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Combat Infantry by Columbia Games  Tactical games, much more than operational or strategic ones, have been left ...

Combat Infantry by Columbia Games Combat Infantry by Columbia Games

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



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 Tactical games, much more than operational or strategic ones, have been left in a quandary. The problem is how to represent movement, fire, and elapsed time in a coherent and logical manner, without the rules approaching the size of 'War and Peace'. Some of the most heated discussions online and off are about tactical games, and how each game does or doesn't fulfill the above in the gamer's eye. 




 Combat Infantry portrays the Normandy landings, and the fighting in the Bocage right after them. It is strictly a U.S. infantry and their supports against the Germans. More add-ons are planned to include other armies and terrain. 




 Columbia Games states "The game delivers a high level of tactical realism, yet is very playable". If you were going to sum up this game in one sentence, I do not think you could do better.


 The rule book is only twelve pages long. The game is a block game and uses that format to simulate the 'fog of war'. One innovative rule is that once a tank moves or fires, its block is shown face up for both sides to see. The designer states that infantry could locate and distinguish between tanks by their engine sounds. Listening to the different cars around my neighborhood in the morning, I believe he is correct. 




 The game focuses heavily on the command part of small unit tactics. You have both PHQs (platoon headquarters), and CHQs (company headquarters) to order your units with. The command/leadership rules really require the player to maintain unit integrity. As in real life, mixing up units from different commands is not a successful tactic. The game does not use cards. In another innovative way, the game also has no combat results table. I know, heresy, simply heresy. As I said, the rules are not long and are well written. It will not take long at all to start playing.




 It was meant to be a two player game, but the solitaire gamer has not been forgotten. You can play it just playing both sides, and there is an optional rule for a chit pull system for the enemy activation.




 The game's two maps are 16.5" X 22", and they represent the beaches and some territory further in. They are hard cardboard maps. The scale of the hexes is 100 meters per hex. The blocks are standard and there are 66 for each side (green and black). There are also 22 yellow markers to show smoke etc. The only problem with the rules and maps are in relation to the Bocage hedgerows. The rules are written as if the hedgerows were actually represented on the hex sides, where they are actually portrayed in the hex itself. It is really not that big of a deal, and once you understand the gist of the rules it becomes a non-issue. The line of sight rules are also easy to understand. The game comes with all of the rules and markers needed for tactical gaming ie. counters for foxholes, mines and barbed wire etc. Their are also rules for airstrikes. The game rules can be downloaded here:


 Here is a link to the games FAQ:


http://columbiagames.com/resources/3471/3471-FAQ.pdf

 This is the sequence of play:


1.0 The active player on the first turn is specified by the scenario. In each successive turn it is determined by a high roll on one ten die.

1.1  The active player activates any one HQ per company. When commanding multiple companies, the player will have multiple HQ activations, each resolved one by one.

1.2  Units in command (or have passed a no-command roll) can do one of the following actions: Rally, Fire, Special Action, Move. HQ actions take place after all other commands.

1.3 Assaults, units that have moved into an enemy occupied hex now trigger up to three rounds of combat per assault. 

 After all activations are resolved, the enemy player now conducts his player turn. Player turns alternate until both players complete four player turns. This then ends one game turn.

 This is just a synopsis.




 Deciding victory in the game is standard and straight forward. In each scenario certain hexes are victory hexes, and each eliminated enemy unit adds to your score.




 The rule book contains a 'what's not in this game' section, with an explanation of why. Some of these are:

"Opportunity Fire:
Opportunity fire, always a difficult game routine, was not that common in reality. World War II infantry and vehicles simply did not move through open terrain without clinging to every tiny bit of cover available, nor without fire support to keep the enemy heads down. The standard 'fire and move' tactics, where one or two platoons gave fire support, allowing the third platoon to move, was specifically intended to eliminate enemy opportunity fire".

"Status Markers:
Status Markers should not be missed. Cluttering maps and units with markers such as 'used', suppressed', or 'final fire' is not necessary. Units are upright, face-up,  or face-down depending on their action"




 Units have their blocks revealed by tilting them face-up when firing. One hit is scored for each die roll that equals or is less than the firing unit's (modified) firepower. So there is no need to cross reference a table. The unit either hits or misses. If it is a hit, the target unit's strength has one step deducted, and the block is flipped to its appropriate side. 




 You can use a headquarters unit to rally any unit under it, as long as it is in command range. If the rally attempt succeeds, the unit gains one step back to its strength. The unit is then flipped down on its face, and can do nothing else that turn.




 So, the question becomes does the game system work, and the answer is a resounding yes. One thing to keep in mind is that movement points are expended crossing hexsides, and not entering the hex. There are some innovations and changes from the usual in tactical games. So gamers should approach the game with an open mind, and not automatically look askance at it. Columbia Games has succeeded in making a highly realistic, but fun and fast wargame to play. As mentioned, different armies and theaters are to be added, and I am looking forward to them.


Robert 







Wars of Succession by Ageod Distributed by Slitherine   It looks like we are back in the 1980's again. There is en...

Wars of Succession by Ageod Wars of Succession by Ageod

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








 It looks like we are back in the 1980's again. There is enough 'big hair' in this game to fill the places of a few hundred rock bands. It was an age of mighty giants, and some rather important short people (Peter the Great was 6' 8", and Louis XIV was 5'4"; it is amazing what heels and a tall wig will do). This game has it all for military history nuts: Marlborough, known as 'Corporal John', and the 'last Viking', Charles XII. Charles XII being one of the few to push back against the coiffures of the day. Battles from this time resound through the centuries. Poltava and Malplaquet, to name two among the many others. Well, enough of the history. What about the game?




 Ageod wargames have the ability to make gamers swear by them, or some to swear at them. I for one have never understood the latter. Ageod puts out obscure games that many others wouldn't touch. I like the engine and have never really had an issue with their games. Many people say that the AGE engine does its best work with wars earlier than the 20th century. I do not know if I would agree with that statement, but I have read many write ups praising this game, and I am in complete agreement with them. We can finally play not only the 'Great Northern War', but also the 'War of The Spanish Succession' on the computer, and as a bonus all in one game. 




   The game comes with five different scenarios. They are:

1. Grand campaign 1700 Great Northern war

2. Italy Scenario 1701-1702

3. Grand Campaign war of The Spanish Succession 1701

4. Spanish Succession 1706 Campaign

5. Spanish Succession 1709 Campaign


 The Italy scenario acts in some ways as the tutorial scenario, but only because of it's small size. So there really isn't a tutorial to play. Although to be honest the AGE engine has been around for a good long time, and there are plenty of YT videos and writes up about how to play Ageod's games. 

 Warfare, in this age and later, was much different than the late 20th century. Many more soldiers died of disease than in action with the enemy. Straggling and just plain running away from armies was rampant, even though if caught the punishments inflicted were draconian. If there is one thing that this game can teach you about 18th century warfare it is that your army, even if you are successful, can melt like an April snow storm. As the old adage goes, 'professional soldiers study logistics, amateurs study tactics'. It doesn't make a bit of difference if you have the greatest plan in your head for an offensive if you arrive at your destination with 1/2 of your army wasted from the ravages of dysentery. An old joke between American Civil War soldiers was 'how are you?' the answer was invariably 'passing well'. The weather in this game also plays a crucial part, as it should. In the 1709 campaign in Russia, birds died in the air mid-flight from freezing. You could also ice skate from Germany to Sweden across the Baltic. The world suffered from the 'Little Ice Age' from the 16th to 19th centuries.

  The game's scenarios do not play or seem like they were cut out by a cookie cutter, meaning that it actually feels like you are commanding an army and nation in this age. This is not a nation builder simulation, so do not confuse it with Ageod's 'Pride of Nations'. This is meat and potatoes for a wargamer and the AGE engine; even if it is long in the tooth, it still gives the wargamer a great experience. 

 The map is beautiful, and fits right in with the previous Ageod maps. The game turns are thirty days, and the form of the game is WEGO. This is where both sides command their forces to move etc. for the next turn, and then both sides move simultaneously. This means that each side does not have a clue of what the other is planning. You may attempt to attack your opponent, and then find he has moved in another direction. This means that this game has a very high 'fog of war'.

 The icons or pictures of the various commanders are very well done. I have to knock the game for one thing. The 'Wild Geese' (Irish Fleeing English Rule), and the Swiss are not in their red uniforms.

 The AI is good enough to keep you on your toes, and if you find the game much easier than some of us, the AGE engine has a ton of preferences to be changed to make it more of a challenge.





 The above shows the situation as it was in early 1709. The French had constructed a system of defense called 'Ne Plus Ultra' (literally 'no further'). The French nation was also on its last legs. They had been fighting wars for almost all of the last forty years. Crop failures and losses had meant that this was actually the last army they had to put in the field versus Marlborough. Marlborough determined to take the city of Mons. This set the stage for the greatest battle of the War of The Spanish Succession Malplaquet. Marlborough won the field, but at such a cost that Villars was able to report to Louis XIV "If it please God to give your Majesty's enemies another such victory they are ruined".

 The story of the campaign of Poltava in Russia where Charles XII finally faced defeat is just as thrilling. 

 

 The above screen shows the results after a battle.


 I am an unrepentant Ageod fan boy. I have every game that is in the long line of antecedents of this one. I still enjoy playing them, and this new beauty is one of the best as far as myself and many others are concerned. 

Robert

Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts   This is a book that has been...

Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts

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





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 This is a book that has been sorely needed. We hear about Hannibal's trek to Italy, and across the Alps. This is followed by his first battles culminating in the Battle of Cannae which is usually all we find. The next years from 213-203B.C. are mostly completely glossed over until his return to Africa and loss at Zama. Reading some of the accounts of the Roman generals during this time leaves us in a quandary. Invariably they have Hannibal losing battle after battle with the accumulated losses in the hundreds of thousands. Yet we know this cannot be true. So many losses are patently false, and the cities that went over to him would have switched sides to save their own hides. In actual fact his generalship, while superb in the first years in Italy, put him in the elite of ancient generals. It is the decade of 213-203 B.C. that cements his claim to fame to be the greatest of them. Carthage was no longer a naval power, so the help he received from home was minimal at best. It was his own brain and skills that kept a motley mercenary army together, and dangerous to the very end. In actual fact he was not forced from Italy, but left to deal with Scipio's threat to Carthage.

 Mr. Roberts cuts through all of the cobwebs and untruths to give us what really happened during all those years. He shows us that the Romans did have their triumphs and successes, but that Hannibal remained a tiger pent up in a smaller and smaller cage. On the Roman side the author shows us the exploits of Gaius Claudius Nero (what an unfortunate name) whose generalship has mostly been forgotten. 

 The book casts a piercing light into a time that is shaded in much shadow. I have read some of the author's earlier works and they, along with this book, makes me hope for many more. 


Robert


Book: Hannibal's Road The Second Punic War In Italy 213-203B.C.
Author: Mike Roberts
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishers

878 VIKINGS: INVASIONS OF ENGLAND from Academy Games If you've read my thoughts on games of 2017 and the year to come, you...

878 VIKINGS; THE INVASIONS OF ENGLAND 878 VIKINGS; THE INVASIONS OF ENGLAND

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

878 VIKINGS:

INVASIONS OF ENGLAND

from

Academy Games



If you've read my thoughts on games of 2017 and the year to come, you'll have had a brief glimpse of what will be my opening statement.  This game has been on my radar from the moment it was announced.  Having lived for the last 43 years in a town called Ormskirk in northern England whose name is allegedly derived from a Viking settler called Orm is but one reason for this fascination.

But I suspect the real reason is the age old allure from childhood onwards of stories both historical and mythic of the one word that struck fear and trembling into hearts - Vikings.  I am quite sure Academy Games would have been assured of success just by putting out that one word both as the title and as the only information needed about the game.  Still it helped that the name Academy Games was also part of the package!

Not only did that guarantee a quality production, but the little subscription on the box: Birth of Europe signalled that this was undoubtedly linked to an already well-established series, Birth of America.  If you are familiar with that series you'll have a good idea of what to expect.  So, without more ado, let's head for the back of the box [well you've seen the front already] and its contents.


If you are familiar with the Birth of America series, you may be surprised to see that the small cubes that represent the different forces units in these games are now little plastic figures.  They are very small indeed, but perfectly formed.  How you will view them is very much a matter of taste.  Personally, I much prefer them to the wooden cubes.  Others have expressed their liking for cubes. Chacun a son gout!


On the right are the red Viking Berserkers, to the rear the black Viking Norsemen, centre are blue English Housecarls, fronted by green English Thegns and finally on the left yellow Fyrd.  I do not intend to get in to any arguments about the use of the anachronistic  word English or the Housecarls rather than Huscarls or even why we've got one group purely of Berserkers.  No doubt there will be some of you out there doing just that, but for me this is a broad-brush game rather than an historical simulation.  As the advert for the Birth of America series proclaims - "Simple & Fun" and 878 Vikings continues that happy pronouncement with great success.

Though wooden cubes do the job well, I rather like this move to something that gives a little more visual appeal and all the other components add plenty of that.  The map of England continues the trend for pastel rather than strong primary colours.
As can be seen, the areas [called shires in the rules] stand out very clearly divided by their white borders, a small, but welcome detail and the set up for the two English factions at the beginning of the game are clearly marked too.  The pale blue circle at top right is used for placing units that flee from battle.

A set of customized dice and deck of cards for each faction and cardboard Leader standees constitute most of the remaining play components, along with a wooden Round marker, a series of cardboard discs and a large black bag and 4 large plastic cubes, one for each faction.
Nice large, customised dice
 Leader standees, with a rather red-nosed Alfred to the fore


Leader sheet, plus Viking markers for controlled cities

As with the high standard of so many games in current times, the many cards that are central to game play are of good quality and add a strong vibrant colour to the game.  [Some buyers have been unfortunate regarding inconsistency in the colours and poor alignment, but my own copy showed none of these problems. Also, Academy Games have a fine customer record on dealing with any problem.]

Each faction has their own set of cards.  The white cards seen below form the deck of Leader cards lettered from A to C and drawn in alphabetical order and the yellow cards are the Fyrd cards that are randomly drawn from in every battle where the English are defending a city.


Here you can see them in the perfectly constructed tray that not only holds all the components when packed away, but is designed to hold each faction's deck at an easily accessible angle for drawing.  Even the dice are neatly accommodated too, though you will want those permanently out on the table in easy reach, as there is plenty of dice-rolling to come. 


All this is backed by a very well laid out and detailed Rule Book, which opens with a first class depiction of the opening set-up.


Clearly labeled and numbered it takes you carefully through many key points that will augment your understanding of the rules.  Though there is an index to the whole set of rules, it is virtually superfluous to needs as the rules are very straightforward and accompanied at each key point by excellent examples, such as the full page one that accompanies the rules for the Battle Phase.


Only the presentation of the distinction between Leaders moving and battling first, followed by Armies without leaders moving and then battling has caused some confusion.



Following the rules section there is a substantial 2 page explanation of many of the different types of cards in the game, two short scenarios [Northumbrian Raids and the advanced scenario:Alfred's Gambit] and everything is rounded off with 5 pages of an Historical Overview.  This latter opens with an extract from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.


Perhaps if I'd had a copy of 878 Vikings back in my dim and distant university days, translating chunks of the above Chronicle might have been less dry and dusty!  Accompanying this historical outline are brief, pen-portraits of the significant Viking leaders [plus one female character, thought not included as a leader in the core game] and, of course, Alfred The Great, who makes his appearance on Turn 5. 


From physical components, I'll turn to how game plays, starting with an image of the set up of my most recent game, which was every bit as breathless and exciting as all that I've played so far.


The game can be played by 2- 4 players [and, like many other such games, solitaire, if you can be suitably mentally compartmentalised].  With two players one takes the Housecarls and Thegns and the other the Berserkers and the Norsemen, with 3 players one player takes both factions of one side and with four players each player takes one of the four factions.  The game play is admirably suited to whichever number of players you have, as communication between allied players is total team work, with both players on one team being able to look at their fellow player's cards and discuss and suggest actions and card play.  



There are seven Rounds maximum.  The game has the potential to end immediately if the Viking side has captured 14 cities or there is an even more likely ending.  At the end of any Round [from Round 5 onwards] that both factions of one side have played their movement card called the Treaty of Wedmore, then the game finishes and the Vikings are the victors if they have captured at least 9 cities - if not, the English are the victors.

In each Round the order in which each faction will take their turn is randomly decided by the draw of one faction cube at a time from a large black bag!  The only exception to this at the beginning of Round one when the black cube of the Norsemen faction must  automatically be first.


Each faction's turn begins with the placement of reinforcements.  This a very asymmetrical process with very different rules for each of the two sides.  For the Viking side, the first of their team's faction cube that comes out of the black bag will draw a new Leader card that determines on which coast his forces will land and the number of units that will accompany him.  A very important concept is that, provided an Army contains units of both factions of one side, then either player on that side can move such an Army when it is their turn. i.e. if an Army has Berserker and Norsemen units in it, then the Berserker player can move and battle with them on his/her turn and the Norsemen player can similarly move and battle with them when it is his/her turn.  Obviously the same is true for the Thegns and the Housecarls.
The consequences of this rule can be seen in this photo taken on Round one.  The first cube has to be black so the Norsemen begin the game and the very first Leader card is always the same as their is only one Leader card with the letter A.  As it happened, in the game I took shots of for this review, the next faction cube to be drawn was the red Berserkers.  So, with the Viking team getting two turns in a row, they made substantial inroads right across the north.

This is one of the hugely enjoyable aspects of game play.  As you wait to see which faction is drawn from the bag next, tension and anticipation constantly runs high for this and so many other reasons in the game.  Viking reinforcements are always significantly more than the English ones, as they are determined by the number of reinforcements on the Leader card.  For example, that very first Viking Leader brings 17 Norsemen and 8 Berserkers with him. 
[Notice how the Vikings have continued  their sweeping success - for the moment.]

When English reinforcements arrive, one is placed in each Reinforcement city for each icon of that faction's units.  As a result these reinforcement cities are prime Viking targets from the very beginning of the game to help diminish their sources.  They are also along with ordinary cities the goals for victory.  Reinforcements also include units that have fled from earlier battles. 

This is one of the very best inspirations of the game both for reinforcements and for battle resolution.  The specialised dice for rolling in battle include symbols of a fleeing soldier. For each one rolled a unit is removed to the blue circle I mentioned earlier.  Often the English player gets most of his/her supplementary reinforcements from this source, as the various English faction dice contain more fleeing symbols than on the Viking dice.  Far be it from me to comment on this bias, historical or not!

After the Reinforcement Phase, you play one of your cards that shows how many Armies you may move and how far each army may move.  Very simply a card that shows 3/2 means that a maximum of three Armies may each be moved up to 2 areas.  An Army constitutes any member of units in one area either with a Leader or without. 
Typical Movement cards

What follows is the one point that has caused some confusion, mainly because the Rule book divides play into the Leader Phase, the Movement Phase and the Battle Phase. If you choose an Army with a Leader, it must move first and resolve any battles that occur immediately. The Leader may pick up and drop off units as he is moved. If a battle is won by the Leader's Army and he has movement points left he can continue to move and partake in further battles, but with one point of movement lost if the battle isn't won on the first round of dice rolling.   [For the first four turns, the Vikings have free reign as they are the only ones with Leaders, until Alfred arrives with a comparatively feeble Army of 7 units - still every little helps.]

Then any Armies without a Leader can be selected. So, continuing the example above where the card showed a maximum of three Armies, you would now be able to move 2 Armies that didn't have a Leader.  But these leaderless Armies may not pick up or drop off units and must all be moved before any battles, caused by them entering an enemy occupied area, are resolved.
[A later stage of the game shows central England largely occupied by the native English with part of southern England having fallen under Viking sway.  It also dramatically shows how fortunes can change.]

These small nuances of play are very successful and innovative, as is the Battle sequence.  Each faction rolls its own special dice: this combined with specific limits on how many dice can be rolled are for me more of the quality concepts of the game.  Berserkers may roll a maximum of two, as can Housecarls, while Thegns roll a maximum of three dice.  An additional feature is that whenever the English are attacked in an area containing a city, they draw a Fyrd card which will add from two to five yellow temporary Fyrd units to the battle.  These are marvellous canon fodder for helping protect your other units, though they do have a tendency to flee! Also at the end of a battle, even if the English win, any surviving Fyrd units are removed from the board.
Here are the two extremes of what you might get to supplement your defending English battle line: a solid five units, nicely illustrated with an older, clearly better armed individual or a paltry two units with a picture of a feeble, lanky individual who's clearly incubating a dark-age dose of  something nasty!

Adding to the uncertainty of battle and other elements of the game are the Event cards.  In total each faction has a deck of 19 cards of which you will only ever play with 12.  You always include cards numbered 1-7 that are movement cards.  In the base game, you then add Event cards 8 -12.   When you feel comfortable with game play [or if you're a daring type, right from the start], you choose 5 Event cards from the whole set of cards 8 - 19 to craft your hand.

Again, I rate this highly.  But there are pros and cons depending on your temperament and especially on your attitude to randomness.  I've chosen that last word very carefully, because a few who have reacted less favourably to 878 Vikings have done so on the cry that there's too much luck involved.   I would agree that there is a fair number of random elements;  starting with the play order being determined by blind draw, battle dice [if you can't live with dice, then as they say, "if you can't stand the heat, better get out of the kitchen"] and Event cards.  Frankly, only the random player order seems any different from the majority of board wargames, whether light like 878 Vikings or heavy like the Napoleonic La Battaille series.

I like the uncertainty of choosing five from the full range of Event cards, as I'm very happy to play a game in which my actions react both to the known determinants, but try to plan to cope with the unknown as well.  However, if you do prefer more control, either just play with the initial first five Event cards [or show you opponent the five you have chosen before shuffling them into your final deck of 12 cards].  That way you do not know exactly when these Events will occur, but know what you will eventually have to face and, as the Rounds progress, you know that the likelihood of the appearance of those not yet played is growing stronger and stronger.


This is obviously not the intention of the game, but I offer it as a suggestion for those who want less uncertainty.  Whatever your preference, the cards are very well designed and strikingly visual, illustrated in dominant colours that I hope will  please those who thought the map a little too pale in palette.  They contain clear instructions, backed by an additional two pages of explanation of many of them in the rule book.  They also have attractive side banners that are colour-coded to each faction so that you know exactly in which player's turn they can be played and text tells you in which Phase they can be played.  




Above are two such Event Cards: both belonging to the Norsemen player.  The Black side-banner showing the Norsemen player can play it in his own turn, while the blue/green side-banner indicates the Norsemen player can play it during either the Thegns' turn or the Berserkers' turn. Below the title of the Event you can see which Phase it is played in.


The resulting combination of all that I have described of gameplay provides a swift flowing game of action and reaction.  There is very little downtime, even with four players. In battles, all players who have units involved will be rolling dice and possibly playing an Event card, while discussion of tactics, which Armies to move and where, how many units to drop off or pick up, what targets to prioritise, will flow freely throughout the game.

All in all, a fun game with plenty of action and one whose subtleties of strategy reveal themselves the more you play.  This first in the series entitled Birth of Europe contains many of the features found in its parent series Birth of America, but for me 878 Vikings is the best in the line to date.  I would love to see this system brought to the Wars of the Roses or the 100 Years War.  So, Academy Games I hope you might be listening!




2017 Was Great, Will 2018 Be Even Better? Just a glimpse of one of my choices Got to say that was true of my life in general, espec...

2017 Was Great, Will 2018 Be Even Better? 2017 Was Great, Will 2018 Be Even Better?

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


2017 Was Great, Will 2018 Be Even Better?
Just a glimpse of one of my choices

Got to say that was true of my life in general, especially with the arrival of our second granddaughter who is  my son and his wife's first baby!

But it's games, not family that you want to hear about.  Choosing my top three games of 2017 was no easy task and my final line-up does tend to reflect my origins as a Board wargamer rather than a Eurogamer.  Still my first mention kinda straddles the borderline.  

878 Vikings: the Invasion of England

from Academy Games

You'll be getting an in-depth look at this game very shortly, but just briefly this a superb marriage of theme and execution.  What's not to like, especially for someone who lives in a town supposedly named after a Viking called Orm in a region where many places end in the suffix "by" that indicated Viking origins.  Hey come on running around wearing helmets with horns on, swigging mead and ....oops the rest is censored. This is the latest in Academy Games line or should I, in this case, call it a branch-line of their Birth of America series.  It uses all the main features of that system taking an historical situation but with distinctly Euro style production, especially with its wooden cubes for units.  878 Vikings goes one better with little plastic figures.  Great game, bags of style and no walk over for the said Viking Invasion. Back to the longboats, lads!

By next choice is pure board wargame.

Ligny 1815: Falling Eagles

from Hexasim

Here I'm cheating a little, as this game is barely out, but it's predecessor Austerlitz 1805 Rising Eagles was a year too early to be counted.  I've chosen this more because of the system.  It is a traditional hex map, Napoleonic simulation with all the type of rules you'd expect.  What makes it tops in my judgement is that it works in every way.  The rules are moderate complexity, but playable, but playable.  2 maps for a full campaign that doesn't mean giving up half your life to play and good mini-scenarios played out on smaller maps but enlarged hexes.  Oh and fantastic map graphics, brilliant Euro quality counters and ace rule and scenario books.  

My third choice and top of the list is ...

Colonial Twilight

from GMT

The latest COIN game from the GMT stable designed this time by Brian Train.  A well known designer in his own right, Brian has produced the first purely two-player  COIN series game to simulate the French-Algerian War of the 1960s.  Everything that this series has come to stand for is here.  Brilliant production values, a tense, but tense situation, polished rules and two player, total head-to-head play.

So that was the year that was.  What are the prospects for the current one?

At the risk of sounding stuck in a groove, for me it's got to be COIN again all the way.  So here goes with what has just arrived in my local supplier, Second Chance Games, this week.

Pendragon

from GMT

Technically this is down as 2017, but for us Brits it is just landing on our shores in 2018.

Back to 1-4 players and BOTs, which I never use.  Even solitaire I'd rather play all four factions than fiddle my way through a flow chart.  Ten times faster and ten times more enjoyable for me.  For me this is a classic MUST HAVE.  It's COIN - tho' not counterinsurgency really [but neither was Falling Skies].  Like all COIN it's fantastic to look at.  It's Britain circa 4th/5th century - Ok it doesn't have Arthur or a Roundtable, despite it's title but I've been steeped in the story of the Romans pulling out and the murky mists of our early Brit Hist right from childhood and Rosemary Sutcliffe's Sword at Sunset.  

My second choice is a game that I've just reviewed

Hannibal & Hamilcar

from Phalanx

An established product given the most fantastic make-over of the game of the 2nd Punic War - superlative CDG, Hannibal, elephants, Scipio Africanus.  Plus at last the long promised 1st Punic War as not just an add-on to the brilliant Hannibal, but a cracking game in its own right.

And going to the opposite time extreme for arrival - scheduled for December 2018.  So, who knows, it may be on my list for 2019!

Time of Legends: Joan of Arc

from Mythic Games

Gorgeous, amazing, eye-watering minis, models, large terrain tiles. Myth, monsters, legendary heroes plus historical forces too.  RPG elements, skirmish and up.  Huge, but huge.  Price too heading in that direction, but this had to go in my collection.  Sigh, but a long time to wait.   Cue a quick burst of "All I Want For Christmas.."







Skagerrak: The Battle of Jutland Through German Eyes by Gary Staff   This book is a complete history of the Battle ...

Skagerrak The Battle of Jutland Through German Eyes by Gary Staff Skagerrak The Battle of Jutland Through German Eyes by Gary Staff

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



by






  This book is a complete history of the Battle of Jutland through the eyes of the German High Seas Fleet. VizeAdmiral Richard Scheer, its commander, especially has a different view of the battle than we are used to reading. If the findings in this book are correct, then we will have to look at many of the incidents during the battle with a different perspective. A case in point would be the 'Death Ride of the German Battlecruisers'. According to this book, it was nothing of the kind, and it is a tall tale that merely evolved over the years. The author shows that this tale was printed in the book 'Kiel and Jutland' a few years after the war (the title when it was released in English was 'Two White People'). The author of this book KorvettenKapitan von Hase actually said that the order was followed by the order 'to ram (the enemy ships) and to fight to the death'. This books author shows that the English fleet was five miles away, and the German battlecruisers had actually turned south before this purported order, and continued on this course for five minutes. According to the sources quoted, the battlecruisers' turn south had made the German battleships bunch up when they did their first 'battle turn' manuever. Therefore, Scheer, because of the battlecruisers turn south, ordered them to attack the British and not continue with what he perceived as a retreat.

 The book quotes ViceAdmiral Scheer on this point, and the actual first 'battle turn' (the 'battle turn' used by the Germans is usually described as a turn by all of the battleships as one so that the first ship becomes the last etc, essentially a retreat). The incident is usually shown in the light of a last ditch effort of the Germans to escape annihilation. According to Scheer, the 'battle turn' was a much practiced German tactic to bring an opposing fleet closer, and then attack them with destroyers and torpedo boats. This was exactly the tactic that Admiral Jellicoe of the British Grand Fleet was afraid of. Jellicoe had, since the beginning of the war, said he would not follow a German retreat for fear of a torpedo attack and mines. So when the 'battle turn' took place, the British fleet did not close with the enemy. You can almost hear the emotion in Scheer's voice when you read about his thoughts on this matter. I can guarantee that in Jellicoe's shoes he would have closed with the enemy fleet. In his writings his natural pugnacity comes through. 

 The book goes through the battle with a minute by minute description of the events of the battle. It is also heavily populated with maps (an absolute necessity for naval battles). The author also contends that the Warspite, which did a lazy circle through some of the battle, did so because of damage received from the German fleet. 

 This is an excellent addition to one's library, to see a different side and take on the events of the battle. 


Avernum 3: Ruined World is the latest release from the prolific mind of Jeff Vogel over at Spiderweb Software. The game is actually a r...

Avernum 3: Ruined World Avernum 3: Ruined World

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




Avernum 3: Ruined World is the latest release from the prolific mind of Jeff Vogel over at Spiderweb Software. The game is actually a remaster of a remake of Exile 3 which came out way back in the 90's. Although the game isn't entirely new, it has been greatly improved and expanded on since those previous releases. Mr. Vogel has spent literally decades pumping out these kinds of RPG's and mastering his craft, and it shows in this newest release.

If you aren't familiar with the series you might be wondering, if this is Avernum 3, what happened in the first two games? Well, there isn't nearly enough time to explain it all here in detail, but we can hit the highlights and bring the story up to where Avernum 3 begins. The series is set in a fantasy world where an all powerful Empire controls the known world with an iron fist and sends those it doesn't like into exile in an underground world, Avernum. This world is made up of massive caverns that stretch on for miles and are helpfully lit up by glowing flora. As more and more people are teleported down into this subterranean continent, they eventually begin to build up a civilization of their own, with towns and forts spread across the land. Forts, because Avernum is of course filled with dangerous beasts and other races which aren't too excited about sharing their home. 


In the first game you play as a group of exiles freshly sent down into Avernum where you must learn about the land and find your place in it. Over the course of the game your party proves its usefulness and eventually takes part in finding a way back to the surface and attacking the Empire. Spoiler alert for a 20 year old game: the story climaxes with the assassination of the emperor on the surface. Skip ahead five years and the story of Avernum 2 begins, the empire strikes back (heh) at the Avernites, and your party must find a way to survive and defeat them. This involves making new allies and solving other conflicts so that your side can win the war. Avernum 3 picks up ten years after the end of that war, and the Avernites, after a long period of peace, are preparing to return to the surface in great numbers. Before that though, someone needs to explore the surface and see what's what. That's where you come in.


Avernum 3 opens with your party of adventurers being selected to head up to the surface following loss of contact with the first group of explorers. Your orders are simple but broad: go to the surface, learn everything you can, and then report back what you find. Stepping out into the sunlight is a very cool moment, where you can imagine the joy of your characters as they see the world they were banished from for the first time in many years, or perhaps ever. You'll have to imagine it, since as you might have noticed from the screenshots, Avernum is not a series to be played for its stunning visuals. More on that later though. As your group heads out into the world, you quickly find that there was a reason that the Empire has gone quiet for so long. Various plagues of monsters have overrun the world and have the people there on the verge of collapse. Hence the title, Avernum 3: Ruined World. Instead of fighting the people and soldiers of the Empire, you'll soon find yourself helping them out. This isn't purely out of altruism, the people of Avernum want to colonize this place, and that can't happen if it is a wasteland of monsters and destruction.


So that covers the broad strokes of the setting and the opening situation of the game. I don't want to go any further, since the story quickly throws some curve balls at you that add plenty of intrigue to your mission. Just a teaser though: you'll find yourself heading back down into Avernum to inquire about some rather unexpected oddities you discover on the surface. I also must admit that I have not finished the game, since it has a ton of content and there was no way to come anywhere near completing it in time for this review. However, I have played a few of the other titles from Spiderweb Software, and they are very consistent in their quality, so I have no doubt that the game only gets better as it goes along. 

Let's visit the topic of graphics and sound. This is no Witcher 3 or Pillars of Eternity, the graphics here are very simple, and the sound effects and music are minimal at best. There is very little animation and not much in the way of flashy spell effects. I completely understand if some people find that to be a deal breaker, there are tons of gorgeous RPG's out there to spend your time on if you want some juicy visuals to go with your questing and monster slaying. All of that said, the game does a lot with what it has. The environments have been created with a high level of care, and are filled to the brim with little details. The world feels very lived in, despite having only bare bones graphics. To help fill in the gaps for your imagination, text boxes frequently pop up to set the scene as you enter different areas and encounter NPCs. These descriptions, along with the large volumes of dialogue you will read, are all very well written and form the heart of the RPG side of the game. Without the high quality text bringing the mostly static visuals to life, the game would be a lot less enjoyable.


As you explore the game world, you will meet many interesting characters who have a lot to say about who they are and what they do. These little bits of flavor breath life into the story, as they help you understand the culture and day to day life of this fascinating landscape. Some of these people will have quests for you to accomplish, like in any good RPG. One thing I love about this game is that it uses the old school system of forcing the player to actually pay attention to the dialogue in order to understand where they need to go and what they need to do. There is no quest compass to mindlessly follow to a destination, you will need to be able to read a map and follow directions in order to find your way around. 

The quests are usually more interesting than simply going somewhere, killing something, and coming back (though there is a fair share of that). Often there will be some kind of twist that makes things not as simple as they first seem. This goes double for the main story quests. As you go about adventuring, the world itself will change around you. Things can improve where you help out, and get worse elsewhere as time passes and crises remain unresolved. As mentioned, I have not come close to finishing the game, as there is a ton of world to explore and quests to complete. If you explore every nook and cranny of each dungeon (which you will want to do to find the numerous secret rooms containing treasures and story bits), it will take many dozens of hours to do everything.

The other half of the gameplay I haven't discussed yet is the tactical combat, which you will experience a whole lot of. It uses an old school system of characters taking turns using action points to move and act. You begin the game by building a party of four characters with basic abilities, and then growing them however you see fit over the course of many combats and quests. Although you can pick from a dozen starting classes, in reality all characters have access to the same options for advancement, letting you tweak things however you wish. I began with a classic group including a warrior, a rogue, a priest, and a mage. 


There are about 60 different skills and spells to learn, as well as a large collection of passive stat upgrades which will help you define your style as your characters get stronger. The combat starts off pretty simple, but as things move along you will have to deal with a variety of enemies that use different tactics and force you to think and adjust your strategy. I found that although the combat isn't nearly as intricate as something like Divinity: Original Sin, it is still a lot of fun and makes for hours of satisfying gameplay. As soon as you start to feel cocky, you'll round the corner and find yourself facing some new horror that can wreck your day if you aren't careful. There are also plenty of boss fights and unique situations to break up the standard monster slaying.

Customizing your characters includes dressing them up with all sorts of gear including weapons, armor and accessories that you can find or purchase. You can also use trainers to advance particular skills even higher, for a hefty fee. Crafting includes creating high powered weapons and a wide variety of stat boosting potions. There's a little bit of everything here you would expect from an RPG, and between all of it you can mold each character to suit your personal style. A glass cannon mage, a dual-wielding rogue, a paladin, a buff casting priest, pretty much any classic archetype can be created with the options available to you.


If you can look past the graphics and sound, there is a very solid RPG adventure here to enjoy, which will suck up many hours of your time. There is a fascinating world to truly explore along with your characters, as they wander into a place they know little about. 
When you first step out into the surface, you really have no idea what you will find, and don't even know what direction you should head in. What you do find will push you to keep going and see what happens next.

Avernum 3: Ruined World is available on Steam, Humble Store, GoG.c or or directly from Spiderweb Software.


There is also a demo available if you want to dip your toe before diving in!


- Joe Beard


















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