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Derby Worlds 2017 was held 7th and 8th October, just South of Leicester at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds. Demo game for The Battle...

Derby Worlds 2017 Derby Worlds 2017

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

wargaming

Derby Worlds 2017 was held 7th and 8th October, just South of Leicester at the Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds.
Demo game for The Battle of Cerignola
I had no idea what to expect having never attended a miniature wargaming convention. I was going along to play a game of Magic Realm with some fellow bgg-ers.
A very special Magic Realm
I was immediately struck by how well attended the show was and therefore how healthy the miniature wargaming hobby is in the UK. Personal experience also backs up my theory that it is a buoyant hobby in the UK as I can readily find a local weekly wargaming club, the same can't be said of local board game clubs.
The Battle of Jutland (on a massive table)
If I had to guess there were probably 2,000 people in attendance on Saturday and the show literature advertised over 70 different traders on the day. Just over half of the space was dedicated to traders and demo games, and the rest of the hall was handed over to the dozens of different tournaments on offer. At the busiest time, there could have been upwards of 40 different tournament games going on.
Towards the tournament side of the hall
Another view of Cerignola
All of the demo tables were gorgeous and lavish productions of what a wargaming table can look like. I expect the reality is probably a little different if you looked in the attics and sheds of most wargamers.
First World War African battle
My game of Magic Realm, aside from being played on a phenomenally beautiful set, was a fairly typical Magic Realm affair i.e. I died on day 3. I failed 2 hide rolls and moved into a clearing with 2 Flying Dragons, a Tremendous Flying Dragon and to top it off, an Octopus was summoned at the end of my turn. That fight was never going to end well for my Berserker. I ended the game with a grand score of -30, for the uninitiated a score of 0 or higher is considered a win.
My Berserker dying
All in all, I had a great time, and could definitely recommend it for any UK gamer and if like me, you're primarily a board gamer, it is a fantastic introduction to the vast array of different rule sets, eras, scales and modelling possibilities that are readily available in the miniature wargaming hobby. I will definitely be going back next year.

One of the most popular boardgame video reviewers, Marco Arnaudo , has a saying, " In every boardgamer there is a wargamer screamin...

5 Free Ways to Attract Gamers to Wargaming: for Publishers, Developers and Designers by Ania B. Ziolkowska 5 Free Ways to Attract Gamers to Wargaming: for Publishers, Developers and Designers by Ania B. Ziolkowska

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

wargaming

One of the most popular boardgame video reviewers, Marco Arnaudo, has a saying, "In every boardgamer there is a wargamer screaming to come out." I happen to agree and I am on a crusade to help bring more gamers to the wargaming hobby.

You may wonder who am I to try to teach publishers about doing their job, so I will briefly introduce myself. My name is Ania B. Ziolkowska and I’ve been a freelance graphic artist in the wargaming industry since 2014. You may say this isn’t very long. It’s not, but I believe that I have a fresh perspective, not only from an industry insider point of view but also as a trained ad specialist. And, what’s probably most important, from a casual gamer-turned-wargamer point of view. So bear with me and I guarantee you that following these five simple and (mostly) free steps, will not only attract new customers to your business but will also increase loyalty to your brand.



1. MAKE THE RULEBOOK AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE.



If your reaction to this point is "doh, it already is", but before releasing the game only your team (playtesters, designer and developer) read your rulebook, then I bet you I will find at least five things in it that may be improved to serve gamers better.

The common oversight is to give the rulebook to only industry insiders to review. The designer and the developer have good knowledge of their game’s rules, so they may easily miss some unclear paragraphs. Playtesters and proofreaders are a great asset, there’s no doubt about it, but they are usually wargamers themselves. Give your rulebook file to a few casual gamers and ask them to use the commenting tool (which is built into text editor). Have them write down all their questions and doubts while they read along. Also, ask them to mark if and where later in the text they’ve found the answer to their previous concerns. This will give you a good understanding of what needs to be fixed, rearranged and explained in more detail, or simply calls for an annotation in your rulebook.

In general, try to avoid acronyms and abbreviations. There is a lot of military jargon in wargames as is, so don’t make it harder for newbies by adding to this acronyms. If you can’t (or won’t avoid them) then provide a glossary in the front or back of the rulebook. Explaining an acronym or abbreviation just once in the text may not be enough - you can’t assume that a reader will remember all the definitions right away. Or that they will remember where in a sixteen page- rulebook the acronym was already mentioned.

Use many illustrations.This may cause the rulebook to be longer but will help gamers understand the rules better and will also make pages look less intimidating (by breaking blocks of text into more coherent parts).

Insert a lengthy example of a play in the rulebook and make sure that it doesn’t follow the simplest choices the player may take during their turn. Also, ensure that it doesn’t include that one exception to the rule in the whole mechanics.

And finally, post your rulebook online. Assume that at some point gamers who have never heard about your company may consider purchasing your game. Now, their decision may be to check out the artwork, the reviews and other players’ opinions and/or the rulebook itself. Artwork is a powerful tool, it may be eye-catching but most gamers need at least one extra incentive to purchase - either they know and trust your brand, or they are interested in the particular topic your game covers, or they had positive experiences with other games by that designer. Those who are new to wargaming won’t have the benefit of any of these. They may read or watch some reviews or ask around. However, reviews may not exist yet and some gamers want to judge mechanics and complexity for themselves - especially if they’ve never bought a wargame. So post it! Post that rulebook on your website and on Boardgamegeek (because this is the place where the people who you want to attract hang out).


2. WATCH YOUR PLAYTESTERS PLAY.


Playtesters are one of the most valuable assets in the game development process - they are passionate, self-motivated, methodical and they are usually working in exchange for the product and (yes!) appreciation. It’s really impressive that tests can be conducted by people all over the world thanks to the internet, but I would strongly advise you to have a small group of playtesters that you can actually watch while they play. This may be done via webcam, but watch them closely: Are they having fun? How many times do they need to consult the rulebook? How do they use the turn track, holding boxes and tables on the map?

I’m often surprised how differently players actually use tracks and holding boxes in contrast to how the designer or developer intended it to work. I see many pictures of games in play with counters piling up on a track, sitting outside playing areas to avoid covering important information, or crowding in small holding boxes. These are easy to avoid mistakes in the design process if you just simply watch how people play and interact with your prototype.

3. SEND YOUR PRODUCT TO THE RIGHT VIDEO REVIEWERS.


You may ask, who the hell is the "right" video reviewer?! That’s a fair question. If your game targets grognards and people already well acquainted with wargaming, then just send your copies to those with high recognition and well-earned respect. In that case, even the old-school wargame magazine review would be a great and very useful promotional tool.

If you however produced a lighter wargame, a solitary piece or a wargame with cards, then your target customer is beyond the scope of grognards. You need to reach younger people, wargame newbies and casual gamers looking to expand their horizons. In that case, video review is the way to go.

Did you know that Google owns YouTube, and a Google search will always select YouTube video over any other content which may be related to your game? If you really want to have a wider impact with your game, try to look for those reviewers who make well-filmed, well-edited, dynamic videos which are a maximum of 10-15 minutes long.

In the era of the internet, social media and smartphones, we all have shorter attention spans and we tend to switch to another video after a couple of seconds or minutes, unless there is something which is dynamic enough to keep us interested. Fortunately there are some reviewers who balance the art of the boardgame review really nicely. To illustrate what I mean check The Discriminating Gamer YouTube channel.

4. SHOW UP AND BE PREPARED.


Go to conventions. You don’t have to show up at each and every one of them, but try to attend at least some that are near you. You don’t need to have a huge booth. You don’t even need to have your own booth - many publishers share their space to lower the costs and that’s perfectly fine.

Show up, lay your games on the tables and set them up ready to play. Your game may be too long to play at the convention, or even to explain all the rules in just a couple of minutes, but show the game itself in action.

Prepare a short description of the game - what it’s about and why this particular subject is so interesting. If this is not a strictly wargaming convention, then don’t go into too much historical detail - be brief and focus on the things which capture imagination, stuff like ‘’In the 15th century knights were mostly nobleman and they despised archers for not fighting honorably by killing enemies from afar. On some occasions, like during the Battle of Creҫy, knights even rode through lines of their own archers. However, at Agincourt, where the English were outnumbered 4-1 by the French army, archers played a huge role in the English victory.” Those kinds of details will stick in the listener’s mind better than numbers and dates.

Also prepare a super-simplified version of the rules - a basic structure, so you are able to give at least an impression of the game’s flow. Don’t improvise, convert rules into script, try to read them out loud and time yourself - this is not a lecture, this is a convention, you have to be reasonably quick.

When you have both scripts ready for your product there is nothing simpler than reaching out to your fans and asking for help. How many people will your company send to the event? Are they sociable people? Are they eager to share the product with a wider audience? It is always better to anticipate a bunch of enthusiastic fans, who may even know your games better than you do, than to show up at the convention and just sit behind the table and not interact with visitors. When you have scripts ready, give them to your volunteers and you are ready to go.

When I say "show up", I don’t mean only conventions. I mean show up on Consim World, BoardGameGeek and at least some other social media. And do it regularly! You cannot just appear once in a while with a copy of your newsletter. First and foremost you need to give value to your audience. Share images of your upcoming games, pictures from the process, designer’s notes, but first and foremost answer gamers’ questions.

When you publish a game this is not over yet If you don’t show up to answer questions about the rules (or instruct a designer to do this) the game quickly becomes a rotten egg and sadly your company image suffers too. This is especially important when you are a small company and you cannot assume that one of those hundreds of players, who already purchased your game, will know the answer. No, you haven’t sold that many copies yet, so make it a priority to help gamers understand those rules. Gamers who are left alone with their questions unanswered may not trust that your next game will be worth buying.


5. RESPECT AND APPRECIATE.


Does it seem to you that I’m being silly now, assuming that you may actually do the opposite? I don’t suspect you will, but do you do enough to make your customers and especially loyal fans feel appreciated? The more you acknowledge your audience, the more connected they will feel and they will also be more likely to purchase your games.

When someone posts a good review on any of your products thank them by leaving a comment or simply hitting the like button. When someone tags you in a post or a comment which recommends your product, at least leave a like. If someone posts a picture of your game in play on Facebook and tags you in it, share that picture on your page (I mean share by hitting the share button, not saving the photo and posting it as your own). Those small gestures mean a lot to many gamers and builds a loyal group of fans and ambassadors of your brand.

When you are at a convention and anyone (and I mean literally anyone) stops at your booth to take a look at your game, assume that this person may end up buying it. Don’t dismiss a person based on their appearance, age, gender or other popular stereotypes about what wargamers look like. Always engage with people, even those who show only the slightest interest.

If a fan helps you at the convention, give them some games in exchange for their time. Thank them by name on your social platforms. And never, ever forget to include playtesters and proofreaders names in the credits!

You may wonder how your relationship with your fans, volunteers and playtesters may help you attract more casual gamers. The answer is, we don’t live in a bubble. The better you treat those customers you already have, the wider the net you cast in the sea.

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These are just few examples of how to attract new customers to your brand and most of them involve only your time and effort. The best thing is, by concisely following these steps you will provide not only better games for all of us - no matter grognard, play-it-all or a newbie – but will also strengthen your own brand, gain a loyal audience, customers, fans and ambassadors - something which no money can buy.

I love board games and tabletop wargames, the problem is finding someone else who shares an interest in the hobby, and then finding the t...

Tank on Tank (Digital) Review Tank on Tank (Digital) Review

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

wargaming




I love board games and tabletop wargames, the problem is finding someone else who shares an interest in the hobby, and then finding the time to play against them. My wife is my only regular gaming partner, but, understandably, her tastes in theme are a bit more limited than mine. Tactical wargaming just isn’t her thing. Or on the flip side, it might be exactly her thing and bring out her extremely competitive side, getting me in trouble if my Sherman scored a lucky hit on her Tiger. Either way, it’s just not a good fit. That’s why I’m always excited when I hear about a good wargame going digital, now I too can get in on the fun. 





Tank on Tank, from Lock ‘n Load Publishing, is the latest such title to come to my attention. I had heard about the tabletop version several times in the past, and found it a tempting purchase. By all accounts it was a very accessible wargame with a limited scope, but a large fun factor. With the arrival of the digital version, I can play any time against the AI or go online to find a human opponent.



The game features a long list of scenarios depicting armor and infantry fighting across the battlefields of Europe. The “full” game bundle includes both East and West front action, but you can purchase just one front if you prefer. The units take the form of counters representing infantry, AT Guns, vehicles, and, of course, a wide array of tanks. These units move around relatively small hex-based maps trying to destroy each other and control objective locations. The scale is at a sort of abstract tactical level. It isn’t exactly clear how many units a counter represents, but it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that units have movement, range, and defense values, be aware of a couple twists for using them efficiently, understand how each turn works, all of which can be learned via a five minute read through the in-game manual, and you are good to go. That said, there is an intriguing amount of depth to how you use your units and their limited actions each turn.

The limited actions each turn is really where the game forces some hard decisions on you, since you often get extra activations, in addition to the default two, but sometimes you don’t. You have to take a moment to consider what your highest priority is, since you might only be able to do one effective movement/attack on that turn. Grouping your units around HQ’s must be a part of your plans, since this lets you activate several units at once. On the flip side, concentrating your units together reduces your overall operational flexibility. Scenarios always have a limited number of turns, and multiple objectives, so when on the offensive you often need to cover a lot of ground in a hurry.


Combat results in the game are calculated by rolling two six-sided dice, adding or subtracting some modifiers, and then comparing to the target’s defense value. Counters are either undamaged or completely destroyed by the result, as there are no “steps” to be found here. This can result in some very wild swings in luck at times. You might attack with four units at once and fail to knock out that pesky AT Gun, but then on your next turn you take a shot at it with a single counter and destroy it. One of my early battles was particularly frustrating, as I watched a lone enemy infantry unit knock out three of my tank counters, one after the other. Of course, it was my rookie leadership that left those tanks vulnerable to attack in the first place.

One must approach this game with the proper mindset to get the most enjoyable result. This is not a game attempting to accurately depict WW2 combined arms warfare, this is a game that wants you to push some counter around a board and watch them blow each other up. Which isn’t to say that there is no strategy involved, since there are plenty of things you can do to increase your chances of winning. Just don’t go in looking for a game where careful positioning and realistic tactics will always win the day, since the dice might not be on your side that battle. If you take the game for what it is, you can have plenty of fun quickly playing a scenario or two or three, and you will find that the luck factor evens out over time.

Replaying scenarios is encouraged by the individual high score charts for each one. Victory is determined by which side scores the most points, earned by controlling objectives and destroying enemy units. More than once I found myself immediately restarting a scenario that I just won, simply to see if I could win by a greater margin. This also reinforces the idea that this game is meant to be simple and fun. You can blaze through a scenario, making some mistakes, and then play it again and do better, all in one lunch sized gaming session. This makes Tank on Tank an ideal game for wargamers like me who usually have small windows for gaming each day. I can hop in, turn some tanks into smoldering wrecks, then get back to real life. I kept track of time while playing several scenarios in a row, and found that many could easily be played in less than ten minutes.

Graphics and sound in Tank on Tank are relatively simple, but nicely done considering the transition from physical to digital. Tank counters throw up dust trails as their engines rev and the counter moves about, each attack features a shell being lobbed through the air and exploding, and air attacks are visualized by a fighter buzzing across the screen. There are snowflakes that fall on “snow” turns, a condition which also has important effects on the gameplay. The sound effects are all nicely done, with music that is pleasant and never distracting. The UI is clear and readily displays all of the information you need to play the game, with big buttons that are satisfying to click on, especially the fire button!

The AI will give you a good fight in pretty much every scenario. Early on I found that it bested me repeatedly, but once I nailed down the game mechanics the battles tended to be close run wins more often than not. I actually watched what the AI did at times to figure out how best to play the game as I was learning the ropes. The relatively simple structure of the scenarios and combat mechanics means that if the AI does make a major mistake, it won’t hamper your fun at all.




The game also features a multiplayer mode, where one can play out many of the same scenarios against a real live opponent. Unfortunately, I was never able to find a public match, despite waiting for an opponent to join my game for 30+ minutes as I wrote this review. It would be nice if there was some kind of indicator showing if anyone else was even in the multiplayer lobby. I can only assume the game would be great fun to play online, especially with friends.

A recent patch added the ability to create your own scenarios and campaigns, if you digest everything the game has and want some additional variety. However, doing so will require an extra bit of dedication, since units and their initial positioning must be done by writing some lines of “code” in notepad. Nothing too difficult really, but don’t expect to just click the map in the game and add units. Perhaps that kind of functionality will be added in later. It does not seem that you can create or modify the actual maps in the game. It would be nice if you could do so, since there are only a limited number of maps available, and many are simple variations of just a few unique maps. I suppose these are the same maps available in the physical version of the game, but it seems a waste to not take advantage of going digital by offering a wider selection, or letting players create their own.

Whether this game is worth your gaming dollars depends on what you are wanting it to be. For $40, one can get much meatier wargaming fare, but maybe meaty isn’t what you are looking for. If you are seeking a well polished game that lets you load it up and get into the action in a matter of mere seconds, then this could very well be worth the price. You can get your wargaming fix in fifteen minutes or less, no muss, no fuss. However, if you are averse to random rolls of the dice winning or losing a battle, steer clear. You will have the occasional match where absolutely nothing goes your way, despite making all the right decisions. This is a game that is meant to be quick, simple, and fun, and it succeeds in checking all of those boxes. I see myself playing bite sized bursts of this game for a long time. The icon is always there on the edge of my PC desktop, taunting me to go back for one more round.





- Joe Beard


Follow us on Twitter @_AWNT_




Tank on Tank for Windows (Mac version in the works) is available directly from LnL Publishing at http://store.lnlpublishing.com/

TIGER LEADER BY DAN VERSSEN GAMES What I'm going to say may have started to become a touch familiar, nay repetitive, if you ...

Tiger Leader Tiger Leader

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

wargaming

TIGER LEADER

BY DAN VERSSEN GAMES




What I'm going to say may have started to become a touch familiar, nay repetitive, if you have read my previous reviews of DVG games, especially as they have all been from the Leader stable of games.  Is it my fault that their production quality is some of the finest and most reliable in the hobby ?  There's no getting away from the fact that they put out consistently top-notch physical components - unboxing is a sheer delight  - and this from a company much smaller than all the really big names.

My one and only slightly adverse criticism of the new edition of U-Boat Leader and its American counterpart Gato Leader was the small size of mounted main gaming board and the fact that DVG then published as an "expansion" a decent sized board for them along with some fairly irrelevant plastic ships.  Well, Tiger Leader, which came out a year before them in 2015, hasn't even got that minor blip!

I'd go so far as to say that it is one of my favourite game boards in their series.  It's a four-panel, mounted board and fractionally over the standard 22" x 17" folio size that many companies put out as paper maps.  In the central play area is a magnificent sepia map of the Ardennes where that last desperate throw of the Third Reich, namely the Battle of The Bulge, took place.  Even more amazing is that this map is ultimately purely eye-candy, as once the main "Battle" Phase of the game gets under way, it is overlaid by six generic terrain pieces [in the same fashion as the earlier Thunderbolt/Apache Leader game].  Equally odd is that out of the nine excellent campaigns the game offers, the Bulge isn't included.
How can you leave out the Bulge? [sob]




However, as a war gamer who cut his teeth on hexes, these large, four-hex tile overlays are very impressive.  They are made of substantially thick, durable, glossy card-stock: double-sided so that you can fight in three different terrain localities - Europe, Desert and Winter.  They get a big, loud "Len's 10" from me [apologies that that metaphor's probably only understandable in the UK, not sure how many countries we've sold it to - so other nationalities can google "Strictly Come Dancing"].  So too do the two counter sheets that include the substantial numbers of Polish, French, Russian and American troops to fight against.




Along with the units are a wide range of Damage markers, one side for Armour damage, the other for Infantry damage, the inevitable red Stress markers, enemy Battalion counters and, of course, your own German units.



Ultimately, you will be selecting some of those evocative Tiger tanks, but if you're like me that will be some time in the future, as there are nine Campaigns to choose from starting with Poland 1939, France 1940, Russia, North Africa and Europe 1944.  There's nothing to stop you dashing on to those legendary monsters and don't let me stop you.  Perhaps it's just my OCD tendency, but I like to work my way gradually through the historical time-line!

And, naturellement, in a DVG product, lots of lovely cards to drool over [didn't I tell you I always sleeve mine - now you know why!] : German unit cards, German Commander cards, Battalion cards [in three types - Assault, Supply and Command] Event cards, Special Condition cards and Objective cards.  Some of them will be placed on the main mounted board called the Tactical Display Sheet, that I've already waxed lyrical about, some on the large card-stock display called the Head Quarters [sic - yes, it really is divided into two words]Sheet.  Not sure where you quarter your arms, legs, etc!

Apart from the map section I've already detailed, the two separate Displays provide you with Holding boxes for all those lovely cards, a detailed Sequence of play and enough information to just about cover all aspects of the game without reference to the rule book.  This tends to be a good feature of this series, but is for me one of the strongest and most workable examples in those games I possess.

As always the Rule Book is very substantial in quality and detail, following what I've come to recognise as their signature design.  First comes the Campaign Set-Up taking you step by step through each process while enumerating all the relevant details about the counters and the cards with carefully labelled and itemised pictures, exactly when needed. Though, in one way, there is more detail here, each step is so easy and straightforward that I've found the process simpler than expected. 

Select one of the nine Campaigns and a specific Objective.  Each Campaign will tell you the difficulty level, any additional Special Ops points [SOs], the terrain type and the Commander Skill levels and any special features.  The Objective card next provides how many SOs you have available to spend on buying units and other resources, the number of weeks the Campaign lasts, Battalion points for randomly selecting the necessary enemy Battalion cards, specific rules  modifications to the Campaign and the Evaluation table to determine your level of success at the end. 


If you are totally new to the Leader series of games, this may already be making you wonder if this game is for you, all I can say is that it is a very smooth process and reads far more dauntingly than the actual execution of what I'm describing.  Though my developed familiarity with the overall systems may have influenced my next statement, I genuinely believe - and I am being as objective as possible - that this game is easier to learn, flows more smoothly overall and plays more quickly.  What I have also found is that it is just as easy to lose!

The next step is one that appeals to me.  In the previous DVG games I've reviewed your unit and its commander were one and the same.  Buy a submarine and you choose one of the cards that represent the vessel and named commander at different levels of ability usually from Recruit to Ace, the same with your planes that were governed by the level of the pilot's skill.  In Tiger Leader, the SOs you've been allocated are for buying purely the units that you will use to fight the Campaign - a few more SOs may come your way during the following weeks of fighting - but by and large most of what you buy now will be what you're stuck with as they suffer and get shot up or eliminated. 






[Here's a typical combination of a machine-gun team and some transport.  They don't have to go together, but the combo allows your vehicle to move your men forward and then both the transport and the infantry can fire.  If the infantry are by themselves they can either move or fire, not do both.]

Then you choose, for free, one Commanding officer for each unit.  Once again, each of these Commanders do come in six levels of ability.  What prevents you just grabbing an Ace for each unit is the Campaign card that designates how many of each level of ability you may choose for up to seven units.  For example, the Polish campaign allows you 3 Recruit, 2 Green*, 1 Average and 1 Skilled Commander.  You'll notice that one level of Skill is starred.  Any units that you buy above seven have to be allocated another of the starred levels.   So, if I bought nine units I'd end up with 4 Green Commanders in total.  




[Tank Commander Dietrich hopefully on his way to Ace status, with all the necessary stats.  Notice that, like the images used for units, these aren't photo shots but sketches.]


Another very good wrinkle is that the assignment of Commander to unit can be changed at the beginning of each week.  You have three categories of units: Infantry, Armour and Unarmoured - obviously each type of unit must have the relevant type of Commander.  No giving an Armour Commander to an Infantry unit.

The next step is to draw a Special Condition card that will affect all the Battles in a given week.





One of the beneficial Special Condition cards - overall these cards have a balance of positive and negative effects and many of the negative ones can be cancelled by paying SO points.




Then it is decision time.  How many Battalions am I going to choose to fight at the start of the week and which of my units am I going to allocate to take on each Battalion?   Just choose one and send in all your men and you'll probably gain an easy victory, probably reaping about 3 VPs.  Do that for any of the Campaigns that last three weeks and you'll end up with about enough VPs to earn yourself an Evaluation ranging from Dismal to the lowest level of Adequate.






[ Just one of your likely adversaries, a fairly meaty Infantry Support Battalion. ]



One advantage of this game is that you don't lose any VPs for your own units and Commanders that are eliminated.

So, it's off to our first Battle of the week and the draw of an Event card which normally will affect only this particular battle.



As with Special Condition cards, about half have good, half bad outcomes.  Notice here a very familiar image - one of its earliest manifestations being a stylised version on the 1st edition of the famous Squad Leader game. 


Six random tiles are drawn to form the battlefield; you place your units on the bottom row of map hexes and the enemy units' positions are randomly selected by dice rolls in the top two hex rows of the map.  Most Battles last five turns.  As with previous Leader games, your units that have a Fast Commander will activate first to move and/or shoot, then all the enemy ones  and finally all your units with Slow Commanders.  A very satisfying, simple chart and a single die roll provides the A.I. for enemy movement.






Here is the set-up of my forces in an early Campaign with a tank, machine-gun unit and transport in the light cover on the left flank and two more tanks on the right flank.


Combat too is very easy with a few, typical modifiers, such as terrain.  For you, hit the enemy and it is eliminated - couldn't be simpler.  For the hits scored by enemy units, it's draw one of the double-sided Damage markers and apply the appropriate side of the marker: either Infantry or Armour.  As a result your units tend to survive longer than the enemy ones, as they may take several different types without being eliminated, though two of the same type usually will kill.  There is the rare chance of an Explosion and bye-bye unit and Commander.  It is rare, but in the second week of my first campaign, I had three tanks and each turn the Explosion damage was drawn when a unit shot at a tank.  Don't say I didn't warn you!

At first sight this asymmetrical procedure for Combat may seem to hand it to the Germans on a plate.  Experience of playing the game disproves that notion.  The range of damage, the limited ability to remove some of it between each week of Battle, the choice of a Commander who might help in the process, all add greatly to the narrative produced by the game and this draws you in to the atmosphere of the game.

To defeat a Battalion you have to destroy a set number of unit points, but there is also a point at which the Battalion is reduced to half strength [gaining you half the VPs].  So, you may decide, if possible, to avoid further combat by manoeuvre - not always an easy thing to do - until the end of this Battle and return the next week to finish the Battalion off with a fresh force.

Standard to all the Leader series is the Post Combat phase at the end of each week, when Experience is logged and possibly spent to upgrade the ability of a Commander, if he has earned enough points, attempt repairs and replacements depending on whether you've gained SOs and acquire new Commanders if any have been killed in the previous week's fighting.

Personally, I've had a thoroughly good time with this game.  The different elements introduced have greatly appealed . Among these  are the Operational Display on which your enemy Battalions are placed according to information on their Unit card and the rule that means they may advance or retreat week by week, the Tactical Movement chart already mentioned, the difference of having a map and terrain to fight and manoeuvre over, the combination of unit and Commander discussed in more depth earlier, the flavour given by the Damage chits and learning the best combination of units to meet a particular type of Battalion.

Despite my strongly favourable reaction to Tiger Leader, I was aware before I started that there had been quite some criticism of this particular addition to the Leader stable of games.  Especially, intimations of it being "broken", poor rules and lack of difference between units had made me wonder what to expect.  From extensive reading, my view is that most of the adverse comments boil down to the old realism/historicity argument.   First and foremost, the rules as written I found clear, consistent and easy to follow.  To repeat an earlier point,  they were easier to assimilate than any of the three previous Leader games I've reviewed.   They provided a good flow to all my games; even when I made monumental mistakes, they weren't mistakes in the rules!

Admittedly there are only small differences between the stats for the tanks, but at the level being focused on I wouldn't expect anything else.  Certainly, there is at least and I would say more difference here than between the submarines in U-Boat and Gator Leader.  But added to that there is the difference between individual Commanders and between their different Skill levels.  So. I would feel safe in saying that the differentiation is not one that is in any way out of line with the other Leader games.

Mutters about the sameness of all the battles, I would strongly refute.  I soon learnt that fielding the wrong combination of units against specific Battalions was a quick way to a losing situation.  Only one oddity that struck me was that there were limitations on the ability of some of my units to fire/move, but not on similar enemy units - if that bothers you then it's dead easy to give your enemy the same restrictions.  However, I felt that the game intended to handle that distinction through the movement limitations produced by the Tactical Displays A.I/. system.

The campaigns are tough, even the Poland 1939 one.  As at least one commentator has pointed out, you certainly don't romp through 
the Polish units.  If that's what you want to do, just give yourself some more SO points to field more units.  Perhaps, they are tougher than they ought to be, but then I don't find much fun in a situation where I really can't lose. 

Here are some of those Polish units


I'd rather have what I've got in this game than spend my time killing loads of enemy units with no trouble at all and then find that I've lost because the victory conditions say I should have killed even more.  Many other games I've played on the Polish campaign tend to do exactly that to achieve what they call balance!

So, bottom line for me - a fun experience, giving a very different feel from both air and submarine warfare [and so it should], broad brush approach that works, good clear rules, ace quality physical package in all departments [cards, counters, boards, rule book].  Nuff said, I hope.









Tabletop Wargames: A Designers and Writers Handbook by R Priestly & J Lambshead A Review     First I need to apologise to Pen...

Tabletop Wargames A Designers and Writers Handbook Tabletop Wargames A Designers and Writers Handbook

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

wargaming

Tabletop Wargames: A Designers and Writers Handbook by R Priestly & J Lambshead

A Review

 
 
First I need to apologise to Pen and Sword regarding the delay in reviewing this particular book. It's partly down to ill health but also if I'm honest with myself I've found this particular review difficult to start as the book isn't normally the sort of thing I'd read so was nervous about reviewing it. I'm out of my comfort zone:)


 

Now onto the book. The authors come with excellent credentials and are easily qualified to write a book like this. R Priestly created the world renowned Warhammer and Warhammer 40K system for Games Workshop. Dr J Lambshead designed the computer wargame Fredrick Foresythe's Fourth Protocol which was the first icon driven game and was also the editor of Games & Puzzles and Wargame News. He has also written a number of books for Games Workshop and Osprey. Finally he is the author of SF&F novels published by Baen Books. So with their experience you know you're in good hands and in this book they share this experience which can only help any of you out there who fancies designing a game yourself or help you with any tinkering or modifications you want to do with a current system.



The book is divided into nine chapters with a References section and finally an Index at the back of the book. The first chapter is an introduction that lasts twelve pages and eases you into the book. The next chapter talks about scale. The scale of a wargame is of vital importance in how the game will play and effects everything. Next comes a chapter on "The Language of Design". This deals with wargame and design jargon for example talks about "LOS" or line of sight. Following this is a chapter called "Alea Iacta Est", the famous line supposedly said by Ceaser, translated "The Die is Cast". So,  it doesn't need to much working out to know this chapter deals with Dice and randomness with in a wargame design. Chapter five "Presenting a Games Rules" is self explanatory. How many wargames have you played that have had rules that only an enigma code breaker could decipher? So it's an important aspect of any game design. Also talks about tables, not an actual table like the one you'll be playing on but tables in the rules. Chapter six "Skirmish Games" talks about skirmish wargames. Chapter seven "English as She is Writ" kind of goes hand in hand with chapter five. Again dealing with how to convey your system and rules to the player. Chapter eight "Expanding the Rulebook". This chapter deals with creating expansions to your core rule set. For instance adding new armies etc. The final chapter "Campaigns as Wargames" deals with creating campaigns for your rule system.



The book is full of photographs and is very well written as you'd expect from a book that talks about how to write rules. It's also full of useful information for those contemplating designing a tabletop wargame. Not sure how relevant it is for those wanting to design a hex wargame, but several of the chapters would be useful. I'd also say it's aimed at those who have little to no experience in designing a wargame, well it's certainly of more use to them. Saying this it wouldn't hurt for anyone be it novice or experienced in giving it a read. I say this because so many wargames come out and then forums are full of players totally confused by the rules. I think until you've actually tried you don't realise how difficult it is to convey to others your new game solely by the rulebook and what you've written. So maybe some of the chapters in this book would be of use to even a published wargame designer. Please don't expect a book that really goes into great detail and depth and covers every aspect under the sun. At 149 pages it should be apparent this book doesn't do that. It's more an overview with helpful advice of what the authors consider the main aspects of tabletop wargame designing. Aspects which will be relevant to pretty much all types of wargame systems. Your not going to come away with knowledge that's going to make you design some new innovative award winning game. It's just helping relative newbies dig decent foundations to their game design. If your looking for more than that then your prob best looking elsewhere.



The book is 149 pages not including the Reference and Index. Priced at £14.99 it's also not that expensive for such a niche book and wont break the bank. Certainly cheap enough to buy to see if it has any useful info for you as you start out on your game design. I would certainly appreciate it if I was about to start out on a tabletop wargame project.

Published by Pen & Sword it's available in all good book shops!

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

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

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

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Drive on Moscow 


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

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

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


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


Biases


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

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

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



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


Learning the Game


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

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

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


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

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

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


User Interface 


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

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


Graphics


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

AI Effectiveness


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


 Gameplay Excitement



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

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

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



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


This badge on Steam is not so easy to get.

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


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