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Roguelike. Wargame. Two genres that you usually don't imagine mashing together. Perhaps it's time for that to change, if Armou...

Armoured Commander II Armoured Commander II

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


Roguelike. Wargame. Two genres that you usually don't imagine mashing together. Perhaps it's time for that to change, if Armoured Commander II is any indication of the possibilities. Now, of course, that fact that this game is a sequel indicates that the idea has been around for a bit, but I've only recently become aware of the series. I'm glad I found it, because as an avid fan of all stripes of roguelikes, I was excited to try something completely different. 

Armoured Commander II (AC2), made by solo developer Gregory Adam Scott, does indeed bring some fresh ideas to the table, and does some cool things with a very simple interface. As you'll notice, AC2 is not a visually impressive game, though the blocky tank designs are charming in their own way. What is impressive is the UI design and the fact that anyone could pick up this game and be playing in a matter of minutes, with no need to even look at the manual. The action follows a distinct series of phases, and all available actions in each phase are either explained on screen or self-explanatory. 

The game begins by letting you choose between a variety of campaigns. You can start at the beginning with the invasion of Poland, or jump to the late war rush across Europe by the Allies, and many stretches in between. Even more campaigns are planned for the future, including North Africa, the Eastern Front, and perhaps even the Pacific one day. Once you pick a campaign, you are given a choice of several tank models. All the mainstays are here, along with some rare models. I enjoyed the historical tidbits included about each model. 

Each campaign consists of multiple missions, broken down into individual days. The gameplay is then split between something of a strategic view, and more zoomed in tactical battles. Each day you have some sort of objective, such as breaking through the enemy lines, and proceed around the hex-based map in an effort to accomplish it. You aren't alone in this effort, as allied forces will take some spaces as the day goes on, occasionally giving you some extra breathing room. Artillery and air support is also on call when available, though you can't fully rely on it. Every action you take on this map consumes part of the day, time which you would ideally be using to rack up victory points. You can choose whether to spend time conducting reconnaissance into neighboring hexes, or just roll right in. Sometimes you will arrive in a hex to find fierce resistance, and sometimes nothing at all. As the day goes on you will begin running short on shells, and perhaps take some damage, making the decision of whether to press on or turn back all the more tense. Leaving the field early will cut your victory points for the day in half, but discretion is the better part of valor after all.

Before long, you will find yourself in a tactical battle against one or more enemies. This is where the meat of the game begins. Now the hex map zooms in, putting your tank in the center and foes all around. At the beginning of each round of combat you will decide what each member of your crew is doing. Naturally, each member has different options available, though all can "spot" for enemy contacts. The driver can prepare to drive, the gunner can prepare to gun, but the commander can only lend his direction to one of them at a time. Depending on what tank you are in, there will be other assistant crewman who can help out by reloading the main cannon, or manning a machine gun, or doing other activities. In the event on of your boys takes a hit (never a pretty sight inside a tank, best not to think about it), you can have one of these crewmen slide over into their place and carry on. All of the selections you make here at the beginning of the turn will dictate what your options are for the rest of the turn, and how likely you are to succeed in those actions.

Combat is deceptively simple in AC2. When you fire a cannon or machine gun, you'll get a percentage chance to hit. This chance depends on a number of factors, such as the size and type of target, whether they are in cover, whether your tank just moved, and whether the commander is directing the fire, among other things. At the end of the firing phase, there is another roll of the dice to see if the target is damaged or destroyed. Each round the enemy is doing roughly the same thing back at you. This sounds simple enough, but there are a lot of neat little twists built in. You can direct your driver to seek a hull down position. He might succeed or not, maybe you should have had the commander help him out? Alternatively, you can have the driver attempt to overrun the position of an enemy AT gun or rifle squad. Do you roll into battle un-buttoned, able to survey the entire battlefield, or button up to keep safe but leave yourself almost blind? The game has many little trade offs like this that keep each turn interesting. 

If you survive and go on to the next battle, your crew will begin to level up and gain new skills. Letting you customize your experience in each campaign and add some RPG flavor to the game. The men each have their own stats like morale and grit that change over time. Each crewman also has a name and even a bit of history, and it will sting to lose one or see him badly wounded after many fights together. I didn't get deep enough into any one campaign to see a lot of this system just yet, but I love that it's a part of the game.

I wasn't sure whether or not I would like AC2 when I first fired it up, but after my first session I could see the appeal, and after my second session I was hooked. Like other roguelikes, AC2 makes you want to see what's around the next corner, and then the next. Maybe you'll find a juicy target, or maybe a nasty surprise. Your first time out might be a dismal failure, but each subsequent run will be made with the experience you've gained. Different campaigns come with different varieties of terrain, enemy forces, and tanks to command. There is a lot of variety here already, and the one-man developer promises to keep adding on over time. The game has technically just begun early access, but you can buy it right now, and expect a full experience already, and a steady stream of updates to come. In the past week since release there have been near daily patches to fix bugs and make small improvements.

At a very modest $8, this game is certainly worth a look for anyone who fancies a new roguelike, a fresh take on WW2 combat, or all of the above. Even if you aren't a fan of the Dwarf Fortress level graphics, the solid UI and compelling gameplay will suck you in before you know it. Like some kind of grognard Neo, you won't be seeing punctuation marks and abstract shapes, you'll be seeing a battlefield alive with dug-in AT guns and deadly panzers.

Since this is just the initial early access release, I plan to follow the game for a while and post a full review once it is deemed complete by the developer.

Armoured Commander II can be purchased on Steam.

Official Blog

- Joe Beard

Order of Battle: World War II grows ever larger with the release of yet another DLC campaign for the Panzer General-esque strategy game ...

Order of Battle: WW2 - Red Star Order of Battle: WW2 - Red Star

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


Order of Battle: World War II grows ever larger with the release of yet another DLC campaign for the Panzer General-esque strategy game that I have really enjoyed since its initial release over four years ago. While Red Star doesn't change up the formula in any significant way, it does give you another 13 mission long campaign covering plenty of famous, and less well known, battles. 

Red Star is the first of a trilogy of linked campaigns covering, you guessed it, the actions of the Red Army across the full spectrum of WW2. Now, you're probably immediately picturing the Eastern Front, Barbarossa and Stalingrad and so on. Hold on though, this is Order of Battle, a game which was created by developers who seem keenly interested in showcasing some of the less well known and less gamed theaters of the war. Red Star covers actions of the Red Army from 1938 to 1941, which means you'll be rather deep into the campaign before you see a single German panzer. 

The DLC starts off with a trio of missions against Imperial Japan, at the battles of Lake Khasan and Khalkin Gol. These are battles which I've read snippets about here and there, but never studied in detail. Seeing very early war tanks and even bi-planes roaming the battlefield made for a fresh experience. The Japanese are tough early game opponents, as you must make due with poor equipment and inexperienced troops.

Next you go for a quick trip to Poland for a single mission. Although the historical outcome here was 100% inevitable, it was actually one of the more memorable missions of the game. To give you a challenge, the scenario casts your forces as the very tip of the invading spear, racing ahead of supply lines. You have only a very limited number of points available for deploying units, and every turn your total available supply is shrinking. The only way to get more supply is to capture Polish cities and towns. This means you must charge forward and overwhelm the defenders as quickly as possible, in order to keep your units in supply. 

After conquering Poland it's time for the Winter War against Finland. Some of this conflict has actually been covered from the point of view of the Finns in the Winter War DLC, but now it's time to play it from the Soviet perspective. As you may know, despite massively outnumbering the Finns, especially in terms of tanks and aircraft, the Soviets got a very bloody nose in this conflict. Here a major feature of many of the scenarios are the Finnish ski troops who constantly pop out of nowhere on your flanks and attempt to cut off your lead units from their supply sources. The terrain itself is against you, as the heavily forested maps slow down your mechanized forces, and conceal ambushes at every turn. I enjoyed these scenarios, as I was forced to patrol the edges of my advance instead of blindly pushing all of my units forward to the objectives. 

After the conclusion of the Winter War, we finally reach the main event, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. These missions make up the final third of the campaign culminating with the defense  of, and Soviet counter-attack outside Moscow. The battles here scale up in size as you are now facing a more than equal foe, coming at you with all the tanks and aircraft you can handle. To counter that, you finally get to upgrade your own tanks and aircraft and leave those inter-war units behind. The battles here will be more familiar to most than the earlier ones, but the scenario design continues to be well done. As in all the OoB campaigns, every mission gives you primary objectives which you must accomplish to win the scenario, but there are also optional objectives which give you some kind of bonus if you can complete them. 

My one major critique of the campaign is that the specialization tree (permanent perks which you can spend points to unlock between missions) does not offer many interesting choices, or many choices at all.  I would have thought that for a DLC on the Red Army, we would see a big tree with lots of interesting and flavorful choices, but really there were only a couple which did something unique. The rest were all either generic options from other campaigns, or very minor benefits with some Soviet flavor text tacked on.

Overall, Red Star does not bring any big changes to the tried and true formula of Order of Battle, but if you like what you've played before, you will have a good time with this one as well. I do love a grand campaign of this sort, so I'm looking forward to carrying my experienced core units further into the war in the next two installments.

Order of Battle: WW2 - Red Star is available directly from Slitherine as well as on Steam and GoG. As always with Order of Battle, you can play the training campaign as well as the first scenario of each campaign (including Red Star) for free if you want to try before you buy.

- Joe Beard

Panzer Krieg by Jason Marks Vol 1 Panzer Krieg by Jason Marks Vol 1

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


A superb WW2 LEGO animation   by the Brick Dictator !

1941 Lego World War Two Battle of Brody 1941 Lego World War Two Battle of Brody

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


1941 Lego World War Two Battle of Brody

A superb WW2 LEGO animation


Strategic Command WWII -- War in Europe Board Game Precursors Let's face it, certainly one of wargamers' most beloved si...

Strategic Command WW2 - War in Europe PC Game Review Strategic Command WW2 - War in Europe PC Game Review

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


Strategic Command WWII -- War in Europe

Board Game Precursors

Let's face it, certainly one of wargamers' most beloved simulations has been strategic command in World War Two, especially in the European theater. Some must admit cutting their teeth on Avalon Hill's 1974  Rise and Decline of the Third Reich or possibly its 1992 successor, Advanced Third Reich. In fairness, let's not forget Australian Design Group's 1985-2007 World in Flames series and also Decisions Games card-driven  Krieg! World War II in Europe and its successors in 1999 and 2011. Another recent entry that scores good marks is GMT Games' Unconditional SurrenderThere are other board-games. too, but these are those the reviewer finds deserving of memorable accolade.

That's Old DNA; Get on with the PC Stuff!

Fair enough, just giving a taste of where all this originally debuted. The purpose of this article is to review the most up-to-date PC title of the Strategic Command Series, the latest being released by Slitherine on November 17th, 2016. 

Interestingly, this is a PC game that has a development story of its own. Just like board game players, PC players want more detail, performance and better graphics as the years go by. 

These sequences are money-makers for the gaming companies and we don't begrudge this. Most recently, I had purchased the last version of this game from the previous publisher, Battlefront: Strategic Command WW2 Gold Bundle. Amazingly, just after that, Jason asked me to review games at A Wargamer's Needful Things, so before I had ever played this older version, I was in the thick of looking over Strategic Command, WW2 in Europe.

The original developer, Fury Software, has moved to work on with Slitherine/Matrix. Fury has been culturing this series since 2007 and have made a splendid choice to continue to do so with the new publisher. Fury's craftsmanship and TLC approach is enhanced in this new iteration of the game; I can attest through gameplay that you will see a devotional level of attention and detail.

Let's Take a Look at the Manual

Before you start your PC engines bent on terror and destruction of the AI enemy, you'll need to check out the gaming manual. The document has excellent structure and detail, so you won't get lost.

The thing is, the AI, even on the novice level, will put you through your paces and won't pull any punches. This is one game where you will want essential understanding regarding the mechanics of:  HQs, supply, morale, purchases, rebuilds, reinforcements, scripted events and combat mechanisms for land/air/sea. You'll find everything you need in the manual, and it's worth paying attention.
Trust me, you'll 'feel the need'!

This is a PC wargame with the complexity of Advanced Third Reich; you'll need to understand how the systems work, while the computer program takes care of the implementation. To put it another way: if you plunge into the game, as I did, with only rudimentary comprehension, the AI will spank you here, there and all over if you let it. I lost half the Kriegsmarine in the early parts of the game for lack of preparation, for example. 

Essential Elements in the Manual

Where to begin? The good news is the manual is comprehensive and well-organized; the bad news, if any, is that you can't afford to skip it. 
One of the first choices you'll make

One of your easier decisions is choosing unit icons: silhouettes or NATO? I started with the former but eventually switched to the less glitzy but more utilitarian NATO view (showing my age, no doubt). 

Note: there is a lot of information you'll be shown on these icons, and the symbol meanings are not immediately obvious. You'll need to refer to the manual to know why units are flashing or not, why some have white dots on them, etc. Honestly, I never mastered all of this while playing the game but I'm convinced it was detrimental not to have done. 
these predictions are very helpful but there's more to the story...

The reason I failed to explore the details thoroughly can be blamed on too-heavy reliance upon onscreen combat predictions to make decisions. Players familiar with Panzercorps (for a review, click herewill easily recognize this helpful, if not comprehensive, feature. 
A must read; put it alongside your copy of of Baron de Jomini

Keep in mind that combat is conducted by individual units. Therefore, to defeat an enemy unit, it's important to attack sequentially with powerful assaults. For example: medium bombers can first defeat entrenchment levels, tactical bombers (e.g. stukas) then reduce the strength of the enemy, panzer units attack twice to punch through, infantry armies attack more effectively than infantry corps, and so on. Since all hexes have a stacking limit of one for all types of units, organization on the ground is a major factor of success. For example, one infantry unit can attack, then move away and make room for the panzer unit to finish it off. I found the AI was very efficient at this ( esp. compared to me!). 
Don't skimp on the research funds or you'll find panzer IIs fighting Stalin tanks! 

Success is also dependent upon the research and level upgrades the player decides to purchase for unit types. There are a lot of decisions to make with difficult-to-foresee long-term impact on the game. When you do see it, it could be too late! 
There are plenty of detailed reference tables
Be mindful of your political aspirations then pony up!
Not only will you need to research for weapons, but other countries may or may not join you depending on how much money you spend to influence their direction. During my game, I was able to manipulate both Spain and Turkey into the war. The former was much more important to my Axis focus on the Western Allies as it enhanced the U boat war (easier repair and resupply) and set up the loss of Gibraltar thereby allowing my Italian fleet infiltrate into the Atlantic (Stay tuned for some images of the battle over Portugal!) 
Did you forget to read this? 

Yes, I did read the strategy guide and it's very useful to keep in mind, but the part I didn't read up on sufficiently was this:
These decisions are made throughout the game and significantly impact strategic direction

In the case of my game, I thought I had to figure out how to invade Norway with the Kriegsmarine; as a result, I lost a few ships before a decision announcement was made by the game that I could pre-pay for an invasion of Norway. 

Oh, really?? 

At first, I thought this was kind of hokey, because inevitably in most strategic games, the simulation of the Norway invasion is not a bright bulb in the design. 'Here we go again' crossed my mind. 

Later, I was sending stuff over for the invasion of Egypt when I received another strategic decision point, and was asked if I wanted to invest in the Africa Corps or not. I said 'dummkopf what does it look like I am doing' as I had send a panzer division, additional corps and other air units already! 

As it turns out, these are the game's mechanisms to simulate funding for alternative operations that you may not want to spend money on. 

Because I had loaded up on units in Africa, I swept the British from all of the middle east and with Spanish help, I took Gibraltar. On the negative side, Barbarossa wasn't so hot, due to my heavy investments in the U boat war, naval capabilities and efforts versus the Western Allies. The strategic choices are the player's to make, but don't think the AI won't do something to counter your decisions. Meanwhile, it's making decisions on special scripts as well!
It's a double feature!
Before going into examples of gameplay, I mustn't neglect to mention that the designers have provided a thorough guide on the ability to product your own simulations with their gaming engines. To be honest, I did not have time to fully explore this, but if this portion is anything like the rest of this high-quality product, I'm sure  MOD wizards will be very happy indeed!

Gameplay Analysis - Axis

Late 1940 Highlights

Readers, I started the analysis from late 1940 because there is plenty of coverage out there on how to handle the Axis for the Polish and French campaigns. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that transferring units across the front takes a lot longer than you might anticipate. Strategic operation is quite expensive and digs into the pocketbook every time it's used. So make sure to start marching those units in Poland back to France at the earliest opportunity because you'll feel yourself unprepared to launch an incisive attack on France. It took me too long to conquer both countries.
Occupied France

Early on, get used to making sure the partisan centers are occupied: compare above image with that below:
Partisan centers in France. Why these spots need to be occupied.  
U Boats 1940 
Late 1940: the U Boats start to prowl more freely once the French fleet is no longer a factor. Note how AI has sent some Light Cruisers in and were ambushed by the wolfpack. CLs aren't too bad against subs, but CVs and DDs are better. 

The U boat war is important for Germany. The player needs to get the subs out there using 'silent mode;' then, once on top of the (red) convoy lanes, put them in 'hunt' mode to sink the merchant ships. This is represented abstractly (as in most strategic WWII games) as loss of money (or MPPs). 

June 1941

North Africa. The Axis will go on to overwhelm Britain here, in spite of Colonial reinforcements

A lot of Axis units were placed in North Africa due to a scripted decision that brings in Rommel and buddies. As previously mentioned, I had already sent a bevy of  reinforcements as soon as Italy entered in mid-1940. All these assets proved too much for Britain and her Pacific allies -- but the AI put up a valiant fight.
Diplomacy: Germany invests heavily in Spain and Turkey; ultimately they both enter the fray! 

Malta had been a problem interdicting supplies to North Africa, consequently slowing down my attacks. In turn, an effort was made to bring Spain in, so as to cut off supplies to Malta.  Eventually, the Germans got close enough to Alexandria to have air units hunt down the British Fleet, and after a series of heavy battles with naval air units and the Italian navy, The British force was KO'd, including a valuable carrier. The Commonwealth forces put up a stiff fight and a lot of money points were spent repairing naval forces and sending reinforcements to the Africa Corps ground units. Consequently, none of that money made it to the Russian front. 

One note -- it's a bit too easy to repair fleet units. Even if down to one point, it takes just one turn (usually two weeks) to sail them to a port, one more turn to repair them to full capacity (depending on how close the port is to a full supply source or home waters) and then they are back in action at a full 10 strength points. Of all the systems in the game, the naval system seems to be the most arbitrary -- not that it isn't fun! That's the balance to be found -- boring naval battles or fun ones. A difficult design decision and I am not unhappy with how Fury has gone about doing this.
This strategic view shows the forces for Barbarossa and the mass of units serving Rommel!
Just before Barbarossa: above is the strategic view of the situation. Notice how the units icons are clearly indicated for each of the nations. Shown are German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian units on the East and Baltic fronts. A few Italian troops have made their way East.  The Russian are weak at start, but based on my experience, I hadn't enough quality German units facing the communist foe. You can see that The Italian fleet is cautiously positioned in the Taranto area.

1941 -- End of the Year

North Africa

Disaster in Egypt -- Demoralization for the UK

The U Boats

The small strategic dots in the water areas show U Boat packs threatening the commercial fleets of the Western Allies and convoys to Russia. Note that Spain has just entered the war. The Italian fleet is poised to enter the Atlantic. You can see  the weather areas, grey and white showing winter. 
Iberia with neutral Portugal and Axis Spain. 
Gibraltar will be taken and the Italian fleet unleashed! 

But in Russia....

Close approach to Moscow but that is as close as I'll get!

Due to lack of an HQ in the area (uselessly sent to Finland) I could not and never did capture Riga. It also took a long time to reduce Pripyat marshes, again, due to insufficient HQ support. The Germans needed at least two more HQs and probably about 10 more armies in Russia. But I had spent the money on U boats and North Africa. There are trade-offs, and the AI knows about them! 

September 1942 -- USA in the War

U Boats and Raiders terrorize the Atlantic

1942 started out grimly for the Western Allies. Readers can see the extent of U-Boat operations, including an Italian Caribbean raider in the lower left corner.

Italian and German surface fleets poised to intercept potential Allied operations in the area

Massive funds had been spent in the West and naval superiority (or at least parity) was achieved for the moment. But as a consequence, the war in the East is a bit frightening for the Axis because not enough effort has been devoted to handling that front properly. 

September 1942: Disorganized Germans pushed well back from Moscow and beyond Smolensk.

December 1942 -- The Hinge of Fate?

Stabilizing the Russian lines and fending off the invasion of Portugal!
Detail of bitter fighting in Iberia; Axis fleets searching for and finding Allied troop convoys: 
The Bay of Biscay is now known as Ironbottom Bay
The war in the East had started to resemble WWI fighting, with massive attrition casualties on both sides. Meanwhile, the Germans continue to send heavy forces to beat down the late 42 incursion into Portugal and Spain. Heavy tanks have been sent to counter USA armored corps in the south. But once again, the Germans fail to send enough HQs to the front -- evidently another will be needed in the south. Players need to take care of this -- supplies and support from nearby HQs can make all the difference. The Spanish performed poorly, even on home turf, until the Franco HQ was sent back from the Russian front in early 1943. 

April 1943

A good turn for Germany and friends!

1943 is a stabilizing year for the Germans as I finally get my act together on managing the Russian hoard, which is not to say they are fully leashed by any means. And in the West, some nice counterattacks sink the Hood and destroy some valuable American land forces. Note that this Combat Summary is received every turn something is destroyed -- of course, sometimes the news can be pretty bad!

More vicious fighting in Portugal. That carrier hovering north of Spain will be located next turn and sunk by wolfpacks returning from raiding the Atlantic! The Axis are able to cycle their naval units for repair in southern Spanish ports and specially built-up St. Nazaire in Brittany. This is devastating for the Western Allied AI as it struggles to get a foothold.

More Axis units fighting to control the channel. 
By now the WA have lost 5-6 carriers due to aggressive operations

In general, the AI does a fair job handling the naval units, but losses are a bit more random and dramatic than what is usually seen on land. Once the carriers expose themselves and fail to hide after some rounds of attacks, they are exposed to counterattacks by surface vessels or U boats in range. I'd say the AI suffered more than it gave in these battles. But it is fair to keep in mind that the Germans invested heavily in U boat numbers and repairs. Most definitely the Axis were fighting a western front strategy in this game. 

June 1943

WA invasion is in trouble. Many Western Capital ships have been lost. 
The WA can't get supplies or air units through,

Strong USSR forces can pound the minors. Romania is getting nervous! 

Gameplay Observations

Readers, due to time constraints and commitments, I needed to finish this review before completing the entire war, but I do feel as if I can make some valid observations about this fine computer simulation. 


First and foremost, the game and scripting (that is, decision events) build a sense of tension for the upcoming campaigns. Additionally, these provide some structure for novice players, such as myself. Note that I did play this on the novice level and felt sufficiently challenged by the AI. 

One could make the point that scripted events are also a kind of way for the designers to 'get away with' not simulating difficult aspects of the game. But this is not unusual in board games that cover the strategy of WWII. Norway is notoriously difficult to simulate. The designers decided to cover the invasion with an abstract decision to do so or not. If the German player decides to do it, the invasions of Norway and Denmark are automatically successful (don't waste time and resources doing a land campaign in Denmark like I did!). The same is true for a scripted decision -- or not -- to send Rommel to North Africa. While I haven't played the Allied side yet, I'm sure the same scripting is conducted in  various situations on their end. One I witnessed, that was not historical, was the British occupation of Irish ports to facilitate Atlantic operations. 

Finally, I must point out that one seriously enjoyable element of the game is how seamlessly intertwined game actions can be conducted. One can start moving around some subs, then move on to the east front, then make purchases or reinforcements, stop doing that and conduct diplomacy then come back to land attacks. Nothing is phased in any sort of rigid sequence of events. That's all handled by the program after the player pushes the 'end turn' key. 

Land, Air and Naval Systems

Obviously crucial to any simulation of WWII in Europe is how land maneuvers and combat are handled. The game avoids the mechanic of gathering forces for odds-based attacks, instead simulating combat as sequential attacks by individual units. I haven't made up my mind if I like this or not. It can be difficult to manage and predict how units are to be organized on the ground for an upcoming series of battle attacks to destroy enemy units for breakthroughs. My conclusion is that my inexperience is a factor. But not even the AI did much in the way of breakthroughs. Combat seemed to be more 'attritive' and 'WWI-ish' than what reminded me of the bulk of WWII maneuvering combat. Certainly, there were cases of attrition and stalemate in WWII, but I'd like to see that as more of an exception in this game. Perhaps with more experience playing, I would indeed be able to see more battles of encirclement than sequences of head-on attacks. 

The air war is simulated pretty well, but again, highly based on attrition and reinforcement. The sequence of how air attacks are handled is at first abstract and then later simply becomes a bit repetitive in how it is represented in a series of pop-up windows. More exciting would be a series of animation screens. 

The naval war simulation is likely to generate the most controversy. Naval units, like any other units, cannot stack. Therefore, it is impossible to represent the fleet as based in a single port, such as Scapa Flow or Taranto. One ship can be in a port, the others are going to be floating around at sea unless they find another haven. However, the fog of war makes up for this, as ships cannot be seen unless scouted by the enemy with air or other fleet units. And it can be a bad idea to get surprised at sea by running into a vessel, ambush is very possible. Personally, while I had my doubts about the naval system, in the end I rather enjoyed it. Moving a naval unit is fraught with tension! Will I discover an enemy carrier I can send my battleships after? Or will my sub run into a barrage of depth charges by finding a DD unit guarding the sea lanes? 

Overall, I'm very happy with the combat systems in the first playing of this game; I'm sure, as a newbie, I missed some very important nuances about all three forms of combat interactions. 

Production, Research and Diplomacy Simulation

These elements seemed to work well. Players should keep in mind that production is not immediate, nor are diplomatic results. The same is true for researching new capabilities. It's important to remember that for some research, the breakthroughs still require upgrading the units in the field to the better weapons! I definitely struggled with this trying to push to the East. You can't fight if you are upgrading and reinforcing. 

My only bone to pick with the game is that it's much too easy -- or seems so -- to reinforce naval units that have been severely damaged. They are back up and running withing a couple of turns, and this is simply not how quickly naval units can be refitted. I do think this is something for the developers to look at in the next go-round.

National Morale Level Simulation

Of all the elements, I found this the most murky. Perhaps I needed to read the manual on this in more depth. But why does Poland's morale stay on the display after it is conquered? Or France's? One thing the software does mostly well is get rid of or hide unnecessary data,  but not so this. Also, when your national morale level is, for example, 99,248, then a player gets an additional 300 +/- morale for sinking the Hood, well, so what?  It's shruggable. Why 300? Why not 1000? Plus the game doesn't tell you how much morale the British have lost by losing the Hood. This is one simulation area that could use a bit of fleshing out to become more meaningful for the player. 

Recommendation for Purchase

By all means! Especially if you enjoy strategic simulations of WWII, you won't be disappointed and the game feels as if it is highly re-playable. Take note that there is a more than moderately steep learning curve for this PC game. The manual is digestible, but not in one reading. This is a game that will take time to master, especially until multi-player is available (enabling teaching situations). Right now the quickest way to learn the game is to play it, in spite of the helpful videos out there. There is that much to take in, so if you are looking for beer and pretzels, this might be a bit much. Otherwise, enjoy the banquet! 

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

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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.