On the Table – Catch-Up Time Again

I love gaming. I love writing. One day I will have these in the right balance. For now, it seems that I play more than I write, and that’s not balanced correctly. Which is another way of saying that work on the novel project has hardly progressed, and here’s another writing task I would rather do: catch-up with the wargames that have crossed my game table in the last wee while.

First up is Lee Brimmicombe- Wood‘s Wing Leader – Supremacy 1943-1945, published by GMT games. It’s a follow up to his Wing Leader – Victories 1940-1942, using the same system. I only really dabbled with the first game, sticking to the basic scenarios. It was OK, but as they used to say in the glens, it did not set the heather on fire.

This time, I played through all the basic scenarios, and then went on to the more advanced stuff using the full bombing rules. Much better. Very playable solitaire, and packed with historical data and lessons, it’s a great example of a designer delivering what he knows about his subject in an accessible and fun package.

The production standards are top notch, with a mounted board, aircraft data cards, and beautifully done counter art. The only thing that might put people off who are interested in the topic, is that the game renders everything in two dimensions only: you play with a side on view of the conflict, with units being able to move up and down (climb or dive) and left or right as you face the board. In short, there’s no winging round the flank. It did seem strange at first, but you get used to it, and the end result simply works.

After I finished with this game, I resolved to return to it in the future.

Next was a blast from the past: John Hill‘s East Front Tank Leader from West End Games, first published in 1986. This is, as you might expect, tactical combat in WW2, with a unique card activation system reflecting command, control, and communication capabilities. This allows – at least in theory – the Germans to overcome the Russians despite an inferiority in numbers and tank quality. Previously, I had found it difficult to get into. But a chance encounter with the discussion folder on Consimworld set me off; I got out the game, played, and had a blast. It was fast and furious fun. The scenarios, however, were dodgy in that they seemed to be too dependent on random reinforcement die rolls. The game is also handicapped by a rather crucial piece of errata in that the German and Russian roads are labeled the wrong way round! Once I found that, the scenarios were still too luck dependent, but made more sense.

In essence what the card activation does is that it allows a better performing unit (company) to act ahead of less well performing unit. It’s clever, and it’s fun. However, there’s little chance involved, so it did sometimes seem a bit too predictable.

Also, I was a bit suspicious of some of the game values. (There are three games in the series, with Western Front Tank Leader and Desert Steel being the others.) For example,British Sherman tanks are slower than USA Sherman tanks. Eh? Jeeps have a higher defensive strength than M3 halftracks which have a higher defensive strength than the famous German Sdkfz 251, and that doesn’t seem right either.

None of these curiosities took away from the fun I had with the game, though I did make a mental note that I might come back here and port the game over to a 200 meter hex system (Tank Leader uses 150 yard hexes), and take the opportunity to tweak the values. Of course,I do have some ideas about a different activation system…

Last up, an even earlier blast from the past, Panzer Battles. This was designed by Thomas Walczyk for SPI and came with issue 72 of Strategy and Tactics magazine. It has a desert, an east front, and a west front scenario, and has a system of platoon counters with individual tank steps. I love that part. Of course, that adds a layer of complexity, which increases the playing time. The combat system did not help as you roll for hits and then roll to confirm the hits. It also has written orders – very basic – and that probably helped ensure the system never took off. (Mark Herman used it as the core of Mech War 2, however.)

Here there is no real command and control on show, but there is a difference in battalion morale, and that affects how quickly units can recover from bad morale. Notice that it does not make them more resistant to bad morale. It works OK, but after the super neat command and control of Tank Leader, it was a brutal change.

I played all the scenarios, and they were fun. Again, I’m not sure about balance, but that did not restrict my enjoyment. Also again, I was a bit puzzled by some of the game values, but that turned into a positive experience as it set me off on a reading frenzy as I checked out my available sources.

I cannot help thinking that Panzer Battles was a missed opportunity. It’s a game I have repeatedly come back to in the almost forty years since it was first published. I wish they had done more units, more maps – like a Mech War2 version of WW2 – because that would have been really cool. Alas, it seems if I want that, I’ll have to do it myself. Another retirement project!

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