Category: Wargames

Board Game Stores in Seoul: BoardM

A long standing board game store in Seoul I never managed to visit has been BoardM. They have an extensive online store but also have a physical storefront in Seoul. I was finally able to give the place a visit and immediately lamented my failure at not visiting it earlier.

Located on the fourth floor of a small office building, they have an extensive selection of games both in English and Korean. The games range from modern classics, Kickstarter darlings, party and children games, to even heavier GMT war games. They don’t appear to carry much in collectible card games but instead carry box sets for many LCGs.

For the physical store, I dare say they have nearly 300 games on the shelf. They also offer a full selection of Mayday card sleeves as well as generic brands. Individual polyhedral dice can also be purchased. The owners were very friendly and fortunately for me were able to converse in English.

The store is well lit and fairly open with a cavernous ceiling. There are a few tables set up in one section to allow for in store gaming. However I’m not sure on policies the owners have for playing games on the premises.

While the store claims to have set hours of operation, in truth they’re flexible. Apparently the people that run the store are pretty active in conventions and other events. It’s recommended to call or text a day or so ahead of time to make sure the store will be open (you can find the number at the bottom of their online store page).

They do have an active online store and are willing to ship within Korea. I would recommend checking out the site before visiting the store. If you have a title you absolutely must have, it’s best to text them you’d like that game when arranging a visit. The owners will try their best to make sure it’s on the shelf for you to buy (pulling it from back storage if needed).

Getting to the store is a little convoluted. By subway you need to get off at the Bulgwang exit from either Line 3 or Line 6. You can use exit 7, but have to pull a 180 and then go left at the main intersection. However it might be easier to take exit 8, and then cross the street further up. The store itself is behind the Seobu Intercity Bus terminal. There is a branching street from the main road that you can follow which runs behind the terminal.

Mind that there is a basement area but this appears to be mostly for storage and stock for the online store. You want to actually enter the building and go to the fourth floor to get to the physical store.

I have to say the selection is impressive carrying both classics and the Board Game Geek hotness. The only hiccup is that it’s best to be sure to drop them a line before trying to visit. If wanting to just stop by, you might find the store closed. Regardless, they have a fantastic selection and it’s so far been the best place I’ve visited recently with the great stock of games on the shelf. BoardM is a must stop if checking out game stores while visiting Seoul.

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Review: GoA Strike on Kar’A Nine

Warlord Games a while back released a starter box set for Beyond the Gates of Antares. It’s is a smaller set with fewer models and designed more to be an introductory box set. Strike on Kar’A Nine is focused on Concord and Algoryn forces and provides a more ‘complete battle in the box’ compared to its other starter box.

First off I’ll commend the choices for armies within the box. Algoryn verses Concord is a better choice of introductory forces compared to the Ghar. The Ghar are cool. But they play completely different from just about every other faction. Even worse, new players will likely get stomped by them and their near impenetrable battle suits until opponents learn to play against their weaknesses (cough… net ammo… cough) and turn the tide, making Ghar difficult to play effectively. This faction just takes a bit more finesse to tune and play compared to other armies. As an introduction to the universe, Concord/Algoryn troops are better matched.

I won’t spend much time covering the minis in the set. You can likely dig around and find that info elsewhere. You get 10 Concord troopers and 15 Algoryn with a full spread of drones (plus 2 light drone platforms for the Concord). The figures are plastic and are nice sprues with a full range of options for weapons and gear. I’m really happy to see the Algoryn get plastic for rank and file minis. It certainly keeps the cost down when building up a force and they’re nice minis.

Aside from the minis you get a set of templates, pin markers, a full set of dice, including a few special order dice (which I’ll use for distortion dice as I’ve got sets in other colors for Bolt Action). Included is also a paper playmat and cut out terrain. There are also a few printed rulers and a cardstock reference sheet. A decent battle-in-a-box spread of goodies to allow people to get cracking (once they assemble all their multipart figures of course). The battle mat also has a full art poster so you’ve got something to throw up on the wall if you’ve got your own battle mat.



Along with this are several books. A short booklet covering the modeling aspects for assembly and painting tips/color schemes, an A5 (pamphlet size) edition of the rules, and an introductory scenario booklet. The introduction scenarios break the rules up into short chunks. They offer a short narrative setup and give precise force lists for most of them. If the rule basics aren’t covered in the scenario write up, they recommend the players to read specific sections. The first few scenarios just use a handful of models and cover movement and shooting at the basics.

As how the 5 scenarios progress, more rules and larger forces keep increasing until the full range of models in the box are used. It’s a good way to get people exposed and learning the game. Instead of dumping a full rulebook at their feet along with a 20+ forces to paint and assemble, they can learn the game in bite sized bits of information.

The scenarios are really small, truncated engagements. The first scenario has only 3 models (each with their own order die) for one player, while the other players has 2 two-man squads. The rules cover just the movement and fire rules with one player only trying to get their Concord troops off the table.

The second scenario ups model count introducing ambush orders and squad drones. The Concord player is trying to get to the deployment area of Algoryns with destroyed squads offering points. The third scenario presents larger forces including support drones. This third fight adds pins and details the full complement of orders like Down and Rally. It’s a big fight, but bonus victory points are awarded for getting forces off the enemy table edge.

The fourth scenario is more of a narrative battle. The Concord is recovering a drone while Algroyns need to destroy it. This adds sprinting and assault rules. Lastly, the fifth scenario is an all out battle adding additional ammo types for leaders and their mico-x launchers. Each scenario is designed to build on the previous, just adding additional rules once some basics are out of the way. A pretty clever implementation to make the experience of learning the game a bit easier.

Now onto the rulebook. As mentioned it’s a softback small sized edition that is somewhat truncated. The book covers much of the rules including terrain (a full 4 and ½ pages). They do provide a short overview of each faction and a smattering of the universe background. The rules do not have army lists which is fine. Otherwise complete rules save one thing, no vehicles.

This omission for the rules kills the set for me. I can’t imagine the extra 4 pages and a bit of added art layout would be a deal breaker keeping the costs down. Honestly I feel it would leave a sour taste that you buy into the game, a touted rule book included being somewhat the carrot to entice your purchase, only to find out vehicle rules are missing. You have to buy the PDF or hardback edition to get the full set of rules. It’s a poor decision on what could have been a great product.

Otherwise Strike on Kar’A Nine is a solid set. You have base forces for creating two armies, where you could focus on one faction and still have a handful of models to teach the game. You have a smattering of paper cutouts and battlemats to provide a full experience to GoA, all of which is portable and leaves a small table footprint. It’s just marred by an incomplete rule book.

So I have to make a plea. Hey Warlord, do a right for your customers and release the vehicle rules as a free PDF. It’ll be a nice nod of thanks to new players that bought into Gates of Antares through the Strike on Kar’A Nine boxed set.

Frostgrave in Summer: Final Excursion

After several delays and a short hiatus due to holidays, we finally wrapped up our campaign. For our seventh and final excursion, unlike my last game we’d be playing no special scenario. Just a basic run and grab with a small twist. Wandering creatures would enter the table on a 12+ instead of a regular 16+, increasing the likelihood something would muck up the battle.

I was facing a necromancer that had a pretty tough warband. We both got off our out of game spells allowing me to add an additional treasure using Reveal Secrets and my opponent getting a zombie to add to his warband strength. Despite the normal scenario, we decided to go all out with the terrain and add an unusual feature. The entire map would be bisected with a deep stream that was uncrossable save using a few key bridges. Fortunately the span of the stream was just long enough to jump at a full 6” sprint.

The layout made the battle unfold over the bridges. I’ve come to realize my AAR is just a general impression of the entire game with tons of details missing. As per usual I got caught up in the action and didn’t record many notes during the fight.

My opponent was flinging bone darts left and right which kept my spell casters trying to hide behind cover much of the initial part of the game. Both my opponent and myself got initial enemies flung far forward on the table using Leap and Push, respectively. I was able to get my barbarian forward on the right bridge, while my opponent got his infantrymen across the bridge to my left.

I managed to get most of the luck regarding wandering creatures though. Most came in on the right edge and on his side of the stream. That tied up his wizard and retinue, allowing me to be more aggressive with my soldiers. On my left, I had a healthy distance covered with Push and threw my infantryman into the fray, allowing my thief to sneak off with some treasure.

To my right I backed up my barbarian with a man-at-arms and my wizard. All the while my treasure hunter sneaked around the back, securing some treasure. Only to have a swarm of undead spawn and start to shamble towards him. To my left I had quickly gathered a pile of treasure near my deployment zone with one of my thieves.


One of his trackers got hit with Blinding Light, effectively neutralizing him. His other archer got harassed by a pack of rats. They weren’t much of a threat, but for several turns he was locked in melee and could not get any shots off. This gave me some breathing room to pepper his advancing soldiers with my archers. My bowmen didn’t take out any key soldiers but certainly put the hurt on wounding a few.

The undead to my left kept pursuing my treasure hunter. However he was able to use his superior movement rate and had just enough distance to get away. My archer positioned himself to be closer to the creatures and on the following turn they clambered up a ruin wall to go after him instead. This allowed my treasure hunter to sneak off with some loot.


Of course my cunning plan of controlling the bridges went to hell when my opponent starting using Telekinesis to drag treasure over to his side of the stream! I had not time to waste and got my soldiers stuck in. I figured I had to hit him hard near his wizard and threaten him with my soldiers to keep him from positioning unclaimed treasure out of my reach.

The right side became a bloodbath, where soldiers dropped from each warband. But I managed to come out on top. However, quite ominously my opponent halted me whenever I tried to remove one of his casualties. He calmly corrected my actions with a, ‘No. Don’t take him off the board. It’s important to mark where the bodies are.’ I realized then I’d likely be knee deep in freshly raised zombies shortly.

Fortunately a bit of luck came my way and I was able to snatch the initiative for a round. I skirted my wizard around to get his zombie soldier in sight and used my scroll of Control Undead. The shambling follower lagged behind so my opponent had used it as a bodyguard for his apprentice. Now it became a follower for my warband! It harassed his apprentice, getting into a round or two of combat. His apprentice would manage to win rounds but not hit high enough to inflict damage. So he’d push off and then spend most of the next turn moving trying to keep his distance. At this point in the campaign, losing an apprentice would have been a disaster.

Taking that cue on protecting your apprentice, I had mine scurry behind some cover and try to stay out of sight. Both my barbarian and man-at-arms crossed the bridge to my right. They cut down the soldier opponents, including the poor blind hunter that could not shake off the effects of Blinding Light.

My opponent gathered up his Necromancer and flung bone barbs at his attackers, felling my man-at-arms and impaling my barbarian so much so, he eventually wounded him. I still hurled my barbarian forward trying to get into melee with his wizard. However the crafty necromancer kept his distance throughout for the remainder of the game.

In the end my opponent has cast nearly twice the number of spells I did. Despite having several spells that only needed 7 or 8 to cast, I failed them miserably. I can’t complain though as the initial part of the battle I got much of the turn initiative and was able to keep the pressure on his warband. At the conclusion of the fight, I had most of my warband intact where my opponent had most of his felled. Because of his losses, he wasn’t able to effectively get the treasure off the table. He got 2 piles to my 4, and I even managed to be holding a 5th for a slight bonus of coin and xp (one of our better house rules I think).

This was the last battle of the campaign for me, and I could not have had a better one. All the chaps in my league are a ton of fun to play against. In fact to be blunt I can be the most competitive bugbear of the bunch. I don’t know how they put up with me sometimes. I had dug myself in a hole the first battle of the campaign and never managed to get myself out. In points based primarily on getting treasure, I was solidly in last place for the league.

The big question for us was will we do another. We were all full of piss and vinegar at the beginning of the campaign. However time and schedules got swamped, and our ‘Summer’ league turned into a spring one. The progression and several fights are fun, but realistically we can only get one game a month in. Originally we hoped to get about 2 games a month in which would have been perfect for a summer league. Seems 7 fights are just too long for our schedules.

My other complaint is the progression. If we compress our league I might consider proposing doubling the XP and tweaking getting new spells, or more out of game actions. Maybe even increase the starting budget to allow for more base improvements, just something to give a boost to the warband management portion of the league. We adopted a rule that you could freely buy spells from your school at the grimoire vendor, in addition to random offerings. Likely reducing the cost for in-school spells would also be an incentive to get additional spells.

Ghost Archipelago is in my mitts. I doubt I’ll get into that too heavily and likely never even play a game. But we might lift the campaign rules and treasure tables from it. Seems to curb the excessive swingy results that you get in Frostgrave some. Might have to play [with our campaign rules] a bit more. Regardless, it was a fun league. Maybe this year we’ll revisit the ruins of Frostgrave again for another campaign.

Frostgrave in Summer: Genie in a Bottle

I had the gaming scheduling gods show me favor and was able to sneak in another game over the past few weeks. To break up the typical magic schools I faced throughout the campaign, my opponent would be a chronomancer this time. We were nearing the end of the league and I decided I needed every moving body I could get on the table. I opted to give my wounded man-at-arms the boot and hire an infantryman and barbarian as replacements to casualties I received from my last game.

This battle would be a challenge. There was a 25% chance each treasure picked up might create a genie that would wreak havoc on the table before eventually wandering off. Not having any spells that would cause magic damage worried me. I did have a magic weapon though. I failed to notice Banish as a spell within my school tool. In retrospect after my last game, having a chance to destroy a demon outright would have been useful, especially as a genie is also considered one.

Nevertheless I pressed ahead. I was successful in casting Reveal Secrets and made it a point to ensure when I placed treasure that I’d get a chance to put a bonus pile close to my deployment zone. Other than that, I stuck by a standard with my setup. I had two groups with my wizard and apprentice each leading one with my archers ready to clamber up some terrain and provide covering fire.

This pretty much was a repeat from last time regarding documenting the game. I just got caught up in the action and didn’t keep stringent notes. But it turned into an unusual game. Both of us were able to quickly get forces towards the middle and scoop up piles close to us. My opponent being an chronomancer was rapid firing Fleet Feet, giving his slower troops some additional movement each turn.

Being a crafty opponent, he was able to cast Wizard’s Eye at a perfect spot. That allowed him to fire off spells from a great vantage point over most of the treasure. It worried me enough to keep my casters out of direct sight. I could have tried to dispelled it but needed those precious initial actions to cast Push and other spells on my own warband.

The wizard’s eye went to great effect, as his boosted quick moving troops were able to gather treasure and then be targets of Leap, vaulting them off towards the table edge. I got my forces forward quickly with Push, but was unable to hamper any of his troops effectively. I easily was able to cast Blinding Light several times, including targeting his apprentice. But my opponent shook them off easily, practically maxing every willpower roll to dispel them.

My opponent made quick work of an infantryman that I rushed in towards the left. His soldiers cut him down and I tried to keep them at bay with archer fire. Meanwhile to my right I got a man-at-arms and treasure hunter up to take on one of his infantrymen. They were able to overwhelm him but then scattered as one of his trackers peppered my followers with arrows.

All the while my archers suffered the same fate of amazing defensive rolls from my opponent. In the end we managed to wound a soldier or two. But between ineffective hits and good shooting rolls that were shrugged off by high defensive rolls by my opponent, missile fire was ineffective the entire game. My opponent cast Elemental Wall to break up the table and get some cover for his men, however I was able to dispel it.

Between all the activity and melee at the middle of the table, I was able to scoot my thief forward and scramble off the table with some treasure. I also was able to manage a successful Transpose and a few more Push spells to get others carrying loot to away. For the battle overall, I did pretty decent getting 4 treasures, but overall for the league that wasn’t enough. I needed to prevent my opponent from gathering any treasure. They were able to get 3 treasures gathered, evading any arrows shot at them from my archer as they retreated towards their home camp.

What stood out from this game was that we had seven treasures on the table. Every single time we picked one up we were gritting our teeth waiting for the genie to appear… and it never did. Everytime we rolled under a 15. A couple of wolves and a skeleton roamed in but were quickly dispatched. Super strange that it never happened. We pretty much decided then on a new house rule for further games using this scenario. If the second to the last treasure does not spawn a genie, it will immediately appear near the figure closest to the last remaining treasure pile, ensuring that it spawns.

It was fortunate for us, but also a bit of a letdown as we were both expecting havok from the genie. I can’t complain too much though as I recovered 4 treasures and managed to get all my soldiers back alive. In the end I scored some nice scrolls of Summon Imp and Control Undead, two +1 staves, and a grimoire with Destructive Sphere. I decided not to invest in learning the spell as the elemental school wasn’t quite my strength. Instead I went about improving willpower, health, and my fight skill (which oddly enough doubles as a means to dodge arrows). I put my last level into Transpose hoping that with a roughly 50-50 chance of casting it now it might come into play.

One last game and our league will wrap up. Hee, have to see if I can manage to get out of my solid position of last place.

Alien vegetation terrain using straws

I dabble in 15mm sci-fi gaming and lately been using my models as proxies for Beyond the Gates of Antares. Getting terrain together can always be a bit of a chore and at times heavy on the wallet. You can get lots of railroad, medieval, and WW2 terrain easily, but sci-fi stuff is somewhat of a niche market. So inevitably I get to tinkering around making my own.

Vegetation is always something tricky. A really good source is simply aquarium plastic plants, but I decided to try and go the full craft route and thought of working with straws. By melting them partially, they fold open and get this weird pitcher plant type of look. I used a lighter and carefully melted the plastic passing it over the flame. I would also put a little heat on sections of the straw and carefully bend it some to give them a few kinks. Be mindful not to apply too much heat, otherwise you’ll end up burning another hole into the main section of the straw. StrawB

StrawA

A word of warning, too much heat and your plastic straw will catch fire. Not to mention the fumes are toxic as hell, so do this in a well ventilated area (I also had a fan behind me blowing the air away). After melting the ends of the straws, I used hot glue to mount them to some plastic card as bases. I then gave them a coat of primer. I tend to have trees and the like on individual bases so I can move them around. When painting them up I used primarily a green base coat along with some highlights of bright colors to draw out a lot of contrast.

StrawC

Thrown on some felt, they make for some decent vegetation that is a little different from your typical plant foliage. A pretty easy project and if given a more diligent paint job (compared to what I did), you can get some great looking plants.

StrawE

StrawD

Side Note: For 15mm terrain, straws can make for some decent obstacles too. Stacked and lined up, they can serve as large metal or concrete culvert pipes.

Review: Combat Commander – Europe

Looking for a classic hex and counter squad level game, I had heard great things about GMT’s Combat Commander series and eventually was able to snatch up the first release after a recent reprint. Combat Commander: Europe (CCE) is a two player WW2 infantry game. This offers engagements both from the eastern and western European front, with units from Germany, USA, and Russia included in the box. It’s a squad level game. You won’t find rules for tanks of vehicles. There are some rules for offboard artillery but most action depicted will be small arms supplemented with MMGs, mortars, field guns and the like.

The game offers 12 scenarios along with rules to generate random engagements. As mentioned, this is presented as a classic hex and counter game. Lots of double sided cardboard counters and hex maps representing various rural terrain (with an occasional group of farmhouses thrown in) will be what you get in the box.

It’s an IGOUGO game with alternating turns. Players will try to hold specific points on the map for victory points. The value of the locations for some will be revealed at the beginning of the game, while others will have their value secret, known only to your opponent. In addition players earn victory points for eliminating units. If a player finds they’ve lost their entire force, they lose the game regardless of the captured objectives.

Another means of earning points is to exit units off the opponent’s edge of the map. Eventually those units recycle on as fresh reserves, but they can award a fair amount of victory points getting them off the board. However you can’t guarantee exactly when you will get reinforcements, so it can be a gamble (but can really pay off).

A critical bit about the game is the tracking of game turns. Different conditions can cause time to advance in the game. Each situation where time advances, it moves up a record track. When it reaches the scenario threshold, a player will roll randomly and compare the result to the current time track’s value. If the roll is above the time track value, the game continues until the time marker moves again (and another roll is made). Otherwise the game ends immediately. This random game end condition means players have to do as much as they can within the limited time allotted.

A key element that stands out for CCE from other wargames of this type is that actions and their resolutions are card driven. A player will have a set hand size (depending on whether they are attacking or defending) and will be only able to play a few cards from their hand each turn. The cards played represent command orders given to units. You can only move or fire a unit if you play a matching card order. Further, each unit can only be activated once per turn. A notable exception are leaders as they can activate other units within their command range (usually 1 or 2 hexes). You begin to see that leaders are the backbone of your platoon allowing for effective execution of orders.

After playing a specified number of cards, players may discard additional cards and then draw up to their maximum hand size, ending their turn. Individual cards have 4 simultaneous functions associated with them. They represent orders given during your turn and also as actions which can be played during either players’ turn. Cards also represent random events, and can serve as die results too. Every card has the results from two six-sided dice, and each deck represents roughly twice the entire possible outcomes of rolling 2 dice (ex. there is a 1 in 36 chance of rolling two ones, so in the deck at most you’ll have two double 1 dice results). This allows a player to figure out dice probabilities up to a point.

As mentioned you are limited in choices during your turn based on the orders in your hand. Actions are a little more flexible. A fair number of actions represent bonuses to movement, attacks, or defense, but some also allow firing opportunities. So yes, it’s IGOUGO but there is a chance for your opponent to interrupt your move order with an opportunity fire action, essentially simulating an ambush.

Mixed in with the 2D6 results are special events. These temporarily halt the resolution of an action and introduce some random event. You might have a weapon jam, or a unit get pinned down by a sniper, or a random hex might be engulfed in a fiery blaze. Fortunately they don’t chain event after event, however a decent number of cards in your deck will initiate them. So you can expect the unexpected playing and your plans might get a bit of fortune, but likely get a huge monkey wrench thrown into the works, as you execute orders.

Movement is done using a point system with each unit having a listed number of movement points. Equipment like MMGs or mortars are attached to units and typically hinder the total movement of a squad, while leaders will add to a unit’s movement. Various terrain will hinder movement costing a certain number of points per hex.

Firing is fairly simple to resolve. Line of sight is determined by terrain features passed through when lining up center hex points (which are well represented on the maps). Some terrain will reduce the total firepower of an attack while others block line of sight completely. A player can order individual units to fire, or use officers to select one unit as the base firepower of an attack, and then add one point of firepower per additional unit firing in the group. Eligible units for this group fire are those within the command range of leaders. Additionally leaders can add to the firepower of units within their hex, including adding to attack range.

To counter the effects of fire, the target has a base morale (usually ranging from 7-9) that can be increased if in cover. Each player draws a card to represent their 2D6 dice roll adding to their firepower or morale totals, respectively. If the target beats the attacker’s firepower result they are in good order. If the attacker’s firepower is greater than the defender’s morale total, the target breaks. On a tie the target is suppressed gaining a penalty to movement, firepower, range, and morale (or they break if the target unit was moving). If a broken unit gets another break result, they are eliminated. Simple.

Assaults are even easier to resolve. Units draw a card (i.e. ‘roll’ 2D6) and add their firepower. Whoever has the highest total wins with the other side is eliminated. On ties both sides are eliminated. Units have a chance to recover from being broken using a Rally order. However the enemy can also force breaking units to retreat with a Rout order themselves.

This challenge of deciding what cards to play and which ones to hold onto for future rounds makes the game. Do you discard most of your cards in hopes to get an order you need? Or do you hold onto actions to take during your opponent’s turn? Some orders like a Rout card can swing the tide on later turns, but do you keep it in your hand or discard it to increase the odds of getting a more flexible order that can be of more immediate use? These are the hard choices and managing your hand to commit effective orders is a central part of the game.

Units are limited to 7 ‘figures’ per hex. The unit counters are designated as single figure leaders, 2 man teams (which is really a 3-5 man fire team), or 4 figures representing a 10 man squad. This low number means you need to judiciously deploy and execute orders, and also emphasises the importance of your leaders. You can’t have huge stacks of units in a single hex and need to spread them out. However in order to effectively fire and maneuver them, you need oversight and leadership from nearby officers.

It can take some mental gymnastics to grok the idea of using cards for everything, including the ‘rolling of dice’ but once you grasp the concept you begin to appreciate the mechanic. Every draw of the card opens up a chance for random events, adding more havoc and obstacles to tackle. Actions representing flexible orders that can be played during your opponent’s turn are also a nice touch. This layers on the uncertainty of your turn. You can commit a large firegroup to suppress and potentially break a threatening unit, but your opponent might be able to counter with an action representing extra cover they have in their position. You might think you’ll be able to rapidly move up several units, only to find your opponent is able to play multiple opportunity fire orders which will break your units as they advance.

Another aspect of using a deck of cards is they serve as a marker for advancing time. When a player exhausts their deck, they reshuffle their discard pile and make a new draw deck. However this advances the time track, bringing the game closer to an end. There are also special event cards that initiate this reshuffle and time advancement. This small game element adds so much to the game.

Players will have a general idea of the turns expected in a game based on the amount of cards needed to go through their deck (especially if the Time! event card was already played for an order or action). But as the game progresses, this becomes more difficult to judge. Additionally while a player may want to frantically dig through cards to get the order they need, they are also rapidly increasing the chances of exhausting their deck, advancing the time track, and bringing the game closer to an end. They might want to work with cards in their hand, rather than trying to discard everything to draw a needed order (eventually forcing the game time to advance). It’s a great part of the game and ratchets up the pressure as turns progress.

CCE isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. You won’t have a cut and dried tactical experience playing the game. Instead you’ll start out with a few turns of pretty well executed orders and then hit a snag. Maybe you have the initiative slip away, as you can’t find the needed order, so you spend turns discarding and drawing while your opponent maneuvers on the battlefield. You might get some random event that bogs down a critical assault, or a key MMG position is nullified due to a jam malfunction. Instead you find yourself scrambling to make the best decisions with limited resources. This results in a highly narrative experience, where you’ll see heroic moments and things go FUBAR. It’s wonderful.

The Good – The rulebook is well written with nice components. The random mission generator is a great addition allowing you to create some interesting battles and the scenarios offer a fair snapshot of different periods of WW2. There are a good number of expansions that provide new armies and scenarios in other theaters. The cards are of thick stock. The unit counters have simple profiles listing key information, and the indication of a broken unit is simply a flip of the counter to the opposite side. The oversized map hexes allow for some spreading of counters around during play rather than having tightly packed stacks of units. The art design for much of the cards are historical photographs and the color maps are simple depictions of terrain features. It won’t win any awards but they do dress up the game some.

The Bad – It’s a game with small counters. Some key elements (tracking turns, victory points, etc.) can be a little fiddly and woe is the person that accidentally knocks the table near the end of the game. This is small unit infantry action and if you wanted an opportunity to throw in some armor, you are out of luck with these rules. The random event mechanic can lead to the unfolding of odd moments and how they break up the resolution of orders can make play feel disjointed at times. The aspect of random events and issuing orders based on your hand might not click for everyone. If you are looking for tactical experience with predictable set pieces and resolutions based on narrow, strict probabilities, CCE is likely not for you.

The Verdict – Combat Commander: Europe is a solid wargame. If you want a WW2 tactical skirmish game, this is a fantastic choice. You have to make thoughtful choices and the card driven order system adds a lot of friction to play. It’s the constant pressure of having to adapt to blossoming difficult situations that makes CCE shine. I dare say if you wanted to experience a miniature skirmish game without all the painting, figures, and terrain, this would be a good substitute. I will say with certainty though if looking for a hex and counter game for small unit action, Combat Commander: Europe and other editions (notably CC: Pacific) are great buys and highly recommended.

NOTE: The rules are actually well written and play is straightforward. However it might be a little challenging getting through your first game. Harsh Rules has a tutorial video (along with a part 2) that walks through all the basic rules of the game and well worth checking out.

Frostgrave in Summer: The Living Museum

I should be calling this series Frostgrave in Winter now. It had been ages since our club was able to meet over the past few months but I finally managed to get a game in during January. I ended up going head to head with another Necromancer. I still was a little tepid to blow all my cash and kept a warband of thugs, archers, an infantry man, and a man-at-arms going. With my finances a little low, I felt it difficult to justify dumping it into heavy hitters. My opponent had a pretty fat treasury and fielded a barbarian, a few trackers, infantrymen, and a couple of thugs to round out his warband. I was pretty outclassed, and his figures were better painted to boot!

We had a pretty compact setup in the center of the table. Like the complex temple, treasure taken would randomly activate a statue creating a living construct. Surely we’d have a big scrum in the middle. I still didn’t want to risk a lucky shot with his trackers so I deployed in cover, broken up into two main forces. I had by archers and a thief stick at the periphery though. I lucked out and was able to successfully cast Reveal Secrets meaning I’d get one extra treasure close to my deployment area.


Fortunately I got the initiative and decided to move up and try for a spell. I successfully cast Fog which provided me a little cover from his ranged attackers and his apprentice. Those necromancers and their pesky Bone Dart was not a fun proposition to leave long avenues of open sight to my casters. I also successfully managed to cast Push from my apprentice and get an infantryman way forward in position near the statues.


My opponent moved in and slipped through the Fog, while his necromancer decided to throw a wrench into my advance and drop an Elemental Wall between our warbands. He began to scoop up treasure and unfortunately got the brunt of the medium constructs.

On the following turn I cast Blinding Light on his barbarian, making it susceptible to any nearby constructs. My opponent countered this getting his warband into the thick of the fight, tangling up the living statues before they could activate and cut down his barbarian. Your fight stat goes to zero and you cannot initiate any attacks making the barbarian an especially fragile target.

Honestly for the early part of the game, things were looking up for me. I got the initiative and managed to get off most of my spells, hitting his apprentice and his wizard once each with Blinding Light. They shook it off but losing the chance to cast LOS spells hurt. He flubbed a few spells and pumped up his casting rolls a few times too, meaning his necromancer was nearly at half health mid-game.

But things started to slip away for me. Most of the wandering creatures saw my warband as the more tasty morsels. I had to use my archers to dispatch skeletons and my apprentice to blind a minor demon that came onto the table. This alleviated a lot of pressure on my opponent that was able to take out several constructs, throw up another Elemental Wall, and start moving treasure off the board,


I turned around and Dispelled his walls and further decided to go all in with my warband, trying to take out his wizard. Sending in an infantry man and a man-at-arms, I figured round after round of attacks I’d eventually get a lucky blow in. Even if I could not kill him outright, I thought I’d be able to at least wound him. I was terribly mistaken. His necromancer pretty much aced all his fighting rolls and dispatched my followers. So much for my cunning plan.

That was enough to spook him a bit though, especially as my archers were essentially free to fire. I had lucked out on my Blinding Light casting roll for the minor demon and it wasn’t able to shake off the effects of the spell for several turns. My opponent was able to cast Leap on a few of his followers. Even a few peppered shots from my archers went wide and he was able to get his forces off the table. Meanwhile, a lone construct managed to take out a quarter of my warband, including my apprentice!

I was able to only get two treasures off. I got a good use of a Transpose spell and my thief scooped up an early acquisition that was found using Reveal Secrets. My opponent got 3 treasures to my two. I braced myself for the worst with my apprentice, but it appeared that Marsha was able to make it back to base camp in one piece.


I did lose a thug and my man-at-arms was severely wounded. I came away with a couple of potions and a paltry sum of gold. I also only was able to sneak out 3 levels of XP compared to my opponent that got 4 levels. A big chunk of this disparity in XP was my warband suffering so many casualties. With my newfound levels I buffed up my fight and health stat, and decided to throw a point into Transpose. It’s still a tricky spell for me to cast but I’m hopeful to be able to land it more consistently in the future.

The expedition was not quite suffering a drubbing, but not a rousing success either. I was really hoping for a third treasure and I found that the inflexibility of Push is a poor substitute to Leap. My opponents are able to clean up the board using that mobility spell. Regardless I am solidly in last place for the league. With only two more games left, I need a miracle match to hope in even going up a rank.

28mm Russian heavy weapons teams – Plastic Soldier Co.

As I mentioned a long time ago I decided to break off from my typical 20mm scale for Bolt Action and try building a force in 28mm. I settled on a Russian platoon and got the bulk of my troops from Wargames Factory. Their boxed sets are nice but heavy weapons teams were non-existent. I looked around and settled on Plastic Soldier Co. as an alternative.

They have a pretty complete range of Russians available in 28mm. I had gotten the 45mm anti-tank kits and liked them. So I was eager to check out their heavy weapons sets too. There are 2 sets of sprues that come with each box with a variety of models for mortars, MGs, AT rifles, and other crew members.

For mortars you have both minis for the 50-PM 41 as well as 82mm medium mortars. Interestingly, the 82mm mortar has a rectangular base plate. I thought they typically had round base plates, so this might be some variant.RusHVLtMortar

RusHVMedMortar

There are also two sculptures of minis armed with AT rifles. One is prone firing the weapon and another is carrying it. Along with the AT rifle troops are prone loaders.

RusHVATRifle

RusHVATRifleB

RusHVATLoader

Akin to the AT rifle models, you have Maxim M1910 MMGs in poses either being fired or transported with 2 crew (which I didn’t assemble). There are additional crew members but they don’t appear to be feeding the MMG directly or hauling ammunition. I am using a few as spotters for my mortar teams and possibly field them as artillery observers.

RusHVMMG

RusHV

The models are pretty good. They have enough detail to stand out if painted, but I will admit they aren’t as crisp as some other minis I have from different manufacturers. Nonetheless you cannot beat the price, variety, and quality of the kits. They are a great value and not bad if looking for a number of heavy weapons to round out your platoon.

Frostgrave in Summer: The Complex Temple

From my last game I had gotten some treasure but I’d be down a man unless I was willing to boot them out of my base camp to make room for a new hire. Having a pittance of gold, I decided to let my man-at-arms recover and go all in picking up a treasure hunter and a thief to replace some losses. This 100 gold spent pretty much wiped out my cash reserves. I figured I’d either go big or go home.

With my previously earned XP I decided to improve my defensive ability, bumping up both fight and health. A small bit folks tend to forget is that shooting is against a fighting roll of the target. The higher my fighting ability, the more likely I could have the awareness to duck and weave, avoiding arrows altogether.

I also decided to improve the casting of Push and Transpose. Of the two I found Transpose difficult to wrangle into using as there are so many positional requirements. You need 2 models within 10” of each other and also within line of sight to the caster. But I figured if I can manage a situation where I could set it up as a battle progresses, having an easier casting cost would be beneficial and a useful spell to have in reserve.

I’d be fighting another necromancer again. I swear the guys in my league are drawn to the dark arts. He had a fair number of infantrymen and nimble trackers in his warband. I got a bit of luck thrown my way though as he was unable to summon a zombie to bolster his warband at the beginning of the game. Still, being a body short for the scenario was not going to be fun for me.

We decided to play the Complex Temple where a series of strange columns are placed for treasure. In order to get any loot you have to ‘fight’ the column. The plus side is that all treasure is worth an additional 20 gold and if your wizard attacks a column, they get an additional +50 XP. For my coinless wizard, having an opportunity to get some extra experience was welcome.

I was able to have an additional treasure due to casting Reveal Secrets. However I had some trouble placing it due to the abundance of treasure near my deployment zone. One house rule we use is all treasure must be at least 6” from neutral table edges. We do this as regular troops with 6” movement have to take an extra turn to get it off the table, which in turn allows the opponent a chance to intercept soldiers hauling off treasure. But this also results in more treasure being centrally located, so unless I place most further towards the centerline, I have a hard time placing any extra treasure near my deployment area from the spell.

Quite honestly, this was another game I got wrapped up in and didn’t bother with proper notes or a lot of pics. The first turn I moved up my wizard with a thief in tow to snatch treasure from a nearby column. My wizard was lucky to win a round of combat and gained the treasure, but was saddled down trying to haul it out of line of sight. My crafty opponent lined his wizard up to keep me in his LOS. If I dropped the treasure and lost initiative, I was certain he’d cast Telekinesis to drag my booty just out of reach from my wizard and thief.

One of my thugs scampered in to collect treasure found by Reveal Secrets and began to haul it off the table. I would be able to secure some treasure at least. However the downside was I’d be another man short the entire game with my thug lumbering back to base camp with a chest in tow. I moved up my treasure hunter and infantryman, skirting a wall to avoid being a target for Bone Dart to see what trouble I could get them into.

My apprentice moved up to a column on my far right. The thug accompanying her was able to smash the column and gain some treasure. However with all these columns being cracked to pieces, the noise would certainly garner some attention. Sure enough a skeleton and pair of wild dogs ran into the area and made a beeline towards my apprentice and her comrades.

My opponent was able to easily secure treasure from columns on his side of the table. Casting Fleet Feet, his soldiers hurried forth and his trackers got up to some high ground to cause havok. I had my thug try to cut down the 2 wild dogs. One was killed but later during the turn the other tore him to pieces. I had my apprentice back up and cast Blinding Light on the remaining dog while my archer shot at the skeleton.

On the other side of the battlefield my infantryman threw caution to the wind and attacked. He downed a tracker and tried to get to grips with the Necromancer’s apprentice, but failed to reach him. I had my treasure hunter linger in back with hopes he could dash in and snatch up any dropped treasure.

With my wizard out of sight behind a wall, Wanda was able to drop the treasure and prepare to enter the fray, as my thief lugged the prize off the table. Meanwhile my opponent got his necromancer to smash a column and begin dragging away a pile of treasure. Casting a deft Leap, his other men began to scramble back to his base burdened by the loads of coin they found. All the while the necromancer hurried to a pile of rubble to cover his warband.

My opponent decided to get one of this fallen soldiers back into the fray casting Raise Zombie. My infantryman was now facing an apprentice and a newly raised corpse. I then pulled an ace from my sleeve and had Marsha the apprentice use her scroll of Control Undead. The zombie now a thrall under my control, the tables turned and my followers were easily able to dispatch the necromancer’s apprentice.

Finally able to slay the skeleton on my far right, my thief scooped up a pile of treasure. I had my archer drop out of position and make a run towards the rear. In the final turns of the game I was finally able to cast Transpose successfully and switch places between the archer and the thief carrying treasure. Now suddenly much closer to the board edge I was able to add another pile to the haul of loot I gained during the battle.

My opponent wrapped up the game retreating but got 4 piles of treasure to my 3. A fair outing but the necromancer warband still came out ahead. I came away with a fair amount of gold to fill my coffers to a respectable 220 crowns. I also ended up with a pair of grimoires of Control Construct and Awareness. I also ended up with enough XP (along with unearned XP) to gain 4 levels.

Aside from improving my health, I went ahead and put most of my points into improving Push, Blinding Light, and a risky focus on the spell, Transpose. Like Push, it’s a spell that needs a little maneuvering and placement to work. But if successful Transpose can really help get treasure off the table, or potentially ruin the plans of an opponent by throwing a creature their way.

I also walked away with few casualties. I only lost a thug and my man-at-arms would be well enough to fight the next game. I need to consider possibly spending some coin and get more sturdy followers for the last few games. The campaign will be wrapping up soon and I’m solidly in last place. But at least I haven’t had an abysmal expedition….. Yet.

Spartan Games closes shop

It appears that Spartan Games is no more. I enjoyed their space fleet game, Firestorm Armada. But it looks like they couldn’t keep the company viable. A short snippet of their official statement:

“Rebel Publishing Ltd was formed in July 2002 and traded successfully for a number of years. Spartan Games was launched in 2008 and grew rapidly. However, the tabletop games market is challenging and has changed over recent years, and suppliers are predominantly a small number of large well-known names and several small, cottage industry, type businesses.

Initially the business outsourced production but following quality control and production management issues, manufacturing was moved in house between 2009 and 2011. Over this time and since, significant investment was made into machinery and infrastructure. The business also expanded to provide models for a well known video game, moving this into the tabletop games arena. However, significant new development costs, timing issues and the deflection of management time from the core games brands resulted in a significant trading loss for 2015/6. The business was able to continue to trade by raising additional finance and refocusing on core brands, and direct / online trading improved significantly. Results for 2016/17 were significantly improved.

However, despite this it continued to encounter challenging trading conditions and it became clear this month that the company could not continue to service its liabilities, particularly given the burden imposed by the amounts owing to finance companies.”

I wondered about them trying to expand too fast and dabble into too many systems. The Halo property was picked up and offered as another space fleet game which to me was sort of butting heads with Firestorm Armada. I heard there were rumors floating about having another trimmed down fleet ruleset for FA too. A reboot of sorts with Dystopian Wars also got a mixed reception with long time fans.

PlanetFall looked cool and appeared Spartan Games had some interesting ideas mixing it in with FA as a combined planetary invasion game. But makes me wonder with competition of Dropzone Commander, and Games Workshop always having Epic 40K in their back pocket, how the rule system would fare in the long run. It also appears some of their Kickstarter campaigns have been cancelled (see pic below).

I think fun, fleet game systems are sort of lacking and with the vacuum it looks like no one will ever take a real stab at them in the future. Either for fantasy or sci-fi, Games Workshop can just act as a market juggernaut with a re-release of old properties, essentially guaranteeing getting a chunk of cash from die-hard fans and out compete any newcomers. Shame.

If folks still have questions looks like email to spartangames@mail.com is your best bet.