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First things first, this article is much belated. I took a bit of a hiatus from posting here last fall and this new add on for Afghani...

Afghanistan '11 Royal Marines DLC - AAR & Review Afghanistan '11 Royal Marines DLC - AAR & Review

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

Every Single Soldier

First things first, this article is much belated. I took a bit of a hiatus from posting here last fall and this new add on for Afghanistan '11 was next on my list to review, but when I came back it slipped through the cracks and was missed. So, I thought I would make up for being tardy by writing up a combo AAR and review. 

From developer Every Single Soldier, and publisher Slitherine, Royal Marines is an expansion for Afghanistan '11, a game just as much about the logistics of war as it was about the fighting. Royal Marines doesn't change up the formula too much, but does give you some new toys to play with, and some additional options for conducting your counter-insurgency (COIN) ops. 

Like in the base game, Royal Marines includes a 10 mission campaign with historically based scenarios that give you unique situations and restraints to deal with. The other way to play the game is by jumping into a randomly generated map, where you will always have the same overall objective, but be completely free in how you want to pursue it. I have not played through the entire Royal Marines campaign, but I sampled several of the missions and saw that there is some good variety here if you are looking for a fresh challenge. This early mission, however, is not very complex, but I thought it would give a good sampling of what the game is like.

Today I'll be playing the second mission of the campaign, Operation Condor. This mission is loosely based on a real event. On May 16th, 2002, an SAS patrol was attacked for several hours by militants. The SAS patrol was extricated from its predicament by the arrival of AC-130's and Apache helicopters. The next day, a 1000 man strong force led by Royal Marines was deployed to the area with the goal of eliminating any enemy presence. 

For the purposes of this scenario, that real life operation is abstracted as seen below. I have a base already established in the central, somewhat eastern area of the map. I need to send out forces to hunt down and destroy all Taliban units on the western half of the map. In A'11, the east edge of the map always represents Pakistan, and that is where new Taliban units will come from. Cutting off any reinforcements will be an important part of my strategy. Local militant units can also pop up from hidden caves all over the map. These are difficult to eliminate entirely, but doing so isn't my concern in this scenario. I'll also need to get the Hearts and Minds score above 55, which shouldn't be too difficult. In A'11, winning over the local villages scores you more political points (your currency for new forces) and can yield intelligence, like the location of poppy fields which supply funds to the Taliban until they are destroyed. 

It doesn't take a tactical genius to look at the map above to see that geography will not be on my side in this scenario. Much of the map is mountainous terrain, with only one lonely winding road linking the two groups of villages. I'll need to get SAS units up in those mountains to spot for the enemy, and a convoy organized to travel through the valley and set up a FOB (forward operating base) on the far side. Every unit can only carry a limited amount of fuel/rations into the field. This means that any forays by friendly units must either be short ranged, or directed towards a FOB where they can resupply and take shelter from insurgent ambushes. For the insurgents, the mountains represent their safe haven, where only a few of my units can reach them. My special forces units (the SAS boys) are able to stay in the field longer than regular infantry, and can set up observation posts from which they can spot insurgents scurrying about in the mountains. They will be the key to locating the enemy. Once spotted, helicopters, artillery, and air strikes will be brought to bear to wipe them out. A FOB on the western half of the map will allow me to keep my helicopters and SAS units supplied. A conventional ground force will be needed to establish and secure said FOB.

Before going on the offensive, I first want to send a small convoy out to visit the nearest village to the east, and then set up a FOB a little further down the road. Spreading FOB's all over the map is generally a good idea, as it gives you more places to park units and to extend your reach. You can also use SAS units to train Afghanistan National Army (ANA) units in each FOB. In a normal game of A'11, as the turns go by you are forced to gradually hand over security to the ANA, so the more troops you can train, the better. You can also train ANA helicopters, artillery, and APC's at your main base, which I will also be doing. We will need a lot of helicopters in order to overcome the difficult terrain here and sustain the SAS posts in the field without interruption.

The visit with the village elders goes well, and we are given the location of a poppy field on the far side of the map. Taking this out will net us some political points, and weaken the Taliban. The only problem is that the field is much too far away to reach on the ground until we have a FOB over there. Luckily, we have helicopters on tap. Unfortunately, a couple of Taliban units pop up and damage our mine-detecting unit at the head of the convoy on the next turn. Without its ability to detect and destroy IED's, any road trip into uncontrolled territory will almost certainly meet disaster. The convoy is recalled back to HQ to repair.

While my first mine detector is in the shop, the second is sent down the road to the west, in an attempt to clear the first section of the road for follow-on forces in the next turn. The unit is also ambushed by insurgents and damaged. It seems the enemy is not hiding, but is aggressively operating right outside my main base. A drone is called in (you can have one on the map at a time) to recon the area. Three militant units are spotted and our available firepower is directed at them. Artillery and infantry from HQ, and an airstrike (an ability that can hit anywhere on the map, but has a long cool down) are used to knock out one of the enemy detachments and send the others fleeing. It seems we will need to clear out the immediate area before making a run to the west. To this end, I deploy a couple of SAS units into the nearby mountains.

Helicopters are not completely immune to insurgent forces, but they don't have to worry about IED's or terrain, making them critically important in A'11. Despite the rocky start to the ground campaign, the Royal Marines of Charlie Company are airlifted across the map to that poppy field that the villagers told us about. Destroying it should slow the flow of new Taliban units, and rewards us with 1000 political points, which is quite helpful as I've overextended a bit and almost run out. Without a nearby FOB established, the Marines hop aboard their helicopter for a ride back to HQ. 

(Apologies for some of these images being far too bright. From what I gather, there is some kind of shader issue right now which causes this to happen The developers are working on it.)

A couple of turns later, my second attempt at a western bound convoy is more successful. As you can see above, the vehicles have almost reached the key crossroads on the western half of the map. However, they are still a couple of turns away from safety, and end this turn in a highly vulnerable position sandwiched between two mountain ridges. From the message log, you can see how important sweeping for IED's is in this game. Three were eliminated on this turn alone. The insurgents will come back by and try to place more IED's all the time. Areas under direct observation are safe, but even a recently traveled road cannot be trusted if it was out of your sight for just a turn or two.

Back to the east, the Taliban presence is still strong. I was able to establish a waterworks at the nearby village (which makes them happy and nets you political points each turn) but my convoy was once again forced to retreat to safety before establishing a FOB. Pushing out in this direction will require some firepower. Luckily for me, a special event fired which gave me TWO Apache gunships for free. These are some of your most potent offensive weapons in the game, but come with a hefty price tag. Getting two for free is a real boost, and I set them to work immediately. The Apaches can engage the enemy from long range, don't have to worry about terrain, and have a decent chance of destroying an insurgent unit in one hit. These enemy units are also in range of my artillery, and it gives them a good reason to run back to Pakistan.

Ten turns in, let's take stock of the overall strategic picture. So far, I haven't accomplished much, but the framework is there. I have SAS units monitoring the mountains to the north, my convoy safely arrived in the west, and the local area around HQ is now secure. I've also won over the neighboring village and made visits to a couple of others. All that said, there are still a lot of insurgent units on the board, plus more that I can't see.

Visiting villages is an important part of the game, as it helps increase your H&M score, and occasionally gives you the location of an enemy unit, IED, or poppy field. This intelligence isn't always available however. Villages with little campfires burning are more likely to give you info, and so you want to visit them ASAP. In the original game these fires would stay lit until you came by, but in the Royal Marines DLC, they will go out soon if you do not make a visit. I like this change, as it adds some urgency to this aspect of the game, and forces you to be more flexible. 

On the next turn, a sandstorm blows in. This limits movement for all of my units and I have recall some helicopters back to HQ before they can complete their assignments. Fortunately for my western convoy, they are able to get the FOB built, and take shelter within it. Nature can at times be a greater obstacle than the enemy.

As the sandstorm clears, my western FOB gets to work. The minesweeper heads out to clear IED's from the nearby roads, and the Marines visit the village. My construction vehicle is also dispatched to build a water works there. All of these actions draw the local villages to the coalition side, making things easier for me, and satisfying the second victory condition for this scenario. My next step here will be to try and win over the village to the north. It isn't very far away, and is along the road. The village to the south is irrelevant at this point, as it is too remote to commit my limited resources towards. Sorry, folks! 

Zooming back out, you can see that I now have a FOB in the east and west. The HQ area looks clear, but out west we have a swarm of insurgents and IED's to deal with. I've also lost the village in the NE corner of the map to the militants. Winning them back may be difficult due to their location far away from my primary objective. For now I'll focus on eliminated the enemy from that area. Additional units are dispatched west now that they can operate out of the FOB.

At the western FOB, the fighting gets intense as several more Taliban units pop up. My SAS men are there to spot them, and once again heavy firepower is brought to bear. One Apache arrives to help the outpost, and an artillery unit will be airlifted over soon. Artillery units in FOB's require a lot more attention than they do at the HQ. A dedicated artillery expansion must be built for the FOB, and ammunition must be brought in by supply trucks or helicopters on a regular basis. For this mission, supply trucks are simply not an option. My helicopters continue to do logistics work, bringing rations to the SAS units in the field, and supplies to the critical western outpost.

On turn 16, things are looking good, but we still have our work cut out for us. The eastern FOB is busy fighting off Taliban reinforcements coming over from Pakistan. This is exactly what I want, but continues to tie down one of my Apaches. In the west, the enemy has been beaten back from the FOB, but still has a presence scattered around the objective area. Fortunately for me, I now have a nearly complete net of SAS observers gradually moving west and sweeping the area. Each time an enemy is spotted, artillery and helicopters operating out of the FOB are called up to eliminate them.

A couple of turns later, and the strategic picture is looking excellent. The enemy has been eliminated from most of the map, I have eyes in the field able to stop any new units from entering the objective zone, and a convoy headed out of the western FOB on its way to make nice with that northern village. A couple more poppy fields were found and eliminated, giving me a massive advantage in resources. Things are looking good!

Things are going even better than I thought, as on the next turn my Apache gunship takes out this final Taliban unit in the objective zone, fulfilling that part of the mission. As you can see, my Hearts and Minds score is now at 66, well above the required 55 for the scenario, and my political points are maxed out. All and all, a very good operation for the coalition despite some early stumbles. I call the mission a win, even though it doesn't actually end on the next turn. One thing I don't like about the campaigns in A'11 and this expansion, is that sometimes you are forced to play the scenarios out to the full 60 turns of a standard random map, despite completing the assigned objectives of the scenario. In this case, I've completely taken over the map and won over the villagers. Continuing to play would simply involve clicking end turn and smoking any insurgent unit silly enough to wander into range. Not too exciting, so I call it win and pack things up. In a full standard match, part of the challenge is that you must hand over control to the ANA gradually over time. At the end, the ANA must stand alone against the insurgents. In that case, it makes sense to play out to 60 turns, since that is part of the experience. Here though, it doesn't really gel with the idea of specific set of goals based on a relatively short real world operation.

That ends the AAR, but I have a couple more points to make for the review. Several other changes come with the DLC that I haven't mentioned so far. One significant addition, which didn't make an appearance in this scenario, is the inclusion of civilian traffic along the roads. And yes, as you might guess, this traffic can be used by the Taliban to send suicide car bombs right up to your units. In order to screen this traffic, you can now build roadblocks wherever you see fit. In order to help balance things out, and add some immersion to the game, you can now also get Afghan police units. You earn these by winning over villages to the coalition. This all adds yet another layer to the intricate dance of logistics and planning that is Afghanistan '11. Much like in the real conflict, engaging with and destroying the enemy is the easy part. Building up the infrastructure that will allow you to lock down an area and keep the insurgents out is the difficult part.

If you enjoyed the base game, it's safe to say that you will enjoy the Royal Marines add on. With new missions, new strategies, and new units to play with, there's plenty here to explore. Especially for the very reasonable price of $10, you really can't go wrong.

Afghanistan '11 and the Royal Marines DLC are available directly from Matrix/Slitherine or on Steam.

- Joe Beard

P.S. - I hope you enjoyed the AAR. I plan to do some full fledged ones soon, so this was a bit of trial run.

Today I have a special treat, an interview with Johan Nagel, founder of Every Single Soldier, a studio which has brought us several ...

Interview with Johan Nagel from Every Single Soldier Interview with Johan Nagel from Every Single Soldier

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

Every Single Soldier

Today I have a special treat, an interview with Johan Nagel, founder of Every Single Soldier, a studio which has brought us several high quality games in the last few years. Vietnam '65, Afghanistan '11, and Carrier Deck. He discussed with me the past, present, and future of his company. Enjoy!

AWNT: Tell us a bit about yourself, what was the path that led you into playing wargames and eventually into producing your own games?

I come from a military family, my father was a submariner, my brother an officer in the Army Special Forces and I was a Lieutenant in the South African Marines. I have been playing wargames and generally all sorts of board games since my early teens. I started with Squad Leader and progressed from there. I decided to leave the military as we were always going to win the battle war but lose the political war.

I am a lawyer by degree and went into banking, all the while keeping my interest in military history and especially strategy. Vietnam '65 was actually designed and played on a Commodore 64 (GWBasic) and then later on PC (using the Operation Flashpoint editor) as finding an opponent was always a challenge, especially with such a small community in South Africa.

A few years ago I decided to actually publish V65 and thoroughly enjoyed the whole process from design to actual development and decided to make banking part time and making military games full time.

AWNT: Could you tell us about the founding of Every Single Soldier? Did you and your team have a clear vision of what kind of games you wanted to make from Day 1?

ESS is actually just myself, I design, finance and produce the titles, all outsourced to studios both locally and internationally. ESS was actually created in the early 90's and was another military hobby of mine, casting and painting military chess sets and Anglo-Boer war artillery sets. Literally, every single soldier was handcrafted and painted by me, hence Every Single Soldier. I just kept the brand.

I always wanted to make games post WW2, I have played every battle in WW2 so many times I gravitated to modern conflicts , especially counter insurgency wars, having served in the SADF in the Angola border wars in the mid 80's. I was always very interested in the Vietnam war, partly because of the counter insurgency nature and the fascination with the development of airmobile warfare.

AWNT: Is there a dream game you would like to make one day, that you simply don’t have the resources for right now?

Fortunately after a successful 20 year career in banking, I have the resources to make the games I really want to without the fear of not being able to pay the bills :) I have so many games I would like to make, it's a matter of priority and finding the resources to make them that's the challenge.

Making games about the South African conflicts both in the 19th and 20th century doesn't make immediate economic sense but are what I really want to create, but [I] will save them for later, leaving the best for last, as I learn the trade of making and publishing games.

AWNT: What was the inspiration for Vietnam ‘65, specifically in terms of making a game that wasn’t just about combat, but required the player to focus on the Hearts and Minds aspect of the conflict?

The traditional, conventional wargame methodology of building up your army, crossing a border and then destroying your opponent was becoming a bit stale for me as well as being a model that could never realistically model modern conflicts. Not only did I experience counter insurgency war first hand, but have studied it, and the hearts and minds of the local population had to be a factor in the new model. Also a war without borders, Intel taking center stage and political objectives needed a new model. V65 was really a baby step in this direction, A11 expanded on it adding many new levels of complexity, it [is] still a part of the journey, there is a lot that can be added to the future.

AWNT: After developing Vietnam ‘65, how close was the original design to the final result?

Pretty close, but the original V65 (1990) had a lot more elements and was also played on a strategic map but then the player could assume the actual FPS character of any action at any time, thanks to the great Operation Flashpoint Editor, I still view this as the best version of the game :) The hard part was deciding what to leave out and how to keep as much simplicity in the model whilst capturing the essence of the conflict.

AWNT: After Vietnam ‘65, what led you to choose Afghanistan as the next conflict to explore with this system?

Afghanistan was a natural choice following Vietnam, the parallels are very apparent, albeit the terrain very different. This also gave me the opportunity to include elements left out of V65, for example the whole nation building (Vietnamization policy), political variables (elections and global events) etc.

AWNT: Was there any feedback that Afghanistan was too recent of a conflict to turn into a game?

Surprisingly no negative feedback on any scale was received, we had no more than a few posts in a few threads , so was very happy about that. I took great care to ensure the credibility and authenticity of the conflict was properly represented, being ex military myself I understand this, and had constant input from a number of serving US Army officers and NCO's throughout the process. The feedback for vets and serving has been overwhelmingly positive and this has really been the most gratifying part of the whole process.

AWNT: Afghanistan ‘11 expanded upon most of the mechanics in Vietnam ‘65. Were there any features or mechanics that you wanted to add but didn’t make the cut for whatever reason?

So A11 was an opportunity to evolve the model but certain elements were left out, mostly to keep the evolution of the model at a steady pace, as the model has a relatively steep learning curve and we need to keep this in mind when trying to get a larger audience. The civilian population and the subsequent interactions with them needs expanding, Intel needs to become more 'nuanced', unit experience needs to play a larger role.  The tactical part of the game, etc.

AWNT: Are you familiar with the COIN series of board games from GMT Games? The games Fire in the Lake and A Distant Plain are similar in some respects to Vietnam ‘65 and Afghanistan ‘11, respectively.

Very familiar with the series, in fact, I contacted them a while back offering to take the series to the computer realm, time will tell. Enjoy the series as it too is abstracted, just like my games are.

AWNT: After visiting Afghanistan and Vietnam, what is the next stop in this series?

Right now we are porting A11 to the iPad, then we will be publishing the British Army DLC for A11, new vehicles, campaign, uniform etc. Thereafter we are planning a USMC DLC and finally an ISAF DLC which would include a few vehicles from most of the top contributors to the conflict.

The potential for future stops could include an ISIS adaption and our very own Angola Bush war :)

AWNT: What was the spark that led to Carrier Deck? While still war-themed, it is a very different sort of game from your other titles.

As mentioned earlier, my interest in game development is not linear to counter insurgency wars, I have a number of game designs that have been 'percolating' in my head for many years, I was always interested in the battle of Midway and especially the finding and destroying opposing carriers. This coupled with my preferred style of making abstracted games as opposed to purely historically accurate games and that I prefer developing systems rather that recreating events in my game designs, CD was born. It's perfect for a game, it is process driven, involves awesome tech and is relevant.

AWNT: Do you have plans for more light, fast paced games in the vein of Carrier Deck?

Indeed I do, currently in development is His Majesty's Ship (HMS), completely different to all my previous games. Being raised as a Navy child, Captaining a ship was always going to be a boyhood dream. Once again, looking for a game that catch the's essence of commanding a vessel has proved hard to find, most 18th century games currently focus on 'sailing around your opponent trying to discharge cannons', similar to the traditional WW2 games where you stack your infantry ( Stregth 5 ) + armor (strength 8) and attack the enemy infantry (strength 4) apply modifiers etc, this is so not my type of game! I have played them to death and rather prefer to try capture the essence of the theater, including logistics, morale, etc. in an abstracted form. I create systems as opposed to outcomes, and when I get that unintended/unexpected result, I still smile (sometimes not) when I unexpectedly experience a crossover of a few of the systems in A11 and the result is both credible, plausible and entertaining.

As development of HMS has already commenced, I am currently working on a new fast paced game abstracting the present/future conflict for the dominance of the Arctic Circle. The game is currently in prototype and coming along nicely.

I have not totally forsaken the TBS genre and have completed a design doc on a game that captures the essence (abstracted of course :) of the period of 1860-1900 in South Africa (Anglo-Zulu + Anglo-Boer) and hope to get this into production before the end of this year.

I am really enjoying my new 'career' in game development and am aiming to publish around 3 titles a year, after so many long years in Financial Services, I have ton of games stored since my youth and now have the time and resources to actually realize them.

AWNT: Well, you sound like a very busy man, so I'll let you go. Thank you for your time!

ESS Official Website:

All of the games discussed can be found on Steam, the Apple App Store, and on

- Joe Beard

I did a review of Carrier Deck last month when it released, but the game has had a solid patch applied since then, which fixed pretty ...

Carrier Deck 1.1.2 Gameplay Carrier Deck 1.1.2 Gameplay

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

Every Single Soldier

I did a review of Carrier Deck last month when it released, but the game has had a solid patch applied since then, which fixed pretty much all of the issues I had with it. I wanted to do a video of the game in action, so you can see how it plays after being smoothed out a bit.


- Joe Beard

Hello everyone, today I'm introducing my new podcast "Skirmish Line" This podcast will bring you more the great content y...

Introducing the Skirmish Line Podcast Introducing the Skirmish Line Podcast

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

Every Single Soldier

Hello everyone, today I'm introducing my new podcast "Skirmish Line" This podcast will bring you more the great content you expect from A Wargamer's Needful Things, delivered in a new way. I listen to a ton of podcasts, and have wanted to try doing it for myself for a long time. This first episode is rather short and I'm sure my delivery could use some work, but I hope you enjoy it! 

More episodes to come in the weeks and months ahead!

Update: Some of the issues I brought up here, with regard to launching missions in a certain order, being forced to launch supply craft f...

Carrier Deck Review Carrier Deck Review

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

Every Single Soldier

Update: Some of the issues I brought up here, with regard to launching missions in a certain order, being forced to launch supply craft first, etc. were fixed via a patch about a month after release. You can see a video featuring the game and those changes using this link.

Carrier Deck tasks the player not with directly fighting the battles of a modern naval warfare scenario, but with managing the logistics of a very busy flight deck. Developed by Every Single Soldier and published by Slitherine/Matrix Games, Carrier Deck falls more on the lighter end of the gaming spectrum than what you might normally expect from those names. Unlike the turn-based Afghanistan '11, Every Single Soldier's other recent release, which focused on long term planning and carefully considered logistics, Carrier Deck requires the player to constantly shift their focus from moment to moment as each new threat pops up. 

Carrier Deck gives you a bird's eye view of the titular carrier deck, from which you click on the various aircraft to select them, then either click to send them to a different parking spot, or select what sort of mission you want the aircraft to be prepped for. You will be doing a lot of clicking, so make sure to warm up that clicker finger ahead of time. It's not quite Starcraft 2, but once a mission starts, don't expect to take a break until it ends. Each of the scenarios only lasts 10-15 minutes, but will demand your complete attention from beginning to end.

 The gameplay revolves around two areas of the screen. The actual flight deck and aircraft, rendered in modest but clear 3D graphics where you will be dealing with the units directly, and the bottom half of the screen where you will see everything that is happening out in the field. Threats will approach in four differently colored channels, representing air, surface, undersea, and land-based enemies. The enemy units approach from the right, and if they reach the left side, they will deal damage to your carrier. Your first problem is that the carrier group has a very short detection range into all the channels other than the land units. To extend your vision, thereby giving you more time to counter a threat, you will need to send aircraft out on reconnaissance missions. Dedicated recon units like the S-3 Viking offer better vision and longer loiter times, but are usually in short supply. In a pinch you can send out the workhorse F-18 Hornets as scouts, but will want to send something better as soon as it becomes available. Helicopters also occupy parts of your deck, specifically Seahawks and Chinooks.

Once a threat appears in one of the channels, you will need to ready an appropriate aircraft to deal with it, queue up the mission, then launch the unit. The actual combat is not your concern, and will always be successful. That all sounds simple enough, if you only needed to deal with one thing at a time. In reality, you will be dealing with many things at once, all the time. Carrier Deck is a bit like learning to juggle, and just as you get a handle on juggling three balls, someone throws in a fourth, then a fifth, a sixth, and so on. As you are sending units out on missions, others are coming back in to land. These returning craft need to be moved out of the way, then re-armed for another go. To complicate matters, units can sometimes return with damage, necessitating a trip below deck on one of the elevators, then back up. In addition to that, new units and supply transports often arrive mid-mission and must be worked into your current rotation. Tougher enemies must be hit by multiple aircraft, and occasionally a really tough enemy will require two different mission types to be flown in sequence.  Needless to say, there are a lot of plates spinning all the time. 

One thing I'm not crazy about is how the missions which are queued up must be launch in the order you created them, even if you have aircraft ready to launch for the second or third mission in line. This often seems pointless, since you can just cancel a less pressing mission then recreate it an instant later. To add to this frustration, the supply craft, which arrive periodically, take absolute precedence over all other missions by default. Even if an enemy destroyer is about to strike in a matter of seconds, and you have fighters primed and waiting on the catapults, you have to wait for that cargo plane to refuel, waltz over to the runway, and then take off before you can launch any other aircraft. I don't really understand the logic of this, other than making things more difficult.

To assist you with sorting through this multi-tasking challenge is the well thought out UI. The bottom half of the screen, with the various channels and sections showing queued missions and returning aircraft, tells you everything you need to know about the situation at a glance. To make mission tasking clear, everything is color coded. Air missions are red, surface is blue, submarine is yellow, etc. The aircraft themselves are highlighted in bright colors to indicate what mission they have been equipped for, matching the icons on the information screen below. Clicking on an aircraft shows all of the locations on the deck it can be moved to, holding down the mouse displays a radial menu with all of the missions it can be equipped for, again with clear color coding.

The game comes with a linear campaign consisting of a few dozen missions of increasing difficulty and complexity. Each outing throws a different combination of enemy and friendly forces at you, though the core gameplay loop remains mostly the same. You are scored based on how much damage the carrier takes and how many aircraft are lost (usually due to collisions on the deck). Simply surviving the mission will unlock the next one, but you can get some replayability out of returning to try for a perfect score when you fall short. Playing through the entire campaign will only take a few hours, as each mission can be completed in a matter of minutes. Perfectionists will need more time though, as getting five stars on every mission will inevitably require multiple attempts at the more difficult scenarios.

Additionally, there is a quick play mode which is basically more of the same at your chosen difficulty level, and a survival mode where the game will keep getting more and more difficult until you are overwhelmed. Whether you play these modes will depend on just how much more of the game you want after finishing the campaign. 

As mentioned, the graphics in Carrier Deck are not that spectacular, but it looks decent enough considering the price point. The various aircraft are nicely modeled and easy to distinguish from one another. The camera can be moved around to get a closer look at everything, but you will rarely have time to be ogling those Super Hornets. The radio chatter was done particularly well, with the aircraft reporting in using all sorts of squadron names. Between aircraft launching, requesting clearance to land, and enemy units being spotted, the radio keeps you informed and adds a bit to the immersion factor.

I didn't experience any major bugs while playing Carrier Deck, though I did have a couple of minor happenings such as an aircraft not changing to the correct color a few times, linked to changing its mission assignment multiple types in rapid succession. More annoyingly, I had to unplug my joystick and throttle from the computer, because the game was apparently pulling input data from one of them, which caused the camera to slide to one side and stick there. The game has already received a couple of patches, so I'm sure any other minor issues will be buffed out in short order.

I enjoyed my time with Carrier Deck, and appreciate it for being something completely different. This is not a detailed simulation of carrier operations, or really a wargame. It is a fast-paced management game with a war theme. Priced at only $10, you will easily get your money's worth of entertainment with one trip through the campaign.

- Joe Beard

Carrier Deck is available directly from Matrix/Slitherine and is also on Steam.

Developed by Every Single Soldier and published by Slitherine Games/Matrix Games, Afghanistan '11 is the new version of a uniq...

Afghanistan '11 Afghanistan '11

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Every Single Soldier

Developed by Every Single Soldier and published by Slitherine Games/Matrix Games, Afghanistan '11 is the new version of a unique game formula first utilized in Vietnam '65. In both games, combat is only a means to an end: winning the hearts and minds of a nation. In Afghanistan '11 (A11) the player must deal with multiple new layers of strategy in order to achieve that goal. To get a look at the flow of the gameplay, check out my two part AAR. 

Part 1 and Part 2. 

Dealing with an insurgency is one of the most frustrating problems for modern military forces. Fighting a enemy that appears from among the civilian population, and then fades away again, makes conventional tactics far less effective. All the tanks and fighter jets in the world won't help you defeat an ideology, if the local people support it. This leads us to the key to victory in A11, winning over the local population to your cause. 

The strategic overview screen helps you keep track of the big picture.

Players in A11 will certainly spend a lot of time sending troops into battle, ordering airstrikes, and deploying special forces via helicopters. However, most of these actions will be done in support of more strategic objectives like clearing IED's from highways, connecting isolated villages with roads, and sending supplies to those villages to earn their cooperation. To keep operations running smoothly, the player will also need to consider logistics. Every unit in the field only has enough rations/fuel to operate for around four or five turns before it needs return to base or be resupplied. Supplies can be delivered by truck, helicopter, or emergency drops. To really be effective, the player will need to build Forward Operating Bases (FOB's) in order to project their power further out from HQ. 

A supply convoy moves south  as Taliban forces descend on FOB Bravo.

There is another important factor the player must consider at all times: Political Points (PP). Every new unit brought into the theater, every casualty sustained, and even every movement a unit makes will cost you PP. Defeating enemy forces and clearing away opium fields, among other actions, will bump this number up. The player is also able to influence the occasional election of a new president of Afghanistan using these points. A more friendly government will make your life easier, while a pro-Taliban leader will make life miserable. 

Pick who you will support and if you will spend PP to help him win.

As you can see, A11 mimics the troubles of the real conflict on several levels. Simply running around fighting the militia and Taliban groups active on the map will get you nowhere. These enemy forces have no base that you can destroy, and will never stop coming at you. Instead, the player must keep those foes at bay with one hand, while building up infrastructure and civilian relationships with the other.

A11 is a turn based game in which each of your units has a specific number of action points they can use to move, fight or perform other actions each turn. There are about a dozen different unit types, each with an important role to play in your strategy. Infantry units can go into villages to collect intel, sweep an area around themselves for IED's, and of course fight the enemy head on. Husky mine sweeping vehicles are crucial for keeping roads and highways clear of IED's so that you can move convoys of supplies and troops around the map quickly. Don't leave home without one, seriously! Transport trucks are a cheap way to resupply FOB's and take UN aid to villages, while the far more expensive Chinook helicopter does the same job with the advantage of zipping around through the air. There are also Blackhawk helicopters, MRAP transports, special forces squads, artillery, and engineers to build things. If you have the PP available, you can call in Stryker APC's and Apache gunships to add some serious firepower to the battle. 

The game has an effective series of tutorial missions which teach you about all the different units and how to use them. The tutorial covers the basic strategic concepts needed for victory, but it will still very much be a trial by fire when you take on your first real mission. This is because the gameplay is open ended and lets you as the commander approach a mission in whatever way you see fit. Will you build up a network of FOB's and roads to create a permanent presence all over the map, or will you bring in numerous helicopters to move everything by air. Likely you will need a mixture depending on the the local terrain and distribution of villages.

There are two different ways to play the game, either the 18 mission campaign based on real world events, or the randomized skirmish mode. The scenarios take the core gameplay and add a few twists, but the skirmish mode alone will keep any player busy. 

Let's take a spin through what a typical skirmish match entails. You will begin the game with an HQ and nothing else. Looking out across the randomly generated map you will see a highway, some roads, mountains, deserts, maybe a river, and the key feature that the game revolves around: villages. Each village has a flag indicating its current political leaning. Keep the villages leaning towards the government or coalition and you will have smooth sailing. Let a village slip into the grasp of the local militia, or even the Taliban, and that area of the map becomes more dangerous.

Not a good neighborhood.

There are several actions you can take to get those villages on your side. Using your engineer units to connect those villages to the main highway and build a water supply is the most permanent way to accomplish this. However, it requires a significant investment of PP and time. Additionally, that new infrastructure then becomes a target for your enemy and forces you stretch your forces even further. You can also win hearts and minds by delivering UN aid to the villages using either supply trucks or Chinooks. This is an especially good way to influence the more remote villages that you may not be able to reach otherwise. Clearing IED's and destroying enemy units will also boost support in your favor. 

The sum of your efforts will be shown in the hearts and minds score, always visible at the top of the screen. Your goal in a skirmish is to get this number past a certain threshold and keep it there until the final turn. Keeping it high will help with the presidential elections which occur a few times during a typical match. Getting a more favorable candidate in office will often make your actions cheaper and enemy actions less frequent. Let that score lapse and your PP will start slipping away. If your political position back home gets too abysmal the game will end prematurely. 

Now, while you are working to win the people over to your side, what is the enemy doing? Enemy forces come in two flavors, numerous yet weak militia and the more resilient Taliban. The militia forces will pop up all over the map, and then attempt to place IED's and cause other trouble for you. One hit from any of your combat units will either destroy them or send them scattering in every direction. Taliban units will initially only appear along the eastern edge of the map, representing Pakistan, and then move in to try and influence villages and cause other problems. These Taliban groups take two hits to destroy. Hit them only once and they will flee momentarily, only to regroup and continue with their mission. If a village falls completely into the grasp of the Taliban, they will then begin spawning nearby.

Combat in A11 is simple on the surface. Select a combat unit and mouse over an enemy to see your percentage chance of winning. Click to carry out the attack and hope for the best. The strategy comes in deciding which units to use for combat and when. It is always favorable to destroy the enemy by using artillery, airstrikes, or gunships, because sending in ground forces carries the risk that they will take casualties or even be destroyed. Losing a unit this way is a real one-two punch, since you lose political points immediately and must spend more to replace that unit. FOB's come with a free mortar unit for defense, but it has limited ammunition. More ammo must be brought in from HQ to keep the shells flying. Heavy artillery guns can also be brought in to an upgraded FOB if you need serious defense. 

Funding cuts can make a difficult situation even worse.

This is a good time to discuss upgrading FOB's. When a FOB is initially placed, it serves as a safe harbor in the field for your units. Units resting there will be slowly resupplied, but cannot replace their losses. You can choose to add on to a FOB with a field hospital, vehicle repair yard, and/or heavy artillery pit. These upgrades are expensive, so you must decide which FOB's are worth upgrading, and to what extent. A fully upgraded and supplied FOB can allow you to maintain a powerful force far away from your HQ. The logistics of keeping that FOB manned and supplied is something you will need to plan ahead of time.

Another item you must consider as part of your long term strategy is the training of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). On specific turns you will be expected to have achieved a certain ratio of ANA to coalition combat units in theater. Towards the end of a match you will be forced to hand complete control over to the ANA, so you need to have stabilized the area by that point if you don't want to watch all of your hard work be wiped away. Training the ANA is one of the jobs of your extremely useful special forces units. While stationed at your HQ, these units can train ANA artillery, APC, and helicopter units. Move them out to a FOB and they can begin training ANA infantry. The ANA troops are not as good in combat as the American forces, but are better for visiting villages.

An ideal result!

Did I mention the part about visiting villages yet? Like I said at the beginning, this game has a lot of strategic layers happening all at once, which made it difficult to find a logical flow for this review! Anyway, each village has a campfire in it that will begin to burn whenever new intelligence is potentially available. You will need to send in an infantry unit to visit with the village elders and see what they can learn. Sometimes your men will come up empty, but other times the location of an IED, opium field, or enemy unit will be revealed on the map. An exposed enemy unit makes easy prey for an airstrike. Getting eyes on the enemy is always the trickiest part of combat in this game, so revealing units in this way is very helpful.  The availability of intel in a village will refresh over time, so you will want to be constantly sending out patrols to keep the information flowing. This means that your units can't just sit around in their FOB's, they must be constantly moving around the map. Again, this is where logistical planning early on can pay dividends later.

That is a lot of IED's. Remember, always bring your minesweeper on any ground expeditions.

That point, long term planning and logistics, is really what makes this game compelling in my eyes. It's not a game where clever tactical maneuvering of your forces matters much, and it's not a game where putting the biggest weapons in the field will bring you victory. This is a game where thoughtful planning of a strategy requires thinking through how you will keep that strategy in motion. Ultimately, supply trucks and engineers are more critical to your mission than Apache gunships. Of course, that Apache might need to be on hand to save those supply trucks from a surprise ambush!

I find it difficult to come up with anything I greatly disliked about this game. The combat could perhaps be more interesting, especially in terms of infantry combat, but that is not really the true focus of the game.  The game can be very frustrating at times, but that is a direct result of the mechanics imitating the real conflict, and not an issue with the game itself. One problem I had with Vietnam '65 was that you essentially played the same scenario every time, with only the terrain changing. A11 addresses this issue with its lengthy campaign of hand crafted scenarios, each with unique goals added in to the standard game loop.

Afghanistan '11 is a significant step up from Vietnam '65, improving on that formula in every way to create a much richer experience that draws fresh ideas from its setting. I give this game a strong recommendation with my usual caveat that it won't be for everyone. If your groove is tactically maneuvering units to achieve fire superiority and outflank your foes, you won't find that here. However, if you enjoy big picture strategy and careful planning, this game has it in spades. There are so many factors pulling for your attention that you will have some sort of interesting decision to make every turn. I look forward to seeing where they take this series next, and how they will top this experience.

Afghanistan '11 releases March 23rd and is available directly from Matrix Games or on Steam.

- Joe Beard