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 FOURTEEN DAYS IN JUNE FROM STRATEGEMATA It may sound like the title of a spy novel, but as you can see we're back in familiar war gamin...


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

hex & counter




It may sound like the title of a spy novel, but as you can see we're back in familiar war gaming territory... or, perhaps, not so familiar.  Especially, there's no need for the immediate exclamation - not another Waterloo game.  Why? Well, because this isn't the typical focus of the three days, but as the title and subscript spells out, it's a treatment of the whole two weeks leading up to and culminating in the battle of Waterloo.  This is a very refreshing change, especially as it's a game coming from a designer that I already rate highly.  Several of his games I've already reviewed for A Wargamers Needful Things and nearly all his other games are in my collection.  So, it was no surprise to see "A game by Stephen Pole" featured on the front of the game box.  It's a detail that would immediately make me pick up a game and have me well on the way to buying it.
However, once again I've got Strategemata to thank for their kindness in sending me Fourteen Days In June to review.  Opening up the box revealed typical features of both a Stephen Pole design and Strategemata production.  Much as I've liked the sequence of their smaller mounted maps in recent games, I was more than happy to see a full sized paper map for this game which gives justice to the necessary scale for this campaign.

The counters remain of very average quality by current standards and remind me very much of the simplicity of when I first encountered board games through SPI magazine games back in the 1970s!  Everything is functional and serviceable and so is the rule book, which remains a simple twelve page, stapled, black and white production.  
Front page of Rules Booklet

As has become almost standard, it is supported by a similar eight page booklet of rules examples, with plenty of helpful coloured illustrations, but with text in even smaller print than the rules themselves.  
Eight page Examples Booklet

Though these production qualities are a far cry from the gloss of many nascent games companies, the design itself is very much a quality one, blending as it does elements familiar from a number of Stephen Pole's previous games with some very interesting developments.
To start with, what is familiar from 2021's How The Union Was Saved are the wooden stands and oblong leader counters that are all that appear on the map itself.  Each stand and Leader represents a Formation.  They are very few in number, with only eight in total for the joint Allied British and Prussian forces and seven for the French when set up at the start,  growing to a maximum of fourteen for the Allied and twelve for the French.  This is followed by the identical layout down one side of the map for the units that make up each leader's command.  

On the display, you place unit markers, one for each of the three combat arms: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  These markers are numbered so that you can register the current number of divisions of each type that the force contains.  Those placed on each top row will be numbered in black to show full strength and those on each bottom row will be numbered in white to show half strength.
Just as your display was hidden from your opponent's by screens in How the Union Was Saved, so too here.

Each player gets to see a suitably dramatic scene of their enemy in firing line, while on the reverse they face a helpful set of informative tables.  All these elements are identical to those in the previous game, along with the combat system that I'll discuss later.  Virtually everything else is different.
The initial and very obvious difference is the larger size of map which promises that manoeuvre will be even more important than it was for the ACW game.  However, it is within the system itself that the major changes and developments appear and all of them I've found highly rewarding.  
The major one in this game is the issuing of orders.   What is rather strange is that in the Sequence of Play, it doesn't even get named!  There are, in fact, only three Phases listed:
[1] Attrition and Supply
[2] Movement and Combat
[3] Commander Movement
The first, Attrition and Supply, is fairly conventional.  Attrition is affected by two factors - the size of the Force and whether it is in supply or not.  Supply is handled by the tried and trusted method of  tracing to a supply source along a road, but thankfully doesn't allow the often ridiculous ability to allow your road to wander all over the map back to a supply source!  Instead the road you are using to trace supply may only progress three hexes ahead of the compass direction fixed for your nationality - south for the British, north for the French and west for the Prussians.  An extra restriction is that you must be on or adjacent to the road or be separated by a single clear hex.  It may seem a small point, but having despaired of many games with easy, but ridiculously liberal supply rules or some games with immensely complex ones!  Here, it is simple, but realistic.
Virtually all the rest of the game's rules are contained in Phase 2 Movement and Combat.  Personally, I would have labelled this Phase Orders and Movement, as it has five sections. Parts I to IV deal with Orders, while Part V deals specifically with the details of Movement.  However, the type of Order will affect movement and whether you can engage in combat too.  All these combinations depart significantly from the simplicity and ease of understanding that I associate with Steve Pole's designs.  Don't be deterred.  It is well worth getting to grips with and I would strongly recommend following through each part of the rules, using both the examples in the supporting booklet along with physical counters on the map too.  A single play of the game was then sufficient for me to play subsequent games with barely a reference to the rule book about orders.  I'd also suggest that, when first learning and playing the game, you stick to the Historical Set-Up rules and only move on to the Quasi-Historical Set-Up or Free Set-Up when you've bedded in the rules!

Historical Set-Up
So, at the start only the French issue Initial Orders, one for each Force on the map and this involves writing a destination village, town or city on a record sheet.   This is a very similar method to Hexasim's Rising/Falling Eagles games that also cover Napoleonic battles.  While under Initial Orders, formations can only move on the road network.  For the first three turns, only the French can move using these Initial Orders, though on turn 2 the Allied forces do write down their Initial Orders and on turn 3 place the Order markers on the map.
Without going into too much detail, what follows on from Turn 4 is the issuing of Further Orders.    This is done one force at a time alternately from one side to the other.  Each time you attempt to issue an order, you test by rolling two dice with a decreasing bonus system to see if you are successful.  Fail and you cannot issue any more orders; also if you decide not to issue an order, you can't issue any more that turn.  There is quite a deal of subtlety here (especially as you can place +1 or +2 markers which act as a sort of delayed order process).  Once comfortable with applying them, it's a system I thoroughly enjoy and would single out as being a major factor.
Once all Order markers have been placed on the map, they are carried out,  again alternately.  One side chooses a Force with an Order marker, removes the Order marker and moves and conducts combat, if desired and possible, and then the other side activates a  Force and does the same.  Like the issuing of orders, if you decide not to activate a Force, then you won't be able to activate any more that turn and any Forces that still have orders on them have them removed!
Part IV (of the Movement and Combat Phase) is named Updating Orders and is the process by which a Force with a +1 marker is given an Order marker and a Force with a +2 marker has it substituted by a +1 marker.  
Included among these central processes of the game are a number of small details that contribute to the flavour and feel of this game.  Route blocked markers that hinder the progress of your own units; the ability to Force March resulting in placing a fatigue marker that affects combat; the use of markers to show that your Force has already been in combat and adds a negative affect to further combat; the role of Commanders for whom only the single highest ranking Commander's standee is ever located on the map and as Forces merge or split new Commanders come into play or are placed on the hidden displays where the unit strength markers are located; and one of my favourites, Inadvertent Moves  whereby every hex moved off-road has to be diced for and a failed roll ends the Force's movement in a randomly generated hex adjacent to the one you've just entered.  The latter is an excellent reminder of the difficulties of off-road movement along with the added difficulties brought on by bad weather. 

En Avant. Mes Amis
The blue markers indicate Route Blocked

Moving on to the Combat rules, they are the identical ones used in Stephen Pole's previous ACW game and they are highly effective and easy to implement.  Commanders once more play an important role, as the number of stars of rank a leader possesses determines the maximum number of dice you may choose to roll and the total rolled is the number of divisions you must commit to a battle.  So, a leader like Napoleon can roll up to five dice which, of course, means, depending on what he rolls, he may be able to commit anywhere between 5 to 30 divisions.  Obviously, if you don't have as many as the number rolled, you simply commit all that you have!  Factors like the quality of your Army Commander if leading the Force, combined arms and terrain add to your total with the final addition of a D6 roll for each player.
Whoever achieves the higher number wins the battle.  Then the difference between the scores is the maximum number of hits that the winner inflicts on the loser and the loser scores half that number of hits on the winner.  Each hit eliminates half a division point. The scale of a victory also involves who retreats and who controls that retreat. This is an excellent and very easy method which does away with unrealistic combat factor counting just to get that perfect combat odds and also does away with computing column shifts and die roll modifiers.  Moreover, losses from combat and attrition are crucial to winning the game.
Unless the French gain an automatic victory by capturing one of the two hexes of Brussels, victory is determined at the end of the fourteen turn game by the number of divisions lost by each side.  
The French win if either the British or the Prussians have lost at lest 10 divisions and the French have lost fewer than half the total number of divisions lost by the the British and Prussians combined.  Any other result is a win for the Allied side.  These conditions influence game play and player decisions from the very start - another excellent factor in the game.
This is a hugely enjoyable two-player game.  It is easy to play and one that will not have your head buried in the rule book, but concentrating on what's happening on the map.  Hidden strengths, the order system and combined movement & combat rules all lead to a fast moving, tension filled contest of cat and mouse game that can be played out in a single sitting.  It’s also the type of game where you will certainly make blunders, as you learn the potential for each side to deceive and pursue unexpected lines.  Learning how to counter these and devise and exploit twists of your own is part of the pleasure.  Even using the historical setup,  the course of the campaign may well not follow history, unless both players pursue identical decisions to their historical counterparts.  But if you want to put yourself in the place of those commanders with all the uncertainty that they faced and execute your plan to achieve victory, this game should just serve your needs.  Personally, I intend to try it out in the future with the added uncertainty of using my sleds so that I cannot initially see who is leading each Force. nor who may be in command when forces split up.

  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...


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hex & counter




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.

 GIVE US VICTORIES FROM DISSIMULA EDIZIONI Once again it's many thanks to   Dissimula Edizioni  for providing this review copy of Give U...


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

hex & counter




Once again it's many thanks to Dissimula Edizioni for providing this review copy of Give Us Victories.  Having greatly enjoyed their previous game From Salerno To Rome, I was enthusiastically waiting to see both the contents and the system involved in their latest production.  Most periods hold an interest for me, but the ACW is one that I have always enjoyed.   Chancellorsville has been covered in a number of ways beginning with the very early Avalon Hill edition in 1961, which was reissued in 1974. No surprise that, considering their time of publication, both were very conventional hex and counter treatments.  My most recent encounter has been with Worthington's Chancellorsville, a markedly different approach at a strategic/operational level using a small number of kriegspiel-type wooden rods to represent the individual corps and division-sized units and hidden, off-map displays for recording strength levels.  Enjoyable though it is as a game, I was looking for something more substantial with Give Us Victories.  I'm glad to say that I haven't been disappointed, though there were several surprises when I opened the zip-lock version of the game that Dissimula Edizioni generously provided.  As ever I'd like to thank the company for this.
The major surprise was that the package encompasses three separate games.  Added to these is a substantial solo play component, as well as a Variable Placement Map and a number of optional forces.  The latter two items give great additional replay value to the main game that will be the focus of my review.
Maintaining the quality established in From Salerno To Rome, the playing area is a similar two-map product of crisp, thick paper and visually very attractive.  The overlapping alignment of the two is perfect, with good-sized hexes that accommodate the equally impressive counters.  Even more impressive is the provision of two sets of counters: pictorial icons and standard NATO symbols.  A tough choice, as both look look splendid.

As you can see, my personal choice has gone to the icons.  Whichever you do prefer, they need some counter clipping, but the result as seen below is highly satisfying.

What is equally satisfying is the comparatively low unit density for the whole campaign game and the pleasingly simple set of rules that take up a mere 11 pages of the rule book's 27 pages.  Though it has to be said that the print size of the rules is very small, I have had no difficulties reading them.  The full campaign consists of five days with five turns a day.  Despite this 25 turn length, this is no monster.  Instead it can be easily completed in a half-day's play.  In part, this is because each side has a limited number of action points meaning that each turn you can activate only a portion of your army.  The other reason is that the rules, though containing a number of innovative elements, can be easily assimilated after little more than a single read and the quick play of a couple of the very short mini-scenarios.  You won't find your head stuck endlessly in a rule book, but be concentrating on the action
Sequence of Play
Players spend their turn's activation points to place formation leader chits into a suitable cup/bag.  Each point allows a Confederate division or Union Corps to be activated.  Each player also has an Independent chit that is automatically placed in the draw cup.
When a formation leader chit is drawn it's placed on the map and all units of that formation within range can move and have combat.  When the Independent chit is drawn, it is placed on the map and any three units that have not yet been activated in or adjacent to the chit's hex can be activated.  The use of Higher Commanders and a single detachment marker for each side add a little extra flavour and choice. That is the essence of a turn in a nut shell. 
Based on this framework, all the rules are very clearly explained and illustrated with good graphics and examples highlighted in blue boxes.  Above all, the two most important areas - Movement and Combat - are easy to execute while introducing unusual features. 
For Movement, three major points combine to create a very fluid and simple to execute situation.  There are no ZOCs, there is a +1 MP cost to enter any non-woods hex adjacent to an enemy unit and all types of enemy units are allowed to retreat a hex when you move adjacent to them.  This combination, especially the lack of ZOCs, immediately eliminates a whole range of rules that can often bog down game play.  
Combat too is wonderfully simple with no need for any charts. Work out the strength ratio between the units in a particular combat [e.g. 3 to 1] add 1 to each number and that's the number of dice you roll, scoring hits on 5 or 6. [e.g. that ratio of 3 to 1, becomes 4 dice rolled by one side and 2 dice by the other.]  A limited number of modifiers may be made for such things as terrain, breastworks and fortifications, elite units, encirclement or events.  Most involve adding +1 to a die roll or a player getting one less die to roll or an automatic attacker step loss.  Once again all are easy to remember and execute, as are retreat, advance, disorder and demoralisation.
Rules for the two major rivers, the Rappahannock and the Rapidan, pontoons and supply linked to roads introduce further flavour to the game.  Yet all do so with a simplicity that means the game retains its refreshing clarity and speed of play, even when engaged in the full campaign scenario set out below.
The Union start with the burden of attack and both sides have the bulk of their forces lined up north and south of the Rappahannock on the eastern portion of the map.    This can be better perceived in the following close up, which appears to present a tough fight for the Union.

However, further west are more Union troops poised to unhinge the Confederate position with a slim Confederate cavalry division attempting a delaying action.  How the Confederates respond will be perhaps the most crucial test.  They have the edge in the number of activations and must in part seek out swift counter-punches.  Neither side has an easy, obvious path to victory and the Variable Placement Map extends the potential replay value even more, allowing you to explore different dispositions for each side.

As a prelude to the full campaign, there are four short scenarios that act very much as rules learning exercises.  Frankly, the rules are so easy and well explained that I feel they are hardly necessary.  on the other hand they do make the package all the more appealing to a beginner as well as a died-in-the-wool gamer as myself. They also allow you to explore small historical moments in the battle, especially as the full campaign may well play our differently from its historical course.  The area used for the Jackson Attacks scenario is typical of the compact size of these scenarios.

My views on the rest of what the game provides are mixed and none more so than with the solo game which allows you to play the campaign as the Confederate player against the Union A.I.  This solo component, entitled Hurrah For Old Joe, significantly dwarfs the simplicity of the core game's rules.  First of all the last 6 pages the main rule book cover the A.I. rules and then has its own separate solo book that is essential for game play.

All these elements combine together with the further addition of the display map that you see below.

I have found it both confusing to understand and that it confounds the very ease of game play for which I strongly commend the core game.  In addition, you are playing with two markedly different sets of counters; the normal Confederate ones from the main game and a totally different set of Union ones.  I know how popular and fashionable it is to include a solo system, but for personal enjoyment I'm having a much better time playing both sides to the best of my ability.
On the other hand, more bonus material provides two further light games that sit at the the two extremes of strategical and tactical play.  Of these two I personally prefer the simple strategic game, A Perfect Plan.   With a mere 6 turns, the A3 strategic map shown below, 17 formation units and 10 minor units and 2 pages of rules, it is very much a lunchtime's interlude and a very pleasant one.

Variety certainly seems to have been uppermost in the designer's mind for the tactical game, with its title, The Red Die of Courage giving the nod to one of the most famous novels of the American Civil War!  Here we move away completely from the specific battle of Chancellorsville to present a very simple introductory skirmish system, with 48 cardboard standees and a sheet of cardboard terrain and three pages of rules.


The set-up guidelines are that it be played out on a table top of minimum dimensions 120cm x 80cm, with as many obstacles and terrain features as possible and with at least 20 figures per side.  These all suggest the miniatures gamer as its target. Yet the brief rules mix with its avowed focus on the main mechanic being based on "calculated risk" of a push your luck type seems to head off in a very different direction.  If the intention was to draw the conventional hex and counter buyer of the main game off in a new direction, I'm not sure that it will serve its purpose.  

So overall be prepared to be a little [even a lot] surprised by the package in its entirety.  Whether the unusual additions will appeal to you, I'm not sure, but I can strongly recommend the main game for its quality, its highly accessible rules and swift engaging game play.