I wasn’t able to get to this feature for August, mainly because I only really played one New-to-Me wargame in Gato Leader, so I took a month off and we ended up playing several good games since then that I’d like to give you a look at. In this edition, we will take a look at three games that I played that were new to me, including Gato Leader, Lion of Judah and Revolution Road. If you missed the last edition of New-to-Me Wargames from July, here is a link. (we looked at Wizard Kings from Columbia Games and Triumph & Tragedy from GMT Games).
1. Gato Leader: The Battle for the Pacific from Dan Verssen Games (2016)
Gato Leader: The Battle for the Pacific is a solitaire only game in the Leader Series from DVG Games. The game focuses on the American Submarine campaign in the Pacific during World War II from 1942, shortly after the dastardly attack by the Empire of Japan on Pearl Harbor, through the end of the war in 1945. Players will be placed in command of a squadron of Submarines to control over the course of a Campaign. The primary goal of each squadron commander is to sink enemy merchant ships and warships in order to meet their Victory Point goal for each chosen Campaign.
Gato Leader includes the following U.S. Navy submarine types: S Class, Narwhal Class, Permit Class, Salmon Class, Tambor/Gar Class and Gato/Balao/Tench Class. Each of these class of ships are available based on their historical years of service. So, when a player selects a Campaign, they must take out of consideration any Submarines that are not in service during that time frame.
After choosing a campaign, and there are 4 different ones each with three differing lengths, the player then consults the Campaign Sheet to choose the length of their campaign to identify the number of Special Option (SO) Points that they will have to spend over the course of the campaign as well as what Special Options they will have to purchase before and during the Campaign.
Players first have to choose Submarines and then outfit them with various upgrades. This is the best part of any of the various games from the Leader Series from DVG. Purchasing your units and making decisions at the beginning of the game that will effect you throughout your play. I absolutely love this aspect and they have improved upon this in each game that has come out. I love that there are meaningful decisions at the beginning of the game and not just as you get into things. I have to plan out how I think things will turn out and figure ways to alleviate my negatives, such as the accumulation of Stress from attacks and Event Cards, as well as how to repair and refit my Sub without having to go back to port which would end my game for that particular Sub (such as buying a FOB).
Players will then go on patrols and search for contacts with enemy shipping. Once targets are found, a Submarine can fire any number of torpedo spreads at any number of targets but remember that Subs generally can only have 10 torpedoes in the ready to fire position. Once fired, a player must take a turn to reload their tubes at a very slow rate that is determined by the Subs experience level.
Once fired, each of these spreads must now perform a Torpedo Dud Check. Torpedoes used by the US Navy during the early part of World War II were notoriously unreliable and half the time wouldn’t arm and explode when they hit. This is reflected in the game with a required Torpedo Dud Check when any torpedoes are fired.
When fired, each spread must roll on the Torpedo Dud Check table which is based on the year of the campaign. Some will be duds as there are results where half of the fish are on target and armed while many will outright miss.
Now, we move to the Hit Phase. The game uses a very interesting system for these attacks. You don’t necessarily roll for each torpedo individually, but roll for all torpedoes in a spread together by rolling 1 die for each torpedo and then taking the highest modified number of the bunch. If there are more than one torpedo on target, the player will get a bonus modifier of the total torpedoes hitting the target -1. So, for example, with 5 torpedoes aimed at the Katori Maru, a bonus of +4 to hit rolls (5 torpedoes – 1 = +4) will be granted.
You have to look at the target card to understand what numbers you need to hit and do damage or sink the target.
If you look at the bottom of the card you will see a series of numbers for both Gun and Torpedo attacks. The lowest number is the minimum number needed to do damage to the target and if you roll between a 4-5, you will inflict one light damage hit. If you roll 6-7 you will do one heavy damage hit and if you roll 8+, you will sink the ship.
This part of the game is really fun and sometimes you will sink several ships outright with lucky rolling. But, sometimes you will struggle to do damage because the dice just aren’t kind. It is important to continue to move and attack in order to be able to sink enough shipping to score an acceptable amount of VP’s and accomplish your patrol’s goal.
The Drum limps home with no torpedoes, a few damaged tubes and leaking oil to finish its first patrol in 1942. The crew performed admirably as they sank 8 total ships, 7 freighters and 1 escort, with a combined shipping tonnage of 41,400. A good start at defeating the Japanese!
There is a lot more to this game than the simple elements I have shared with you. There is a fairly involved system of escort detection of Submarines, random movement of those escorts, as well as attacks from escorts and even merchant ships that you will have to learn to play this game. I also really like the damage system for the Submarines when they are hit by enemy ships. Each ship will be given a damage number and when that ship attacks, there are no rolls for their attack as they generally hit unless you have taken actions to avoid them such as Deep Diving or Crash Diving. When hit, you will draw a random counter from a cup and refer to either the Light Damage or Heavy Damage sides. The Light Damage is not lasting while the Heavy is and can only be removed while in Port or from certain Events. Each of these damage counters will count toward your Hull value and if you meet that value the Submarine is considered to be sunk. Evasion can be used by Submarines to reduce those counters from Heavy to Light but you still have to worry about those hits accumulating and sinking your boat. I really have enjoyed playing Gato Leader and highly recommend this game for anyone that enjoys submarine warfare or are a fan of the Leader Series from DVG.
Here is a link to my video review for Gato Leader: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc8BMlf9GSs
2. Lion of Judah: The War for Ethiopia, 1935-1941 from Compass Games (2017)
Lion of Judah covers World War II in Ethiopia from 1935-1942 but breaks the game up into two separate campaigns located in the Horn of Africa – Italy vs. Ethiopia in 1935-1936, and the British Commonwealth and Ethiopia vs. Italy in 1940-1941. The game includes two full sets of counters for each side in each of the two campaigns, and both missions feel very different. In the 1st campaign, the Italians will fight the local tribes for control of various objectives and in the 2nd campaign the British will join the battle on the side of the tribes to even up the fight.
One of the things that immediately struck me about Lion of Judah is the art and that box cover. Man I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but it immediately grabbed me and made me want to play it! It is a vibrant and fun endeavor. You get a lot of traditional hex and counter concepts in this one, from unit movement through rough terrain, to combat factors and an odds based CRT. But there’s so much more to this game than a run of the mill wargame. The chrome is stellar, and I say that because it isn’t really chrome. Or at least it’s so well integrated and flavorful that it doesn’t seem like chrome. A lot of games have clunky static supply points, or reinforcement points replacing and rebuilding units, and this one has them too – minus the clunk. The Italians are given a certain amount of Replacement Points each turn that can be used to reconstitute or repair damaged units that are away from the front lines. But the best part about this one is that these RP’s can also be used as a currency of sorts with which to bribe the tribal leadership in the Ethiopian factions.
One of the aspects that I really liked about playing the Ethiopian faction was their forces are divided up into regional tribes, each with their own leader. The player needs to roll a d6 in order to see how “well” each of the tribes activate each round, if at all. Those precious bribes from the Italians represent military and strategic resources to help keep them out of the fight by providing a negative DRM to the activation roll. Italians should be wary though, because the Ethiopians will turn around and use that RP counter for a column shift in combat against them, which makes this little economy an intriguing and beguiling one. As the Italians it can be really dicey to use those RP’s as bribes but you really have to as the tribes are pretty agile and can move very quickly to cut off your supply points and cause you all types of trouble in your quest to capture certain points on the map. You almost have no choice but have to be very choosy about when you bribe.
Other bits and pieces include the event chits, which of course add a touch of chaos to the game. Some of the events are really important however. There’s one, for example, where the League of Nations intervenes – to an extent – upon hearing that the Italians had been using mustard gas during the conflict. It’s possible for the Italian player to lose victory points if they have used too many gas bombardments and get caught. Other events might affect Ethiopian activation, or give some extra RP’s or other small bonuses/penalties.
Ultimately though, the aim of each campaign is to gain victory points by taking Ethiopia. The Italian player needs to take the regional capitals to quash tribal reinforcements and get to Addis Ababa in the middle of the country as quickly and painlessly as possible. The British need to do the same thing against the Italians in the second scenario. The “defending” player does not gain VP’s, but can cause VP losses due to heavy casualties inflicted on the attacker.
There is a lot to like about this one. I loved playing the Ethiopians as they could use the terrain to their advantage by holding the hills and making it really tough for the Italians. The Tribes don’t really have the power to regularly stand up to the better armed and equipped Italians so they have to look for their opportunities to strike back. This can make for the Tribes having to be strategic with their lines and moving back and advancing when they have a realistic shot at cutting the supply of a sloppy Italian advance and trying to isolate smaller units to whittle them down.
One of the other things you may have noticed from the pictures of the game is the Italian colonial irregulars, and Ethiopian irregulars have a question mark printed instead of any combat values. All of these units have an unknown value until they enter combat. I’ve played plenty of games where that’s the case, it’s a way for players to bluff with weak units and feint with strong ones and deceive the enemy. In Lion of Judah however neither player is allowed to inspect the numbered side. This provides some very interesting tactical choices for both sides, especially before initial clashes take place. Italians are hoping to not roll up against huge stacks and the Ethiopian player – hopefully entrenched in favorable terrain – is just hoping they don’t have a stack of zeroes and ones!
All in all that keeps the combat very engaging. At times it’s very attritional and difficult to get the defenders out of the mountains, and you have to risk gas attacks and heavy bombardments (to the displeasure of the League). And then at other times, especially in the south, there’s sweeping battles in the open plains where stacks get wiped out and there’s desperate defenses from reinforcements. I very much enjoyed how many different styles of fighting this game provided, while keeping a simple, manageable combat resolution system.
This game is really fun. You can pick it up here from the Compass Games website if you’d like. The game is a great hex and counter wargame simulation of a conflict that I have never gamed but was very interested in. It puts you in charge of some unique forces, in fascinating fighting situations. It felt very traditional and easy to learn: move, attack, odds based CRT, etc. which was a good thing. The chrome in the scenarios, however, and the hidden combat values really made for an interesting gaming experience.
Here is a link to our video review of Lion of Judah: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RJWIEMGS8Es
3. Revolution Road from Compass Games (2017)
Revolution Road is a very interesting game from Compass Games that takes a look at two key events from the early part of the American Revolutionary War. The game is in essence a two pack with one part of the game focused on the events that started the war in Lexington and Concord to the first major battle of the war at Bunker Hill. We did an interview with the designer John Poniske last year and you can read that for some background on how the game came to be.
We were able to play only From Boston to Concord so we will only be talking about this part of the game which is less a wargame than the Bunker Hill scenario. From Boston to Concord allows players the opportunity to simulate the events of April 19, 1775 and the events leading up to the infamous “shot heard round the world!”. The British player commanding the forces of Lt. Col. Smith are tasked with reaching Concord and finding illegal arms cache spread throughout the countryside while also seeking to capture the prominent rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
The Patriot player must simply hinder the British from reaching Concord and harass them along their trip by using ambush and sniping to take out their forces. The Patriots will also send out Nightriders to raise the alarm ahead of the advancing British calling to arms area minutemen and militia to form and impede the British in their goal.
The game is card assisted and is played as players draw one card to determine their number of activation points for each round and then go about spending those points to take various actions designed to help each side meet their victory conditions. This part of the design is very slick and really adds some tension to the game as players don’t know how many actions they will get to take and whether or not they will be disadvantaged from their opponent.
The Patriots have various assets to use to go about sowing the seeds of insurrection and opposing the infringement on their liberties by the ruling British. Their major assets are the Nightriders who represent Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott. The main job of these riders is to act as an early warning system and go about the Boston countryside alerting the populace and calling them out to resist the British who are on a mission to destroy their weapons and powder and capture or kill various leaders from the Sons of Liberty, including Samuel Adams and John Hancock. But beware because these riders can be captured and escorted under armed guard back to Boston to score VP for the British player. Don’t worry though, once captured you can release them through the use of an Escape action but it isn’t as easy as you would think.
The British on the other hand have power and strength on their side with trained troops and artillery that can make a quaking line of green militia and minutemen wither and falter before them. But in this scenario, if the British spend their time focused on battle they will lose as their primary goal is to advance all the way to Concord and capture hidden arms cache along the way.
From Boston to Concord comes down to a chess match between the two players as each side will take actions trying to either undo or block the actions just taken. I really liked the different actions that were available to each side as they were assymetric for the most part while sharing some. I am currently working on a series of Action Points detailing the actions that can be taken by each side and these will appear over the next few weeks. We are also going to try and play the Bunker Hill game as well as it is more of a wargame pitting the British going through an amphibious landing and fighting against a fortified Patriot force holding the high ground. Look for more on this game as we continue to explore it. The only negative that I can really think of for the game was the map. I like the style of the text and the symbols used, such as the yelling patriot, but overall there is nothing about the map that excited me. The best I can say is that it is functional. That is just my opinion though.
Here is a link to our video review of the From Boston to Concord game.
I hope that you once again enjoyed this look at our August and September plays of three older games that we have either just discovered or have had in our collections for some time gathering dust. We still need to play several older games in our collections including Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer from Worthington Games (2013), The Pacific War: From Pearl Harbor to the Philippines from Lock ‘n Load Publishing (2016) and an airwar game from GMT Games in The Burning Blue. Please let me know your thoughts on the games we covered this month as well as some guidance on what games you would recommend we give a try.