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This book, as the only review on the cover states, is absolutely 'an amazing story'. The author, who is somewhat famous, as fa...

Moonless Night - The Second World War Escape Epic by 'Jimmy' James Moonless Night - The Second World War Escape Epic by 'Jimmy' James

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

This book, as the only review on the cover states, is absolutely 'an amazing story'. The author, who is somewhat famous, as far as Prisoner of War escapees goes, takes us through his war experince being a PoW in Nazi Germany. B A James was serving on No. 9 Squadron for just two months before being shot down over Holland. The book starts dramatically with:
The parachute opened with a crack pulling me out of my terminal velocity dive with a jerk which seemed to tear me apart and then I was floating gently two miles up in the night sky over Holland. The stricken Wellington, of which I had lately been the second pilot, had been turned into a  flaming hell by the pounding flak shells and was streaking away to the east trailing fire and smoke ... on course for a target it would never reach.
 I was hooked after that opening paragraph and read the book, spell-bound the entire time. I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I, nor anyone I know, would have survived with such dignity and humour as is evident in the pages of this book. However, this is no joke book. The way in which Jimmy recounts his horrific experience is done with no animosity or malice towards his captors. And his 'voice' sounds like someone who would catch anyone's undivided attention. I can imagine him holding court in a country pub somewhere. 

The Wellington
To prove how generous this young pilot was, towards the very end of the book, at which point his and his captor's fortunes had almost completely reversed, Jimmy recounts the 'almost gentlemanly treatment we had received in Prisoner of War Camps'.  My draw dropped at that statement, the words I had read didn't tally with the gentlemanly treatment he claimed.

This isn't a book about living in Prisoner of War camps, this is about escaping from those camps. Jimmy had 13 different escape attempts to his name and was a prisoner in 9 different camps. His most famous escape was as part of The Great Escape from Stalag Luft III. In fact, it was Jimmy's job to disperse much of the soil from 'Harry' which was dug under his hut.

One of the most horrific escapes in the book was what the author called 'mole tunnels'. I don't suffer from claustrophobia, but if you do I would recommend you skip this section. A mole tunnel is dug by one escapee moving soil from in front of them to behind them until they think they've gone far enough. I can't even fathom how that is possible, but I suppose there is no telling just how resourceful humans can be in the face of desperate odds.
I am always dumbfounded when I read about the tunnels that were dug with the most basic of equipment. In tunnelling out of Sachsenhausen Jimmy and his co-conspirators only had a table-knife with a DIY serrated cutting edge as their only implements in which to cut through his floor and dig the tunnel. Just how? I would love to know; It doesn't seem possible. In fact, the resulting tunnels considering the tools they were dug with are technological marvels. They were shored-up, had electric lighting, air pumps, railways and stations!

Through Jimmy's travels through German PoW Camps he occasionally butts up against the Nazi death and concentration camps. His response to those sights feels like a very archaic mechanism to deal with personal distress. In today's world, we're encouraged to talk, to grieve and admit our stress. Jimmy, at one point, recounts how if he let any melancholy infect his disposition the war, for him, would be over, and in seeing the absolute worst that humanity could do to itself, he actively pushed those dark thoughts away.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone. It's a quick read and a very interesting read. If you're at all interested and/or amazed by the ingenuity of humans, and/or horrified by just how horrible we can be to each other then you should read this book. After I finished the book, I was reminded of a question I have never found a satisfactory answer to; that is, how did the Nazi doctrine become accepted to the extent that the Concentration camp guards only defence at their subsequent war crimes trial was 'orders are orders'. How did the guards not realise their own atrocities? Any way I digress...

This is a great book and you can pick up the latest edition at Pen & Swords website for £14.99. 

Fokker Dr.I The Aces' Aircraft  by Tomasz J. Kowalski and Marek Rys   The Fokker Dr.I, short for dreideck...

Fokker Dr.I The Aces Aircraft by Tomasz J. Kowalskki andd Marek Rys Fokker Dr.I The Aces Aircraft by Tomasz J. Kowalskki andd Marek Rys

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


 The Fokker Dr.I, short for dreidecker  (triplane), was the German answer to the Sopwith Triplane. The German pilots were alarmed at the superiority of the British triplane to their aircraft. Per the book, Manfred von Richtofen said " the Sopwith Triplane is the best aircraft the enemy has, it has a high climb rate, is more maneuverable, does  not lose altitude in turns and is faster in a dive."

 As the book shows, the Fokker Dr.I first appeared in late summer of 1917. The first month's combat testing showed two flaws of the Dr.I. One of these flaws was that the German rotary engines were not as good as the Entente's. Some of the triplanes were actually fitted with captured enemy rotary engines. The second flaw was that the top wing suffered some failures that even  caused some fatalities. This was found to be because of moisture, and the subsequent failure of the glue and fabric of the wings. Yes, you read that correctly, these old birds were made of canvas, wood, and sometimes held together with glue; actually, even some World War II planes were. The moisture problem was taken care of by having added ventilation holes in the wing, and an improvement on the seam gluing.

 The third flaw of the triplane was known even before either side had even produced one. The flaw was the increased drag of a third wing. The world's engineers had known before World War I that a monoplane was the best design for a plane. Unfortunately, they had to make do with what could be produced and actually manufactured at the time. So the Dr.I was as nimble as a cat, but slower than most planes. By 1918, the Entente's fliers had much better aircraft, and could use 'boom and zoom' tactics against the Dr.I. Once the Allied fliers learned not to dogfight a Dr.I, its days were numbered. The slower speed of the Dr.I meant that the German fliers could not break off engagements or escape if things started to go south. 

 The book is separated into two parts. The first thirty-six pages is a history of the plane along with many pictures of Dr.I's during the war. The second part of the book is 103 pages of computerized views of the entire plane's separate parts in detail. Some of these are in 3D, and the book comes with a small pair of 3D glasses. To illustrate the amount of views, there are ten pages alone on the machine guns and ammo bins from all angles. The computerized views will allow any hobbyist to pretty much build a Dr.I from scratch if they wanted to. As with any of the Kagero books you will find not only interesting history, but also jaw dropping illustrations of whichever war machine that is being depicted.


Publisher: Kagero
Distributor: Casemate Publishers

Combat Mission: Fortress Italy, from veteran developer Battlefront is one of the many titles in their long line of tactical combat game...

Combat Mission: Fortress Italy Combat Mission: Fortress Italy

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

Combat Mission: Fortress Italy, from veteran developer Battlefront is one of the many titles in their long line of tactical combat games, and though it has been out for some time now, it continues to receive the occasional patch and engine upgrade. I've been given the chance to review it, and will use this as an opportunity to give my take on Combat Mission as a whole, and of course the contents of this particular title.  I will touch on the base game, the Gustav Line expansion, and the Game Engine 4 upgrade. However, much of this review could apply to any of the modern Combat Mission games. 

First, I have to start off by saying that Combat Mission is probably the one series I've spent more combined hours playing than any other game or series out there. I started with Barbarossa to Berlin, somewhere around 15 years ago. I still remember strolling through a game store at the mall, back when they carried not just PC games, but niche titles like the boxed Special Edition version of CMBB. I pointed it out to my mom as something I had to have, then a couple of weeks later I unwrapped it on Christmas morning. To be completely honest, at the time I didn't really understand what the Eastern Front of WW2 was all about. I was confused as to why there were seemingly endless different nations to play as, but no Americans. That said, the game was just so much fun that I couldn't stop playing, despite having little knowledge of the context for the hundreds of scenarios and campaigns. I set out to learn more about these battles, and in so doing sparked an endless thirst for learning about history, not just war and battles, but also the politics and social changes that led to such massive conflicts. Needless to say Barbarossa to Berlin is in my top five games of all time. Slap a better camera system on it and a little higher resolution and I would probably buy it all over again.

Following the initial trio of Combat Mission games (Beyond Overlord and Afrika Korps being the other two), Battlefront developed an entirely new engine which added more detail to the simulation down to the level of each individual soldier, weapon, and bullet being modeled. The first game in that series, Shock Force, had an extremely bumpy start, but eventually shaped up to be another of my all time favorite games. Since then they have released several other games and modules focused on different sections of WW2, as well as the hypothetical Black Sea depicting a full scale Russia vs USA war in modern day Ukraine. Fortress Italy came out somewhere in the middle of that pack, but thanks to the game engine upgrades, it has more or less the same features as the newest titles.

So, for those unfamiliar with Combat Mission, what kind of game is it exactly? The series is a highly detailed tactical wargame, which strives to not just crunch the numbers, but to present the combat in a highly visual fashion. The original Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord was leaps and bounds ahead of other wargames of the time, using 3D graphics to bring the battles to life. No more hexes and 2D counters, we could now see the tracers, explosions, smoke, tanks rolling down city streets and infantry charging up hills, all at the same time. The CMx2 engine took all of this to an even greater level of detail, with every individual soldier modeled down to what he can see, how many rounds are in his magazine, and how scared he is. The scale is very realistic, with some maps spanning vast distances and a single large battle taking two or three hours to play out. There is simply a level of detail here which is so much more granular than any other other game I know of. As I'll discuss a bit later though, this level of detail is not without some drawbacks at times. Combat Mission drifts more towards simulation than game, and is best approached with that in mind. 

If you have never seen the game in action, I've included a gameplay video I recorded here. A picture is worth a thousand words, so a video must be worth a million right? (NOTE: This is a rather low resolution video due to some technical difficulties, the game is much sharper "in person" than it appears here).

The game can be played in two distinct ways, either real-time or WEGO. Real time is obvious enough, you hit go and things move. You give orders on the fly and try to pay attention to what is happening across the battlefield. It's possible to pause the game at any time, which is useful for coordinating more complex maneuvers, or dealing with a sudden crisis. WEGO, on the other hand, is a turn-based system. The player gives orders to all of his units, then hits go. The next minute of action is then calculated all at once and plays out like a little movie. You can rewind and watch it multiple times, so you won't miss a single thing. The kicker here is that you have no control at all during that minute. This creates some real tension, since you can't intervene to pull a unit out of an ambush or stop a tank right before it rolls into trouble. Playing in each of these modes really does change how you approach the game. I tend to use real time for smaller battles and WEGO for the monsters. Once a battle hits a certain size, there is just no way to see everything that is going on across different sections of the battlefield.

The orders you can give in Combat Mission are much more nuanced than what is usually seen in a strategy game, especially outside the wargaming space. Movement can be done at a variety of speeds including fast (sprint), quick (jog), normal (walking), and slow (crawling). Units can also "hunt", moving forward at a deliberate pace and stopping as soon as a threat appears. Infantry can be given an "assault" order which causes a single infantry squad to automatically break into sections, one leapfrogging the other.  Every movement speed has its place, which will take new players some time to figure out. Infantry will get tired rapidly when running or crawling. It's possible to bog down an attack by having your guys exhaust themselves by running too far, leaving them unable advance further until they recover.

One part of these games that takes some getting used to are the action spaces. The game world is broken up into hundreds of small squares of terrain. However, the space inside each square is not all treated the same. Where each individual soldier is positioned can make a world of difference. For example, in space along the edge of a shell crater, one soldier might crawl down into the hole, while the other is laying in the open. You can't directly control each individual's exact position, but you can give a facing order which will cause the soldiers to take cover against that direction as best as they can. This system can cause headaches at times though, such as when a heavy machine gun team places the MG in a useless spot with no line-of-sight to the enemy, while one of the crew members is a few feet to the right and has an excellent view.

Every unit will engage the enemy on its own (unless ordered otherwise) in a semi-intelligent manner using the "tactical AI" of the game, so you usually don't need to give specific targeting orders. That said, there are many nuanced options for that as well. You can simply mark a specific target, such as a unit, building, or piece of terrain, and your unit will hammer it, or you can give a "Target Light" order which will conserve explosive ammunition. Various targeting arcs can also be set, including an armor only arc so that your AT gun won't be distracted by some infantry in a field when they should be worried about that Panther lurking in the village. I generally don't give that many direct firing orders, since it can take away from the realism of the game. This is because every single unit independently "spots" the enemy, such that if two squads are sitting next to each other, one might spot some enemies in a building and start firing, while the other does not see them at all and so does nothing. It always feels like I'm gaming the system too much if I, as the invisible omnipotent force hovering over the battlefield, direct soldiers to fire at a building because I know something is there even if they don't. Fortunately, communication between units is also simulated, so two units within shouting distance of each other will gradually share spotting information, tipping each other off about various threats.

There are also other orders available depending on the type of unit selected. Infantry squads can be sub-divided several ways, such as splitting off a two man scouting team, at anti-tank team, or simply dividing up equally for more flexibility. Notably, the standard Italian riflemen can't be split up like this due their difference in doctrine, something you must work around when commanding them. Many crew served weapons, such as mortars and heavy machine guns, must be ordered to deploy before they can function. This is because deploying/packing these weapons takes a significant amount of time. It's also possible to abandon a weapon entirely if a position is about to be overrun. Units can be ordered to hide, throw smoke (if they have it), set up an ambush, pick up ammo, get into vehicles, and more. Tank commanders can be ordered to stick their head out of the hatch for better visibility, or button up when incoming fire is expected. Thanks the Game Engine 4 upgrade, tanks can also now be ordered to move "hull down" to a given point or target. This will cause the tank to seek out a nearby position from which they can see the target, but the target can only see a fraction of the tank. This is a great quality of life feature, since the player had to eyeball it before and hope for the best.

So, I've talked at length about the mechanics, what kind of forces do you get to command in Fortress Italy + Gustav Line, and what sort of battles will you be diving in to?

There are four distinct factions at play here. The Americans, the Germans, the Italians, and the Commonwealth. Within these, there are a multitude of historical formations available to play with, equipped with all the weapons they would have actually fielded, on paper anyway. It can be interesting just to poke around and see exactly how, for example, an American armored infantry battalion was set up and how that influenced their strategy. Controlling these various nationalities and formations in battle will force you to adopt very different strategies. The Germans generally have lots of machine guns mixed directly into rifle squads, while the Italians field large squads of simple riflemen, supported by separate crew served weapons. It would take far too long to list out all the different weapons, tanks, and other vehicles are included in the game, but just trust me when I say that if it was there in real life, it's almost certainly in the game.

When you go to play a scenario, there are a few different options available: campaigns, one-off battles, and quick battles. Each campaign offers a series of linked scenarios where you use one or more formations to fight through several battles. Depending on the campaign, you may be dealing with limited artillery ammunition spread across multiple missions, or a lack of any replacements for your losses. Other times you may have all the forces and firepower in the world, but find yourself up against some very tough nuts to crack.  Unfortunately, there are only three of these in the base game (plus two training campaigns), and four rather short campaigns in Gustav Line. On the plus side, they are very well done and will take you many hours to complete. 

Next, you can play a standalone scenario. There are many more of these available, plus a few more online if you go looking for user made scenarios.  These scenarios range in size from tiny single platoon shoot outs all the way up to battalion sized brawls. While there isn't all that much difference between these battles and the campaign scenarios, the fact that you don't have to worry about using those units again in a future battle means that your strategy could trend towards being overly reckless with the lives of your men. One way scenario designers can mitigate this is by making losses count towards the final scoring of a scenario. Take the objective but lose most of your force in the process, and you could still end up with a defeat. Most of the scenarios can be played from either side, which adds plenty of replayability. These can also be played online against another player, which I'll get to later.

Finally, we have the quick battles, one of my biggest letdowns with the modern Combat Mission games. In the original games like Barbarossa to Berlin, this was where I spent 90% of my time, but in the newer games I rarely bother. This is because of a combination of several things: the strategic AI, the lack of random map generation, and the inability of the AI to select units for itself. 

I'll explain the latter first. In the newer CM games, the forces are organized using a very rigid command structure, and this bleeds over into the counter-intuitive way you select units for a quick battle. Want a couple of platoons of riflemen to make up the core of your force? Sure, just select an entire infantry battalion, then pare it down by deselecting everything except the two platoons you wanted in the first place. Want a section of combat engineers to go with them? Sure, just select an entire battalion of combat engineers...and so on. In the older games, you simply picked what you wanted directly. This is annoying, but not that big of a deal for the human player. However, the AI is not very flexible in this system. It tends to pick large formations at random, with little regard for the terrain or expected mission objectives. It isn't uncommon to see the AI choose an entire company of anti-tank guns or heavy machine guns with no support. Why? Because the formations are organized how they would appear on paper, not how they actually deployed for battle, but the AI isn't programmed to handle this. If you let the AI choose the units for both sides, get ready for five Tiger tanks versus thirty scout cars, and other such nonsensical scenarios. In the older games, you could set the AI to pick a balanced mix of units for both sides, and almost always get a nice force made up of some infantry, a couple tanks, artillery, and various supporting units. It was great because you never knew what you and the enemy were going to get, but you knew it would be fun. It almost never works out like that in the newer games, including Fortress Italy.

The other problem is how the "strategic" AI works in the newer CM games. The map maker must draw up plans for the AI to follow, otherwise it won't act at all. For hand made scenarios, this tends to work out okay, since the designer knows exactly what forces are involved and how he wants the battle to play out. It can take a great deal of testing and balancing to get it just right, but the variables are more fixed so it's possible to make a convincing AI opponent. In quick battles, however, the plans are made but the designer has no way of knowing what units will be involved, or how the battle might flow. So what you get is the AI moving units blindly along paths with no regard for whether they are tanks or infantry or a mortar platoon. They also have no regard for the objectives of the battle. In some cases it's entirely possible to avoid an enemy force, let it stroll on by, then go capture the objectives it has passed. The AI will never turn around and come back, it will simply go to the end of its route and wait there patiently until the end of time. In the older games, not only could you have randomly generated maps, but the AI would come running if you took an objective behind their line. That system wasn't perfect, since it could be manipulated as well, but it still felt much more dynamic, as the AI at least responded to what was happening. 

Okay, I'll get down off my quick battle soap box now.

Finally the absolute best way to play Combat Mission: head to head against another player. There are a few ways to do this. You can play hotseat on one computer, if you are so inclined, or online in both RTS and turn-based modes. That said, my experience has been that most play online involves the old-school PBEM (play be email) method. You play a turn, then send the file to your opponent, then they send it back, etc. Playing this way lets you take your time with the really big battles, since your opponent doesn't have to sit around waiting for your move, and one battle can be played out over weeks. You can also easily have many games going at once. While this is perfectly functional, and really the best way to enjoy the game, it's also very dated in its execution. The game file must be manually sent to your opponent and moved to the proper folder before the game is fired up, there is no in-game functionality for this at all. Fortunately, a couple of third party programs can automate this for you, but you'll have to go hunting in the forums to figure it out for yourself, there isn't any official documentation supporting it. (Hint: Search for CM Helper). You'll also have to find opponents via online forums or groups, since there is no means to do so within the game.

Anyway, once you are playing multiplayer, it can really be one of the best experiences in wargaming. Gone are the various issues of the AI, to be replaced by a far more cunning and devious human opponent. This is where the game really gets a chance to shine, as both sides use smart tactics and careful maneuvers to feel each other out and strike with a coordinated effort. Quick battles suddenly become excellent again, as you won't know what your opponent is picking for his force, but you know it will be a potent combination and possibly difficult for your own choices to handle. Some friendly ground rules can be handy here, such as an agreement on the general allocation of points between infantry, tanks, artillery, and support. Regardless, you won't know exactly what you are facing until the shooting begins, which creates a good deal of tension. You can also play the various handmade scenarios against a human opponent. Many of these scenarios are already designed to be challenging against the AI, so having a real human opponent can make them doubly so.

The sound and graphics in Fortress Italy are quite good compared to the average wargame, but definitely showing age compared to 3D games in general. Improvements have been made, but the visuals are still roughly the same as found in Shock Force, which came out a decade ago. I don't really mind that myself, since what the game is portraying remains very impressive. Hundreds of individually modeled soldiers running around on a realistically scaled battlefield, that is a feat to begin with. My one gripe is that performance continues to be an issue. There is simply a cap to what the engine can do smoothly, regardless of your PC hardware. On the plus side, the vehicle models and textures continue to be outstanding, down to the last rivet. Fortress Italy features some interesting camouflage patterns for many of the  vehicles, which are historically accurate as far as I can tell, and add some nice flavor to things. Sound is an area where Fortress Italy, like the other games in the series, is rather bland. Luckily, there are more than a few mods that one can freely download to give the gunshots and explosions a lot more punch.

The game also includes a powerful scenario editor for those who wish to build their own maps and scenarios. Unfortunately, due to the extreme time commitment involved to make quality maps in the newer CM games, there are only a few users out there with the time and ambition to do so. Since Fortress Italy is not the most popular game in the series, it has seen relatively few new scenarios made this way. 

Okay, so this review has rambled along for long enough. What is the verdict? Fortress Italy is a strong entry in the Combat Mission series. It offers a highly detailed, down in the dirt depiction of one of the most important campaigns in WW2. The terrain you will fight for is difficult; where Normandy had its hedgerows, Italy has impossibly steep hills and ridge lines. The Italians bring a unique flavor to the mix, with their hodgepodge inventory of tanks and outdated infantry. The missions are well designed and challenging, though I wish there were more, since you can never get enough. If you like the base game, you will certainly want the Gustav Line expansion, which takes the fighting from Sicily to the Italian mainland. It adds a lot of content, including the ever popular Fallschirmjager units, and a campaign where you lead the Polish forces that faced them in and around Monte Cassino. Finally, Combat Mission games are greatly improved by having all of the Game Engine upgrades. While not entirely necessary, they add many of the wishlist features that players have been wanting for years. For me, the highlights for Upgrade 4 were the changes to infantry behavior. Your virtual grunts are now smart enough to peek around the corners of buildings, and now understand the importance of proper spacing when on the move. Previously, large groups of infantry on the move had a tendency to "spaghetti" when covering long distances. They would move more or less in several single file strands, which is a very bad idea when charging a potential machine gun nest. 

Overall, I give the game a big thumbs up for fans of the genre. It just does things that perhaps only one or two other series out there even approach doing. Fortress Italy, like the rest of the Combat Mission series, has a few rough edges and is showing some age, but it still has a lot of great, afternoon consuming experiences to share with players that take it on. I think at times the Combat Mission games are almost too detailed for their own good, creating little edge cases where the simulation breaks down and takes away from the fun. However, this may just be the price for doing things so well the rest of the time, and at such an ambitious level of detail. I feel like I could write an entire article on just that thought, but I will save it for another day.

Finally, you don't have to take my word for any of this. Battlefront is one of the few game developers out there who continue to believe in the power of a quality demo being able to sell their game. Their demo for Fortress Italy contains four scenarios, including one from Gustav Line. Try it out, and see for yourself whether the game is for you.

Official Site:

Fortress Italy Page: 

Demo: Link to Demo Page

- Joe Beard

Grant's Gamble By Worthington Publishing  Worthington Publishing has graciously sent me a few of their games ...

Grant's Gamble a game by Worthington Games Grant's Gamble a game by Worthington Games

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


 Worthington Publishing has graciously sent me a few of their games to review. I will start with the game Grant's Gamble. I picked this game because I have read everything I could find on the campaign, and have walked a lot of its battlefields. 

 After opening the box, I am pleasantly surprised. The game also comes with the units and an extra map piece to allow you to play McClellan's 1862 campaign. 

 The game uses small plastic blocks for the units. I have seen reviews about block games, but have never played one. The blocks need to have the stickers that represent the units attached to one of their sides. When seeing pictures of any block games before I couldn't help but think of 'Stratego'. I see now how this is just a simple and elegant way to simulate the 'fog of war'.

 The map is hardbound. It is not ablaze with colors or features, but at the scale we are playing it works just fine. The map is mostly of the state of Virginia with a bit of Maryland at the top. The game uses point to point movement to simulate the campaign. All of the components strike me as utilitarian instead of games where the developer tries to make  it a piece of artwork. There is nothing wrong with the artwork approach, but I have been playing games long enough to know it is the mechanics and rules that make a game and not the visuals. If the game is beautiful but sits on the shelf what good is it?

 After attaching all the stickers to the blocks, one thing becomes very clear. The Army of Northern Virginia and the other Confederate units are awash in a sea of blue units. I have played a good number of games about the 1864 Overland Campaign, but I do not remember the paucity of Confederate units being so visually brought home. It is probably because of the scale, which is for the most part Corps.

 The goal of the game is just as it was in history. For the Union, take Richmond or cut the railways to it. Richmond is worth ten victory points and Petersburg is worth five for both sides. The union player gets two victory points per turn if he can cut the railroad to both cities. For the Confederates, you must delay or as Lee said, 'strike them a blow'. Per Lee, if the campaign is turned into a siege of Richmond it is just a matter of time before the manpower and material of the Union wins.

 The rule book for the series is just eight pages long. The separate game rules for this game are just two pages. Worthington wanted the games in the series to be played, and not have the players debating the rules.

 The sequence of play is:

Weather roll

Check for replacements

Cap roll

First player movement

First player initiates battle

Check for victory for the second player

Second player movement

Second player initiates battle

Check for victory for the first player

End turn

 The weather roll sees if it is clear or rainy for this turn. If it is rainy all movement is reduced by one, unless it is the second rainy turn in a row, then movement is reduced by two.

 Supply in the game is rather abstract. When a unit is activated, it must trace a line to one of two points on the map without going through an enemy infantry or garrison unit for it to be in supply. Units that are out of supply lose one movement point, and may not receive replacement points. I think that cavalry should be able to block supply also. In actual fact raiding did not have a great impact in the eastern theater of war, but it did with the greater area of the western campaigns. When I am comfortable enough with the game system, I will look into supply a bit more.

The game setup for play

 Both the Confederate and union player receive one replacement point per turn.

 CAP (Command Action points)) are both at a three for each side normally. Both Grant and Lee are listed as having a command rating of seven. Using two die, if you roll a seven or above during the CAP roll you will receive one extra CAP point for your side. it takes one CAP to move a unit one point.

 Battles happen if both sides occupy a location. Battles take place on a battle board. Fortifications, mountains, and river crossings affect the odds in battle. There is a 'cavalry screening action' rule to simulate each sides cavalry ability to stop or slow enemy movement.

 There is an automatic victory rule for both sides. For the Union, it is if they occupy Richmond and Petersburg, or if the Confederate infantry strength points fall below fourteen. For the Confederates, it is if the Union infantry points fall below twenty-eight.

 Both leaders have a special ability in the game. Lee's is a reaction movement; any units stacked with the Lee piece can move to one adjacent location. Grant's ability is for the Union player to re-roll any one failed morale check during each round of battle.

 The Union player can also move one unit per turn, for two CAP points, from one friendly port to another. Thus, you can try McClellan's 1862 approach in the 1864 campaign. For the Confederates, there is a rail movement of two units per turn, at a price of two CAP points per unit. There is no rail movement allowed for the Union.

 The first battle has Grant and three corps (II,V,VI) attacking Lee in Chancellorsville with the Confederate III corps and a trench marker.

 The defender rolls six die, the number of rolls for attack are in the upper right hand corner of the unit. In this case a five, and one more die roll for the trench marker. Hits are achieved on a roll of six on each separate die. The three Union corps roll four die each (five normally, but one is subtracted for attacking across a river). The Confederates roll one six for a hit on the Union II corps, while the Union rolls two sixes for two hits on the Confederate III corps.

 After all hits are applied, the units involved must pass a morale check. You pass/fail the morale check by rolling one die per unit. If you roll a higher number than the number in the star in the upper left of the unit, you fail the check. The attacker checks his units first. In this case both sides' units all pass the checks. You can either voluntarily retreat from battle or be forced to. In this case, neither side wants to back down so we begin battle round two. The players then are able to roll two die to see if any reinforcements are available. The reinforcements can come from one movement point away. Two die are rolled and if they equal or are greater than the commander's rating, the unit can reinforce the battle. The Union player has no units near, and unfortunately for the Confederates both fail their reinforcement check rolls. The next battle has the Confederates rolling for two hits and the Union player for none. 

 After this round neither side retreats, and the Confederate II corps passes its reinforcement roll. The next battle round the Confederates make one hit roll and the Union three. On the subsequent morale check the Confederate II corps fails. 

  The Confederate player elects to retreat from battle. The side staying on the battlefield gets to roll one die for each of its units to see if they get a hit on the retreating forces. As it is during the battle rounds, you have to roll a six to get a hit. The retreating side can move one point away from the battle. If it were a forced retreat, the retreating force has to move two movement points.

 This is the situation after the Confederate move on turn one. The Confederate 1st corps has beat a retreat to be near Lee and the other two corps. If Grant attacks the isolated 1st corps, Lee's reaction move can bring the other two corps with him to the rescue. The only problem being is that because of the long movement of the 1st corps, and the retreat from battle of the other two, none of the Confederate corps are now in trenches. 

  To me, the game rules  make it feel like you are in Grant's or Lee's shoes. You want to do so much each turn, but are really hobbled by the amount of troops you can move, and actions you can take each turn. As the Union, you really want to get your corps fighting Lee's right away. On the other hand, you also want your other forces to start to put the squeeze on Richmond. As Lee you have to really pray your opponent makes a mistake that you can capitalize on. This game is a player's game. It is one that will sit on your table for a while with you playing game after game to try different strategies, and that is only the 1864 Campaign. After you are done with that campaign, you still have the 1862 one to try out. 


WARFIGHTER: WWII from DVG Warfighter: The Tactical Special Forces Card Game  was DVG 's first introduction to modern day ...


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Warfighter: The Tactical Special Forces Card Game was DVG's first introduction to modern day tactical combat and the engrossing system created to simulate it.  It doesn't take much guess work looking at the title at the top of the page to know where their second foray into their system is taking us and so, if you are new to this system then I'd strongly recommend that you have a look first at my earlier review of Warfighter [for short].  This will give you a detailed idea of the basic game system and, as this move back to WWII makes few departures from the original, my goal today is three-fold.  These are [1] to comment on the quality and presentation of the basic game,  [2] to sketch in the minor additions and improvements to the basic game product and [3] to look at the expansions package in its entirety. 

For a small company DVG has a very high reputation and deservedly so.  By the time Warfighter appeared, card and counter quality were second to none.  Only the substantial game board came in for some criticism, not through lack of quality, but because [despite its impressive size] it wasn't really large enough to accommodate all the Hostile cards that were likely to end up displayed on the board.  A revamped board in the mighty Footlocker expansion went some way to improving this situation. But honestly to produce a board that would perfectly hold all the necessary Hostile cards would be massive and prohibitively expensive!

The WWII board

In Warfighter WWII, they've supplied a variant on this upgraded board that is clearer, sharper and even more user friendly.  I've certainly had no problems with any of my games about being sure which locations all my Hostiles were located in.  Despite this you'll still read moans from some players claiming that they never use the board or that placing the several decks of cards in their allocated place covers up the design work!  If you think playing on a plain table top creating your own layout is preferable, then that's your choice.
The host of quality counters before being pressed out.
... and just a sample after pressing out

All the counters [four sheets of them] are the magnificent circular or rounded corner variety that press out with ease and not a single dog-ear in sight when you've finished.  The cards, and once again so many of them, are a delight.  The illustrations for all the Soldier, Hostile and Action cards look like genuine black and white/sepia or late war colour quality reproductions.  If any are modern mock-ups, they're a damned fine job.
Just a few of your soldiers 

However, be warned you will find diametrically opposed views to mine, one of the strongest being "unattractive .. atrocious graphic design: there are few icons .. they are a chore to read."  The commentator in question would have preferred graphically created soldiers [such as the image on the box front] and scenes instead of the use of actual historical material.  I like the cards for exactly the reason that they use actual historical material; I wouldn't want some artist's drawing instead.  So, who's right?  I mention this because I don't think there is a game where the same element won't be praised by someone and decried by someone else.  What worries me is that opinion, as in this instance, is so often presented as fact.  Of even more concern is that this comment was given in reply to a request for advice from someone as yet undecided on whether to buy the game.

The comment about lack of icons, however, seems just to want icons without considering whether they are appropriate or an improvement.  The information on many cards is of two types - a table to roll to see whether you or a Hostile has scored a miss/wound and instructions.  Can't do anything about getting rid of the numbers and would icons help to convey a miss/wound better than the words themselves? Any other words on the cards are explanations that simply couldn't be conveyed in any other way.
Do you think this information could be conveyed by icons?
Or what about using icons for these instructions?

The one change to the cards is from one reticule for each individual Hostile on a card to a single reticule with the number of Hostiles inside it.  At first, I missed this detail, but as the KIA and Suppressed markers rarely stayed in place on top of each reticule, so that you often had to check how many reticules there were underneath, I soon began to appreciate just having the number in view all the time.

But for me the single major outstanding upgrade is the rule book - nearly 20 pages longer.  For those looking for lots of new rules, there may be a disappointment.  There are only a few new rules.  Instead, you get a far better layout.  Comparing the front cover of the rule books for Warfighter and Warfighter WWII spells out the change.  The former is taken up for three quarters of the page with a lovely picture and for a quarter with the index, the latter has no lovely picture, just a full page index.
The front of the new rule book may not be as attractive,
but it sure is more useful

This index has ten side headings with 70 subsections.  If you need to find a rule, it couldn't be easier.  Inside, the same improved layout for ease of access and use continues.  Following much the same order of information as in the first game, there is an increase of white space that adds to making reading easier and swifter.  Each major section has each page boldly edged in distinguishing colours and labeled in large block capital letters. 

There is a much more helpful inclusion of subheadings, which results in many smaller rules being properly spelt out at the right point and consequently not being overlooked.  In this respect, Covert and Support Action cards stand out as a typical example.  In the original Warfighter, they were only too easy to overlook and difficult to find when needed - now they get proper prominent explanation.  Despite all these features, there are still comments out there about confusing rules, poor organisation or hard to find rules and taking repeated games to get things working smoothly.  All I can say is that wasn't my experience.   

hen it comes down to what's in the content of the rules, there are no major changes.  Partly, I think this is because the original set for the modern world were so thorough and that when you are dealing with the tactical level, many concepts remain much the same and only the nature and quality of the weapons may change.  Perhaps, some may feel that the stats of some WWII weapons as compared to modern day weapons don't differ sufficiently.  Personally, as a gamer of the old John Hill variety, where effect is more important than hard statistical data, Warfighter WWII provides just as many tense nerve-shredding moments as is needed to keep me happy.

With the wide, wide range of Action cards and the sheer multiplicity of interactions between them and the soldiers you have on the Mission... and their different weapons ... and their equipment... and their varying skills and abilities, there is more than enough to handle and totally engross me in the unfolding narrative.

Only three new elements stand out.  The first is an extension of the area of hand to hand combat, with Melee, Unarmed and Thrown included.  The second is the introduction of Event cards that are drawn and occur when a Hostile card is drawn that contains the Event keyword.  Again, I loved this way of bringing random events into the game.  The basic game provides only American Soldiers against German Hostiles and even here I deliberately avoided looking at any of the Event cards so that each turn of the card was a fresh experience.   Each Event is different and I look forward to discovering new ones as I explore the different Nationality expansions in the future.  Sadly, a quick glance shows that the expansions provide very few additional Event cards. 

The last new introduction is Service Record cards; besides adding  a note of historical colour, I think their effect can best be described as adding a further riff on top of the use of Skill cards.  Interesting without being anything exceptional.

As always in the rulebook, at the end there is an excellent 6 page play through of a complete sample Mission that helps illustrate the rules so effectively and root them firmly in your head.  Finally, everything is rounded off with a 4 page player aid on stout glossy card alphabetically listing all the Keywords. 

I hope by now I've convinced you of the quality and value of the basic game and just to entice you further, in a few weeks' time, I shall be writing up "A Country Stroll", a detailed AAR of a typical Mission, which uses purely the components that come in the basic game.

So ...from the essential game to the expansions ... twelve in all.  Briefly:-
Expansion 1    US  #1
Expansion 2    UK #1
Expansion 3    German #1
Expansion 4    Gear
Expansion 5    Ammo Box
Expansion 6    US #2
Expansion 7    UK #2
Expansion 8    German #2
Expansion 9    Russian #1
Expansion 10  Russian #2
Expansion 11  Polish #1
Expansion 12  Polish #2

These have come in for a fair amount of criticism mainly on the grounds that they provide too much mixture in each, so that you are forced to buy both expansions of a single nationality.  The implication is usually that this is a way to force us to part with more money.  Having looked closely at what is offered and what each expansion contains, I'd like to offer a different analysis and explanation.  

As the basic game features purely US Soldiers v German Hostiles, the initial Expansions covering these two nations differ from all the additional nations covered in this first Wave of expansions.  With obvious logic, Expansion 1 US#1, predominantly contains US Hostiles divided between Frontline and Elite units [37 cards in total],while Expansion 3 German #1 holds mainly German Soldiers and German Weapons.  So far, so logical and I would consider totally what I'd expect and want these Expansions to contain.  Consequently, US #2 and German #2 are mainly what I'd call completist decks - i.e. you don't really need them, but you'll get them just to have everything! 

The other nations' expansions follow, at their core, a pattern that reflects the fact that nothing in the basic game contains their  nation.  So, first and foremost in each Expansion #1 comes a mix of Soldiers and Hostiles and then a spread of weapons, equipment and skills.  Again, I think, a logical decision.  However, variations reflect certain basic factors. 

[As a Brit, I inevitably turned to the British expansion pack first, but I can assure you that, if you never invest beyond the basic game, just playing as the American soldiers against German Hostiles will give you hours and hours of unfailing pleasure and excitement!]

, the United Kingdom Expansion #1 provides more Soldiers [17] and Hostiles [15 Frontline and 17 Elite] than other new nations, while adding in a few Action cards,  a few nationality specific weapons and a few Skill cards and Expansion #2 continues a similar pattern.   The logic for this is that there is no need to greatly add Location or Mission cards, as they largely mirror US cards.

However, the Russian Expansion #1 reduces the number of Soldier &  Hostile cards in order to accommodate the need for more Location and Weapon specific cards [and a few Objectives] to reflect the significantly changed terrain and weather.  Not, I would have thought,  unreasonable. 
Typically, rubble and heavy rubble make an appearance, as do such locations as a warehouse, snow tunnels and the tank factory in the cards featured below.  Apart from introducing these archetypal Russian locations, some of this Expansion cards are the first to introduce harsh Environments - in this case Cold!!  So, at last the use of Hardy Counters for your Soldiers to help counter these harsh environments become an important additional element in your planning.  When the 2nd Wave of Expansions appear, we'll be off to North Africa and Hot Locations too!

The final country to feature is Poland, with both expansions focusing heavily on Soldiers and Hostiles, though I was very pleased to see a number of very specific Service Record cards identifying this nation.  Some  of them you can see below.

As far as I can see, the only possible alternative approach to handling the Expansions would have been to make each Nation's Expansion #1 primarily a Soldier deck and Expansion #2 a Hostile deck.  This would have meant that to be able to play each new Nation as both Soldiers and Hostiles, both Expansions were essential.  With the choice that the company made, you can experience each Nation as both Soldier & Hostile by buying just a single Expansion.  For my money, that's a good decision and certainly not one designed to exploit.

The remaining two Expansions are Exp 4 entitled Gear which is misleading as 24 of the cards introduce more UK and German Hostiles.  In this case I really would have expected the focus to be purely on Equipment and Weapons.  This is probably the most easily omitted Expansion, if need be.  If you aren't the sort that absolutely must own every single Expansion, then buying each nation's #1 Expansion is a good compromise.  

Last, and by no means least if size matters, is the Ammo Box.  In some ways a disappointment considering its cost.  Cardwise, it's primarily a substantial number more US/UK/German/Russian Soldiers and Hostiles, plus German Service Record cards.  Nice, but are they the most worthwhile addition? 

However, for me, it is the box that carries the day.  Slightly larger than the Warfighter Footlocker, but once more a vast amount of space is there, if you have gone for the whole shebang and want to store it very neatly and thematically.  Cards, counters [whether stored in small zip-lock bags or a tray], the  large, mounted game board, rule book, play aid, dice  - oh and don't let me forget the little bag of metal [clips of bullets, a few very flat hand grenades and wound tokens, and XP stars] and still there's plenty of room for the next Wave of Expansions!
Don't be deceived by my poor camera angle and the way I've leant the Expansion boxes, there really is lots more space and large, thick, glossy dividers to separate out all your hundreds of different types of cards.

Not the best items!!
Metal v Card

Well, there you have it - another incredible product.  But once more just the basic game is the key to it all and Warfighter Tactical Combat, whether modern or WWII is for me the best of all my primarily solitaire games.  [...and dare I whisper, somewhere down the line is Warfighter Fantasy ...]

The U Boat War in the Atlantic Vol’s 1 to 3 from Pan & Sword Publishing is an interesting set of books to review. On one hand it fee...

The U-Boat War in the Atlantic Vols 1 to 3 The U-Boat War in the Atlantic Vols 1 to 3

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

The U Boat War in the Atlantic Vol’s 1 to 3 from Pan & Sword Publishing is an interesting set of books to review. On one hand it feels like the most authoritative source I’ve ever read about U-boat operations in the Atlantic. On the other, I’m not sure I learnt anything from it. I’m not boasting about my knowledge of the Battle of the Atlantic rather the manner in which the information is presented. For some reason, it just didn’t sink in [ba  dum!]. I think these books would make excellent reference material and are not necessarily the easiest to read from cover to cover.
U-Boat rendevous
That’s not to say that there isn’t a wealth of knowledge about personnel, equipment, training and tactics. If I had a specific interest in a particular boat or convoy then I would refer to this work first. However, it’s just written in such an undiluted-stream-of-information that I found it difficult to comprehend fully. The author, Gunther Hessler, a former Kriegsmarine staff officer who personally commanded a U-boat from 1940-1941, has taken the source material and applied the most sparse level of commentary to make reading it a dry affair [ba-dum tisch!].
Vol 1 covers the years 1939-1941. This is the period in which the Allies are struggling to deal with the U-Boat threat, initially in the littoral waters of the North Sea but increasingly further out into the Atlantic. This growing threat to Allied shipping occurs because of increasing numbers of Type VIIs being produced and the nascent wolfpack tactics that were being developed throughout this book. 
Vol 2 covers the years 1942-1943. Obviously, the major event during this period is America entering the war. What was quite surprising is just how many U-Boat operations and the tactical variety of those operations just off the American coast. U-Boats engaged in mine laying, coastal agent-insertion, standard anti-merchant shipping attacks and for the first time anti-convoy wolfpacks. In an effort to mitigate the early-war U-boat threat the Allies introduce convoys during this period. After they make an appearance the rest of the book reads like a convoy-by-convoy account of the war, interspersed with U-boat strategic decisions from U-Boat command.
Vol 3 covers the years 1944-1945. Although the air-threat to the U-Boats is an ever-present menace, starting in the previous volume, it is only in this book that the losses to the -U-Boat fleet are really presented. After reading this book which presents the industrial squeeze Germany experienced and the increasingly successful Convoy patrols it is no wonder that nearly 80% of all U-Boat crews were lost. As the cover of this volume suggests this period really is the twilight of the U-Boats.

I would absolutely recommend these books if you wanted to find out why a particular operation was conducted or what the official Kriegsmarine record states for a particular U-Boat. If you're in that boat [uggh] then these are the books for you. If you’re fluent in German and have access to the German historical naval records then that may serve your purpose just as well as these books do. I doubt that’s an option for many of us and it is that niche that is best served by these books. As the perspective of all these books is from the German side the Allies are continually referred to as 'the enemy' which lent an air of authenticity of the source to all of the books. 

Before reading these three books I thought I was in that U-Boat niche: I’ve harboured a desire for a long time to, and will one day, construct a U-Boat Mk VII scale model; my very first solo wargame was Steel Wolves; I’ve visited St Nazaire U-Boat pens whilst holidaying in France (my family weren’t aware of our proximity); I’ve visited the U-Boat Story at Birkenhead; I am professionally familiar with the efforts of the RAF’s Coastal Command and WWII and modern Submarine tactics. However, even with those credentials proving I do have an interest in U-Boats, I’ve realised that I’m still not in that niche these books are targeting. There must be people out there with specific areas of research, either generic Battle of the Atlantic events or specific U-Boat operations that are in that niche and would do well to pick these up. As I said they are great reference books, not great reading books.

Unfortunately, I found numerous spelling or grammatical mistakes and it almost felt like I was reading a poorly edited self-published e-book. However, the aim of these series’ of books is to tell the war ‘from sources as close to the source as possible’ and in that it is very accomplished. Considering the source material and the targeted market I’m sure that those errors can be forgiven and I will cede the benefit of the doubt as this is my first experience with these series. I have no idea if the author decided to keep the errors from original source material or whether they are his or his editor's own.

Each book is available from Pen & Sword Publishing at the price of £12.99 and is also available in e-book format for £5.20.