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BATTLETECH from CATALYST GAME LABS This review will cover two closely linked BattleTech packages:  the Beginner Box and wha...

BATTLETECH BATTLETECH

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

BATTLETECH

from

CATALYST GAME LABS



This review will cover two closely linked BattleTech packages:  the Beginner Box and what should be regarded as the core game which bears the subtitle "A game of Armored Combat".



At this point I think it's important to state that in examining these two games I am teetering on the very edge of my comfort zone.  As previous reviews will have made clear, I am not adverse to games involving miniatures, nor complex games with a significant depth of rules, though the days when I happily played and reviewed World In Flames for the pre-internet magazine world are a past country.

However, light skirmish games like Deadzone 2  are my preferred choice when I stray away from my more comfortable realm of counters and hexes or blocks and area movement.  Even when BattleTech first appeared in the 1980s, a game that focused on a few mighty machines, albeit with a human controller inside, and photocopiable diagrams of outer carapaces and inner constructions that needed locations to be crossed off/coloured in to show growing damage was not a likely choice for me.

However, that personal caveat doesn't stop me appreciating the many qualities of this game and, as these two packages are hopefully the jumping off point for a whole new generation of gamers, this review is intended to help them decide whether BattleTech may be a universe they might want to launch themselves into. 

The quality that jumps straight out at you immediately is the physical production.  The bold colours of the art work adorn the type of deep, well-constructed box that we associate with the top end of game company production from the likes of GMT and DVG.  This is a far cry from the sort of flimsy container of the 80s that the original game was housed in.

But what I think stands out most of all when you open the box is the high quality of the miniatures.  This was a feature criticised by many in earlier editions.  Virtually all are a standard 2 " tall on hexagonal bases that perfectly fit the map hexes that they will stand on.  The poses are dynamic and have a heft and bulk that adds to their appearance.


Having been the painter of many Warhammer miniatures in the early days of my son's 40K journey, I really like these figures that have large plains and deep grooves that allow swifter painting of large areas of colour enhanced by dark washes and easy highlighting.  These figures really do make you want to get them out on the battlefield.


Here are all eight housed in their individually moulded tray


The Beginner's Game comes with just two figures [and eight cardboard standees] and a single double-sided paper map, while the core game boasts the eight figures seen above [plus nine extra standees] and two double-sided maps.  I was also very fortunate to be sent, along with these two review copies, the expansion map pack set of six additional maps.  All are 18" x 22" and look brilliant.  They are a visual delight.  Especially the way height of terrain is conveyed gives an almost 3D effect [as can be seen below] and both games contain a small selection of additional thick cardboard terrain overlays.  




If only the maps themselves had been of the sort of cardstock familiar from Columbia Games' maps. Indeed, the one downside is that the new production uses extremely thin paper and I do mean extremely!  After folding one map up twice, it's already showing wear on the folds.  Using my normal practice of storing maps permanently flat means I shouldn't have undue problems, but most gamers I know are unlikely to follow suit.


Another feature whose value I still remain unsure about is the decision that hexes that provide Light or Heavy cover actually have the words printed in the hex and any hex Level above 0 is also printed on the map. The importance of Levels may justify this, but as the base of each model exactly covers the hex, when you need that info you have to lift up the model to confirm it.

As expected, in the core game, there are full size record sheets that contain all the many essential statistics for each type of mech along with the all-important diagram on which you check off damage to the target area that has been hit.

These are absolutely essential and though not a fan of this type of record-keeping there clearly is no other way to handle the level of detail that has always been a main feature of BattleTech.  The way in which damage to the outer armour, once it has been totally destroyed in a given location, can be transferred to the inner structure is a key element of the minutiae of the tactical attack system.


In order to create a much faster and stripped-down version for the Beginner Box, this is one aspect that has been modified, as only the external armour takes damage.  As a result the A4 size record sheets in black and white have become much smaller cards with a central picture of the mech in colour.  




As the game is very heavy on detail and depth this is understandable, but the satisfaction of shooting away part of the outer carapace to reveal the more vulnerable inner workings with the resulting chance of a critical hit is a hugely enjoyable part of the tension and tactics of the game.

For those of you familiar with the game, looking at the card above, you can also see that the concept of Heat has also been removed from the Beginner's rules.  For those of you coming new to BattleTech, Heat is a very important aspect to be dealt with.  Virtually all actions generated Heat, that had its own track for recording it.  Mechs inevitably reached a point when they needed to disperse Heat or risk the dire consequences.  Equally damage to a Mech might result in that Heat dispersing equipment being damaged.

Having touched on just how much there is to learn, it's no surprise that the core game has a substantial rule book.  In this new edition, it comes to a meaty 56 pages: broken down into 44 pages of rules, 4 pages for the scenarios and 8 pages explaining how to construct/design your own mechs.
Substantial as this may sound, it still pales against the length of some of the manuals I've heard referred to in videos teaching the main rules [e.g. "… on page 104.."].

A consequence of this depth is that, if you are going to invest beyond the Beginner's Box, then you can expect to be totting up as standard practice modifier after modifier for every single weapon you fire, on every single mech, on every single attack, on every single turn.  

Some of these will become almost second nature to you, but far more will involve you checking on the mech's stats sheets and on one or more of the many tables contained in the rule book and reproduced on the two identical Player Aid cards. Then you will be doing the same for any physical attacks your mechs subsequently make.  

Even calculating line of sight, never the simplest of tasks in any game, has its extra difficulties, as mechs themselves stand two levels high.  Besides that additional factor, the fact that some of your weapons are attached to arms and some to legs means that having established a LOS doesn't necessarily mean every gun can then physically fire at its target.

That Combat alone takes up 17 pages of rules emphasises two things: the level of detail in this game and the very strong focus on battle.  Manoeuvre plays its part, but combat with a multiplicity of weapons and directly too with mighty kicks and punches is at the heart of this game.  Not to mention the ability of your mechs to jump high and come crashing down on your opponent's mechs with all the weight of their tonnage!!! 


Just explaining Damage takes up a further seven pages, ending in the very useful flow-chart viewed below.


So, how well does the substantial rule book fair in conveying and making clear all this information?  Starting from the simple cosmetic level, it really looks the works with a very good weight of glossy paper, a very helpful index at the beginning and very clear, colour illustrations.






Each section [e.g. Movement, Combat, Damage] is highlighted at the top of each page in white, while side-headings are in prominent bold black capitals.  But far more important than its appearance is the reality that the rule book does a very, very good job of guiding you step by step through the complexities and the wealth of detail to be taken in.  Familiarity and practice will ease the task, but so much information will always need you to refresh your memory and check some things at times.  Thankfully the rule book is very navigable on those occasions.



The beginner's rule book is identical in quality and layout, but the rules themselves occupy a mere 8 pages out of 12.  You can imagine that there has been a great deal more paired away than the two important areas I've mentioned earlier.

This leads me to the conclusion that the Beginner's Box is exactly what it says.  Not only would I see it as designed for those wanting to dip a toe very lightly in to the BattleTech game and its universe, but for the beginner to this type of miniatures/board game hybrid and possibly to the gaming world in general.  To tempt you further, the box also includes a sample of MechWarrior cards that introduce the pilots of these mighty machines, a booklet containing a short story, The Golden Rule, set in the BattleTech universe and a quick Guide to the Inner Sphere [i.e. the universe of BattleTech and its conflicting Houses] . 

If the contents aren't enough to tempt you, then the exceptionally low price of $19.99 should.  I can think of few "starter sets" priced so reasonably and of such good value.  Helpful though I found it in easing me into learning the system, for most gamers it will only serve as an incentive to buy the core box.  This too, on top of all the key components I've discussed, sports its own different short story booklet that develops the story in The Golden Rule, more MechWarrior cards, two identical Player Aids containing the many tables interspersed throughout the rule book for easy reference and also some Alpha Strike cards.  The latter relate to a separate faster playing form of BattleTech, which will undoubtedly be another temptation to buy and expand. The core box too at $59.99 seems equally good value in all respects.  



This is already a well documented, immersive world that has been supported and extended repeatedly with many expansions, story books, CCGs...  The rapidity with which both these new packages have flown off the shelves indicate that there's a great enthusiasm both among new gamers and BattleTech's many existing devotees.  I can see these stomping on for many years to come.

Thanks as always to Catalyst Games Lab for providing the review copies. 

Below are t
hree excellent tutorial videos on game play.

Link 1



The Peninsular War Expansion for Napoleon and his Marshals by Two Generals Games   Napoleon was sitting on top ...

The Peninsular War - Expansion for Napoleon and his Marshals The Peninsular War - Expansion for Napoleon and his Marshals

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

The Peninsular War

Expansion for Napoleon and his Marshals

by

Two Generals Games






  Napoleon was sitting on top of the world in 1808. He had just compelled Russia to become an ally, and join the Continental System. This was a confederation of European states that Napoleon set up to stop all trade with England. Then hubris raised its ugly head. Napoleon coerced Spain to allow a French army through its territory to invade Portugal. The invasion went pretty much like clockwork. Then Napoleon got the bright idea to actually invade and conquer Spain. Napoleon made similar statements about invading Spain as Hitler did before invading Russia. Spain would turn into the 'Spanish Ulcer' that would suck in men and material at an alarming rate. Thanks to English intervention and the Duke of Wellington, Spain became an abattoir for the Frenchmen posted there. It was a brutal nasty guerrilla war that saw horrific war crimes committed by both sides. No matter how many times the French defeated the Spanish forces, they arose again from the dead within days to weeks. It was a Napoleonic version of whack-a-mole. The war in Spain became a blueprint for guerrilla warfare still used to this day.

 With that introduction there should be no doubt where our review is taking us. This is an add-on for the excellent Two Generals game, 'Napoleon and his Marshals'. With this addition to the game you get the chance to fight just the war in Spain, or to add the map to the base game and fight larger scenarios. However, you do need the base game to play this expansion. Two Generals describes the game as "a dice-less game of skill. No luck is involved". I have to agree with their description.

 This is what comes with the game:
One map of the Iberian Peninsula
Two counter sheets

 The components are as top notch as the base game. The map is printed on plastic coated reinforced 'banner' paper. The size of the map is 20.75" x 16". It includes Spain, Portugal and some of southern France. The hex scale is 38 miles per hex.The counters are also reinforced and are slightly larger than normal at 0.6" square.







 While it may not seem like it, many wargamers are very interested in what others consider a sideshow to the main Napoleonic campaigns. The campaigning in Spain was entirely different to what the French troops were used to. This add-on plays much like the actual campaign. As someone said, "In Spain a large army starves while a small army is swallowed up". Wellington and the French fought a seesaw war much like the Campaign for North Africa in WWII. So the Spanish campaigns in this game have a very historical feel just like the main game.

 Two Generals are looking for a person to make a Vassal version of the game Napoleon and his Marshals. Anyone who is capable and interested, please get in touch with them on their website.

 These are the links to the main game and my review of it along with the games other expansions:

https://www.twogeneralsgames.com/index.php/our-games/79-napoleon-and-his-marshals

https://www.twogeneralsgames.com/index.php/our-games/98-unconquered-lands-expansion-for-napoleon-and-his-marshals

https://www.twogeneralsgames.com/index.php/our-games/100-the-ottoman-empire-expansion-for-napoleon-and-his-marshals

Link to the updated rules and scenarios:

https://www.twogeneralsgames.com/index.php/news/109-update-napoleon-rules-and-scenarios

 My review:

https://www.awargamersneedfulthings.co.uk/2018/07/napoleon-and-his-marshals-by-two.html

Robert

Antipater's Dynasty Alexander the Great's Regent and his Successors by John D Grainger    Antipater...

Antipater's Dynasty: Alexander the Great's Regent and his Successors by John D. Grainger Antipater's Dynasty: Alexander the Great's Regent and his Successors by John D. Grainger

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



by











  Antipater, Parmenion, and Antigonos belonged to an earlier generation than Alexander. All three were contemporaries of Alexander's father Phillip II. Antipater was to be in charge of Macedon while Phillip II invaded the Persian Empire. Parmenion was actually in now a days Turkey acting as the first invasion force and intelligence gathering mission. Antipater lived longer than Alexander, and was one of the few Successors that remained true to Alexander's heirs. It has been thought by some historians that Alexander was planning on killing Antipater had he lived. The other story told is that Antipater had Alexander killed by poison brought to Babylon by his son Kassander.

 So, this is the story of both Antipater and his children and grandchildren, etc. The author, John D. Grainger, is one of my favorites. In this book, along with his others, he is able to take events from more than 2000 years ago and make sense of them. The first part of the book deals with Antipater and his up and down in his relationship with Alexander. As Alexander aged, his thirst for blood increased exponentially. For Antipater to have even lived to see Alexander's death was quite an accomplishment.

 Strange as it seems, Antipater did not make his son Kassander his heir. He appointed Polyperchon to that role. Unfortunately this meant much misery for Greece. His daughters' marriages only helped to break apart the Macedonian Empire into the separate Hellenistic Kingdoms. Kassander's supposedly obsessive hatred of Alexander is also gone into by the author (the well known head-banging incident), although he doesn't take it as gospel. Kassander's sons' greed and inability to co-rule made certain of the family's fall from being rulers of Macedon. Antipater, through his daughter Phila's descendants (who was the mother of Antigonus Gonatus), ruled Macedon until the Roman conquest (Antigonids).

A great book by a great author on one of the most important of the Diadochi.

Robert

Book: Antipater's Dynasty: Alexander the Great's Regent and his Successors
Author: John D. Grainger
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishers

Star Wars Legion is a two-player battle between the Imperial forces and forces comprising the Rebel Alliance (what else?).  I've pla...

Star Wars Legion Star Wars Legion

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


Star Wars Legion is a two-player battle between the Imperial forces and forces comprising the Rebel Alliance (what else?).  I've played enough of the current catalogue of the seemingly never-ending release of Star Wars to be able to say I think this is my favourite at the tactical level (with a few caveats). 

Before I tell you why I think this is my favourite tactical Star Wars game, I've got to set some expectations. The Star Wars Legion box is a starter set for the rest of the system, it is far from the full SW:L experience.  This is a tabletop wargame with elements borrowed from board games that optimise gameplay; it isn't a board game.  To explain further, I would consider Imperial Assault to be a miniatures boardgame; SW:L is a miniatures wargame.

You can watch my unboxing video of the core set below:

Gameplay

A game, or battle, lasts for six turns in which all of your and your opponents will activate alternately with each other.  A full turn of the game comprises three different phases, (I told you it was like a board game), the Command Phase, the Action Phase and the End Phase.
Starter Battle setup
During the Command Phase, players choose one from a hand of 7 command cards to 'order' a number of their in-command units.  However, these command cards also determine the initiative for that turn. If you've chosen a command card with a high number of activations you've probably ceded the initiative to your opponent.  Because there are so few command cards in use, you can know what cards your opponent still holds in their hand and choosing a command card turns into a fun mini-game within a game.

Your commander will be able to order a small number of units directly by placing an order token next to that unit (assuming they're within order range). Units that don't receive an order token will have their order tokens shuffled and placed in a face-down stack. During the activation phase, you can elect to move a unit that has an order token next to it or pull from the randomised stack and activate whichever unit is drawn. 
Protecting the transmission dish
In the most basic terms, each activated unit can move and fire.  As you're moving after your opponent (except for the first activation of the turn) you should be able to react immediately to any manoeuvre.  However, if you've placed an order token next to units that are far from the action, you'll be reduced to hoping that you pull the right order token from the stack to react or cause your opponent the same dilemma. This may sound quite random but you can control it in a variety of ways and it actually plays out like another fun mini-game within a game. 

Your units are not just limited to just moving and attacking. In the learning battle, players can also, aim and dodge, but the full rules, allow for a plethora of abilities to be used. The abilities when used allow you to have more control over the timing or your units' activation, their movement or their abilities in combat.  These powers are mostly tracked through the use of intuitive tokens next to the unit which neatly avoids the ubiquitous lookup tables in many other wargames.  These abilities not only are evocative of the lore of Star Wars but make the tactical decision space far greater.


Father and Son dukin' it out

The movement system is nice and simple. You are given three movement rulers which hinge in the middle and you measure the unit's leader-figures movement. Every other figure in the unit is just placed somewhere within XXX of that figure. There is no need for unit trays or endless measuring of distance. I thought this sped up the gameplay compared to many miniature wargames I've tried and it lets you get on with the real battle.

When in combat your units roll a number of dice depending on how many figures there are in the unit.  The unit cards indicate the number of red, black or white dice a single figure rolls in attack or defence. The strengths of each dice colour are different and I was continually pleased with how thematic the units abilities and dice mechanics worked to fit into Star Wars canon. Once again this was quite a simple mechanic but when the full rules are used, your units may have more than one weapon type and can fire on multiple enemies. Although the gameplay is very accessible there are plenty of good tactical decisions to be made.  I particularly like the surge mechanic which is present in quite a few FFG games.
Stormtroopers rolling too well, they defended every single hit!
The starter battle is very easy to jump into even if you're both complete newcomers to the game or have never played a miniatures wargame.  And you know what? I thought it was a blast.  I've continued to play the advanced rules and built up to nearly a full army of Imperial and Rebels.  A full army is 800pts and when building your army lists visiting table top admiral is a must.  I've even put my 3d printer to good use producing terrain for the game.

I just wish there were more players of the game near me. I've only found one game store out of about 7 or 8 I've visited recently (I travel quite a bit for work) who is stocking SW:L product. Which is a shame because I think this game is a great example of what a tabletop wargame should be and it's set in the Star Wars universe. Win-win from me. Its largest rival in this space is probably Games Workshop's 40k behemoth, and for me, there is no question which is more fun. (hint: it's not the spacemarines)
500pt Battle to control the comms array

Components

The game comes with a plethora of different tokens and figures to get going with the base game. It's almost expected that I would say that these components are up there with the best in the business as is the rest of FFG's output. However, I can criticise the miniatures, specifically the limited glueing surface (e.g. two boots) to their bases. I thought I was a fairly competent modeller and used the right type of glue but I've still had a few miniatures come unstuck.  Why can't all minis come on slotted bases?


Ubiquitous Learn to Play and self-printed Reference

Criticisms

The rest of the production of this game is top-quality, as ever from FFG, but there is lots to criticise here.  I think the delivery of the product to gamers has been poorly handled. 

The core game doesn't provide enough dice to roll just one hand of dice. Scooping up the misses and rolling again, or remembering the previous roll to add to the next is not what I want to be doing. My first 'expansion' that I bought was an extra set of dice.  Adding an extra 9 dice couldn't have been that cost prohibitive, could it?
Can you spot the Rebel sharpshooters?
The rules reference is not provided in the box. The Learn to Play book is there and it's excellent, but to progress onto the next stage you'll need to download and print out or use a screen to read the rules reference.  I know this is intended to be a living document so any print out will show its age, but wargamers have been adding errata corrections to manuals for as long as Star Wars has been around. You can't even buy the rules reference as a standalone product. However, they have used lots of links in the pdf and it's very easy to navigate. You just need to have a large tablet or laptop at the game table.

The scale of the miniatures does not match that of Imperial Assault, they are larger and, however, much better quality, but I think this aspect alone massively damaged Legion's launch. Imagine if all the Imperial Assault players woke up to find a new game, playable with their existing miniatures with just a purchase of some dice and card decks. I guarantee that the uptake of this would have been through the roof. The potential for future expansions would also have been massive as IA players realise that this game is a much better skirmish game than IA. This miniature scale decision could be viewed as quite cynical corporate greed and I think it may have stabbed FFG in the foot a little.

If you do eventually buy the expansions, and I heartily recommend SW:Legion with them, then be prepared for the amount of air you're buying.  The expansion box sizes far outstrip the amount of content you get. I'm getting a bit fed up with publishers making their boxes with no consideration to the amount of stuff that box will hold. It's not bad in the Core Box, mine is stuffed and it comes with an almost workable insert, but the expansions are ridiculous. What is more egregious is that I'm sure 90% of players will be ditching these expansion boxes straight away.

Looking at the prices for this in the one store, I found actively stocking it (luckily it's local) is the price model.  FFG know what they're doing with this IP and the level of players they can expect to invest and support the game, but the prices for the expansions feels fairly wallet gouging if you're not a regular miniatures gamer accustomed to skipping meals to pay for the next unit...



via GIPHY

However, with all that said, these criticisms do nothing to detract from the gameplay. 

Conclusion

So I love the gameplay. There are some really great 'ah-hah' moments when you realise how to use your units abilities and how it fits thematically and I've only really scratched the surface; there's lots of game here to get your teeth into.  But there is lots to criticise as well. Thankfully very few of my criticisms are levelled at the gameplay, more at how FFG have handled the production and launch of this game.
Comms power generator captured by a severely weakened stormtrooper unit
Star Wars: Legion shares top-gong, with Star Wars Rebellion, for best game in the Star Wars universe, in my opinions, and is the most fun I've had playing a tabletop wargame.  Other games I've experienced which I'm basing this comparison on are: Lion Rampant, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40k, and Bolt Action.

Legion plays quickly and you have a plethora of tactical decision every single turn of when to activate and how to minimise the damage an unwanted activation could do whilst attempting to destroy your opponent's forces. 


That's a lot of stuff in the base box
Some people have described this as an incomplete board game, and that is unfair. It is firmly a miniatures wargame with a little bit of a board game in there, e.g. the use of tokens and command cards.  You're paying for the rules and some starter units which aren't provided by many wargame rulesets.


If Star Wars is your thing and you're either a tabletop gamer wondering what all the fuss is about with board games, or you're a board gamer, curious what the other side of your local game shop is all about, then I can recommend Star Wars Legion, it has a foot in both camps.


Now would be a great time to get into Legion as the support from FFG continues to grow and the Clone Wars core box sets are soon to be released alongside the multitude of expansions that will eventually come with the new factions. At the moment only B-1 Battle Droids and Clone Troopers have been announced but you get General Grievous and Obi-Wan Kenobi (of Mcgregor vintage) in the core box alongside two base units and a vehicle unit for each side.

This is a little hard to find in local brick and mortar stores but still widely available online and actively supported by FFG, I get the impression that it is much more popular across the pond than in the UK.  You can 
find your nearest FLGS at http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/

Publisher: FFG

Website: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/star-wars-legion
Players: 2
Designer: Alex Davy
Playing time: 1-2 hours

Battle for the the Baltic Islands Triumph Of the Imperial German Navy by Gary Staff         The usual stor...

Battle for the Baltic Islands: Triumph of the Imperial German Navy by Gary Staff Battle for the Baltic Islands: Triumph of the Imperial German Navy by Gary Staff

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




by



  


  


 The usual story told in history books is that after Jutland the German High Seas fleet ran home with it's tail between it's legs. Then it did nothing until 1918 when the staff had decided that it would go down in glory in a last ditch suicide sortie. At that time the sailors mutinied much like the Russian sailors had at Kronstadt. It seems like the real story because it has been told so many times. Unfortunately it is nowhere near the truth, and thankfully Gary Staff has written this book to put the story straight. This is the story of the 1917 German attack on the Islands, which are near the Gulf of Riga.

 This history of the German combined arms attack on the Baltic Islands should be a blueprint for other military history books. The book itself is less than 200 pages, but it is filled with maps (14) and has sixteen pages of photos (40 photos). The maps are some of the best I have seen in military books that were not an atlas. The author tells the story of the campaign from the smallest mine sweeper to the various battleships involved. The land fighting and the forces used there have not forgotten by the author. It is a tale of a very well planned and executed amphibious operation on the Germans' part.

 This book should put paid to the idea that the German fleet sat like a cur for the last two years of the war. Thank you Mr. Staff for writing this book. Your attention to detail in your books is much appreciated. I look forward to any other books you have planned. This book should be on anyone's shelf who has the slightest interest in the naval warfare or WWI.

Robert 
Author: Gary Staff
Publisher: Pen & Sword
Distributor: Casemate Publishers

 Azul probably needs no introduction. Since its release in 2017, it has proven to be one of those unicorn-games that has managed to cros...

Azul Azul

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


 Azul probably needs no introduction. Since its release in 2017, it has proven to be one of those unicorn-games that has managed to cross over, from hobby games, into more mainstream gaming.  Last Christmas my Sister, who is not a gamer and who I haven't seen in years (she lives in a different continent), called me up to talk about Azul which she had just played.

It is a competitive abstract game that is quick to teach and has a surprising amount of depth and it will give gamers and non-gamers alike plenty to chew on. It also looks beautiful on the table and if anything, plays too quickly, i.e. it is over before I want it to be over, two or three more rounds would always be welcome. 

You can watch my quick unboxing of Azul below:

Gameplay

All players are building a mosaic on their own player board from a collective pool of tiles in the centre of the table.  Available tiles all start in a number of 'factories' that are placed in between all players.  You must take all tiles of the same pattern from a factory, any tiles that didn't match your pattern are discarded to the centre of the table to form a common pool of tiles. 

You could just play this game concentrating on your own board, but the tile draw mechanism also allows you to jeopardise your opponent's best choices in a deliciously mean fashion.  Of course, a casual gamer is probably not going to look for those 'take that' opportunities and will have a lovely time building their own mosaic on their own player board, albeit having to work through some unexpectedly tough decisions. 

Those tough decisions, in all likelihood, have come from the experienced gamer or keen Azul-player at the table who may be looking for as many opportunities to minimise their opponents' choices.

This game rewards either play style, if not through an abundance of victories (I've not figured out a consistently good strategy) but in playing experience and fun. And after all, why do we play and obsess over these cardboard and plastic pieces whose intrinsic value is so little? I know for me, it's because of the experiences and fun that I have when playing with a friend or group of friends, the memories that are made and recalled...

When you've taken one pattern of tile from a factory or the centre, you place them on a pattern line, which has one to five spaces available. Tiles can only be placed on empty lines, or lines that have the same tile in already and empty spaces available.  If you can't place them on a free pattern line, then they drop to the floor line. Any tiles on your floor line will cause negative points at the end of a round.

Any abstract game is always going to struggle with theme, but Azul probably has more of a theme than any abstract I've played. It's still fairly loose, but your actions and the overall look of the game reflect the process of building a mosaic work of art nicely.

Scoring happens after all tiles have been taken from the centre. It is simply a matter of taking a tile from a complete pattern line and placing it into your mosaic. When you do this you add up how many orthogonally contiguous tiles are touching it, and you count the placed tile in both the horizontal and vertical direction. If the placed tile is not adjacent to any other tile, it will score 1 point; if it is at the centre of a row and column then it will score a maximum of 10 points. ( I have never managed this)

The end of the game is triggered when one person has one complete row.  During my first game of this, my casual game group and I all raced to be the first to complete a row thinking that was a good thing. We did not appreciate that the end game scoring doesn't reward finishing the game. Players get far more bonus points from completing rows and using 5 tiles of the same colour in their mosaic.  end thinking that was a good thing... However, after their 2nd and third consecutive plays of it, we were all a bit savvier and trying to score more points, over finishing the game.

This endgame condition balances the gameplay nicely. When you're in the lead, you're pushing to finish the game as quickly as possible, which will probably cause you to lose scoring opportunities making you lose points relative to the other players. If you're trailing, you are able to engineer, at least if there are three other savvy players around the table much harder tile draw decisions for the leading player whilst maximising your own score. The player interaction, despite all playing to their own board, is high.

Components

The tiles are glorious and the art, although simple geometric patterns are again, evocative of the theme. The box looks and feels fantastic and it comes with a well-though-out insert. Unfortunately, my player boards are bowed which helps them to spin round like a record very easily.

Criticisms

A complete game is anywhere from five complete rounds to an average of six to eight rounds. For me, the game is over just a little too soon. I know this is normally the sign of a tight and balanced game and in general this a good thing. However, I find I am enjoying myself so much that I don't necessarily care that I may not be winning and just want to build a nicer pattern and have more turns in which to do so... I think I may be an artist at heart.

Conclusion

Azul is a heart-warming game, in the same vein as Patchwork and fully deserves its place as a modern 'classic', or at least, a soon-to-be modern classic. It is accessible for any type of gamer and although there's no direct conflict, there are certainly opportunities to mess with your opponents and it's this trait, being able to accommodate different play styles, that makes it appeal to any type of gamer. For me, it sits firmly in the filler category, taking about 40 minutes to play.  I could see this easily becoming a firm family-favourite at holiday gatherings.


I think I am correct in saying that every single game store will have a copy of this game on their shelves and you can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to find your nearest store in the UK.

Publisher: Plan B Games

Website: https://www.planbgames.com/azul
Players: 2 - 4

Designer: Michal Kiesling

Playing time: 30 - 45 mins

SHERMAN LEADER from DAN VERSSEN GAMES A good starting point would be with my earlier review of Tiger Leader , as clearly there...

SHERMAN LEADER SHERMAN LEADER

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

SHERMAN LEADER
from
DAN VERSSEN GAMES


A good starting point would be with my earlier review of Tiger Leader, as clearly there is much in common!  Identical size and quality of box...identical... identical.  As Sherman Leader is almost the mirror image of its predecessor, this is all to be expected.  Certainly no slipping of quality control - all my usual praise for the physical components can be echoed here.

The map board on which virtually everything takes place is identical[give or take about 1 cm!], except that rather than German field-grey, the overall colour is American olive drab.  [Note that "drab" is not a criticism, but the technical colour palette name]. 


The terrain overlays are slightly less glossy;  marginally, I think that I prefer them, yet prefer the older terrain art work for the snow-bound tiles of the Bulge Campaign.  By historical necessity, some of the campaigns included in the previous game cannot be part of this package when focusing on the American side of WWII.  North Africa, Italy, the Normandy Campaign and Germany obviously feature, but in come three Pacific campaigns: the Philippines 1942, Saipan 1944 and Okinawa 1945.  To accompany the new Pacific Campaigns, we have new jungle terrain and a separate Battalion Deck for the Japanese.  These are identified on the front of the cards by appropriate symbols and pictures.

The Leader cards feature artwork in muted colours, while the illustrations on the cards with scenes and equipment from WWII remain the black and white type found in Tiger Leader.  We already know that some people liked them and some didn't - I did.  So, presumably there's still the difference in taste now  - and I still like them.  No surprises there!

As before, oodles of high quality counters and cards, all very familiar, as is the whole sequence of play.  So, for those of you familiar with the Leader series and especially with Tiger Leader you may wish to skip over the next sections.



First choose a Campaign and then select an Objective card.   These will determine the range of units that will be involved.  This particularly affects the range of tanks that you will be up against.  I like this attention to detail, as equipment for a campaign can only be chosen from the historical period during which they were operational.  At least with the Germans I had become familiar with what to expect, but the Japanese forces, especially their tanks have been a whole new learning experience.  Obviously the location of a Campaign affects the dominant terrain, again the jungle of the Pacific Campaigns is the new element for me personally to familiarise myself with. 

In game terms, the combination of Campaign and Objective is most significant in producing SO [Special Option] points, which are the purchasing power for the troops you stock your campaign with and to buy a few sundry benefits.  Your units range from basic infantry, including machine gun and mortar teams, through armour and light armour to anti-tank, half-tracks and artillery.  You can also buy trucks and scouts, but these don't appear as counters on your map.  Instead, trucks help in reducing the SO cost of attacking enemy battalions in specific locations on the Tactical Display Sheet, while scouts allow you to extend the standard number of 5 turns in a battle.  Both can be absolutely essential buys at times.


Before purchasing your units, you must randomly draw Enemy Battalion Cards up to the Campaign’s value. There are three types of battalion: Assault, Supply and Command and you must always select them in the order to 2 Assault, 1 Supply and 1 Command.  I’ve often thought it might be a good idea if some Campaigns had modifiers to the Objective Cards to reflect special historical circumstances.

These will be the total number of enemy Battalions that you will face over the course of a typical campaign which will last from 3 to 5 weeks.  Each week, you will make the choice of which of these Battalions you will fight and the number of them that you destroy by the end of the campaign will determine your level of success.  

Next you buy [using your OPs points] your unit cards and then you choose the correct type of Commander card for each type of Unit card (from the four basic categories: Infantry, Armour, Light Armour and Artillery). The Skill Level from Recruit to Ace and the number of each that you are allowed is given on the Campaign card. The earlier the Campaign, the less likely that you will be able to choose any Veteran or Ace Commanders, while gaining Experience points as the Campaign progresses will allow you to upgrade their Skill levels.

There is a photocopyable Roster Sheet to fill in all the essential
details and then it’s off to choose which enemy Battalion you’re going to fight in your first week and which of your units you decide to assign to combat each Battalion.  


Here is the typical layout for an encounter in one of the pacific campaigns.. At top right you can see the display on which the enemy battalion counters will be displayed, showing the various locations from Enemy Breakthrough to Friendly Staging area.  The nearer these are to your own troops, the fewer Ops points you will need to spend in order to engage with the enemy.

Once you've made your choice of Battalion to fight, you place your own units on the map and then draw the appropriate types of enemy units as shown on the Battalion card and according to random dice rolls place them on the map.   As mentioned earlier, most battles last 5 turns with the ability to extend the length is you've purchased scout cars.

In a turn, each enemy unit will activate according to dice rolls on the Tactical Movement chart printed on the bottom right of the play board.  Those of your units that have a Fast Commander will move and fire first, while those which have a Slow Commander will move and fire after the enemy units!   The earlier in the war a Campaign is the more likely that your Commanders will be Slow.  Again, as the Skill of a Commander is upgraded the change to becoming a Fast Commander will tend to occur.

A few tweaks have improved the game play, but only in what I would consider very minor ways.   For those who found fault with Tiger Leader, I do not think that they will find any changes that will significantly change their view.  Personally, I was well pleased with all elements of the former game and considered the rule book to be even easier to digest than those for the many Leader series games that concentrated solely on air warfare.  Sherman Leader maintains that clarity and ease of reading with continued excellence in graphical layout and consistent high quality illustrations, as seen in just a couple of examples laid out below.

One of the major features of these two games that I like is the marrying of Commander cards to unit cards, with the reality that a unit may lose its Commander in battle or that the unit may be destroyed while the Commander survives.  Obviously, for many the delight of Sherman Leader is the fact that this game places you in the role of directing the Allied forces that previously you could only fight against.

For those of you already owning Tiger Leader, there is the added value that the Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit comes as part of the package and a lovely substantial addition it is with 4 full sheets of counters, 6 supplemental sets of cards and a complete new rule book. Personally, I was fortunate to receive a bonus of the WWII Tank Leader Commander cards expansion pack.  These cards add a superb new element to both games giving you a set of enemy Commanders who will be randomly drawn and allocated to each enemy Battalion.   These cards give your enemy units bonuses and abilities.  For those of you who like a tough fight, the going just got tougher!  Though it's intended that these be randomly drawn, who can't be enticed by the thought of coming up against Erwin Rommel or Heinz Guderian or even, when playing the Germans, encountering Bernard Montgomery.  My only complaint is that, amazingly, I cannot take on General George Patton!! 

So, all in all, a total thumbs up to this latest addition to the many great Leader games.

Thanks again to DVG for providing the review copies.













 




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