I usually start these posts about solitaire gaming by saying I am not a solitaire gamer. Well, after playing Sherman Leader from Dan Verssen Games, I am not so sure that statement still applies. I used to really only play solitaire games when I had no other choice or available opponents. But, when I put this game on the table, my whole opinion has changed.
Sherman Leader is a solitaire only game based on ground operations during World War II. The player is in control of an American group of tanks, armored cars, trucks, half-tracks, anti-tank guns and infantry and is involved in various length campaigns, measured by weeks, against either the Germans in Europe or the Japanese in the Pacific. The various campaigns include North Africa 1942, Saipan in 1944, all the way through the Fall of Berlin in May 1945. As a game that is designed as a solitaire experience, the game involves well developed AI charts and tables that decide the enemy movements and attacks, via a die roll that can be modified based on various conditions, and provide very well defined explanations of these actions. The AI is pretty simple and sometimes takes actions that make you scratch your head but it works. As someone that doesn’t play a lot of solitaire games, this one is great because it is pretty “dummy proof”. The game can be played at your pace with each campaign involving a certain amount of weeks that play out. The setup isn’t difficult and can be done in 15-20 minutes. Weeks of the campaign can take upwards of 45-60 minutes, depending on the number of enemy units you must destroy to obtain victory.
In this Action Point, I want to show you how the setup works, including my favorite part, the selection of units and Commanders. This is a fairly involved process but the layout in the rules is excellent and easy to follow. As I said, “dummy proof”.
Choose Your Campaign…Wisely!
As a newb to this game and to the Leader Series from DVG, I knew that I should go for the introductory campaign, which is shorter and a little lighter than some of the others. The campaigns include various difficulty levels such as Introductory, Standard, Advanced and Expert. I chose to start my experience with the North Africa 1942 Campaign. You will then consult the Headquarters sheet to find the number of German tanks that you will add to a chit draw cup. Because the campaign is in 1942, I refer to the table on the HQ sheet listed as ’42, which states that I will add 11 tanks to the cup, including 7 Pz IIIs, 2 Pz IVs, and 2 StuGs. This is light compared to some of the others. ’45 has 8 Pz IVs, 2 Panthers, 1 Tiger, 1 King Tiger and 6 StuGs to choose from! Yikes, talk about upping the game.
As you can see from the picture below, after selecting your Campaign card (there are 9 different campaign cards consisting of African, European and even Pacific campaigns), you also are asked to choose an Objective Card. These Objective Cards layout what you are trying to do and give your starting Special Option (SO) Points, the duration of the campaign in weeks and your weekly allotment of SO Points to be used to repair and replace units. The Objective Card will also layout the Battalion Cards that you will draw representing your enemy and provides the scale against which you will measure your final score against.
I chose the shortest of the Objective Cards Invasion! for my first play, once again, being new to the system I wanted to learn and not get destroyed. I also didn’t want to make a ton of critical errors and then have to live with those mistakes for an 8 week campaign. This means that my campaign will only last 3 weeks.
Draw Battalion Cards
If you will look back up at the picture of the Objective Card, you will notice that it lists a number of Battalion Points. This determines the Battalion Cards, or simply the enemy units that are in your vicinity, that you will draw and add to your Operational Map. Each Battalion Card has information about the force on that card and includes a Battalion Point Value. The game tells you to draw out cards in the following order, an Assault Battalion (usually these are heavier units that will move quickly on the Operational Map), Assault, Supply (these are units that will affect your SO Points) and Command (these units affect other enemy units with bonuses). Once you draw these cards, you reveal them until you total up to the Battalion Point Value listed on your Objective Card. In this case, my value listed was at 24.
As you look at the picture of the Battalion Cards I drew, you may ask yourself why they total 28 Battalion Points when I was only required to have 24? Well, let me tell you. You draw these cards until you match or exceed the listed value on the Objective Card. My first 8 card draws totaled 23 BPs, just one BP short of being able to stop. This meant that I had to draw one more card! Just one more card and I drew the Armor HQ card that represented 5 BPs bringing my total to 28. These extra points still count, so I was unlucky in my first draw. It was ok though as I didn’t have to fight that unit right away. I could build up my forces and improve my Commanders, but as the Armor HQ moves toward the front lines and enters the Friendly Transit and Friendly Staging areas on the Operational Map, if I don’t attack and destroy it, I will start to lose SOs at the beginning of each week. So, this was not a good thing but I sucked it up and just moved on! These Battalion Cards now represent the units that I will encounter in this part of the campaign. In order to win the game, I will have to destroy these units to gain Victory Points. Now that I know the forces arrayed against me, and their relative power, I now have to buy my units using my SOs and assign Commanders. This part is really cool and fun!
Buy Units and Choose Commanders
I then totaled up my available starting SO Points by taking the amount from the Campaign Card (+55) and adding that to the Starting SO Points on the Objective Card (50). This totaled 105 points, which would allow me to buy a lot of units. As I thought about my choices, I looked over the units and chose quality over quantity, ultimately choosing 14 units, including two M4 Sherman Tanks, an M7 Priest, an M3 Grant Tank, an M3 Halftrack to haul around my M1 AT Gun and two Anti-Tank Teams, two MG Teams, three Rifle Teams and an M3 Scout Car. In my opinion, this was one of the really fun parts about the setup. The choices are amazing and you can really go with anything. You must be able to take out what you have coming against you but it is fun to experiment with the different type of units to see what works well together and how to be most efficient with your moves and attacks. Remember, Range is king in the game, so having units that have good Range, such as the M4 Shermans with 0-3 Range and the M1 AT Gun with 1-3 Range, is paramount to your victory. If you can shoot the enemy before they can get in Range to shoot you, that is a recipe for success!
After purchasing these units, I was left with 10 SO Points, which is very important. I looked at buying two Scout Car chits, which would allow me to extend combat above the maximum 5 rounds, just in case I needed a round or two extra to fully destroy an enemy Battalion. I also upgraded 2 of my chosen Commanders with some of the points which is also very important. Remember above when I mentioned that you will lose SO Points if an enemy unit is in the Friendly Transit or Friendly Staging areas at the start of a week, well these extra left over SO Points are held just in case I have to pay those costs because if you cannot pay at the beginning of a week, you will outright lose as you will not have the resources or ability to continue fighting.
The final step is the most fun, and frankly, the most disappointing. As I scanned the Commanders that I had available to me, I noticed that I would have a lot of inexperience in my leaders. This inexperience is reflected in the game with either no bonuses to attacks or worse yet, negative modifiers. The more inexperienced, the larger the negatives. So, as you can see in the picture below, there are differences in the levels of your Commanders. The lowest level is that of Recruit, followed by Green, Average, Skilled, Veteran and finally Ace. As you look at the differences in the leader below, you can see that he improves as he increases in level. As a new Recruit, he has no modifier for 0 Range and as you can see he actually has a -1 modifier for any Range 1+. This means he will add a -1 to your rolls to hit the enemy. With various other penalties from moving, and Range penalties, an additional -1 can be really bad. But, when he increases in skill, he gets better. At Skilled, he still has the +0 modifier for 0 Range, but gets a +1 for 1+ Range and at Ace he improves to a +2 at 0 Range and +3 at 1+ Range. His biggest areas of improvement though are found with how he deals with Stress. At Recruit, you can see he starts to take negative modifiers at 3 Stress, while when compared to Skilled and Ace he doesn’t get a penalty until he has 5 Stress. You can also see that his Speed changes for the better as he increases in skill. At Recruit, he is always Slow to react and will always shoot after the enemy units have taken their turn. But at Skilled, when under 5 Stress, he will act Fast and can attack before the enemy. This is huge and is a big factor in some of my choices for Commanders.
Stress is also important as all Commanders will receive Stress after they participate in battle. Those that deal well with that Stress are more valuable as they can be used for longer periods of time and in more battles without having to send them on R & R or having to spend valuable SO Points on removing that Stress. Also, notice their Cool value which is the number listed to the left of their heads in the border of the card. This Cool value measures how well they recover from Stress after battle and is just as important as their abilities. As you can see, Commander Chin has 0 Cool at Recruit, 1 Cool at Skilled and 2 Cool at Ace. This number is simple as you just remove that amount of Stress from the Commander after battles are finished and you are calculating his total Stress.
Earlier I mentioned disappointing to describe this process. It is not the design, or the game itself. The choices are so difficult that you will always have to choose a Commander with bad numbers. This is disappointing because if you can just get those Commanders the needed experience, they can improve, but if their numbers are bad to start, they may not make it that far as they will be hit more and will miss more often making the fight tough. But that is one of the design elements that makes this game great! Choice…and very tough choices at that!
One other really neat part of the design is the Commander Skills. As you can see on Chin above, at Recruit level he has a skill that is negative, being Cautious. This means that he cannot have his troops Move and Attack in the same round. This can be very difficult as getting in range without being able to fire upon your enemy, but opening yourself up to receive fire, is a recipe for disaster. But, with a Cautious Commander, if you don’t Move and get into range, you will never be able to make a difference. There are other skills that are very helpful and need to be developed as your Commanders level. An example is US Mechanic. This ability lets the Commander remove up to 2 Damage counters from vehicles at the end of battle. Usually, these Damage counters can only be removed with the expenditure of SO Points. So this ability is very important as it allows you to use those SO Points to repair other units, buy new units or purchase needed support chits like Scout Cars (that provide you with an additional round of combat in battle) and Trucks (which decrease the cost for you to attack enemy units on certain areas of the Operational Movement board). Sherman Leader is fun and really takes you beyond just a simple tactical wargame. It gets you into the area of building teams, outfitting those teams and managing battle effects such as Stress. Overall, a very unique take on a wargame as you are managing your forces in more areas than just combat.
I hope that you enjoyed this look at the setup of the game, including the different campaigns available, the various nuances involved with Battalion Card draws and my take on the proper use of SO Points to buy units and choosing Commanders. In our next Action Point, we will take a closer look at Combat, and how to defeat a Battalion.