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  Pigs flying, hell freezing over, Battlefront teaming up with Matrix Games to put Combat Mission on Steam. Which of these things were you l...

Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 Combat Mission: Shock Force 2

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

 


Pigs flying, hell freezing over, Battlefront teaming up with Matrix Games to put Combat Mission on Steam. Which of these things were you least expecting to see in 2020? 


After many years of being competitors, two of the pillars of PC wargaming have established what appears to be a direct business relationship. Shock Force 2 is now available for purchase from a variety of digital stores across the net, including Steam and directly from Matrix's website. Other Combat Mission titles will follow, according to the press release. In addition to being available in new places, you can now expect Combat Mission titles to go on sale on a more regular basis, in line with Matrix Games titles. Battlefront has long resisted this sort of thing, preferring to sell exclusively from their own website, with price discounts few and far between. Matrix made the switch to Steam style sales several years ago and the decision seems to have paid off, with the prolific publisher dropping new titles and DLC's one after another. One can only hope this decision will lead to new cash flows for Battlefront, and more Combat Mission down the road.




I'll get this out of the way first thing: Yes, if you already purchased Shock Force 2 from the Battlefront website, you will get a Steam key for free. Now, on to one of my favorite gaming moments of the year: Downloading a Combat Mission title directly from Steam, then clicking play and watching the game fire up. No tracking down serial keys, no license activations or limits, just click play and go. Marvelous!


Shock Force originally released way back in 2007. After the critical acclaim of the first generation of Combat Mission titles, I and many others eagerly awaited this jump both to a completely different setting, and a new engine. If you were around then, you probably know how things turned out. The game was a mess on release, bugs abounded and a lot of momentum for the series was seemingly lost. Fortunately for everyone involved, Battlefront got to work and eventually hammered the game into a much better state. The next game in the series, Battle for Normandy, released in far better shape and was followed by several other games and modules over the past decade. Controversially, the past decade also saw four "engine upgrades" which improved the engine and made fairly significant changes to the visuals, performance, and more, for a nominal fee. I won't dive into the debate over these updates, but only point out that none of the updates applied to Shock Force. Being the oldest game on the engine, it was left behind for many years. In 2018, Shock Force 2 catapulted the game to the newest version of the engine, it also included touched up and tweaked versions of all the original scenarios, to account for the multitude of balance and mechanical changes in the intervening decade.



Although we covered Shock Force 2 back when it originally came out, I think the arrival of Combat Mission on Steam, after so many years of people yammering and arguing about it on forums, is worthy of taking the Strykers out for another spin around the battlefield. 

Like every Combat Mission title released after it, Shock Force attempts to model tactical combat down to the level of individual soldiers. The game can be played in two modes, either real-time with pause, or WEGO turns where orders are given and then the action plays out for one minute before you can take control again. Although I prefer turn-based for the WW2 titles, in Shock Force I've always been a fan of real time with liberal pausing. Given the more lethal nature of modern combat, a single errant order can get an entire squad wiped out in less than a minute, and when playing as the NATO forces you must almost always been extremely cautious about taking casualties. Unlike the WW2 games, the fighting here is often very asymmetrical. The NATO factions have all the nice weapons, vehicles, and well trained troops, but they are usually outnumbered and forced to take difficult objectives. The Syrian and other opposition forces range widely from units that represent ragtag militias, on up to mediocre regular army forces and the occasional elite unit. Given the wide variety of "red" forces available, there is also a huge amount of user made content out there depicting interesting red vs red scenarios and campaigns where the forces are more balanced in ability.


The stock scenarios and campaigns contained within the game depict a fictional NATO intervention in Syria to contain a civil war. As we all know, the civil war part was sadly destined to become a reality several years after the original release of Shock Force. Scenarios based on real events in Iraq and Afghanistan are not part of the game, but can be easily modeled using the units available. There's plenty of user made content depicting such actions if you are interested. 


Now, all of that aside, how does the game actually play? For veterans of the series who might have skipped Shock Force, you mostly know what you are getting into, with the primary differences from WW2 being that anti-tank guns are replaced with ATGM's and infantry combat is far more lethal with automatic weapons and urban combat galore. For newbies, what you are getting is something I still haven't seen bested by any other game. A detailed simulation that allows you to command realistic forces into modern combat scenarios just like those that have played out a thousand times in the War on Terror. Although infantry are controlled as squads and fire teams, each individual reacts independently of the others, spotting and engaging enemies, reloading, taking cover, or breaking. Vehicles are all controlled individually, with each crewman inside modeled in similar detail. Vehicles can be damaged in a variety of ways, losing their weapons, equipment, and mobility, being knocked out or simply exploded. 



Understanding exactly what kind of firepower you have and what you are up against is key to victory. A decades old BMP-2 with a 30mm cannon can wreak havoc on an unwary US mechanized platoon rolling down a road, while a single US rifle squad packing a Javelin can take out that BMP-2 from across the map without breaking a sweat. It's all a matter of maneuvering and positioning your forces correctly. Group selecting your best forces and sending them straight at the objective will never work in this game. Scouting, careful advances, focusing of firepower, and the occasional lightning fast assault are what will carry the day. 


While there have been plenty of gradual upgrades to the engine over the years, making the graphics and shaders easier on the eyes, as well as improving the AI and mechanics, some of the perpetual issues of the series remain. Ordering around a large force around can be fussy, with every single unit needing it's own specific waypoints for all but the most general of movements. LOS can be finicky as well, with units occasionally unable to see something because they are an inch out of position. It must also be mentioned that although the engine runs the best it ever has, it still has issues maintaining a smooth experience on larger maps, no matter how beefy your gaming PC might be. That said, if you're a fan of the series and missed Shock Force the first time around, Shock Force 2 is well worth your money. If you have the original you can upgrade to the new version for a moderate fee. 



There are three add-on modules available for the game, US Marines, British Forces, and NATO Forces. All three are quality products that I have played through over the years. The different sorts of equipment each nation has can really mix up your tactics. From the extremely heavily armed Marines to the light but mobile Dutch forces, there is a lot of fun to be had between all of the additional campaigns and scenarios. The add-on's are pricey at $35 a pop, but if you get them in the big bundle you can get a pretty good discount. 


I'm excited to see this new era for Battlefront, and I hope that it works out for them so we can see more Combat Mission in the future. Hopefully at some point they will be able to move to a completely new engine that leaves behind the lingering issues of the current one. Combat Mission still offers an experience that is unique and well worth a look from any wargamer.

Shock Force 2 - Now available on Steam!


- Joe Beard




  The Cornfield Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David A. Welker   To anyone who has even the smallest amount of Civil War history rat...

The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David A. Welker The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point by David A. Welker

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




 The Cornfield


Antietam's Bloody Turning Point


by


David A. Welker






 To anyone who has even the smallest amount of Civil War history rattling around upstairs, they know the 'Cornfield'. Oh sure, you could say Miller's Cornfield on the Battlefield of Antietam, but you do not have to. They will know what cornfield you mean. Just like, mentioning the 'Hornet's Nest', you do not have to add at Shiloh. The cornfield at Antietam was one of the most contested plots of the Civil War. The amount of death and destruction inflicted in that small piece of land is almost unimaginable. The corn even halfway though the day was cut almost to the ground as with a scythe, as one veteran recalled.


 In this book Casemate has once again lied, and not just fibbed, by using a book title that does a disservice to the book. In actual fact, a full seventy pages (out of 268 pages) of the book is devoted to the Antietam Campaign and the military moves that led to the Battle of Antietam. 


 The cover of the book shows us the two main Confederate generals on this side of the battle, Lee and Jackson. The picture looks like they are half enshrouded in the morning mist of September 17th, 1862.    


 The author has given us eight pages of photos and pictures of before, during, and after the battles. He has however, done something much better than just showing us old daguerreotypes. The book has twenty-six maps! So that is roughly one map for every ten pages. Not only that, the maps are actually readable and not a copy of a copy of a smudged copy. You can easily use them to follow along with the writer's excellent prose. There are also two appendices. The first shows the entire order of battle for both sides with the commanders. The second shows the regiments with the most casualties and the most deaths by percentage that were in battle in or near the cornfield. The 1st Texas regiment of Hood's Division (actually in Longstreet's Corps), suffered 82.30% casualties that day. The 12th Massachusetts regiment of the Second Division (in Joseph Hooker's I Corps) lost 64.07%. 


 The book is one that should be on every shelf of anyone who has interest in the military history of the Civil War. The continual ebb and flow of both sides over the remnants of the bloody cornfield are of epic proportion. Thank you Casemate Publishers for allowing me to review this excellent addition to the history of the Battle of Antietam.


Robert

Book: The Cornfield: Antietam's Bloody Turning Point

Author: David A. Welker

Publisher: Casemate Publishers


 Moravian Sun December 2nd, 1805 Battle of Austerlitz by Acies Edizioni   The Battle of Austerlitz has a lot of games based on it. Not as ma...

Moravian Sun: December 2nd, 1805 Battle of Austerlitz by Acies Edizioni Moravian Sun: December 2nd, 1805 Battle of Austerlitz by Acies Edizioni

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 Moravian Sun


December 2nd, 1805 Battle of Austerlitz


by


Acies Edizioni





 The Battle of Austerlitz has a lot of games based on it. Not as many as Waterloo as far as Napoleonic games (The Bulge of Napoleonic games), but a still a good number of them have been made. Even the newest of tyros to Napoleonic warfare knows at least something about it. It was nicknamed 'The Battle of the Three Emperors" (Napoleon, Francis I of Austria, and Alexander I of Russia). In reality it was not that much of a battle. Napoleon's Grande Armee was honed to a fine point, and his way of warfare was still unknown to most of Europe. On the French side, there was some doubt about Davout (The Iron Marshal) being to able to march his troops fast enough to be present for the start of the battle. Besides that fact, the French had everything in their favor. The Allied Coalition, number 3 out of 7, attempted to do a mirror image oblique attack of what Frederick the Great used in his battles. In reality, it became a parody of an attack by Frederick, much like the French at Rossbach. The Allies leisurely set up their attack, and slowly marched to attack Napoleon's right flank. Davout having appeared on time due to the incredible marching power of his 3rd Corps, 68 miles in 48 hours, was able to fend off the attacking Allies. Marshal Soult was then commanded to take the Pratzen Heights in the Allies' center, which they had thoughtfully left almost empty of troops. The battle was a foregone conclusion. Napoleon's Grande Armee destroyed the Allies, and the history of Europe was changed for the next nine years. So, let us see what Acies Edizioni has done with this famous battle.




 Here is what comes with the game:

One Game Map - 85 x 60 cm.

216 Counters  - 5/8" Sized

280 Counters - 1/2" Sized

Five Player Aid Cards

One Rule and Scenario Manual

Two Six-sided Die




 The game is designed by Enrico Acerbi. The game system is called "Vive La France - Empire", and has been used in the games 'Massena at Loano, and Wise Bayonets. I did a review earlier of Wise Bayonets, and the link will be below. Hexes are meant to be 450-500 meters and the turns represent one hour of time. 




 The components are well done as a whole. The map is a colorful, much like a traveler's map, representation of just the main area of the battlefield. The different terrain is easy to distinguish for the player. The unit counters are the 1/2" sized ones. They use the normal NATO designations, are easy to read, and the colors are pleasing, at least to my eyes. The 5/8" counters are used for the commanders and the administrative counters. The commander counters have a small picture of the commander in question on them. The administrative, rout, force march etc., counters are small, but still easily readable. All of the counters are easily disconnected from the cardboard sprue. As a matter of fact, most of them had popped out during shipping. The Rule Manual is in color and is done in large print, thank you. It is twenty pages long, but pages 16-20 are the scenario rules and a concise but well written Historical Background. The five player aid cards are full sized and in color. Four of them are double-sided with the fifth being a single page. All in all, the production quality is right up to par for what I expect of Acies Edizioni games. 






 The game comes with two scenarios:

Campaign Game - Begins at 07:00 on the 1st of December and ends at 18:00 of December 2nd

Battle game: Begins at 06:00 of December 2nd and ends at 16:00 at the same day 

In the Campaign Game scenario there is a Night Turn


 This is the Sequence of Play:

A. Command Phase

 1. Weather

 2. Orders

 3. Initiative and Priority

 3.1. Initiative Test Die Rolls to Change Orders

B. Action Phase

 1. Rally

 2. Reinforcements and Reconstituted Units

 3. Movement

 4. Bombardment

 5. Combat

 6. End of Phase

c. End of Turn Phase

 The game uses the term Efficiency in the rules, roughly the same way other games use the term Morale.




 Austerlitz is a hard game for a designer to make a game out of, simply because the two sides are so disparate in terms of efficiency, morale, and generalship. The Allies attack on his right flank, which is exactly what Napoleon wanted the Allies to do. It is almost as if Napoleon were in the Allied late night commanders meeting of December 2nd. This was the Napoleon of old with an undiluted and fully trained Grande Armee at his back. No one could have withstood the Grande Armee that day. The designer has made the game as historically accurate as possible. Therein lies the crux. How to make the game enjoyable for two players. The first obvious choice is for the players themselves to pick the less skillful of them to play the French. The Battle Scenario pretty much forces the Allied Player's hand as far as following the historical plan. However the addition of the Campaign Scenario mitigates the uneven playing field a bit. The Campaign Scenario does not force the Allied Player to do anything and so they are given a clean slate. It is true that the Allies are marching to the battlefield, and not set up and ready to attack. They are, however, given a full day without the French Player having Davout's Corps and some other troops. The Allied Player must use this extra day to its full advantage. How does the game play? In my eyes it shows exactly what the Allies were up against going at France's First Team. In some ways the Allied Player is really just trying to do better than his historical counterparts. The French Player can win, but should in my mind at least try to do as well as Napoleon or better to really consider the game 'won'.


 The game system does a good job of showing how Napoleonic battles were actually fought. They have been described as 'Rock, Paper, and Scissors' on a grand scale. The play centers around you giving 'Orders' to your different organizations, and how that either helps you or hampers you to deal with the developing battle. The chance to change or ignore the order originally given at the beginning of each turn gives a player the ability to possibly pull his irons from the fire. The game shows that command and control was not only the key to Napoleonic warfare, but could be the weak link in the chain during it. As the Allies, your Generals are pretty much 'fire and forget' weapons. They will usually not be able to adjust on the fly. The French Generals mostly have the ability to adjust to new situations and exploit them.





Thank you Acies Edizioni for letting me review this very good game about a battle that before this I had no real interest in. As usual, with a game about a battle or campaign I do not know enough about, I was forced to hit the books. This is the wonderful part of games that try to give the player exactly as it was historically, and not try to skew everything so that it is 'gamey'. 


Robert

Acies Edizioni:

https://en.edizioniacies.com/

Moravian Sun:

https://en.edizioniacies.com/para-bellum/moravian-sun

AWNT review of Wise Bayonets:

https://www.awargamersneedfulthings.co.uk/2020/07/wise-bayonets-17-june-19-june-1799.html





WATERLOO 1815 :  NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE from Trafalgar Editions If my previous review  Bloody Battles of The Crimea...

WATERL00 1815; NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE WATERL00 1815; NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE

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

WATERLOO 1815 : 

NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLE


from



Trafalgar Editions




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

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

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

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


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



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



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


The central focus of the battle




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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




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


Scenario: zooming in on La Haye Sainte

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


Allied right flank about to undergo bayonet assault

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



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


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

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

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







AUSTERLITZ:1805 from TRAFALGAR EDITIONS Having had the pleasure of playing and reviewing Waterloo 1815 , the first game in this s...

AUSTERLITZ:1805 AUSTERLITZ:1805

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

AUSTERLITZ:1805
from
TRAFALGAR EDITIONS

Having had the pleasure of playing and reviewing Waterloo 1815, the first game in this system from Trafalgar Editions, I've been waiting with anticipation for this second game to appear.  Apart from Austerlitz being regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest of Napoleon's victories, it's a battle I find particularly fascinating for gaming.

Though for the Napoleonic period, Waterloo inevitably has had prime place in history and on the gaming table, for me the close geographical confines have always been a restriction to manoeuvre and above all fog of war when it comes to the gaming table.  The combination of kriegspiel style blocks and the marriage of miniature style elements to boardgame ones in Trafalgar Editions' system was one I relished seeing get its full go-ahead in the much more expansive battle of Austerlitz.

Rather than repeat ground that I covered in my review of Waterloo:1815, I will concentrate on what I consider the differences and changes.  To help with this I've reposted my original review so that you can make easy comparison.

In all respects it's a fine follow-up, though the small wooden units have given way to more traditional cardboard ones -a feature that may disappoint some gamers.  However, I do find that the cardboard pieces are easier to read. Nor do they have the problem of balancing markers on them that was a difficulty with the wooden blocks and, best of all, there's none of the problem of applying very small stickers to wooden blocks that barely fit them. 

The next difference is that the map is even easier to deal with as you have little more than contours to take account of and small villages, especially as the significantly wooded north edge of the map is likely to see little game play occurring there.  Once again it is a solidly mounted board of several panels in two sections.  Though the joins are obvious in the photo below, they soon settle into place very tightly.


The bare map contrasts with the colour of the units that you can see below
I really like the format that they have gone for here and, I believe that they have also introduced them into new editions of Waterloo: 1815.  If this change from wooden blocks is not to your favoured taste, I think that the several other changes in Austerlitz will meet with nothing but applause. 

For me, nowhere is this more true than the rule book which is a major step up in quality., despite the slight hiccup in forgetting to change the year from 1815 to 1805!
 It is a substantial glossy production from the striking battle scene on the cover to the huge improvement in layout inside.  Instead of the very cramped small print which was one of the few problems that I had with Waterloo, these are laid out in two columns of very well spaced text that make reading so easy.  All illustrated examples are now in full colour to add to the quality and the standard case numbering for rules stands out in a clear, bold font.  
As a result, the whole process of learning the rules is much enhanced and the organisation steps you through the sequence of play very smoothly and is augmented with four full pages of additional examples. 

Though divided into separate igo-ugo Attacker and then Defender player turns, there is a strong element of interaction.  In the Rally Phase, only the active player attempts typical rally actions along with removing certain types of markers.  Then Defender Artillery fire is followed by the same for the Attacker.  The Attacker next conducts movement followed by Defender then Attacker Musketry Fire and a player's turn concludes with Close Combat.

The main rules remain virtually unchanged from those in Waterloo but have a much greater succinctness and fluency in the English translation.  Combat, which covers fire and close combat, has been streamlined into a single table with separate modifiers for each type. This is another change that I heartily go along with and its execution is carried out using one of the handy play aids [one for each player] that lays everything out in a large, capitalised font.  Having wilted in the past under one or two of my games that have a slew of tables printed in microscopic print, this gets a big thumbs up!  Though print on the terrain chart is, on the other hand, very small, it is still very easy to read and even easier to remember.  So, no complaints there.
The easy to read, easy to use all-in-one Fire & Combat Table

What Austerlitz 1805 introduces that is wholly new to the system is Fog and Fog of War.  With the battle being shrouded in fog in the early hours and played out on a much vaster geographical canvas, these were the factors I was most looking forward to exploring and the design here is very successful.  The fog itself is handled in a familiar manner - guaranteed to cloak the battle for the first 3 turns, a die roll may cause it to begin to lift on any of the next 3 turns and finally its dispersing will begin on turn 7, if a roll hasn't succeeded earlier.  

As to Fog of War, there's a very simple, but effective set of mechanics.  First of all, each player has a very nice A4 card strategic map for hidden movement of each side's Corps HQ markers.  The French have no restrictions on the number of Corps they can move, unlike the Allied army which has significant restrictions.  At the same time, both players have up to 18 numbered chits for movement on the game map, while the actual units these chits represent are placed in corresponding numbered holding boxes on the Strategic map.  As you might expect some of these chits may well be decoys!  While the actual fog endures, both players are severely limited as to how many chits they may move.
The French Strategic map on the left
The Allied Strategic map on the right
Consequently there is a slow build up that helps get you into the movement rules, before having to deal with combat, while introducing a nice element of bluff and uncertainty.  Little details like all chits having the same maximum movement rate neatly make sure you don't accidentally give away the presence of faster units such as cavalry.

One point that isn't wholly clear is what happens when the fog has totally cleared.  Wording seems to imply that Fog of War rules only apply until the fog has dispersed and this is supported by the lack of FoW in the last of the three shorter Scenarios.  However, in playing the whole campaign, I've chosen to continue to employ both chits and the hidden Corps HQ markers until either an enemy unit/chit comes into line of sight or a player chooses to deploy units on the map.
The Allied Strategic Map with Corps HQs in place
The full campaign can be played in an Historical scenario where both sides have designated Corps HQ set up and specific objectives.  For those who like even more uncertainty, there is what has become the customary choice of a Free set up scenario.  My preference tends to be for historical play, but each to their own choice.

In terms of new elements, the last one is the set of rules for solo play.  These add 4 more pages to the 15 pages of rules and do a good job of guiding you through the actions of your NP [non-player] opponent, with a healthy dash of allowing you to use common sense when the acuteness of an enemy threat should override a mechanistic approach.  For those who like BOTS that must be rigidly stuck to, this may be slightly disconcerting.  Having cut my wargaming teeth in the period when playing solo meant playing each side to the best of your ability, this common sense approach is very welcome.

To round off the package, there is the familiar set of shorter Scenarios, in this case three.  The first is a very small engagement both in number of units and geographical area - an excellent choice for learning the basic rules of movement and combat.
The next takes you north for Lannes against Bagration in a modestly sized encounter.
While the last Scenario, employing only marginally more units, covers the major French attack in the centre assaulting the Pratzenberg Heights.
Altogether, a good system has been built on to provide additional improvements in physical quality and a presentation of the rules that enhances their understanding while introducing strong new elements.  

On my wishlist for their next choice of Napoleonic battle would be Eylau - another climatic clash with opportunity for some really nasty weather rules!  I can only hope.

Once again many thanks to Trafalgar Games for providing this review copy of the game

 The Hunted Twilight of the U-Boats 1943-45 by GMT Games  The German U-boats experienced two 'Happy Times' in World War II. The firs...

The Hunted: Twilight of the U-boats 1943-45 by GMT Games The Hunted: Twilight of the U-boats 1943-45 by GMT Games

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




 The Hunted


Twilight of the U-Boats 1943-45


by


GMT Games







 The German U-boats experienced two 'Happy Times' in World War II. The first was right after the fall of France in 1940 and lasting into 1941. This took place in the North Sea and North Atlantic. The second Happy Time was directly after the the entry of the U.S.A. into the war. This took place on the east coast of North America. In the second Happy Time, 609 Allied ships were sunk to only 22 U-boats. Roughly one quarter of all Allied shipping sunk in World War II occurred then. However, those are featured in the first game of the series by GMT Games 'The Hunters'. This is the story of 1943-1945, and it is a totally different tale. In 'Black May' of 1943, 118 U-boats were at sea. The German Navy lost 41 of them in May 1943. The amount of Allied shipping losses continued to fall even before then. German Admiral Dönitz ordered a temporary halt to the U-boat offensive in order to come up with some ideas to stem the tide against his U-boats. This game is a solitaire simulation of U-boat warfare in the last years of the war. As with most of the German 'wünderwaffe' (wonder weapon), the weapons that were being developed for the U-boats came too little and too late.



 As mentioned, this is the second game in the series. I will have a link below to my review of the first game: 'The Hunters'. The series has actually been expanded to include the Italian Submarines in the newest iteration called 'Beneath the Med'. There is actually a fourth title in the series 'Silent Victory', where you play as an American submarine Captain against the Japanese. This is what comes with the game:


One ½” full-color counter sheet

One ¾” wide full-color counter sheet

Rules booklet with designer's notes

Five player aid cards, 2-sided

Six U-Boat Display Mats, 2-sided

Two U-Boat Patrol Maps, 2-sided

U-Boat Combat Mat

Eight U-Boat Kommandant Cards

U-Boat patrol logsheet

Three 6-sided, two 10-sided dice, and one 20-sided die



 These are the areas of the world's Oceans that you can patrol in:

Arctic

Atlantic

Australia

Brazilian Coast

British Isles

Caribbean

Indian Ocean

Invasion (Atlantic)

Mediterranean

North America

Norway

West African Coast






These are the U-boats that you can command during your patrols:

Type VIIC
Type VIIC/41
Type VIIC-Flak
Type VIID
Type IXC
Type IXC/40
Type IXD-2
Type IXD/42
Type XB
Type XII (hypothetical)
Type XIV
Type XXI




 The new weapons and U-boat improvements include these:

Decoys
Schnorkels
Homing Torpedoes
FaT Ladder Search Pattern Torpedoes

However, the Allies also have these counter measures:

Hedgehogs
Squid
Fido
Heavily Increased Aircraft Presence

 The player has the use of twelve different U-boat types. You will be facing both day and night combat encounters. To spice up your patrols you can be assigned these 'Special Missions':

Abwehr Agent delivery
Supply Delivery
Replenish
Minelaying




 The sequence of play (synopsis) is:

Consult U-Boat Patrol Assignment Table
Conduct Patrol
  Check for Encounters in Each Travel Box entered
  Check for Random Events
  Resolve Air or Ship Encounters (Enemy ship engagements is always voluntary)
  Attempt Repairs
  Return to Port
Refit U-boat
  Check for Crew Recovery or Replacement
  Check for Crew Advancement
  Check for Kommandant Promotion or Medal Earning
Take your crew and Kommandants life in your hands once again.




 Your goal in the game is to take your U-boat to sea and to sink as many Allied ships as possible, with the caveat of returning you and your crew home safely. The game adds some RPG elements to its wargame base, by having your Kommandant able to receive both promotion and earn medals. You can even be awarded the coveted Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds. For anyone who has played the first game, winning medals and just staying alive is a lot harder in this game, as it should be. The game does incorporate a multiplayer aspect. However, it is not you playing against the other player. You are essentially both playing solitaire and trying to outdo the other player on the tonnage of sunken ships you both inflict. 




 As in the first game, to add a little to the historical side of the game, you can play as a historical U-boat Kommandant. Each of the Kommandants come with certain enhanced abilities in the game. Alfred Eick for example, gives the player both 'Expert Gunner' and 'Vigilant'. Extra Gunner gives the player an additional -1 to hit targets. Vigilant allows the player a +1 on crash dives. These are the historical Kommandants you can play:

Alfred Eick
August Maus
Heinrich Timm
Werner Henke
Jürgen Oesten
Werner Hartmann
Albert Lauzemis
Robert Gysae





 The game components are pretty much exactly what you would get in the first game, 'The Hunters'. The counters are easy to read and very colorful. You will experience no eye strain while reading them. You also get eight counters with portraits of the historical Kommandants to add to the immersion level. The Rule Booklet is in large print, and is also in color. The 'Designer Notes' are interesting, because the designer (Gregory M. Smith) did not even want to do a follow-up game about these years of the war for U-boats. He felt the historic 'brutal aspects' of a game would be uninteresting to players. The first game had such an overwhelmingly favorable response, and the fact that so many players clamored for a 1943-1945 game, that he acquiesced. He states that he did not sugar coat the war or try to tip the game in the U-boats' favor. The seven double-sided U-boat Mats are the main game piece and the best piece of artwork in the components. The Patrol maps that you will use in your cruises are also very well done. The whole ensemble is meant to be both functional and good looking.

 The game is hard, and it is meant to be because that is how it was historically. However, we do not play these games, especially solitaire ones, to win all the time. We play them to try and simulate a certain part of history. I feel that the game captures the moment in time perfectly. If you as Kommandant are sent to the Indian Ocean your crew's life and your stock has just risen. Should you pull the short straw and are given the North Atlantic, good luck and may the fates be with you. Thank you GMT Games for allowing me to review this gem. A big thanks to the designer for listening to the player base and following up 'The Hunters' with this game. 

Robert

GMT Games:

The Hunted:

My review of The Hunters:


 



  German fighter Aircraft in World War I Design, Construction, & Innovation by Mark C. Wilkins  I have to admit to a fascination with Wo...

German Fighter Aircraft in World War I: Design, Construction, & Innovation by Mark C. Wilkins German Fighter Aircraft in World War I: Design, Construction, & Innovation by Mark C. Wilkins

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




 German fighter Aircraft in World War I


Design, Construction, & Innovation


by


Mark C. Wilkins






 I have to admit to a fascination with World War I. From its weapons to the military history of the war on all fronts. In this book from Casemate Publishers, we have a gold mine for the World War I enthusiasts and aviation history lovers alike. This is a one volume history of the German fighter program from its inception at the beginning of the war to the final days of the fighting.


 The book starts off with a short introduction, and then jumps into the history of the 'Taube' (dove) aircraft, which was the only aircraft in Service with the German Army at the start of the war. After that, the book follows with chapters about all of the German fighter manufacturers in the war. Some of these are:


Aviatik

Halberstadt Flugzeugzelte

Fokker Flugzeugwerke

Albatross Flugzeugwerke


 The book then has a chapter on the various armaments and engines that were used with the aforementioned fighters.


 The author has liberally spiced the book with extremely rare pictures of not only the aircraft, but also the manufacturing of the aircraft and the various factories where the different companies were headquartered.


 For the aviation lovers, there are a good many pictures with explanations that show reproduction aircraft in various stages of  assembly. To be able to see a Fokker D.VII with the structure complete and the engine and everything in working order, sans the fabric skin of the aircraft, is amazing. You will also see pictures showing the reproduction of a DR.I from single pieces of wood to the completed bird. The book goes into the engineers of each company and their different designs. One of the best things about the book is that you are able to see the huge leap forward in the German aviation from 1914-1918, from the simple wing-warping of the early birds to the mechanical efficiency of the later designs.


 I can easily recommend this volume to aviation enthusiasts, World War I history lovers, and especially model makers. The pictures included are a trove for anyone interested in modeling World War I planes. Thank you Casemate Publishers for this incredible book. It must have taken the author years to assemble the information and especially the pictures.


Robert

Book: German Fighter Aircraft in World War I: Design, Construction, and Innovation

Author: Mark C. Wilkins

Publisher: Casemate Publishers 


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