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 STARGRAVE: THE LAST PROSPECTOR from OSPREY GAMES Stargrave  transports the fantasy RPG  Frostgrave  lock stock and barrel to a science fict...


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


Stargrave transports the fantasy RPG Frostgrave lock stock and barrel to a science fiction setting.  Behind it all are Joseph McCullough, the prolific writer and creator of these two worlds and many other novels too and the publisher's Osprey Games.

Though RPGs are very much the outer rim  of my gaming world, how could I resist the kind opportunity given to me by Osprey Games to preview this latest expansion to the Stargrave canon, especially when I discovered that it's due to be released on 28th April - my birthday!

In case any of you are totally unfamiliar with its origins, I'm going to start with the briefest of outlines .  This core was presented in a substantial hardback book that gives you all the background, rules, stats and scenarios etc. Thematic art work and photos of diaramas taken from games adorn and enliven the text.  We're dealing with a small unit, miniatures skirmish game set in a typical devastated and blighted galaxy.  The rather long subtitle to the core game says it all- Science Fiction Wargames in The Blasted Galaxy.

There is a substantial gallery of miniatures that have been sculpted purely for this game, but it really is one game where you can bring virtually any existing figures, terrain and buildings you possess to your gaming table.  

Your first task is to create a team made up of a captain, first mate and assorted crew then follow through the scenarios.  Like most RPGs, the wealth of written material provides an excellent resource to create your own scenarios.

A free supplement introduced solo play, while the first published expansion, Stargrave: Quarantine 37 , landed your crew slap bang into a deserted research station where you can compete through the scenarios against other crews in two mini-campaigns or take on a solo mini-campaign.

The Last Prospector, the second supplement similarly presents a range of new elements and a new region of the galaxy to explore.  The presentation is a glossy softback book of 86 pages. The introduction had me hooked at once.  Though only two pages long, in it Joseph McCullough gives us a clear, succinct explanation of his intentions and inspirations.  Three things leapt out at me.  

Foremost was his desire to explore the connection between the genres of science-fiction and the western.  This is a pairing very familiar to me as were his seminal references to Star Wars and especially Firefly, the sadly curtailed Josh Wheedon series and the film Outland which, as he notes, has often been compared to High Noon Firefly in particular struck me as a particularly important influence on the geography and geopolitics of The Last Prospector.

The region in question, the Honoreb System, has become a backwater of the galaxy, though still a mineral-rich asteroid belt.  Among its locations that will feature in the scenarios are Penthalia Station, a once vibrant and important hub, now largely decaying and derelict; Honera, a steamy jungle planet with originally three enclosed bases and Saint Mollia [or "Molly" for short] a vast titanic though abandoned ore carrier.

Next to seize my attention was his desire to depart from the linear progression of so many, many RPGs.  Instead the Campaign provides a ten scenario arc of which only the opening and final episodes are fixed.  The other eight can be played in any order.  The suggestion is that the game players take turns choosing a scenario usually based on what each thinks will be most immediately advantageous and suited to the qualities, powers and abilities of their crew.  My own instant reaction was, at some future date, to offer up this order to the random gods of the dice world! 

The third detail that I was highly enthusiastic about is summed up in the following extract"...instead of a focused narrative , this campaign is based around a mystery and a location ... to solve the mystery, the crews must travel all over the system , searching for clues."  Great idea was my immediate reaction - a game with not just sci-fi, not just westerns, but a whole touch of Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective too.  Sadly this was my one disappointment.  The disappearance of the old friend, the eponymous Last Prospector and his rumoured "big score" are simply what Alfred Hitchcock would have called the McGuffin.  In other words they are the motivating trigger for the game's plot that sends your crews hither and thither across the Honereb System.

Just one of the many pieces of artwork that enliven the text

At this point, I think  one other sentence from the introduction is important to quote: "I leave it up to the players to fit my work into their own imaginative framework."  As Joseph McCullough stresses in his introduction, it's entirely up to the gamer whether you stick closely to his detailed descriptive script or not.  This is very important comment for the whole creation of your table-top, as you'll see in the next section where I explore some of the scenarios.  The fact that all bar the grand finale of the game is designed to be played on a 3'x3' table is a big plus for the gamer with limited space. However, the setup for many of the scenarios could task the physical terrain resources of the average gamer.

The fixed opening Scenario of the Campaign screams its influence from the classic western mythos in its title: The Barfight!  The setup specifies the classic bar down one edge of the gaming table and various other familiar accoutrements such as tables and chairs.  However, later scenarios grow more taxing in their requirements, such as a cavern floor with an upper level shelf running all around the edge of the scene.  This is where the comment about using your own "imaginative framework" applies - in other words "do the best with what you've got".   I've got to say that the suggestion of using 3" strips of paper didn't appeal.  So, substantial quantities of packaging from a recent home purchase, plus extensive Stanley knife work, are going to be pressed into service. 

The transformation begins!

Similarly, broken bits of polystyrene are in the process of being transformed into rocky outcrops that may serve both in some of the underground locations and on the planet's surface.

However, the thick jungle of a scenario like The Devil's Punchbowl will stretch my current resources considerably, though it will be one of the cheaper to beef up.  Though behind my nascent rocks lurks one of the rare items that I possess which I need to greatly expand and spend on to furnish my jungle settings.

On the other hand, left-over creations made for my son's long past days of Warhammer 40K and Necromunda, plus my own Deadzone 2 building collection will certainly feature prominently in other scenes, as will many of the figures pressed into service from those games. 

The one above I particularly like and feel it will work both in a jungle setting and also can be adapted to serve as a mine entrance.

Before looking at the typical Scenario outline, it's important to explain a narrative feature that I strongly like.  This region of the galaxy is split between six factions each with their own ideals, culture and needs.  Each player's crew will be affected by their shifting "standing" with each faction that will be affected by how they perform in each Scenario.  Outcomes will be positive or negative and, not surprisingly, will bring rewards or disadvantages that feed into other Scenarios.*[see below]   This adds a lot of colour to the story and game play - a definite winner for me, as it also sits well with the "western" influence, making me think of the factions successfully played off by Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars!

Each Scenario is presented in a well organised pattern:-
A brief narrative introduction to set the storyline scene.
Crew - these details usually introduce specific factors that may change the constituents of your crew, introduce limitations, exceptions, additional equipment or even additional units.
Set-Up - outlines the terrain/physical details to create the scene, the placing of loot tokens and the positioning of figures.
Special Rules - fairly self-explanatory!
Faction Advantage - changes in each player's crew standing with the factions in the game and the benefits and disadvantages resulting [*see above]
Outcome - what may generally be summed up as victory conditions, in that this section tells you what you'll gain or lose by certain actions.
Loot and Experience - usually this results in players rolling on the core game book's tables for these two factors plus special ones just for this supplement.

The typical start to a Scenario's organisation

As you'd expect with any supplement, there are new additions to all elements of the game.  They start with new backgrounds and powers for the two most important characters in each player's crew, your captain and first mate.  There are new soldier types , ship upgrades and advanced technology, a series of new attributes and in the section labelled Bestiary there are ten new creatures that you'll encounter through these Scenarios.  I'm not quite sure that a Foreman or Miner would be too happy finding themselves in a chapter entitled Bestiary or be lumped among "creatures"!

One of my favourite figure illustrations

All in all this is a very attractive and well produced addition to the Stargrave canonThere's plenty to read and its well illustrated with many exemplary photos and artwork.  The Scenarios cover a good range of situations culminating in a lengthier three-part finale and as the author observes, there are plenty of hooks and dangling storylines in the narrative to chase down by creating your own scenarios.  

With the Western influence in mind, I can already envisage a captain and first mate with five other crew members finding themselves called upon to defend a rag-tag group of isolated and down-trodden settlers from the brutal oppression of the nastiest elements of one of the system's six factions.  My captain might just be called Chris!

So, look out for Stargrave; the Last Prospector and its publication date on 28th April!



  Trench War by Wisdom Owl/Fellowship Of Simulations  Le Grande Guerre, or The Great War, was a cataclysmic event that completely changed th...

Trench War by Wisdom Owl/Fellowship Of Simulations Trench War by Wisdom Owl/Fellowship Of Simulations

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

 Trench War


Wisdom Owl/Fellowship Of Simulations

 Le Grande Guerre, or The Great War, was a cataclysmic event that completely changed the world. The brutality of war was highly evident in it from the first day to the last. Flame Throwers, Poison Gas, and whatever could be used to kill was implemented. Even the combatants in World War II did not use gas on each other (of course, it was used in the death camps and by Italy in its grab for colonies). The term for the daily number of deaths on the Western Front was called 'wastage'. In actuality, World War I and II are now looked at by a lot of historians as the same war with a short peace in between, much like the Peloponnesian Wars. 

 I am finally okay with block games, and I do not break into a sweat anymore when a map does not have hexes. However, I am still a bit leery of a wargame played with cards. I have played a few, and have reviewed two I believe, but my pulse rate still quickens when I see it is a card game. Exposure therapy has worked for area movement, and for blocks. So, one would assume, after a few more card games I should be fine with them.

 Let us see what comes in the box:

50 Troop Cards
58 Bonus Cards
1 Gameboard
1 sheet of Counters (Markers)
1 Rule book
1 Optional Card

 This is a blurb from the creators:

"Trench warfare is a simple game for two players on the theme of the Great War. With games of less than 45 minutes, each player uses a deck of cards containing soldiers, tanks, planes and support weapons to take the opposing trench. With a simple rule, this game creates tense situations full of attacks of counterattacks."

 As you can see the game is a pretty minimalist one. However, the game makes up it sparseness with having very well done components. The gameboard is nicely illustrated to match the destruction of World War I. The cards are little pieces of artwork. The German cards have the Pour Le Merite on the back of their Bonus Cards, and the German Flag on their Troop Cards. While the French ones have the Knight of the Legion of Honour on their Bonus Cards, and the Tricolor on their Troop Cards. The Rulebook is in full color and it has plenty of play examples for only being twelve pages long. The game markers are round and it is easy to understand their meanings.

This is the Game Sequence of Play:

Each Player receives six Command Points (CPs) per turn.
These can be used to do any of these actions:

Discard up to eight cards (1 CP cost no matter how many cards are discarded).

Place a Troop Card (You pay the CP cost in the upper left hand of the card).

Move a Troop Card (1 CP cost).

Attack with a Troop Card (1 CP cost).

Place a Bonus Card (You pay the CP cost listed on the Card).

 The game is set in the last year of the war, and it is only between French and German combatants. Like many games this size the rules are simple. This does not mean that the game is a beer and pretzels one. It is a tense and well thought out game that gives the player plenty of choices to play well or mess up badly. The shortness of the game means that you could play more than a few times on game night. The smallness of its footprint means that setup and cleanup is a breeze. In my own games, and reading about the game, many times it comes down to the wire with the last card or cards being the difference between victory or defeat. I can easily recommend the game for a change of pace for us cardboard pushing grognards. Hell, the artwork alone is worth the cost of the game. 

 Thank you, Fellowship of Simulations for helping me to broaden my wargaming with this exquisite little game. 


Trench War:

Fellowship of Simulations:


 Medieval Military Combat Battle Tactics and Fighting Techniques of the Wars of the Roses by Dr. Tom Lewis  The War of The Roses, between th...

Medieval Military Combat by Dr. Tom Lewis Medieval Military Combat by Dr. Tom Lewis

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

 Medieval Military Combat

Battle Tactics and Fighting Techniques of the Wars of the Roses


Dr. Tom Lewis

 The War of The Roses, between the Lancaster and York factions, is a seminal point in English history. The Hundred Years War, fought between England and France, had given the various magnates and Lords of England an outlet for their rivalries and quest for more lands etc. The War of The Roses meant that England could no longer think of overseas expansion and had to deal with a war on their own island. This war saw the change from arrows to artillery and even handguns. Plate armor and the non-novelty of the longbowmen meant that these battle winners, according to most histories, in the Hundred Years War were just another force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. A longbowman was trained from childhood, through his whole life, to be effective on the field. The book informs us that that the archers' effectiveness in battle relied on many different things. 

 The author comes to a few conclusions in this work that will likely surprise people. His first one is, how long were the actual battles. Towton was supposed to have been a daylong affair. The book shows us that two lines of medieval soldiers hacking away at each other could only have gone on for a limited time. Soldiers on both sides had to break away from each other at least a few times. The weapons of the infantry, mostly poleaxes, and their armor would have made fighting for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time the most one could expect from a human. Dr. Lewis also makes an interesting point about the actual reported losses in these same battles. Using Towton again, 28,000 men were supposed to have been lost. The figures for other battles are not as large but do represent a great number of bodies. The problem is that there are very few, to no mass graves, that would accommodate such a slaughter. Certainly, the lords would have been normally found and brought back to the family for burial, but not the average soldiers. He also suggests that even during a rout an armed soldier was not the 'easy pickings' that are usually portrayed. The routing soldiers were not throwing away their costly arms and stripping their armor off to run away as fast as possible. Plus, how fast could infantry actually chase the routing soldiers. Certainly, cavalry would be able to run down some, but how much physical endurance could one expect from a normal horse with an armored knight on its back?

 This is an excellent book for the reader to learn about the actual fighting of a medieval battle compared to the Hollywood version we have stuck in our minds. It made me question my long-held beliefs that were instilled into me by earlier forays into books about the subject.


 Thank you, Casemate Publishers, for letting me review this book. This is another fine addition to their large library.


Book: Medieval Military Combat

Author: Dr. Tom Lewis

Publisher: Casemate Publishers

  FROM SALERNO TO ROME FROM DISSIMULA EDIZIONI This is only the second game to be published by Dissimula Edizioni   and I would like to than...


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




This is only the second game to be published by Dissimula Edizioni and I would like to thank this small Italian games company for providing me with a zip-lock edition of this second game.  The focus on the 10 month Italian Campaign of WWII was what first drew my attention.  Then the pictures that I saw of From Salerno to Rome grabbed my attention even more because of the apparent quality of production.  The real thing, when it arrived, fully lived up to those images.  I would single out the two maps that overlap perfectly to form the full campaign playing area.

It stretches from Rome on the north edge of map 2 to south of Salerno on the south edge of map 1.  Details are perfectly clear and the muted colours work well to portray the Italian landscape.  The units and markers are well rendered, in particular the Corps and Division counters that are used on the Army display charts are very attractive.  

Unfortunately my photo of the Allied units in their counter sheets don't do them justice and distorts the colour, but this close up of one sector gives a more accurate impression.

 I deliberately chose to show some of the counters as they are when just pressed out of the counter sheets and some after I had clipped the corners.  Though a lengthy process, I would strongly recommend it for the additional effect created on the map.

All the play aids are of a similar good quality, ranging over the unit displays for the Campaign game [including a very useful set up map] and the Operation Diadem Scenario, a full colour terrain and combat chart and each player's Operational Costs chart and Army Displays.
Setup Chart for the full Campaign Scenario
The final element is the Rule book which is printed on such good quality gloss paper that it feels almost like thin card - definitely a substantial production.

In all there are five Scenarios, each of which is played on a single map, providing substantially shorter sessions than the full 10-turn, 2 map Campaign.

Ortona :  1 Turn
Salerno : 2 Turns
Anzio:    2 Turns    
Operation Diadem: 2 Turns
The Kesselring Option [hypothetical] 2 Turns

The full Campaign: 10 Turns

You will certainly make use of those shorter Scenarios for a number of reasons.  The first is that they make good games in their own right, especially the Salerno and Anzio ones. The second is the length of time the whole Campaign will take to play, unless the typical Sudden Death victory condition is achieved and finally the third is their need to help in learning the rules.

This is not a simple game in terms of the rules themselves, nor in the sense of understanding them.  The translation from Italian into English has some familiar issues, such as lack of correspondence in subject and verb between singular and plural, inexact use of prepositions and slightly ungrammatical phrasing or a lack of idiomatic phrasing.  However, none of these hinder understanding.  Rather the difficulties veer between the innovative concepts and the broad explanation of some of them.

First of all, however, I'd like to take you through the overall course of a turn and look at some of the uncertainties and ambiguities, while pointing out the many strengths of the design.  Perhaps the major point to be aware of is the inaccurate picture given by the Sequence of Play Chart provided for each player.  

Each Turn begins with the recording of that Turn's Action Points on the player's Army Display Chart, one for the Allied Player and one for the Axis Player, as seen below.

The most important point to grasp is that a Turn is made up of a variable number of Impulses.  In the first Impulse of every turn [except the first turn] both players will have the opportunity to use limited Replacement Points to build up flipped units on the map or rebuild eliminated ones.  In designated Impulses, Reinforcements first become available, but may be delayed by a player's choice.  All other aspects of an Impulse are identical.  They involve a simultaneous Planning Phase and then an Igo-Ugo Operations Phase.  Though the Initiative Player performs all their Moves and Combat first and then the Non-Initiative Player does likewise, this does not convey the interactive nature of an Impulse, which is among the strong points of the system.   

This interaction stems primarily from the use of Reserves and the ability of many units to React.  What I found unusual was that most Axis units possess this latter factor, whereas hardly any Allied ones do.  This is one of several areas where I desperately wished for some Design Notes to explain the thinking behind the decision. 

However, let's look at Planning.  Each Player has a Chart of Operations that they can select from: the Allied Player has a wider range of choices, virtually all of which need to be paid for from that Turn's Action Point [AP] allocation, whereas the Axis Player has fewer options, but several cost no APs.

On each Player's Army Display, you have Corps and Division HQ markers that will be turned to their Activated side if they are chosen for Operations that Impulse.  Should the number of Operations be few, you may be able to remember exactly what you have chosen, but for a more extensive range of Operations, I'd strongly recommend a handy note pad to jot them down!

The full range of Allied Operations options takes in  a few that are optional rules, such as Intelligence which allows you to examine a number of enemy stacks and several very simple choices such as additional airplanes.  The core of your choices is the activation of Divisions or Corps, including the ability to reassign Divisions to other Corps and even to other Armies.  Again the Allied Player has to pay for these Operations with APs, while the Axis Player can do so for free.  This disparity is open to question, though I assume that it depends on the reputed German ability to cobble together their units as needed by defence and desperation.  [Oh Design Notes where are you?] 

Whether this gives the Axis an edge which may affect play balance, I don't yet have enough playing time to comment on.  However, if it should, an easy remedy will be to introduce some relevant AP cost
similar to the Allied one.  Also there is one Allied action choice that can be made only ONCE in the whole game and that is a Major Landing.  Considering that the historical Campaign had both Salerno and Anzio and these are individual scenarios in the game,  I was a bit surprised that the Allied Player can only launch one!  Still that can also be house ruled should you wish to or feel it necessary.

Overall the Planning Phase is one that, I strongly enjoy and welcome as a concept rarely met with in board wargames design. You really do feel like you are genuinely a senior commander, having to decide what operations you are going to undertake and when.  This is especially true as noted above for the Allied Player with their choice of when exactly to launch that one and only Major Landing Operation. 

The obvious drawback to the Planning Phase is that it does add considerably to the length of each Turn, as it is being undertaken not once a Turn, but once every Impulse!  That said, it is a feature I wouldn't miss for the world!  

The number of Action Points each player spends in an Impulse then determines who has the Initiative and moves and fights first in the Operations Phase of that particualr Impulse.  This too has a subtle influence on game play.  How much to allocate and when?  Commit too much too soon and your opponent may have too much of a free hand in a later Impulse that turn.  Or can you strike a strong early blow that may mitigate your opponent's ability to retaliate later.  This is another excellent conundrum created by this part of the game system  and another big plus to chalk up for the game.

So too is the choice between planning several single division operations and Corps Operations.  The first allows a succession of small move/fight actions one after the other that might punch a hole and then exploit it, while a Corps Operation allows several Divisions all to move and then all fight.  Obviously the perfect choice is several Corps Operations in hope of creating bigger holes and greater exploitation!  All of these are very positive main elements in the game's design. 
Always useful - a full colour Reinforcement Chart

Running alongside is a mixture of smaller details that combine to create the fluidity and "feel" of From Salerno to Rome.  In no particular order, I'd like to outline a few and comment on them.  First off is naval, artillery and air power.  All can be used either for bombardment or combat support - but none of the three elements can be combined together. [Another question as to why not for the Design Notes.] 

The handling of air power I really like - a basic two planes plus an additional one based on a die roll are free for the Allies every Impulse, while the Axis have only a guaranteed single plane plus an additional one to be rolled for.  On top of that the Allies can acquire more by capturing airfields - for every three factors captured, you gain an extra airplane!  Simple, but effective.  However, it did take a question or two to shake down just how combat support worked.  In effect the use of any one from planes/artillery/naval allows a roll on the Combat Support Table to gain a DRM [Die Roll Modifier] or column shift on the Combat Table for a given combat.

Another good aspect that also took a little sorting out was the use of Reserves.  First of all, you create them by placing Reserve markers on units or stacks of units belonging to a Division when you first activate it.  After the Division has moved and had combat you can activate individual Reserve units or stacks to move and have combat one hex at a time.  So no combining Reserves from different hexes to attack, though a meaty Allied single stack can pack a reasonable punch!

Should the non-Active opponent have Reserves, they can interrupt by activating a single unit/stack.  This can produce an exchange of small actions.  However, some aspects of these rules were only brought to light through posing questions on BGG.  In particular, the fact that if either player passes on this exchange of Reserve activations, they cannot activate any more Reserves that Impulse.

Both the Movement and Combat Rules are remarkably short and straightforward, while covering all the familiar, typical features.  So Movement includes Strategic Movement that quadruples or triples movement allowance, provided the unit remains at a specified hex distance from an enemy unit and as always there are the benefits of road movement, bridge blowing, bridge repair and construction.  The one major surprise was that all units can move from hex to hex when adjacent to the enemy at the cost of +1 Movement point.  Very unusual! 

Combat is covered in less than two pages.  It's a standard odds ratio table with DRMs and column shifts, embracing terrain, armour bonus and tank shock, combat support, encirclement, retreats and advances.  All very easy to understand and apply.

The final unusual feature is that there are no Artillery units, only markers for Army, Corps and Divisional artillery.  The latter can be redeployed at the beginning of every Impulse!  Thankfully there are not large numbers of artillery or this might have been a chore. This allows for a fluidity I find strange, though the fact that the markers always remains where placed until the next Impulse makes for very careful placement. It also means that attacking units will often move out of range of artillery support especially at the Divisional level.
Again a curious feature for which I'd love more design explanation.

I like the fact that there is a range of minor Optional rules that are integrated at the appropriate point rather than bundled together in a separate section later.  I also like that they are additions [some intended to add historical detail] rather than modifications that change, modify or amplify existing rules.  

Overall, the rule book itself is an attractive production, though very limited in illustration, until you reach the 4 page Example of Play which does encompass most major elements of the rules.  Below is a good illustration from the Example of Play.

I certainly found this a great help to understanding the interaction of some of the rules.  As I've pointed out interpreting accurately some of the rules isn't always easy.  Sometimes play helps to clarify, but equally some of the uncertainties arose during play.  The system is definitely not one for the beginner and, as I've indicated there were several times when the rationale behind some rules would help especially when they didn't seem to fit with what I know of the historical elements. 

However, this is both a system and a campaign of WWII that I feel is well worth the effort to master.  The flow of the game and the situations in the shorter scenarios that I've played have been both enjoyable and engrossing.  The visual appeal of map and counters when set up is excellent and the feel and involvement of both players at all times very rewarding.  I only wish that I had the room to be able to leave the full two map campaign set up for the very lengthy period of time necessary. But that will have to wait until the sort of three or four day gaming conventions that I used to enjoy return to normality.

Once again thanks to Dissimula Edizioni for providing a review copy and I certainly hope that they will take this system to other WWII theatres.  Until they do, I'm looking forward to their next project which takes us to the American Civil war - another of my favourite wargaming periods - and the Chancellorsville Campaign.

  Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton  The author has chosen to take on three large topics in this book. Usually, authors will tackl...

Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton Ancient Battle Formations by Justin Swanton

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

 Ancient Battle Formations


Justin Swanton

 The author has chosen to take on three large topics in this book. Usually, authors will tackle just one of the ancient battle formations, these being:

The Hoplite Phalanx

The Macedonian Phalanx

The Roman Legion

 Instead, Mr. Swanton has decided to give a dissertation about all three in the same book. This might lead prospective readers to assume that the author just gives an overview of the different formations. This thought is far off the mark. The book has enough information to please the history lover, wargamer, and the military modeler all in one concise volume. 

 The book starts with a chapter called 'The Fundamentals of a Formation'. True to its name, the chapter starts the reader off slowly into this deep subject. The book goes into different formations and exactly how they could move and fight in them. It also gives the size of varying formations and the space between each fighting man. Then it goes into the formations that cavalry would use, and then goes into Elephants and even chariots. 

 Next up is the author's take on the history, usage, and finer points about the Hoplite Phalanx. The early beginnings of the Hoplite Phalanx are covered by the mists of time. We can only guess at the actual year and place that the Hoplite Phalanx took shape. We can, with certainty, say that by the time of the first Persian attempts to conquer Greece that most of the city states had their own Hoplite Phalanxes. The book goes into the various arguments for how the spear was held (overhand or under), then branches out in minute detail into the panoply of the Hoplite, along with trying to use the fragments of history that we have to explain the Hoplite Phalanx's actual use in battle. The authors of the time were writing for their audience, and not for us. This means that they took many things for granted in their writings. They could all go down to the city training area and watch the Hoplites train. So, many simple things about warfare from the time we have no hard evidence on. The later copiers of their work did not add in the missing bits either. 

 Then the author takes us to the Macedonian Phalanx and shows its probable beginnings under Alexander's ancestors. Unfortunately, the history of the Macedonian Phalanx is also not easy to pin down. We do know that its form was definitely in place by the time Alexander became king. The Successors of Alexander, or Diadochi, definitely changed some things about the Phalanx, but its form would have been easily recognizable by earlier warriors. 

 The next chapter of the book is called 'The Triplex Acies', and not  'Roman Legion' as you would think. It begins with a history of the Roman Hoplite Phalanx, and then segues into the history of the Legion itself. The main point of contention with authors about the Legion is how exactly the Romans could use troops from behind the first line as relief for it. Disengaging from an enemy front line, especially in hand-to-hand combat, is not an easy thing to do. How the Romans could do it without throwing their own lines into chaos is once again a question that history does not give us the definitive answer to. The author goes though the different ideas on the subject and shows us the varied thoughts on the matter.

 At the end of each chapter is a large bibliography for the reader to delve into himself. The book also has copious amounts of citations for the different theories presented. The book is an excellent one volume treatment of these three distinctly different formations and their uses. Thank you very much Mr. Swanton for this book. I also thank Casemate Publishers for allowing me to review it. 

 Another point that the author touches on is why, if the Legion became the pinnacle of battle formations, was only the Macedonian Phalanx brought back to life to conquer Medieval battlefields for 300 or so years? This has always been a question in my mind. 


Book: Ancient Battle Formations

Author: Justin Swanton

Publisher: Pen & Sword

Distributor: Casemate Publishers 


    Campaign Series: Vietnam From Matrix/Slitherine Games and Developer Campaign Series Legion   The newly released digital wargame, Campaig...

Campaign Series: Vietnam. Indepth Review Special Campaign Series: Vietnam. Indepth Review Special

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



Campaign Series: Vietnam

From Matrix/Slitherine Games and Developer Campaign Series Legion


The newly released digital wargame, Campaign Series: Vietnam (CSVN), comes complete with a storied pedigree: Originally coded by the legendary John Tiller 25 years ago, the latest iteration of the game engine evokes the "Vietnam Experience" like no other turn-based, tactical strategy game in recent memory.

Although CSVN sticks to its root at a scale of approximately 250 meters per hex, the game's developers have added many new tactical and operational layers to their labor of love. And yet, the UI in this latest version remains instantly recognizable, albeit easier-to-navigate than Tiller's first game released in 1997.

The painstakingly-crafted scenarios in the latest version of the Campaign Series (CS) match the rich history of the game's design and development. From the struggle of the French to re-establish their position in Indochina beginning with Vietnam in 1948, to U.S. involvement starting in the early 1960s and ending prior to the communist Tet Offensive in 1968, the 100-plus scenarios shipping with the game offer wargamers a playground with an unprecedented level of detail.


The familiar Campaign Series scenario selection screen: There are more than 100 detailed missions included with CSVN so far.


Add to this a wide variety of combat units with unique capabilities, including combat and transport helicopters, riverine assets, tunnel "rats," civilians, and supply units, and even the most hard-core Campaign Series veterans may have their hands full tackling the new tactical realities. These include, among many other challenges, flight limitations, no-go zones, IEDs, hidden minefields, and other combat elements specific to unconventional, asynchronous warfare.


What's more CSVN isn't some kind of half-baked, early access wargame debuting on Steam, for example.


To the contrary, the game engine has been expanded, enhanced, tweaked and improved based on input from experienced players for more than two decades since its first iteration - TalonSoft's East Front II - was released.

Is it perfect, yet? Well, not quite. But for the type of game it's designed to be, it's currently pretty close to ideal and getting better with every update.

As of this writing, there's also a few After-Action Reports (AARs) ready for viewing and just a mouse-click away at

If these AARs aren't enough to convince newcomers that the asking price ($40 U.S.) is a worthwhile investment, then players new to the CS series are advised to read on.

However, for those who have enjoyed the previous versions of the series, the purchase of this installment is a no-brainer, provided that players are prepared to meet a dastardly difficult-to-beat AI opponent and are comfortable with the Southeast Asian theatre of operations.

Why Is This Game Special?

There are several reasons why this game is unique among wargames, including the enhanced Lua programming functions and related Campaign Series Event Engine (CSEE). We'll touch on these features right up front, with more details to follow later.

First, the even deeper efforts devoted to the internal Lua programming compared with the developers' 2017 Matrix/Slitherine release, Campaign Series: Middle East (CSME), means there is a stronger emphasis (and resultant quality) for those who enjoy solo game play versus the AI.

In this writer's opinion, too many strategy games today are designed for multiplayer action, with a barely passable artificial opponent tacked on toward the end of the development cycle. The primary reason for this is that the featuring of a decent AI opponent takes a lot of work and beta testing, as well as top-notch programming skill, and most development teams simply can't afford to invest the time and effort required and still get the product released within a reasonable time frame.

Well, the CSVN design team has spent several years investing in the AI programming and scenario creation aspects and has introduced a number of new paradigms with this game.

And this leads to the second major upgrade included with the product, which is the new SMEAC briefing phase. The acronym stands for Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Control, and it's directly tied to the scenarios' internal CSEE programming. It's imperative that players study the new SMEAC briefings, as they include the critical information necessary to succeed in the various missions.

 The new SMEAC briefings are an important element of this new Campaign Series game.

Simply put, winning the game is no longer as highly focused on terrain objectives as the older CS releases were. A greater emphasis on minimizing friendly losses and civilian casualties are just some of the new factors players need to take into consideration, and the four "Boot Camp" tutorial scenarios are included to help familiarize wargamers with these new concepts.

Let's Get Started

The game begins with a dedication to the late John Tiller; a rock-and-roll guitar solo; and a moving three-minute video in newsreel format.

Many will recognize the images that flash by the screen as the same ones that filled America's living rooms as the Vietnam war dragged on. Several are quite disturbing, and the brass at Matrix/Slitherine deserves credit for not "sanitizing" the video, while Christopher Osterlund gets the accolades for putting it all together.

One of many iconic images featured during the game's start-up sequence.


In the release version of the game, instead of hitting the ESC key, the player needs to close the screen window manually to get to the classic Campaign Series placard-type start-up box. Once there, one can choose to play or edit an existing scenario, as well as edit a map or OOB.

Using an i7 3.6 GHz machine with a GeForce GTX 745 graphics card, scenario data takes several seconds to load, but the good news is there is more data: the game occupies a significant 8.83 gigs of disk space for a hex-and-counter wargame, which is more than double the developers' previous CSME offering. There will be more on that game later.

Let's start with the "Boot Camp 1 - Learning the Ropes" scenario. This is the first of a total of four tutorial missions included with the game.

This 3D Zoom-In View focuses on the Dak To Special Forces Camp in 1962. Even the game's first tutorial features a map that cannot be considered "small."

At scenario start, it's advisable that players first consult the Options drop-down, Windows-style menu and choose Scrolling/Smooth and then either Window Edge or Screen Edge scrolling for smooth map movement. There are lots of options "buried" in these menus, and thankfully the player's choices are "remembered" by the program on start-up.

There are a total of nine "zoom" settings that display instantaneously by rolling one's middle mouse button up or down. In this writer's opinion, the zoomed-in 2D counter display is of greatest value; the graphic icon view with unit bases is not quite as sharp. But to each his own...options are good, and the more choices, the better.

This image illustrates the same Boot Camp 1 situation, as in the screen shot above, but using the 2D Zoom-In view. The U.S. Battalion HQ (Airborne) is highlighted here, with unit details displayed CS-style in the upper-right corner of the screen.


And this game is not shy of options, with several of them significantly impacting the player's experience/enjoyment of the game's scenarios.

Specifically, there are 11 Optional Rules for the player to select or de-select before the scenario starts. These are described starting on page 98 of the game's 325-page manual that's available as a free download from here:

 There are a wealth of options included in CSVN, and all of them add increased depth, challenge and realism to game play.

The scenarios included with the game are designed to have all the options activated, with the exception of Variable Visibility. All of them impact game realism, and some will make the simulation "harder" for new players. This writer humbly suggests that novices consider turning "off" the Enhanced Fog-of-War and Enhanced Spotting options to ease the learning curve for brand-new players. However, the developers recommend that all options be turned on, even when playing the tutorial scenarios.

Before we begin to play the game in earnest, those new to the Campaign Series need to be aware of a few things before tackling their first CSVN scenario.

Firstly, this is not a run-and-gun type of hex-and-counter wargame, and this is doubly true of the latest CS offering. It is true that there are a wide variety of missions available within the game, including fire base defense; helicopter air assaults; meeting engagements; trench defenses; armored breakthroughs; battles of attrition; mobile defenses; search-and-destroy tasks; and, a few more.

Nevertheless, this iteration of the CS series demands a more methodical approach if one hopes to score a Major Victory in a scenario. In this game, there is a reason why the player gets an overview of the mission (a scenario introduction) when selecting a battle, and then the detailed and aforementioned SMEAC Scenario Briefing before play begins. This latter briefing phase is new to the Campaign Series.

While the scenario introductions included with the previous CSME game were generally brief and mostly functional, the separate SMEAC briefing phase included with CSVN demands the player's full attention. This is Vietnam, after all, with an armed IED, half-buried mine, or an ambush waiting around (almost) every corner. Thankfully, the briefings are detailed and well-written, and they add plenty of extra flavor to the game.

 The classic French Dien Bien Phu battle at its climax on March 30, 1954. For those who simply cannot get enough of this engagement, visit


Basic Training

The latest Campaign Series offering retains the intuitive, drop-down menu choices of the previous games. The UI also features a row of icons at the bottom of the screen with tool tips that identify their use. For oldsters like this writer - or for newcomers - either of these functionalities should be more than enough to get players started.

 Even the "Boot Camp" tutorials are steeped in historical accuracy, and the familiar Windows drop-down main menus will be welcome to newcomers and veterans alike.

At its simplest level, the familiar double-left-click to select a unit and right-click to move and/or assault come naturally. CTRL-left clicking on an enemy unit brings up an on-map crosshair, and this is the quickest way to fire on one's opponent.

Helicopters are not new to the CS series of products, but they are obviously more prevalent in a game covering the Vietnam conflict. And it's here where the UI becomes a bit more challenging. Choppers move through the air at one of three flight levels and need to transition in or out of them for take-offs and landings. Managing a large heliborne assault will take some practice, but it's unlikely to deter the more detail-oriented players that this game caters to.

Getting back to the more general menu items, directly above the icon commands at the bottom of the screen are nine new Tool Bar buttons that "filter" the myriad of graphical icons below: All, Common, Combat, Air, Engineer, Highlights, Map, Units and Info.

These functions are new and quite welcome with the latest release of the Campaign Series. Hitting the "All" button to display two long rows of command icons is a bit intimidating, but it hints at the complexity and richness of the options available to the player.

Wargamers will most likely need to refer to the Scenario Briefing a few times during a mission, and this can easily be accomplished by selecting the Status drop-down menu option and choosing Scenario Information.


Ready for Boot Camp

As the game manual does a stellar job of guiding the player step-by-step through the first four Boot Camp tutorial missions, it would be foolish to repeat these instructions here. Instead, please turn to page 109 of the manual to get started.

For now, we'll hit on some high points.

There's a lot to digest in the 36 pages devoted to the four Boot Camps, but a careful reading will give most players all they need to know to begin enjoying the game, as well as pointing out many of the new features added to the latest product in the CS series.

In fact, for those who find themselves sitting on-the-fence when considering a purchase, a quick read-through of the Boot Camp instructions from the manual will give potential board and digital wargamers a good idea of what they will be dealing with when actually playing the game. However, it's important to remember that the Boot Camps are instruction-intensive learning tools, and the standard scenarios are generally not as heavily scripted and potentially tedious as the tutorials.


What may be encouraging to wargamers new to the CS series is that while this writer has been playing on-and-off (mostly "off") since the first game (TalonSoft's East Front II) was released in 1997, his skills have barely breached the intermediate level. And yet, he has had great fun playing a few of the stock scenarios and designing his own. The point is that one doesn't need to master every aspect of the game to be able to squeeze some good pleasure out of the system.


Nevertheless, it's instructional to point out the lessons contained in the four Boot Camps, if only to give readers some idea of how deeply this game drills down into tactical (and operational) strategy:


- Boot Camp 1: The player is introduced to the User Interface, In-game Messaging, Movement, Double Timing, Variable Objectives, Firing, Assaulting, and assigning Opportunity Fire. Admittedly, this first lesson is relatively intense in terms of player commitment, and we're only on Boot Camp 1.

- Boot Camp 2: The player practices unit loading and unloading; the accepting of reinforcements; and, engineering tasks, including the building of a fire base.

- Boot Camp 3: A tutorial on helicopter operations: Landing Zones, Refueling; Following orders from higher HQ; Tunneling operations; and, handling larger engagements.

- Boot Camp 4: An introduction to Event Points, On-Map Aircraft, and Riverine Units.

New and Improved

CS veterans will find that this latest game is by far the most demanding when shooting for an all-out victory against an artificial (AI) opponent. The primary reason for this is that scenario designers Jason Petho and David Galster have created some satisfyingly deep and intricate missions. The fact that Petho (along with Robert "Berto" Osterlund and Petri Nieminen) are masters at AI scripting makes each scenario a one-of-a-kind adventure that is just icing on this game's cake.

Veterans of CSME will immediately notice some dramatic differences in the game's scenarios. In the prior release, the large mission set generously provided by contributor Arnold R. Arvold represented a significant portion of the scenarios available for play.

While Arvold's work is much appreciated for its historical accuracy, the missions included in the latest game go much deeper because the scenario designers are also expert in coding the program's enhanced AI and event engine, among other things. The result is a variety of battles that are more robust than those included in CSME.

The use of scripted in-game events, such as the awarding of Event Points during a scenario, significantly increase the player's involvement in a mission. In fact, some of CSME's scenarios seem rather dry and straightforward in comparison.

In this release, the designers have made much greater use of special message pop-ups and all manner of in-game events. It's a complex process for most, but modders are free to create or edit a scenario's Lua files to change almost every aspect of the mission at hand.

A partial screen shot of a complexity-level 10 scenario generously included in the previous CSME game by Arnold R. Arvold. Israeli forces are shown in "blue" at the beginning of the Battle of Rafah Junction 1967 scenario.

Veteran players will also find that the new CSVN scenarios are more difficult to win against the AI, but the designers have not resorted to creating obscure "puzzles" for the player to solve. Winning requires a full understanding of the mission goals and assets available, as well as a solid grasp of the tactics required based on the time period simulated. The game rules reward good tactics, and the player is given all of the tools - and most of the information - necessary to succeed. But victory will not come easy in scenarios designed by Petho and Galster, and that's as it should be. And we're talking about the first four tutorial games, no less.

One early poster on the Matrix forums said a mouthful on this topic: "Following orders is definitely key in this iteration, and sometimes VPs (victory point locations) can be a distraction."

In fact, there are few conflicts in modern warfare where the definition of "winning" an engagement was more ambiguous than in Vietnam, and this game follows that script to the letter.

Unlike so many hard-core, role-playing strategy games, however, the difference between a "minor" and "major" victory in this wargame is purely semantics. The player is not prevented from moving onto the next scenario by his or her failure in a previous mission. Thus, the potential for frustration is limited.

Gamers are free to replay a scenario using a wide variety of options to achieve the level of victory desired, or even edit an existing mission to one's heart's content. Freedom is the name of this game, and the possible scenario modifications are nearly endless.

Or, as another  forum poster has suggested, one can rigidly follow the path of the "Vietnam Experience" from the French perspective starting in 1948 to the American involvement right through 1967 by playing the scenarios in chronological order.

While this fascinating method of game play was theoretically possible in CSME from 1948-1985 in the Middle East, the significantly greater efforts put into the scenario and AI programming in this release takes CSVN to a new level.

Also  worth mentioning is the new "Enhanced Fog of War" option that takes CSME's "Extreme Fog of War" setting to a level appropriate to simulate the cat-and-mouse tactics typical of the Vietnam War. Once again, greater granularity and realism is the name of this game.

In addition to the 325-page manual, there are also several excellent (and unique) PDF documents included in the game's "Additional Resources" folder (to be found beneath the Manual folder) courtesy of Galster.


Wargamers who favor multiplayer matches are in for a real treat with this game. While PBEM is conducted the old-fashioned way - through file transfer - there is a large and dedicated fan base on various internet sites that actively engage in online battles using the CS series of products. The Blitzkrieg Wargaming Club ( ) is among the most active.

The online scenario database for the CS series "ladder" includes 10 unique games dating as far bar as the Matrix Games version of East Front II. In fact, the Campaign Series Vietnam 1948-1967 ladder ( became active almost to the day that the game was released. Board wargamers especially should feel right at home when frequenting "The Blitz" and other sites catering to the serious multiplayer wargame enthusiast.

The Stock Scenarios

After completing the four recommended Boot Camp scenarios, players should have more than enough experience to wade deeper into the solo and head-to-head (H2H) missions the game as to offer.

And for those who have yet to purchase the product, the downloadable game manual features an in-depth preview of exactly what CSVN has to offer in the form of a full 62 pages of scenario descriptions and maps for the stock missions included in the release version.

And oh, the maps...Let's take the average-sized "Assimilation - The Battle for Saigon" scenario depicting a 1955 clash between the private army of Binh Xuen and the Vietnamese National Army that researchers will be hard-pressed to find in the history books.

The map itself is an exquisitely-detailed representation of Saigon (obviously) taking up almost 4,000 hexes of mostly urban terrain. That Petho hand-crafted this map (and more than 100 others) is difficult to believe. And let's not even consider the OOBs for this one!

"Assimilation - The Battle for Saigon": Please notice the Saigon International Airport, MACV HQ, U.S. Embassy (and other historical locations colored in "red" type) that appear on this incredibly detailed map.

And then there's the truly large scenario - "Street Without Joy - Operation Camargue," - which is a more familiar engagement between the French invaders and the Viet Minh defenders centered at the province of Vin Tranh, covering more than 40,000 hexes, or 10 million square meters. Are you up for that?

A small portion of the enormous "Street Without Joy" scenario designed by Jason Petho is a good example of the depth and detail available in this game using a 1953 historical engagement.

Our guess is that many digital and board game players will be up to the tactical (and operational) tasks presented in this game. After all, the map of the Gulf of Tonkin landing sites for the French attackers in this Street Without Joy scenario is "compact" compared with the scope of the hypothetical battles that come to this writer's mind in John Tiller's recent Japan '45 and Japan '46 Panzer Campaigns monster games.

Those playing as the French in this CSVN scenario also get to maneuver a large number of land-based forces moving up from the south in the Thon Vinh Nguyen area of the map.

Sorting Through The Scenarios

Like the previous release of the Campaign Series, one can sort through the voluminous number of stock scenarios in order of appearance in CSVN based on a variety of parameters in the scenario selection screen. The most important criterion to select is probably the "Play Mode," where H2H and solo missions are identified.

Keep in mind that the special, "A Week in..." series of scenarios have players commanding a variety of formations over the course of one week. This means seven days and seven nights are being simulated, with different missions presented for each day cycle. It also means quite a few more counters to virtually push around than most standard scenarios, with game lengths of up to 420 turns.

Many of the maps included with the game scenarios are quite large, as are the hundreds of historical locations identified on-map for the player. Let's just say that Petho and company have more than answered any "concerns" brought forward by hard-core players anxiously awaiting the release of true campaign games.

The map for the "A Week In...Binh Long (June 1, 1966)" is almost 9,000 hexes, and it won't be for everyone. But it's an excellent example of the efforts that went into creating a game that retails for about as much money as a decent Vietnam-era history book. In fact, CSVN arguably offers more intrinsic value than the equivalent of a graduate-level study of the various conflicts.


The largest scenario included with CSVN on release, "A Week In...Binh Long," is not only long, it features a wide variety of units and missions that need to be completed by the famous U.S. 1st Infantry Division's battalions over the course of one week. The screen shot here represents only a small portion of the scenario's area of operations.

Scouting The Terrain

The individual hexes gracing the various scenarios in CSVN appear more richly illustrated - and somewhat more varied - than the CSME desert terrain in the previous release. In the new game, one sees at least 60 terrain types (and their affects), including Forest, Orchard, Tall Grass, Flooded Paddy, Meadow, Light and Heavy Jungle, Scrub, Marsh, and much more; not to mention all the Trails, Roads, Villages, Towns, LZs, Trenches, Improved Positions, Rubble, Bunkers, Pill Boxes, Low Stone Walls, Hedges and other landscape representations, along with various height elevations. Not that CSME is a slouch, with 56 terrain types included in the latest (2.0) version of that game.

What's truly amazing is that the designers have somehow kept the maps from appearing too "busy" when all of the terrain modifications are arrayed using the nine different zoom levels available to the player.

Then, one must also consider all the algorithmic functions (movement, supply, command-and-control, LOS, combat, disruption, and many more interactions) that are almost instantaneously going on between the literally thousands of individual platoon types from 11 nations and numerous eras depicted in the game. In effect, the simulation's depth can be a bit mind-boggling.

Fortunately, most of this data is neatly handed underneath the "hood" of the game's engine. Still, one wonders how programmer Robert "Berto" Osterlund has managed it all, not to mention the advanced AI work put into this release. And, with nary a "crash" after many hours of game play and scenario modification by this ham-fisted reviewer.

It is so far astounding that in a game of this complexity covering a (very) unconventional war, there are surprisingly few, if any, glaring bugs reported by the determined players who have purchased the game over the past few weeks.

One minor issue (for this writer) is that in some scenarios the rivers are the color of mud - and they probably were historically - but on the map they look more like major roads than waterways. It will take a bit of time to adjust.

Or, one can simply use the JSGME utility that's lurking in the game's main directory, and load up the "Blue Water" modification that's included with the CSVN install. It seems the developers have thought of nearly everything, and this is only the release version.

And let's not forget the tens of thousands of words describing all the weapons and equipment modeled in the game, which can be studied using the product's Unit Viewer (accessed by selecting the F2 key with a formation highlighted). Petho, once again, outdid himself with this release. Here are some examples:

In the first screen shot below, we have Matrix/Slitherine's excellent "John Tiller's Campaign Series" (JTCS) WW2 compilation game (, with patch circa May 10, 2014) showing equipment data for the M4A2 Sherman medium tank.


An equipment screen courtesy of the Unit Viewer from Matrix/Slitherine's classic "John Tiller's Campaign Series."

Next up is Petho's own data submitted for CSME's Super Sherman tank as part of an Israeli armored formation in a 1956 scenario included with that game.

The data panel for CSME's Super Sherman tank for the game released in 2017.

Finally, we have the data for the M48A3 Patton tank included in an August 17, 1966 action in Vietnam's Quang Tri Province conducted by the heroic 3rd Marine Division in the latest CSVN game. Both the clarity and the detail describing the equipment in the current version of the Campaign Series is obvious in the screen shot below.

The equipment panel for the Patton tank included in CSVN - the latest version of the Campaign Series of games.

When confronted with the scope, as well as the minutia, of CSVN - not to mention the major steps forward in the AI and scenario design departments - it's difficult for this writer not to gush.


For example, here are the listed "capabilities" of the U.S. Grant medium tank (historically available from 1948-1956) that many wargamers will be intimately familiar with, as displayed in the in-game Unit Handbook/Viewer (F2 key, again): Tracked, Not Light Bridge capable, Can Carry Rider, Hard Target, FireHardAI (?), Assault, Offensive Anti-tank, Defensive Anti-tank, Infantry Support capable, can't Fire On Helo. This just scratches the surface of the combat properties simulated for each unit in the game.

And for those who relish studying the intricate combat results, one merely needs to set the main Reports drop-down menu to Detailed and Persistent in order to (potentially) study the effects of each weapon firing on the enemy.


Of course, with the new Enhanced Fog-of-War and Enhanced Reporting options active at the beginning of the scenario, the details available to the player will be severely limited. Use of these settings are automatically activated at game-start and are highly recommended. The Enhanced Fog-of-War options will have friendly units literally "going in blind" in most scenarios, and these settings accurately depict conditions during much of the Vietnam war.


A comparison of the Extreme Fog-of-War setting available with the previous CSME game is nowhere near as "extreme" as the Enhanced setting in the new game, and that's as it should be. Apart from a rare sandstorm, sighting conditions in the Middle Eastern conflict were much better.

For those who prefer a God's-eye view of the action, the Enhanced settings in CSVN can be turned off - but not in mid-game. However, doing this tends to reveal hidden units and spoils most scenarios; it feels tantamount to "cheating." However, in this game players can have it their way.

Another measure of the game's increased depth is the aforementioned 325-page manual, which easily overshadows the JTCS tome by 190 pages!

However, it's also possible that wargamers who fall short of grognard status will find their eyes tending to glaze over, especially when it comes to the increased complexity and role-playing aspects of CSVN, not to mention the micromanagement often necessary to "win" a scenario.

Fortunately, the game does not force players to follow a single-minded method of play that results in total victory or ignominious defeat. Even in ultra-competitive H2H mode, gamers are free to choose the skill level of their PBEM opponents.

The wealth of game play rules and options, plus the ease of using the editors to modify the difficulty of solo play, allow gamers as weakly-gifted as this writer (in both operational and tactical skills) to find a perfect middle ground. Like many of Matrix/Slitherine's best wargames, the open-ended features of the game's design and the included editors greatly expand the possibilities for creative players. So, any frustration experienced with this game is entirely self-inflicted.

In fact, there's a menu tool that has been included in most of Tiller's games since East Front II that may be especially valuable to newcomers. It's located under the "AI" drop-down menu and allows players to temporarily revert control to a "friendly" artificial opponent in the middle of a solo turn.

This option let's the AI instantly resolve the moving and firing tasks of allied units in order to potentially ease the burden of command on players who may not want to micromanage each unit.

While the AI may conduct less-than-ideal tactical moves and attacks - and this may especially be the case in a game as detailed as CSVN - the function can come in handy when solo players may want to "move things along" in a complex scenario.

The 'Adaptive AI' and CSEE

The customizable AI included with CSVN is unique among wargames and includes more than 200 AI routines that are programmable by side, nation and scenario, and open to the scenario designer's tweaks. 


Even the more sophisticated CSEE (Campaign Series Event Engine) first introduced with CSME adapts in real-time to changing game play situations (events), according to the developers.

The good news for most players is that the game designers have done the heavy lifting for each stock scenario included with the game. Player modifications of the AI and CSEE routines are possible through Lua programming, but several years after release, there have been few user mods available for CSME in the public domain. So, the CSVN player base shouldn't expect too much in terms of innovative mods powered by Lua programming and freely available from the community at-large. Of course, we may be wrong here.

The bottom line is that the potential for custom-created content is a distinct reality, and developer efforts are pretty much guaranteed, making future creative content for CSVN and its promised add-ons a sure bet.

What's more, according to the developers, the AI in CSVN now has two or more operational battle plans currently baking into the release-version of most of the scenarios, and it chooses specific strategies based partly on a die roll for increased replay value.

With the Lua-based Event Engine available to provide the computer side with an increased level of operational awareness (versus tactical acumen), the CSVN scenarios are now significantly enhanced in terms of big-picture solo play. In fact, CSME owners can look forward to these increased AI "skills" being imported into the previous game with the free release of Version 3.0 of that product toward the end of 2022.

In general, anyone familiar with how the larger CSME scenarios play will see an immediate and positive change in AI behaviors when tackling some of the CSVN missions. Experienced Matrix/Slitherine forum members have already commented on how well CSVN (and its AI) mirror the historical experience of the various combatants from 1948-1967.

The Scenario, OOB and Map Editor

The fact is that most players will never touch these awesome utilities, so we'll keep our coverage of these features brief. In summary, those familiar with the previous Campaign Series editors will feel right at home with what CSVN has to offer.


CSVN's Organization Editor allows one to build custom OOBs from the forces of 11 nations over a period of almost 20 years.

However, for those looking to dip their digital toes into the deep and primeval waters of these powerful game editors, we offer some introductory tips for newcomers:

1. The easiest way to experiment with these utilities is to make small changes to a stock scenario. Keep in mind that there are three original files that need to be backed up before proceeding with a custom endeavor, and they are all found in the Campaign Series Vietnam/Scenarios folder.

2. Let's choose the "tiny" Giong Dinh mission as an example. First, we need to backup these three files: IC_480810_Giong_Dinh.scn,, and

3. Start the game and choose "Edit Scenario" from the main menu. Next, sort the scenario files that show up by "Size," and one will see the "IC_480810_Giong Dinh.scn item toward the top of the list. Double-click on the file name to load it up.

4. Next, do a "Save As..." command from the Windows drop-down menu at the top of the screen and label it "XYZ" or another file name that will be easy to identify later. Then, select the "Scenario" and then the "Header" drop-down menu, and one will see the original "Title" of the scenario automatically highlighted. In this case, it is "From the Sky - Battle of Giong Dinh." Change the title to "XYZ1" or something similar.

(Dealing with these file management chores right up front will allow beginners to quickly identify their custom scenario files, as well as choosing the main scenario (.scn) file when starting a New Game and searching through the Scenario Selection Screen.)

5. Now, load up your renamed "XYZ" scenario and enter the Scenario Editor main screen. From here, one can select from a plethora of customized scenario settings, move unit around on the map, add Improved Positions, and oh, so much more. There are hundreds of scenario variations that can easily be accomplished by using the main Scenario Editor functions alone.

6. Now, let's go back to the game's main screen. If you're anything like this writer, you are probably aching to add a few additional units to your Giong Binh custom scenario.

7. If you're looking to play the Viet Minh in the Giong Binh mission we're editing, you're in luck: the scenario designer (that's Mr. Petho) has included an entire D111 Viet Minh Battalion in the Forces Dialog box that has yet to be placed in the battle and is ready for you to plop down by highlighting the individual formations in the existing OOB and right-clicking on the map.

8. But what if one has an "a-historical" streak and wants to command the French side in this scenario reinforced with the Australian Army's 1st Armored Regiment (circa 1965)? Well, almost anything is possible using the editors that come with the CS games. 

9. Making fictional changes to the OOBs does require you to return to the main menu and select "Edit Order of Battle." This loads the Organization Editor. From there, simply choose the File/Open drop-down menu item and load the "" OOB that shows up toward the top of the selection window after sorting the OOBs based on size.

10. From here, one can customize one's OOB by adding a huge variety of formations and then saving the customized "org" (OOB) file and restarting the scenario editor and loading your custom scenario. Your greatly enhanced French OOB will now include the new formations you added - ready for placement on the game map.

(Here's another OOB design tip: One can load any existing OOB from any nation or era, choose the elements one wants, and then paste them into your custom OOB.)

While this scenario editing process seems horribly complex to spell-out here, it is relatively easy to accomplish with some practice. It also opens up a lifetime's worth of custom scenarios ready for creation by ardent mission designers.

What's Next For CSVN?

The developers have already made additions to the game's "living" manual and a few small updates, and they promise new units, scenarios, campaigns and countries to play as well.

The addition of a campaign game with linked scenarios was beyond the designers' capabilities at launch time, but this feature is planned in a future update. CSME only contains one campaign game to date, and it appears this feature has not been sorely missed by the player base thus far.

In a truly magnanimous move, the developers are planning to update CSME to CSVN standards with a large "3.0" update before the end of the year. Considering the effort involved, this is welcome news for many who have thoroughly enjoyed playing the Middle East version of CS, and will hopefully spark renewed interest in that game.

The often huge and iconic battles and other tense engagements that erupted all over South Vietnam during the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive (January - July 1968), will be included as part of a planned add-on module. This DLC, and perhaps a few others, may stretch the coverage of this mid-20th Century Southeast Asian wargame as far forward as 1985, with a Korean War offering as another possibility. The Campaign Series Legion team ( responsible for CSVN is nothing, if not ambitious, when it comes to this game series.

"All of us on the design team would like to offer a huge 'thank-you' to everyone who has supported us in our development of the game," says Petho. "It has been a long journey in developing an engine that works with the asymmetrical nature of the Vietnam War. We appreciate player feedback, and we always take it to heart!"

For board and digital wargamers alike, there is simply nothing out there with the depth, historicity and role-playing elements of CSVN. All of us at AWNT are hoping that readers "vote" with their hearts, minds and dollars and support the continued development of this excellent wargame.