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Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing   Hitler, the worlds worst poker player from 1941 on, was just as fool...

Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing Baptism by Fire by Multi-Man Publishing

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


 Hitler, the worlds worst poker player from 1941 on, was just as foolish in his foray in North Africa as elsewhere. The Germans had had to intervene once more for the Italians' sake in a theater of war. The Afrika Korps under Rommel gave as good as it got into late 1942. The German North African campaign is a study in what not to do logistically. Because of early foolish decisions on their part, the supply to their North African troops was spotty at best. The Afrika Korps is then beaten at the Second Battle of El Alamein in early November 1942. Then the Afrika Korps begins reeling backwards towards Tunisia. Next, the Allies invade North Africa with the Torch landings. Hitler decides to double down on a bad hand and proceeds to put in as many troops as he can spare into Tunisia instead of cutting his losses. This is the back drop for the first battle between the American Army, with some Allies, against the German Army. This battle was, in reality, a relatively inconsequential one in the scheme of World War II battles. The Germans had no real master plan for the battle (the game shows this nicely with its mechanics). All they could possibly do is forestall their inevitable defeat for a little while. So that is it for the history. 

First Counter Sheet

 Here is the components that come with the game:

  • BCS rulebook (version 1.1, in full color)
  • Two BCS Charts and Tables
  • BCS Crib Notes Booklet
  • BBF Game Specific Rulebook
  • Two 22” x34” Full Color Game Maps
  • 560 Counters (one sheet of units and one BCS marker sheet)
  • 6 scenarios total, 3 one-map scenarios
  • Box and Dice 

One part of the Map

 These are the scenarios that are included:

  • Kasserine Campaign, 2 maps, 10 Turns
  • Operation Spring Wind, 1 map, 4 Turns
  • Mid-Campaign Start, 2 maps, 5 Turns
  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place, 1 map, 5 Turns
  • End Campaign Start, 2 maps, 3 Turns
  • High Water Mark, 1 map, 3 Turns 

Another part of the Map

 The game itself is the second one in the 'Battalion Combat Series'; the first one was 'Last Blitzkrieg' about the Battle of the Bulge. If one were able to travel in time to say 1978, one would really only be surprised about how the components and rules of the game were miles apart from any other game you looked at. This game does not come with all the bells and whistles that some new games come with, but so what? This is a hex and counter game that any wargamer from 1978 would immediately recognize and probably want to play. Age is a thing that varies in many different things. A forty year old Ali or Tyson, not good. An eighty year old Rolls Royce is a work of art. So just because the game follows an older pattern does not really mean anything. If the original pattern for a dress still looks good today, why change it? An aside: I have no problems with bells and whistles and actually like them, however a game does not have to have them to be good. The old analogy of putting lipstick on a pig works well here.

Marker Counter Sheet

 The first thing you will notice about the components is that while the game does come with two full counter sheets, the amount of units is very small. You will not need to be juggling stacks or using tweezers in this game. The game's complexity is higher on the scale than most of the games I have been reviewing lately. To explain, this is not a knock on the game. Sometimes a deep war game is exactly what the doctor ordered. The fact that the longest scenario is ten turns, coupled with the fact that there are so few counters, helps the learning curve immensely. The game states that it is a medium complexity one, with solo gaming also getting a medium.

Back of the box

 The sequence of play is:

1. Pre-Turn Phase
   1. Reinforcements and Weather
2. Assignment
    1. Both players can change units to (or from) support and/or assign (or reassign) Arty Asset Points. There is no Assignment phase on the first turn of any scenario.
3. First Player Determination
    1. If not assigned by the scenario, both players roll two die. The highest wins.
    2. Activation Phase: Players alternate Activating Formations
    3. Flip and/or orient  HQs to their Unused sides.
4. Game Turn End

   As with most series games, there is a rulebook for the actual series and another smaller one for the game itself. The series rulebook is forty pages long. It is in black and white, with some red inserts for certain game features. The rulebook also has a good number of colored examples of play. The rulebook for the game itself is sixteen pages long. The actual rules for Baptism by Fire game are only four pages long. The rest of the booklet are the scenario setups and it also has four pages of designer notes and historical background. There are also two 'Series Rules Crib Notes'; these are for version 1.1 , and are very handy for the players. The charts and tables for the game are on a two-sided sheet. The maps are very well done and pleasing to the eye. They are somewhat colorful given the terrain they have to show. The counters are 1/2" in size and I have to admit they are a bit busy with the printing on them. Older eyes might have to glance at them more than once to make sure exactly which one you are looking at. They use the standard NATO symbols so that is a help. The ground scale in the game series goes from 500m to 2km per hex. The maps are huge in comparison to the amount of actual unit counters. There are two full sheets of counters, but roughly one third are actually unit counters. The Designer notes explain that because of the actual conditions during the battle, many stories show how bad the mud conditions were. The road network is much more important than most people are used to in North Africa games. One of the game's main points is to show the infighting on the Axis side about what exactly this offensive was supposed to do, or what its goal was. Rommel, Kesselring, and the Italian High Command all had their spoons in the soup. The campaign game starts on 2/14/43. The real suspense starts on the 2/19/43 turn. It is then that the Axis player pulls a chit to see which objective he is really going for; is it Tebessa or Le Kef? So up until that turn the Axis player must try and make some headway to both just in case. The Allied player is equally left in the dark for the entire game, but can usually guess by the 2/19/43 turn which one the Axis player has pulled. The other scenarios all start with the Axis player knowing what objective he is headed toward. One of the other designer features that went into the game is that the American forces did not in reality perform as badly as they have been portrayed. There were some problems at the higher echelons, but the actual individual units showed themselves pretty tough for their first time seeing the elephant. The game's other rules follow the typical wargame ones with some of its own takes on the subject. Zones of Control, Terrain effects (on movement and combat), Command radius for HQs, Stack Activation and Movement, are all here. One rule that is different than most is the ability for a player to try for a Second Activation of a Formation in one game turn. The way this is handled is immediately after the first Activation, the owning player rolls a die and checks it against the HQ's Rolled Activation Number. Attack and defense during combat is decided by the addition or subtraction of Combat Modifiers. Then two die are rolled to determine the actual consequences of combat. This is called the Combat Table instead of the CRT.

 The game is, for lack of a better word, tense. It is mostly due to the above design decisions. The game rules are based on the real world strategy of keeping your units together as a cohesive force. A player who willy nilly throws separate units about the board will pay for it. To help the new player even more, there is even a glossary of the terms used throughout the Series Rulebook on page four under '1.6 Terms'. There is also an excellent 'Designers Notes' section in Series Rulebook. This goes into the gestation of the game series and all of the thought processes that went into the rules. You will see that the Battalion Combat Series was an offshoot of the Operational Combat Series. It is a very interesting read and follows the designers' rough road to actually bring this series to what it is now. I know the first game in the series 'Last Blitzkrieg' received many kudos, but it is a monster game. Baptism by Fire will allow many players who were put off by the latter's sheer scale to enjoy the series with a much smaller time stamp. For someone who has only a small interest in the North Africa campaign, I seem to be reviewing a lot of games about it. Even with my lack of interest(I am not interested in the Battle of the Bulge either), I know a good game when I play one. The way that the game keeps both sides guessing in the longer scenarios is excellent. The Axis player has to try and push forward to both objectives. He cannot afford to gamble on one or the other. The position is reversed for the Allied player. He must defend both objectives as well as he can. MMP have come up with a real winner. Having short scenarios which only use one map makes the game playable for even people with limited space, or who can only keep a game up for so long.

 I received permission from 'Hugewally' on BGG to post these excellent inserts for the  counter bags for this game. I have never seen their like, and am kicking myself for not thinking of something like it much sooner. Speaking of BGG, the game was a nominee for the Golden Geek Best Wargame of the year in 2017.

 The game has been given a high rating by players on BGG, and here is the link to the game on BGG:




Aggressors Ancient Rome by Slitherine  In the Eastern Mediterranean, the age of the Diadochi (Alexander's S...

Aggressors Ancient Rome by Slitherine Aggressors Ancient Rome by Slitherine

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

Aggressors Ancient Rome



 In the Eastern Mediterranean, the age of the Diadochi (Alexander's Successors) has passed. It is now the age of the Epigoni (the offspring of the Diadochi). The year is 280 B.C. and Pyrrhus of Epirus is about to invade Italy and start a war with Rome, and anyone else near him. Let us not forget that Rome was in peril. Hannibal supposedly listed Pyrrhus as the second greatest general right after Alexander. The stage is set for you to become the next great conqueror of the Ancient World. Most of the states you can play are still young and vigorous. Of course, it is up to you to make sure they keep their vigor, and do not go long in the tooth or worse.

Choosing your country in the historical scenario

 Aggressors Ancient Rome is another 4X(EXplore, EXpand, EXploit, EXterminate) type game. So, the first question is why did anyone bother to make another one? We have been inundated with 4X games from AAA ones to small indie games. To be honest, the genre rarely grabs my attention. Most are just poor facsimiles of the newest Civ game at the time. Pick your numeral from I-VI. History is usually only given lip service with the addition of a historical leaders name. I am very pleased to tell you that this game is mostly none of the above. It does have some mechanics from some of its well done predecessors, but doesn't fall into the pitfalls of the worst ones.

First screen when starting the historical scenario

 So let us look at the game itself. Instead of rewriting the game's information, I will use the description from Slitherine:

 "A mix of deep gameplay and rich historical flavor, Aggressors lets you relive history as the ruler of one of the mighty civilizations of the Mediterranean world. Will you bring glory to Rome and conquer the Mare Nostrum? Will you build an immortal trading empire with Carthage? Will you bring the light of Athens to the world? Or maybe you will restore the rule of the Pharaoh? Choose one of twenty available factions and conquer the world.

 You can manage all aspects of your empire: war, trade, internal politics, diplomacy, cultural development. Play on your strengths, beware of your weaknesses. The ancient world is brutal, for no mercy shall be given to the defeated. Vae victis!

 Rich historical flavor

A lot of time and many sleepless nights were put into historical research in an attempt to give a real historical feeling to the game. The game’s systems are tailored towards a faithful representation of history.

A world which feels alive

Twenty factions, from migrating barbarian tribes to advanced empires which interact with each other through an extremely detailed diplomatic system. Make use of more than ten available diplomatic agreements, including the possibility of forming Federations and Confederations as well as affecting nations and provinces in your Sphere of Influence.

Real strategic decisions

Experience the incredibly deep combat system, with each unit having its abilities and traits, and terrain truly affecting the war outcome in a meaningful way. Army morale and the supply system are crucial and need to be taken into account. You will need all your guile and strategic mastery to triumph on the battlefield.

Detailed political & economical representation

Rule your empire by managing its internal politics and developing its economy. Establish trade routes to reap wealth, ensure the loyalty of your citizens, manage demography, technological research, internal reforms, laws… the tools at your disposal are endless and seamlessly integrated with each other. Citizens react to the current situation and they can move to other places when they are not happy.

Customize your own world

You have complete freedom: you can decide to start with an advanced nation surrounded by newer civilizations, or you can decide to start as a young tribe, ready to take on an older and decadent empire… or you can decide to completely randomize the map and play in a randomly generated world. The choice is yours!

Easy to learn

Aggressors is very easy to learn thanks to the extremely clear tutorial and tool tips. Dive in the game gradually and explore all the options available to you."

Antigonid Start

 When using the historical start, each nation is presented with the situation it was dealing with at the time. There has been no cookie cutter used to make the different civilizations. Playing each one does feel different than playing another one. For those of you who want a random game, the game can be set up to play that way with random maps etc. The developers, Kubat Software, stress that the game is meant to be incredibly mod friendly. When playing a random map, the civilizations do not start with a city; this type of game will make a regular 4X player feel more at home. You will have to work from the bottom up in your civilization. 

Starting as Rome

 My kudos to Kubat Software for their very well done tutorials. There is both a basic and advanced tutorial for three civilizations: Rome, Carthage, and Ptolemaic Egypt. Most tutorials in games seem to be slapped together at the end, if they are present at all. The ones in Aggressors take the player by the hand through the game.

Starting Rome map

 So does the game hit the sweet spot or leave a nasty taste in your mouth? Aggressors is definitely a game I am glad was produced. The game is much deeper and more complex than others in the genre. Playing it feels like you are leading Rome or the Antigonids to the preeminent position in the Mediterranean. You do not get the feeling that you are playing civilization B of A,B,C,D,E. The attention to detail, and even more important to historical detail, is evident while playing. I will add that being a historical gamer, the random start leaves me completely flat. I am not interested in that type of game at all. However, there is certainly enough in the historical setup to keep me happy for quite a while.

Resources Map

 There is one item that struck me the minute I started the game, so I do want to mention it. The Antigonids start in what is actually Macedonia. This is about right for the time or close to it. However, the Macedon player actually starts in Thrace. Absolutely loving the age as I do, my head went a-tilt. The devs at Kubat have explained  how they had to deal with the actual Antigonids. At the time of the start of the game, they also had to deal with the fact that Ptolemy Keraunos was king in Macedon (soon to be killed by the Galations). I will accept their slight adjustment of history for gaming sake.

Objective Map

 There is one other thing I wanted to point out. This is one of the best posts I have ever seen a developer make; it is in the Slitherine Aggressors forum: "(DEVELOPER CALL) Do you want to help us with new scenarios?" This is the way to support your game.

Build Facility Map


Red China Mao Crushes Chiang's Kuomintang 1949 by Gerry Van Tonder   This book is about a little kno...

Red China: Mao Crushes Chiang's Kuomintang 1949 by Gerry Van Tonder Red China: Mao Crushes Chiang's Kuomintang 1949 by Gerry Van Tonder

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


 This book is about a little known historical epoch in China's history. The book starts with the story of Sun Yat-Sen. He is the person most responsible for the fall of the Chinese Empire. Now, Empire would be a strange word for the disjointed country that China was at the time. The Western Powers had used a fillet knife on China during the last 100 years. The road toward China being a puzzle missing many pieces had started in the early 19th century. Shortly after that China was torn apart for two decades by the Taiping Rebellion. This killed tens of millions of Chinese. At the start of the twentieth century, China was further embarrassed by the results of the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxer Rebellion had unified a lot of Chinese for the express cause of ridding the country of foreigners and their influence. Unfortunately, its collapse and the warfare involved brought only more concessions to the west. 

 The book continues with the history of Puyi, the last emperor of China. He was forced to abdicate as a child, but was brought back as a puppet emperor by the Japanese for Manchukuo (this was the Chinese area of Manchuria with some surrounding areas). The Japanese aggression in the 1930s and 1940s is also delved into. The Communists were originally a part of the 'United Front' with the Kuomintang. The National Revolutionary Army put Chiang Kai-shek into power in 1925. He was now the leader of the Kuomintang. This was supposed to be the government of China, but instead only held sway over the Southeastern part of China. The rest was ruled by warlords who ran the other parts of China as their personal domains. Chiang Kai-shek did his best to wrest some of the country back from the warlords in the next few years. Chiang also purged the Kuomintang of all Communists and after some tense fighting the Communists were almost completely wiped out. This led to the 'Long March', where the Communists tried to put as much territory between themselves and the Kuomintang. Soon after the Japanese put pretenses aside, and their predations on China became an actual war. The Communists and the Kuomintang entered into somewhat of a truce until the invading Japanese were defeated. 

 The main part of the book starts right after the Japanese defeat in 1945. The Communists and Kuomintang were poised for their final battle over the control of China.

 The book itself is a small one at 127 pages. It does however pack a large punch into a small frame. The history of the war between the two from 1945 to 1949 is gone through. The book also goes into the reluctance of the United States to back Chiang and the Kuomintang. This is somewhat surprising given the United States policy in Asia after this (The Korean and Vietnam Wars to stop the spread of Communism). For a short book it also goes through the Soviet Union's involvement with both the Kuomintang and Communists, along with other not well known history. For anyone who is looking to know the broad sweep of this moment in history, or is looking to start delving deeper into it, this book is a must. It is the perfect jumping off place for more reading.

Author: Gerry Van Tonder
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishers 


The box in all its American 2-2-0 glory. The Last Spike is a simple economic game that plays in about 45 minutes. That time is accura...

The Last Spike The Last Spike

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

The box in all its American 2-2-0 glory.
The Last Spike is a simple economic game that plays in about 45 minutes. That time is accurate for your first game and if every one at the table is familiar with the rules the game still plays in about 45 minutes... The rules are one of the simplest I have come across, almost as light as a party game which is a little strange coming from Columbia Games. This game serves as a very basic introduction to railway games, economic games or block games, take your pick, but you're not getting a comprehensive induction to either of those genres by playing this. However, don't think I didn't like it either, I did and it's in my 'games to take to game group bag' from now on; read on for my thoughts.

I have had this game for months waiting for a review but every time I'd pull it down, or take it to a game group, it wouldn't get played because the box is not as attractive as games from a triple-A publisher like Asmodee, or FFG.  The game, or at least my attempt to play it with both of my gaming groups, almost became a bit of a joke so I pounced on some unsuspecting house guests, neither of whom are/were gamers for my first play.  Even my wife (Queen of the non-gamers, at least that's what it feels like to me!) played it and spoiler alert... everyone enjoyed it. 
The quiet early game
My wife even went so far to say that although she thought she would hate it, primarily because of the drab brown box it came in, she would definitely play it again; that's a massive two thumbs up from me.  My gaming group were reluctantly subjected to this game the week after, on my insistence, and we played with a full complement of 6 players, which the rule book advises is not the ideal number of players (3-5 being optimum) and no real slow down in play was noticed. 

Your turn consists of playing one of the four track tiles in your hand, buying a city card and refilling your hand of track tiles back up to four.  There are a few exceptions to this for example if a track connecting two cities is completed by your track, the city will pay out to every player who has bought the connected cities cards, i.e. invested in that city.  The end of the game immediately happens when a continuous route from Saint Louis to Sacramento can be traced. This action will also bequeath a $20,000 bonus to the player who place the eponymous 'last spike'. 
City Investment Cards
Each track piece can only be placed in a specific spot, indicated by the coordinate on the tile and the matching coordinate on the board, e.g. B3 or Z1 etc.  This allows you to play a little tactically by holding back pieces that you know your opponents are waiting for, although this does severely limit your own hand from 4 pieces to 3, and you have to balance your satisfaction from denying your opponents a big pay day, with limiting your own opportunities. I think the longest I've held onto some track, hoping to cause an opponents bankruptcy (it never happened) was about 6 turns. 

Talking of money, you start with $35,000 denoted by white red and blue wooden discs ($1, $5 and $10 respectively).  Although I described this as an economic game it doesn't ever feel like you're going to run out after that first pay day. I have seen a player down to $4,000 as they had heavily invested in one city (not recommended by the rules) and it hadn't payed out in the early game.  I would have like to see a slightly tighter economic game, especially at higher player counts - it never felt like money was an issue and by the end of the game every one is as rich as Croesus. 
The train-robbing end game
The winner is simply the person with the most money, bearing in mind the $20,000 bonus for laying the last spike, at the end of the game. The end-game is where this game is best. During the early stages of the game it doesn't really feel like you're doing much as the board is relatively empty and your track lays don't feel like they have much consequence; other than looking to see which Cities are most likely to pay out earliest. However, the end-game feels very different; by then everyone has a firm grasp on all the rules (achieved by the second round) and is attempting to work out how to be the last player and getting the $20K bonus.  This is largely down to the tile draw but delaying tactics can buy you some time and sometimes the game.

Unfortunately that end-game tension does not have an early game comparison. The beginning of the game feels more like a full on cooperative game with no 'take that' present, yet in the last 10 minutes the game morphs into a hybrid between all working towards the same goal and doing their upmost to crown themselves winner, or denying others that chance. 

"Hunky Chunky ... Game Blocks"
Some would see the very simplistic game play as a negative but this game (in terms of game play alone) went over very well with my family, my pseudo-non-gaming-but-will-humour-him-if-necessary friends and my game group. The one resonant criticism that those groups all had was the components. They criticised the board, the box and even the counters which I don't think is particularly fair, but it does highlight that I think this game would be most enjoyed by a non-gamer who will probably not be enticed by the aesthetic of this game. The tired-but-have-got-time-for-one-more-game type of gamer (I fit nicely into that category on game night), can easily overlook those criticisms and in fact would champion small publishers releasing interesting games that maybe don't have the production quality of the big hitters.

The blocks are the familiar nice and chunky size of those in a block wargame and I have no issues with the stickers or cards.  However, I'm not a fan of the money, although it does its job, unmarked denominations feels a but under-produced. The board and box are fine, nothing more, although maybe not what you would expect these days. However, as a small publisher, I would rather Columbia Games continue to publish games with solid game play like this, than waste their money trying to match CMON's latest Kickstarter.
The box slip cover
I was pleasantly surprised by this game, the game play is very easy to pickup, and is the perfect game to play either at a game group whist waiting for another table to finish up, or to introduce the very basics of train, economic or even block games to someone. There is variable game play, as you progress through the game it gets progressively meaner and there certainly are some interesting tactical decisions to be made later on. The components are a bit of a mixed bag, I really like the blocks, I didn't like the money discs, and everything else was perfectly fine.

I would like to thank Columbia Games for sending this review copy of the game and also send my apologies for taking so long to convince my friends to play it... Somehow I don't think it'll take so long to get it back to the table now that they've tried it.

You can still pick up a copy of this at many online retailers or direct from Columbia Games if you want to support a small independent board game publisher directly for $39.99 which I think is a very fair price for the amount of wood in the box. They also publish the rules on their website here. 

NEMO'S WAR [2nd edition] from VICTORY POINT GAMES From one game based on a book from my childhood, namely War of...


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


[2nd edition]



From one game based on a book from my childhood, namely War of The Worlds, I've here returned to another based on what is probably the most famous novel written by another favourite author from my younger days, Jules Verne.  If the title, Nemo's War, had misleadingly sent you off in the direction of a Disney cartoon, we are in fact heading, not for a fish, but for 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Captain Nemo of the fantastic vessel, Nautilus. Just as with War of the Worlds, we're in solitaire mode with options for some cooperative play

A mere glimpse of the box and its artwork tell you that we're right at the top of Victory Point Games' output.  I've been a longtime fan of VPG's products, following them from their zip-lock bag days through the small slip-case packaged boxes to the upgraded boxed versions of their Napoleon 20 series.  But Nemo's War is right there at the very pinnacle of their recent output as seen in games like Dawn of the Zeds.  By this I mean a solid, deep box with insert, mounted board, superb quality counters and marker tokens, and a glorious, full colour glossy rulebook.

The box art you can see above and the insert is perfect, just what I like, deep enough to contain everything when separated out and, a huge plus that many companies overlook, the wells to hold the cards are designed to perfectly fit the cards when you have sleeved them.  All the cardboard components are thick and glossy, with rounded corners that punch out perfectly.  In particular, the many ship units used in the game are superb.  

Just a small sample of the excellent ship counters

They come in a variety of background colours that denote their growing strength and danger to Nemo's exploits, with a darker shading on the reverse which also indicates increased strengths.  With even more attention to detail, each individual ship silhouette captures its real life counterpart where possible and just to add a little extra flavour, a few terrors of the sea have been added in; such as a sea monster [though not the giant squid that Nemo did battle with - that is introduced through one of the Adventure cards]], pirates, slavers and the famous abandoned ship of mystery, the Marie Celeste. 

All the other tokens are equally colourful and first class, pressing out of their sheets with ease and not a cardboard tag in sight.

A colourful mix of the just a few of the game's tokens
The mounted board is every bit as impressive and given additional value because on it is unobtrusively printed handy tables - everything from the Sequence of Play and Combat Sequence to the key table on which most of your Actions will be determined.  
One or two are in rather small print, but frankly they are the ones you will most quickly remember, while the most important one is the clearest and easiest. Once everything is set up, the game just begs to be played and set up couldn't be easier with a clear guide at the start of the rules.
As you can see there's a lot to be laid out, but the guide takes you methodically through each step.  As Nemo you will roam the high seas from ocean to ocean in the fabulous Nautilus, here represented by a plastic model.  Your first choice is which one of the four Motive tiles [Science, Exploration, War and Anti-Imperialism] to choose.  Each one subtly changes the VP values you can gain from a range of fields.  Choose War and, as might be expected, sinking warships increases in value, whereas with Exploration the value of sinking warships is reduced.  Each Motive will have its enhanced areas and its diminished ones, resulting in influencing what actions you seek out in the course of the game.
Above are two of the Motive Tiles
[as well as the 6 Character Tiles that offer bonuses]
The flow of the game is controlled by a deck of Adventure cards and the order of its composition will be modified by your choice of Motive, while retaining some overall similarities in structure.  These Adventure cards provide an engrossing storyline, as each one has an extract of text from the original novel and an accompanying illustration.  They also contain a wide range of benefits and not a few disadvantages usually depending on a dice test.  

What I love here is that there is no simple Pass is good and Fail is bad.  Sometimes that is the case, but often you have choices to make.  With some cards, choosing to automatically Fail a test may bring an immediate benefit at the expense of foregoing  possible VPs at the end of the game from Passing the test.  Other cards may be kept until you decide to use them for their benefit, but again often relinquishing the VPs they bring if you manage to keep the card until the end.
Here are just four such Keep cards
These branching paths to the narrative you thereby construct for yourself lie at the heart of the game and, for me, provide the unique enjoyment and tension that draws me in over and over again.

While the cards make you feel that you are living the narrative, in your deck there will always be four cards that must always appear.  The fact that three of them are named Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3 also create the idea that you are living out the drama of Nemo's life.  You know you will always get to these points, but not exactly when, and the 5th card, the Finale, that brings the play and your game to its resounding curtain-call is drawn randomly at the start of the game from a group of 7 cards and shuffled into the last four cards in your Adventure deck.

As a result, this is a game that will stand up to countless sessions. Each game will use only half the deck and the order that events will occur in will always be different.  I've prayed for the Finale card to appear and had it be the last in the deck; at other times I've needed just one more ordinary Adventure card to be turned up and. of course, up came the Finale card!

The game begins with the oceans seeded with a set number of Hidden [i.e. unrevealed ships] and each Major Ocean possessing one Treasure marker and then a random die roll places the Nautilus in one of these oceans.
At top left is the deck of Adventure cards for the current game and to the right of the map of the world are the remaining Adventure cards that certain actions may allow you to draw from.  Along the top of the board runs the Notoriety track - and Notoriety is guaranteed to be something which you are destined to grow in! While below that track are three more: one for Nemo's state of mind, one for the Crew and one for the Hull of the Nautilus.  These three tracks are crucial to your play of the game, as most Actions will offer you the chance to wager one or more of their bonuses to help you gain the high scores you need on the many Tests you will undertake!  

Pass and your marker on the track will return to its current position, Fail and it will drop to the next lowest position.  Usually as they drop lower the bonuses decrease, but [an inspired touch] as Nemo's mental state deteriorates, his bonuses increase!
In the bottom left corner of the board is the table on which you roll to SEARCH for treasure, to REST your crew, to REPAIR the hull, to REFIT [i.e. add an Upgrade] to Nautilus and finally INCITE [attempt to cause an Uprising in one of the many areas inked to the oceans] 
A glimpse of the Notoriety track 
Below the board are a number of markers and six character tokens, each of which can be sacrificed in dire need to provide one-off benefits. To their right are the two white dice you begin the game with, a single upgrade card for the Nautilus [there are four more such cards lined up to the right of the board that you may acquire as the game progresses].  Finally, two opaque containers [supply them yourself] hold, in one, all the treasure tokens and, in the other, the At Start ships.  So, you're ready to start your Adventure and the world is your oyster, but soon that will change.

Each turn begins as we've seen by turning up and executing an Adventure card.  This is followed by rolling the two white dice and placing new Hidden ship markers on the map.  The difference in score between the two dice gives you the number of Action points you have for that turn.  From that moment on, the pressure begins and rarely lets up.  At best 5 Actions, at the worst none [you've rolled a double and caused a Lull].

Choices, choices, choices! So many, starting with all those mentioned two paragraphs earlier, plus moving the Nautilus and most common of all bringing death and destruction to the oceans of the world: COMBAT - sinking shipping either for salvage which helps you attempt to buy Upgrades for Nautilus or for tonnage which provides VPs at the end of the game.  Do you choose a single Stalk Attack which gives you a bonus +1 DRM on the dice roll or a Bold Attack where you can push your luck and keep attacking providing you are successful, but racking up the Notoriety?  With the appropriate Upgrade you may even be able to make a Torpedo Attack.  All the time deciding whether to gamble one of your bonuses.  Every single time you roll the dice, there is the chance of Failure.

In the early stages, the tension is moderate, but as the game progresses one time bonuses get spent and some of your VP bringing Treasure tokens may need to be used for bonuses instead.  The Crew and Hull and Nemo bonus tracks start to decrease and need to be improved.  More and more ships crowd the seas.  merchant vessels give way to warships and ever more deadly ones are added to the draw cup! Nemo's War gives you action and excitement all the way.

The seas start to get crowded and dangerous!

There's a lot to do and a lot to learn.  So how does the rule book fair in preparing you for the task?  Well, this is the most lavish publication from VPG that I've seen.  It is part of their Premier standard of production level and can't you just tell. If like me you've been with VPG since their earliest zip-lock bag days when the few cards where in a perforated sheet and the rule book was a single sheet that folded out, then you'll be bowled over.  This is 32 pages of high gloss, full-colour glory! 

My one main concern is that the print is small and quite faint, especially against the parchment colouring of the paper.  A lesser issue is that the Table of Contents directs you only to very broad areas of the game. Finding the many finer details, when necessary, demands much closer searching within those areas.  Despite that, I soon found that I gained rapid familiarity with the mechanics of play.  In part, this was because each page has a side-bar of examples, plus numerous illustrations within the body of the text.

Having experienced many a set of rules where the examples blossom with inaccuracies that tend to mislead, Nemo's War is not like that.  These examples consistently complement and help understanding.   I would strongly recommend setting up the game and then read through a section at a time with the board and pieces in front of you.  Within no time I found that I could embark on a first full play through and I survived to reach the Finale - though it is possible to be defeated in a number of ways before that happens.

Then came scoring, with a lovely set of tokens that allow you to chart the individual scores in the many categories that bring VPs.  OK you can just do a running total, but there's a lot of satisfaction in seeing how well you did in each individual field and then adding them up to the grand total.  Though GRAND is not the word I'd use for my first attempt and many of my subsequent ones too.  There are five levels of victory: Defeat, Failure, Inconsequential, Success and Triumph.  The rule book does contain a simple little table that gives the VP range for each level, BUT there is one amazing booklet left to consult!
This booklet contains twenty sepia illustrated pages devoted to individual pictures and text that explains each of the five levels of victory for each of the four possible Motives that can be chosen at the beginning of the game.
Just two of those incredible pages
Almost as substantial in size as the rule book, I will leave you to decide for yourself whether this is a hugely unnecessary addition or something wholly in keeping.  In keeping with a game that begins with its first card entitled Act 1 : Prologue.  In keeping with a game that narrates a story just like the novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, did and finally in keeping with a game that bears the eponymous name of its megalomaniac protagonist, NEMO.

Whatever you decide about this last component of the game, there is only one decision that I can urge you to make.  BUY THIS GAME.

As always many thanks to Victory Point Games for providing the review copy.

RRP     $75.00

WATERLOO 1815 :  NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE from Trafalgar Editions If my previous review Bloody Battles of T...


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WATERLOO 1815 : 



Trafalgar Editions

If my previous review Bloody Battles of The Crimea took us to a seldom gamed conflict, here we are back in the thick of one of the most famous and frequently gamed battles of history.

What I found intriguing was how two games both aiming for a tactical representation of conflicts separated in time by a mere 40 years can take such distinctly different paths to simulating the combination of infantry, cavalry and artillery tactics.  From solidly hex and counter routines, we turn in Waterloo 1815 to that granddaddy of wargaming: the kriegsspiel blocks.  Their origins were in military training for Prussian and German officers and the traditional blue and red suits well for the two armies at Waterloo.

Perhaps the best known, recent manifestations of this format have been Rachel Simmons' Napoleonic games on Marengo and Austerlitz [and the ACW game Guns of Gettysburg].  However, these latter games did little more than use the blocks with a whole slew of innovative ideas on how to manage terrain and engage in combat.  Trafalgar Editions' product is much closer to its historical origins.  

Its dynamic box art depicting Ney's cavalry charge in the last hours of Waterloo has an immediate visual impact.  Opening the box reveals a very good mounted map in two sections providing a splendid impression that focuses attention on the basic contours of the landscape.

The four key fortified locations immediately stand out [even in my somewhat faded photo!] as do the string of hamlets and villages.  In muted shades of green it serves to create an excellent image reminiscent of the historical map sketches typical of the period.  Each player has an A4 cardstcock copy of the map with the set-up for their units printed on, while the Allied player has an additional copy to be used for the optional hidden deployment variant.  It is small bonuses like this that testify  to both the quality and care taken by Trafalgar Editions.

The blocks themselves are plain wooden ones to which adhesive labels have to be applied to opposite sides and this is a lengthy process that needs considerable care.  Personally, I've never had concerns about these sort of tasks, but I am aware that for some it can be off-putting.  The task is particularly fiddly  because the blocks are the slim rods typical of the game's kriegsspiel influence and the labels fit exactly to the blocks' different sizes that identify the three arms of infantry, cavalry and artillery as well as leaders.  I soon found that trimming the merest sliver off the end of the labels made a surprising difference to ease of application, but you will still find it a lengthy process.

However, the results look magnificent, once completed and the units have been deployed on the map.

The central focus of the battle

A closer look at the Allied deployment
The choice for one side to show the unit in line and the other side in column works admirably, making formation changes an easy element of the game.  Nevertheless there are markers needed to indicate such things as disorganisation and rout, as well as the single step loss that units can take before they are eliminated.  This combination of slender blocks and cardboard markers has definite drawbacks and makes for potential problems, especially when units come into contact for melee or are picked up to change formation or move.  It's very easy to start a cascade of markers and to displace units, especially when the supersize infantry square marker is placed!.

Though it adds to initial preparation time and  then time checking when playing the game, I've found it worth the effort to create roster sheets for the units on which the markers can be placed.  Moving from the aesthetics and practicalities of the map and units to the engine that drives them, namely the rules, these are very much drawn from a miniatures-influenced world.  But before looking at them in more depth, I have to say that I struggled with the very small print-size and the equally small examples of play, all in black and white.

Fortunately you can download a copy of the rules from BGG [BoardGameGeek] and these proved very serviceable and especially helpful in allowing me to make notes directly on to them, while I've been working on playing the game and preparing this review.  Unlike many gamers who are perfectly happy to annotate and highlight rule books, I just cannot bring myself to do this.

My first surprise and slight disappointment was that there is no orders system and that essentially we are in an igo-ugo format, where one player moves and attacks and then the other player does the same.  Leaders provide little more than a morale boost to the unit they are attached to.  However, the fairly close proximity of the units and the very obvious historical aim of both sides to ultimately survive and annihilate the other really renders an orders based game unnecessary.

As for the lack of such things as chit-pull systems and initiative die rolls that tend to be de rigeur in so many current board wargames, these were soon forgotten in the simple pleasure of manoeuvring the wooden units and enjoying the visual delight of the experience.  If you look at the handy reminder of the turn sequence below, you'll also see the typical intermeshing of attacker and defenders' actions that mean that both players are engaged in the action throughout the turn.

It was interesting to find that Combat [i.e. hand to hand combat/cavalry charge] is the end of a player's turn and that a player reorganises at the beginning, attempting via a morale test to recover from Disruption or Rout while automatically recovering from being Shaken.  Rather surprisingly a player also attempts to disengage from hand to hand Combat in the Rally Phase.

The Artillery Defensive Fire Phase and the following Artillery Fire Phase is an excellent rendering of the artillery duels familiar in the Napoleonic period.  This fire is conducted by units at range from the enemy and is a very straightforward process.

Movement follows with all units that you want to come into contact with the enemy having to decide whether to engage them in melee at the beginning of their move.  I like this element of planning and decision making so simply built in.  By these means preparation for both melee and cavalry charges are handled smoothly and then executed after the next Phase which is Musketry Fire.  Movement itself is carried out using a series of small cardboard measuring sticks called UMs [standing for Unit Movement].  

French units in line formation about to make a simple movement forward
In essence a good idea, as they can be laid in sequence allowing a flexibility of gradual turning that the old style rigid measuring sticks of miniature gaming always made so difficult.  I've found them most useful for the wider sweeping moves of cavalry or the arrival [timely or not] of the Prussians.  However, as the armies rapidly close in battle, you're more likely to be using them to check infantry firing distance.

Just as the artillery fired before movement, infantry now engage after the movement phase in musketry fire with the Defender's Phase again preceding the Attacker's Phase.  A very good idea is that Defending artillery can decline to fire shot in the Artillery Phase in hopes of firing more deadly canister during the Musketry Phase.  Such fire takes place between units that are within half a UM or in contact, but not marked for subsequent melee .  

Finely, musketry fire between units that are in contact and marked for melee is the fore-runner to executing the melee or what the game dramatically calls bayonet assault.  Overall, fire and combat is well conceived with a definite logic and verisimilitude.  As units approach, there is the decision whether to engage in musketry duels and for how long or plunge in swiftly to attempt a bayonet assault.  Whatever you decide, the fire and combat chart is remarkably easy to use with each dice result's outcome being contained on a single line, with the non-highlighted result being applied to fire combat and both non-highlighted and highlighted being applied to melee.  This is a method that I've not experienced in any other game and works very well.

Similarly, movement whether at close quarters or over greater distances is easy to accomplish and the game has probably one of the simplest terrain charts with minimal detail.   

Central to all these elements of the game is morale and unquestionably morale is the heart of this game, being the stand-out feature on infantry and cavalry blocks.  Virtually all other data is on separate small, handy Army cards for the Allies, Prussians and French.  These give tables of modifiers for all three types of units referenced by such things as formation, full-strength and half-strength units, infantry in squares, unlimbered artillery etc.

So far so good, only the organisation of the information in the rule book brings an element of complexity and difficulty.  In part, I think this is because of a real desire to be thorough, but the outcome is that details tend to be repeated or amplified and sometimes aren't quite where you might have expected to find them.  

A good example of this is the section on the capabilities of the three different arms: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  Understandably we get quite a significant amount of information about such things as line and light infantry, guard infantry elite and, of course, the French Imperial guard, as well as three types of cavalry and foot and horse artillery.  But there is also considerable depth supplied in the section on artillery dealing with canister fire, artillery concentration and line of sight which you would expect to find appearing in later sections of the rules.
Shot and canister templates
The outcome is a game that has quite a substantial amount of detail to master, yet surprisingly easy systems to apply for all the most important and essential factors of a Napoleonic simulation.  Initially I did not worry too much about acquiring some of the finer details differentiating varieties of unit type, but focused on just mastering the basics of the three arms.

A further help is having the patience to play through the two additional mini-scenarios that are presented on very attractive glossy card.  Both provide partial elements of the big picture with small unit density and a limited play area.  

Scenario 1: The Prussians Are Coming in fact gives an object lesson in what the French player is likely to face in the later stages of the game and a good exercise to prepare  for that.  Scenario 2: Attack on the Allied Centre is another good lesson both in learning the rules and experiencing a focal point in the big picture.

Scenario: zooming in on La Haye Sainte

I know how hard it is to hold back from plunging in to the whole shebang at one fell swoop, but it is worth applying yourself to these smaller sections so that when you do move on to the full scale battle, you should be ready to gain maximum enjoyment with minimum rule checking.

Allied right flank about to undergo bayonet assault

As is expected with any game today, there are a selection of additional elements.  For me cards introducing Random Events always appeal. I know the old style Random Events tables used to do a very acceptable job, but the very attractive artwork of cards, plus there extra flexibility in using them is always an added draw. 

A very small section of Optional and Advanced rules complete the rules, among which I rather like the introduction of messengers allowing for a multiplayer session which may be as simple as a three-player game with the great commanders, Wellington, Napoleon and Blucher or extending to additional players acting as Corps commanders.

Messengers for multi-player participation
There is  a very substantial set of counters to mark the various states such as Disorganisation, Shaken and Routed and many other elements.  As these are all in Italian, there is an early acclimatisation needed.  By and large there is a fairly obvious correspondence, but perhaps a simple capital letter might have served better.

All in all, this is a strong addition to one of the most famous and much gamed  battles.  The rules do take time to be comfortable with, but working through them with either a few units or using one of the mini-scenarios is well worth the effort.  The visual aspect of playing the game is excellent and the designer has married elements of a miniatures system with a boardgame approach with an ease of execution and clarity of systems.  This a game to be enjoyed.

I would like to thank Trafalgar Editions for providing my review copy and I look forward to exploring soon their equally fascinating take on the most famous naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars - what else, but the company's namesake: Trafalgar.