up only five and a half pages. After the rules come the setup and Victory Conditions for the two scenarios. This is followed by a write up about the Optional Units that both sides can add to the game. The game comes with forty-five cards. These are the normal game size cards, but they do seem to be a little sturdier than most. There are Event Cards and Formation Activation Cards. The Formation Activation Cards come with a black and white picture of the units' General or CIC. The components as a whole are as good as you would see on more of the 'larger' games in our hobby.

 This is the Sequence of Play:

1. Game Turn Marker Phase

2. Command Decision Phase

3. Held Formation/CIC Activation Card Phase

4. Activation Phase

  a. Draw Activation Card Step
  b. Immediate Event and Wild Card Step

  c. Formation Activation/CIC Card Step

  d. Fire Combat Step

  e. Movement Step

  f. Close Combat Step

  g. Regroup Step

  h. End Activation Step

5. End Phase

  a. Held Event Card Step

  b. Rest and Victory Point Step

 So, what we have here is a new subset of Mr. Luttmann's rules that are a bit streamlined for smaller battles. For those of us who wanted to have the battles of the American Civil War that did not make the 'A' list- Antietam, Chickamauga etc. this is a bit of a Godsend. Champion Hill probably influenced the ending of the Civil War as much or more than any of the much larger battles. 

 How does the game play? Fast and furious, as the designer intended. The footprint of the game and play time are both on the small side. The game is listed as taking two hours to play. From my experience that seems just about right. Of course, it helps if you have played some of his other designs. Naturally, two newbies to the systems are going to take longer on at least their first playthrough.  The game includes rules and counters of the Confederate Army Supply Wagons. As the Confederate player it behooves you to keep them safe. The rules also include some Optional Units for both sides that could have been present at the battle. I would say to get a least a game or two under your belt until you dabble with these 'what ifs'. The game system, like Mr. Luttmann's others, replaces a chit pull or die roll with cards for unit activation etc. So, he has been able to add many different actions that the player would not have if he just pulled a chit that activated x units. It adds a whole new layer to the 'friction' of board wargames.

 One thing about the Tiny Battle games is that if you are so inclined you can buy a PDF of the game and print everything out yourself at a substantial saving. My very few efforts at this have been underwhelming, to say the least. However, I have seen some people who have done it perfectly. Thank you, Tiny Battle Publishing, for allowing me to review another great game from Mr. Luttmann. It plays quickly but is still pretty deep. It also plays well within the bounds of historical accuracy.


Tiny Battle Publishing:

The Hill of Death: Champion Hill:

A review of The Devil's to pay: The first day of Gettysburg:

A review of Cruel Morning Shiloh 1862: