Eylau

Division level combat in the age of Napoleon, using area movement, lots of step reduction, and buckets of dice for its combat. There’s a command system layered on top which gives a decent impression of the real thing (as I assume it to have been) and little touches of chaos. For example, engaged formations risk not being able to activate in the next turn. And each side’s turn to activate uses a die roll to determine how many formations they must activate. So, perfect planning soon falls apart.

Eylau has scenarios for the opening encounter, the main day of battle, or a two day all out effort. I have been playing the opening encounter scenario through again and again to familiarize myself with the rules – they are not complex, just different – and work out some tactical approaches.

Of course, it also set me off on a mission to read up on the battle…

Death Valley

This is a bumper package in the GBACW series now on my table. It features the battles in the Shenandoah Valley of 1862 and 1864. So far, I have played 1st Kernstown and 1st Winchester. Smallish scenarios that are good fun.  I’ll never make it all the way through the battles provided, but I am impressed at the quality and quantity of the content in the box.

One sad aspect is that the designer of the core system, Richard Berg, recently passed away. It’s a tribute to the strength of the design and the interest in the topic that GMT can see a continuing market for developments of the system and more battles. And kudos to Greg Laubach, the credited designer here, who seems to have done a terrific job of making a top notch product.

 

The Little Land

Having dipped my toe into the water trying out Saipan, a game in Adam Starkweather’s Company Scale System published by Compass Games set in the Pacific, I jumped at the chance of this new east front release, The Little Land. This covers the battle for Novorossiysk, a key port held by the Germans since September 1942, which the Russians decided to invade in 1943 as part of their attempts to unhinge the German defense of the Caucasus. The Russian campaign was not a successful one, and the game gives you the opportunity to try and do better. (Good luck!)

The game has two maps – but most of the scenarios, save the campaign game, are one-mappers – a rulebook and scenario book, a ton of gorgeous counters and plenty of play aids. Combat units are companies, hexes are 500m, and daylight turns are 2 hours long. Activation is by chit, with divisions and (in general) their subordinate formations having their own chits. There is a command system which generates a mix of points restricting how often these chits are available, and offering the opportunity for bonus actions and direct intervention. Combat is by fire and assault, with progressive levels of disorganization leading to unit elimination. The whole thing is a development of Adam Starkweather’s Grand Tactical Series published by Multi-Man Publishing.

I like:

    • Level of complexity – it’s not too complex, and very playable
    • Easy to play solitaire
    • Tactically challenging – it’s not about just piling up units with big combat strengths
    • System shows the durability of company level units, until they begin to wrack up the effects of being in action and start to fall apart
    • While it’s a difficult balancing act, the level of chrome is just about perfect for me

What don’t I like?

    • Absence of range effects for direct fire
    • It’s a marker farm; inevitable, but it can get tiresome
    • Sometimes it’s all about who can roll the most zeroes
    • Absence of unit icon explanation
    • Sloppy rules editing

I have my doubts about how you balance scenarios when the order of the chit draw can materially affect the outcome, but balance is not an issue for me. I’m more interested in seeing the history on show and trying to understand how accurate that appears to be. I need to do more reading to come to an informed view, and that’s not going to happen for this battle. But it’s still fun to play.

So, not a perfect system, but a good one and very enjoyable.

The next release is supposed to be Fulda Gap (WW3 in Germany), and although its four maps are way too big for my game table, the topic seals it for me. (I cannot explain why, and I’m disinclined to try and analyze this.)

Moravian Sun

Moravian Sun, designed by Enrico Acerbi and produced by Acies, is a wargame about the battle of Austerlitz, the decisive encounter of the Third Coalition in the Napoleonic Wars. The scales are hourly turns, brigade sized units, and hexes of 450-500 meters.

The system is a step above the basic – or classic – wargame standard, though it does use odds based combat and traditional zones of control. The command system elevates it, though not as far as I would like. Essentially, each formation (a corps, with provision for creating smaller detachments) gets an order, and that order determines what units can and must do.

For example, the Advance order obliges at least three units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy. The Attack order obliges all units to move at least one hex closer to the enemy, and so on. There are exceptions, but the rules are supported by a good table summary, and do a fair job of imposing some form of command and control realism.

This is helped by adding a priority system. Each side must prioritize its formations – order of activation – though there are separate priorities for the main and the support orders. When your side goes, you have to activate the next formation in priority order, but you can choose between those with main and support orders. One of the support orders is a neat Pursue option which allows (so far as I can tell) that formation to immediately react to an enemy retreat. Cool idea!

Orders can be issued and changed, though fate can intervene which is just the ticket for some true battlefield chaos and winning opportunities.

The part that it’s missing, for me, is the lack of a destination. In other words, I as the player can advance closer to the enemy to my front. But, if I decide the chaps off to the left are a better target, I can simply change the direction of movement. (The Eagles of France series designed by Walter Vejdovsky and published by Hexasim includes a destination hex as part of its orders system.) It’s simple enough to add a geographical restriction, and that produces good results for a modest overhead.

But don’t let that minor carp get in the way of seeing this for the interesting game it is as it stands. The graphics are good, the rules are OK considering their non-native English speaker origin – and supported with living rules – and the thing is playable. Eminently so. For my tastes, there is a decent amount of chrome – cavalry charges, squares, march columns, and weather – but not too much. And with one map and less than 500 counters, about half of which are markers, it’s a relatively compact game.

I have played through several turns of the battle scenario (you get that plus a campaign scenario starting on the previous day) twice to a reasonable conclusion with one victory apiece. I worry that the orders give the Allies more flexibility to counter Napoleon, but have certainly not played the game extensively enough to offer an authoritative opinion. I have enjoyed having this game on the table.

Bloody 110

This, from 1989, is the first of Dean Essig’s Tactical Combat Series (TCS). Units are platoons of infantry, mortar and machine gun sections, individual tanks and guns. Hexes are 125 yards and turns – during the day – are 20 minutes. The action covered is the role played by elements of the US 28th Infantry Division in holding up the German Bulge Offensive heading towards Bastogne.

I was getting sick and tired of looking at all the TCS games on my shelves that weren’t getting played because I repeatedly found the latest iteration of the system too much of a slog. (I like it when I read it, but not when I’m playing it.) I decided to start trying out some house rules/variants to see if I could cobble together stuff that worked for me.

I started with a quick run through the tank and infantry learning scenarios, and have now moved on to the 1st day battle scenario.

I have used and rejected several ideas, and while at times it is frustrating, it’s also a fun challenge. And when I think something is getting there…

Oh, and I also enjoyed – as a change from today’s multi-colored environment – going back to the old-style counter graphics. Quaint!

On the beaches at Normandy

This game, one of my ConsimWorld Expo purchases, is about the Normandy Campaign in WW2. Published by Decision Games, it was originally a magazine game (Strategy & Tactics) designed by Brad Hessel, featuring only the Cobra part of that campaign. It has gone through a couple of updates and upgrades of campaign coverage by Decision, of which this newly released boxed version is the latest, led by Joe Youst.

What you get inside the box are two standard maps, 280 die-cut counters of decent quality, a rulebook, and a separate campaign study booklet, as well as dice and some plastic storage bags. Continue reading

On the table – Ligny 1815

I am currently playing Ligny 1815. It is the third game in the Eagles of France series  (after Fallen Eagles (Waterloo) and Rising Eagles (Austerlitz)), all designed by Walter Vejdovsky, and published by Hexasim. Turns are  1 hour, hexes are about 200 m, and units are regiment sized with each strength point representing 100 combatants.

I played the first in the series long enough to have a good grasp of the rules, but I needed to pay attention to the tweaks to the system that extended playing has brought about. As usual, I’m supplementing the gaming with some reading on the topic to refresh my knowledge and enhance the experience. Should be good fun.

Currently playing – Elusive Victory

About ten years after it came out, I finally have Terry Simo’s game Elusive Victory on the table. It’s a GMT game focusing on air warfare over the Suez Canal, with scenarios on the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.

Let’s see how this goes…

(PS: For the avoidance of doubt, the fact this game is on the table now and things have gone hot in Gaza at the same time is a coincidence. I started reading the rules over a week ago. Honest!)
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Enduring the fire

Axis forces attacking north of Sidi Abdallah

I finished my second play through of the campaign scenario of Baptism by Fire. I abandoned my first after a few turns because I realized I had screwed up some of the important rules about Combat Trains and Headquarters. If nothing else, that initial run meant I was more comfortable with the rules and fairly rattled through the turns. With low unit density and lots of space, this is a nice game to look at and play.

The initial turns were an Axis whirlwind as their forces cut the defending Allies to shreds. While this was followed by a lull for a few days – representing the confusion that actually occurred as the Axis decided what their campaign goals should be – most of the game involved wave after wave of Axis attack, punctuated by the occasional Allied counter attack to seal a hole in a line, or just to give the axis something to think about.

Qualitatively, the Axis forces are better. The challenge for the Allied player is to put up enough resistance so as to delay the Axis, without hanging on too long and being encircled. The Axis challenge is to keep pushing, just Enough to keep the Allies off balance and the victory point hexes in reach, but not too much for fear of suffering a nasty counter-attack.

At the end, it as an Allied victory because the Axis failed to take enough of the victory point hexes. The lesson learned? As the attacker, you have to push your forces harder than I was doing.

Some notes.

First, the scenario includes two possible victory conditions (VC), but the Axis doesn’t know what one is relevant at the start. After a few turns, a chit is drawn to determine the applicable VC. While it’s not the best for solo play, it’s a good twist and is A simple layer of realism since the Axis seem to have gone through the same uncertainty.

Second, this game in the Battalion Combat Series introduces a new rule: Screening. It’s used by recon forces to delay attackers. It’s quite handy, but the Allies only have one such unit on hand, so the application is likely to have more effect in other games in the series. Cool rule, though.

Third, I used one of the system’s optional rules: Unit Traffic. This means that units can only use the road rate if the road hex they move through is clear of other units. Since the Axis forces are leapfrogging attacking formations in a forward direction, and the Allies are leapfrogging defensive formations in a backwards direction, it had an extensive impact. It also slowed play. I like the historicity, but am less keen on the added time it took.

Closing

I like the system a lot. I like the mix of unit capabilities, the effects of fatigue, the chaos, the fortunes of war, and the simple supply rules which combine to give an entertaining and challenging gaming experience. (My post about the first game in the series is here.) The minor niggle about Baptism by Fire is that I wasn’t able to get hold of a decent book on the campaign.

The next in the series is Brazen Chariots (the Brevity, Battleaxe, and Crusader battles in North Africa during WW2) and I have ordered it even though the game’s three maps mean some of the scenarios will be too big for my game table. (There’s always Vassal.) I am reasonably knowledgeable about these battles, but will probably do a bit of top-up reading before I play it.

Now, what game to play next?