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  SOLDIERS IN POSTMEN'S UNIFORMS FROM DAN VERSSEN GAMES If by any chance the company Dan Verssen Games or the games designer David Thom...


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




If by any chance the company Dan Verssen Games or the games designer David Thompson are unfamiliar to you then you're in for a Christmas treat.  If you are familiar with this combination and haven't bought this game, then there may just about be time to make up for that lack and get it on your immediate Christmas list.

This is the third  design in he Valiant Defenders Series that began with Pavlov's House {PH}and was followed by Castle Itter [CI].  As such it is much closer to the latter than the former in scale and system.  It also continues David's Thompson's ability to find and focus on little known, but fascinating small scale encounters.  The first thing that intrigued me was the jump from the very end of WWII to the very first day of that war.

The game takes us to a desperate situation in the city of Danzig [now Gdansk] on the first day of the German forces' invasion.   Polish Post Office No. 1 was one of two locations with orders to defend and the game covers the single brutal day of its defence.  Unlike C.I. where you know that the outcome for the historical defenders was one of victory, this game is overshadowed by the knowledge that the historical day will end with the post office set on fire and the surrender of those surviving.  As with other of David Thompson's designs, there is an excellent companion booklet available to buy or download, as well as fascinating and extensive design notes.

Though much closer in appearance and design to C.I, Soldiers In Postmen's Uniform has a number of significant differences that make for deeper and more thoughtful game play.  This is reflected in the board and layout.

The left half presents the sort of aerial view used in CI; in the foreground is the L-shaped post office with a number of variously coloured tracks to show the advancing routes of the attacking German troops.  The right half is a schematic layout of the interior of the post office designed to show clearly the three levels - basement, ground floor and upper floors.  

As with the previous two games, the colour-coding between the two halves of the board provides the exact LOS [line of sight] correspondence that makes targeting so easy.  Nearly all the other physical components echo the previous games both in design and usage.

Square counters are used for the defenders, with the person's picture and name, accompanied by various data essential to game play.  These are mainly combat value, morale adjustment and special actions and attributes.  The colour of border to each counter distinguishes whether they are trained or postal workers or non-combatants.

The German units divide into circular Assault counters and square Support counters and, as always, there are numerous tokens covering action, disruption, suppression and movement along with morale, defence, weapons and ammunition tokens.  Finally there are the many cards that drive the German actions.  So far, so familiar for those who have the previous games, but I would say that even for those wholly new to the Valiant Defenders Series, this is still a very accessible system.  

All set up ready to play!
The structure of each turn remains the same: an Enemy Phase, a Defense Phase and a Clearance Phase. The Enemy Phase is the German A.I. phase governed by the draw of cards and then the Defense Phase is your player turn.  The main new development is that the whole game is now divided into three Attacks: Morning, Midday and Evening with three separate German card decks, one for each Attack.  Through the cards drawn either Assault units or Support units will be placed and various types of fire may occur.  The former are the round counters that include units such as leaders, riflemen and machine gunners.  As usual a die roll will place them on the initial  space of one of the four different coloured tracks.  Should that be occupied, it will cause each unit already on that track to move forward one space.
A closer  look at some of the punched units and markers

Several new details have been introduced.  The first is that not all of the four tracks are immediately in play.  This relates to the fact that the game divides into three Attacks, with the Germans taking different avenues of approach as the day drew on.  The second new element is that each track has an obstruction point.  When the first German unit reaches this barrier, it must stop and a new card the Grenade Bundle card is shuffled into the current Attack deck.  Any subsequent units will start to pile up at the barrier, until the Grenade Bundle card is drawn.

At that point a marker cube is placed to show the destruction of the barrier.  Following the logic of several other commentators on the game, I've reversed the process by placing the cubes to represent the barriers at the very start of the game and then removing each cube as the barrier is destroyed.  When the barrier goes, all the units that may have piled up at the barrier are pushed forward one space each.  
Rules explaining a breached barrier

Ultimately the Post Office will be breached and here comes the next most important change and one that introduces a whole new exciting level of action.  Previously that would be the end of the game - Defeat!  Now, the game does not end. Instead you play on until the last card of the current Attack deck has been played.  What then occurs depends on which of the three Attacks is taking place.

If it is Attack 1 or Attack 2 and there is at least one German Assault unit in the Post Office and one German Leader anywhere on the board, you shuffle all discarded cards and play through the Attack again until the end of the deck.  At this point check again. If there is no German Assault unit in the Post Office or there is no German Leader anywhere on the board, the Attack ends.  Having reached the end of an Attack, all adverse tokens, such as disrupted and exhausted, are removed and all your exhausted units returned to their fresh side, while German Assault counters are all removed from the board, but German Support counters remain.  Everything is then reset to begin the next Attack.

This new aspect of the game fuels a very different approach, where it becomes all important either to eliminate any attackers who enter the Post Office or eliminate every leader on the board by the end of an Attack.  The obvious outcome is that the game has the potential to take longer to play. This is counterbalanced by the introduction of a new "sudden death" defeat based on your morale level being forced down to zero.

However, should you have avoided a morale defeat and reached Attack 3, there are specific set up rules for German units and a special card introduced - the Fire Truck - which is shuffled into the final Attack deck according to where you are on the morale track track.  When this card is later drawn, it heralds the last turn of the game including a one-off Escape Phase, after which victory points are added up. 

To round up the picture of the changes, the Defense Phase instead of just giving you 4 Actions allows 4 units to move and then 4 different units to take one action each.  Combat is slightly more detailed, with the need for ammunition and weapons.  Having a building with three levels and specific entrances, plus fighting taking place within the building all add small extra details which minimally extend the rules, while augmenting the engrossing game play. 

There is an even greater sense of tension with the apprehension that you are always on the brink of disaster and, I confess, disaster is all too often the outcome for me.  Should you wish to pitch it at an even more difficult level, there's an excellent set of Tactics Cards, one deck for each Attack.  With these and variable additional German forces being set up on board at the beginning of each Attack, you can go all the way to Elite difficulty [or what I call Fiendishly Impossible!]
The three Attack Decks and their corresponding Tactics Decks

I think you can see that I'm 100% sold on this new addition to the Valiant Defense Series.  Provided you don't suffer an early Morale defeat, game play is longer and does demand more thought than Castle Itter, but it does so with only moderately more rules.  For me David Thompson has racked up another huge success that deserves to be in your collection.

Once again great thanks to Dan Verssen Games for providing a copy of the game to review.


 FIRE IN THE SKY FROM PHALANX From the close-up tactical air war in the Pacific soloing the Japanese in my previous review, we switch to a t...


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




From the close-up tactical air war in the Pacific soloing the Japanese in my previous review, we switch to a two player strategic level treatment spanning the whole Pacific War.  This game is a  
re-implementation of the game originally published by MMP.  Inevitably, the comparable artistic qualities of both games have come under scrutiny, starting with the box art.  In terms of solidity and durability, the new edition wins easily, as it is both larger and far more solid.  Other than that it may be argued that all the rest is personal taste.  Having owned the original game, here are my views.

I much prefer the new box art in part because of the colour palate. I really did find the total yellow/ochre background of the original insipid and rather muddy.

While some found the minimalist art work stylish and effective, I prefer the archetypal image of carriers under attack and the dogfight in the skies of the new edition.
The maps too couldn't be more different.  The original was a strongly coloured, striking paper map which gave the feel of a more realistic aerial view especially with the many additional sculpted clouds.  Viewed by itself I rather liked it, but with the images of the bases on the map combined with the many counters, I ultimately found it overwhelming and not the easiest to read or identify locations.

The new mounted map sits at the opposite extreme.  A steely grey, it is both more sombre and more functional.  In the end, I've come to prefer it mainly for the greater ease of being able to read off at a glance where all the key locations are and for how the counters stand out against it.  Considering that this is a very long game to play as well, it's also much more restful on the eye.

Most important is that you can read locations' names when counters are placed on them.

The counters too have drawn mixed reactions, again largely through contrasts with those in the original game.  Once more my preference is for the new style which, like the map, I find easier on the eye.  I particularly didn't like the overwhelming pink of the Japanese counters and the white blossom emblem and the dominating image of the American bald eagle in the first edition.  No doubt if that earlier imagery really pleased you, then the new style may be less to your taste.

Criticism of the new counters has mainly focused on the blue of the US counters - a heavy negative view has been expressed that it is too dark and that the numbers lack distinction and so are hard to read.  As someone with not the sharpest [old] eyes, I considered them neither too dark, nor had any problems reading the numbers or symbols.

The second criticism - some quite vehemently expressed- is that there is a slight imperfection in some of the cutting as the next image reveals.
If you zoom in on the Interpid [sic]  Franklin, you can see what is meant.  Personally, this is no big deal and when on the map it is neither noticeable nor impedes play.  [If I was bothered at all it might be about the misprint of Intrepid!]  I mention this criticism merely for those who might have seen some of the more extravagant outbursts about poor quality control, which I don't think is justified.

For me the major improvement is the decision to make the naval units square, the air units hexagonal and the land units round.  This simple distinction is very helpful during play. Your mix of forces is obvious at a glance, instead of having to work your way through a uniform pile of counters.  Other simple physical aspects that I welcome are the attractive Task Force screens...

and the Battleboard, which continues the more restrained colours of this new version.

The final elements are the rule book and scenario book.  Both are a major step up from the typical average quality paper of the time to today's high quality gloss printing.  Also the layout has been much improved  in the rule book, though the rules themselves are [and here, I'm relying mainly on memory, as I no longer have the first edition] virtually identical.  The significant change is the doubling of Transport costs accompanied by a similar doubling of Transport available. This may seem a pointless exercise, but it does away with the first version's often occurring division sums involving fractions!

Rule and Scenario Books

On the face of it, the basic rules - a mere 16 pages - seem more than accommodating, especially when merely looking at their apparent brevity and well spaced layout, but this can be deceptive.  In part, this is caused first of all by the organisation of the rules into Core Concepts followed by the General Course of Play.  The former are often closely tied to the latter with information in the one being needed or relevant to understanding the other.  This doesn't help either in learning the rules or finding crucial aspects of them again, as you play the game.  

Each turn is based on the seemingly old-fashioned Igo-Ugo system, but the inclusion of a Reaction Phase introduces more interaction than at first appears likely, as does some of the asymmetrical elements of each player's turn.  

In  all, the Sequence of Play breaks down into ten Phases.  What happens and when can sometimes seem strange; for example the first Phase is Economic. In the Japanese player's half of the turn this allows the transfer of Oil Pts and/or DD units, whereas in the Allied Player's half of the turn the Economic Phase is totally different, as the Japanese Player may first undertake anti-submarine warfare followed by the Allied Player undertaking submarine action.  

There is a lot of novelty, both here and elsewhere.  It makes for a unique and fascinating experience, but it doesn't ease the learning process.   The next Phase: Reinforcements, for all its brevity, is not a simple matter and took repeated checking to make sure not only that I understood them properly, but that I realised the consequences of my choices.  Almost all the information pertains specifically to the Japanese player, while the Allied player is left by contrast with a very, very brief and simple set of actions.

Each Player's turn involves no less than five Phases that involve movement of one sort or another. For the Phasing player there are the First [Major] Deployment Phase, the Operational Movement Phase, the Return to Base Phase and the Second [Minor] Deployment Phase while the Non-Phasing player has a Reaction Phase,  which inevitably involves movement.  Each time there are mixes that incorporate different distances and requirements depending on type of unit whether air, naval or land, which Phase it takes place in and different numbers of Transport Points for both sides, while sometimes the cost of movement is paid for in oil but only by the Japanese player.  

Remembering accurately and consistently all the differing factors and qualifications is not only a formidable task, but one which I've found slows the game down considerably.  What I find even more frustrating is the lack of any explanation of the design intent behind many of the actions.  For example, the already mentioned Transport allowance is a very important factor and I appreciate the restraints and limitations that are imposed on both players.  Still I would like to understand better the reasoning behind some of the variations for each player.  Similarly, considering the significantly large distances involved in the sea hexes, I wonder why aircraft exert air zones that impact on and restrict the movement of naval vessels and supply lines.

With Movement itself so complex, it's no surprise that Combat is convoluted too.  Even the Submarine Attack Segment has three steps, before we even reach the Battle Segment.  The latter is divided into:- 
Battle Board Preparation Step
Air Combat Step [broken down into 4 stages]
Surface Combat Step [broken down into 4 stages]
Sea Control Step
Land Combat Step [broken down into 5 stages]
Administrative Step

The Battle Board is certainly both an attractive and useful feature that helps in this process.

This looks even better when units are laid out on it, but weaving your way through the steps and bearing in mind all the nuances of the rules is again a slow and steady process.

Units are divided into Carrier Task Forces and Bombardment Task Forces, while Naval, Air, Long Range Air and  Land units all have separate boxes on the Battleboard, if they are not part of a Task Force.  Fortunately, not all types of units and types of Combat occur in every battle that takes place.  What seems strange is that, despite a fair degree of complexity, air and land combat ultimately involves rolling modified fives or sixes to hit. 

Naval combat demands a different approach, amplifying a very familiar system from the classic Avalon Hill game, Victory In The Pacific [VITP]In this, one player - the one without Air Superiority - lines up his ships and the other matches one for one.  If one player has more ships involved than the other player, they can assign the excess ships in any way they wish. 

However, one side or the other can then choose to withdraw.  Though the player who chooses to withdraw relinquishes the ability to fire, any withdrawing ships that are faster than their attacker avoid being fired on - another feature seen in VITP.  If neither player withdraws, then fire is simultaneous, but unlike air and land combat, the hit number needed is found by cross-referencing Fire Power against Defence Rating. 

Up to this point, I had really liked this part of the system.  It involved no modifiers [hurrah!], yet took account in a simple way of different types of ships firing at each other.  However, now you have to look up the effect of the hits on each ship by rolling two dice plus any possible modifiers and comparing this with the ship's defence rating to see if it is damaged or sunk!

A smaller engagement, though still encompassing all types of combat

To add to all this, you have to calculate the differing effects of damage to carriers, to ships, to air units and to land units.  There are no simple consistencies across your forces as to modifiers, rules for influencing factors or how to calculate them or their effects.  Some damage causes losses to the Transport Pool, some damage causes a ship to be placed on the turn track, some damage causes a reduction in strength and so it goes on ...   

There are many cumulative elements and factors with no logical connections to make remembering them easier.  As a result I found myself checking and rechecking rules and constantly referring to the Player Aid card for modifiers.

The final substantial component of this game, the Scenario Booklet, is intended to help you thread your way through the rules.  As such, it might have been better to present them in reverse order and that is partly how I used them.  The seventh and last Scenario, Battle of Midway is just that.  It needs only the Battleboard and a very small number of units, mainly carriers.  Frankly I would have appreciated similar micro-scenarios designed to practice such things as Naval Combat or Land Combat and Amphibious Landings.  The next shortest [two Turns] is Scenario 6 Guadalcanal Campaign is billed as a short learning scenario too, but suffers from needing an additional series of special rules to explain rule elements that are not used. 

Scenarios 3, 4 & 5 [3 Turns, 10 Turns and 4 Turns respectively] reduce playing time by presenting portions of the whole game.  The latter also shortens play by using only a portion of the map.  Finally, Scenarios 1 & 2 present the war in its entirety, the only difference being that Scenario 1 [classed as the game's main scenario] omits Turn 1 : Pearl Harbour.

These large Scenarios would benefit greatly from Set-Up Play Aids to reduce set up time and help  sort out the many units and where they are placed on the map, along with the position of various important tracking markers on the board.  

Last and by no means least, as it is 17 pages long, is a massive Example of Play. [incorrectly labelled Scenario 2, it is in fact Scenario 1] that takes you through all of Turn 2.  Once again high hopes of its help were not wholly realised.  Despite its extensive thoroughness or perhaps because of it, following the information and understanding it, especially the numerical aspects and calculations, proves a major undertaking in itself.  Much of the time I found myself having repeatedly to sit, rules in hand, to make sense of how  the numbers were derived.

This is not a game for the faint hearted, nor is it one that can easily be taught by a player however familiar with the rules to someone who isn't.  Perhaps, if this were to be your go-to strategic level game for the Pacific war with expectations of frequent play, your efforts may be rewarded, but as yet they elude me.

As always many thanks to Phalanx Games for their kindness in providing a review copy of Fire In The Sky.

  Panzer tactics: Tank Operations in the East, 1941-42 Oskar Munzel Translated by Linden Lyons  This is part of a set of books that were wri...

Panzer Tactics: Tank Operation in the East, 1941-42 by Oskar Munzel and Translated by Linden Lyons Panzer Tactics: Tank Operation in the East, 1941-42 by Oskar Munzel and Translated by Linden Lyons

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

 Panzer tactics: Tank Operations in the East, 1941-42

Oskar Munzel

Translated by Linden Lyons

 This is part of a set of books that were written in Germany in the 1950's, and 1960's. It was meant to be a history of World War II operations from the German point of view. Because of the Cold War, the NATO countries were all interested in the German accounts of fighting Russia. Considering they had the Warsaw Pact breathing down their throats, it is not surprising. 

 This author served in the 6th Panzer Regiment of the 3rd Panzer Division from June 1941 until September 1943. He rose to become commander of the regiment. After that, he served in several staff positions, and then became the commandant of the tank school. He commanded at the division and corps level before the war ended. In 1955, when Germany created the Bundeswehr in 1955, he became the commandant of the tank school once again. So, you can see he was the perfect person to write about panzer operations during the war. 

 The book is around 160 pages, and goes from the beginning of Barbarossa to the drive to the Caucasus and retreat in 1942. This is a history of the 6th Panzer Regiment, and in a broader scope, the attack of Army Group South during that period.

 The book is well written, and the translation seems to have been done very well also. It is an easy read for those who already have some knowledge of the Eastern Front in WWII, and specifically panzer operations. The book has twenty-one maps! The only caveat is that they are just copies of the original ones in German. They do, however, allow you to follow along with the author's prose to get a good look at the operations he is describing.

 This is a great work on a small slice of operations on the Eastern Front during the first two years of the war. It shows just how tough the Russians were in 1941 (the Germans lost about a million men that year). This is not a paean of praise for German troops. The author gives his thoughts on what the Germans and Russians did both right and wrong. Being a trained staff officer, he was appalled at the decision to attack toward both Stalingrad and the Caucasus at the same time. Thank you, Casemate Publishers for letting me review this very informative record of these operations.


Book: Panzer Tactics: Tank Operation in the East, 1941-42

Author: Oskar Munzel 

Publisher: Casemate Publishers


 Against The Odds: A Journal of History and Simulation Rome, Inc. Issue #53  Against The Odds magazine has had a great history so far as the...

Against The Odds: A Journal of History and Simulation, Rome, Inc. Issue 53 Against The Odds: A Journal of History and Simulation, Rome, Inc. Issue 53

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

 Against The Odds: A Journal of History and Simulation

Rome, Inc. Issue #53

 Against The Odds magazine has had a great history so far as the games that have come with the magazine, despite the fact that many wargamers slightly hold their noses up at 'magazine wargames'. Basically, if it didn't come in a three inch box it wasn't really a wargame.  Some of my greatest memories have come from playing magazine wargames, a few of them from games that came from ATO. Unfortunately, a lot of gamers look at wargaming magazines as teens look at Playboy magazine. They rip open the plastic just to find the game inside. A little like emptying the box of Cracker Jacks to find the prize. The articles that come with the magazines are just as important, if not more so, than the game inside. Yes, we are wargamers, but we were history nuts long before we found our first wargame (unless you were lucky enough to have a wargamer in the family). Here is a list of the written pieces that come in this issue:

The Whiff  of Grapeshot: This touches on the sweeping history of the issue's contents. This one also has a touching farewell to David W. Tschanz, a long time wargamer and contributing author. He also was a former editor of 'Cry Havoc'. Even while battling cancer he made sure to contribute an article on Marius's Mules.

Order of Appearance - Information on upcoming issues

Rome, Inc: The Roman Empire from Augustus to Diocletian, 27BCE - 286CE

 The Republic

 Julian Emperors

 Claudian Emperors

 Flavian Emperors

 Adoptive Emperors

 Antonine Emperors

 Severan Emperors

 Barracks Emperors

 Illyrian Emperors

 Appendix 1: Incorporating Rome

 Appendix 2: Bread & Circuses


The above are all from the pen of Philip Jelley

On Guards : Who Guards the Praetorian Guards? - Philip Jelley

Gaius Marius and the Reform of the Roman Legion - David W, Tschanz

And the Data Shows:

  Good Pop, Bad Pop - This is Mostly About Some of the  Egyptian Pharaohs and Then Goes Into Louis XI, and Louis XIV of France - Ed Heinsman

Simulation Corner:

 War on the Installment Plan - This is About Resources/Money in Games - John Prados

The Fifth Columnist:

 In-Depth Book Reviews From Behind the Lines - John D, Burtt

So, you can see that there is a ton of history to read about between the covers of Issue #53. It is amazing at times the amount of nuggets that one finds in articles like these.

 The game that comes in this issue is Rome, Inc. This is a solitaire game that places the player as the CEO of the Roman Empire. Your job is to see the Empire through all of the tumults that can possibly happen during those years. Many times the threat to your plans will come from inside the Empire, and not from barbarians without. A good number of the Roman Emperors did not die in bed. You are sometimes stuck with an Emperor that you would probably like to get assassinated ASAP. This is what comes with the game:

Map - One full color 22" x 34" mapsheet

Counters - 280 full color 1/2" die-cut pieces

Rules length - 12 pages

Charts and tables - 2 pages

Complexity - Medium

Playing time - From 3 to 4 hours per scenario

How challenging is it solitaire? - Excellent

Design - Philip Jelley

Development - Dave Boe

Graphic Design - Mark Mahaffey

 This is one of ATO's blurbs about the game:

"You decide where to allocate resources (capital spending), raise new forces (hiring), undertake prestige projects (public relations), pleasing the mob (shareholders), or even setting aside a reserve for a rainy decade or two. You’ll need to blend military expansion with careful administration, as well as intrigue, making the most of what you have each turn, just like any modern-day business.

ROME, INC. will give you a new perception of how war is a cost, business is a benefit, and empire is somewhere in between. It’s up to you to find a balance."

 So, a solitaire game on a period of history that I am all too familiar with. Not by my own choosing, probably eighty percent of the books written about Rome are in the Empire period. I much prefer the Republican Era, but it is not like I am adrift here. I have a liking for a few of the Emperors. One of my favorites was a Thracian named Maximinus Thrax. He was a giant of a man that was the first Emperor to not be of the ruling classes. In fact, he was a lowly soldier that worked his way to the top. I also know that having an Emperor with a 'C' starting your name was not a good thing. Hence, Caracalla, Commodus, and Caligula (I know it is not his real name, in fact it means 'little boots', but everyone knows him by it). You also get to deal with some 'baddies' (from the Roman point of view). Queen Zenobia, who was a much greater threat to Rome than Cleopatra was. She actually conquered a good amount of Roman territory. She is hardly known about at all, compared to Cleo. 

 As the game states, "The player, a CEO of this vast corporate empire, appoints consuls and governors, raises taxes, deploys legions, fleets, and auxiliaries to garrison provinces, and fights wars to expand the prestige and power of Rome." I would add, to also try and keep the Empire alive. However bad the 3rd century was for Rome, the 4th was much worse. So, the player gets a break in only having to last until Diocletian. The game goes from the first Emperor Octavian (the other name will not be mentioned), to the emperor Diocletian.  With murder, and mayhem galore for roughly 300 years. My favorite Emperor story is Octavian wandering about the palace beating his head on the walls shouting "Quintili Vare, legiones redde ( Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions).

 One thing about the game that you need to know is that it is a 'big' game. 'Big' in the fact that there is a lot to do, not in space. Myself, and others, have been amazed when we opened the rulebook, and saw what we had bought into. I had really assumed that it would be close to a beer and pretzel game than the simulation it turned out to be. If you are not looking for an in depth simulation of the period, then look somewhere else. I would liken it to any other deep empire building game, which instead of building an empire, you try and keep this one off life support. I would say remember what Kenny Rogers said "know when to hold them, know when to fold them",  keep an eye out for the next great Emperor, and then try and keep him alive as long as possible.

 The game/simulation shows exactly how tough it was to keep the Empire in statis, let alone to try and conquer more territory. You do not want to roam about your house like Octavian. 

  The game is very deep, and dare I say, excellent. It shows you in an extremely small footprint the history of Rome in the first three centuries. Naturally, after the beginning setups in each scenario it becomes the history of your Rome. You will, however, feel all of the pressures that were put on the empire at different times. The scenarios are:

27 BCE Scenario

70 CE Scenario

138 CE Scenario

222 CE Scenario

Any of these may be combined into campaign games.

 The magazine articles are top notch, and they only lend to the player's feeling that "he has chosen well". Thank you, Against The Odds Magazine, for allowing me to take this issue's game for a spin. Thank you also for all of the deep history of the Roman Empire that you have crammed into your magazine.


Against The Odds Magazine

Against the Odds (

Against The Odds Magazine Issue #53

Against the Odds (

Rarely have I been more excited to play a game than Paper Dungeons which is bizarre because it’s a small-ish game containing a dungeon adven...

Paper Dungeons by Alley Cat Games Paper Dungeons by Alley Cat Games

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

Rarely have I been more excited to play a game than Paper Dungeons which is bizarre because it’s a small-ish game containing a dungeon adventure-themed roll-n-write.  However, when I saw the box art I was smitten, they had me at ‘A dungeon scrawler game’.


Each game will see you and a number of your intrepid friends scribbling their journey through a dungeon, fighting minions, monsters, triggering traps, picking up treasure and moving around obstacles.  It will take a fairly accurate ‘30 minutes’ if playing with others to complete a single game although I’ve completed some solo adventures in under 15 minutes.

Each game will consist of just 8 rounds in which you will use 3 dice.  To start the round, you will roll a pool of 3 white and 3 black dice which remain freely available to all players no matter if they’ve been used or not.  These dice will dictate your actions for the round.  There are four main actions you can take with each dice, but the colour and symbol of the dice will limit your choices.

The actions are Level Up, Craft Artifact, Brew Potion or Explore the Dungeon.

Each player will start with an identical dungeon and a pretty much identical party of a Warrior, Wizard, Cleric and Thief.  There will be some minor differences between the colour of each of these, for example I might have a black Cleric and black Wizard and a white Warrior and White Thief.  I will only be able to level up my white Warrior if there is a warrior symbol on one of the white dice.

Crafting most artifacts can be done with any dice but you will need to burn two of your actions to complete it.  When you consider that you only have 24 discrete actions in a game there is a small trade off between using the dice for their affect or trying to generate combos.  In my experience with this game, it is always better to move at least one if not twice each turn than do almost anything else.

Any dice can be used for 2 movement, but there are 3 boot icons in the dice pool which allow you to move 3 squares.  This doesn’t seem like a big change, but I promise you that moving is the most powerful action in the game.  When you move, you’ll likely take damage but also gain rewards and moving is the quickest way to unlock the combos which are evenly dispersed throughout this game.

For me, there is a direct correlation between how fun a roll-n-write game is and how many combos you can do.  I don’t know why but I get a little kick each time my movement triggers a fight, which give me a reward, which lets me craft an artifact which gives me more potions…  That type of combo is fairly typical in this game, but unlike other roll-n-writes where the combos are usually towards the late game, they are available right from the beginning in this game.

The final action is to brew health potions.  These are critical for success as you will take damage directly to your party without them.  Damage is tracked alongside the combined level of your heroes and the more damage you take directly, the more score deduction you get at the end.  If you can assign that damage to potions there’ll be no impact to your score.  It is possible to die in the dungeon (the only game play effect is a -9 points) but I’ve never seen that happen.

This is not a big score...

My top tips for getting a big score, move lots, have plenty of potions and look for combos.  As you can see this is a fairly simple roll-n-write but with an applied theme that is far more successful than others of this ilk and heft, e.g. Welcome To or 30 Rails.

Seemingly the biggest difference between games will be in which monsters you meet and where any dungeon walls may be.  Each game will pit your party against a level 1, 2 and 3 monster. There are 4 of each in the base game and across a ‘campaign’ of 12 dungeons the monsters and extra walls are all that separate the dungeons.  Unfortunately, each level of monster is identical in strength and damage, so the difference quickly just feels cosmetic although it is certainly a nice cosmetic change.

However, before you start playing you will choose a secret objective and power; there will also be three public missions.  Not only do these help to set up your party but they also give a variable number of points based on how well you achieve the card.  These cards are a nice addition to the game as they do prevent every game from feeling the same (it still does get a little bit samey after a few plays).


There are no gripes here, the components are all perfectly adequate.  I particularly like the artwork and iconography.  The prime engine of the game is driven by nice chunky 20mm dice – think King of Tokyo for comparison. Which are easily readable, even from across the table.  The publishers deserve some extra praise putting this into a sensible sized box.  There’s still some space left over but it’s not excessive, most of it is taken up by the game pads of 100 sheets. 


I was looking forward to playing the campaign (it’s a dungeon scrawler after all) but after the fourth or fifth mission I realised there was little beyond flavour text linking the missions together.  This minor flaw, the game stands alone in its own right, is compounded by the fact that monsters don’t change in strength.  Dungeon A of the campaign feels just as easy/hard as Dungeon L.  There doesn’t appear to be any progression beyond a cards-worth of story.  Each dungeon and monster are too similar in feel if not aesthetic.  This is partially mitigated by the objective, missions and power cards.

The other criticism I have after having played it close to 20 times is that it is too easy.  I have never seen a player die and it is rare for a player not to reach a monster’s room, which acts as an in-game timer of sorts.  When you’re playing with other players the highest score wins (duh!) and as you’re all playing with the same constraints this effectively negates this criticism.  I would like to see more jeopardy or tougher decisions.  I think I’ll suggest playing with one less round next time…

This is a much better score

This isn’t really a criticism but I’m over halfway through my pads, is that I’d like the publisher to release a pdf of the score pad to download and print.  Failing that I’ll be laminating my last 10 to be able to continue to take it to game nights.


I’ll always recommend this as a fun filler. At game nights it easily accommodates a wide number of players   If you like roll-n-writes and have played D&D then I think this will quickly become a favourite.  There’s a lot to like here.  The gameplay is quick, simple and most importantly it’s fun and has gone over very well with everyone I’ve introduced it too.  There isn’t a dearth of combos until you get to the late game which is an issue with some other roll-n-write games.  In this you have to find the combos right from the beginning of the game.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link to find your Friendly Local Game Store, which need all the help they can get at the moment.

Designer: Leandro Pires

Bgg page:

Playtime: 30 minutes 

Players: 1 - 8

 Indian Ocean Region South China Sea: Volume II by Compass Games  Compass Games has succeeded once again in putting me on the horns of a dil...

Indian Ocean Region, South China Sea: Volume II by Compass Games Indian Ocean Region, South China Sea: Volume II by Compass Games

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

 Indian Ocean Region

South China Sea: Volume II


Compass Games

 Compass Games has succeeded once again in putting me on the horns of a dilemma. This is a wargame about possible warfare breaking out in approximately 2025. I am not the keenest grognard on hypothetical conflicts. I also like my sea battles resolved by large caliber guns, and not Tomahawk missiles. So, please bear with me through this review.

 As was mentioned, the different hypothetical conflicts take place in 2025 in the region from the coast of Africa near Saudi Arabia to the Western coast of Thailand, and some of the island of Sumatra. This would include some hotspots such as the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden, etc. This means that some of the fighting is bound to be about the sea lanes that Middle East oil can take from those areas to the Indian Ocean. This is part of the blurb from Compass games that can describe the area and the tensions throughout the region:

"Although advertised as purely commercial ventures, China’s “String of Pearls” (a series of key ports) across the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) gives her the option to assert sea control of that theater, and for good reason.  About 80% of the PRC’s oil transits the IOR before bottlenecking at the Strait of Malacca and then going on to terminate at ports in the PRC.  Even a Gwadar-Kashgar oil pipeline, designed to bypass the full-length IOR route, would still require some initial sea transport, followed by a vulnerable off load, and couldn’t carry the full load anyway.

Therefore, in a modern interpretation of Mahan’s observations, China has used “legislative methods…monopoly…(and) prohibitory regulations” all via diplomacy to secure its oil-toting sea lanes throughout the IOR.  Patient cultivation of relations with Pakistan over decades has delivered access to the updated, modern port at Gwadar, Pakistan.  Buoyed by Chinese land leases and development projects, Maldivian President Yameen has drifted closer to China while his opposition looks to India.  In Sri Lanka, China may have used “debt trap diplomacy” by forgiving debt to obtain certain rights to the port at Hambantota for 99-years.  How ironic, after regaining Hong Kong, China is now using tactics reminiscent of Imperial British mercantilists to gain Ceylon!  The confidential nature of certain aspects of these deals along with the close association of many Chinese firms to their military and government opens up the possibility of “dual use” facilities that might quickly transition from commercial to military applications."

 This is the pertinent information about the game:

• Complexity: 7 out of 10

• Solitaire Suitability: 6 out of 10

• Time Scale: 1 turn = between 3 and 7 hours

• Map Scale: 1 hex = 45 nautical miles

• Unit Scale: aircraft squadrons, pairs of ships/subs, land battalions

• Players: Best with 2 players but can be played with up to 3 players, or solitaire

• Playing Time: 2-4 hours depending on scenario

Game Components:

• Three 22x 28” map sheets

• Three Countersheets totaling 390 3/4″ counters

• Deck of 39 political cards

• Two player aid cards

• Rule/scenario book

• Two Dice

• Box and Lid

Game Credits:

• Designer: John Gorkowski

• Artist: Christopher Moeller

 This is Volume II of the South China Sea games. Here is a list of the Nations involved:

Asymmetric: Iran





China: Peoples Republic of China (PRC)

            The String of Pearls

Indo-Am: Bahrain


                 United States

                 Diego Garcia

                 Australia and Britain

Symmetric Bay States: Bangladesh

         (Bay of Bengal)   Myanmar


Symmetric Gulf States: Djibouti


                                       United Arab Emirates

 Asymmetric States include Nations that rely heavily on unconventional strategies and tactics. Symmetric Bay States are interested in Chinese investments, but are leery of giving them too much political power over them (per the designer). Symmetric Gulf States have a long history of trading with the Western nations.

 So, as you can see there is a ton of different conflicts that could arise between all of the different powers that are represented in the game. Political tensions are rampant in the area on both the land and sea.

  The game box is not that heavy, but it does come with a good amount material in it. The three maps, as they should be by the game's name, are mostly water hexes, with some of the various land masses around the Indian Ocean. The Maps are well done, even though most of them are blue hexes. The land war is really supposed to take a backseat to the naval and air fighting anyway. The counters on the map are huge. This is to accommodate the equally large counters at 3/4". I want to say one thing about these counters right off the bat. Once the plastic that held them in place was cut, the counters all jumped off the sprues. There was no problem with the cutting of them. The counters all come with a small picture of the designated weapon, and also very large numbers for movement, stealth, and defense, etc. They also are color coded for Transport, Littoral, and Deep Sea. There is a large number of different types which is necessary because of the different nations and tons of different weapons. The Rulebook is in full color, and large type. The game rules are only twenty-one pages long. This is followed by six pages of Play Examples, and then comes the seven scenarios that come with the game. The game also comes with two hard laminated Player Aids sheets. The production value of the components are what I have come to expect from Compass Games.

 Play is what you would expect from a game with weapons and munitions from 2025. The game adds extra depth by having some of the scenarios start with a 'Political Turn'. The political rules remind one of other cut throat games involving different nations trying to use political muscle to get what they want. The Political Turns are a combination of card play and negotiations. The Negotiation rules allow for up to a ten minute huddle for the different players to discuss their plans. There are never more than six Political Turns in a scenario, and sometimes there are less. Every time that the the Victory Track moves more than two or more spaces, the Peoples Republic of China must make an Armed Conflict die-roll. The die-roll is on a 1d6, and if it is a four or more then Armed Conflict erupts. The political aspect of the game is short but sweet, and does not really bog down play before the shooting starts.

 When the munitions start to fly is when most of us grognards really take notice in games, and this one is no exception. The lethality of modern munitions is quickly shown to the player who puts his forces in harm's way. The Air/Sea Engagement Sequence is this:

Anti-Air Strikes

Torpedo Strikes by Submarines

Anti-Ship Strikes

Anti-Submarine Strikes

Gun Strikes

Torpedo Strikes by Surface Units

Anti-Ground Strikes

This is then followed by the Ground Combat Phase.

 The Military Turn Sequence of Play is:

Air Movement Phase - Default Order

Sea Movement Phase - Default Order

LACM (Land Attack Cruise Missile) Strikes Phase - Default Order

Air and Sea Combat Phase - Default Order by Engagement

Ground Movement Phase - Default Order

Administration Phase - Simultaneous

Military Negotiations Phase  - Simultaneous

 Once again Compass Games has dangled a carrot, or a truffle (the chocolate kind) before my eyes, and once again I jumped in where Angels fear to tread. As usual, some people have mixed views about the game system. I think they are missing the point of the game system. With twenty-one pages of rules this was not supposed to be a deep simulation of modern air/sea warfare. While the political side of the game adds a lot to the complete picture, once missiles start flying it is not a game that is hard to learn. I think the operative word is 'game' when trying to describe this game. Luckily we have no real idea of the deadliness of today's sea weapons (two first world navies having at it), and the survivability of those platforms. If a person is looking for a deep simulation that will have you looking at dozens of charts to check how deep one missile has penetrated through a given destroyers hull, please look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you are looking to play some quick scenarios of a game about modern warfare please take a look at this game. I enjoy the game for what it is, and do not judge it by what it really was not supposed to be. The game has also been manufactured in the good ole USA.

 Thank you again Compass Games for letting me review one of your products. As a shout out to them, do not forget that they are having a gaming expo these five days 11/11-15 2021 at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Meriden Ct. I will hopefully be attending, possibly sans credit cards; this is still to be determined. I will be the one with the parrot and a wooden leg. They are also having a sale on their products right now until 1/25/22. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Kharkov Battles which looks to be very good. 


Indian Ocean Region, South China Sea: Volume II:

Indian Ocean Region – Compass Games

Compass Games:

Compass Games – New Directions In Gaming

  Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City by Peter Harmsen  This is a different book than you usually read about the fall of Nanjing/Nanking....

Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City by Peter Harmsen Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City by Peter Harmsen

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

 Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City


Peter Harmsen

 This is a different book than you usually read about the fall of Nanjing/Nanking. This is really a military history of the fall of the city. I will amend that, it is actually a military history from the loss of Shanghai to the fall of Nanjing. Most books about the campaign really just gloss over the military aspects and are just about the horrific Japanese treatment of the citizens and soldiers left in Nanjing (The Rape of Nanjing). In actuality, you could probably write a book about the horrible crimes inflicted on the Chinese for every single day of Japanese occupation of parts of China.

 The Nationalist Chinese headed by Chiang Kai-Shek had tried to stop the Japanese invasion of Southern China at Shanghai. In doing so they had stopped the Japanese for a few months, in what is generally called the Stalingrad of the East. Unfortunately, the Nationalists had only a few divisions that were well trained and the equal of the Japanese troops. Oddly enough they had been trained by German officers. Those elite divisions were destroyed in the Battle for Shanghai. The author informs the reader of this background leading to the Battle for Nanjing. 

 The book goes from top echelon discussions of strategy and the war in general to stories about single soldiers on both sides of the war without missing a beat. You are shown how most Japanese strangely felt anger to the Chinese for not letting them take over their country. The book also shows the German (this again is odd considering their subsequent alliance with Japan), attempt at peace negotiations between the two powers. 

 The discussions between the highest Nationalists leaders about trying to fight for Nanjing, or just surrender the city, are shown to the reader. You get to see how the Japanese believed that once they captured Nanjing, the Chinese Capital, that the Nationalists would sue for peace. 

 Kudos to the author in being able to show us the top down view of the battles and still be able to tell the story of the individuals involved. The book does go into the hell of the the Rape of Nanjing, but it is not the book's focus. Inside you will find a good many maps that are very nicely drawn to help you to understand the campaign. There are also two different groups of photos showing the people and events in the book. Thank you Casemate Publishers for allowing me to review another excellent book from their stable. Please also take a look at the author's 'Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze'.


Book: Nanjing 1937: Battle for a Doomed City

Author: Peter Harmsen

Publisher: Casemate Publishers