The holidays are here and this is easily my favorite time of year. Food, family, friends, football and games around the holiday table. Also, after a one year hiatus from doing it, this is the time of year for me to issue our Christmas List of Wargames for that special wargamer in your life. This year, as I did with the 2020 Edition, I am going to shake this list up a bit. I will present the list in a few different categories, featuring 3-5 games in each. The categories will include Hex & Counter, Card Driven Games, Solitaire Only and Waro (Hybrid Euro Wargames). I will also throw in a few smaller format games that can be used as stocking stuffers! So, with that out of the way onto the games!
If you are interested, here are links for the previous year’s editions of this list:
One more thing before we get to the games. If you are looking for something different for your wargamer for Christmas check out our The Players’ Aid merchandise available from TeeSpring at the following link: https://teespring.com/shop/tpa-classic-logo You can find t-shirts, sweat shirts, coffee mugs, fleece blankets, facemasks and die cut stickers with our very fashionable logo. Take a look!
Hex & Counter
The classic wargame that we all think of includes lots of counters and gorgeous hex based maps. Here I provide two tactical level games and two operational level games.
Brothers at War: 1862 from Compass Games
Recently, we have been on a bit of an American Civil War kick and Brothers at War: 1862 from Compass Games is a really solid and interesting lighter brigade level game.
This is a quadri-game or set of four games, each featuring a full-size, 22×34″ game map and covering battles from 1862 including:
- Antietam, 5am-9am, September 17th
- South Mountain, 9am-6pm, September 14th
- Mill Springs, 7am-12pm, January 17th
- Bloody Valverde, 10am-5pm, February 21st
The Command rules are simple and abstracted and combat is also very simple with everything being boiled down to rolling a number of D6’s depending on range and unit firepower and then adding DRM’s for terrain, unit condition, etc. This means there are no combat results tables. A of 5 or 6 scores a hit and then the defending unit gets a numbers of saving dice that deflect hits on a 5 or 6 which is very reminiscent of miniature games. Brigades activate via chit pull, with their units moving and fighting individually. Stacking is limited to two units per hex and the game board has very large hexes that will allow two 3/4” units to fit side by side which makes for easy reference of the counters information.
The game feels light but has a great pacing and the activation element keeps you on your toes as you just never know when and who might get to activate this turn or when exactly the turn might come to an end.
Here is a link to our video interview with the designer Christopher Moeller at WBC:
We have a video review shot on the game but it will not be posted on our YouTube Channel until early next year as we have videos scheduled through January.
If you are interested in Brothers at War: 1862, you can purchase a copy for $79.00 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/brothers-at-war-1862/?sfw=pass1668016536
Assault Red Horizon 41 from Assault Games
We love tactical wargames. The small units, moving around the board, trying to outflank their enemy. Always a very interesting experience. And even though there are a bunch of different systems out there, there is always a new designer that will add some new tricks to make a new experience. Such is the case with Assault Red Horizon 41, which is Volume 1 in a planned series of tactical level wargames in which players lead units into battle during Operation Barbarossa covering the period of June through October 1941.
This game is designed to be a different experience, even with scenarios that you have already played. This is accomplished through the use of the Order of Battle which is variable through the use of Formation Cards. In each scenario, rather than being given a set Order of Battle, the players will randomly select Formation Cards based on the side they are playing. These Formation Cards give the player a certain number and type of units available for the scenario. This ensures both variation and regular surprises, since the make-up of your forces will change from game to game. This was a really refreshing take on the genre as these Formations are close in unit makeup but with slight variation that will provide new challenges or opportunities.
The combat system is also very novel as it uses different colored dice that have different hit numbers so units will have better or worse chances to hit based on the dice they are rolling. These dice can be modified, by providing another die of the type or increased to the next color due to several factors including cover, range, etc. This type of custom dice system always is very interesting to me and keeps the game light and interesting as you simply never know what is going to happen.
We posted an interview with the designer Wolfgang Klein on the blog and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2020/12/22/interview-with-wolfgang-klein-designer-of-assault-red-horizon-41-from-assault-games-currently-on-kickstarter/
Here is a link to our video review of the game:
If you are interested in Assault Red Horizon 41 you can order a copy for $95.00 on the Assault Games website at the following link: https://www.assault-games.com/produkt/assault-game-system-red-horizon-41/
They have announced and released for pre-order an expansion for the base game called Air & Artillery Support and you can also pick that up at the following link: https://www.assault-games.com/produkt/red-horizon-41-ta-oas-expansion/
Salerno ’43: The Allied Invasion of Italy, September 1943 from GMT Games
Mark Simonitch is a pretty amazing designer. He has a talent for distilling conflicts down to a simple, but not simplistic, understandable and playable system that models the important points of its history. This is especially true with his ZOC Bond System more commonly known as the ‘4X Series of hex and counter wargames. The ZOC Bond System is a combination of the traditional concept of a Zone of Control or ZOC with the additional concept of a Bond that extends along the hex spines from one unit to another creating an area that cannot be exploited by enemy units. In a normal Zone of Control, a unit will generate a ZOC in the hexes they are adjacent to that forces enemy units to stop when they enter. These units can on a later turn move through the ZOC, usually with a movement penalty or cost of some kind, and get at non-combat units in the rear such as HQ’s, artillery or disrupt supply.
The main difference with a ZOC Bond is that the area between 2 units that are separated by only one hex is considered to be impassible., with the exception of certain terrain features that will nullify this ZOC Bond. As an added kicker, this ZOC Bond also will prevent free retreats through the area and also will stymie supply from reaching units on the other side of an enemy ZOC Bond. This system is the perfect situation for a low counter density game. Because you don’t have as many units to create a long, unbroken line of units preventing enemy units from getting through, these smaller scale units use their maneuverability, fire power and positioning to create the same effect.
We have played several of the games in this series, including Holland ’44, Stalingrad ’42 and now Salerno ’43. We also own, but have yet to play, Normandy ’44, Ardennes ’44 and Ukraine ’43. I personally really enjoy this system and find that Mark does a fantastic job with adding the bits and pieces from history, including the historical OOB, and providing interesting and competitive victory conditions. We found this to hold true for Salerno ’43.
Salerno ’43 is a well designed game that has a short scenario of 8 turns and a full campaign game of 22 turns. I think that this game is very good and will be one that you can play over and over again until you get the strategies down and can really stretch its legs at that point. But the game plays fast and furiously and was frankly a very good way to spend a Friday evening for 4 hours. If you are a fan of the ZOC Bond System, then this is a no brainer for you as it carries out that system well. If you are wanting to get into that system, this is probably the very best place to start as the situation is a bit more clear as to what your objectives and moves should be and there is a bit of a lower counter density.
The good news is that there are two more games planned that will link with Salerno ’43. The Gustav Line (Italy 43′) will take the fighting through Naples, across the Volturno River, and up to Monte Cassino. Anzio ’44 (Italy ’44) will cover the Operation Shingle invasion and the fight at Cassino. Here is a map that can be found on the game page on the GMT Games webpage showing the general locations of the two follow-up volumes. These games are still a ways off though as Mark has been busy with a few other designs.
I wrote a First Impressions post on the game and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/05/18/first-impressions-salerno-43-the-allied-invasion-of-italy-september-1943-from-gmt-games/
Here is a link to our video review:
If you are interested in Salerno ’43, you can order a copy for $42.00 from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-868-salerno-43.aspx
BCS Arracourt from Multi-Man Publishing
I had not played any Battalion Combat Series (BCS) games until we found Arracourt. Part of that was that I was just never really attracted to the system nor the production values of the games. But now that I have played it, I can cay that this was a real wargame. An enjoyable wargame at that. A game that used lots of familiar concepts, along with some that were new, such as the dreaded SNAFU roll, but created a game that was very playable yet meaty enough to fulfill my hunger for a good old fashioned hex and counter game. The combat was not odds based so that was also very different and it was really refreshing to be able to play a system that I feel wasn’t simply a clone of other successful systems out there but that attempted to try some new things and do them in a unique and interesting way.
Finally, I admit that me turning my nose up at some of these venerated and well established systems was not justified and I publicly proclaim here that I am through judging a wargame by its cover. There is still a lot to learn about this Battalion Combat Series and I hope to play other games in the system to compare and contrast them to share with you.
Arracourt is very straightforward even for someone who is a beginner and has no experience with the BCS system like me. The game comes with just one map and most of the scenarios included use only a specific portion of that map. This leads me to believe that Arracourt will serve as a very good entry point and starter kit to the series. Players can cut their teeth on this one while getting comfortable with the rules and system before they attempt one of the larger games in the series. I also feel that the game requires somewhat of a paradigm shift before playing. What I mean by that is really two fold.
First, I really feel that usually these big hex and counter wargames are set in their combat methods, namely focused on odds based Combat Results Tables and counting up combat factors to get the perfect odds, and require a bit of calculation. But BCS doesn’t use a traditional CRT (more on this a bit later) but breaks the combat down into more of a collection of DRM’s based on many factors.
Second, the game also has very low counter density, with the scenario we played having about 30 counters per side on the map at any given time, and stacking limits are just 2 combat units with other counters also allowed such as support units or HQ’s. There are not enough counters here to create the long contiguous line or wall of units that are typical in some of the larger systems, which lends this one to a bit more maneuvering of units to get into good position while using terrain to attempt to isolate and cut off units from supply or to prevent the enemy from doing the same to your units. This created somewhat of a back and forth dance for us that kept my focus and attention and was really quite entertaining. Supply is important to the system but not as focused on it as say the Operational Combat Series (OCS). The players must manage their HQ’s and their combat trains to keep their units in full supply and this becomes somewhat of a different type of dance that sees players cautiously keeping their units in a loose perimeter to prevent a freak breakthrough or run around to get to the back of the formations to take out supply sources and cut off units. I really liked the scale and feeling of this BCS system and had a very good time in trying to learn and understand it and also trying to figure out the best strategies to engage.
I wrote a First Impressions post on the game and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/08/17/first-impressions-bcs-arracourt-from-multi-man-publishing/
Here is a link to our video review:
If you are interested in BCS Arracourt, you can order a copy for $86.00 from the Multi-Man Publishing website at the following link: https://mmpgamers.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=342
Card Driven Games
The Card Driven Wargame uses cards to provide points to build and activate units and also provides historical events that effect things throughout the game.
Barbarians at the Gates: The Decline and Fall of the Western Roman Empire 337 – 476
I have always loved a good game focused on the Roman Empire. Whether it is the rise of the empire or its fracture and fall, the subject is just truly interesting to me and also makes for a compelling game. When Barbarians at the Gates was announced a few years ago, I knew that I would be interested. The game is a card-driven game for two players set during the final hundred plus years of the Western Roman Empire as the Barbarian tribes in the north, and other climes, came down with a vengeance as they clashed with civilization and carved out their place amongst it. The time period covered in the game is from the death of Constantine the Great (337 AD) to the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor by Odoacer in 476 AD. The Roman player will command the Roman legions loyal to the failing central authority and those Germanic peoples who have settled peacefully inside the Roman Empire, while the Barbarian player leads Usurper Emperors, and controls the migrations of the savage Germanic peoples, who are the Barbarians at the Gates.
I really enjoyed our play of Barbarians at the Gates! Even though the game was a Card Driven Game, it really felt like a true wargame as stacks were continually fighting and coming into contact. As we played, I truly felt the angst of having to react to the fires caused by Barbarian attacks, raiding and Usurpers turning on me. They were coming from all directions. I truly never felt safe as the Romans and I loved that feeling. It also impressed me that the game seemed to be fairly balanced toward its goal of demonstrating that the Barbarians were at the gates and that the fall of the empire was imminent. But I never felt hopeless. I felt that all I needed was the next great card, or to hold out until the next round. That feeling of just one more turn is a rare thing in a one sided historical simulation but it is real here. The Romans have a chance to hold off the hordes and win, not by total domination of the invaders, but the Barbarians also have lots of tricks to use to make life difficult for the Roman player. A really great back and forth and really well produced as well. Fantastic pre-rounded counters, thick cards, great art and a fantastically multi-colored board. I would recommend this one to anyone who loves the Ancients and want to be tested.
I wrote a First Impressions post on the game and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/11/08/first-impressions-barbarians-at-the-gates-the-decline-and-fall-of-the-western-roman-empire-337-476-from-compass-games/
Here is a link to our video review:
If you are interested in Barbarians at the Gates, you can purchase a copy for $65.00 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/barbarians-at-the-gates/
Imperial Tide: The Great War, 1914-1918 from Compass Games
Gregory M. Smith is a great solitaire wargame designer! He has designed some fantastic narrative driven solitaire games that nearly every wargamer has played including such titles as Silent Victory, The Hunters, The Hunted and more recently Nightfighter Ace and Interceptor Ace amongst others. His system just works and because it works he has been able to start from the same point in his designs and simply add new mechanics and gadgets where needed. He has really reached the pinnacle of that solo game hill!
He has also recently started working on designing more traditional 2-player wargames including Pacific Tide, Ostkrieg: WWII Eastern Front and most recently Imperial Tide. We played Imperial Tide this year and had such a fantastic experience that I simply wanted to share my thoughts with you on this game as it was surprisingly good, not that his other 2-player games are not good but they didn’t grab me the same way that his solo games had…..until now with Imperial Tide.
The game uses cards as your currency and these cards are used to activate various stacks found on the board or used for events to bring additional units on the board, move units or gain specific benefits during combat. This strategic level game is very well put together and creates some interesting choices for players as to how they go about fighting the war, what cards they include in their decks by wisely spending their number of points to get the cards they need, and how they use those cards.
The combat is also fairly simple and uses a CRT where you consult the column that includes the number of units you are attacking with and then rolling 2d6 and the consulting the CRT to see the number of losses. Really quick combat resolution that keeps the game moving but most importantly represents the attritive nature of WWI combat and the focus on trenches which absorb the first hit. The game is just so solid and interesting and really was a surprise to both of us.
We posted an interview with the designer Gregory M. Smith on the blog and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2020/05/11/interview-with-gregory-m-smith-designer-of-imperial-tide-the-great-war-1914-1918-from-compass-games/
Here is a link to our video review:
If you are interested in Imperial Tide, you can purchase a copy for $50.00 from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/imperial-tide-the-great-war-1914-1918/
Donnerschlag: Escape from Stalingrad from VUCA Simulations
East Front games have been done to death in our hobby! There are literally hundreds of them. And generally, they are all the same with long continuous lines of units stacked up in gridlock with the German player making attacks up and down the lines and the Soviet player simply sitting there and taking it for hours. There is nothing wrong with this but it is what has become expected on the subject. Each time that we crack out an East Front game, we are ready for this same experience. But occasionally when a game does something that creates a different experience, an unexpected experience, we are very pleased and love trying to understand how the unique take has changed the feeling.
Such was our experience a few weeks ago when we played Donnerschlag: Escape from Stalingrad from VUCA Simulations. Our playthrough was simply exhilarating. We were caught off guard and really didn’t expect this situation to change so much and feel so different. Now I realize that the scale of these game is very different from the scales of most of the other East Front games we have played, but this system and its implementation really created some opportunities for maneuvering of units, used cards in a very unique way that gave some real opportunities to the players and also was based in hard core hex and counter style with a very small CRT that accumulated lots of shifts and a few DRM’s from card play that made each roll seem to be life or death.
Donnserschlag is a two player game which is playable in roughly 1 hour per turn. This means that a full 7 turn game (or 8 if Donnerschlag is called in Turn 4) will take less than 8 hours. In fact, we felt like as we got into the groove of the game and became more comfortable with the sequence of play and combat procedure that turns would be able to be completed in 40-45 minutes on a 2nd play. I do want to point out that this is more of a game than a true simulation and was designed to create a high level of player interaction and replayability.
The historical situation is From December 12 to December 23 in 1942, “Unternehmen Wintergewitter” was in progress. This was the code name for a relief attack by Heeresgruppe Don to free the trapped 6th Army in Stalingrad.
The Axis formations entered with 50,000 men and 250 tanks, while the strength of the Soviet formations was reported to be about three times that. For the enterprise to have any chance of success, the troops in the encirclement had to break out and meet the advancing Axis troops. The breakout had to be precisely coordinated with the advance of the relief troops and was to commence on the cue “Donnerschlag”. The breakout was never ordered and the troops in Stalingrad were never able to be relieved. This sealed their fate.
Players will be recreating this episode, with the Axis side attempting to secretly establish and reach a meeting point, thus effectively freeing the 6th Army, while the Soviet will try to impede such outcome.
We posted an interview with the designer Patrick Gebhardt on the blog and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/08/02/interview-with-patrick-gebhardt-designer-of-donnerschlag-escape-from-stalingrad-from-vuca-simulations/
We have shot a full review video for the game but as of this writing, the video has yet to be published on our You Tube Channel.
If you are interested in Donnerschlag: Escape from Stalingrad, you can order a copy for $74.00 from the VUCA Simulations website at the following link: https://vucasims.com/products/donnerschlag-escape-from-stalingrad
Solitaire Wargames are a real thing and they don’t mean that you don’t have friends. These games are specifically designed for one player and as such the games have a well developed AI running your opponent. I like solitaire gaming for many reasons, including the challenge as they are often very hard to win, going at my own pace and trying to strategize my way around the opponent.
Here is a link to a post that I wrote recently with my Top 10 Solitaire Wargames: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/08/23/grants-top-10-solitaire-wargames-2022-edition/
Lanzerath Ridge: Battle of the Bulge from Dan Verssen Games
David Thompson has done a fantastic job with his amazingly detailed and engaging solitaire games in the Valiant Defense Series from Dan Verssen Games. I have played all three entries in the series to date, including Pavlov’s House, Castle Itter and Soldiers in Postmen’s Uniforms and have really enjoyed them. Now comes the fourth volume in the series called Lanzerath Ridge: Battle of the Bulge. The game deals with a small engagement on the first day of the Battle of the Bulge where a US Intel & Reconnaissance (I&R) platoon (along with a forward observer team) hold out against 500+ German paratroopers who are the spearhead for a Panzer Division.
This time the series takes the art up a notch with the talents of Nils Johannson and the design adds a few new elements specific to the engagement at Lanzerath Ridge, including barbed wire fencing that bisected the field crossed by the German attackers which was a huge help for the American defenders, valor rating on counters and the addition of American Jeeps.
I have played this game multiple times now and really enjoy it. In fact, it might be surpassing my favorite in the series Pavlov’s House but we shall see how it stands up over time.
I am in the process of writing a series of Action Points on the various aspects of the game and have finished and published just 3 of them and you can read those at the following links:
Action Point 1 – look at the game board focusing on the Defender Combat Positions and Assault Tracks for the enemy Assault Counters.
Action Point 2 – look at the various Defender Counters and their Special Attributes and Action Designators.
Action Point 3 – the makeup of the Enemy Attack Deck and discuss how the cards drive the assault and work against the player.
We posted an interview with the designer David Thompson on the blog and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/01/11/interview-with-david-thompson-designer-of-lanzerath-ridge-battle-of-the-bulge-from-dan-verssen-games-coming-to-kickstarter-january-25th/
While I have not shot a video review of the game, I did do a 4-part playthrough video and shared my thoughts as I went. Here is a link to Part 1 of the playthrough and you can find the other three parts on our YouTube Channel:
If you are interested in Lanzareth Ridge: Battle of the Bulge, you can order a copy for $69.99 from the Dan Verssen Games website at the following link: https://www.mcssl.com/store/danverssengames/lanzerath-ridge-core-game
Kaiserkrieg! The Great War 1914-1918 from White Dog Games
Kaiserkrieg!, which translates as Emperor’s War! is a strategic solitaire game of the First World War of 1914-1918. As the player, you control the Central Powers including Germany, Austria Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria). The game’s automatic systems direct the efforts of the Entente Powers or France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Serbia, the United States, and their minor allies who are trying to defeat you. As in many of Ben Madison’s games, you will play the “bad guys.”
The heart of the game is its depiction of the ground war, which saw the battlefield deaths of some ten million soldiers. Kaiserkrieg’s treatment can be traced back to Darin Leviloff’s inspired Israeli Independence and the States of Siege Series it started. The evolutionary leap in Kaiserkrieg! is the shift from the old ‘horizontal’ States of Siege model – where enemy forces converge on your central position along clearly defined lines of advance – to a new ‘vertical’ model where enemy forces mass in separate regions around you, to eventually achieve an advantage in size that threatens your overall position.
The game also depicts the epic naval struggle of pro-German blockade runners trying to evade fleets of British cruisers. Many historians identify the failure to outwit the British naval blockade as the main reason for Germany’s defeat in the war. This is the means by which the player will gain the coin needed to take actions against the amassing Entente forces and without coin, your fate is sealed.
The sideshow war in the Near East, where Germany’s Ottoman Turkish ally was assailed by Russia and the British Empire – including a massive army of Indian troops – is also simulated. This theater also includes East Africa, where a German-led Black African army (the Askari) held out against Indian and British Empire forces even after the Germans in Europe had surrendered!
This is a long solitaire game though and takes a good 3-4 hours to play as there are 28 turns that are simulated by a chit pull mechanic that ensures that no game is ever alike. The system used in Kaiserkrieg! resembles that used in Jeff Davis but the new horizontal areas are very different. A very enjoyable and interesting challenge for the player that will keep you on your toes and learning the little aspects of the war as you play.
Here is a link to our unboxing video to get a closer look at the components:
If you are interested in Kaiserkrieg! The Great War 1914-1918, you can order a copy for $54.00 from the White Dog Games website at the following link: https://www.whitedoggames.com/kaiserkrieg
Irish Freedom from White Dog Games
Not every game has to be a deep and complex simulation of a subject. Sometimes, the subject is less gamed and one of the best benefits of the design is simply bringing light to the conflict as well as a better understanding of the issues that caused it to start in the first place. I have said it many times but complexity doesn’t create a good gaming experience. Theme does and the most recent game from White Dog Games called Irish Freedom does this in spades.
The mechanics used as the basis for this solitaire only game is that of the random die roll. This random die roll is used to control the protagonists in the game in the form of the British during the War of Independence and then the Republicans and Pro-Treaty forces made up of the British and their allies in the Free State Forces during the subsequent Civil War. Nearly every thing that the solitaire AI does seems random. But the randomness is only in the die rolling as the actions that typically come out of it reinforce the actions that would have most likely been taken at the time.
The game is simple, for sure, but it has clear rules and easy to understand processes that control the AI, but that doesn’t mean it is simplistic. I really liked this one. I have experience with other Dave Kershaw designs, including Solitaire Caesar and World War Zed: USA both published by White Dog Games, and to me his games share some DNA and feel similar yet different all at the same time. I like that the player has to consider how they will attack the overwhelming power of the British. I also like that the decisions are limited but impactful because you only have a few options and a few actions each turn you have to make them matter. I enjoy having to anticipate, plan and prepare for the inevitable British units moving around in the Region. But I really like the thematic touches in this one, without any special rules or exceptions. The design is just very grounded in the history and makes perfect sense as you play through. This is a solid and interesting game that will appeal to new wargamers, or seasoned Grognards, but also those who have an interest in the history of Ireland.
Here is a link to my video review:
I also wrote a First Impressions post on the game and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/06/29/first-impressions-irish-freedom-from-white-dog-games/
If you are interested in Irish Freedom, you can order a copy for $52.00 from the White Dog Games website at the following link: https://www.whitedoggames.com/irish-freedom
Stilicho: Last of the Romans from Hollandspiele
A few years ago, I discovered a great solitaire game called The Wars of Marcus Aurelius from Hollandspiele that dealt with the Romans attempting to pacify Barbarian hordes from the north in the Danube provinces during the Marcomannic Wars in 170-180 AD. Now the designer has taken that system and applied it to another period in Roman history when the Goths and Vandals, as well as a pretender named Constantine, were assaulting Rome itself and one man was asked to defend her from her enemies. Flavius Stilicho was a high-ranking general who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most powerful men in the Western Roman Empire. After many years of victories against a number of enemies, both barbarian and Roman, a series of political and military disasters finally allowed his enemies in the court of Honorius to remove him from power, culminating in his arrest and subsequent execution in 408 AD. In Stilicho: Last of the Romans the player must survive these attacks from enemies both external and internal and quell all three advancing enemies.
Stilicho is a very well designed and interesting solo experience that plays in 60-90 minutes. But, due to the unforgiving nature of the random card draws and its reliance on dice luck, that admittedly can be mitigated through cagey card play and proper decisions, the game can be over very quickly. In fact, my first play lasted only 2 rounds and was over in about 10 minutes. Remember that the historical Stilicho only made it to Round 3! The cards are at the heart of the game here and make it a very tense and decision filled experience. Having to analyze each card, measuring its utility against the board state and what pressing matters the player must address while also fretting over having to discard a good Event Card that just isn’t useful at this point in time to take an action can be really agonizing. I think that this design works even better than its predecessor and is slowly starting to overtake the affection of my heart…..but not quite yet!
I wrote a series of Action Points on the various aspects of the game and you can read those at the following links:
Action Point 1 – the Mapsheet focusing on the three Fronts down which your enemies advance, but also covering the different spaces and boxes that effect play such as the Olympius Track, Game Turn Track, Army Box, Leader Box and Recovery Box
Action Point 2 – look at the cards that drive the game and examine the makeup of both the Enemy Deck and the Roman Deck.
Action Point 3 – look into the Roman Phase and examine how cards are discarded to take one of nine different actions.
Action Point 4 – look at a few examples of Battles and how they are resolved.
Action Point 5 – look at a few points of strategy that will help you do better in the game.
If you are interested in Stilicho: Last of the Romans, you can purchase a copy directly from the Hollandspiele website at the following link: https://hollandspiele.com/products/stilicho-last-of-the-romans
Waros (Hybrid Euro Wargames)
Waros (from the fusion of the words “war” and “euro”) are games which can be described as a fusion of a Wargame and a Eurogame. Waro games include aspects of both types of games, including the use of colored wooden cubes to represent forces and the use of cards.
Zurmat from Catastrophe Games
Long ago, I was told that if you want the truth you go straight to the horses mouth! Well, in a wargame, the horse is usually a veteran who participated in that war or battle and in the case of Zurmat the designer was there and has a very intersting and unique take on the war in Afghanistan.
Zurmat (named for a district in Afghanistan) is a well designed two-player game played across month-long turns with players trying to achieve their commander’s objectives while always trying to gain control of the peoples’ hearts and minds. Each month/turn begins with a random event, then the Coalition player takes their turn, followed by the Taliban player. Each turn you will take an action and play cards. The game ends when winter arrives. Since winter cards are part of the deck of random events, the exact ending of the game may not be known until perhaps even the last turn of the game.
The really great part about this design is how you take those actions. You cannot just select what you want to do, you have to “pay” for it and as you take an action it goes to the end of the line and the cost is greater than you can afford turn after turn. This represents the command and logistical issues of the war and really creates an interesting experience where players have to really think about their plan of attack.
The game is an area control style game where each side is fighting over the control of tiles that form the map. Some of these tiles are worth more than others and sometimes what you need to do that game is unknown to your opponent and you have to hide your intentions while going for what will score you the most points. You will also draw random soldiers or supporters from a bag and place them and sometimes what you pull has no value and simply act as decoys.
Here is a link to our preview video:
If you are interested in Zurmat, you can order a copy for $70.00 from the Catastrophe Games website at the following link: https://catastrophegames.net/zurmat/
300: Earth and Water from Nuts! Publishing
300: Earth and Water is a simple card driven wargame for two players with one player controlling the Greeks and Athenians, and the other controlling the Persians. The game is short, lasting just 5 rounds and playing in 30 minutes or less, and the winner is the player that controls more cities than their opponent. The game is part of a new series of fast playing games titled Combat Rations which are designed to have great depth of play with little rules overhead and with few components.
The game engine is a card driven system and players raise armies and buy cards during production. The best part of the game is that you have to buy cards first without looking at them and then decide what armies you want to add. This is really cool as you just don’t know if the cards you bought are what you were needing this turn or not and if you don’t get what you need you may not be able to move and fight with those armies that you purchased this turn and maybe should have not purchased and bought a few more cards instead. This is just a really fantastic little wargame in a small package that really packs a punch and will be a game that you can play with family and friends that don’t necessarily like wargaming.
Here is a link to our video review of the game:
If you are interested in 300: Earth and Water, you can order a copy for $27.00 from the Nuts! Publishing website from the following link: https://www.nutspublishing.com/eshop/300-en
The Red Burnoose: Algeria 1857 from Hit ‘Em with a Shoe Games
The Red Burnoose: Algeria 1857 is a 1-4 player historical cooperative game that deals with the resistance of Fadhma N’Soumer and the Kabyle people in their fight against the invading French armies in the Kabylie region of Algeria in 1857. The name refers to the garb worn by the villagers here and specifically refers to the color of garb worn by Fadhma. The game uses very interesting mechanics such as deck-building to tell the story of villagers working together to defeat the invading French. The players will join forces and play cooperatively to survive as the French advance on their villages, either winning together or losing together. Players will all have a starting deck of cards that make up their available villagers who each have a special ability and function and can be used to perform various actions, such as ambush, gathering resources or mobilizing forces to the Game Board.
The really interesting part of the game is that as a cooperative design you are working together and can play off of each other as you plan how to defeat the invaders. The villagers are very unique and will take a few plays to really truly understand each of their abilities and their usefulness but there are really interesting combos to explore and try out as you play the game. There is also a solitaire mode which I haven’t played but by all accounts it works pretty well.
We have shot a video review but as of this writing it has yet to be published on our YouTube Channel. But, here is a look at our unboxing video to give you an idea about the components:
I am also in the process of writing a series of Action Point posts on the game and you can read the first post at the following link (more to come next month):
Action Point 1 – the Game Board focused on the various villages located in the rugged mountain terrain and the launching points for the invading armies
If you are interested in The Red Burnoose: Algeria 1857, you can order a copy for $65.00 from the Hit ‘Em with a Shoe website at the following link: https://hitemwithashoe.com/product/the-red-burnoose-algeria-1857/
Plains Indian Wars from GMT Games
Plains Indian Wars from GMT Games is a new euro style wargame from John Poniske that deals with this clash of cultures on the plains of the West. The game is based on the Birth of America Series from Academy Games and borrows many of its rules, including the combat system and use of cards to activate, move and fight with various groups. The game can be played by 1-4 players and contains all of the major players in this westward expansion including the Northern Plains Indians (NPT), Southern Plains Indians (SPT), southwest and Canadian Indian Tribes known as Enemies, Settlers, Wagon Trains and the mighty US Cavalry. Once the rules are learned, and the game has some different nuances than the BoA Series mentioned earlier, it is a relatively fast playing game able to be concluded in 90 minutes.
In a game where one side is outmatched historically, and the outcome is somewhat decided (such as in a lot of East Front games), having good and achievable victory conditions is important to give an opportunity for some form of a victory. The game will come to an end when one of two things happen. When the final black cube is placed for the Transcontinental Railroad and then the final faction disk is dawn for that turn or when a player has played the last remaining card in their hand and deck and the final faction disk is dawn for that turn. Either of these two things will trigger completion. At that point, players will total up their VP earned from completion/stopping the railroad, eliminating Wagon Train cubes or getting them across the country and off the map in California, the NPT/SPT player eliminating at least 2 Cavalry cubes in a single battle and the most important part control of areas. I think in this one it is very easy to forget that it is mainly about area control and the other elements are important but focus on a different aspect. The Indians can win in the game. While their historical outcome was inevitable there is a way to carve out a form of victory for the Indians. And I really like that. In fact, during our recent 3-player game, where two players were controlling the Indians, the Southern Plains Tribe player won by 2 VP because they focused on controlling areas and also eliminated several Cavalry cubes.
Overall I enjoy Plains Indian Wars. It is a lite dice chucker with fairly simple rules contained in about 10 pages that adopts aspects of the Birth of America Series from Academy Games to create an interesting and challenging game about managing your resources and using your cards wisely to get the best results from your limited opportunities. I have heard a lot of talk about how the game is insensitive and doesn’t portray the Native Americans in a good light but I feel totally different. Yes it doesn’t provide a lot of detail on the various cultural aspects of the Plains people but what it does do is gives them a place at the table to fight for the preservation of their way. This game will stay in my collection as a lite strategy game with some interesting elements. It is also a beautiful production and well worth the time to learn and play.
I wrote a First Impressions post on the game and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2022/07/26/first-impressions-plains-indian-wars-from-gmt-games/
Here is a look at our video review of the game:
If you are interested in Plains Indian Wars, you can order a copy from the GMT Games website for $65.00 from the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-654-plains-indian-wars.aspx
Here are some additional games that are ideal for “Stocking Stuffers”:
Border States from Skakos
Border States is a tactical game for 2 players, with each player taking control of one side of the conflict in the American Civil War. Your aim is to win the sort of decisive victories that will influence the Border States and rally them to your cause. Effective bluff, and at the same time being able to discern your enemy’s intentions and play the correct forces or special units to the game board, will be your best assets. Playing time is about 45 minutes.
There are two ways to win the game either by controlling sufficient States tokens to win by sudden death, or be the player with the most victory points at the end of the 5 rounds. The game plays in 30-45 minutes and each game will be different based on the cards drawn from the campaign deck. This is a really solid abstract American Civil War game that is gorgeous and can be played with anyone.
Here is a link to our interview with the designer Stéphane Brachet: https://theplayersaid.com/2021/03/31/interview-with-stephane-brachet-designer-of-border-states-from-shakos-currently-on-kickstarter/
Here is a look at our video review:
If you are interested in Border States, you can order a copy for $30.00 on the Shakos website at the following link: https://shakos.fr/en/product/border-states/#:~:text=Border%20States%20is%20a%20tactical,rally%20them%20to%20your%20cause.&text=1861.,Civil%20erupts%20across%20America.
The Grass Crown from Hollandspiele
A few years ago, we played the first game in this new Shields & Swords Ancients Series called With It or On It from Hollandspiele. That game deals with the Peloponnesian Wars and is simply fantastic as a light skirmish style game with some very unique mechanics. The next game in that series debuted in 2021 and was called The Grass Crown and dealt with the wars of the Roman Republic. The game uses double sided Command Chits for players to activate and move or fight with their formations. The activation process is very simple but is frankly the best part of the design and makes for some really interesting and hand wringing decisions. Each player has three double sided Command Chits that have different Commands on each side. Due to this fact, some combinations of Commands cannot be played at the same time like Move and Attack. The player gets to choose two Commands for the chosen Wing and will have a choice between the 6 different Commands. This just really makes this game unique and interesting as you have to learn to use these Chits appropriately and properly approach your enemy to do the most damage possible.
The series is not overly crunchy, and doesn’t overdo it with different armor and weapon types, but simplifies these elements into a concept called Combat Class. Another really interesting part of the game is the dreaded Rout Check. When attacks connect and players have to take losses they can be resolved by flipping the unit counter that was attacked, or you have the choice to flip any unit that is adjacent. This means that you can keep your front line troops fresh but once the backups are exhausted then the continual onslaught of a persistent attacker can lead to the units breaking due to failing their Rout Check. This result leads to units being removed from the board and can cause the line to collapse shattering the effectiveness of the Wing. This is just such a neat way of handling losses and really makes for a study in how ancient formations fought and supported one another. Overall, the game is light, fast playing and the rules overhead is low but the game has some really interesting decisions regarding how to go about defeating your opponent.
Here is a look at our video review of the game:
If you are interested in The Grass Crown you can order a copy for $60.00 on the Hollandspiele website at the following link: https://hollandspiele.com/products/the-grass-crown
Counter Trays from Cube4me.com
We are always on the lookout for good counter trays to assist us in taming our unruly components in our wargames. Recently, we became aware of Cube4me and looked into their products. They have customized trays for several main stream wargames.
Here is a link to our review video of the product:
Here is a link to the Cube4me website: https://cube4me.com/
In the end, no matter what presents you received under the tree or even if you celebrate Christmas or not, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and hope that you have plenty of time with friends and family, while staying safe and healthy, and are still able to get to roll some dice and consult some CRTs for the holidays!