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Drive on Moscow  What is it about the 'Barbarossa bug'? Wargamers seem to have an itch that can never be scratched when it comes...

Drive on Moscow PC Game Review Drive on Moscow PC Game Review

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

Game Reviews

Drive on Moscow 


What is it about the 'Barbarossa bug'? Wargamers seem to have an itch that can never be scratched when it comes to simulating moves and battles on the Eastern front in WW2. It seems there is enough on this subject; does the gaming world want to do with yet another battle across the plains and steppes of Russia? Yes, of course! The Eastern Front was and remains the mother of all battles that we have never seen the like since. 

In salutation of that truth, Shenandoah Studio and Slitherine) have demonstrated precisely how to please us. Ted Raicer's Drive on Moscow is a true gem and you are most encouraged to give it more than just a try and it's a good value to boot. 

The studio has arranged game content to be about the exciting and volatile battles of maneuver and counter-attack that occurred during the final thrust to capture Moscow before the end of 1941. Yes, that means the game calendar skips over the initial stages of Barbarossa; nevertheless, players won't mind, because they will keenly experience the critical period from October to December, as the Germans recognized the urgency of defeating their foe before the depths of harsh winter arrive. On the other hand, the Russians thought they had a breather and hadn't expected a late season attack at their heart of the nation; thus, they are disorganized and unprepared for battle in the beginning. 
The Germans have some decisions to make; they can't do it all
Massive initial attacks allow panzers to flow forward blazing; the landsers mop up thousands of isolated troops as they struggle to keep up with mechanized elements. Russian cavalry will nip at German supply lines. Indeed, over-extended German forces will run out of fuel and can immobilize at the worst time. A diminished Luftwaffe will still pin down Russian troops who can only find time to regroup when the Rasputitsa arrives, slowing the Wehrmacht to a crawl. But frosty weather is around the corner, allowing the Germans one final push through the forests surrounding Moscow! Then they better dig in, because with the deeps snow come the Siberians and Russian tank corps. 


The experience of Drive on Moscow is truly engaging and the flavor of each campaign varies sufficiently from playing to playing. The AI is robust enough to be frustrating in early attempts,  and other reviews have praised the PvP element.


Biases


The author had to struggle through some personal biases while working on this review. I've a grognard attitude about board wargames but a casual attitude about computerized variety. What that means to me is that, for the latter, I don't have a need to look under the hood for underlying combat charts, realism rational movement tables, supply rules and so forth. All of us know these make a wargame distinct from other games, but I figure I've done enough mastery of tomes like the Advanced Squad Leader rule book for board games -- let the computer handle that stuff. 

I find it necessary to share my biases to help the reader understand how and why I approached this review with some trepidation, exacerbating the fact that this is my first review for A Wargamer's Needful Things. So, let me get the negatives and biases off my chest; I'm sure some will recognize them within themselves, too. 

First, the author doesn't care for area movement in wargames. Hexes, give me hexes; I grew up on hexes and eat them for breakfast. I'm talking about Avalon Hill's  Battle of the Bulge, Afrika Korps, Panzerblitz and the like, produced in 60s and 70s. Truth be told, this is exactly why I didn't go for Shenandoah's  Battle of the Bulge when it came out last year (2015). I'll be purchasing that game now, you take it to the bank! 
hmm the areas of battle do not look digestible, Sir!
Next, the impulse movement system felt strange at first. I grew up on IGO-UGO. But in this, players activate units in one area, moving/attacking into different area(s) and/or staying inside the one they start in. Once that area is activated, it's done, and so are any units that didn't (or forgot) to move. Now, there are many latter-era wargames that use this method, but I'd never felt comfortable about them (e.g. Breakout: Normandy).



move these guys, too! (Unless you want them to camp for a few days).
Finally, we all know rough terrain is going to have an adverse effect on combat, but in this game it's abstracted by being forced to blow up the cities or trees before inflicting damage.  It's an okay mechanism as far as the outcomes, but I'm used to 'defense is doubled' or 'column shifts' for this sort of effect. However, for the casual gamer, it's just fine as far as simulating results, but my grognardish left-handed brain didn't want to wrap around this notion right away.  
see how the exploding pop-up highlights and animates each combat


Learning the Game


Shenandoah does a very good job making it easy to learn the game while providing a design that is not-so-easy to master. That's exactly what a casual player is looking for. Grognards who want to check out the systems and rationales can find them easily in the manual, so they can get that 'yep this is a wargame' feeling. 
You want charts? You got charts!

Not only does the game come with a comprehensive and eye-pleasing on-line manual, but the in-game main menu allows options for a step-by-step tutorial or a basics of play summary (for those who don't want to read manuals nor suffer the pace of tutorials). Gameplay effects of rules interactions are not described in entirety, which is a good thing, because it makes the game harder to master.

During most calendar turns, players alternate impulses that can vary in length from 0-18 hours, depending on the weather. This time variability is a huge factor affecting outcomes in different replays of the same campaign.


better fix this one, methinks! 
Note: impulses are confusingly called turns during gameplay, which is absolutely not helpful in learning the game, even if the manual gets it right. 

Calendar turns during 'offensive' weather last for 72 hours and 120 hours in 'nasty' weather. This does seem counter-intuitive until one realizes that movement in bad weather is often significantly restricted, particularly for the Germans. 

It should be mentioned that the online manual is comprehensive and  easy to read and includes tips of play. 


User Interface 


The UI is very easy to use and highly informative about game play and events. It's better than many I have seen out there and is especially kind to the eyes of older gamers. However, there are a couple of minor design factors that may need to be addressed.

First, I would have to say that an aesthetically appealing and informative interface is just fine, but the menu screen is overly large. For example, when you hit the 'supply' option on the menu, you'll be forced to drag the map around to see what's underneath. Making this menu smaller in size would render this unnecessary. We've all seen these PC games with miniaturized heads-up displays causing bloodshot and eye-strained squinting... but... I really don't need to see this UI from across the room.
Get used to moving your map around to see under the overlarge interface
The other minor gripe with the UI is this small panel in the corner. As you can see, this includes the the redo button (top) and the menu button (bottom). Yes, the redo button is fantastic and essential because you can test all your moves to get an idea of success probabilities -- an absolute necessity to have at your fingertips. Likewise the menu button. Unfortunately, the designers have inexplicably made it impossible to minimize or turn off this panel. As a result, it's often blocking units/areas hidden underneath, particularly the top left zone of the map.
This UI can't be minimized and is glued opaquely over the map corner.
The get-around is to play with the zoom until you can see the units underneath.
The last glitch (not pictured) with UI involves not being able to see all the zones on the left side of the map when applying reinforcements or air interdiction. That's very annoying if you want to do something over there in either of those phases. It's possible to manipulate visibility, I think, by zooming in and out, varying the resolution or changing from windowed to full-screen, but that shouldn't be necessary to manipulate.


Graphics


The graphics of the maps, units and animations are quite pleasing. The map changes in hue and color for different weather conditions such as clear, mud, frost and snow. Battle animations create tension; it's very well-designed. I can use 640 x 480 up to 1920 x 1080 resolutions. 
A satisfying destruction!

AI Effectiveness


One of the reasons I play more computer games is that gamers in SE England seem to love all sorts of miniatures games rather than my favorite board games. Solitaire is okay, but not great for some games at all. Computer games with good AI are a substitute for real-life competition. However, we all know that many games come with atrocious AI. Honestly, Stephen Hawking can say what he wants about robots taking over, but I don't see that happening with some of the AI evident in these computer games. 

Drive on Moscow's AI is very adequate to learn the game and to get up to speed on how the various play elements work together. It took me a while to realize that the AI likes to nip at supply lines; keeping them open makes all the difference in (especially the German) offensives. 


AI Zhukov tries to cut the lines. Note the cav unit pinned down by air interdiction (outline in blue).

Key points to keep in mind when playing the AI (or a human counterpart):

1) As previously mentioned, once an area is activated, all units within are considered to have activated. Use them or you'll lose them for the calendar turn. Trust me, you'll want that firepower as far forward as possible and the AI will know you left them behind.

2) Cut off supplies. Being out of supply puts enemy units dead in the water and unable to defend as time goes on. The AI is somewhat spotty about securing supply lines as time goes on. 

3) Players can activate units in the rear to reinforce an existing battle; doing so will also activate any units in that area that are yet to be activated. This is a good way to keep up the momentum as units get strung out making sure supply lines are safe. The AI taught me this trick. After I kept losing Operation Typhoon to Konev, I watched the AI play as Halder, and learned alot. 

4) The Germans do need to make a robust try at Kursk and Voronezh by calendar turn three. Keep in mind that the German flank on the south is 100% secure once these are taken (unlike the northern sector). Seizing these two cities prevents the Russians from placing reinforcements in them. It will feel like your Panzer corps are floating in outer space up there, but the AI has no good way of taking these cities back. Kursk is a must, and Voronezh is not far behind because of the +1 VP you get per turn. You won't get Bryansk as quickly, but the security you'll get in the south is worth it. 
Turn 2 Breakthrough at Kursk


Post- Kursk Exploitation
Finally, by using the Turn 3 prepared offensive, Voronezh falls.
This is necessary because the Russians will reinforce the city
if the offensive is not used. Note Orel, to the Northwest, still needs to
be taken but the Russians are too busy elsewhere to defend it at the moment. 

5) Look for chances to take Moscow, especially during your October offensive.  Often the AI under-defends the capital.  if you can make a breakthrough, you can march into the city for an instant win! 


 Gameplay Excitement



You'll have fun with this, especially for casual players. You'll know the nuts and bolts of the game are sound. You'll cheer with joy at crushing wins and moan when the dice fail you in defeat. Sometimes the panzers will roll over hill and dale, crushing Russians left and right on the fast track to Moscow. German tank commanders will especially enjoy blowing holes with the free offensives on turns 1-3 and 11. 

But watch out! Suddenly the AI will order a Militia unit into the open and somehow it will shoot your Panzer corps right up and into the dead pool (say what?!). Nothing is certain, just probable. Watch out for those Russian cavalry units, they are tough. And yes, the Germans cannot afford elimination -- each unit counts as a VP for mother Russia. 

You'll probably start as the German player because who doesn't want to do that, right? But hear me, you'll want to play the Russians very quickly; the AI will show you tactics needed to be successful in the game (especially for Operation Typhoon, which is hard enough to win as the Germans). Don't be daunted if it seems like Typhoon is impossible for the Axis. It's not -- but it will take a few tries! The Voronezh gambit is finally what put me over the top.



But the game on full campaign mode seems more satisfying. Truth be told, I didn't try the two 'middle' scenarios before writing this review. I'm sure they are worth a shot, too.


This badge on Steam is not so easy to get.

In conclusion, casual players are likely to be more than satisfied and happy with this game. The technical backbone has enough crunch to satisfy grognards too, although those who are looking for deep detailed game structure will probably pass. I've yet to try PvP but other reviewers find it quite satisfying. I know a guy who loves area board games -- I'll see if he wants to give it a go. Enjoy! Marc Hanna.


PLANET RUSH Designed by Reiner Knizia Published by Victory Point Games The basic premise is that you are one of five corpora...

PLANET RUSH PLANET RUSH

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

Game Reviews

PLANET RUSH



Designed by Reiner Knizia

Published by Victory Point Games


The basic premise is that you are one of five corporations vying to build structures on the planet, Zenobia.  The one who contributes most will gain ownership of the planet.  If that brief description rings faint bells or stirs vague memories, don't be surprised.  Planet Rush is essentially a simpler remake of Reiner Knizia's Tower of Babel.  Indeed, Alan Emrich has already labeled it the Designer's Cut, as it seems that the briefer rule set that we get in Planet Rush was the original preferred design.

So, definitely a light Euro made even lighter, but, I have to say, not a Euro quality production.  The rules booklet is a bare 8 pages made out of two sheets of slightly smaller than A4 size paper, folded in half and stapled down the middle.  This really looks more like a DTP package.  It is full colour [though mainly blue] and semi-glossy, but the outer spine of the rulebook was already starting to look slightly cracked when I opened the package.  The "board" is made up by laying out the eight, very thin cards that represent the potential structures to be built and each player receives  a larger mat of equally thin card on which to record his/her score and a set of small wooden cubes in the player's designated colour.  Each player also gets an individual Faction Negotiation card.


The game set out for the maximum 5 players.



The cards that represent the four different types of material with which to build these planetary structures are clear, bold and of standard size, but they too will need the benefit of sleeving to make them durable for repeated play sessions.  Surprisingly the solidest pieces are the bonus markers and the rather nice launch pad and rocket that mark the Active player. 

Though the artwork is good and conveys the S/F theme appropriately, that is the only way in which the theme is represented in the game.  The rules and gameplay add nothing at all to the theme.   Seeing that the artwork on the player mats shows that the so-called corporations are owned by five different galactic races, I'd hoped that at least there might be some minor special rule for each ... but alas, no.



One of the 5 player mats - essentially a personal score board



That the game already exists in a slightly more complex form does tend to spell out that the background is fairly immaterial.  In its first incarnation, players were trying to construct the 7 Wonders of The World [with a potential eighth Wonder - the Tower of Babel - hence the original game title].  As stated in my opening paragraph, here we are trying to build planetary structures.  It could just as easily be five car manufactures aiming to contribute most to the design of eight cars or five railroad companies working to lay the tracks for eight new railroads in the Wild West.  Many Euros do tend to have bolt-on themes, but this does seem an extreme example. 

Game play is very straightforward.  In the Build Phase,  the current Active Player, receives the Launch pad and Rocket and has the choice of one of two actions.  Either the Active Player draws a Resource card or nominates one section of a building to be built by placing the Rocket on the corresponding section of the building card and announcing how many Resources are needed and what type they are.


Here are the four Resources:

Materials, Research, Power and Robotics.


This latter choice of Action is really the heart and key interest of the game and I'll shortly examine that in some depth.  Should all the sections of a structure be completed in the Build Phase, then that building is scored.

The second phase of each turn is the Resources Phase when each player draws one Resource card.

The game continues until all the sections of 7 out of the 8 possible structures have been completed and a final bonus scoring is then conducted.

So, back to a detailed look at the only [slightly]complex part of the game : THE BUILD PHASE and the choice to offer a section of building  for construction.

The Active Player chooses and places the Rocket on the section to be potentially completed.  He/she announces the number of Resources needed, depending on how many circles there are on that section and the type of Resource, which is also marked on the card.






And here is the dinky space Rocket sitting on its Launch Pad, ready to blast off

to mark the next section potentially to be built!


For example, the Power Station is made up of two sections: one needs 6 Green Research cards and the other section needs 4 blue Power cards to build.


The next step is that all the other players [but not the Active player] secretly choose how many cards of that Resource they want to bid.  A player can include Resource cards different from the one nominated, but I can see no point whatsoever in doing so, as such a bid has to be automatically rejected.  The only other card that can be usefully included in a bid is a player's Faction Negotiation card. 

The Active player then decides which of the bids to accept.  In choosing which bids, there are some restrictions.  Most important is that the number of cards must be exactly the number needed. So, if 7 are needed, a bid of 5 and a bid of 4 could not be accepted as there would be 2 cards more than was needed.  Whereas, a bid of 5 and a bid of 2 would work fine as a choice. 

However, the Active player can always include cards from his/her own hand. So, using the same example. If 7 cards were needed and the bids were 5 and 4, the Active player could accept the 5 bid and add two cards of the correct Resource type from their hand or accept the 4 bid and add three cards of the correct Resource type from their hand.  [Always assuming the Active player has the necessary number of appropriate Resource cards in their current hand.]

Of course, even if there were appropriate bids that add up to the right number of cards, the Active player can always choose to reject one or more bids and use their own cards instead.   

The other restriction is that if several of the players have included their Faction Negotiation card in their bid, the Active player can never accept more than one such bid.

Having decided which to accept, what happens next? 

Well, first of all, for a bid without a Faction Negotiation card included, the Bidding player puts one cube of his/her colour for each Resource bid on the building section. 

However, if a bid with a Faction Negotiation card included is accepted, then the Active player must put the corresponding number of his/her own cubes on the building section and the Bidding player is awarded the Bonus marker from the relevant building section. 


Finally, if the Active player didn't accept any bids that contain a Faction Negotiation card, then the Active player gets to claim the Bonus marker.

During the game, there are only two ways to score Victory Points:

[1] There are three types of Bonus marker that can be acquired in the way that I've described above and players score different numbers of Victory Points according to the type and number that they collect, as the game progresses.

[2] When all the sections of a building have been completed, that building is scored.  This is done by flipping the building card over to the back where there are five circles containing VP numbers.  The player with most cubes on the building places one of them in the highest scoring circle on the back of the card and so on down. 

A neat idea is that the fourth and fifth circles don't score you any VP points, but if there is a fourth or fifth player who has placed cubes on that building you still need to place one of their cubes in the circles that score zero points.  This is because they will count in the final scoring at the end of the game.  All other cubes on the structure are now returned to each player they belong to.


In total, to build all of the 7 structures, 22 cards of each colour will need to be played.  There is also an 8th structure called The Alien Ruins, which consists of a single section of eight circles.  This can only be built using a type of Resource that is no longer needed to build a section of any of the other seven structures. e.g. if all the sections that needed the red Robotics resource have been built, then the current Active player could nominate the Alien Ruins to be built with 8 red Robotics resources.

When seven of the eight structures have been built the game ends and the Final Scoring takes place.  If a player has a cube on all seven structures he/she scores 15 Victory pts, on six structures 10 Victory pts and on five structures 5 Victory pts.  If you've built on only four or fewer structures - tough - you score nothing!

So, folks that's it.  I have gone through the crucial bidding mechanic in depth, because virtually the whole game centres on that one major element.  It does work well.  There is interesting interplay between what cards you hold, what sections have so far been built, what players have scored so far, whose bids to accept or not [beware the payback from not accepting someone's bid, when they reject yours.], which building and which section to put up for construction.

But, it is very much a one mechanic game and very much a light filler.  It is quick to play and quick and easy to pick up the few rules.  For me, it's the type of game that gets played at the club while people wait to see how many turn up before moving on to heavier fare or else serves as a light family game - 'cept that I can see certain family members' personalities affecting which bids get accepted!!

My other concern is the very insubstantial nature of most of the components.  At the moment I haven't been able to find it sold outside the States, though I assume that will happen.  But for the moment, $32.99 plus the not inconsiderable postage/import costs is a high price for what you're getting.  VPG make many excellent games [see my review of Espana 20 vol 2], among them many solo games, but Planet Rush is not one I'd "move in a rapid fashion" to get. [There, I managed - sort of -  to avoid the awful pun!]




GATO LEADER As promised, my next undertaking is an AAR for Gato Leader .  I decided on this route, because a review would have simp...

GATO LEADER AAR GATO LEADER  AAR

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

Game Reviews

GATO LEADER


As promised, my next undertaking is an AAR for Gato Leader.  I decided on this route, because a review would have simply been about 95+ % a replication of my review of U-Boat Leader As a prelude, these are the few differences, none critical, as they mainly reflect the historical backgrounds.

Gato Leader :

Includes some differing Special Missions, such as Mine and Recon/Rescue.

Wolfpacks are handled differently.  In fact, I would personally have called them something else, as I don't think that the Americans used this term.  Essentially, you chose whether or not a number of submarines begin as a group together in the same port.  So, no seeing whether a Convoy turns out to be a valuable target and then trying to call in other subs.

Takes us up to 1945, whereas U-Boat only goes as far as 1943, so there is more possibility of using radar.

Provides Forward Operating Bases [that can be purchased with Special Ops points]which allow for removing Stress points and reloading torpedoes.

Takes account of  the inferior quality of torpedoes by having a set of rules for dud torpedoes and a chart to roll on.  At its worst , none of your torpedoes may hit and in plenty of cases at least half will be duds! [Technically, this is not a totally new rule addition as U-Boat Leader 2nd edition has an optional rule for dud torpedoes.]

Allows for reloading torpedoes while on the Tactical Display.


These last two seem to me the most significant differences and one seems in part to balance the other.  However, I do not think that the ability to reload while on the Tactical Display is the big deal some comments on the game have made it out to be.





One other point worth mentioning is that the Event cards can be far more deadly than in U-Boat Leader and, overall, you will probably have to draw more too!



So, with that said, on to ...


Campaign Mission :
Turning The Tide
Short Scenario.



Stategic Segment



This gives me 40 SOs with which to purchase my submarines and any Special items.



I spend 36 SOs on submarines and the remaining 4 SOs on Special items.








Here's everything set up for the start of the Campaign, including my trusty dice tower!  On the left is the mounted play board which  has areas along the top for the Merchant Cards, the Escort Cards and the Naval cards and then beneath is nearly all the necessary information for conducting the Tactical Segment of a turn.  On the right is the Campaign Mission card with the map on which the subs operate in the Operational Segment of the turn.  The very blurred, vaguely bluish shapes are my four subs in groups of two.



Slap bang in the centre is the mounted Tactical Display board on which [surprise, surprise] the Tactical Segment takes place.   On the left side of this board are the holding boxes for the Event cards and Convoy cards and the rest is the lovely depiction of a sonar screen.  It's worth pointing out that this Tactical Display is part of the expansion pack.  It's brilliant, but the one that comes with Gato Leader itself is half the size and not as impressive because of the reduced area to play on.




My choices were:



Guardfish [Trained level + Torpedo Modifier]

Gudgeon  [Trained level + Radar] 

Both placed in Peal Harbour and formed as a wolfpack.  So, these two will operate together.

Silversides [Veteran + Torpedo Modifier]
Tautog       [Veteran + Radar]

Both placed in Freemantle and formed as a wolfpack.  So, these two will also operate together.

My decisions were based on the following reasons: the radar would gain a modifier in locating Convoys and the Torpedo Modifier would mean that the sub would roll one column better when checking for dud torpedoes.



A closer look at Guardfish, loaded up with 10 torpedoes Ready and another 14 Stored on board. 

It has markers showing its 6 gunnery factors and the Torp modifier.




Operations Segment



My first two subs left the port of Freemantle for the South China Sea, each drawing two Event cards.


Silversides



A Fatal Error                   + 3 Stress

Equipment Malfunction  + 2 Stress



[See what I mean about Event cards!  my sub is almost nearly up to its Shaken level and it hasn't even started to look for the enemy.]



Tautog

Lone Merchant - expend 1 torpedo and score 1 VP
Rough Seas         + 2 Stress


My other two subs left Pearl Harbour for the Marianas, each drawing two Event cards.

Guardfish

Nimitz Takes Notice  -  gain 2 SOs if you score equal or more than 10 VPs this turn.
Clear Weather            - no effect

[Well that draw went a bit better.]

Gudgeon

Rough Seas - + 2 Stress
Minefield [condition N/A, so gained default] + 1 Stress



The unfortunate Silversides which has picked up 5 Stress pts

just by sailing in to the South China Sea




 Tactical Segment



[N.B. all die rolls use a d10]



Tautog rolls for Contact



Contact die roll 6  mods +2 [number of subs in wolfpack],

+1[ radar], -3 [sub moved during the Operations segment].



Result 6 = 2 Contacts


Place Contact marker on the Campaign map board, draw a Convoy card and flip Contact marker from 2 to 1.

Contact card drawn is Card 043 [6 Merchants and 3 Escorts]  Unidentified markers are placed on the Tactical Display for all nine ships.



Convoy card 043 showing where the relevant unknown ship markers should be placed


The card only shows the 4 Centre Convoy Sectors and the 8 Short Range Sectors.  Beyond those are the 8 Medium Range Sectors and finally the 8 Long Range Sectors.  






Here are the six blue unidentified Merchant ship markers and the three unidentified escort ship markers, before I place my two subs in any of the outer Long Range Sectors.  



Once I do that, I choose for both submarines to submerge and move one sector nearer the revealed Escort Ikuna and the following enemy are revealed because of range : Merchants Santyo Maru, Katori Maru, Nanrei Maru and Hoten Maru.



As a result of Lag Movement, the two submarines move one sector towards the Convoy's wake.  [The top of the board is marked as the Convoy's course and the bottom is the Convoy's wake.]  The Escort Ikuna rolls for detection of the subs.  A 1 fails to detect the sub Silversides, but a roll of 8 detects Tautog and so, the other two unidentified Escorts converge along with Ikuna on Tautog.  The other Escorts are revealed as the Momi and Etorofu.  Ikuna and Etorofu are now directly in the same sector as my sub Tautog!



Also, the last two Merchants are revealed as the Harbin Maru and the Sakito Maru.



The image shows all the ships now identified and two Escorts in the same sector as the detected Tautog.  Tautog is just about to Deep Dive to try to avoid the Escorts attacks which are not rolled for, but Damage chits are automatically drawn.  In this case, it would have meant drawing 7 Heavy Damage chits in total - in all probability this would have been fatal for my sub!

*[At this point, with two Escorts at range zero, panic set in and I forgot that Tautog had the Aggressive quality and could have fired at the Escorts before they could fire at him.] 

Instead, not too surprisingly, the sub opts to Deep Dive to attempt to avoid the imminent attacks, first it takes 2 Stress points as a result of making the Deep Dive.  Though avoiding drawing damage tokens for attacks from the three Escorts, the sub still has to roll against its evasion rating and is successful for two of the three attacks, but fails against the other and so takes a temporary Flooding marker.  Not good, but could have been much, much worse if the Escorts' attacks had gone in.

[Crash Dive, which is what you do if you are attacked while on the surface, states quite clearly that an Evasion roll is made for each Escort attacking you.  With a Deep Dive, the rules are not 100% clear as to whether you make an Evasion roll for each separate Escort, as I did, or whether it's a single die roll.]

Because the Tautog has dived, it cannot attack. 

[Again, a point worth raising. In both Gato and U-Boat Leader, there are no restrictions on Escorts sailing into and through Convoy Sectors.  In my review of U-Boat Leader, I queried the historical validity of this total freedom.  Still not sure how appropriate this is.]

The other sub Silversides, however, now unleashes a spread of 5 torpedoes at the Katori Maru and another spread of 5 at the Hoten Maru.

Resolve those against the Katori Maru first.  The die roll for duds means that only half run true [i.e. 3 torpedoes out of the 5].  So, modifiers are +2 [3-1 for torpedo spread] +2 [sub's Torpedo Skill] -1 for range, giving a final mod of +3.

The torpedo rolls are 1,3, 9, becoming 4, 6 and 12.  Taking the highest result 12, this is compared with the target's stats and as 12 well passes the target's third number, the Katori Maru settles beneath the waves.  Silversides chalks up 4 VPs and 3 Experience Points.

So, the focus turns to the attack on the Hoten Maru.  All five torpedoes run true; no duds this time.  Modifiers: +4 [5-1 for torpedo spread, +2 [sub's Torpedo Skill] -2 [range] = +4.

Die rolls for the five torpedoes are 3, 7, 8, 9 becoming 7, 11, 12, 13.  like its sister ship, a final result of 13 is more than enough to sink the Hoten Maru and Silversides gains another 3 VPs and 2 Experience Points.

The Combat Resolution phase is over and so the Deep Dive marker is removed from the Tautog and a new round begins.

Silversides surfaces and moves 2 sectors away to the western most Long Range sector, while Tautog opts to attempt Silent Running and rolls a 1 [hurrah], so the detection marker is removed  and the sub's speed drops to zero.  As a result, in the Lag Movement phase, Tautog drifts two sectors south and out of detection range of the Escorts.


[In the image above, Tautog has just successfully rolled for Silent Running and its speed drops to zero.  Consequently, in the Lag Movement phase, the sub will move two Sectors due south, towards the Convoy's wake.]

* [I realised much later, I had made a mistake here.  The attack by Silversides would have placed an Alert counter on the Tactical Display which would have increased the Escorts' detection range by one and put Silversides in potential detection range of the Escorts.] 

Consequently, the Escorts roll for random movement.  End of Combat round.

For the next 3 rounds, the two subs lurk on the fringes, out of escort range, while Silversides reloads 2 torpedoes per round.

On the next round, both subs move into firing range of the Merchants.

Tautog fires 6 torpedoes at the Sakito Maru and half run true.  Modifiers +2 [3-1 for torpedo spread] +1 [sub's Torpedo Skill] -2 range = +1

Torpedo dice rolls are 10, 7, 1 becoming 11, 8 , 2

The Sakito Maru is sunk and Tautog gains VPs 4 : Experience Points 2.

Silversides launches 5 torpedoes at the Harbin Maru, but a pathetic die roll of 2 means that only one torpedo runs true and one of the torpedoes that miss errs dramatically off-course and hits its own sub!  This causes 3 Heavy Hits on the sub;  the first adds 2 Stress, the second is No Effect and the third causes lasting Hull damage.

To counter this appalling SNAFU, the 1 torpedo that strikes the Merchant rolls a 10 and with +1 total modifier the Harbin Maru is added to Silversides' growing total, gaining 3 VPs and 2 Experience Points.

On the next round, both subs surface in order to be able to move two sectors.  The Tautog is able to exit the Tactical Display, but Silversides can only reach the Western Long Range sector and so is easily detected by the Escorts who converge for the kill.  Silversides opts to Crash Dive and adds 1 Stress, so that the sub is now at 8 Stress, one away from the maximum it can take before becoming Unfit!  But all evasion rolls are successful.

On the next Combat round, the sub can exit the Tactical Display and the situation moves to the Post-Combat Resolution Phase.

Silversides records his 10 VPs and 7 Experience Points on the Campaign Log.

Tautog records 4 VPs and 2 Experience points.

Each sub gains 1 Stress at this stage.

Silversides moves to 9 Stress, and so I decide to place the sub back onto the Campaign Map in the Area's Searched Box.

Tautog, now at Stress 5, fully reloads and with 1 Convoy-sighted marker still on the Tactical Display, I decide to continue the Tactical Segment and draw a new Convoy card which reveals two Merchant ships and Escorts.  A second Convoy card is then drawn for its random Event.

Tautog decides to fire off 5 torpedoes at each Merchant ship [this causes them to be revealed as the Anyo Maru  and the Tatuwa Maru]. 

Firing at the Tatuwa Maru -  the roll on the dud table is low and only one torpedo hits the ship doing no damage, while one of the misses hits his own sub adding 1 Stress, Lasting Electrics damage and No Effect.

The other 5 torpedoes fired at the Anyo Maru all run true and with the best of his five dice being a 10, plus a small modifier, a final Merchant ship is sunk adding 4 VPs and 3 Experience Points to the tally.

In the next Combat round, Tautog immediately exits the Tactical Display to add one more Stress in the Post-Combat Phase, so the sub's Stress is now at 7.

Tautog also records 4 VPs and 3 Experience points.

With virtually no torpedoes left to reload and a high Stress level, I decide to call it quits and place Tautog in the Searched Box where Silversides has already been placed.

[... It was now the turn of my other two subs in the Marianas and I hope that you will allow me to draw breath at this point and pass over their exploits, until another day.  Otherwise this AAR is going to ... argh my two typing fingers have gone numb!

Some time later...

Once all your subs have been activated and gone through the processes that I've detailed, you move to the last Segment Refit.]

Re-fit Segment

Promote Submarines

Silversides  spends 5 of Experience points to promote the sub's commander to Ace level.

Tautog spends 3 Experience points to promote the sub's commander to Ace level.

As there is no Forward Operating Base in the area, neither sub can reduce their Stress level and neither sub has the Cool Special Ability which would allow 1 Stress point to be removed.

Any temporary damage received is removed, but lasting damage remains on the sub.

Finally the submarines are put back from the Searched Box into the South China Sea area and the process starts again.

With neither sub fit for much action, I simply return them to the Port of Freemantle from which they had started.  Of course, if subs travel further afield, you can head for the nearest Port or journey back drawing Event cards for moving into areas as you do so.  Thankfully for these two battered heroes, Freemantle borders the South China Sea and so they go straight into the Port Box.

Once in Port, each sub can remove the appropriate amount of damage, in this case 5 Stress points each for Freemantle Port.

This concludes 1 Patrol for each submarine which is the maximum they can do in a Short Mission.

Between them the Silversides & Tautog had notched up 18 Victory pts, enough to get me exactly half way to scoring the minimum total of VPs to earn the Adequate level in game terms!!


A FINAL FEW WORDS

First of all, this was a hugely enjoyable experience, though it took 10 A-4  pages of careful record keeping just to cover the details that covered half of the Campaign and several sessions that tallied about nine hours in total.  To play the game, without all the written record keeping to produce this AAR, is [I can assure you] a whole lot quicker!

I'd like to thank DVG, who very kindly sent with the game the Expansion Ship Miniatures and Battle Board which provides a mounted Tactical Display board twice the size of the smaller board in the game itself. But, as mentioned in my review of U-Boat Leader, the latter is rather small for the number of counters and markers likely to be placed on it. 

I love the expansion, but it does add another £22.99 to the cost of the overall package.

Both U-Boat Leader 2nd Edition and Gato Leader are for me excellent additions to my solitaire experience.  I imagine that the UK gamer may well settle for the former and the US gamer for the latter.  Both give equally satisfying and rewarding experiences.




























ESPANA 20 VOL 2 THE BATTLES OF BUSSACO & TALAVERA from Victory Point Games "O, what a world of profit and deli...

ESPANA 20 VOL 2 ESPANA 20 VOL 2

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Game Reviews

ESPANA 20 VOL 2

THE BATTLES OF BUSSACO & TALAVERA

from

Victory Point Games



"O, what a world of profit and delight.
...
Is promised to the studious artisan."



OK,  a quotation from Dr Faustus may be a bit heavy, but there sure enough is much profit and delight even from a quick read of the rules for Espana 20 Vol 2.  Though, let's be honest.  These days even a quick read has got a bit longer with these well established and highly successful set of rules and the many battles of the Napoleonic wars that they have been used to simulate.

Back in the dim and distant past, when I first came across the Napoleonic 20 series, I couldn't believe that such a small zip-lock bag would definitely hold that "world of profit and delight".  What? ... with just a fold-out set of very brief rules and the amazing claim that in the number 20 could be contained all the units to play Borodino of all battles!

It was my friend's copy and we gamed it to death - even in that beginning, we knew we were on to a winner.  But would more follow?  Without a doubt, virtually one or even two a year; Jena in the C3i Magazine [that was a profitable buy], Dresden and Austerlitz, Leipzig and Danube [which allowed you to play Wagram and Aspern-Essling] and on it went.

Along the way, the decision was taken more recently to introduce laser-cut counters and a jig-cut map board and so a whole new art form has been added to our hobby.  Not content with just clipping cardboard counters and sleeving decks of cards, we can while away the hours cleaning off the ultra-fine residue from laser-cutting with the specially provided paper cloth in each game!  and the distinct aroma of slightly charred wood adds a whole new olfactory dimension to the unboxing process.  Seriously though, these produce really substantial counters and the trend has become an established feature of VPG games.

Laser-cut counters still in their frame


A close-up of a some of the British at Bussaco


As if this were not enough, in 2012 GMT stepped in collaboratively with their strategic partnership with VPG to produce a boxed quad of battles called Fading Glory, an absolute shoe-in for my collection, taking me back to the beginning with Borodino  and then Smolensk, Salamanca and, joy of joys, Waterloo.  The whole shebang got the full treatment: mounted boards, thick glossy counters, quality cards and substantial rule and scenario booklets.

2014 saw VPG themselves produce Espana 20 : Vol 1 featuring the battles of Los Arapiles and Bailen.  My only reason for not adding that to my already overflowing games collection was that Los Arapiles is essentially the Salamanca game that I already had in Fading Glory.

So, to the very latest in the series, Espana 20 : Vol 2 and the battles of Bussaco and Talavera.  If you've already seen or bought Vol 1, you'll know that we're into the realms of VPG's larger productions with two maps, each made up of 2 panels to produce  a 17" x 22" map for each game.  These cardboard maps are superb in every way.  Terrain is crisp and clear with a predominantly brown/ochre background that appropriately evokes the dusty plains of the Iberian peninsular familiar from my reading and watching of the Sharpe series.  The unit counters are a delight in substantial quality and strong colours and sit well in the good sized hexes.


Bussaco and the ridge the Allied troops will defend. 

In addition there is a very good, full-colour double-page play aid that brings together all the necessary charts and tables.  The only drawback being that the very important Morale track, on which victory or defeat depends is also printed on this play aid.  You have the choice of peering at all the charts from some distance, so that you don't disturb each sides Morale marker or creating your own small Morale track so that you can lift the play aid up for easy visual reference.
Amazingly, at its core, it is a system that takes us back to almost the earliest mechanisms of board wargaming: an Igo-Ugo turn [i.e. one player moves and has combat with all their units and then the other player does exactly the same], two simple numbers on the unit counters [ the first being the Attack/defence strength and the second the number of movement points], rigid ZOCs [a unit must stop on entering an enemy ZOC and cannot use movement to leave it at the beginning of their player turn and mandatory Combat against all enemy units that exert  a ZOC on your units.

Even movement remains at the simplest level: a single point to enter any type of terrain; the only proviso being that some types of terrain stop any further movement, unless you are travelling along a road.  The rare modifiers cover minor rivers at +1 and +1/+2 to cross different degrees of slopes.  We really are dealing with the most basic early moves provision.  The only concept that strays from those rudiments of early design is that the game does not use the first simple ratio-based CRT [Combat Results Table] which used the ratio between Attacker and Defender's strength and the roll of a six-sided die.  Instead, the equally simple, but next to be devised CRT is the chosen one  - a differential style CRT.  Oh, and I suppose I ought to admit that using a hex grid map was at one time a revolutionary advance over the very first board wargames which used squares!

Initially, Random Events for this series took the simplest line too and were controlled by a table to roll on.  That has been replaced for some time by the current liking for Random Event cards and these are a very nice addition to the Napoleon 20 series, both in quality and the ability to introduce both generic situations applicable to most battles and very specific ones relating to these individual battles.  This will be seen to be especially important when I look later at the historical situation being enacted in these battles.


Just one of the many potential Events.


When you look at how the fold-out rule sheet has grown from its miniscule beginnings to, by comparison, a huge 28 page booklet, the question whether bigger is better does creep into my thoughts.  Yet once again the quality can't help but charm you.  Thick paper and the most generous layout imaginable are augmented by the use of colour to highlight and emphasise every step of the way.  As a result you do get a set of rules that takes you by the hand and spells out and explains everything in extreme detail, often with a point being reiterated several times. 


This repetition can almost become counter-productive and for the grognard it is perhaps an unnecessary length.  If new to playing board wargames, it will be a useful feature.  It will certainly guide you safely down every path and I hope will avert the sort of questions, sometimes familiar on Boardgamegeek, that demand to check if every "the" means the same as the last "the". 

Along the way, you'll take in very easily a surprising level of additional detail: unreliable or reluctant units, elan, Guards and their cost to enter enemy ZOCs, commitment of reserves to combat, rules for rout and hazardous retreats, rallying units at night and many more elements.  Yet all are of an ease of play that keeps these rules nearer the early NAW [Napoleon at War] rules and a long, long way from systems like La Grande Bataille or the Napoleonic Brigade series.

However, with the addition of a 24 page Scenario booklet, 10 devoted to Bussaco and 14 to Talavera I don't think this is the best starting point to encounter the series for the first time. 


Rule book, Scenario Book and just about everything else!



But, if you know the series or are well versed in playing board wargames, then the package is value for money.  This is especially so, because the Talavera battle offers two scenarios: the first being the historical set piece with both sides squarely facing each other, while the alternative begins a day earlier with the Spanish retreating and the French in pursuit.




Talavera - main scenario

"both sides squarely facing each other"



On the face of it, they should be tough challenges for the player taking the French side, as both were French defeats and involved  frontal assaults against units defending steep slopes.  The all-seeing eye in the sky of the gamer is less likely to lead to such seemingly mad decisions.


BUSSACO

Both battles have a considerable amount of chrome and though it takes far longer to read than execute these additional rules, there are a few contradictions and uncertainties.  Bussaco presents an indolent Massena dallying with his mistress in the village of Cordiera and so few of his units are likely to initially be able to engage with the Allied enemy. 


Opening position at Bussaco


For the first five turns, Wellington has his own potential limitations and at best only four units will be activated, unless French actions release him from this hesitancy.  Despite these early restrictions for both sides, I have so far found that the French's ultimate freedom to swing round the Allied left flank and cross the steep slopes virtually unopposed gives them an ability that the Allied army can do little to counter.


A closer look at the centre of Wellington's defence

[note the steep slopes and the convent of Bussaco]



Nor have I found that the necessary high die roll needed to jerk Massena into proper action is too long in coming and, though a single Event card may throw him back into lethargy, the strength of some of his units tend to outface Wellington's force come what may.


At start Massena abed in the village of Cordiera

Unfortunately, I can't see any other tactic being so likely to produce a consistent French victory.  The alternative French reinforcement entry option that is offered only seems to confirm that the drive on the Allied left flank is the best option.  Consequently replay value seems limited.



TALAVERA


In the same way, the main Talavera scenario also appears to present a similar question as to how well it will replay, but for a different reason.


Staring down the muzzle of the gun.

Both sides start, as the image above shows, almost toe-to-toe at start with virtually no opportunity for a flanking manoeuvre by the French.  The French have a powerful force which has command limitations that can be largely overcome by the careful positioning of Joseph, Napoleon's brother, the Guard unit and General Jourdan.

Against them the British troops are fairly strong too, but the Allied right flank is held by weaker Spanish troops under their leader Cuesta, who is quite likely soon to flee the field.  But they do have a very strong anchoring position on the river and the village of Talavera.

However, play has proved that, though going head to head cannot be avoided, the results can be very varied and the likelihood of a ding-dong battle swinging backwards and forwards is on the cards.
The following images are from one such encounter.  The French were successful in their initial single unit probe at night [a special scenario rule, as no combat is usually allowed at night] and a see-saw engagement followed with ultimately the French gaining the upper hand.



At that point it looked like curtains for the Allies with the centre of their line broken, three Spanish units routed [bottom left of picture] and two British units [top left] routed as well.  Several gamers I know would probably have conceded defeat at this point, but these are not games to give up on so easily. 


A closer look at the broken Allied centre,

with the French in a strong position


First of all, a crucial event [the Sudden Death card] occurred which placed the French under some potential time pressure.  Also, it looked like one last major French attack in the north on the end of the Allied left flank would probably clinch the deal.  Two disastrous die rolls later and the French were reeling in shock with a key unit virtually surrounded and exposed to a British counter-attack.  French morale plummeted to zero and it was game over and an unexpected Allied victory.

My final thoughts are first and foremost in buying Espana 20 Vol 2 you're getting an excellent set of rules of tried and trusted quality and ease of play.  Excellent production values in all the physical components.  Two interesting battles - one of which [Bussaco], I have some reservations as to replay value, the other [Talavera] is a cracker of cut and thrust action and a real bonus in having an additional scenario starting the battle a day early.  A very worthwhile addition to my collection. 










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