second chance games

Search This Website of delight

Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts

STALINGRAD ROADS   FROM NUTS PUBLISHING What's in the box Stalingrad Roads has been a game that I have been waiting for with great anti...


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





What's in the box

Stalingrad Roads has been a game that I have been waiting for with great anticipation and enthusiasm and, I confess, some trepidation about its eventual realisation, as it continually seemed to be coming...but not yet.  So, at last, with a resounding cheer, it's a reality and I must give a big thanks to Nuts Publishing for not just sending me a copy to review, but a bonus of the neoprene map...only the second one that I've ever owned.  Stalingrad Roads is the third in a series that began with Liberty Roads and was followed by Victory Roads.  These first two were published by Hexasim, another games company I greatly admire, though with them my focus has been on their excellent Napoleonic series.   
My knowledge of the first two Roads games is purely of their physical appearance which, in both cases, was lavish with vibrant colours on the map and counters. Nuts Publishing has gone for a much more austere map and counters that in their simplicity of layout and contrast of ochre and grey have a distinctly retro feel to them.
This is a major aspect that may divide players.  I’m certainly in the camp that favours the austerity of the pale wintery palate of the map that suits the span of November to March deep in Russian territory. With the counters I have mixed feelings, not so much for colour, but size. In fact, I found the multiplicity of badges on the units in the first two games distinctly distracting and one For those with the modern gaming taste for the larger and more lavish the better, they may be too small and too simple.  Nonetheless, they are totally practical and clearly readable with the standard three number sequence: attack strength, defence strength and movement.

In all other respects, the contents should be uncontentious.  The game contains a substantial number of double-sided Play Aids, all on thin, glossy card.  An item I wish all games provided is an identical terrain, combat and weather chart, one for each player.  Thumbs up to Nuts Publishing for that.  So much easier than passing one backwards and forwards across the table and much more appealing than one player having a photocopy.  
Both players have double-sided charts that explain the many individual Support markers each side may potentially have in the course of the game.  Three more contain set-up charts for the different scenarios and a final four combine a variety of functions.  One side of each presents a variety of other play aids, from holding boxes to player specific charts, while the others provide more set up displays and one contains a mini-map for the introductory learning scenario, Wintergewitter.
Wintergewitter mini-map

...and how it appears if played on the full map
The rulebook (partially seen above) is a similarly attractive, glossy product of 22 pages of rules, 4 pages of scenarios and a 1 page index. It’s very compact and functional and, though the print size is fairly small, I’ve found it easy to read.   Illustrations are limited, but focus extensively throughout the excellent, detailed examples of the central elements of Combat, Retreat and Exploitation.
The rules themselves are an interesting blend of the familiar and the unusual.  The core of the system is a fairly basic one common to even early hex and counter games of  the igo-ugo format with the Soviets having the first half of the turn and the Axis having the second half, founded on supply check, movement, combat and reinforcements and replacements.  

However, a level of added complexity derives from both players having a Support Phase as well as specific individual Phases.  These latter Phases apply mainly to the Soviet player and for that reason I would recommend that a more experienced player take the Soviet side at least for the first few games.
Combat and Weather Charts on back of the rule book

A number of points looked daunting, but in reality weren’t. The first such was the weather table and its rules.  My one complaint here is that the explanation of the lettered code used in the table is given in the reproduction of the chart in the rule book and on the back cover of the rule book, but not on the Play Aids - an odd choice!  When I saw that Snow and Mud are the only two weather conditions, I feared I might be in for a mass of complexity.  However, as Snow predominates, it has been largely been dealt with by factoring it into movement rates and other data on the terrain chart; as a result it turned out easy to handle.  Apart from obvious ground features, especially rivers, being dealt with through the weather table, so too is cloud cover which affects air support markers.  Both sets of conditions have handy tracks and markers on the map as reminders - a welcome help.

Explanation of Weather Effects on Cloud Cover and Rivers

Perhaps surprisingly, weather does not affect supply, though supply itself is handled in a novel and interesting fashion.   Apart from a direct trace of 4 hexes to map edge supply hexes, roads and rails are the key.  This is a familiar rule; what is unusual is that you check HQs first for being in supply and then those that aren’t are removed from the map.   They will return to the map in the Reinforcement and Replacement Phase which is the last Phase of each player's turn.  Unfortunately, as the rules don't clearly specify, it must be assumed that they return by the same process as unit reinforcements arrive.  In the final step of the Supply Phase all combat units are checked for whether they are within command range of an HQ on the map.  If not, then they are marked as out of supply. 
Close up on the Combat Table

The other intriguing feature is the Combat Results table.  Though it is the standard CRT with an odds ratio and 2D6 roll, unlike the very conventional single columns for each ratio with either an Attacker result or Defender result or a split result for each, there are three columns.  The first column gives step losses, strangely in the rules labelled under the heading Application of Attrition Results, but then referred to from then on by the more familiar phrase "step loss."  The second and third column respectively provide what are called Attacker Tactical Results and Defender Tactical Results.  At first sight, several of these look familiar - AR, DR, DR1, DR2, DR3 and Eng - but the last one Eng definitely does not mean the well known Engaged Result which normally is much the same as "no effect." Here the Attacker has to roll 2D6 again and apply only the Attrition Result i.e. more step losses.

And now for something completely different
On top of these are several new results: E, F, S and R.  Unlike "E" usually meaning Eliminated, here it means Exploitation and its effect is influenced by a surprising number of additional rules for a single CRT result.  It is a Tactical result only found in the Attacker columns and allows a limited number of units to make exploitation and attack moves in the Exploitation Phase that immediately follows the Combat Phase.  The number of Attacking units allowed to take part is changed by such things as whether an armoured attack had been declared and terrain.  Added to that, the type of units chosen may mean that some can only move, while others can both move and attack.  Again an interesting and new approach replaces what is usually handled by the standard, conventional Exploitation Phase of many games.  On the other hand, the F, R and S are all Tactical Results that can only occur for the Defender and mainly add extra choices between retreats and additional or reduced step losses.
The final and crucial development in the novel twists to well known war game tropes is the Support Phase - what I might call the Good, the Bad and the Ugly (well, ok the last adjective doesn't apply) of the rules.  The fact that it is given its own separate Phase and both players get a double-sided aid to explain the use of each support marker signals its importance.  First of all, there are far more potential Support Markers in this game than I have come across before in most games.  Then the Soviet Player has four separate Available Marker holding boxes, while the rules for Support markers take up almost a full page of rules and unfortunately several other Phases separately contain details that affect the use of Support Markers.  At this point when learning to play the game, I began to feel that a little less might have been a lot better.   When mastering the information about the markers and the rules that govern them became far heavier to memorise than the whole Combat process itself, I felt a little overtaxed.  However, though they do add quite a bit to the learning process and to the complexity of game play, they also add a lot of chrome and historical feel to the game which I enjoy and appreciate.

Just a few of the many and varied Support Markers
So far, I've concentrated on what I would call the expected generic areas of rules as well as some of the intriguing individualities of the "Roads" system.  The last part of the rules that I want to consider are those designed specifically to simulate historical elements of this campaign, Operation Uranus.  Considering that this was a major and crucial Soviet offensive, it's not too surprising to find in the Sequence of Play a Soviet Offensives Phase.   The Soviet Player starts the game with one Soviet Major Offensive marker and will gain two Minor Offensive markers as reinforcements.  The conditions for launching a Major Offensive are closely bound up with the Support Markers just discussed, though the player is at liberty to choose the moment of launch whenever those conditions are met. 
Also highly important is the Stavka Phase.  This covers rules for releasing Reserve units generally during the course of the game and none of these reserves could be more important or valuable than for release at the beginning of the Major Offensive!  The Stavka Phase is also vital for withdrawing units and rebuilding them.  So far, these are all areas of the rules that help to give the Soviet Player both their characteristic feel and specific punch for this campaign.  The final element of specifically Soviet rules should be equally familiar to students of this period of the war and that is Soviet Lost Momentum.  The negative effect of these rules is closely bound to the number of times Soviet HQs move - a good incentive for ensuring that your HQs stay in supply and so don't have to execute lots of movement to return!
The final special Soviet Phase is the grand sounding Operation Mars Progress Phase.  This is designed to cover how a parallel Soviet Offensive launched by Stalin in another sector might have impacts on Operation Uranus.  It couldn't be easier to apply, as it is abstracted into a simple 2D6 each turn, from Nov IV to Dec III.   Depending on the dice roll, the marker on the Operation Mars track will either stay still or move on the track.  Possible outcomes may be a Soviet Collapse or a Soviet Breakthrough.  If neither has happened by the Dec IV turn, this Phase no longer occurs.  
All in all, these rules work together very well with a minimum of effort and plenty of flavour, as do the brief rules on German Superiority and Major Soviet Successes.  The very last section to consider is the Fortress Stalingrad Supply Phase.  This can be declared by the German Player, if both hexes of Stalingrad are German occupied and these units are out of supply.  It brings with it a substantial level of extra rules and is cancelled if the German units in at least one Stalingrad hex regain normal supply and, of course, may recur if both hexes again are out of supply.  It is obviously highly historical and again strongly adds to the game's "feel."  Whether it is worth the extra complexity and rule commitment will, I think, be dependent on the individual players and I would suggest that players discuss its implementation.  I'd expect more experienced gamers to go for it, but less experienced might like to leave it out until they felt comfortable with the overall system.
Finally, there are the Scenarios which offer a very good range in both length and complexity.  Without doubt the Wintergewitter Scenario is truly "introductory", as the rule book says, aimed at getting to know the basic, underlying "Roads" system. 
The three shorter scenarios range from 3 to 7 turns and use a reduced section of the full map.
Operation Uranus - a 3 turn blast that sees the campaign kicking off, using part of the full map.  Be careful to note the reminder that you use the set up for the full campaign, except for those units whose hex placement is in red.  The rule book advises playing this, above all, to familiarise yourself with the rules that pertain especially to this game's situation and I would go along with this suggestion.  Its brevity allows you to learn and make mistakes and try it out again.
Operation Star and Gallop - seven turns.  This has the advantage again of fewer turns and units at their last gasp.  It also follows on from the fall of Stalingrad and so helps again to experience situation rules specific to this game without having to master the added depth of the Fortress Stalingrad rules.
Backhand Blow - 5 turns.  It too has the same advantages as Operation Star & Gallop and having encountered this in several games devoted wholly to this part of the war, I greatly relished having this to play as a scenario.  In my view a great bonus.
Finally, it's the main attraction, the full campaign game scenario:

On The Brink of Disaster.

Soviet forces poised to launch their envelopment

A substantial 17 turns.  Fairly modest on map counter presence at start, with plenty of reinforcements to follow for both sides.

Initial Soviet Set Up Forces

Inevitably the full campaign for me remains the major draw in any game, but it's always pleasing when there are several shorter scenarios, as here, which all provide a solid play session.

WARFIGHTER WWII MEDITERRANEAN & NORTH AFRICA FROM DAN VERSSEN GAMES Thanks to the generosity of DVG , the Warfighter series has become ...


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






Thanks to the generosity of DVG, the Warfighter series has become a corner stone of my games collection.  They began with the original foundation, The Tactical Special Forces Card Game, and its many subsequent expansions including the massive Footlocker and continued with Warfighter WWII.  Once more DVG were kind enough not just to provide me with a review copy of the core game, but the Ammo Box Expansion, [an equally enormous equivalent of the initial modern series' Footlocker] along with a stack of the many expansion decks, only to be followed by the WWII Pacific game!  All of this can be charted through my series of reviews, links to which can be found at the end of the review of this current addition.

And what an addition for which I must extend huge thanks to DVG for once more giving me the opportunity to review them. Not just the two main new editions to the Warfighter WWII canon, Mediterranean & North Africa, but a further 20 expansion decks.  [For a detailed look at the core system I would refer you specifically to the links to my first review of the Warfighter system and the review of Warfighter WWII at the end of this article.] What follows is the briefest of outlines for anyone who is totally new to this system. I would sum it up as follows.  It is essentially a tactical game of solitaire or cooperative play.  Played on an abstract board.

All missions, objectives, locations, friendly and enemy units, equipment and many skills and abilities are represented by cards.  Along with these, there is a wide range of cardboard counters representing physical items ranging from ammunition, grenades and satchel charges to canteens of water and bandages and markers for such things as suppression and killed, the identifying number of each of your soldier units, the number of individual actions each possesses, wounds etc, etc. 

The image above gives you a picture of the game in full flow. Everything is handled by the decks of cards that you see down the left edge of the board and the information on the cards and, of course, plenty of D10 dice rolling.  It may look daunting, but after just a few turns you'll be immersed in a game that consistently produces nail-biting action narratives!  However, for the player unfamiliar with this game, I would strongly recommend buying the core Warfighter WWII game because of its excellent rule book.
The reason I advise this is because these two new games both contain the new massive, compendious Warfighter Universal Rulebook

The 100 page Universal Rule Book

This is an attempt to bring together everything in one all-encompassing rule book that will bind together what exists, what has just been published [Warfighter Fantasy] and what lies in the future [possibly Sci-Fi, possibly Vietnam, possibly WWI].
In his introduction, Dan Verssen attributes the inspiration for this to... you, the players of this series, and your insatiable desire for more and more Warfighter! I certainly welcome such a compendium of rules and I've tried to provide an outline at the end of my review of what has swollen the initial core book to this mammoth volume.  However, as many others have already commented, I hope that this is not what will now appear in every new game.  I personally think that this should have been offered as a stand-alone purchase for all who would like it.  I have consistently praised the previous rule books for their accessibility and clarity when learning the game and ease when checking back on a rule.  The new all-embracing rule book has the first two strengths, but it does not ease initial learning or help in checking rules when you have to locate it among so many pages. 

Typically, while playing Missions from both the Mediterranean and North Africa boxes, I have largely relied on my earlier core WWII rule book, with only occasional reference to this new Universal Rule Book for a few very specific points,

For me, the most significant novelty is contained in the Warfighter Mediterranean game and that is because it is the first to handle an Axis nation, the Italians, as the main player and the Hostiles are Allied troops, specifically the British. Perhaps because of this I have been drawn to this game and this has been reinforced by the topics in several of the Expansion Decks.  Like all the preceding Decks, they contain the expected mix of new Soldier and Hostiles cards, added Skills, Equipment, and most important of all are those Soldiers, Missions, Objectives and Locations related very specifically to an historical event or location.  For me, three Expansion decks stand out.
Expansion Deck #82: Raid on St. Nazaire 
Expansion Deck #76: Crete 1
Expansion Deck #77: Crete 2
The first of these will need the Warfighter Europe core game too, but the deck contains 7 Objective Cards, 8 Missions and 13 Locations that are specific to the famous raid on St. Nazaire along with a number of Soldier cards for specific British participants who you will be playing.  
The two Crete Expansion Decks purely relate to the Warfighter Mediterranean game and both naturally introduce a similar combination of Missions, Objectives and Locations relating to the battle for Crete.  Along with them and a major plus for me, Crete 1 includes several named New Zealand soldiers for you to play while Crete 2 brings in German airborne soldiers, parachutes, gliders and supply cannisters.
Obviously, I am biased as to my choices, partly by being a Brit, but I suspect many like me will be drawn to the two Crete decks. A long sequence starting with Avalon Hills' Air Assault on Crete and SPI's Descent on Crete have given me a life time's fascination with the campaign.  However, I restrained my impulse to turn straight to these expansion decks in order to give the Mediterranean box a proper airing.   Inevitably, the basic preparation for every session remains the same: choose your Mission and Objective and build up a suitable selection of Soldiers and their skills and equipment and then the meat of the game follows as you fight your way towards the Objective.

My leading Soldier, armed and dangerous!

Nevertheless, this game whichever core box you may be playing, never fails to deliver.  A typical example was the play of the same scenario twice.  The first play saw some of the worst possible locations turning up for the slog to the objective and a devastating array of the most powerful British hostiles.  Half way through I knew there was no possibility of victory, only more of my soldiers dying!  A quick reset with exactly the same selection of soldiers met with a wholly different experience.  Easy locations to enter and initially light resistance saw my force surge ahead... until the sudden appearance of a Sherman tank at the provincial viaduct threatened to bring this to a crushing halt.  Fortunately, obstructing terrain blocked this killing machine's sight to its target and a fortuitous turn of an air support card and high rolling dice achieved its elimination and allowed me to move on and eventually achieve my goal.

Turning to Warfighter North Africa, all the same qualities naturally are repeated.  They start with the pleasing fact that just as the Pacific board was imprinted with  a wholly appropriate background scene, so too does the North Africa board reflect its desert terrain.  Not only is the background one of sweeping sand dunes, but the fore-grounded figures are British soldiers in a sandbagged emplacement.  

The colouring too ranges from sand to light tan and on to darker brown and the crowning touch is the familiar Desert Rats image identifying where your Mission card is placed!

The vast range of photos on the cards as always add to the historical setting of each core box.  This continues to be reflected across the whole range of different card types.  For example, Location Cards, such as Wadi, Salt Pan, Camel Bushes and Coastal Road.  How many of us have fought up and down, attacking and retreating along that very coastal road in many another North Africa game?  Event Cards like Oasis, Mirage and Heat Haze; the Cauldron Mission Card; the Benghazi Handicap Objective Card - all emphasise where we are for this game.  However, it is perhaps to be expected that the Expansion Decks are what dive deepest into the desert war.
Here are just a few of those location setting scenes taking you closer and closer to the action.

Just as I thrilled to the many Mediterranean Expansions that brought more history to the game, so too with Warfighter North Africa.  I expected to have a major toss-up between which of two groupings won my praise.  On the one hand there is the group consisting of Desert Rats and Vehicles Desert Rats matched by Afrika Korps and Vehicles Africa [why the change of spelling?] Korps and on the other hand is the grouping of the Battle of Bir Hakeim, the Battle of Bardia and the Battle of Damascus.  [What - no Battle of Tobruk?]  Not forgetting two other significant Expansions: Gurkhas and Long Range Desert Group.  Glad to see both of those getting a look in.
To be honest, in the first grouping I was disappointed with the Desert Rats Expansion, as 43 out of the 55 cards were Frontline/Elite British Hostiles!  I really hadn't expected to spend my time fighting against the Desert Rats rather than with them..  Even the Afrika Korps deck consisted of just over half the cards being German Hostiles, though this was compensated for by having 18 German Soldier and 2 German vehicle cards.  The two co-related Vehicle decks were almost identical in that, out of 55 cards in each, 45 were composed of two types of cards, anti-vehicle and vehicle.  I was intrigued by these, as though these type of cards and the concepts/rules related to them had featured in four earlier Expansion Decks, they were not an area that I'd previously explored.  These latest Decks certainly will be getting plenty of attention from me this time round.
The essence of their use is that you can buy Vehicle cards for a Mission just as you would Soldier cards.  They introduce a series of new concepts and the anti-vehicle cards form a new Hostile deck that a card must be drawn from for each vehicle you have in your group when you come to the Hostile Reinforcement Step. 
Much as I'm going to enjoy that strong element, my personal taste for adding more historical details to my Missions means that the three Expansions covering named Battles ultimately won my favour.  Bir Hakeim and Damascus both introduce French Soldiers and specific French weaponry and all three battles include a mix of historical features in Mission, Objective and Location cards, as well as generic elements relating to desert warfare.  Even more interesting is that Damascus includes as many French Hostiles as it does French Soldiers and finally Bardia to my delight brings in the Aussies.  I can envisage quite a bit of my time being spent digging into all three of these Expansions, as well as considerable research reading.  Heading the list will be Damascus which is a battle I'm totally ignorant about. 
Just as I was pleased to see nationalities such as the French, Australians and New Zealanders making an appearance, it was equally pleasing to find a whole Expansion focused on the Gurkhas. It cam as no surprise that most of the cards are fairly equally divided between the Gurkhas as Soldier cards and as Hostile cards.  With their reputation of service in the British army, I'm expecting to find them a daunting force whether I'm playing with them as my mission group or I'm the Axis group fighting against them.
So there you have, it a positive feast of material for a system that continues to grow and grow and grow.  Heading for the future my personal vote would be for Vietnam.  Meanwhile I have so much now that I suspect it might take considerably longer than WWII lasted to play the vast combination that I can marshal. 

LINK 1 for Warfighter review
LINK 2 for Warfighter WWII review
LINK 3 for Warfighter WWII Pacific review

Appendix 1: new elements and expansion of existing elements introduced in "Warfighter Universal Rule Book"
A 2 page introduction.
Skill Cards expanded to a full page.
Engage in Hand-to-Hand Combat becomes Striking Counter
Deploy the Decks omitted.
Select Your Mission has been substantially expanded from half a page to ten pages.  The core books only refer to Standard Missions covered by a specific game.  This refers to types of Mission cards found throughout various expansion packs.
Introduction of Team Soldiers.
Melee cards appear to have been renamed HtH [Hand-to-Hand] cards.  In sequence of Play HtH becomes Engage In Striking Combat.
Section on Armor Cards and Shield Cards included relating to new  Warfighter Fantasy release.
The inclusion of details on doors/beneficials/obstacles/traps expands section on Placing Location Cards
In Soldier Attacks there has been a small addition of Shadow elements.
Hostile Cards section includes the introduction of Double Reticles and mainly 2 extra pages relating to Warfighter Fantasy.
Hostile Turn slight amplification.
11 pages devoted to Shadow war
6 pages devoted to Private Military Contracts
5 pages devoted to Warfighter Fantasy.

Appendix 2: Expansion Decks specific to the Mediterranean Core Game
Exp #71 Royal Italian Army
Exp #75 Operation Tombola
Exp #76 Crete 1
Exp #77 Crete 2
Exp #78 Battle of Rimini
Exp #79 Gothic Line: Fortification
Exp #80 Italian Partisans
Exp #81Italian Airborne "Folgore"
Exp #82 Raid on St. Nazaire [needs Warfighter Europe Core Game]
Exp #83Savola Cavaleria
Exp #86 Vehicles Italian

Appendix 3: Expansion Decks specific to the North Africa Core Game
Exp #69 Long Range Desert Group
Exp #70 Afrika Korps
Exp #72 Battle of Bardia
Exp #73 Battle of Bir Hakeim
Exp #74 Battle of Damascus
Exp #84 Vehicles Africa Korps
Exp #85 Vehicles Desert Rats
Exp #87 Gurkhas
Exp #88 Desert Rats


  TRACES OF WAR FROM VUCA SIMULATIONS Traces of War takes us back to the Eastern Front and its physical contents initially made me expect a...


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





Traces of War takes us back to the Eastern Front and its physical contents initially made me expect a welcome return to the system used in Crossing the Line and Across the Bug River.  The sheer quality of all its components certainly puts it in the same league.  However, a quick look at the designer's name, Tetsuya Nakamura, and the fact that this is a re-tread of the Japanese magazine issue, Manstein's Last Battle, made me realise that this was a very different and simpler system.  I had encountered his system in the MMP production of A Victory Lost and like many others had both enjoyed its simplicity and playability, but not the disappointing production values.  So it's with many thanks to Vuca Simulations for providing this review copy and opportunity to explore its qualities.

Vuca Simulations have established an excellent reputation for quality and the only feature in Traces of War that has raised some criticism is the two-part map.  There are those who, relishing the company's previous beautifully mounted maps, lamented that these are paper maps.  Others have complained of the slight imperfection in matching up the two maps, though some have qualified that their concern stems from their experience of Vuca Simulations' record for perfection!  What I do like about the maps is the almost linen-like feel to them.

Personally, I've not found the matching up of the two maps anything other than a minor imperfection, especially once the Soviets start advancing into that area of the map, though I would highly recommend plexi-glass sheets that are always useful, especially where you have two-map games.  
Other than that, all other components live up perfectly to the company's customary excellence.   The three sheets of familiar rounded-corner counters are some of the best you'll find.  

Smilarly, the four charts [two identical ones for each player - another highly commendable practice] are the very thick, rigid A4-sized cardstock that also has become an expected feature.  These double-sided cards will rapidly become all you need to play the game.  Player Aid A contains a detailed sequence of play and all the necessary charts, while Player Aid B outlines all the rules and critical information.

Frankly after a turn or two, all you will really need is the single side of charts, because the rules are very easy to remember.  This is partly because they are relatively short, a mere 13 pages, but mainly because of their absolute clarity and the rule book's admirable presentation.  The pages are glossy without being too shiny, with the text set out in double-columns with plentiful illustration and examples that couldn't be easier to read because of their size.

A typical page of the rulebook
Having looked carefully at the English rules translation for the original Japanese magazine edition, I can safely say that these in Traces of War have an organisation, flow and readability very much lacking in the original. 
Sequence of Play
Luftwaffe Reorganisation Phase
This is a simple random chit-pull of German aircraft tokens that give offensive or defensive column shifts in combat.  The increasing number drawn - and there are only a maximum of four - depends on how many crossing-points the Soviet has captured.  Therefore it will be several turns before any are available.
Command Chit Selection
Both players choose which activation chits they will include this turn.  Mainly these are HQs that can activate all units within a given radius, but there is a single supply chit that is always included and the German player potentially has 2 OKH chits from turn 2 onwards and the Soviets receive a single-use airborne chit and airborne unit and may have a Stavka chit available from turn 5 onwards.  I like chit-pull activation mechanics generally and the system in Traces of War is an admirable one that is crucial to creating both the differing abilities of both sides and a substantial amount of the tension this game generates.
Action Phase
As a chit is drawn, the player has the choice for all units within the drawn HQ's command radius of either a move-combat sequence or a combat-move sequence.  I like the flexibility of choice and the variation to pace this offers the players, though as the German I would have loved the option of a move-move choice!
Both Movement & Combat are swift and easy to carry out. It's a rare pleasure to be able to remember all the terrain modifiers and movement costs in my head and the Combat Table too is very user friendly.  Most results are either R or RR - i.e. one hex or two hex retreats.  If this sounds like a very bloodless chart, don't be fooled, because a lot of that retreating will be through an enemy ZOC, each of which causes a step loss.  Imagine what might be going to happen soon to those German units in the pocket forming around Kharkov.

In terms of Phases, that's it.  Unlike most games, Supply and Reinforcements are handled not as Phases each turn, but as part of the chit pull system.  In this eight turn game, the Soviet player has six batches of reinforcements.  When he/she chooses to include the Reinforcement chit in a turn, one of those batches in numerical order will be placed on the map.  I love this further element of choice, along with the uncertainty of when in the turn they will arrive.  The ability to position them just where you most want them may perhaps be rather too powerful.  However, it is balanced by the chance that they won't arrive until they are too late to be valuable this turn.
For the German player, the reinforcement element is even more unusual and more restricted.  Just as for the Soviet player, it does depend on the inclusion of a chit in the Activation Pool.  In this case, it is the inclusion of an OKH chit and the German player has two of these chits available to include from the beginning of turn 2.   This is not the powerful tool it sounds, because the OKH chit can fulfil three different functions [1] activate an HQ [2] activate a set number of units anywhere on the board [3] provide a number of Negotiation Points to be used either to buy reinforcements or remove a Supreme Command Order.  All of those choices are going to be vying for the German player's attention every turn.  It's one of the frustrations and delights of playing the German side and for me gives a very convincing feel of what a desperate situation being the supreme commander must have been like with his nightmare of conflicting demands.  
If you're wondering what a Supreme Command Order is, it is this game's way of incorporating a version of what, in other games, are called Hitler Directives.  The six major cities on the map each holds one of these markers representing Hitler's demand that they should be held at all cost.  Should the Soviet player succeed in controlling any one of these cities while the marker is still in place, he/she wins.
As some of these will eventually be captured, the German player must at some point use Negotiation Points to remove those markers from cities where the Soviet player looks likely to seize control.   It is another simple, but hugely successful rule to ratchet up the pressure on the German player and provide a neat series of quandaries.  The German player is constantly forced to think what's the key priority now.
Supply too is governed by a Supply Chit that goes in the draw bag/cup every turn and when it is pulled out both sides check supply.  Again, I like this, though the method of checking supply definitely shows its age.  All that's needed is a line of any length free of enemy ZOCs and a few other restrictions, such as not passing through an enemy city or an unbridged major river.  

[Couldn't resist showing my favourite chit-draw bag "borrowed" from the V-Commandos game]
An additional feature that characterises the carefully thought out double-edged nature of some of my favourite rules in the game is the rule about Crossing Points of which there are six on the map.  All are located on the Dniepr that bisects the centre of the map and along which the Germans will strive to form some sort of coherent defensive line.  Their capture by the Soviets greatly aids their advance, but the corollary is that all the German bonuses [such as Luftwaffe markers, Supreme Command Negotiation Points and the value of the OKH chits] increase depending on how many the Soviets control.  This is both a clever balancing help for the Germans and a dilemma for both sides.
Before I conclude, a word about the very high solitaire value [9] given on the back of the box.

The only solitaire element in the game is the Play Aid below, which reproduces the two player charts that are printed on the opposing map edges.  This is provided so that, when you play the game solitaire by playing both sides, everything is facing you and easy to use.  As those of you know who've read other of my reviews this is my preferred way of soloing a two-player game and so I'm very happy to have such a simple resource.  But for those who want/need solo rules/bots, this is not what this game provides.

My final question is that of play balance which is already being argued about on BoardGameGeek [Ok, what game's play balance doesn't get vehemently argued about on BGG?]  The Soviets are definitely going to be doing a large percentage of the attacking and the Germans the defending.  There are two scenarios in the game: a short play of the first 4 turns and I do think that for the Soviet to accrue the necessary VPs to win is a well-nigh impossible task. However, the full game of 8 turns is the important consideration.  It is a struggle for the German player first to survive losing to an automatic Soviet victory and secondly to prevent the Soviet player gaining enough VPs to win at the end of the full 8 turns.  However, the more I play this game the more that German victory seems achievable and the more rewarding the feeling when you do!

Not one of my best efforts, as Dnipropetrovsk falls early
 to give an automatic Soviet victory

To sum up this is above all a highly playable game with short, very accessible rules.  Its components are a pleasure just to see set out and play is a tense experience, fuelled by plenty of interesting decision making for both sides.  It's a game that I strongly recommend and one that will be staying in my collection.

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


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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The table showing all Movement steps and all Combat steps

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

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

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

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

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

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