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Horse & Musket Volume III: Crucible of War by Hollandspiele  This is the third volume in the Horse & Mus...

Horse & Musket Volume III: Crucible of War by Hollandspiele Horse & Musket Volume III: Crucible of War by Hollandspiele

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


 This is the third volume in the Horse & Musket game series. The first, 'Dawn of an Era', is needed to play the series (the second volume is 'Sport of Kings'). As with every Hollandspiele game I have played, minimalism is the key word. Don't think that this means that game play is compromised; it's far from it. The minimalist approach means that instead of a fifty to sixty page rulebook, you get only the real meat in these wargames. 

 The game is a tactical one that gives the players various battles from the 'Age of Reason'. In this instance, the battles start in 1755 at Monongahela in North America , to 1762 at Freiburg in 1762. As you can guess the main subject is the Seven Years War. A few of the battles take place in North America, but most take place in central Europe. The exception would be Plassey on the sub-continent of India. The game comes with the following:

An updated set of Scenario Special Rule cards
A sheet of counters with new units and markers
Volume III specific Player Aid with charts

 The markers that are unique to Volume III include 'Woods markers', 'Fortified Town', and 'Square markers'. 

 The game components are just like every Hollandspiele game I have played. They are fully functional, but are not the fancy hand drawn maps etc. that sometimes come with games from the Age of Reason. The map is a blank slate that you add tiles of water, woods, and towns etc. to. The colors are muted, but still pleasing to the eye. The counters are a bit different. These have vibrant colors, and the portraits of the commanders are first rate.The counters themselves are very well made and seem thicker and sturdier.

 The new additions/revised rules for this volume take up just about a full page. These include:

Delayed Bayonet Charge
Movement Cadence marching
Artillery Fire Vs. Charges

 These are the Optional Rules that can be used with Volume III:

Nationality Rules (use these from Volume III, and not the ones that came with the earlier games)
Volley Fire

 This is the sequence of play:

1. Player A rolls and determines random action points available to the command action points and stored action points for his total.
2. Player A spends his action points one at a time and performs allowable actions in any order he wishes.
3. Check victory
4. Player B rolls and determines random action points available to the command action points and stored action points for his total.
5. Player B spends his action points one at a time and performs allowable actions in any order he wishes.
6. Check victory
7. End turn - move turn marker ahead one space on the turn record chart and go to Step 1.

 As you can see, the game play adds the fog of war to both sides with the random action point rolls. The player must also consider when and where to actually spend theses points. Do you wait and see how your defense is holding up on this turn, or do you start your counter-attack now? Like all great wargames the Horse & Musket series does a stellar job of putting the player in the shoes of the generals from this time period. The game also has enough chrome to make you believe you are fighting in the 18th century and not a stamped out WWII era game with different names for the units. 

The leaders Montcalm, Wolfe, Friedrich der Grosse, Daun, and the battles of Leuthen, Kolin, Minden are all here along with a great many more. To see what I mean about the minimal approach, let us look at the Battle of Leuthen. This battle was one of the larger ones from this time. The Prussians have only eight pieces on the board, not counting leaders. The Austrians have a total of thirteen counters that you to have to order around like a good cardboard general. So, just like all of Hollandspiele's games the player can concentrate on his strategy, and not his manual dexterity. The battles of the Prussians against the Russians are my favorites. 

  Hollandspiele is a relatively new company, but it already has a large catalog of games for many tastes, from straight wargames to political simulations. They have quickly become one of my favorite publishers and a big thanks to them for letting me review this volume of Horse & Musket.

 Here are the links to the other volumes:


Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock released all the way back in 2017, and since then it has received a series of updates in the form of bot...

Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock - Season One in Review Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock - Season One in Review

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

Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock released all the way back in 2017, and since then it has received a series of updates in the form of both free patches and paid DLC. Developed by Black Lab Games, and published by prolific strategy game outfit Slitherine, Deadlock exceeded my own expectations by a great deal. I feared it would be a low budget, overly simple strategy game trying to cash in on the BSG name. But no, it was really quite good and I enjoyed it a lot, as you can see from my original review. Deadlock had not just a solid tactical layer with tense, WEGO space combat, it also had an immersive strategic layer that tied all the battles together. The only thing you could really knock the base game for was that it was a little light on content. The core was good, but there were only so many missions, and only so many ships to play with. We've now had a string of DLC and updates released to solve that issue.

Deadlock is the story of what happened during the First Cylon War, years before the events of the TV show. (Which if you haven't seen, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately). This is a game about a full scale space war, in which you have command of the entire strategic picture. The Cylons get in a sucker punch to start the war, knocking out much of the Colonial Fleet and leaving your mobile shipyard as the only means to get humanity back on its feet. From that point it's up to you to decide what ships are built, what new tech is unlocked, and where you take your forces. Each of the 12 colonies has its own morale level, and if it drops too low they will exit the war. To keep all of humanity in the fight, you'll need to build up multiple fleets and spread them out to fight off Cylon raids. In addition to random attacks, there is also a series of story missions to tackle, and plenty of side missions that give extra bonuses if you complete them in time.

So, that's the basic gameplay, but what about all these updates and DLC? What do they do? That's the focus of my article today, as we step through all the pieces that make up "Season One" of the game. Between several free patches and paid DLC, the game has seen the addition of new features, ships, weapons, missions, story, and an extra game mode. Let's step through each "episode" of the season in order, to see how it all adds up to the current state of the game. 

As an aside, before we get started, I will point out that you can't go wrong with the base game alone. It's a full experience that you can get a lot of enjoyment out of. If you do like it, everything else here just makes that experience bigger and better. I've put in quite a few hours with the game, but jumped at the chance to play the campaign again with even more features and tactical options.

Reinforcement Pack

The first DLC for the game is purely an injection of new ships and weapons. For a very modest price you'll get to see four new ship types (two for each side) and a variety of mines added to the game. The new ships give you some nice options for customizing your fleet, one ship is unlocked right from the start, and of course increases the variety of challenges you will face from the Cylons. The mines give you another option when choosing special weapons for you ships, and, being mines, create new strategic options in battles. This update doesn't change the core of the game, but you'll certainly want it to help flesh out the experience. 

The Broken Alliance

The first major DLC for Deadlock is the one that is a must have in my opinion. It integrates all of its new content smoothly into the existing campaign, making for a richer overall experience. This DLC features an 8 mission story campaign which you play alongside the normal story missions. Anyone who has watched BSG knows that politics plays a central role in the story and drives a great deal of internal conflict for the humans. The Twelve Colonies of Man rarely agree about anything, even in the midst of a war. The Broken Alliance campaign, as the name suggests, focuses on the internal strife and intrigue which plagues humanity throughout the First Cylon War.

The Broken Alliance also adds four more new ships (two for each side) and a new squadron type for each side. The new ships add even more tactical options to the game. The Celestra resupply ship, for example, has little firepower potential on its own, but it can provide extra ammo for other ships mid-battle. Even more helpful is its ability to repair a section of armor on a friendly ship in combat. Each ship has separate armor sections for each side, top, and bottom. Lose a section of armor and now that ship becomes less useful, as you can't risk exposing an unarmored section for long. With the Celestra around you can patch things up and get a warship back in the fight. You can even use this offensively, hardening the nose of a Battlestar as it goes head on against an enemy group.

Endurance Update

Around the same time as the Broken Alliance came out, the game received a big free patch. This patch did some balancing, made the UI better, and generally polished the game. The best new feature was adding persistent damage to ships between battles, and visibly showing battle scars on ships after they took some hits. The persistent damage adds another layer of strategy to the game, as now you must spend resources to get ships back to full health. This seems like something that should have been in the game from the start, but I'm glad they added it in as a free update. 


The next DLC for the game added an entire new mode, which was initially received with mixed opinions, but has since been balanced and polished a bit to make for a better experience. The new mode Operation Anabasis tells the story of a colonial fleet sent out on a deep strike mission against a Cylon base. Things go topsy-turvy as usual, and the fleet must flee back to Caprica, Cylons in hot pursuit the entire way. These mode obviously draws directly on the plot of the BSG show, in a good way. Your fleet starts out strong, but includes many civilian ships you must try to protect through battle after battle. You can repair your ships if they survive a fight, but that's about it. Each jump brings with it a random new set of bonuses and penalties to deal with. Your final performance is measured by how many ships you get back to Caprica safely, if you get there at all. While the mode is standalone, it does feature characters from the main storyline, and ties in with the overall plot of "Season One."

While the new survival mode is separate from the main campaign gameplay, the new DLC includes plenty of new content for it. Several new types of munitions are available that are far more interesting than the standard missiles and rockets of the base game. The EMP Generator lets you pull off that Star Trek-esque move from the BSG pilot, in which a ship winds up its generators to release an electromagnetic pulse, which damages any Cylons venturing too near. The Cylons also get some new toys, so watch out!

Another addition from this DLC is a dozen new types of side missions that can pop up during a regular campaign. These aren't just new maps (though there are new maps), but completely new types of objectives to accomplish. 

Sin and Sacrifice

The just released, final DLC of Season One. Sin and Sacrifice extends the story of Deadlock beyond the conclusion of the original campaign and the Anabasis mission. The Cylons have been beaten back, but of course the big bad is still out there, ready to launch a fresh attack on the twelve colonies. You can either jump straight to this campaign with a pre-built late game fleet, or carry over your own fleets from the base campaign. I didn't have enough time to make it through the entire campaign just yet, but what I've seen so far is great stuff. Big battles between late game bruisers are the order of the day. There is plenty of new variety in what you are trying to do each mission as well, besides blowing apart as many toasters as you can, as usual. The two new ships added to the game reflect this idea. The humans get the Heracles, a new heavy offensive ship that is literally covered in gun turrets. It doesn't get any munition slots, but it can blast away at an entire Cylon fleet all at once. The Cylons get a new fighter support ship, which can repair their fighter squadrons mid battle and boost their performance. That's nothing to sneeze at when late game fleets are hauling around a half-dozen or more fighter squadrons at the least.

The other big, really cool addition to the game that Sin and Sacrifice brings is additional radio chatter. Previously, your ships had little voice lines announcing important things like missiles being launched or ships taking hull damage, but there were only so many of them, and they always sounded the same. Now, however, a ton (1100+ in fact) of great bits of radio chatter have been added into the background of a fight. You'll here plenty of utterances of "Frakkers!" and "Blast those toasters!" and every thing else you would expect from the BSG world. This adds so much flavor to the game and really increases the immersion as you watch the battles play out. 

Veterancy Update

Another free update, which just came out along with Sin and Sacrifice, the Veterancy update adds a significant new feature to the game: the ability for individual ships to gain XP and "level up" over time. In the base game, you have fleet commanders who gain levels and unlock new abilities. The ships, however, never changed, no matter how many battles they survived or enemies they destroyed. That's all different now, as ships can level up and become more deadly over time. I really love this addition, as now you can really latch on to your early ships that hang around through a dozen battles and become your aces. Losing one, of course, will sting badly as you can't just crank out another veteran warship in a couple turns.

In addition to what I've listed here, the game has also been polished a great deal from when it was released. The game looks, sounds, and plays better than ever before. If you pick up the game, along with all the DLC, you'll be looking at paying a AAA game price, but you will be getting a very good, rich experience. Each DLC expands on the story and content of the original game, and I think each one is worth a purchase. All of them together make for a meaty game that you can sink a lot of hours into. As a big fan of the show, I'm really happy that such a worthy game was finally created. 

Calling it Season 1 implies that there will be a Season 2, and the developers have confirmed that fact over on the forums. I look forward to seeing what else is added to the game!

- Joe Beard

BSG: Deadlock is available on PC, PS4 and XBOX One

Battlestar Galactica - Starship Battles Starter Set by   Ares Games  I did watch most episodes when BG was o...

Battlestar Galactica - Starship Battles Starter Set by Ares Games Battlestar Galactica - Starship Battles Starter Set by Ares Games

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


I did watch most episodes when BG was on the television the first time around. However, I was not that much of a fan, except for one part of the show. That was when Lucifer would say "by your command". Still to this day that voice send shivers down my spine. I always thought that Vincent Price had a scary voice, but Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith from 'Lost in Space') just drips evil. The gist of the books and series is that the Cylons (mostly robots) want to exterminate the last of the human race. So, in the game you're playing either a Cylon or human pilot doing your best in tactical battles during the war. I am sure I am butchering the BG universe for those of you who are aficionados.

 The first thing you will see when looking at the box is the absolutely amazing four minis that come with the game. You get two Cylon Raiders, a Colonial Mark II Viper, and Apollo's Mark II Viper. The craftsmanship that goes into these four is absolutely amazing. You will, (I know I did), examine them in depth with a magnifying glass. Let's see what comes in the box:
  • Rulebook
  • 1 Scenario Booklet
  • 4 Spaceships with Gaming Bases
  • 4 Control Panels
  • Maneuver decks
  • Pilot Cards
  • Spaceship Cards
  • Special Cards
  • Rulers
  • 2 Dice
  • Counters, Tokens and Markers

Apollo's Viper

The game is set up to have you up and shooting in no time. The Quick Start Rules start on page six of the rulebook and go to page twelve. For such a complex thing as warfare between starships in the vacuum of space, the rules are easy and elegant. The starships are treated just like WWI or WWII fighters, meaning that you have to aim your ship at the enemy in order to score a hit. There are no smart munitions to worry about. Nothing that can lock on and track you.  The steps that you go through in the quick start rules are:

1. Plan your movement
2. Execute your spaceship movement
3. Fire your spaceships weapons

 The hexagonal movement cards show the player the exact route the players' spaceships will move in following the players plans. You use a ruler, as in naval miniatures etc, to find the range and effectiveness of your fire. The control panel that is used for each spaceship is a very innovative approach for aerial games. With these there is no keeping track on the board or having to write all of your moves etc. down. 

 The Complete Rules start on page thirteen and go to page twenty. These rules only add to the complexity of the quick start rules. The Optional Rules go from page twenty to twenty-three. These add the following:

Blank Maneuver Cards
Three-Dimensional Space

Cylon Raider
 The game is excellent from the moment you open the box. I know I raved earlier about the minis, but they are so good I have to continually say how incredibly impressive they are. The rules are very well written and walk the player through them in an easy manner. The game really shines when you use the Complete Rules, and then add in the Optional ones. There are a lot of these games to choose from. Do yourself a favor and at least check this game out. Ten to one you will end up picking it up. Thank you Ares Games for letting me review this excellent game.
 I know there is probably some sort of rule where I am not supposed to mention or, heaven forbid, post something from someone else's review in your own, but the writing and sentiment is so good I can't help it. Of course, I have always had a problem with rules. Not to mention the fact that I have worn through three copies of Also Sprach Zarathustra. Along with being completely jealous that I didn't think of it first. Here it is:

 "I'm raving about this game anywhere and everywhere I can, but admittedly I feel like Zarathustra come down from the mountain trying to convince people of the coming of the Uberspiel."
This is from Michael Barnes from his review:



Petersburg by Wargame Design Studio and John Tiller Software   Petersburg; the name calls to mind the beginn...

Petersburg by Wargame Design Studio and John Tiller Software Petersburg by Wargame Design Studio and John Tiller Software

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


Petersburg; the name calls to mind the beginning of trench warfare. Although in actual fact, the troops on both sides had been using anything to dig themselves in for most of the war. It seems strange that no generals in WWI studied this campaign. The Battle of the Crater is usually, and sometimes the only part of the long siege like campaign that is written about. Taking a page out of the history books, some Union generals decided to dig a mine and blow up some of the Confederate works. The mine itself actually worked perfectly. The problem was the African-American U.S. troops that were trained and ready for the attack were exchanged for other troops right before the attack (this was for political reasons). The attack ended in a debacle for the Union troops. Once again I have babbled on. So, let us now talk about the game. Let's look at the game's contents:


  • 195 scenarios are included, and all can be played as either side, against the A/I or other human challengers. And 31 of these scenarios have been specifically designed to be played against the A/I, for a greater challenge for those players that are more experienced.
  • Most scenarios can be played against the A/I in a single day, yet others may take several days to complete, or even weeks. Just save, and continue later at your own pace.
  • For more fun, challenge another human, and play either face to face, or PBEM (Play by email)
  • Battles include: the assaults on Petersburg in June, Ream’s Station, the Crater, Globe Tavern, Peebles Farm, Burgess Mill, Hatcher’s Run, Fort Stedman, White Oak Road, Dinwiddie Court House, Five Forks, and the final battles leading to and including Appomattox Court House.
  • Fight in normal conditions, or face you enemy using the added weather feature.
  • 3 campaigns are included. The early Petersburg battles, the later Petersburg battles, and the Appomattox Campaign battles.

A Shot Of The Battle Of The Crater

Features and Enhancements

  • All NEW graphics:
    • 3D hand drawn maps, and new 3D units, with individualized regimental flags.
    • Colorized leaders and unit files.
    • Traditional and refreshed B/W files are also an option.
    • New and improved 2D graphics, for both maps and units.
  • Scenario and Campaign editor: Build new, or improve existing battles and campaigns.
  • Many “What If” battles and maps, both large and small. Including the massive Petersburg Master map.
  • Added the Extreme Fog of War optional rule.
  • Greatly expanded and redesigned the Standard game engine Toolbar.
  • A true, large (4X) 2D map view.
  • Implemented dozens of new hot keys.

 This game finishes the series of John Tillers Civil Wars Battles. This game was the first game that was built from the ground up with all of the enhancements that Wargame Design Studio is bringing to the other battles (they are also updating some of the other John Tiller game series). The most striking feature of the enhanced games is their graphics. Many people have complained about the graphics bring dated in Tillers games, not really taking into account that some of them are almost twenty years old. Well, there should be no more complaints. You will even be able to see regimental flags when zoomed in. The next largest change is a toolbar that is twice the size and is color coded. For us old timers we can change it to the old toolbar if we choose. 

See The New Toolbar

 The scenarios are almost two hundred in number. There are many variations of the same scenarios. This is because the scenarios are all made with different play in mind. There are some meant to be played as one side or the other against the AI (this was another part of the games that had gamers wailing). Other scenarios are slightly historically changed or different in some way. The scenarios that were built to be played against the AI are very well done and more than a test for the solitaire player. There are also three different campaigns that the player can avail himself of. These are the same branching kind that we Tiller groupies are used to. There are new rules that include spiking guns, etc.

One Of The Closer Zoom Levels

 While it almost makes one sad that the series is finally complete, in other ways it gives me a glad feeling, especially for the fact that I was able to see it come to fruition and be on the right side of the grass. Unfortunately there is no PC demo of the Civil War Battles. There is, however, a free app for them that can be played on Android and other platforms. This will give a newbie a chance to see the system. 

 Thank you very much John Tiller Software and Wargame Design Studio for allowing me to review this excellent end to an excellent series. Especially now that they have all been worked on, and are new and shiny, by Wargame Design Studio.

 This is a list of the enhancements to the older series games, followed by a link to the updates:

For all that are wondering, here is what is included in these updates;

    Implemented Settings > Alternative Unit Symbols.
    Introduced the new Variable, Asymmetric, Turn-Based Victory Points System. [Available, but not really used yet.]
    Standardized weapon and movement values. Soon to be rolled out across prior and future titles
    Auto Defensive Fire has been adjusted so that artillery is set at "Min." This change will enhance play against the A/I, and will help conserve overall artillery ammunition supply levels. This setting can be changed by using the following hot key: Alt + F, or look under the A/I window during gameplay.
    Added to the Manuals Folder: Standard Toolbar Reference Guide
    Made the on-map elevation/coordinates/terrainmod font sizes a step smaller.
    Tweaked the in-game weapon descriptions.
    Fixed a damaged bridge crossing bug.
    Fixed a word-wrap bug in cp_start.exe.
    Implemented a true, large (4X) 2D map view, the new 2D Normal View, aka Zoom2D100. (Unlike before, where the largest 2D map view was achieved via software auto-magnification.)
    Greatly expanded and redesigned the Standard game engine Toolbar, now with 70 buttons. (The Classic Toolbar is retained.)
    Implemented: Settings > Toolbar > None/Classic Small/Classic Large/Standard Small/Standard Medium/Standard Large.
    Implemented dozens of new hot keys. Just about every menu option and game feature has been assigned a hot key. (This necessitated a number of hot key reassignments.)
    Hot keys are now documented in-game, in the menus, in the Status Bar and in Toolbar button tooltips.
    Reorganized the files and folders, such that everything is not stored in one big heap in the top-level game folder, rather is stored by file type and purpose in an expanded file folder hierarchy.
    Implemented a full-featured logging system, to aid in code development, debugging, and user support, among other purposes.
    Added the Extreme Fog of War optional rule. When Extreme Fog of War is in effect, the Visibility highlight only displays from friendly occupied hexes.  Also, for enemy units in obscuring terrain (e.g., Forest), enemy force counts will only display as XXX instead of, for example, 3XX.
    For artillery (and with the Manual Defensive Fire option toggled OFF), changed the Auto Defensive Fire default value from Max to Min.
    Implemented: Settings > Hex Highlights > Hex Outlines/Hex Shading.
    Implemented: Settings > Map Contours > Colors.../Widths...
    Implemented: Settings > Hand-Drawn 3D Map.
    Implemented: Settings > Unit/Leader Boxes > Color/No Color.
    Implemented: View > Map Elevation/Map Coordinates/Map Combat Modifiers.
    Implemented: View > 2D Map Slopes.
    New 3D hand-painted maps including settings toggle
    New 3D units (with customized regimental flags, etc.)
    New 2D terrain graphics
    Changed the brigade combat colors to display on counter edge (not on counter face).
    2D counter redesign including all counter symbology
    New unit card colorization for all formations including leaders (includes refreshed B&W images)
    Standardized naming in OOB's to be rolled out across prior and future titles



Hello all! I took a break from gaming the last few months and explored some other hobbies. The one I settled on is something I've ...

Introducing: The Great Endeavors Podcast Introducing: The Great Endeavors Podcast

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

Hello all! I took a break from gaming the last few months and explored some other hobbies. The one I settled on is something I've wanted to do for a long time: host a history podcast. I couldn't decide on just one topic to cover, and so I started a show called The Great Endeavors, which will cover many of the amazing moments in human history in which people overcame impossible odds, advanced technology beyond what was thought possible, and explored the unknown. Each season of the show covers a new topic, and for the first season I chose to tell the story of the Space Race. If you're a fan of history podcasts, please give it a shot! 



RSS Feed

Website (Very much a work in progress)

The first three episodes, if you would like to listen right away:

If you have any questions or comments, please send them my way. The podcast is available on just about every podcast distributor I could find. If I'm not on your preferred podcast feed please let me know and I will get it added. Thanks!

- Joe Beard

Freedom - the Underground Railroad gives 1-4 players the opportunity to become abolitionists in the fight against slavery in 19th centur...

Freedom The Underground Railroad Freedom The Underground Railroad

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

Freedom - the Underground Railroad gives 1-4 players the opportunity to become abolitionists in the fight against slavery in 19th century America.  Loosely, it is a cooperative, pick-up-and-deliver game that not only presents players with a satisfying movement puzzle during each round; it does so wrapped up in a surprisingly elegant ruleset that takes under 10 minutes to teach.

One of the enduring images in my brain from my childhood schooling was the famous Brooke's slave ship diagram. The horrors of such an Atlantic crossing are unimaginable and the slaves' subsequent lives in America, unbearable to consider. However, in this game, all players are working together to help your cubes/slaves escape into Canada and freedom.

You can watch my unboxing video below, apologies for the rambling discussion prior to opening the box. Skip to 2:43 to actually get to the box opening.


The games plays out over 8 rounds in which players have to move slave cubes along 'the railroad' of interconnected cities whilst avoiding the slave catchers.  Each round has five phases, three of which are purely mechanical with no decision points. In the other two, the Planning and Action Phases, players are deciding which tokens to purchase from the intentionally-very-limited supply (Planning Phase), and which slave cubes to move and where (Action Phase).
Players start with 8 money. The Conductor's ability is almost essential.
The Planning and Action Phase are bookended by a beginning Slave Catcher Phase which consists of rolling 2 unique d6 to determine slave catcher movement, and the final phases in a round of the Slave Market phase and Lantern Phase, The Slave Market Phase hopefully fill up the plantations with slaves. I say hopefully because if there is no space on the plantation then slaves in the market are lost.  Losing slaves is inevitable in this game and even though it is a game and the number of lost slaves is a primary victory condition, it didn't feel nice to move those cubes into the 'slave lost' box at all. I have, however, no objection to the mechanic and it very abstractly reflects the brutal reality of the slaves' existence.

Each player also has a role with once-per-round special power and one ability that can be used once per game. The roles are all anti-slavery abolitionists and reflect the history of the actual underground railroad's terminology. The historical aspect of many Academy Games' games keeps me coming back to them, and the treatment of slavery in this is a fun way to learn about important history that still has ripples in modern society.
Halfway through a solo game. Not many slaves escaped so far...
I lost.
The game is challenging no matter what player-count and victory is never guaranteed. In all my plays of this game, the first 2 or 3 rounds pass as just a satisfying yet achievable optimisation puzzle trying to avoid the slave catchers and you are able to lose few slaves. New players could be fooled into thinking this is an easy game.  The last few rounds, however, are anything but easy. You ruthlessly may have to knowingly sacrifice one slave to save 2 or more from the slave catchers and inevitably there is not enough room on the plantations after the slave market.

If I haven't lost the game before turn 8 (I'd like to think my win ratio has been about 30%, but it's probably lower) then it is always a neck and neck race to save the required number of slaves whilst avoiding the game-ending slave-lost number.  The required victory conditions are different for every player count and the gameplay, in terms of difficulty, feels similar at all player counts. The game is finely balanced, players never romp to victory and the game engine is especially threatening from the mid-game onwards.
4 Player endgame ... we lost
The most unique aspect of this game, for me, is the manner in which the slave catchers move. A random Slave Catcher movement will happen at the beginning of every turn and if they ever land on a space containing a run-away slave then the slave is returned to the slave market. However, as slaves move northwards they may cause certain slave catchers to move one space along a predetermined path. This mechanism is an elegant yet difficult puzzle and really makes this game stand out.  It doesn't sound difficult on paper but you are forced to consider multiple moves ahead (no easy feat) to see which and when slaves should move.
A beautiful yet fiendish puzzle. You're going to lose slaves.


Any 'elegant' game should have few rules, right? Well, this is just 8 pages which includes setup. The rules are excellently written, and after one or two rounds of your first game (20 minutes or so) all players will have seen and understood all the gameplay mechanics. There was only one edge-case which wasn't immediately resolved by turning to the rule book - regarding Northern fundraising, if you're interested.

The graphic design is fairly simple yet sympathetic to the period and theme of the game. The icons are all intuitive and the components themselves, I would imagine, lend themselves well to any sight-impaired gamer.

The board, tokens and components are all of an excellent quality and I found absolutely nothing to criticise production of this game.


The history geek inside me would have liked to have seen more historical 'fluff' on the cards and the board. Most cards have two or three lines of fluff at the bottom which wasn't satisfying enough for me. However, I do appreciate the design of the components and adding more text would have been detrimental to the look of the game.  You do get 2 pages of history in the rule book but not many gamers at game night are going to be exposed to that. 

The only negative aspect of this game for me, and this is purely subjective, is that it is a fully co-operative game. Although I have had fun playing this with a group, (it does play a bit long with a full complement of players) I prefer competitive games when playing multiplayer. Hence, I prefer to play this game solo, for the head-space. As with most co-ops, the solo rules are no different from the standard game and you can either play multiple characters or play in true solo mode (which is, in my opinion, harder and more satisfying) where you only play with one abolitionist.
Did I say you want to  have the Conductor in your team?


Slavery is not an easy topic to make into a game but it has been done excellently here. I would go so far as to say that this is one of my favourite solo games at the moment. If I don't have the time or energy for Mage Knight or a solo wargame and no other players around, then this is currently my go-to game. I can complete a solo game in approximately 50 minutes and the slave-catcher movement puzzle is rewarding.
Clear and short rulebook
I wasn't expecting the game to be as light as it is, but this doesn't detract anything from the gameplay which is simple yet still satisfying. The side-effect of being exposed to important history, events and people of the 'railroad' is gratefully received, and will hopefully serve me in good stead for pub-quizzes. 

I would recommend this to any person, whether they're a gamer or not, as either:  a fun game, an introduction to unique mechanics, an educational tool, a first step into cooperative board games, a challenging optimisation puzzle, an simple exploration of the Trolley Problem (apt no?) or a great solo game. It ticks all of those boxes.

Thanks to Academy Games for sending this review copy.

Publisher: Academy Games
Players: 1-4
Designer: Brian Mayer
Playing time: 1-2 hours

BATALJ is a simultaneous turn-based tactical game about 1v1 combat with each player leading their own custom built team of units. ...


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

BATALJ is a simultaneous turn-based tactical game about 1v1 combat with each player leading their own custom built team of units. The title is the first game from studio Fall Damage and shows a lot of promise, but may need some more work to be given a full recommendation. 

BATALJ features combat that in some ways resembles the new XCOM games, where each of your units can move and do one action each turn. The twist is that each player chooses the movement and actions of each of their units in secret, and then once both players hit go, the action plays out. The units do not act all at once, however, instead they go in a specific order that is known to the players while choosing moves. This opens up some serious strategy calculations. Do you go for the sure kill, knowing your units can act before their hapless victim gets a chance to escape? Or do you try to predict your opponent's actions, hitting them where they least expect it? Of course, you might be totally wrong, and watch helplessly as your units whiff at empty air. You also need to think about future turns when making your choices. Different actions incur different amounts of delay, which is what makes the overall unit order get rearranged each turn.

 All of this action takes place in one of several small arenas, with three objective locations that the players must fight over. If you end a turn with more locations in your control, you get a point. 5 points wins the match. A location can be contested by both players, which means no one gets control of that spot. The really interesting thing to me was that control of more objectives only ever gives you one point. So, if you have control of one objective, and no one controls the others, you get one point. If you control two or even all three of the locations, you still only get one point. This creates the opportunity for a variety of strategies. You can try to use fast units to spread out and have a presence across the board, or you can move your units in a blob and try to crush whatever resistance they encounter, or a hundred other approaches in between. Each side gets some reinforcements at specific intervals, and depending on how the battle is going you might want to bring in a healer to fix up your hero, or a unit to counter whatever strategy the enemy is using. Everything, of course, depends on what units you have and what the enemy has. Being a novice, I just picked a variety of units and then figured out a strategy as I went!

There are three different factions of units in the game, each with a different theme and set of heroes. There is a default squad for each faction, but the real tinkering fun comes from assembling your own squads and thinking about how different units could work together to create some serious combat synergy. In my relatively brief time with the game I did not get into the nitty gritty details, but I did play several matches and studied the various abilities available to each unit. Each faction has a half dozen or so different unit types, and each of those units has its own set of two to four possible actions it can take during a turn. Many units also have passive buffs that shape their role on the battlefield. If you are a fan of MOBA's you will immediately feel comfortable with this aspect of the game. Most units have some kind of basic attack, and then either more powerful attacks or support type abilities. There are units to heal, units to take out an enemy's armor, units that can cloak, some that can fly, some have area denial weapons while others focus a ton of damage on one target. There is a lot of variety here and simply exploring what the various units are capable of will take some time.

So, it might sound like I have nothing bad to say about this game, but, unfortunately, we are about to get to that part. The actual gameplay is very solid, the problem is that you might have a hard time finding an opponent. BATALJ is meant to be a competitive game, focused on 1v1 matches between human players. The game has some lovely stat screens and battle logs, and promises that ranked play is on the way. However, it isn't clear whether the player base is there to support it. I was able to find several matches via the automatic matchmaking, but at times I was stuck waiting for a while with no opponent to be found. The forums aren't very busy, and Steam Charts shows that only a handful of people are playing at any given time. Normally, I wouldn't knock a game for having a small player population (some of my favorite games over the years are pretty obscure), but in this case, if you don't have a reliable supply of opponents, you can't really play the game. There is no single player mode to speak of. There is a tutorial against some bots, which I found enjoyable the first time through, but after that you have to go online.

I really, really hope the game finds a player base, because the developers seem enthusiastic and responsive to player concerns. Perhaps a few more updates and greater awareness will draw people into the game, but I fear it might be a tough sell without any kind of single player gameplay. Another option would be adding asynchronous matches as seen in Frozen Synapse. That would make it a lot easier to find and play a match, even with relatively few players out there. 

As it stands, I would like to recommend this game, but can only do so with the massive caveat that this is an online only game with a very small player base, which may or may not be around in a couple months. I hope this doesn't discourage the developers, because they clearly put in a lot of work into this and released a game that is fun to play and looks great. Hopefully they can find a path forward that will bring in the player base that this game needs. 

BATALJ is available on Steam
Developer/Publisher: Fall Damage

- Joe Beard

Heroes of the Motherland With the add-ons Dark July 43 - X-Maps for Dark July 43 by Lock 'N Load Publishing ...

Heroes of the Motherland with add-ons Dark July 43 - X-Maps for Dark July 43 by Lock 'N Load Publishing Heroes of the Motherland with add-ons Dark July 43  - X-Maps for Dark July 43 by Lock 'N Load Publishing

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

 An Argosy of wargaming goodness arrived on my porch a while ago. There is just so much that comes with Heroes of the Motherland that I have a real problem figuring where to start, and what to write about. I received not only HOTM, but also two add-ons for it. They are  Dark July 43: The Battles for Prokhorovka Third Edition, and also the X-Maps for Dark July. 

HOTM Counters

 The Eastern Front in World War II is probably the one campaign that has more games, tactical, operational, and strategic than any other. The types of weapons and troops you can use in this game span the depth and breadth of the war. Tanks that were built before the war to King Tigers and JS-2s are present for your gaming pleasure.


 LNL's premise for their tactical World War II era games is simple but breathtaking in scope. They have developed a core set of rules that span the years 1930-1959. This core set allows gamers to learn it, and then adds a few extra rules for each game. That means that gamers can game all of the conflicts and campaigns during those years with a single rules set. This has been tried in the past, but to my knowledge only for Ancient and Medieval gaming. The game scale is fifty meters wide to the hex. You play with squads, half-squads, and vehicle crews etc. 


 The Core Manual is sixty-six pages long. However, do not be discouraged. It is written in large script and has many pictures and examples throughout. The Module Rules and Scenario Booklet really has only four pages of rules to learn. This is how encompassing the Core Rules are. They are also constantly being updated. The rules are up to version 5.0 now.

 The game comes with:

14 x Color Geomorphic  8.25 x 12.75 Maps.
5 x CounterSheets with over 550+ counters. 
1 x Color Core system manual featuring the latest v4.1 rules.
1 x Color Game Module rules,  Examples of play with 12 scenarios and One Campaign.
3 x 11 x 17 Player Aid Cards.
2 8 x 11 Player Aid Cards.
1 x Heavy Duty box.

HOTM Campaign

 The sequence of play is:

Rally Phase
Operations Phase
Fire Combat
Laying Smoke
Melee Combat
Administrative Phase

 I really like this system for tactical gaming. That does not mean that I do not own and like others. You can ask my wife. I think it is a losing proposition to compare games against each other. Much like a parent, you can find good and bad traits in your children, or a game's rules and mechanics. We are Wargamers, so we buy Wargames, many, many Wargames. Back to HOTM, the rules have been worked on to be streamlined and as easy to understand as possible. The setup of the rules and scenarios are done in a sequence to make it easier on the gamer to learn.

 The components that come with any Lock 'N Load game are some of the best on the market. The counters are extremely well done, and for those who cannot play without it, they come already clipped. Almost all of them fall out of the sprues with nothing extra stuck to them, or the need for cleaning them up. The maps are once again well done. They are on thick paper stock. Some people prefer mounted maps, but I can play on either surface without giving it a second thought. 

 The Dark July module adds in the seminal fight between the SS divisions and the Russian forces rushing forward to make sure that operation Zitadelle is a German defeat. The module is a bit misnamed because there is also a scenario about the Battle for Ponryi on the northern flank of Zitadelle. So this means you can see how effective Ferdinands really were. There are only two pages of rules that come with Dark July, and some are optional. This is what Dark July comes with:

1 x 34 x 22 Color Map.
2 x Color Geomorphic 12.75 x 8.25 Maps.
1 x Counter Sheet with over 80+ counters.
1 x Color Module rules, Examples of play with 6 Scenarios.
1 x 8 x 11 Player Aid Cards.


                                  Dark July Counters

 The X-Maps add-ons that Lock 'N Load sells are worth every penny. The maps are the same as the ones that come with the module, for example Dark July. The difference is that the hexes are much larger. The standard maps in Dark July are 8.25" X 12.75". The X-Maps come in at 11" X 17".
So you get the same maps, but are able to play with less clutter, which is always a good thing. So if you do buy any of the main game's modules I suggest that you do invest in the X-Maps for it. The X-Maps for Dark July contain:

One Color Two Part 51 x 33 Map.Two Color 11 x 17 Maps.

One 11 x 17 Player Aid Card.

 Great system, great components (besides the lack of mounted maps, which again I could care less about), if you have any interest in the theater I think it is time and money well spent investing in HOTM. Thank you Lock 'N Load for letting me review all of this gaming goodness.

X-Maps Size