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CASTLE ITTER FROM DVG A little more than a year after the appearance of Pavlov's House ,  David Thompson has put his excellent ...


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

A little more than a year after the appearance of Pavlov's House,  David Thompson has put his excellent solitaire system to equally good use in this second game, Castle Itter.  Before I say anything else about its implementation, something definitely needs to be said about the historical facts that give rise to the game's sub-title; The Strangest Battle of WWII.  For me and I'm sure for many others, there may be other strange battles of WWII, but I think this certainly ranks as one of the strangest and one of the least known!

It's May 1945 near the small Austrian Tyrol village of Itter and, in almost classic Hollywood movie terms, a small group of assorted German and American soldiers, a handful of French political prisoners and an SS officer seek to hold out against an SS force until an American relief force arrives.  Nor were these any old political prisoners - of them two were former prime ministers of France and one was Charles de Gaulle's sister according to the research that I've done.  I say this because the named French counters that the game gives us differ to some extent from those in online documentation, particularly in the omission of de Gaulle's sister.  Also the fact that only one defender died in the battle, though that was the commanding Wermacht officer, may indicate a less than last ditch defence.  However, don't let that deter you from enjoying this thoroughly taught and engrossing game.  

If you're new to this site, I'd strongly recommend a read of my review of Pavlov's House, as I shall be making a number of comparisons between the two games.  The first is in the scale of each game as represented by the marked difference in the playing boards.

Here we have the three panelled board for Pavlov's House, which moving left to right takes us from the tactical to the operational scope of the game. In contrast, Castle Itter remains purely on a tactical scale and it's very much as if we simply took and expanded the left hand panel and added the German movement tracks from the central panel.  

Consequently, we have a much more intimate game concentrating on the various areas of the castle and its approach on the right via the Gate House and its lone defending tank, the most curiously named Besotten Jenny!

This change of scale brings in many differences.  Most obvious is that there are fewer rules and fewer options for you the player to choose from.  Instead of drawing a hand of cards each turn containing a variety of actions and having to juggle where you consider the main threats currently to be coming from across three locations, you can take five actions from among four choices: fire to eliminate an enemy counter, fire to place suppression markers, move from one area to another or turn a unit counter back to fresh from exhausted.

The result is a much quicker game to learn and a much quicker game to play.  It took several plays of Pavlov's House and constant referral to the Play Aid to get to know what the choices written on each card offered you.  Here you will have memorised your actions and the enemies after a single play.  But, DO NOT think that this makes the current game inferior.  Both are intense struggles.  Both demand that you prevent an enemy unit from reaching and breaching its objective building, though there are other ways to lose in Pavlov's House!

Though the terrain is obviously abstracted to a certain degree, there is far more sense of place here, as a glance at the board reveals.  Initially at set up, there are only German attackers, one rifleman in each of the twelve starting locations, and the five French prisoners lodged in the cellar, which in real life would be below the castle, but here is placed in the bottom left corner.
In the picture above, the rest of the game's physical components can be seen.  Above the board are the various markers: Action Tokens, Command Tokens, Disrupted Tokens, 1 Load Token [for loading the tank's main gun!] and Suppression Tokens.  Below it on the left are the range of SS counters [lots more riflemen, scouts, sturm troopers, machine gunners and mortars].  In the centre are three reinforcements for the defenders, to their right the German wermacht defenders and then on the far right the American defenders.
A closer look at the main part of the castle

Every single item is substantial from the glossy mounted board to the large, thick individual counters.  As with Pavlov's House, many of the defenders are named and, in a touch that contributes to the atmosphere of the situation, have special attributes identified by a capital letter.   Some of the rank and file German defenders have low morale which is offset by the presence of an officer in the same location.  Four of the five French prisoner defenders can inspire others in the same location by adding a die to their attack value.  Those Americans marked with a T for tank can make use of several special locations [mainly on the tank itself] that significantly boost attack and suppression dice, while the senior Wermacht officer has the sacrifice ability to die in the place of one French defender who becomes a casualty. 
Most of the Defenders
Once again these unit counters are of a very satisfying size and robustness which makes both for ease of handling and ease of reading the information on them.

The rule book is a model of clarity and personally I'm pleased with the decision to move to an A4 format which makes for ease of handling.  It's a glossy well laid out product with numerous full colour examples to support every detail of the game from set up, explanation of counters and cards and every action that can be performed.

It is a very straightforward game to get into.  A turn involves the five actions taken by you, followed by drawing three cards from the German deck and carrying out the instructions on them. The first four turns are swift and particularly easy for you the defender as each turn you must use each of your five actions to place one of your defenders on the board and perform an action with them.  At this early stage of the game, this will mainly be placing suppression markers.  
The curiously named tank, Besotten Jenny, fully crewed

From then on the fun and thrill of the game is deciding on what five actions to take and then awaiting the resolution of each of the three German cards which must be drawn and executed one by one.  Your two aggressive actions are firing at a single enemy unit or placing suppression markers that can be used to fire at an enemy unit only when it is first placed on the board.  

Once one of your units has taken an action, it is flipped to its exhausted side and it then takes an action simply to turn it back to its active side again.  Moving a unit within a location is a free action thus allowing the chosen unit to do something else, but moving from one location to another is a complete action.  Soon some of your men are going to become disrupted and, yes, it takes an action just to remove a Disrupted marker.

You have a few units that have the special Command ability to perform three actions on other units that occupy the same location.  Mainly these will be used to remove a Disruption marker or refresh an exhausted unit.  But such affected units are marked with Command markers to show that you can't then use them in the same turn.

Always there are more actions needing to be taken than the five you are allotted and as the various SS units begin to encroach nearer and nearer on their allotted paths to the castle, the tension is ratcheted up.
Here are some of your worst enemies.  The machine gunners and mortar teams cannot advance to take the castle, but remain on starting points for the opportunity to lay down fire when the appropriate cards are drawn, while the Sturm units are the most difficult to kill of your opponents that will be advancing down the avenues of attack!

All the SS actions are governed by the turn of three cards each turn.  These cards are a range that mingle the introduction of units that can advance and those that are stationary, but can fire along with a variety of actions directed to suppress units, damage the fabric of the castle or seek to destroy your one and only tank.
All these involve dice rolls that often seem to have a mind and will of their own!   As these rolls are based on two D6, with the expected range of 2-12, laying down suppressive fire on areas 6-8 is advisable particularly early in the game.  But typically always expect the unexpected.  Having built up just such a defensive shield against those areas, I was subjected to a series of low rolls of 4s and 5s that had the enemy units streaming in on the opposite side of the board.

I've had the tank survive all rolls against it and at other times seen it brew up along with a full complement of soldiers destroyed with it.  My leading German officer has been sniped at and killed as my first casualty, while a terrace full of soldiers has come through unscathed.
Here is one of my more ignominious defeats, as the SS breach the castle. Technically you lose immediately 1 unit makes it into the castle, but I couldn't resist seeing how bad the effects of the killing card play was and, as you can see, three units have breached my defences, with two more lined up behind them.

All in all, I've found Castle Itter a fast playing, nail-biting experience, very easy to learn and highly rewarding to play.  What's more, should you find it easier to survive than I do, there is an excellent Tactical deck of cards that can be introduced that turns the screw from merely difficult to insanely impossible!  Don't say you haven't been warned.

I've no hesitation in recommending this as an addition to anyone's collection and count Pavlov's House with Castle Itter as a perfect pairing. 

Heart of Leviathan by imageStudios  These are the ultimate heavy metal for us aficionados: Battleships in World W...

Heart of Leviathan by imageStudios Heart of Leviathan by imageStudios

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

Heart of Leviathan



 These are the ultimate heavy metal for us aficionados: Battleships in World War I. The setting was mostly the frigid North Sea, although action took place across the globe. This is one of my favorite wargame/simulation topics. Who wouldn't be in love with their majestic beauty? These ships were the ultimate weapon of war on the high seas until submarines and then finally aircraft came along. In the age depicted, they are like the dinosaurs with no other enemies except other leviathans to worry about. Massively armed and armored, they strode across the seas from 1905 until the beginning of world War II as each nation flexed their biceps. With the building of the British Dreadnought all other warships became obsolete overnight. Oddly enough, Dreadnought was so radically better than any other warship it actually somewhat levelled the playing field between Germany and Britain. So we know what the game is about; how is it to play?

 First things first, I have to tell you what HOL is not. It is not a naval simulation where you need the floor of your den or dining room to play. You also do not need a calculator or have to keep maximizing and reprinting the game's spreadsheets in order to read them. This game is a thing of beauty. It is a mixture of miniatures and wargame/simulation that is wonderful to look at and to play. The game's components are top shelf all the way. The piece de resistance is the miniature ships that come with the game. Even the rulebook is a small piece of art. This is what you get with the game:

4 Battleships - 2 König Class, 2 Iron Duke Class (this game set)
4 Hardstock Ship Counters
4 Ship Command Placards
5 Movement Templates
15 Dice - 5 Red, 5 Blue, 5 Black
Critical Damage Card Deck
Equipment Refit/Upgrade Card Deck
Shallow Water Obstacle
Numerous Minefield Obstacles
Smoke Markers
Ship Captain Card Deck
Numerous Markers

 I just cannot say enough about the level of the components. The only games that are comparable are very high level space simulators. The rulebook is only ten pages long including the Advanced Rules. The actual rules probably only take up five pages because of the excellent, and large, illustrations of setup and play. This is not a tome that cannot be memorized and you do not need a medieval monk, complete with scrolls, sitting next to the players as a reference. This is an exceedingly playable game that actually gives the player historic outcomes. It is one of those things where everyone is scratching their heads, going why didn't I think of this? Another great part of the game is that you can use the miniatures unpainted, but why would you, or you can use them after they are spruced up in all their glory. Not only that, you do not need them at all. If you are too wary of damaging your small masterpieces, the game comes with thick stock overhead portraits of the ships. The miniatures actually have a small rectangular keel that fits right into the cardboard. So it is up to you, admiral, on how you want to play. This also means that when leaving home to play somewhere else you do not have to worry about damage to your miniscule beauties. They actually are not that miniscule. The ships are almost 4 1/2" long (at least these Battleships are). You can play the game in as little space as 36" x 36" or larger if you prefer. The key to the game is the 'Ship Command Placard'. Everything about the ship from speed, hull strength, and the dice to use at what range, along with other things are on the placard. Everything about the rules has been streamlined and pretty much thought of. It has turned naval gunnery warfare from an hour for the player to find out if he has hit to what he actually hit on his opponent, to a simple system. I am not saying the other types of games are not enjoyable at times. It is just before this game we never had the choice of what type to play. That is one thing I have to state strongly. This game was never intended to be a simulation of incredible depth. You cannot target a specific part of the enemy's ship. It is a simple die roll that shows whether or not you have drawn blood. If you roll a 'Critical Hit', then the captain of the hit ship pulls a card from the Critical Damage Deck and implements those effects. Some of these are:

Damaged Rudder - Can only move straight
Power Generator Damage - You can only fire at range 1 or 2
Shattered Primary Gun Barrel - Remove one red and one blue die
Command Station Destroyed - Discard all Admiral and Captain   upgrade cards
Powder Magazine Explosion - Something wrong with your bloody ship today

 Both Captain Cards and Equipment Refit/Upgrade Cards are bought at the start of the game. They suggest a 200 point engagement value for each player. You, of course, are free to decide among the players the amount. Some of the Equipment Refit/Upgrade Cards are specific to the type of ship (Battleship. Battlecruiser), and some are specific to either Germany or England.
These are some of the cards:

Elbow Grease - Can freely rotate turrets to the other side
Mast range Clock  - Another Friendly ship within range 1-3 may change one blank result to a hit
Repair Damage - Recover up to two Hull Value of your ship

 Each Ship Captain Card has its own set of allowable Upgrade/Refit Cards it can use.

 The sequence of play is:

1. Plot Phase - Planning phase for the turn. Players secretly set their ship's Movement Value on the Ship Command Placard. Players may also select an Order that is available to them to be used during the turn.
2. Movement/Orders Phase - During the Movement/Orders Phase, players follow through with the movement and orders previously designated for their ships during the Plot Phase. The Player in possession of the First Player Token moves and/or executes orders for any one of his/her ships first followed by player 2 (repeat alternately until all ships have been activated)
3. Combat (Guns) Phase - Ships fire at opposing targets while targeted ships attempt to avoid or minimize damage. Players alternate firing back and forth (just as in movement). Battle damage is resolved immediately/consecutively - not simultaneously - Ships can be sunk before they have a chance to return fire.

 The advanced rules add the ability for a captain to make smoke. The advanced rules also include Close Quarter Melee rules. These ships were still armed for this even at this late age. The age of the ram armed Battleship was not that many years before. Image Studios has also released a set with cruisers that has torpedoes in the game. These are the English and German ships released and planned so far:


Iron Duke Class - Battleship
Iron Duke -  This was in my set
Benbow - This was in my set
Emperor of India

Queen Elizabeth Class - Battleship
Queen Elizabeth

Weymouth sub-class of the Town class - Light Cruiser

M Class Destroyer


König Class - Battleship
König - This was in my set
Markgraf - This was in my set
Grosser Kurfürst

Helgoland Class - Battleship

Dresden Class - Light Cruiser



  This game is for anyone who has any interest in World War I naval battles. I think this is a great crossover game for someone who wants to try miniature gaming, or a miniature gamer who wants to head toward board games. This game is the perfect segue for either. Thank you imageStudios for letting me review this game. I cannot for the life of me understand why this game has so little written about it on the web. Its BGG page is almost entirely empty. For a game that is this good it is a shame. 

mageStudios Hearts of Leviathan:


With Musket & Tomahawk  Volume I The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777 by Michael O. Logusz ...

With Musket & Tomahawk Volume I by Michael O. Logusz With Musket & Tomahawk Volume I by Michael O. Logusz

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

With Musket & Tomahawk  Volume I

The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777


Michael O. Logusz

  Some campaigns just grab the military history reader. Whether it be because of content, or perhaps it is a geographical pull, meaning the area of the campaign is close to home. The Saratoga Campaign of the American Revolution hits both cylinders on my military history scale. Not only that, but it is really the turning point of the Revolution. After Saratoga, there was no way that the British were going to win. Before Saratoga, all of the large battles of the war were won by the British (Trenton actually had very few troops involved). The British had been able to cuff the American forces about the head and defeat them, albeit sometimes at great cost, at every turn. This was the first battle/campaign where an entire British army was defeated and almost all of it captured by the Americans. The shockwave of this victory cannot be underplayed. This is the reason that France entered the war, and without France there would be no Yorktown. So, needless to say, there are many books on the subject. Is this book just a rehash of everything that has been written or a great example of written military history? Let us see.

 One of the best parts of the book is that it explains in detail the British planning for 1777. Starting as a much smaller envisioned attack from Canada, it was turned into a war winning strike designed to separate New England from the rest of the rebelling colonies. The book goes into the fact that this idea did not spring out of 'Gentleman Johnny's' brain by any means. Many officers had been discussing the need of an attack from Canada. The biggest historical question about the campaign is answered unequivocally by the author, complete with written facts and not conjecture. Was General Howe ordered or even pushed to attack Albany to meet up and help Burgoyne with his attacks through New York? The author shows us that the answer is no. Even before Burgoyne had started his campaign, Howe had written to the British Crown and gotten approval for his campaign in Pennsylvania. Was this the best strategy? Absolutely not. There is more than a chance that had Howe struck toward Albany, the Colonials would have been unable to deal with both forces and Burgoyne would have been successful. Howe has been vilified for leaving Burgoyne in the lurch for many years. The book shows us that the British authorities made no attempt to try and concentrate both armies in central New York. This one point is enough to raise the book above the rest of the crowd.

 This book is what military history should be. It is factual without being too dry, and the pace goes along almost like a novel. The author has chosen to add a number of maps. The difference compared to some other books is also plain. Other than having maps that look like they came off a mimeograph machine that needed ink forty years ago, they are clear and concise, and allow the reader an excellent bird's eye view of the campaign and battles. The book also comes with the obligatory several pages of pictures. Some are sketches and the others are photos of re-enactors. Strangely there are no pictures of the main combatants such as Burgoyne, etc. These are not really needed, so no real loss there. 

 One of the biggest reasons to read about the campaign is to see in actuality what Benedict Arnold really was to the Revolution. Most Americans only associate him with treason and have no idea that if not for him, it is possible that 'Granny' Gates might have lost at Saratoga. So strange to say, our most vilified traitor is one of the main reasons we have our freedom now. It is a story that more Americans need to know.

 Thank you Casemate for allowing me to read this excellent first volume on the War in the North during the Revolution. I cannot wait to read the next volumes in the series.


Book: With Musket & Tomahawk: Volume I The Saratoga and the Wilderness War of 1777
Author: Michael O. Lugosz
Publisher: Casemate Publishers

Puerto Rico should need no introduction; it stood atop the bgg rankings for many years (I believe it is the longest-running #1 game in t...

Puerto Rico Puerto Rico

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

Puerto Rico should need no introduction; it stood atop the bgg rankings for many years (I believe it is the longest-running #1 game in the history of bgg).  However, If you’re not familiar, players assume the roles of colonial governors on their eponymous island.  The game makes no attempt to nationalise or politicise the theme, other than alluding to European governors attempting to instil their values of order and industry to their respective islands and incoming colonists.  I too will ignore the politics and real history of the period.  Games are meant to be enjoyed after all and not provide a social commentary on human rights/abuses.

I recently received the Puerto Rico deluxe edition and have been excited to revisit this gem. However, if you’ve never heard of it (!!!) then the TL;DR is, if you like ‘Euro’ games with tight mechanics, don’t read this, just go and buy it.


The primary mechanic in this game is one of Action Drafting, in which the starting player will choose one of the six available actions.  Every other player will then get to do the same action albeit without the bonus ability that the first player gets.  After each player has taken their action, the starting player moves round to the next player on the left and then play repeats.  Although this game may look quite intimidating to a new gamer the repetition of actions 2 or 3 times every round allows the rules to sink in surprisingly quickly. In my experience, there are very few questions from new players after the first 30 minutes or so.
The game takes place on individual player boards which comprise island spaces and city spaces.  These must be filled by plantations (square chits), or buildings (rectangular chits) respectively.  There are loads of little seemingly insignificant design choices like this (chit shape) which make the game easy to teach and enjoyable to play every single time.  Even if you haven’t played in years, I promise that the rules will come flooding back.

The chosen actions are all part of the Role cards, which are: Captain, Mayor, Builder, Settler, Trader and Craftsman.  There is also a Prospector Role which has no associated action and will only be used in 4 or 5 player games.  These roles all perform a thematically linked action that will help to develop your ‘island’.  After players are familiar with the mechanics it is often quickly apparent which role should be chosen to most benefit you, however where I find the most fun in this game is looking for those roles which most hurt your opponents.
The available roles
The available plantations (corn, indigo, sugar, tobacco and coffee) only produce goods if there is the matching production building (indigo mill, sugar ill, tobacco storage etc) in the city space. The exception here is corn which requires no production building but is worth zero when sold…  It is a multiple-step process to produce any good (except corn); you’ll need to do the Settler action (placing a plantation), the Builder action (building the necessary production building), do the Mayor action which allows you to move your colonists onto the matching plantations and buildings.  All of which will allow you to produce during the Craftsmen action.

It is obvious from this description that some level of strategic thought is necessary to optimise your chosen plantations and buildings.  It is pointless planting sugar cane if you never build a sugar mill… there are many different building and goods options that provide viable paths to victory no one method will guarantee the win. The adage ‘do what your opponents aren’t’ springs to mind, you really do have to play tactically as well and consider the board state and available resources to do well.  New-comers won’t necessarily appreciate these nuances until their second or third play, but they’ll still have a good time whilst they're learning.
What you're playing on
Aside from the money, which allows you to enhance your city by buying buildings, the main VP scoring comes from choosing the Captain role which allows players to ship their produced goods (dependent on their island plantations and city buildings) back to Europe.  Each shipped good produces 1VP, however, there are only 3 ships that only accept one type of good and a finite amount of the first ‘shipped’ good.  However, 5 different types of goods can be produced so some goods may be lost…

Like many Euro games, the economy is very tight, money is often hard to come by.  But the true grease of your VP engine is your produced goods.  Each good can be sold to the Trader for some money but often you may be forced to ship your high-value coffee stock or risk having to just lose it without any gain.  New players don't often realise the ramifications around the table of their role choices but I revel in causing other players to lose their produced goods. 
The player board (near the beginning of the game)
There is a relatively high amount of player interaction even though you’re all playing on completely separate boards.  This is due to the common pool of resources, (plantations, buildings, colonists, goods, ship spaces and trading house spaces) that are finite and low.  During the Craftsmen action, the pool of resources will often be depleted allowing a big producer to deny other players the resources they should be entitled to.  This will not be a happy accident amongst experienced players.

Each Mayor phase will cause more colonists to be brought to the player's island and when the colonist supply runs out the game is over.  VPs come from buildings and shipped goods and any of the expensive large buildings which will be built towards the end of the game. Amongst equally experienced players the score appears to be fairly tight and a skilled player against newer players should win every time.  As with any mechanically sound game, aside from your opponents’ choices, luck does not feature in this game.
Some of the expansion content
This deluxe edition comes with the New Buildings and The Nobles expansions.  In total, they add 2 additional large buildings and 18 types of small buildings.  When you consider that the base game only has 23 types of buildings it’s easy to see that the expansions, with the additional building permutations, massively add to the re-playability of this game.  Alongside the buildings, players also get red Noble discs, which act just like colonists apart from they’re limited to certain buildings.  Both expansions serve to increase the playtime of 90 minutes to about 2 hours – which is a good thing in my opinion.  However, I would recommend that you don’t draft buildings at the beginning as read in the expansion rules – just draw them randomly.


I was quite disappointed in the quality of the components in what is considered a deluxe version.  The deluxe version, as far as I cant tell, only adds the two expansions (New Buildings and Nobles) into the base game.  Unfortunately, this edition has very thin card stock and I don’t think it will stand up to much normal wear-and-tear.

What you've got to work with
The punchboard used for the components is also thinner than I was expecting from a deluxe edition.  It was quite easy to not only bend the components when taking them out but also to rip them.  I had to go agonizingly slowly pressing out the coins and VP markers to prevent them from ripping (Unfortunately not completely successfully). 

I like the new art-work and I appreciate the insert that comes in the box.  The cubes and goods barrels work perfectly well and I wouldn’t want them to change anything about the colonist discs or any of the wooden components.  The only very minor functional gripe with the functionality of the components is that there are no spaces for two of the expansions’ large buildings on the game board.


It’s not easy to find criticisms in a game that is arguably the best game ever! (cult of the new notwithstanding).  However, some could argue that the opening is scripted based on player order.  This certainly may happen with experienced (5+ plays) players I feel like there is enough variability in the plantations and the role choices that after the 2nd or 3rd Actions have been taken this can be ignored.  If you want to analyse the game in-depth I’m sure the optimum play can be found, but you won’t find anyone willing to play with you.  If you add in all the expansion content then this criticism can be completely ignored.

The only real gripe I have is just of component quality which I have already mentioned.  


Some would say there is a lack of direct player interaction but if so, they’re playing the game wrong. Puerto Rico provides a less confrontational experience than something like Tigris & Euphrates but still gives all players the ability to negatively and (unfortunately) positively affect their opponents.  You’re often left with a decision between something good for you or something bad for your opponents and just okay for you.  I like these types of decisions – although I struggle not to (try at least) hurt my opponents as much as possible.
The end
I think Puerto Rico is a true masterpiece of a game that can be enjoyed by any level of gamer.  It scales well from 3-to 5 players and is a relatively quick teach.  This deluxe edition also comes with rules for 2 players but I confess I have not tried at that player count.  This edition is slightly let down by the quality of the card-stock but I am willing to overlook that minor flaw in what is a brilliant game. 

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending out this review copy.  Many local game stores will have this in stock and you can use this link to support your FLGS or use their online web store. 

Designer: Andrea Seyfarth
Publisher: Alea
BGG Page:
Players: 3-5
Playtime: 2 hours

Prelude to Rebellion Mobilization & Unrest in Lower Canada 1834-1837 by Compass Games  Okay boys and girls,...

Prelude to Rebellion: Mobilization & Unrest in Lower Canada 1834-1837 by Compass Games Prelude to Rebellion: Mobilization & Unrest in Lower Canada 1834-1837 by Compass Games

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

Prelude to Rebellion

Mobilization & Unrest in Lower Canada 1834-1837


Compass Games

 Okay boys and girls, this is a bit of a strange one for me. In the 'Designer Notes' a section is titled 'The Wargame That Never Was', so why do I have this game in front of me? The other problem for me is that what I know about Canadian history could fit into a thimble. I know about French Canada and the time before the British conquest, but nothing after the American Revolution. I only knew that there has been a long standing feud between the French speaking Canadians and their English speaking counterparts. I have been to Canada once, through Montreal and up to Quebec. I was given the good advice to brush up on my almost non-existent French before going. It was very good advice. So it was kind of shocking to read in the Designer Notes and preamble to the game that Canada came close to having a Civil War in the 1830s. Not only that, but Martial Law was in effect from 1837 until 1841 in Canada. So naturally, I had to find as much as I could to read up on this blank page of history in my brain. I will try to put the history into a nutshell; here goes. The French speaking, essentially small farmers mostly, citizens were effectively a group of second class citizens to the English speaking citizens who actually ran the government. The government was supposed to be an elective parliamentary one, but it was really just run by the English Governor and the English upper class. This game is about the tensions that boiled forth during these years in Lower Canada. The victory conditions are a bit convoluted. Effectively, as the Patriote (French) player you are trying to roil the lid off the boiling pot. As the Loyal (British) player, you are trying to force the British government to send in the troops to crush the French speaking Republic in the bud, or play well enough to win politically. A Patriote victory politically really only seems to be the beginning of their fight for freedom. I don't see how it could have not ended in the troops being called in. Meaning that, the Patriotes would then have been forced to armed insurrection. 

 We will start with what you get with the game:

1 - 22" x34" mounted game board
3 green Patriote dice and 3 red loyal dice
4 custom Scoring dice
150 green Patriote Mobilization Cubes
125 red Loyal Mobilization Cubes
147 cards divided as such:
  8Key Event cards
  24 cards forming the 1834 Deck
  24 cards forming the 1835-36 Deck
  39 cards forming the 1837 Deck
  52 cards forming the Generic Deck
1 sheet of counters
1 dice and cube bag

 The components are all what I have come to regard as standard from Compass Games. What this entails is the usual high production values of Compass Games. The map is mounted, again mostly a standard with Compass games. It is not a piece of artwork, but a blueprint to play a political game on. Because you have to keep track of so many things during the game, you might even call it 'busy'. The rulebook is in full color and is twenty-four pages long. Believe it or not, the rules are only fourteen pages long. The rest is taken up by Designer Notes, card clarifications, and a four page 'Extend Example of Play'. The cards are also well done and easy to read. The card clarification section of the rulebook helps to clear up any ambiguities for the player. 

 This is the sequence of play:

Action Round - Choose Between:
 Play a card from your hand (You will have cards in your hand for your faction, neutral cards, and cards from the opposing faction).     
    1.If it is a card from your faction, choose between:
   A. Play the cards Event. The card is then discarded unless the Event states otherwise.
   B. Play the card for its AP (Action Points).The card is then discarded.                                                                     
  2. If a neutral card, choose between:                                              
   A. Play the cards Event. The card is then discarded.
   B. Play the card for it's AP and place it in the Opportunity Pool.
  3. If a card from the opposing faction:
   A. Play the card for its AP and,
   1. If the Event's prerequisite is met the Event happens(opponent makes all relevant decisions). The card is then discarded unless the Event states otherwise.
      2. If the Event's prerequisite is not met, place the card in the Opportunity Pool and your opponent receives half the cards AP value in Opportunity points. 
Play a card from the Opportunity Pool:
  1. Spend x Opportunity Points to play the Event from a card of your faction or a neutral card worth x AP from the Opportunity Pool. The Event's prerequisite has to be met.      The card is then discarded.
Pass - (only if you have no cards in hand)

Spending AP - You can split your AP between different actions:
Mobilization -  Urban - 2 AP, Rural -1 AP
Creating Organizations:
  Perform a Mobilization check. Target number = Targeted county's MV (Mobilization Value) + x AP spent (minimum 2) + Rural Organization bonus (1/2 if associated Urban County's MV is 6-10/11+)
Call for Composure:
 Prevent the Rebellious Spirit from increasing at the end of the Turn.
 Costs 2 AP in 1834, 4 AP in 1835-36 and 6 AP in 1837                   
Volunteer Corps Recruitment (Rebellious Spirit at 8+)
 Perform a Mobilization Check:  
 Target number = Targeted County's Mobilization Value + AP spent (minimum 2).
La Tete a Papineau/Governor's Privileges:
 Maximum once/Turn, each Special Action once/game - Spend the special Action cost in AP to perform it.

 As you can see, the above is quite a mouthful, and I really just set out the outline.

 I could regurgitate the game's play for you, but this blurb from the game does it much better than I could:

 "Prelude to Rebellion" depicts this conflict of ideas as a card-driven game using key events from 1834 to 1837. In CDG-typical hand management, you will be torn between using each card’s activity points or event while doing your best to defuse your opponent’s cards. The gist of the game is that you will strive to mobilize the people of the various counties of Lower Canada and rally them to your point of view. In addition to Montréal and Québec (considered urban counties), 24 rural counties, each biased towards a faction, are represented on the board. Every county has a number of mobilization boxes, each costing a number of activity points to put a cube in it. Whoever has the most cubes in a county is said to control it.

After building up a sufficient amount of support in a county, you will try to create organizations (a grouping of leaders) in them. The more cubes in the county and the more activity points you dedicate to this action, the greater your chance of success. A fixed amount of opportunity points per turn allow you to mitigate the whims of the dice but also allow you to purchase helpful events from the 'Opportunity pool', where a few cards as well as key events of the conflict are put into at the start of every turn. Spend too many points to 'shave' a die roll and you might not be able to purchase a helpful card from the pool. Likewise, spend all your points to purchase cards and your next die rolls will be all the more stressful."

 The above captures playing the game to a tee. It is not just an ad blurb that is meant to sway you to buy the game. 

 I had to do a lot of work on this game before even playing it. I always want to know the history behind the games that I play. I think that any game that can make someone open a book to find out the how, why, and where of any situation is already a winner. You could play the game without having any background at all in the actual history. The rules are done well enough to have two people playing in a relatively short period of time. Political games seem to have more of the element of chance in them more than straight wargames, or at least it seems that way to me. For people who already like games such as Twilight Struggle or its ilk, this game purchase is a no-brainer. For those of us who are a little more afraid of that end of the gaming pool, go ahead and put on your flotation device and dive in. Unlike most of the other political games, you do not start out with both sides already fully developed and have a complete organization for each player to work with. This is a game where you have citizens that are like-minded, but have no real political organization as of yet. It is up to you to build your political party from the ground up. Besides the vagaries of chance, at each turn the player has to think through so many different choices and what could be the end result of each of them. In a traditional wargame your objectives are almost always clear cut. For instance, take these victory hexes or cut through the enemy to re-establish a supply line etc. Prelude to Rebellion is more like playing chess on a three dimensional board setup. The other interesting, and great piece of PTR, is that in most games you can figure out a strategy to win at least x amount of times. In this game, the player at times doesn't even know what he should do at any given moment. I am not saying that the game is completely up to chance; that would make it quite unenjoyable. What I am saying is that the choices in this game reflect the 'Butterfly Effect' much better than any game I have played. Thank you Compass Games for allowing me to review this excellent game, and broaden my history knowledge. After all, isn't that why we spend our days like hermits at times with these damn games? There is already a Vassal module for download on the games web site.

Prelude to Rebellion link:

Rulebook link:


Crossing The Line Aachen 1944 by Furor Teutonicus Games  I have been inundated lately with games coming from sm...

Crossing The Line: Aachen 1944 by Furor Teutonicus Games Crossing The Line: Aachen 1944 by Furor Teutonicus Games

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Crossing The Line

Aachen 1944


Furor Teutonicus Games

 I have been inundated lately with games coming from small game companies, mostly new, in Europe. Mostly they have been from Italy, but this game comes from Germany. To those of us who long for the halcyon days of wargaming in the 1970s and early 1980s, I have news for you: this could very well be the 'Golden Age' of wargaming. Whilst it is true that the individual games do not have sales numbers like their predecessors, the sheer plethora of games and companies now is nothing short of amazing. The components in the games are also many times better than what we were used to. Well, enough of the speechifying, onto the game.

 This is the historical breakdown from Furor Teutonicus Games:

 "While Operation Market Garden was in the final stage of preparation, Lieutenant General Hodges led the leading elements of the First Army towards the Westwall fortified line south of Aachen. If successful, he might have the opportunity to drive through the fortified line crossing the Roer River and perhaps reaching the Rhine River.
 The Game Crossing the Line – Aachen 1944 is an operational level simulation of the Battle for Aachen, which took place from September 12th to October 21st, 1944. The game is intended for two players but is also suitable for solitaire and team play.
The goal for the US player is to hit the Germans hard and to seize specific victory locations. Of course, the German player the German player wants to prevent this from happening. The game is played in a semi-interactive way and makes both players sit on the fence at all times…"

 The Scale
• A hex represents 1.2km of terrain from side to side.
• Each turn represents a period of two to eight days.
• Combat units are mostly battalions.

 This is what comes with the game:

• One rulebook 
• One scenario booklet including four scenarios and extensive historical notes
• One 22”x34” map sheet
• 360 extra large counters of which 160 are combat units
• Four Player aid charts
• Setup charts
• Reinforcement & Withdrawals charts

 Right now 'Crossing The Line' is the sole game in Furor Teutonicus Game stable (although they do have some interesting ones in the queue). What is surprising to me is the polished look and quality of the games components. The Rule Book is in full color, and is very well done. It is very nicely laid out and also has a three page glossary at the end. This is very handy for looking up the game's rules and concepts. The map is beautifully done and its size is large for the battle. Everything on the map is easy to read and make out, including terrain. The counters have what the company calls a 'linen like' finish. Whatever it is, it works. The counters are extremely well done. They are also slightly rounded for the gamers who care. The Player Aid cards are also very well done and easy to read. The manufacturing is all done very well. There are four Player Aid Charts, each player getting two (labelled A and B). The Combat Sequence is even spelled out in one on a flow chart that even I could understand. 

For the German player the armored vehicles included are:

Panzer IV
Jagdpanzer IV (although the silhouette looks more like a Jagdtiger)
Tiger II

The US player gets to maneuver:

M4 Sherman
M8 Greyhound
M10 Wolverine

 This is the sequence of Play:

Admin Phase: Consists of the following segments in that order:
1. Recovery Segment
2. Assignment Segment
3. Victory Plan Segment
4. Replacement Segment
5. Reinforcement Segment

"Ops Phase: Consists of various repetitions of the Ops Cycle, which itself consists of:
1. Initiative Determination 
2. Formation Activation:  Activating a formation allows the initiative player to activate all subordinate units, including Independent units currently assigned to it, to conduct one or more Actions (see 7. Actions).
Most game activities will take place in this phase. At the end of the Ops Cycle, the turn marker will be moved into the next box on the turn track."

 The game has stacking limit rules for each hex. One hex can have one HQ, two AFV (Armored Fighting Vehicle), and one Infantry unit in it. Overstacking causes automatic disruption to the units. The game's Zone Of Control rules are easy to understand and implement. Infantry has a ZOC over all six of the surrounding hexes, unless they are urban or Industrial hexes. AFVs only have a ZOC on clear or Pillbox in clear hexes. Disrupted units have no ZOC whatsoever. The game rules seem to be a mixture of  both solitaire and two-player together. The game purports to be solitaire friendly (it actually is), so it is possible that is the reason for the rules and mechanics being the way they are.

  The game is based upon the player's 'Formation Units', meaning their parent organization. You activate only formations, and not willy-nilly counters that are close enough to an HQ. Independent units are also used in the game, especially for the Germans. These can be attached to HQs if they are in the HQ's command range. They can be reassigned if they are in the command range of their current HQ and the new HQ. Initiative is rolled for at the beginning of each Operations Phase. The roll for initiative is modified by certain conditions, ie. interdiction level etc. The player with the initiative can choose to activate formations, or transfer the initiative to the other player. The next two features of the game mechanics is what elevates the game to a higher level than normal. First, a formation has to be activated before the player can use its units. This is pretty standard. However, in this game each time you activate a formation its activation level is reduced by one. Then you roll to see how many 'Action Points' you receive for the formation, but the lower the 'Activation Number' equals lower numbers for your 'Action Points'. So, this mechanic shows the gradual reduction of the units' abilities, even without combat. Second, the inactive player does not just sit there waiting for his turn. The inactive player can try for a 'Reaction Attempt' when an enemy unit triggers it by certain actions, ie. moving into a ZOC etc. Victory in the game is determined by control of Victory Hexes and German strength point losses. 

 There are four scenarios in the game:

First Blood
The Stolberg Corridor
Across the Wurm
Campaign Scenario

 The first scenario is a solo one played from the American side. The German units are static. The American player has from two to five activations of the 1st Infantry Division to clear three victory hexes. Victory is determined by how many activations the player needs to take the three hexes. Two activations is a Decisive Victory whilst five is a 'poor' performance. The other three scenarios play the game normally. The Stolberg Corridor scenario goes from turn one to turn three. Across the Wurm scenario is played from turn five to eight. The Campaign scenario plays all eight turns. The American player has to use finesse to take all of his objectives and not be a bull in a china shop. The German player has to remember that this is late 1944 and not early in the war. Furor Teutonicus has created a nail-biting operational level late war game. 

 This is one very well made and great to play game. This is all the more amazing, being that this is Furor Teutonicus's first game ever. I actually checked to see if the designers were old hands that moved on from other companies and that is not the case. For neophytes to come up with this design and know how to make sure what they have in mind gets placed in the map, counters, and rules is quite an accomplishment. They have created a tense and historical game that is a joy to play. The game mechanics and units make for a tough game for playing as either the US or the Germans. Thank you very much Furor Teutonicus Games for letting me sail on this maiden voyage with you.  Count me very impressed.

Furor Teutonicus Games Crossing The Line: