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The Cruelest Month: Air War Over Arras, April 1917 by Against The Odds Magazine  The game that comes along with this 2020 Annual from Agains...

The Cruelest Month: Air War Over Arras, April 1917 by Against The Odds Magazine The Cruelest Month: Air War Over Arras, April 1917 by Against The Odds Magazine

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


The Cruelest Month: Air War Over Arras, April 1917


Against The Odds Magazine

 The game that comes along with this 2020 Annual from Against the Odds magazine is about 'Bloody April'. In a war that saw so many bloody months, April 1917 saw the Royal Flying Corps (it would not become the Royal Air Force until April 1st, 1918) almost bleed out. British pilots' lives were counted in hours and days during Bloody April. This being the Holiday Season, one is reminded of Snoopy and the Red Baron song. Unfortunately for the British, the lines in the song "Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more, the Bloody Red Baron was rollin' up the score", are quite apt for Bloody April, if not for the Richtofen himself.  

 This is what ATO has to say about the game:

"The average flying life of an RFC pilot in Arras in April was 18 hours in the air. Our whole picture-- from movies like "Dawn Patrol" or "Aces High" -- of young men going straight from flying school into combat (and straight into the ground shortly after) comes from this six-week period, preparing for and supporting the "spring offensive."

Now, Paul Rohrbaugh's The Cruelest Month looks at this struggle, with the focus primarily on-air operations and ground battle abstracted (something like he did in Chennault's First Fight.) As the British player, you will marshal your limited numbers of fighters to help secure the skies for 2-seaters that would be better suited to training planes. As the German player, you will employ your well-armed modern fighters against waves of RFC planes that simply keep coming, regardless of how many you shoot down."

This is what comes with the Annual 2020 issue:

Maps - One full color 22" x 34" hex mapsheet

Counters - 176 full color 5/8" die-cut counters

Air Displays - 2

Rules length - 16 pages

Charts and tables - 2 pages

Complexity - Medium

Playing time - Up to 3 to 4 hours

How challenging is it solitaire? - Average

Designer - Paul Rohrbaugh

Development - Steve Rawling

Graphic Design - Mark Mahaffey

Very nicely done counters and map

 As usual, this issue of ATO is filled with excellent articles from all ages of military history. These are:


The Arras Campaign, 1917 

 by Paul Rohrbaugh

Appendix 1: Dramatis Personae 

Appendix 2: Aircraft of Bloody April 


Some Other Plane Stories 

Rules of Play for The Cruelest Month: Air War over Arras 1917

 by Paul Rohrbaugh

Rules of Play for Backlash! An Expansion for The Lash of the Turk

by Andy Nunez


What if Britain and France had won the Dardanelles Campaign? by Matthew Adams


The Holy League invades occupied Hungary, 1685-99 by Andy Nunez


These are from 'Backlash' an add-on for "Lash of the Turk'


 As with any issue of ATO, you get a huge dose of history and a well-designed game. The Annual issues give you more of a dose than the normal issues. The articles that come with any ATO issue, at least the ones I have read, are as well written as a military history book. They should be, because a lot of the article writers have written their own books.

 At the end of the article, The Cruelest Month, are two appendices. The first, Dramatis Personae, has bios for Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard (the father of the Royal Air Force), Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, commander of the British Empire's troops in France, General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff, usually considered the brains of the Great General Staff for the second half of World War I, General Ludwig von Kalkenhausen, German general in charge of the defense of the Arras Front. Appendix 2 gives us the information on all of the aircraft on either side that fought the battle in the air. The next article, A Tale of Two Planes, is a deeper dive into some of the major aircraft from both sides and how they were used in Bloody April. 

Some of the two-part map

 Just so you understand, this is not a game of air-to-air combat above the fields around Arras. This game puts you in the general's seat of either side. Here is more information about the game:

"While losses in the air were puny compared to the thousands dying on the ground, those aerial actions had great impact on how things worked out on the ground. The Cruelest Month will give you a full selection of aerial operations, including balloon busting, ground attack, bombing, and the all-important photo-recon and artillery observation missions, plus the fighter dogfights that center around protecting or stopping all the others. You'll use a Air Battle Board for these fights, and your planes will interact with ground forces on a map of the Arras area.

On the ground, your gray-suited soldiers will face mines, tanks, and the newly adapted "creeping barrage," in trying to maintain your hold on key defense lines. Can you hold the line? For the British, your objective is not so focused on the big "breakthrough," but now working with the idea of biting off chunks of key landscape and holding it. Can you equal the magnificent Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge?"

English Air/Ground Display

 This is the game's Sequence of Play:

Random Event Phase

Airbase Construction Phase

Initiative Phase

Air Operations Phase

Ground Operations Phase

Supply Determination Phase

Regroup Phase

Allied reinforcement Phase

Victory Points Phase

 The victory levels are determined by subtracting the German VP total from the Allied VP total. The victory levels are:

19 or fewer VPs: German Victory

20-40 VPs: Draw

41 or more VPs: Allied victory (historic result)

 The victory points are received by either forcing your opponent to abort air missions or by losing air strength points. At the end of the game, you also get victory points for losing or gaining ground hexes, specifically for the Allies to take Vimy Ridge and parts of the Hindenburg Line or for the Germans to keep them in their control.

 The magazine itself is 53 pages. It comes with the articles listed above. It is its usual beautiful full color self. There is one full counter sheet for The Cruelest Month game. There is also a smaller counter sheet for use with the add on scenarios for ATO's earlier game, The Lash of the Turk. The counters for The Cruelest Month are 5/8" in size. The plane counters show an above view of each plane that is in that group. The counters are all very nicely done. The ground campaign counters are not little works of art like the plane ones. However, they are easily read and some, like the artillery, tanks, and balloons are made as well as the plane ones. There is an Airbase Display for each player. These are made of thin cardboard. You may want to copy them and use the printed sheets. The map is split into two separate sections. One is a map for the ground war and the operations of the air groups. The other contains the Air Battle Board for resolving aerial combats. Printed on the map are also the Turn Record Track, Game Record track, Random Events Table, and the Sequence of Play. All of the components are well done. Be careful when unfolding the map. I fat fingered it and ripped a small hole in it. Fortunately for me, where I damaged it has no bearing on the map's usefulness at all. 

German Air/Ground Display

  I very much like the game and its play. Please remember that you are not dogfighting separate planes but groups of them. This is an operational look at the air and ground war around Arras in 1917. If your play is bad enough you can call in reserves. However, like a lot of games, you will get penalized in victory points for doing so. The Allied player will also be penalized if there is clear weather, and he does not execute a bombing mission. This gives the German player a whopping +4 victory points. So, try to avoid this at all costs.

Another look at the counters

 This large annual edition is also filled with excellent information on other times and wars. The issue also comes with rules and counters for 'Backlash' a few scenarios to add to one of ATOs earlier games Lash of the Turk. The scenarios look interesting; however, I do not own that issue so I cannot give you a rundown of them and the game.

 Thank you, Against The Odds for letting me review this close look at Bloody April from a totally different view than the cockpit. 

 They also have a surprise for we grognards. ATO is doing a reprint of 'Stalingrad Verdun on the Volga' in an annual issue format. This game originally only came in a boxed version. It sold out incredibly fast and is now as rare as hen's teeth. This is what comes with the Ziplock version:

 Maps - One full color 17" x 44" hex mapsheet

Counters - 230+ full color 5/8" die-cut counters

Rules length - 24 pages

Charts and tables - 4 pages

Complexity - Medium

Playing time - Up to 3 to 4 hours

How challenging is it solitaire? - Average

Designer - Mikael Rinella

Development - Kevin Duke

Graphic Design - Mark Mahaffey

   Just a few pics to wet your whistle.


Against the Odds Magazine:

The Cruelest Month: Air War over Arras, April 1917:

Stalingrad: Verdun on the Volga:



  Hall or Nothing Productions  This is a little information that Hall or Nothing Productions sent me. You will see they have a lot of RPGs a...

Hall or Nothing Productions Hall or Nothing Productions

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


 Hall or Nothing Productions

 This is a little information that Hall or Nothing Productions sent me. You will see they have a lot of RPGs and Historic games already published and a lot more planned. I will be reviewing their 1565, St. Elmo's Pay in a bit. 

Illustration from their upcoming 1066, Tears to Many Mothers

"We’re a passionate indie gaming studio based in the North of England. Since 2015 we have been developing and publishing immersive thematic games. Amazing artwork, achingly beautiful music, and award-winning game designs are our hallmarks. 

Our unique Fantasy Quest Games – Gloom, Shadows, and Call of Kilforth – deliver an unparalleled RPG fantasy tabletop experience in one sitting, including hundreds of remarkably unique cards to create luscious living worlds for bold adventurers to explore. Whereas our richly detailed and lovingly researched Historic Epic Battle System games breathe exhilarating life into critical conflicts throughout history offering slick war-gaming combined with the gorgeous aesthetics of modern, non-collectable card games.

And if you want to experience the apocalyptic, haunting beauty of the world’s end, look no further than our very first Veil Odyssey Game, the monochromatic masterpiece that is Veilwraith and our latest game in production, Kreel Manor: Citadel of Horrors, The Dungeon Crawl Card Game is a prequel to the award-winning Veilwraith and is an all new epic fantasy adventure in the Kilforth universe, for 1-3 cooperative players (up to 4 with expansion) where players become the legendary champions of bygone times, embarking on a doomed quest to save the world."

Hall or Nothing Productions:

Hall Or Nothing Productions - Tabletop Games, Board Games

Veilwraith video:

1565, St. Elmo's Pay video:

  The Siege of Malta by Worthington Publishing   The Knights Hospitallers, their actual name is ' Order of Knights of the Hospital of Sa...

The Siege of Malta 1565 by Worthington Publishing The Siege of Malta 1565 by Worthington Publishing

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


 The Siege of Malta


Worthington Publishing

 The Knights Hospitallers, their actual name is 'Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem' or in Latin if you prefer 'Ordo Fratrum Hospitalis Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani', are probably the least well known out of the three main knightly orders of the Roman Catholic Church. Their well-known cousins, the 'Knights Templars' and to a lesser extent the 'Teutonic Knights', usually steal the limelight. The Knights Hospitallers were founded in Jerusalem after the First Crusade had won it back from the Muslims. They had been displaced with the other crusaders after the fall of Acre in 1291. They then had found themselves on Cyprus and after the fall of Cyprus on the Island of Rhodes. When Rhodes was conquered by the Ottomans in 1522 their next stop was Malta. Their rent for their lands was one Maltese Falcon a year on All Souls Day (November 1st). Unfortunately for Hollywood, it was an actual falcon and not a gem encrusted piece of art.

 This is the story of one of the greatest sieges of the Renaissance. The historical notes of the game tell us that the Turkish invasion of Malta was commanded by Mustafa Pasha and Piyale Pasha, the first a general the latter an admiral. It also tells us that the Turks had 40,000 troops with them and 380 ships. The Knights Hospitallers could count on the walls of their fortresses and around 6,000 men, with only around 500 of them being knights. The famous corsair Dragut also joined the Turks to help take the fortresses. The main part of the siege, as well as the game, centers on the attack and defense of the three fortresses: St. Elmo, St. Michael, and St. Angelo. You can see below that St. Elmo is separated from the other forts.

The game map

 "This is what Worthington Publishing has to say about the game:

Both sides have elite units that can affect battle results with die re-rolls.  These are limited so deciding when to use them is important.

The siege in 1565 was during the early days when gunpowder came into use.  Each side has very limited use of gunpowder for musketry which can help their odds of success.

The Turks also have limited gunpowder for artillery.  While in supply they can bombard the Malta forts.  The Turks also have a siege tower they can use.

Play solitaire as Muslims or Christians"

 This is what they have to say about the Great Sieges Series:

"Syracuse 414 BC - The Athenian army lays siege to the great city of Syracuse.

Malta 1565 - The Turks versus the Knights of Malta in the last battle of the Crusades at the dawn of gunpowder.

Quebec 1759 - The siege that won North America for the English.

The Great Sieges game series highlights command decisions for players against a solitaire game engine opponent. They have been designed for easy set up and quick game play. Game unit placement is shown on the game board and units are wooden markers representing troop and ship formations. 

Each game was developed for solitaire play. In 414BC Siege of Syracuse and 1759 Siege of Quebec there is also a two player version of the game.  Both sides require you to make great decisions based on good strategy, keep your wits about you when orders do not turn out well, and press on to victory.

All three games use a common set of rules for game play, but each game has its own set of unique rules related to specifics of those individual sieges."

Turkish Order Book

 This is what comes with the game:


Hard Mounted Game Board

2 sets of troop markers (one set per army)

2 sets of solitaire cards (one set per army)*Only 1 set of solitaire cards in 414BC Syracuse

Command Decision Cards

2 Field Order Books (one per army)

Rule Book

Custom plastic storage tray


Complexity: 3 of 10

Solitaire Suitability: 10 of 10

Playing Time: 30 to 60 minutes

Players: 1-2

Sample of Turkish Cards

 The components are more toward the utilitarian side of things compared to the arty hex and counter or Euro wargames we might see today. As far as the map goes, because there are only a few places to put your units, the map does not have to show terrain. It can also be smaller than usual for the same reason. The map is mostly light green and blue with the places you can put units coming in as dark green for the Muslims and white for the Hospitallers. It is a mounted map. I believe the units are made of wood and none of them are misshapen in any way. The cards are your standard wargame size cards. They come with a piece of artwork from the time on them. They are easy enough to read and understand. There are two Player Aids, called 'Order Books', one for the Turks and one for the Hospitallers. The Turkish player one is just in green and white with the Hospitaller one having a few more colors. They both come with slightly smaller writing on them than I would like. There is a map in the middle of the 'Orders' and a Sequence of Play on the back of both. The Rulebook is 12 pages in length and is in full color. The rules only take up nine pages and the other have Design Notes and Historical Notes on them. This is written in two columns and has the standard size rulebook type. The game does come with a nice little Battle Record pamphlet where you can record your playthroughs. The bottom of each page has a piece of artwork from the siege. I have reviewed two other of the designers, Maurice Suckling, games and these components are comparable. These games are meant for play and not aesthetics. 

Hospitaller Cards

  The games play out pretty simply. After all, Worthington Publishing has them listed as a three on the complexity chart. Play time is also listed as between 30 minutes to an hour. So, you can see that these are not the kind of wargames that take one player an hour to make one move. That is not to say that the game does not have depth or give you some immersion. It most certainly does. It is just the mechanics of playing are extremely streamlined. This is great for people who do not have dedicated wargame space. In a night of gaming, you could easily play three of four games all the way through. These Great Siege games are also meant to be played solo. The solo mode is not something that was tacked onto the games at the last minute. These games were built from the ground up to be an excellent choice for the solo game player. I believe that only the game in the Great Sieges series that you cannot play solo on either side is 414 BC Siege of Syracuse, (and no, you are not playing against the Orangemen). Worthington games has made a point of making a lot of these, I hate to say it, easy to learn and hard to master wargames. The way to victory is to drop your opponent's morale to zero. 

 This is the Sequence of Play:

1. SELECT ORDER: select one of your available Orders
by placing the Order Used card on the order in the Order Book corresponding to the choice you make.

2. USE ADDITIONAL ACTION: decide if you want to use one Aggressive Commander Action (or, for the Knights, a Defiant Speech
Action). If so, place the appropriate Order Used card on that order too.
A. The use of an Aggressive Commander Action or Defiant Speech also refreshes all expended Orders, so remove any Order Used cards from the Order Book (except Knights’ Order 6: Launch Reinforcements, if it is not yet available). These orders become
available again.

3. EVENTS & SPECIAL EVENTS: reveal the top card of the Counter Orders deck and place it face up. Implement any effects
from the Event section of the card, or take them into account in any ensuing die rolls in the current turn. Then implement any effects from Special Events, if present on the card.

still proceeds, find the column on your issued Order that corresponds with the Counter Order from the side you are not controlling, then roll the white die, applying any modifiers, to calculate then apply the result. If an Aggressive Commander Action or Defiant Speech is played, roll the black die calculating results from the relevant table, then apply results.
A. Optionally, you may use your +/-1 ability (if you have any remaining) - your Musketry (for Turks) or Greek Fire (for Knights). Only one may be used per turn, and it may only be used on an Order. But you must decide the use of this ability before you roll, then apply results.
B. Optionally use your reroll ability (if you have any remaining) - your Janissaries (for Turks) or Elite Knights (for Knights). Only one may be used per turn, and it may only be used on an Order, then
reroll and apply results.

5. ORDER EXPENDED: once you have finished rolling for the current turn, flip the selected Order facedown. It cannot be selected again until refreshed.

6. Begin next turn.

7. Play stops immediately victory conditions have been

 I have been in awe about the siege of Malta since I was a child. I read The Great Siege of Malta by Ernle Bradford not too long after it was published in the 1960s. I make a habit of rereading it probably once every two years or so. Thank you, Worthington Publishing, for allowing me to review this great game about an incredible historical event. The next Worthington Publishing game I will be reviewing will be 414 BC Siege of Syracuse; I hope Alcibiades makes an entrance into it.


Worthington Publishing:

1565 Siege of Malta:

My review of Freeman's Farm:

My review of Chancellorsville 1863:

  Conquering the Valley Cross Keys/Port Republic by Tiny Battle Publishing  The Shenandoah Valley 1862 campaign raged by the forces under Ma...

Conquering the Valley Cross Keys/Port Republic by Tiny Battle Publishing Conquering the Valley Cross Keys/Port Republic by Tiny Battle Publishing

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


 Conquering the Valley Cross Keys/Port Republic


Tiny Battle Publishing

 The Shenandoah Valley 1862 campaign raged by the forces under Major General Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson had an immense impact on the American Civil War. Union Major General McClellan was poised to attack the Confederate forces by an amphibious landing on the Virginia Peninsula southeast of Richmond. McClellan, aided by Pinkerton, believed that he was outnumbered by the Confederate forces by as much as two to one. Jackson's campaign was to keep the Valley in Confederate hands and also to panic President Lincoln in Washington to draw troops away from McClellan. Jackson did his job admirably while at the end being outnumbered almost three to one. McClellan slowed his glacial pace toward Richmond while also writing almost daily to his superiors in Washington that he was surrounded by millions of Confederate troops. The game represents the last two battles of the Valley Campaign before Jackson marched to join the Confederate forces at Richmond. The Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic took place on June 8th and 9th of 1862.

 The game rules are one of the offshoots of Hermann Luttman's numerous designs for wargaming the Civil War (All hail King Hermann the first of his name). This is what Tiny Battle Publishing has to say about the game:

 "Following the release of The Hill of Death, Conquering the Valley is the second game in the Shattered Union series. Heavily influenced by 2022's Wargame of the Year, A Most Fearful Sacrifice, Herm Luttmann’s Shattered Union series is a new line of American Civil War wargames designed to be accessible to gamers of any experience level and playable in 3 hours.

Conquering the Valley covers the final two battles of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862. Jackson fights two Union armies, beats them both, and then heads off to Richmond for “The Seven Days”. 

Players can fight each battle separately or combine both as they historically were fought. The game also includes an interesting “What If” scenario; a Union cavalry force captured a key bridge but they failed to burn it and thereby cut Jackson off from his supply train. In the “What If” scenario, those Union troopers actually burn the bridge and force Jackson to fight Fremont’s army but Jackson has limited ammunition. In the end though, the historic game comes down to fighting it out for the Union guns at “The Coaling”. If Jackson can capture the Union artillery at Port Republic, he has won the campaign and can head towards Richmond!"

Illustration of the Battle of Cross Keys

  This is what comes with the game:

2 – Maps each 17" x 22"

189 – Counters 

39 – Playing Cards

Player Aid

1 – Series Rulebook

1 – Game Module Rulebook

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

A box to stuff it in

Designed by Claude Templeton Whalen 

Art by Jose R. Faura 

Number of Players: 2 (but solo friendly) 

Ages: 9 and up (potential choking hazard for anyone under 9 or hungry adults ) 

Playing Time: 2 hours 53 minutes (except if you play both battles back to back) 

 The battlefield maps are double-sided. The colors are somewhat muted, but you can clearly see the terrain and elevation. Their biggest claim to fame is that the hexes are 1" in size. The counters are well done with a picture of the troop type on each counter. The number on the bottom left is the unit's Strength Point value. The one on the bottom right is the unit's Cohesion Rating. Artillery units can be either Rifled (R), Smoothbore (S), or Mixed (M). The counters come in at 3/4" size. The game also has an 11"x 17" Players Aid that on one side has the CRT, Terrain, and other charts. The flipside has the Sequence of Play and rules etc. The game can pretty much be played by just looking at it without needing the Rulebooks. As I mentioned, the game materials are mostly in muted colors. However, I assume the art director decided to break free on the CRT and Terrain Chart side which is awash with color. It does not hinder the reading of it; on the contrary, it makes it easier to read and see what you are looking for. It just surprised me compared to the rest of the materials. The game, like most series games, comes with two Rulebooks. One is for the Series and the other for the Conquering the Valley game itself. The Series Rulebook is only 15 pages long. It is printed in double columns and the type is on the small size. It has only one example of play that is pictured; all of the rest are just written. However, there are a lot of them to help the player. This games Rulebook is only 11 pages in length and most of that is taken up by the scenario setups and individual rules. The game comes with four scenarios with the last one being a 'campaign' game of playing both battles. The 39 cards are used for unit activation, among other things. There are also Event Cards, Commander-In-Chief Cards, and Wild Cards The activation cards come with a nice ink drawing of some of the commanders. 

 The components measure up to the standard of the other Tiny Battle Publishing games I have played. About the only thing one could gripe about is the thinness of the counters. I do not remember the other games' counters and unfortunately, I have all of my games packed up for a move. It is possible the counters are the same thickness as in other games. They are certainly not thin enough to be detrimental to the longevity of the game.

Illustration of the Battle of Port Republic

  As mentioned, the game and its ruleset are an offshoot from the massive wargaming hit, 'A Most Fearful Sacrifice' from Hermann Luttmann. I for one, would look at buying a game of Tiddlywinks if Mr. Luttmann's name appeared on the rules. So, I was very familiar with his varied rule systems. I also reviewed the other game in the Shattered Union System: 'The Hill of Death', link below. There are only about three and a half pages of rules that pertain just to this game, and already knowing the system made it that much easier. This series is also supposed to be light on the rules and quick playing. The games that Tiny Battle Publishing puts forth are in direct contrast to its older brother Flying Pig Games. Yaah! magazine is the inhouse magazine for both of the companies' games. It comes with in-depth looks at the games and new scenarios or changes to existing scenarios. 

  The game comes as exactly advertised. Light on the rules and quick and easy to play. This comes without losing the historical flavor or play of the games. It does not make you think that these are cookie cutter rules where you could just put in a counter of panzers, and it would play the same. The cards used in the game are a refinement of the tried-and-true chit pull system of gaming. It allows the designer so much more latitude in what can be presented to the player for and against him. So, instead of just doing a cup pull to find out what units can move you can vary the number of units that can move etc., the designer can almost design a completely different battle for the player but still be in the realm of historical possibilities. 

 The Battle of Port Republic (Jackson Attacks scenario) is a hard one for the Confederates to get a win. First of all, it is only nine turns long. You have almost a two to one advantage in numbers playing the Confederates but that is because of reinforcements. At the beginning of the battle, it is about even. The South River ford causes the main problem for the Confederates because high rain has made the ford very hard to get troops through. So, as the Confederates you have a numerical advantage but because of the ford can you get your troops to where they are needed in time? Between the four scenarios I think it is my favorite because the cards, friction of war, make it so hard to make a plan and go with it. Although, because of the cards it really seems that each battle you play in the system is completely different than the last one. My second favorite scenario is Campbell Burns the Bridge. 

 There are a total of four scenarios. They are:

Ewell Does His Job - Historic Cross Keys

Jackson Attacks - Historic Port Republic

Campbell Burns the Bridge - Cross Keys What if

Two Days in June - Both Cross Keys and Port Republic

 Thank you, Tiny Battle Publishing, for letting me review another great game in your stable. With the rules and the small number of counters, this is a great game for anyone, but especially for gamers who do not have a dedicated gaming space. 


Tiny Battle Publishing:

Conquering the Valley:

My review of The Hill of Death:

The Hill of Death: Champion Hill by Tiny Battle Publishing - A Wargamers Needful Things

 MacGowan & Lombardy's The Great War by Lombardy Studios  Once again, I am playing a card-based wargame. As a child I preferred crap...

MacGowan & Lombardy's The Great War by Lombardy Studios MacGowan & Lombardy's The Great War by Lombardy Studios

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


 MacGowan & Lombardy's The Great War


Lombardy Studios

 Once again, I am playing a card-based wargame. As a child I preferred craps. My father owed me 100k by the time I was eleven. Instead of bedtime stories we would mostly play craps, but occasionally vingt et un or Poker. I always played five or seven card stud poker. They now call it 'Texas Hold-em' like they invented it. I never could stand 'joker' cards or getting more cards from the dealer. I guess I went off on a tangent there. Circling back, we have a card game from Messieurs MacGowan and Lombardy. If you haven't been trapped in a basement for fifty years, the names should sound familiar. Almost every one of the wargame covers that pop into your mind Mr. MacGowan has had his hand in it one way or the other. Mr. Lombardy is a game designer of great repute, or so he tells me. At some time in my life, I will get a copy of Streets of Stalingrad III and prove it to myself. That game is in grognards dreams just like Campaign for North Africa, and they both cost a down payment on a car. Here they have pooled their brains and artistry to come up with a card game that plays out the Great War. 

Some 4th graders enjoying the game earlier this year.

 This is what comes in the box:

200 poker-size cards denoting weapons and key personalities representing almost 20 nations

Rule for 2-players, solitaire, and the special expansion

Quick Play outline

1 Decks and Discard Mat

1 Battle Mat to keep track of turn winner and cumulative points

PLUS - cards and rules for a science fiction expansion with a direct link to the Great War

 This is what Lombardy Studios says about the game:

"MacGowan & Lombardy's The Great War by award-winning game designer Dana Lombardy is a simple, fast-playing stand-alone (non-collectible) 2-player card game built around important weapon systems, commanders, and other historical aspects of this unprecedented industrial-scale war. Two 54-card decks feature colorized historical images and illustrations by game industry Hall of Fame graphic artist Rodger B. MacGowan. Icons, insignias, and game text on each card eliminate the need for complex rules. (Note to collectors: Nearly all of Rodger's exceptional WW1 illustrations appear on the cards.)"

 The card Battle Board is 11"x 17" in size. Nothing really fancy here: it just has the spots to put the different decks and used cards etc. The instructions come on a double-sided 8 1/2"x 11" sheet of glossy paper sheet. The instructions type size is the same as most books. There is a Game Overview, Cards, and Glossary double-sided sheet. Next, we have a double-sided sheet with the solitaire rules. One side has the basic game, and the other side has the Bonus and Joker AI cards and usage. The science fiction expansion rules are next on a double-sided sheet. It is based on Well's War of the Worlds. This adds a nice touch and gives the game more playability. last, we have an eight-page full color booklet that has the examples of play. Then comes the most important and beautiful part of the game: the cards. The 200 cards are all small pieces of artwork of people, places, and events from the Great war. I cannot say enough about how well they look. Just to have the pictures is worth the price of the game. The components are fine and more on the useful scale other than being artwork. To me, this helps showcase the cards even more. Look at the card below to see how good they look.

 The game is interesting in many ways. I have played a few card wargames, but they were usually about just one battle or a few planes battling it out. This game you can play out the whole of World War One.

 These are the Victory Conditions:

  The Basic Game ends after 10 Turns. Some scenarios have more or 
fewer Turns. The game also ends immediately if one side is unable to draw a Nationality card when required. See Section 3.4.
 3.2 At the end of the last Turn of the game or scenario, count the Battle Points 
(BP) of all enemy Nationality cards you captured and any friendly  Nationality 
cards still in your hand. You capture enemy cards when you have the highest BP total when a Turn is scored.
 3.3 Do not count the BP of any cards in your Nationality draw deck or discard pile. Do not count the BP of Neutral or Bonus cards.
3.4 When a player is required to draw a Nationality card and is unable to reconstitute the Nationality draw deck by reshuffling their discard pile the game ends immediately.
 3.5 Compare the two opposing sides’ BP total to determine the level of victory:
 A) MORAL VICTORY:  One side has 10 to 19 more BP.
 B) TACTICAL VICTORY. One side has 20 to 39 more BP.
 C) OPERATIONAL VICTORY. One side has 40 to 79 more BP.
 D) STRATEGIC VICTORY. One side has at least 80 or more BP.
 E) The game ends in a DRAW if a player has only 1 to 9 more BP than their opponent at the end of the game.

 The game is not really hard to learn. You just have to learn how the cards interact with each other. Meaning, your cards could lower or totally negate the cards held by your opponent. 

This video done by Mr. Lombardy is the best way to learn the game:

 The national decks are all marked as a normal card deck. So, you could play Poker or anything else with these beautiful decks. There are normally ten rounds/turns in each game. Each side can be the defender or attacker. At the end of the round, each player counts up his points on all his cards as does the attacker. The higher number wins the round.

 Thank you, Lombardy Studios, for letting me review this beautiful, fun, and quick game. The outstanding artwork by Mr. MacGowan and the period photographs etc. are the most striking part of this game. Too bad my father is no longer with us. I would have enjoyed our Poker or twenty-one games that much more.


Lombardy Studios (while you are there check all of the books and other games):

MacGowan & Lombardy's The Great War:

 Steel Beasts Professional by eSim Games  Steel Beasts: Simulator and Wargame A made-up conversation between the two designers of Steel Beas...

Streel Beasts Professional by eSim Games Streel Beasts Professional by eSim Games

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


 Steel Beasts



eSim Games

 Steel Beasts: Simulator and Wargame

A made-up conversation between the two designers of Steel Beasts Professional

About Design Principles

Nils Hinrichsen: When I joined Al Delaney some 25 years ago, we didn't spend much time defining development goals and writing specifications. We looked at examples that we liked, even more so at what we didn't like, and then tried to come up with a formula that would cater to our strengths as engineers with some professional military experience, to make something that we would like to play.

Five years into that, with Ed Williams on board, we decided to try and cater for the professional military training market, and from that point a lot of our development was driven by uncoordinated and short-term customer demand. Fortunately, much of that was of the more of the same type of development where the customers liked what was there, they just wanted to see their own vehicles added to it all.

Still, we need to somehow make sure that we're still following some overarching design principles, and we must keep in mind that military training actually means three distinct audiences crews of fighting vehicles, junior leaders learning the basics of tactics, and then the command posts of higher-ups for tactical training at the battlegroup level (with the support of dozens of low-level constructive operators).

These design principles have partially emerged over time, partially we are assuring adherence through our development processes and continuity in team composition, and there is of course also a more rigid intellectual element at work as well.

Ed Williams: Generally, when we think of a military based simulator, we think of a first-person view simulation of something, such as the user flying an aircraft, or driving a vehicle. We see what is happening at the ground level, and experience combat up close and personally, but the player has little or no perspective of the larger tactical picture, and usually has no influence on it either. In a simulation the player strives to become proficient at fighting, either learning how to operate their aircraft in all its functions and roles, or practicing their accuracy when they personally engage targets. 

When we think of a wargame, we think of a top-down view of a map, where the user is a commander, moving units around. We don't see what is happening at the ground level, but we do see the larger tactical or strategic picture which we usually have full control of. In a wargame, the conflict is not personal as the combat is not experienced, and instead it becomes more like a game of chess which abstracts a battle into a game of tactics and maneuver. When the knight takes the pawn, we aren't thinking about cavalry overrunning infantry, but instead we are looking to move our units to gain superiority over the enemy. 


Steel Beasts does something that few others do, it combines both a simulator and a wargame into one. The player can fight the battle from the map view, moving units around while the AI engages the enemy directly, or the user can jump into the vehicle and engage the enemy personally, experiencing both personal combat and the tactics involved in maneuvering larger forces. The player can also choose to fight the battle and concentrate very little on the map view, in certain well-designed scenarios. Most importantly, the player is not one person, but is instead a sort of driving force on the side, usually (depending on the scenarios restrictions) able to jump from unit to unit, manning all sorts of different types of vehicles, or jumping into infantry units to assist them with tactics.

Nils Hinrichsen: This description of Steel Beasts applies to the single-player experience. In a sense, that is also what you do in multiplayer network sessions; players usually take responsibility of more than just a crew position but rather multiple platoons, simply because the AI takes seamlessly over whenever you leave a unit and jump to the next to influence their actions. The exception being Steel Beasts as a crew training tool, whereby design the exercise is set up at a much smaller scale and students stay in that gunners seat because it is their new job now, and they need to learn it.

But with more players you can scale up the scope of an exercise from company team to battlegroup; some of our customers even use it at brigade combat team level with regularity.

About Scale

Ed Williams: What makes a great wargame is scale. In wargame design, if you don't get the scale right then the game simply doesn't work. Scale affects all aspects of a wargame, whether it is time (number of hours per turn for turn based game, for example), the size of the units on the map, and the distance involved. These are the most obvious things in wargame design when we think of scale, but it is far more complex than that. 

At the core of a well-designed wargame are calculations based on numeric values used to abstract everything. Most often this is in the form of combat values of attack and defense, but also range when it comes to the scale used for distance. The heart of a wargame are these values and how they are scaled between the combat units. If there is either an error in scaling or no scaling at all, then the wargame does not function the player will soon realize that it is not based in reality. In other words, it just doesn't feel right. 

The simplest way to demonstrate this is, let's say you are designing a World War II wargame at company level. One unit on the map represents a platoon of Tiger tanks, while another represents a platoon of 1942 era T-34 (not T-34/85) tanks. If the Tiger tank platoon does not have better defense and attack values than the T-34, then the player will immediately know that it is not realistic. On the other hand, the player would expect that the T-34 might have a higher speed. Then there is the range, where the Tiger would need to be better, able to engage the T-34 for a greater distance. However, if the distance scale of the game is wrong, such as too many meters per hex for company and platoon combat, then the Tiger will not have any range advantage possible since combat would all happen when the units are adjacent on the map.  Additionally, not only do the combat values have to based in reality, they have to also be scaled together, across the various available vehicles and infantry in the wargame, so that one particular type of unit is not in its own world, unrealistically superior or inferior than the rest in some way.  If you get any of these aspects wrong, you will get an unrealistic wargame at best, or a nonfunctional game at worst.

Nils Hinrichsen: There's also a user interface aspect to scale. It's absolutely necessary to give a human player adequate span of control for the task or tactical role he's supposed to fulfill. We have to rely on the map as the primary interface to give orders to your units, but our map is by design incomplete. It doesn't show you everything, and it doesn't show you everything in real time. There's a delay between things that happen and when they appear on the map. This forces a multiplayer audience to communicate verbally, it forces the audience to actually look at the 3D view of the terrain to recognize mobility obstacles that aren't represented on the map. There are command elements to give orders at the platoon level without ever having to use the map. There are 3rd person view positions just as there is the first-person view, depending on the scale of your task. 

And then there's a temporal aspect to scale. For a tactical exercise you want tasks to take as long as they do in physical reality. For crew training, you don't want to wait for that bag full of spent 30mm autocannon casings to be dumped; you want to know if the crew remembers that it's something that they have to do from time to time, but then you want to skip those wait times that are basically unproductive, lost hours in crew training.

At the same time, we clearly couldn't design Steel Beasts as something turn-based. So, you can't have a real-time game with responsibility for an entire mechanized company, reinforced by a tank platoon, forward observer, engineers, and air defense, plus supply train, without delegating tasks to the AI, and you can't have a successful game if the AI is not sufficiently competent.

Ed Williams: In simulations, scale is equally as important. In a similar way to the wargame design example between the Tiger platoon and the T-34 platoon, in a tank simulation the ammunition and armor performance has to be scaled properly. If the ammunition performance is too strong over reality, and the armor is weaker than reality, then in a tank simulation you end up with serious problems, which is obvious. What is not obvious is that when ammunition and armor between vehicles are not scaled properly against each other then you also end up with serious problems, since a particular vehicle or weapon may outperform similarly matched opponents.  

In Steel Beasts, over 20 years of development has allowed this scaling to be finely honed. Vehicles have armor models which model the varying levels of armor on the vehicle, and these armor values are held to a strict standard like what can be seen in wargaming design, where everything is cross checked and scaled relative to all the other vehicles. This means that players can be confident that no one vehicle is in its own reality, and they all perform on an equal level of representation in its performance. In a similar way, the ammunition data is also cross referenced and scaled so that one weapon system is not under or over performing compared to the others. Of course, in practice this is a constant never-ending pursuit of perfection and mistakes are made, but by using wargaming methods in design, a high degree of accuracy can be achieved. 

Nils Hinrichsen: Technological progress has helped, too. Microprose's M1 Tank Platoon was made for Amiga and the Intel 80 386 processor, and it had to squeeze these machines for all the juice their 250,000 transistors could deliver at 25MHz. We started Steel Beasts development work in the late 80 486 era which already was an advantage, and four years ago you could get a 16 core CPU at 4GHz with 7.6 billion transistors. While that doesn't directly translate to how much more you can do: That's about four million times as many instructions that can be processed in a given time than 30 years ago, for about the same price per computer as then. This is an enormous technological budget handed to all of us, allowing to solve some question of scale simply with brute force. We do not have to aggregate and disaggregate units as the player moves up and down on the command ladder. We can afford simulating every fire control system at the entity level even when running a brigade level exercise, raytracing the fragments of artillery shells as they explode on the battlefield. That simply was out of the question decades ago. I'm still stunned at what's possible these days despite daily exposure to the change since my first Texas Instruments 99/4A home computer in the early 1980s.

The Sandbox

Nils Hinrichsen: Steel Beasts isn't just wargame and simulation. It's just as suitable as a sandbox to set up a certain type of confrontation and then investigate events as they unfold. Case in point, the screenshots made for this article. A custom scenario was built in minutes to illustrate aspects of modern warfare with drones and loitering munitions as prevalent threats. I then ran the scenario in test mode, giving me complete freedom to move the camera and capture perspectives that wouldn't be accessible when playing by the rules where the player is deliberately constrained to information and actions available to him in the field as well.

One example shown in the screenshots is the "Libelle" anti-tank drone concept to transport a 155mm artillery shells EFP warhead and fly it to the target. This concept was developed as a part of the actual development of the weapon to illustrate how the user interface of the final product might look like. So, while it's not a real device just yet, the technological capability is absolutely there and will materialize eventually.

Steel Beasts players have used UAVs to call for artillery fire for about a decade now. Some TV pundits expressed surprise that drones would take over that role when it was pretty obvious, and not just in hindsight, if you just think of artillery observation balloons in WW1. As a result, no seasoned Steel Beasts player will stay much longer than two or three minutes in a given position because he just knows that, if spotted, he'll receive artillery fire after that time. So, the rules of the game how long it takes for a spot report to actual effect as it filters through the chain of command have measurable effect on player behavior; experts, I think, call that learning.


An infantry unit launches a drone in the morning for area


Eventually, a hostile tank platoon is spotted.

The chase is on.

Alas, it's too far away:

A new drone with longer endurance and range is sent, with thermal/Day fusion mode:

The  anti-tank  drone  arrives  over  the  target area, the engagement


What is this thing, and how big is it?

The operator selects the target, and fires.

After Action Review

The last shot is a reminder that you don't just get the desired effect

on  target,  but  that  fragments are also flying in other directions.

Steel  Beasts  simulates the velocity distribution of fragments, their

spatial  distribution,  and  their mass distribution based on accepted

models  (Gourney,  Taylor,  Mott), and raytraces the thousand heaviest

fragments in the near vicinity of the explosion, and uses statistical

methods to calculate effects on target for the remaining smaller


The drone war may be less exciting

than what traditional wargamers are looking for, but it's relevant for

today, and Steel Beasts has always been about high intensity combat in the contemporary operational environment.

 This is not a screenshot but illustrates the different drones, loitering munitions, and countermeasures. We had that artwork made for the 2022 edition of our collectible mousepads.

For your blog readers attending IITSEC in Orlando in four weeks, we'll be found between the STEM and the US Cyber Command pavilions.

Thank you, eSim Games, for this look at this spectacular and deep simulation. I have owned the game for years and there is no other tank simulation on the market. As far as simulations go, the only one that comes close is DCS, and both of them are used by armed forces around the world.


Steel Beasts Professional/eSim Games:

eSim Games – Vehicle-centric Combined Arms Combat Tactics and Gunnery Simulation