Game Reviews


     All games rated on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being "Get this out of my sight! Be gone!" and 10 being "You're the besht game -- hic!-- I ever played." The actual scale goes like this:

0: Execrable (a.k.a. Battalion Combat Series)

1-2: Congratulations! You've just wasted your money. How many pizzas and 12-packs can you buy for $50-$70. That's what you just threw away!

3-5: For aficianados of the subject matter only. Just keep in mind that you might not play it much -- or at all -- especially those on the lower end of the 3-5 scale.

6: Worth owning, but not great. Set up, admire, play a turn or two, put away. Still glad you bought it, though...for some reason.

7: High production values. A couple weekends worth of play here. Worth the expense, but happily forgotten. Next!

8: Recommended for people who like to play -- rather than just collect -- games. (See 3-7.)

9-10: Must-have.

End of Empire (Compass):

      My rating is based on play of the French & Indian War and King George's War Scenarios. The game is simply boring. I like 'em a little deeper than this. On a complexity scale, I'd give this about a 2 or 3 out of 10. As a solo venture, it's just too simple. Feels pointless. It's like what playing Risk solitaire might be like. I just took Ukraine....but so what? The American Revolution scenarios may be awesome, but I doubt if I'll ever bother to find out. I gave this title more than a fair shot to hold my interest. It failed. 


Carthage (GMT):

     Maybe I just know too much about the First Punic War for any game on this topic to satisfy me (I did write a book on the subject once). In the case of this game, ignorance is bliss. As a decent simulation, it misses the mark by a nautical mile (as the corvus flies). Siege warfare, naval warfare, devastation, raiding, diplomacy all come up short. As a game production, it's a mess. The rules are atrocious. The "living rules" are close to a complete re-write, so better fire up your printer and stock up on ink to play this one. The Roman political rules alone are reason enough to give Carthage a wide berth. Not recommended for anyone with even passing knowledge of the period. Might be worthwhile for others. It will take a lot of patience for anybody, though.


Battles from the Age of Reason: Kolin (Clash of Arms):

     This is the best of the Battles From the Age of Reason (BAR) games that I've tried (the others include Fontenoy and the stinker Lobositz). The appeal of this title, I think, is more due to the exciting subject matter than the game design, however. There's a lot of meaningful action from the first turn. In fact, Hulsen's opening attack on the little town and the Austrian response is my favorite part of the battle. Lots of strategic options as well. It suffers from some fundamental design decisions. Namely, 100-yard hexes and multi-hex units. It also actually discourages the use of Frederician tactics. But still satisfying and worthy of multiple plays.
     An updated reprint would have this one approaching perfection. Until then, you pretty much have to play this one on Vassal. Even so, the maps are just Fugly. I got my copy in 1996 and it is woefully dated. 



Battles from the Age of Reason: Lobositz (Clash of Arms):

     In the game's defense, this is a tough battle to simulate, mainly because of its long periods of inactivity. The main short-coming is that the game gives no insight into the manner in which this battle was fought -- which could have been accomplished via victory conditions or some kind of special rules. But there's nothing like that, just 10 turns of action wearing 30-40 turns of game like a hand-me-down sweatshirt. As part of a larger package, maybe; as a stand-alone, no way. A most uninspired effort.


Battles from the Age of Reason: Prague (Clash of Arms):


     Better than average BAR system entry. For realism, I'm giving this a 4 (of 10). For engagement level and the smoothness of this particular module, somewhat better. Component-wise, this one lacks only a full-color rulebook and play aids to make it absolutely top-notch. Speaking of rules, these are some of the best you'll find. With only a few exceptions, every possible question is answered -- and easy to find to boot. A fun game and deceptively easy to play. As for realism, try not to worry about it. Just close your eyes and think of Prussia.
     Play balance may be a problem. Still, highly recommended, despite my misgivings. 


Battles from the Age of Reason: Fontenoy (Clash of Arms):

     If not for Lobositz, this would be the big BAR stinker. Lousy situation has a small number of poor units attacking a large number of good units in unassailable terrain with great units in reserve. The French even get extra units if the allied player dares to attempt to outflank the unassailable position. Guess what's going to happen? Seriously, why bother? In large part, the game system appears to be a copy of a Napoleonic game. It ain't linear warfare, that's for sure. I would give this a four but for untranslated French in the rulebook. (Mon Dieu!)



 La Bataille de la Moscowa (Clash of Arms):

      Sacre Bleu! I believe I have just found my Grail game. Overall, this is a wonderful depiction of Napoleonic warfare. Gameplay is lots of fun and very detailed. 10 stars, where it counts. But....I'm marking off 1/2-star for ergonomic issues/nationality differentiation/unit identification; and another 1/2 for a rather uninspired command-and-control system that has Corps leaders with nothing to do but dodge cannonballs; and one more for not including the Reglement XXX rules and instead shipping with a stripped down version (known as Marie Louise or something). This is also an excellent production (despite rather thin paper maps) whose producers are clearly enthused by the period. (Even though I suspect the publisher may be running on fumes at this point...just sayin'.) Highly recommended. My criticisms are made out of love.

      Upon further play, I have become disenchanted with the historical veracity of this game. Shevardino and Uttitsa scenarios are rather mindlessly thrown together as well as some aspects of the opening moments of the big battle scenario. Historical veracity is why I play wargames. When a game fails on this count, I lose interest quickly. Pretentious, to boot -- another of my pet peeves. 



 Great Battles of the American Civil War: Dead of Winter (GMT):


     Good game system rules marred by shoddy game module design and an even shoddier physical production. Lots of inexcusable errata, both in the Battle Book and counters, and even glaring typos on the map! ("Nashvills." Are you kidding me?) At least GMT has the decency to sell this 4-mapper for the cut-rate price of $30. This makes it worth picking up. As far as the game module goes, the surprise attack rules are contrived, to say the least, seemingly heaped onto the opening turn of the game to achieve a desired result. When you start overturning game system rules to achieve an historical outcome, you know you've got problems. Most likely not unrelated, something also needs to be done about the omniscience of the player. Sounds like a fun challenge, actually. But apparently the game's designers and testers just weren't up to it. Sad, because, you know, this ain't rocket science...



 Next War: India Pakistan (GMT):

     Despite my admiration for the game and its obvious awesomeness, I somehow lose interest in this one every time I set it up. Final rating pending my being able to actually play it all the way through.


Battalion Combat Series (The Gamers): 

     A minimalist approach to wargame design. Apply 1 artillery or air point to a combat and get an automatic +2 drm. Retreat a unit by picking it up and placing it next to its HQ. Roll a 1-3 on a 1d6 to effect a Barrage attack. A unit's strength is irrelevant until killed. (Yes, this means a 10:1 odds attack is no more effective than a 1:10 attack. Oh, and the rulebook is actually written in this "listen up, maggots" way, with the word "Yes" fronting practically every explanation. Clearly the rulebook writer is used to conversing with morons and sycophants. Regular people will just want to slap the guy!) One of the game's major (and quite brilliant, if you listen to the guy who created it) elements, an abstract depiction of armor/AT support, is just so much wasted fluff. Getting a unit to "drop" its support (whatever that means) is virtually guaranteed, so why make the player roll dice for it? Just roll it into the combat algorithm and save us the effort. At one day turns (!), the game lacks a real grand tactical scale, and certainly will not scratch anyone's itch for a battalion level game. There are just too many over-simplified abstractions.
     Here's a minimalist abstraction for you. Roll a 1d6. On a roll of 1-5, the Allies win the Battle of the Bulge. On a roll of 6, the Germans win. That's pretty much the level of this game. (Oh, and maybe the worst rulebook I've seen in many years. Yes, that means it's awful. Yes, that means no index. Yes, that means avoid this turkey at all costs!)


Kasserine (GMT): 

      Vance von Borries best game. Once you get used to the air rules, the interdiction rules in particular, and the otherwise dreadfulness of the of air mechanic, this game is lots of fun. Plenty of options for both sides, opportunities for cautious and aggressive play, alternate plans, and lots of movement. Unfortunately, the 1D10 rears its ugly head here. For all intents and purposes, my last game ended on a "10" die roll at the crucial moment. That's a lot of time spent/wasted for a game to hinge on a wild totally random die roll. I'll take a bell curve any day. Indeed, there are many cases where only various degrees of success or failure should be determined by the die. Remember, designers, the die is not the game, merely a randomizer, not a maker-or-breaker. Why would you want it that way? -4 points. If you like completely random combat results, this is a 9.



Operational Combat Series: Tunisia (The Gamers):

     "Trained by the games that even bothered about it, players learned to think of logistics like accountants...When you run out [of supply] you are done until you get some more. Logistics was literally a matter of resource allocation and nothing deeper.
     "Cardboard units have no needs (or feelings) when you choose not to use them...they sit on their hands and watch."
     This is not a review of Tunisia, but the words of OCS designer Dean Essig criticizing every other game that is not his. (To be frank, every game I've tried that "bothers about it" is way better than this!) Actually, I can think of no game more deserving of these criticisms than his own, OCS in particular. Only in OCS do the majority of units "sit on their hands and watch." Talk about projection!
     Despite this, Tunisia is actually a pretty good game, especially the opening moments in the rough terrain of the north. The game system itself, however, is highly gamey, unrealistic and at times downright silly. But if you must have one of these, Tunisia is better than BTR (see below). Just know that the designer seems to be a big-league fruitbat. 



Operational Combat Series: Beyond the Rhine (The Gamers):

     By overthrowing many of the fundamental precepts of the game, "official" optional and house rules really hurt the perceived veracity of the OCS game design. It makes you wonder how sound the game design is to begin with. OCS's explicit supply system turns out to have been a can of worms, after all. Supply points are now being used the way politicians use the tax system -- not to raise revenue but to encourage/discourage certain behaviors. "Do X and it'll cost you double the number of SP." Well, does X cost that many SP in the real world, or doesn't it? Does artillery ever get used in the real world or doesn't it? Does artillery react on a dime in the real world, or doesn't it? In the end, it seems that every underlying principle of this game design is negotiable. The BTR module itself is poorly designed to fit the game system and scale. Too many small units that did not operate independently are included as independent units, resulting in their misuse and often leading to ridiculous situations. A low-quality battalion has the same ZOC properties as an entire division, yet this is not taken into account in the module design. At this scale, a battalion could block a road or a rugged pass or man some pillboxes, but in most cases would not be able to dominate its own hex, much less neighboring ones. This is what happens when grognard fanboys take over the design of games from their original creators (happens in the computer gaming world, too, only worse). In play, one becomes dubious after about 2 turns, a feeling which only intensifies as one continues to play.



Operation Mercury (GMT):

     Unit/ground scale mismatch. Game devolves into immobile masses of units hitting each other. For a mostly company-level game, the ground scale should be reduced by half or more. Naval and air game has great potential. I'd love to see it in a more balanced setting (at sea, the British dominate this one). Many great concepts marred by the fatal, fundamental flaw.



Fornovo 1495 (Compass):

      Needs maybe another year of development, design and testing. As released, it plays more like a puzzle than a game. Not a fun puzzle, either. You're basically trying to solve various stacking issues. Yes, really. There are some great concepts here. The artwork and overall production values are high -- as is the price for a stand-alone obscure and not very interesting battle. I'm going to guess the "Order of Arms" series ends here. It does for me, whatever the case.



Lion of the North (GMT):

     To paraphrase the Scenario Booklet: [this game offers] "the most complete and accurate OoB in English for these battles..." Wargamers really are just about the most obnoxious group of people, aren't they? These rules are full of as-it-weres and in-jokes and puns and Monty Python references. Apparently this thing was written by a pretentious 14-year-old. The game itself is okay for a couple hours' diversion. Gustavus thoroughly dominates the field, though. It's Globetrotters vs Generals, but Curly Neal and Meadowlark were a lot wittier. Ultimately, you can consign this one to the dustbin of history. Sorry, TYW scholars.


Hurtgen: Hell's Forest (Decision):

     What a lousy production this is! Errors galore. Scenario setups are wrong, the entire "Example of Play" booklet is worthless (as it references rules that do not exist), confusing rules, and untested, which the producers of the game actually admit. Historical outcomes are impossible to achieve. Defenses can be made absolutely impenetrable. The favored defensive tactic is the shoulder-to-shoulder defense. The actual German tactic of counterattack is laughably ineffective. Your panzers are better used in the front line standing alongside various rabble, who, on defense, are just as effective as elite panzergrenadiers. At this point, the entire rulebook has been rewritten and new play aids produced. Are you kidding me? That means everything you bought in this over-priced gobbler is obsolete. Fool me once... 



Barbarossa: Kiev to Rostov (GMT):

     When the game is good, it's one of the best out there. When it's bad, it can seem like a pointless time-killer. The emphasis here is on the defense and the contest becomes very stalemate-ish after the initial rushes and minor break-throughs (which is very enjoyable). It is a very time-consuming game. A turn takes just as long to play (up to 4 hours solo for a complete turn) whether you achieve much or little (or nothing). My personal rule of thumb is that if nothing much happens in timeframe X, your game turns should be at least X+Y. There are many, many games to play out there, man. Who has time to spend an entire weekend to gain a couple hexes worth of real estate here and there? This coulda been a contendah. Instead, I find myself throwing in the towel.
     One final note: The 1D10 is a MAJOR failing of this game, and, indeed, all of Vance von Borries' games. Every combat -- and I mean EVERY combat, regardless of odds -- can be a stunning success or a dismal failure. "We're sure to capture this hill...barring a sudden tornado or something... D'oh!" 2 points come off the final tally. A real pity.



Roads to Moscow (GMT):

      I'm starting to think I just don't like the new-age world of big hexes and big counters. I find them hard to handle and less attractive. You end up with less playing area, too, in terms of overall hexage. (I like 6mm minis over 28 for that same reason.)
     Also, I find the scenarios uninspired; i.e., boring as hell. Head-on bludgeoning along a single supply route. VvB seems to be just milking some research he did for his Eastern Front Series.
     I'm sure there's a good game here, it just fails to interest me in the slightest. If you're going to make me choose between Nazis and Commies, you're going to have to do better than this!



Chariots of Fire (GMT):

     I can find nothing in this game design that explains why the chariot came to so thoroughly dominate the battlefield. Give me a line of infantry any day. There is virtually no veracity here whatsoever. All unit types have a hodge-podge of capabilities and interactions that feel made up and untested. Nice production raises the rating to 2--and that's generous.



On To Paris! (Compass Games):


     Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! This game is wonderful in just about every way -- except one: All the French leaders are vastly over-rated. This is so fundamental to how the game plays that I find it hard to recommend this to anyone. OTP is a highly complex game that will be appreciated only by those who prize realism over every other gaming consideration, which makes this error in judgement so hard to fathom. Well, I'm not going to try to fathom it. I'll only say that I have no interest in playing a Franco-Prussian War game where the primary concern of the Prussian player is how to avoid battle. Once the players understand the rules, I don't see how the French could ever lose a battle or why the Prussian would ever commit to one. In fact, I could see the French going on the offensive. On to Berlin! anyone?

10/10 (without the leader problem)

1/10 (as published)


Washington's Crossing (Revolution Games): 

     Interesting game design cannot overcome half-assed production. Beautiful map and decent counters, ugly and poorly-designed leader track, black-and-white charts, barely-a-step-above photo-copied rules manual (mostly un-illustrated). And that's it. Needs more play aids, more informational markers. Unacceptably mediocre in this day and age. If you're going to pour, pour boldly. Or not at all.


 Advanced Squad Leader (AH/MMP):

      What can I say? It's Squad Leader, the overly-complicated Rube Goldberg Machine of wargaming. I still have the very rulebook I bought in 1985. I've pretty much played this one out, but I'd never give up my rulebook, and that's saying something.


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