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  If you hear a rumor that long time wargame developer Battlefront is making a modern Combat Mission module about the place where you live, ...

Combat Mission: Black Sea Combat Mission: Black Sea

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

Matrix Games

 



If you hear a rumor that long time wargame developer Battlefront is making a modern Combat Mission module about the place where you live, you might want to look into taking an extended vacation. I say that because both of their titles set in our time were developed based on smoldering conflicts that soon after turned into serious real life wars. First in Syria with Shock Force, and then in Ukraine with Black Sea. The key difference in each game of course being the intervention of conventional NATO forces, which in both cases was at least within the realm of possibility. If you wanted to see just what a NATO intervention in Ukraine might have looked like, then you are in luck, because Combat Mission: Black Sea is here to provide that experience.


Although originally released back in 2014, Black Sea is now joining Shock Force 2 on Steam and the Matrix Store, as Battlefront continues their venture with Slitherine of bringing the Combat Mission series to the largest games platform around. I wrote my take on Shock Force 2 and to some extent the Combat Mission (CM) series as a whole in an article a few months back. Today I'll try to focus on what sets Black Sea apart and why you might want to add it to your collection. 




As mentioned, Black Sea depicts the most modern conflict of any game in the Combat Mission series, a war in Ukraine involving a full on United States military intervention. That means peer-on-peer conflict with the best Russia has to offer, as well as scenarios involving the slightly less well equipped Ukrainian forces. This is a far cry from the mostly asymmetric scenarios in Shock Force, where the highly trained and well equipped US and NATO troops faced a challenge only because they were asked to accomplish difficult objectives while taking minimal casualties. The enemy forces in that game usually varied in quality from militia rabbles to poorly motivated regular Syrian army units. One can also make a comparison to the WW2 settings of the other CM games. There, the forces are evenly matched in terms of quality most of the time, as they are here. However, as deadly as a WW2 battlefield could be, infantry firefights mostly involved bolt action rifles slinging only a moderate amount of lead around, and tanks could often shrug off a hit or three. Not so in Black Sea. 


In Black Sea, everything on the battlefield is a glass cannon. Every unit is deadly when positioned correctly, and dead when not. Modern optics and thermal sites and other gizmos make any move in the open a potential death sentence. In this kind of highly lethal environment, information becomes king. If you can see the enemy first, you can eliminate him without risking your own units. Unmanned drones are present in many missions, providing you with intel about whatever part of the battlefield you task them to observe. If you can get eyes on, say, an enemy APC holding an intersection, you can then drop a burst of precision artillery rounds directly on it and open a gap in the opposing defense. The same can happen to your units just as easily.




In a way, playing a battle in Black Sea can feel like something of a game of chess. This isn't a WW2 situation where you hurl an entire infantry company or two into a slugfest over a village, then roll in some tanks to provide extra firepower, and maybe throw in an artillery strike over a general area. This is a game where you carefully position each asset you have to maximize its potential, and hope it isn't blown up in an instant by some unseen foe.


The assets you have in Black Sea include many of the same units we saw in Shock Force, but with new bells and whistles to reflect a conflict a decade further into the future. For the United States, we have Abrams tanks, Bradley's, and Stryker's of all models. The Russians have T-72's and T-90's and of course a smorgasbord of BMP's, BTR's, and so on. The differences between these vehicles in Black Sea vs Shock Force reflect the nitty gritty details that make Combat Mission games shine. Depending on the exact model in question, many of these vehicles have better optics than they had in Shock Force. Some also have Active Protection Systems which can destroy incoming anti-tank rockets, giving these vehicles a fighting chance on the modern battlefield. Being aware of whether your vehicles are equipped with one of these systems or not is essential to forming a successful plan. Another easily overlooked difference from Shock Force is how the playing field has been leveled during night combat. In Shock Force, the Western forces ruled the night with their night vision equipped vehicles and infantry. Now everybody has some kind of night vision capabilities, although quality still varies. 




For better and ill, Black Sea is also still a very similar game to Shock Force and the other CM titles. The interface is exactly the same, which may be frustrating for some, but cozy enough for those already acclimated to it. Quick Battles against the AI are even more underwhelming here than in the WW2 titles, as the generic moves the AI makes in this mode tend to get their units wiped out. Performance with the engine continues to be a mixed bag. While it remains impressive that Battlefront can model a 1:1 battlefield with such exacting detail and at a realistic scope, the engine is just barely up to the task. The framerate can wildly swing as you move the camera around in medium to large scenarios, no matter how powerful your PC might be. Continued updates to the engine have improved things over the years and also made the game look nicer, but at this point I think we would all love to see a jump to something completely new. Hopefully the partnership with Matrix and additional funds from Steam sales will get them there.


The base game comes with 21 stand alone scenarios as well as a campaign for each faction, plus a training campaign. This will keep you busy for a quite a while, as most scenarios are difficult regardless of which side you play, and the campaigns even more so as you must keep your units alive to fight in battle after battle. If you want even more Black Sea, there is also the Battle Pack which adds a new campaign for the Russians and US Forces, along with 6 more stand alone scenarios. For only $10 it's a good amount of content that will keep you busy for hours. There are also a couple dozen user made scenarios and at least one campaign available over at The Scenario Depot that you can freely download.




If you are already a huge fan of Combat Mission, then Black Sea is an easy recommendation. The shift to a very modern battlefield really does make the game feel fresh as you must adjust your tactics to the high-tech, high-lethality reality of a conventional war between two major powers. If you've been putting off the purchase because you didn't like Battlefront's DRM policies of the past and messing with manual patches, well, there's no excuse now. With the game now on Steam, you are only one click away from having the most up to date version of the game on any computer, any time you want it. If you are new to the series and unsure about which game to purchase, remember that Battlefront is great about providing demos for every game. The demo for Black Sea includes a training scenario and two full scenarios from the game, more than enough to see what you are getting into.


Combat Mission: Black Sea is available on Steam, the Matrix Store, and directly from Battlefront.


- Joe Beard



Outside, the leaves have turned and begun to fall in droves, Christmas nears and that familiar music is in the air. On my computer scree...

Strategic Command: World War I Strategic Command: World War I

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

Matrix Games



Outside, the leaves have turned and begun to fall in droves, Christmas nears and that familiar music is in the air. On my computer screen, I can only feel pity towards the counters representing hundreds of thousands of soldiers as I begin turn one of the campaign. They think they'll be home for the holidays, but I know there is only a long and difficult war ahead.

Strategic Command: World War I from Fury Software is the studio's second stab at the Great War. I enjoyed the original game  quite a bit a few years back, and the game has only been refined further since then. The most fundamental change that fans of the older game will notice right away is that the square grid is gone, replaced with more traditional hexes. Also, the game is much nicer to look at without a doubt. Beyond the visuals, the gameplay will be very familiar to fans of the series, to the point that you can jump in and play without bothering to check the manual.



For those approaching the series for the first time, here's a look at how the game handles. Strategic Command WW1 (SCWW1) is a grand strategy turn based game where you take on the role of leading either the Entente or the Central Powers in WWI. Unit density is kept to a minimum by using a corps as the standard unit size for infantry. Aircraft, artillery, and HQ units are around as well, but never in great numbers. On the sea things flip the other way, with individual ships each having their own, very valuable counter. The combat is, at a glance, similar to Panzer General and the like, with unit health being represented by a scale from 1-10, and the average combat knocking off 1-3 points from that total. Things aren't quite that simple though, as morale, supply, terrain, entrenchment, and more factors come into play to determine the odds. Still, the game keeps things simple, and it is a great place for less experienced wargamers to dip their toes into the deep end of the pool. 



As someone who likes to fancy myself a hardcore wargamer, but in reality never finds the time for the real monsters, the Strategic Command series is a perfect fit. SCWWI is no exception to that rule. The reason I enjoy the games so much is because they are just complicated enough to make you think hard about decisions, while keeping each aspect of the game simple enough that you can easily pick up and play a few turns a day without any need to consult the manual or go hunting for answers on the forums. I say that in terms of the mechanics of playing the game. When it comes to the actual strategy, well, I can always use a little more help. SCWWI actually delivers on that need right out of the box. 

Besides a manual describing how to control the game, there is also a lengthy strategy guide included for the full campaign. It goes over all of the quirks of the gameplay which are not readily apparent to the new player. Things like decision events, partisans, naval blockades, and how certain specific actions you might take will influence the game. Besides that, the guide includes broad strategies for each side, and specific tips for each individual nation. Skimming through this document is a good idea before you embark on the full campaign, since SCWWI, like the other SC games, contains a lot of scripted events that will fire on specific turns or under certain conditions. All of these events are listed in the strategy guide, with information about when they will fire and what the possible outcomes of each decisions will be. 




These events can be very powerful and important, sometimes giving you special new units, or allowing you to take a unique action that is otherwise unavailable. You can opt to take the historical path in each of these decisions, but you can also explore the "what-if" of an alternate choice. Many of these events can also have randomized outcomes, so history may take a different path even if you make the historical choice. For example, the Zimmerman telegraph just might work this time around, drawing Mexico into the war. Unlikely, but you never know! Some people might feel that this approach can railroad the game a bit, but I appreciate how it is used to handle things that happened historically, but would be difficult to replicate organically through game mechanics. 

Besides all of the combat occurring on the map, the player will also need to concern themselves with managing diplomacy, production, and research. All of these areas share one pool of resources (MPPs), and that same resource is also needed to repair damage to existing units, and to use railroads to move units great distances. This means you'll need to be very judicious in how you spend those precious points. Choosing to build a very expensive unit like a battleship, which will take many turns to complete, is not just a simple choice, but something you are actively building your entire campaign strategy around. Other long term decisions like influencing other nations to join your side, or focusing on aerial warfare over submarine warfare, are likewise not choices to be made lightly. No matter what you choose to do, your opponent will put up a stiff fight, and only by matching your choices with an effective strategy will you prevail. 



While the AI is prone to make the occasional odd move, and leaves itself open to attack from time to time, it will mostly put up a good fight. If you find the default settings too easy, it's possible to gradually turn up the difficulty, putting yourself at a disadvantage, though this won't necessarily make the AI play any smarter.  To get the ultimate challenge, you'll need to go online and find a human opponent. Although I didn't use the online function while preparing this review, it uses the same PBEM++ system as most Matrix/Slitherine turn based games. Using this system you can play asynchronously, completing a turn and coming back later when your opponent has played their turn. It might take quite a while to play a full campaign against another player, but I imagine it would be a thrilling experience. If you want to try a shorter match, there is a scenario included which begins the campaign in 1917, with the end nearing, but much tough fighting still to be done.



Overall, I have no real complaints about the game, though there are a few areas where improvements could be made. Naval combat continues to be the weak point of the series, as it is difficult to portray those battles on the same map and scale as the land combat. Some abstractions are forced upon the game due to the question of scale, such as ships entering specific zones in order to be teleported across particular areas.  Naval blockades involve parking units on specific hexes, which works but always feels a bit odd. The other main complaint I have is the lack of alternate scenarios. Only three scenarios total are included in the game, the full 1914 start, an alternate version where Italy switches sides, and the 1917 start. I don't recall if the original base game had many extra scenarios, but I really enjoyed all of the smaller scenarios included in the Breakthrough expansion. I was hoping to see some of those reappear here, but no luck. Perhaps they will come along in a DLC at some point.

Strategic Command: World War I is a solid entry into the series, and I can very comfortably recommend it to anyone who has enjoy the series before, and anyone looking for a good WWI strategy experience. I think Strategic Command strikes a near perfect balance between depth and fun.  Few other games can give you so many details and potential strategies to explore, while remaining mechanically simple enough that anyone could sit down and learn all of the mechanics in under ten minutes. 

- Joe Beard

Strategic Command: World War I is available directly from Matrix Games and on Steam.







Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (CMANO) was released a full six years ago, and has since received endless patches and updates, as we...

Command: Modern Operations Command: Modern Operations

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

Matrix Games


Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations (CMANO) was released a full six years ago, and has since received endless patches and updates, as well as several DLC campaigns and stand alone scenarios. If you are unfamiliar with the game, I'll briefly describe it, but my primary purpose today is to discuss the upgrade to Command: Modern Operations (CMO). In short, CMANO is perhaps the ultimate sandbox for air and naval combat simulation. 

Well, if you don't mind that simulation taking the form, visually, of a map covered in simple icons, lines, and rings. It's what all those simple icons, lines, and rings represent that makes the game so fascinating. Essentially, every single aircraft, ship, submarine, and related weapon that has existed since the end of WW2 on up to the present day, and even a bit into the future, is realistically represented within the game. It's all there in a Wikipedia style database that has more specs and stats than you can possibly ever need. Between the official and community made scenarios, there are somewhere north of 600 scenarios on offer, and a powerful editor that you can use to whip up something of your own design. These scenarios depict some hypothetical and utterly fictional situations, but many recreate historical battles and events with a high level of detail. 



Although the graphics might be simple at a glance, the simulation is doing some serious work behind the scenes. Weapons only function within their real design parameters, aircraft burn fuel at variable rates depending on their speed and payload, the thermal layer and other underwater phenomenon are fully taken into account, and, most importantly of all, real world tactics and strategies are the order of the day. 

While some scenarios are straight forward affairs, many depict actions taking place over multiple days or across hundreds of miles, where you will need to take into consideration things like patrols, reconnaissance, SEAD strikes, mid-air refueling, changes in day/night, and the rotation of aircraft back to base for rearming and refueling. Many of the nitty-gritty details can be handled by the AI automatically; you just create missions and then assign units to them. However, if you really want to micromanage things, you can go in and manually direct the firing of individual weapons at specific targets. 

For some missions, like attacking particular buildings in an enemy base, you'll want to get in there and assign targets yourself. For other needs, like flying a CAP around the fleet, simply creating an appropriate mission and assigning the correct squadron to it will be all you need to do. How will you know which squadron is the correct squadron? Well, if you don't know your F-22's from your F-18's, or even if you do, you'll want to poke around in the in-game wiki a bit. Keeping Google open in the background might be a good idea as well. Needless to say, this is a game that will require some effort on the part of the player, but will reward you with an incredibly deep and varied experience.



Now, after much anticipation, the next iteration of the epic combat simulator is here in the form of Command: Modern Operations. This new version of the game completely replaces CMANO, but also comes with a price tag. This will lead many out there to wonder, is this worth the upgrade price? Alternatively, if you never pulled the trigger on the older version, is now the time to jump in? Read on to see what is new and improved. 

First up I will direct you to the official CMANO->CMO FAQ, which should answer a few questions you might have. Essentially, if you already own CMANO, you can upgrade to CMO for $40 for a limited time. While that is a considerable fee for an engine upgrade, one must consider that CMANO received non-stop updates for the past 6 years, and we can expect that same level of support for CMO going forward. Any extra content you might have purchased transfers over to CMO, and of course the absolutely massive trove of community built scenarios will still work in CMO. Just to give you an idea of how dedicated the fans are, and how easy the mission editor is to use, I'll point out that there are 476 scenarios in the official community pack, and that number steadily grows. Good luck ever playing all of them! 

I was a bit disappointed to see that the previously stand-alone campaigns, like Northern Fury, will no longer be available to purchase as separate mini-versions of the game, but only as DLC within CMO. I thought that was a great way to let people dip their toes into the Command world.  New players will now have to bite the bullet and drop $80 on the full game, or wait it out for a sale. 



Now, what exactly are you getting if you do decide to upgrade to CMO? Let's run down the list of new features, and I'll comment on my experiences with them since getting my hands on the game. 

New User Interface

CMANO veterans will immediately notice that the new UI is much easier on the eyes than that in the original game. The very generic and plain interface of the original has been restyled with a nice dark theme, some softer edges, and a splash of color. A new row of buttons along the top give you quick access to some of the most common commands and windows that you will need on a regular basis. Overall, the controls are the same as before, and you'll still be digging through menus at times, but this should ease new players into the game a bit better and give veterans a little quality of life upgrade. The bottom line is, the game now looks much more like a "game" and less like a piece of generic Windows software. For some players, this won't matter at all, but I very much liked the changes.

Besides looking different the UI now features a lot of new functionality. A much more useful message log now sorts messages into different categories to help you find what you are looking for, and hovering over an entry, for example "Enemy fighter X destroyed by missile Y" will now cause a text bubble to pop up on the map, showing exactly where that event occurred. Very useful in the case where you missed something important during a chaotic battle. Another nice update is that the pictures of various units and weapons are now automatically downloaded into the database as you pull them up. Previously, you had to go to the developer website and manually download a giant folder of images to stick in your game files. This doesn't really change the gameplay at all, but is certainly a better solution. Half the fun of the game is that you have access to ALL the toys from the past 70 years of warfare, you're gonna want to at least get a picture of what they look like. 

Tacview 3D Integration

Speaking of visuals, one major change found in CMO is that you can now integrate it with Tacview 3D Advanced to get a simple 3D view of what's happening on the battlefield. It's important to note that this is a separate software purchase. You do get a nice discount if you own CMO, but it's still almost the price of a AAA release. On the upside, the software can also be used with flight simulators like DCS World, so you could get some additional utility out of it if you are so inclined. A luxury item no doubt, but a very cool feature. For all of its complexity and depth, CMO still involves a lot of staring at simple icons and lines on a map. Having an extra window showing the action in 3D should bring things to life in a more dynamic way. I do not own the software, so I can't give it a review, but here's a shot of what it adds to the game.




New Map Layers

Continuing with the visual improvements, the game now includes some additional map layers that you can switch on and off as you please. Just as in CMANO, most of the time you will be looking at a Google Earth style globe that you can freely move around and zoom to wherever you desire. CMO adds a new higher resolution map where you can see right down to individual streets and groups of buildings. Unfortunately, I often had trouble getting the map to load as fast as one might hope for. Often, one "chunk" of the map would load in higher resolution, and then the areas around that chunk would stubbornly refuse to load in for a long time. I don't know if this was just due to my hard drive not being up to snuff, or an issue with the game engine. In the screenshot below, you can simultaneously see both the gorgeous high-res layer of the map, and imagine the frustration of sitting there waiting for the rest of it to load in. 




I also experienced another visual oddity where bits of two different layers seemed to bleed into each other at times. Hopefully a little more polish can resolve these issues. CMO also adds a few other layers that you can use if you prefer. One of these takes away the satellite imagery and replaces it with a cleaner, utilitarian style of map. I liked playing with this one on while operating in urban areas.




Improvements to Ground Forces

Besides looking nicer, the higher resolution terrain visuals also connect with improvements to the actual gameplay. The terrain on the ground is now represented in a far more detailed manner. Hovering your mouse around the map will display information which now includes a specific description of the terrain. Cropland, plains, mountains, jungles, urban areas, forests, swamps, and many more types of terrain are now modeled in the engine. While the description and the visual representation were not always exactly 1:1, it was shockingly close for a map modeling the entire world. 

This is important because a long requested update to one area of the game has arrived: ground operations. Of course, given the title of "Modern Air/Naval Operations," the inclusion of detailed ground combat was never promised, but could only make the game that much more interesting. While mobile ground units are still not a central part of the game, and most scenarios don't have any at all, future scenario makers will now be able to create much more interesting conflicts using them. All of that new terrain information comes into play, along with detailed line-of-sight data. Before, it didn't really matter if you drove some tanks through a swamp, or hid your infantry in dense jungle. Now it matters a great deal. While the developers have made it very clear that they aren't aiming to reach the fidelity of something like Armored Brigade or Command Ops, this is still a pretty nice leap forward.

Check out this Developer Diary for more details on the changes to Ground Ops

Under The Hood

Besides the updates to the UI and visuals, the engine itself has received a massive upgrade in terms of performance and modeling. Though I don't have any hard data, I can say with confidence that the game now runs along more smoothly than ever before, which is especially noticeable in the more complex scenarios. More specific updates include improvements to the aircraft dogfighting AI, the flight model, and even the modeling of G-Force effects on air crews. Other improvements to air combat include radar frequency agility and explicit doppler-notching. Do I know what these terms mean? Absolutely not. But they are now part of the simulation. A little research reveals that these are some advanced air combat maneuvers, the inclusion of which show just how insanely detailed and researched this game really is.

Quick Battle Generator

This is a great idea, but the first iteration is a bit anemic. The idea is to allow the player to jump right into some action, without the context of a larger scenario to worry about. Air, sea, and underwater engagements can all be created in just a few clicks. Unfortunately, the options and results are very limited. Basically, no matter what settings you pick, it's just a small handful of roughly equivalent units run smack into each other and you see who wins. Spending a short time learning how to use the editor would allow you to whip up far more interesting engagements in just a few minutes. I appreciate the thought here, but I hope this feature will be updated to, perhaps, generate simple scenarios like attacking an enemy base with several squadrons of fighters.

Other Changes

There are just so many minor changes and updates to the game that I don't want to drone on describing every single one, so I'll just rattle off a few more here. If you want the exhaustive list of changes, just follow this link to the developer's page and start scrolling. There is a lot to read about!

Expanded Tutorials - Self explanatory, but certainly this game needs all the tutorials it can get. Once you know how to create missions and get units into action, the game really isn't that hard to control, but getting over that initial hump can be intimidating.

Chains of War Features - The DLC campaign "Chains of War" had several features not included in the base game (loading/unloading cargo and amphibious forces, electronic/cyberwarfare, detailed aircraft damage modeling, and some high tech toys). All of that is now baked into the base game, and can be used by anyone for their own scenarios.

Realistic Submarine Communications - A cool new optional setting. Just as in real life, submarines that go deep underwater can no longer be easily tracked or communicated with, even by allied units. You won't even be able to see their exact location on the map, so you better think twice before assigning a mission. Just as in the real world, an ELF signal can be sent to request they come back to the surface to re-establish communications.




This covers many of the changes found in CMO, but definitely not everything. I'm probably underselling a lot of the changes in how the simulation is modeled, since I'm not enough of expert on what is being depicted to tell you just how accurately things were being modeled to begin with. What I can tell you, is that CMO takes what was already a great system, and makes it several notches better. There is simply nothing else out there like it. It's game where you can convincingly simulate a naval battle from 1950, an air-to-air combat in 1967, and a submarine duel in 1985 all within one unified system.

If you already own CMANO and didn't care for it, well, CMO probably won't change your opinion. It's a hefty update, but it doesn't fundamentally change the game in any way. If you loved CMANO and play it all the time, it's a must have. All new updates and content going forward will require CMO, and based on the past six years, we can expect there to be plenty more of both. If you never took the plunge but were curious, the release of CMO is a great time to jump in. Yes, the price is significant, but you will get a one of a kind experience with limitless content. 

- Joe Beard

Command Modern Operations is available directly from Matrix Games and on Steam.

WarPlan by Matrix games     WarPlan is a slight misnomer, although hopefully all countries and generals hav...

WarPlan by Matrix Games WarPlan by Matrix Games

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

Matrix Games





WarPlan

by

Matrix games





  
 WarPlan is a slight misnomer, although hopefully all countries and generals have them. They are almost always chucked out the window after the first contact between enemy forces. As Clausewitz wrote, "Friction is the concept that differentiates actual war from war on paper", and those surprises that make "even the simplest thing difficult". Though your plan for the next campaign might be completely sound, it is still at the mercy of the enemy, weather, and your own commanders etc. About the game's cover, why Rommel? Bradley is totally understandable as a general. However, looking at the scope of the game, maybe it should have been Marshall? There are so many choices for the Germans instead of Rommel. This game is a strategic and operational one of World War II in the European Theater. The first question is why? There are so many that have been done, and a few that are very good. Let us look at Matrix's blurb to see what you actually get on your computer screen:

 "WarPlan is a game designed and coded by Alvaro Sousa, from Kraken Studios, creator of Strategic Command 2 products (Assault on Communism, Assault on Democracy, Brute Force, Strategic Command 3 Image Importer).
Developer Kraken Studios places their emphasis on games that are easy to use, hard to win. WarPlan employs one of the best interfaces to lower micromanagement as much as possible so players can focus on playing and thinking.
SCALES
The game's scale is massive, covering 70 different potential countries, in a map large 30 miles / 50km per hex using a Peters map scaling (which better represents real distances). The land scale is 15k - 60k men, air scale is 300-400 aircraft and naval scale is 2 capital ships + support ships.
COMBAT SYSTEM
Combat takes place on Land, with multihex attack based on operation points allowing for multiple moves and attack tactics allowing for frontline breakthroughs, on Air, where you can attack selected targets and may automatically support land attacks, and on Sea, where fleet and raider modes affect detection. Night action, Surface, Sub, and Carrier combat are available. Use the Zone of control to restrict the movement of the enemy.
20 different units with 15 different attributes, 17 different technological advancements, 5 different specialties. Each country has their own units with their own attributes. Additionally, units can be impacted by: Breakdown - Land units can be split or reformed, corps may detach a division, armies may split, Formation – Small formations may be grouped into larger ones, Generals - Each player comes with their own generals that affect combat, mobile attack, and retreats, Support pool Units - 11 different support types. Naval units stack in fleets. 1 land, 1 air, 1 fleet per hex. Land units have the capacity of having a specialization. This is an attachment of equipment, elite trained units, or gear. With advancements, this allows for 120 different land unit configurations.
COUNTRY MANAGEMENT
Production takes into account oil, manpower, logistics, strategic resources, trade agreements, convoy zones. The system allows you 17 different advancements and each unit has at minimum 2 advancement choices. You can have 47 different unit configurations. The supply system is based on cities, rail, ports, headquarters, and distance from railways. The supply system more accurately represents the North African Campaign. From a diplomatic standpoint, players may declare war, influence, attempt a coup, or negotiate a surrender. Each country has a loyalty score and an entry-level. Actions in-game may alter the entry and loyalty of various countries.
MAP
The map is Hex based, with 15 different types of terrains subdivided in to sizes with each different features including motorized and non-motorized movement, airfield capacity, and defensive bonuses; 12 different resource types, 5 different strategic resources. Realism is enhanced by the presence of Fog of War, with detection levels that determine information of units. Moreover, 5 different weather conditions make the whole gameplay more challenging."






 Well that is a bit of a mouthful. Let's take a look under the hood and see how many of the above statements hit the mark.

 One of the really big differences with WarPlan compared to other games is the inclusion of a working interception/interdiction mode for the units. Supply in the game is also innovative, as seen below.









 The map is large, actually very large. I really like this in games. It makes the sweep and size of the operations come to life. Of course for every plus there is a minus in computing. The larger the map means more units and decisions. So, a large map with a lot of units make it much more difficult for a designer to create a competent AI. The map itself tends more toward functionality instead of artistic beauty. This is fine, because I am going to play it, not take a screenshot of it for my wall. You can easily tell one terrain from another. If your old eyes are having a problem, there are numerous levels of zoom available for the budding general. The counters also tend toward function and are easily distinguishable from one another.
 




 The game comes with six scenarios: 1939, 1940,1941,1942,1943, 
and 1944. These scenarios start not at the beginning of the year in question, but at the date where important operations are going to take place. Thus, in 1943 the date the scenario starts is July sixth. The player does not have to wait until the middle of the year for the Battle of Kursk or the Normandy Invasion to take place. Conversely, this means that the player does not have the chance to change anything before these operations take place. The game is strategic in scope at all times so it does not have scenarios that condense the map and allow the player to play out separate important battles in WWII. This is not a knock on the game, but I do like it when games include them as a choice.  






  Okay, so now we come to the crux of the game. How is the AI, and how effective is it? With most polls showing that eighty to ninety percent of players only play computer games solo, the AI in games is a big deal. So how is this one? It is a bit of a mixed bag. The AI on the operational scale is very good. It will defend and attack with units in a very competent manner. On the Strategic side, not so much. However, with the game being situated in the European Theater of WWII, there are much more times for the AI to shine rather than not. The designer actually has stated that he really likes to work on the AI routines of the game. So this bodes well for future upgrades of the AI to make it that much better.







 One of the game's strongest points is its attention to supply. Unlike many games of its ilk in this one supply actually matters. Most other games abstract it or only really use it for the construction of new or replacement units. In this game, supply matters at all times. For the Axis player, it means that you will have to pay much more attention to supply than you are usually used to. It also means that the game plays more historically correctly than most others. In this game, you cannot make non historical or ludicrous decisions. Take North Africa; because of the lack of supply historically the amount of troops in North Africa had to be on the small size. Some other games allow you to build a huge Panzer Armee to conquer the Middle East. In this game, supply forces the player to play within historical limits. If there is one thing I love about the game it is this. Sandbox games are all well and good, but only if they make sense historically. 






 The rulebook is over 100 pages long. So you know this is not a 'lite' or 'beer and pretzels' game. The rulebook is laid out well and allows you to instantly look up whatever you need. The fact that Matrix allows you to download the full manual helps immensely. Putting it to your phone or tablet allows you to play and look up  the rules at the same time. It also comes with an editor that allows the player to change almost anything he wants. You could also create your own scenarios pretty much from scratch if you wanted to.



1939 Start

 The naval war in strategic games are usually the weakest part of the game, especially because it is usually abstracted to an incredible degree. When I play these games I usually ignore the naval aspect completely. In this game the naval war actually means something, and though it is still somewhat abstract, it makes sense. 



Trying to Save Army Groups Center and North

 So what is the final verdict? I would say two thumbs ups. For the minutiae lover it has all of the bells and whistles. For the player who only has time to get in a few turns before dinner or bed it is a good game also. The designer is already talking about what he wants to implement in WarPlan II. Do not let this make you  think that this game will be abandoned; it has already been upgraded once and the designer is involved as much as he can be with any questions or problems. Thank you Matrix for allowing me to review this excellent game. It is especially good for a first time endeavor, and I look forward to many other games from Kraken Studios. Below will be some links.


Matrix Games:
https://www.matrixgames.com/

WarPlan:
https://www.matrixgames.com/game/warplan

Robert

My favorite Warhammer 40,000 strategy release of last year continues to expand in the form of a new small DLC and a fresh patch for the ...

WH40k: Gladius - Fortification Pack WH40k: Gladius - Fortification Pack

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

Matrix Games



My favorite Warhammer 40,000 strategy release of last year continues to expand in the form of a new small DLC and a fresh patch for the full game. Gladius, the 4X title (with a heavy emphasis on the eXterminate portion) is all about building up your war machine and then engaging in non-stop war until you've conquered the map. The Fortification Pack is a new DLC for the game which adds a powerful defensive unit into the roster for each faction. At just $5, this isn't a DLC that's going to radically change the game, but if you've enjoyed it so far, it's a cheap way to bring some fresh options into the mix. Released along with the DLC is the version 1.4 update which focuses on balance changes and bug fixes. It's good to see this enjoyable game continue to receive polish and new content on a regular basis. 


So, what exactly are you getting in this new pack? Six new units, one for each faction, that will come into play in the mid and late game. The units are all defensive in nature, with some being buildings and some being mobile units that protect their allies. From the official description:

Space Marines - Aquila Macro-Cannon
Macro-cannon Aquila Strongpoints are massive fortifications, often used as bastions in Imperial defensive battle lines. Each consists of a munitions silo, topped by a large turret that houses the huge macro-cannon that gives the strongpoint its name. The munitions silo allows the Aquila Macrocannon to fire special "Quake Shells," each of which measures several Terran feet in length and has a powerful charge that causes the shells to reach hypersonic velocity when the Macrocannon is fired.

Astra Militarum - Void Shield GeneratorVoid shields are normally localised force fields reserved for protecting the monolithic Titans of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but static generators can be erected to serve as an aegis for other targets of vital import. The largest Void Shield generators can even project an invisible bubble of power across a large area of the battlefield, sheltering both troops and strategically vital battlefield locations by absorbing or deflecting the energy of incoming munitions.


Chaos Space Marines - Noctilith CrownNoctilith Crowns are brutal edifices raised up by the Chaos Space Marines to weaken the very foundations of reality. Crafted from the mysterious material known as blackstone, these vast psychic resonators thin the veil to deadly effect, shielding your own units and damaging enemy psykers. 



Necrons - Gauss Pylon The mysterious Necron defence turrets, designated as 'Pylons' by those who originally encountered them, were first recorded on the uncharged world of WDY-272. Rising suddenly from the desert sands, the Gauss Pylons opened fire without warning and with devastating effect, tanks and armoured carriers burning as the crescent-shaped weapons tore through the unsuspecting Imperial Guard column whilst resisting all return fire.


Orks - Big MekEspecially talented or popular Mekboyz will soon attract a following, lording it over a growing gang of underlings. A Mek with this much clout is referred to as a Big Mek, and can prove indispensable to the local Warboss with his knowledge of shokk attack guns, force field technology, and tellyporta rigs.


Tyranids - BiovoresA Biovore is a squat, bloated creature -- yet no less deadly for all that. Deep within its lumpen form, the Biovore nurtures a clutch of Spore Mines -- living bombs that blanket the enemy in acids, poisons and shrapnel-sized pieces of chitin. Biovores thump forward in battle, bony protrusions on their fore-limbs anchoring themselves into the ground as they release their vile payload in a single shuddering spasm.



While I haven't had time to play through multiple campaigns to try out all of these units, they clearly add some fun new options to the game. Who doesn't like building giant artillery cannons and shield generators? If you've enjoyed Gladius in the past like I did, this seems like a no-brainer. 

If you haven't had a try at Gladius yet, it's 50% off right now if you buy directly from the Matrix store. The game is definitely worth your time at $20 if you want a relatively simple, war focused 4X steeped in 40k grimdark-ness

If you already have Gladius, the Fortification Pack can picked up in the usual places - the Matrix/Slitherine store, Steam and GoG.


- Joe Beard





Today we've got an early look at the beta build for Close Combat: The Bloody First. The series goes 3D under the direction of Matri...

Close Combat - The Bloody First Preview Video Close Combat - The Bloody First Preview Video

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

Matrix Games



Today we've got an early look at the beta build for Close Combat: The Bloody First. The series goes 3D under the direction of Matrix Games, and I'm excited to give it a spin. Check back in a couple weeks for coverage of the final product, releasing on October 3rd.

(Sorry about the audio on this video, I forgot to adjust settings and so my voice is drowned out by much of the shooting. You aren't missing much, just my ramblings.)





If you're curious about  WarPlan the new strategic level WW2 game from Kraken Studios and Matrix Games, look no further than the v...

WarPlan - First Look at Beta (Video) WarPlan - First Look at Beta (Video)

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

Matrix Games



If you're curious about WarPlan the new strategic level WW2 game from Kraken Studios and Matrix Games, look no further than the video below. I give the game a quick spin, going through the various menus and invading a bit of Poland. 

Please note that the game is still in beta!







- Joe Beard

Armored Brigade, the real-time tactical sandbox which covers a vast swath of Cold War gone hot possibilities, has received its first add on...

Armored Brigade - Italy-Yugoslavia Pack + Campaign Generator Armored Brigade - Italy-Yugoslavia Pack + Campaign Generator

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

Matrix Games


Armored Brigade, the real-time tactical sandbox which covers a vast swath of Cold War gone hot possibilities, has received its first add on content. It's called Nation Pack: Italy-Yugoslavia, and as the name suggests, it adds two unique new nations to the game. I won't go too far into describing the base game, since Robert did a good job of that here. Suffice to say, this a 2D RTS that will feel familiar to anyone who has played Close Combat or Combat Mission. 



What really sets the game apart is its vast scope. The game covers theoretical war in Europe between the years of 1965 and 1991. Accurate army rosters are available for 7 different nations in the base game, with this add-on increasing the count to 9. The other significant feature of the game is how it generates battlefields. Rather than having hand crafted maps or randomly generated ones, the game ships with several gigantic, accurate maps of various interesting locales in Europe. Individual maps are then generated from this by simply drawing a box of your desired size on that big map, and there you go, a new place to fight over. Combat can scale from company sized skirmishes to brigade sized brawls. This is the beauty of the game, it can be stretched and squeezed to give you exactly the sort of battle you want. 


Infantry squad knocks out a T-55 after losing their ride into town.
This new nation pack extends that sandbox even further by giving you two new nations to play with and a new map that covers 61 square kilometers of the Italian-Yugoslavian border. The two nations combined add over 250 new units to the game. That's a lot of new toys to play with! Now, I'm no aficionado of the Italian and Yugoslavian military makeup in this era (or any, really), so I'll link to the official description here which has a nice summary of the strategic thinking in those nations during the Cold War. The short version is, these nations were not the titans of the world, fielding first rate tanks and elite infantry. These are the oddballs, nations that had no desire to fight WW3 to begin with, nor did they have the resources to match the big boys if they wanted to. I've loved playing these sorts of secondary powers in every wargame since I got Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin as a kid. It's always fascinating to dig around in the OOB and see what kinds of units are available, and then figuring out how to fight a battle with what you've got. Here I was especially interested in some of the earliest formations, which include plenty of WW2 leftovers. I know lots of people are clamoring for the game to be expanded into a full on WW2 game, but here you can at least get a taste. 



Now, let's look at the new map a bit, as it offers a great variety of terrain to fight over. There are constricting mountain valleys, wide open plains, urban zones, coastal areas, and lots of rivers to cross. I have not fully explored the map yet, of course, but every battle so far has been on a tactically interesting battlefield. Where the map really shines is when you combine it with the new campaign generator.

The one great shortcoming of Armored Brigade (besides the lack of multiplayer) is that the game does not come with any campaigns and only a handful of scenarios. Those scenarios are mostly tutorials, and after playing around with them you are left with only one-off battles that you generate. While the battles you can generate are excellent, and created exactly the way you want, they are still just one off battles with no narrative or larger stakes to consider. That has all be changed with the free update launching alongside this nation pack, which adds a dynamic campaign generator to Armored Brigade, even if you don't have the DLC. 


Each green box represents a potential battlefield for the campaign. It can be much shorter, of course, or feature much larger battlefields.
This campaign generator is analogous to the single battle generator in that it is very flexible and easy to use. You just click on the map to indicate the general track you want the campaign to take, tweak the settings and scope as you please, and away you go. Each campaign starts off with a meeting engagement, and then the winner will advance and the loser retreat. As the battle moves towards one end of the campaign track or the other, the defender will be able to get more supply points and be able to build fixed defenses like pillboxes and such. If the momentum of the battle shifts and the fighting passes back over old ground, the destruction of the previous fights will be evident. This can change the landscape of a battlefield that is fought over several times, creating an immersive narrative for the player. Losses also carry over from one battle to the next. The player will receive a certain amount of supply points after each battle, and these can be used to repair and refit units lost in the fighting. 



This is a feature that the game desperately needed, and I'm happy to see it added as a free update. Really the only thing that I didn't like about the base game was that the battles never felt like they carried much weight, since they were just randomly generated one-off affairs. Now you can have a narrative arc, with real consequences for your losses and poor (or brilliant) decisions in battle. I haven't had enough time with the game to play out any epic campaigns just yet, but I imagine many players will be firing up a titanic US vs USSR campaign that spans the length of the Germany map. The especially cool thing is that everyone's campaign will be unique!

So, if you have been enjoying Armored Brigade so far, this is an easy recommendation. The two new nations add some extra variety to what is available in the base game, and the new map is excellent. If you were on the fence about Armored Brigade, the free update including the campaign generator has given it a lot more value, and I suggest that you take another look. I imagine we will be seeing several nation packs similar to this one over the next couple of years, and I look forward to trying them out. In a sandbox of a game like this, you can never have too many toys or too much sand.

Armored Brigade and the Italy-Yugoslavia Nation Pack are available directly from Matrix/Slitherine.

- Joe Beard






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!

Matrix Games



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.
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