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Review: Thunderbolt / Apache Leader (GMT)

Posted by Denny Koch on December 1, 2010

Game: Thunderbolt / Apache Leader: Joint Attack Weapons System

Publisher: GMT Games
Published in: 1991
Designer: Dan Verssen
Era and Topic: Contemporary / Close Air Support combat / Aircraft and attack helicopters
Components: 110 full-color two-sided cards, 300 full-color two-sided counters, one 22×17” full-color combat display, one 10-sided die, 20-page rulebook, Sector Map, Pilot / Crew experience log, aircraft & pilot damage chart
Game Type: Solitaire or coop / card-driven / counters

HFC Game-O-Meter: C

Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 7
Rules: 7
Replay Value: 9.5

Overall Rating: 9

PRO Can be played solitaire or in cooperative team-play, rules contain background information about CAS warfare, high replayability, various difficulty levels, tactical and strategical level, challenging and tough decision-making required, resource management, clever combat system
CONTRA Rules somewhat cumbersome here and there


Planning, calculating, and conducting CAS missions together is challenging and fun!

We love cooperative games! We enjoy the card game Space Hulk – Death Angel, we love cooperative board games like Arkham Horror or video games like Too Human or Borderlands on Xbox 360. Thunderbolt / Apache Leader isn’t a cooperative team-game in the first place, it is primarily a solitaire game, but it offers variants for cooperative team play, so one weekend we decided to give the game a try… together!

We own a number of solitaire wargames, for example the Ambush series, London’s Burning, B-17, Carrier, Patton’s Best, even SASL (Solitaire ASL) which are designed to be played by one player “against the game system” or Paper AI. Fortunately, many of these games can be played by two players as well who team up against the enemy. And some of these games even offer specific rules or instructions for playing the game cooperatively. A great example is the modern air combat simulation “Thunderbolt / Apache Leader” by Dan Verssen.

This review doesn’t only deal with the coop variant but is a general in-depth review of the game. So if you are a dedicated (or involuntary) solitaire gamer, this review is also for YOU. In addition, we will tell you something about flying cooperatively (which works excellent, btw!), so if you are a fan of wargames supporting team-play, read on!

What is Thunderbolt / Apache Leader?

Thunderbolt / Apache Leader (TAL) is a wargame depicting modern tactical air combat, utilizing a combination of card- and counter-based mechanics and a combination of tactical and strategical planning and gameplay. It was published by GMT Games in 1991 and is part of the “Air Leader series”. Since players have to conduct a good deal of math calculation and consulting of several tables, the game is definitely not a “light wargame”, but effectively a consim with medium complexity.

In the game, the player commands single A-10 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. In addition, he can use AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters and AV-8B Harrier vertical takeoff fighter aircraft as support. The game is scenario-based and takes place in various cold-war and contemporary hot spots all over the world: Operation Desert Storm Iraq, Korea, Germany, Russia, Libya. The focus lies on air-to-ground combat, but in the course of a campaign, players can also possibly face opposing air units in air-to-air combat.

Operation Desert Storm in full progress

The objective differs with each campaign. Basically, players have to defend their air base and destroy opposing ground forces before they overrun the base. Enemy ground forces consist of various different unit types, for example SAM sites, Anti-Air-vehicles, heavy armored tanks, infantry, APC, or non-armored trucks. In addition, friendly ground forces (AFV and Mechanized battalions) engage the enemy ground forces, but the player’s main task is to provide air support and to soften the ground targets before the friendly ground forces encounter the enemy.

Players can choose between various types of munition for their aircraft. There are three types of attacks, cannon attacks with board cannons, strike attacks with various rocket types (rocket pot, cluster bombs, Mk.82-84), or stand-off attacks with laser-guided missiles (Hellfire, Maverick). A focus lies on resource management; players have only a restricted contingent of “Air base points” with which they have to “pay” aircraft, pilots, and ammunition for each of the daily missions. So you cannot simply put all the cool stuff into your jets and helicopters – you have to plan carefully and in advance if you want to fly and fight another day.


AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopter card

Players also have control over different pilots (jets) or crews (helicopters) with various skills and special abilities. Pilots are humans, though, and suffer from stress during flight missions. Choosing the right pilot for the right task is another challenge of the game. Pilots can get lost or end the day in sick bay or shaken, so they cannot fly the next day. Optional fatigue and experience rules add even more realism to pilot management.

The map (“Combat Display“) is a sheet printed with several tables, turn record tracks, and terrain space which consists of randomly placed terrain cards. You see the combat area from high above – from an aircraft’s perspective. There are two types of combat resolutions each day – a primary (mandatory) mission which is resolved tactically in aircraft vs. single units of ground vehicles, infantry, or enemy aircraft, and a secondary (optional) mission which is resolved strategically by comparing attack and defense strength, troop quality, and several other scenario-specific modifiers.

All in all, Thunderbolt / Apache Leader is a quite simulative game with lots of mathematic calculations and cross-referencing of combat and effect tables. This sounds very technical and dry, but in fact the game accurately portrays air warfare from the perspective of a squadron leader which feels very cool and authentic.

Graphic presentation and production quality

TAL depicts modern air warfare, so the overall game design corresponds with the topic.

The box art shows photos of the A-10, the AH-64, and infantry soldiers during Operation Desert Storm. The box contains a paper map sheet, several additional displays (a sector sheet and the air base sheet), log sheets for pilot fatigue, counters for several game effects, enemy ground units, friendly ground units, ammunition types, combat results. There are several card decks – double-sided aircraft and pilot cards as well as draw decks for random events. Campaigns and combat conditions are also printed on small cards. The design is somewhat technical and abstract, but all in all, the game looks modern.

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Posted in Games A-Z, Historical Games A-Z, Hypoth. Games A-Z, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

New experimental Wingmen rules for DiF – Aces High (DVG)!

Posted by Denny Koch on November 11, 2010

One of the new wingmen cards

Our review of Aces High inspired game designer Dan Verssen to experiment with new wingmen rules. One of our major complaints was the elimination of wingmen rules from the new Down in Flames game (which were a vital part of the original Down in Flames series by GMT).

Dan Versson developed experimental rules and Wingmen cards for playtest purposes and published a sample dogfight game between two leaders and two wingmen, showing the new rules in action.

“My goal is to return wingmen to the game, while keeping the rules as simple as possible. From what I have heard, almost everyone likes the idea of wingmen, but many people were turned-off by the old rules. For those of you who never played the old game, the wingmen rules were filled with complexity and exceptions. Basically, you had to learn/teach two seperate sets of rules, one for Leaders and one for Wingmen. My goal is to make the Wingmen rules as much like Leader rules as possible, while still retaining their flavor.”

If you are a wingmen fan and want to participate in testing the new rules, you can simply download the rules and sample cards and integrate them into an Aces High dogfight.

Feedback, comments, and suggestions are highly welcome, please leave any comments in the DVG forum on Consimworld!

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Review: Down in Flames: WWII – Aces High (DVG) and comparison with DiF (GMT)

Posted by Denny Koch on November 3, 2010

Game: Down in Flames: WWII – Aces High

Publisher: DVG
Published in: 2008
Designer: Dan Verssen
Era and Topic: World War II / ETO and PTO / Air combat
Components: 110 Full color Action Cards, 110 Full Color Aircraft Cards, Full Color Rulebook, Full Color Counter Sheet (88 – 5/8” counters), 6 Full Color Campaign Sheets
Game Type: Card based wargame

HFC Game-O-Meter: D

Our Rating (1-10): (Rating for experienced DiF players / Rating for casual gamers who don’t know the original)

Graphic Presentation: 9
Rules: 6
Replay Value:

Overall Rating: 5/8

PRO Great artwork; very modern design; high production quality;  strong glossy coated full-color cards, counters, and rules; fast gameplay; new actions cards; new fighter ratings (firepower, two Horsepower ratings); PTO and ETO; new maneuvering system with speed and action cards; tactics cards; almost no setup time; fighters can attack in chains and be attacked by several other fighters which provides dynamic dogfights…
CONTRA …which are more ahistorical because of the removal of wingman rules; campaign extremely simplified; elimination of almost all simulative aspects of the classic campaign game; only one bomb mode (no more level, saturation, torpedo bombing etc.); simple hit system; simple bombing system without random element; no more variable mission length; no ingress / egress / target / home bound turns; simple Flak rules; no crews; rules describe only 1 vs 1 dogfights for simplicity – but are raising questions for 2 vs 2 (or more) dogfights; ambiguous rules and wording; some rules only mentioned in examples

A preliminary note or warning:

This is not only a review about DiF – Aces High, but also a detailed comparison between the “new” DiF series and the “classic” DiF series by GMT Games. Many wargamers who enjoy the classic GMT series (and own several modules and expansions) are wondering whether they should “switch” to the new system. Information about the differences and about who should switch – and who should not! – are sparse and scattered all over the internet.

Our intention was to review the new Down in Flames series from a wargamer’s perspective who played and enjoyed the classic series, especially the campaigns, and to give you veterans an overview over what to expect from the new system – and what not!


Shoot down your enemies… out of the sun!

In 1993, GMT Games published the first module of the Down in Flames series, “Rise of the Luftwaffe“, depicting WWII air combat in Europe, designed by Dan Verssen, Gene Billingsley, and Rodger McGowan. In 1995, the second module, “8th Air Force” was published. The game series was then further supplemented by two Pacific modules (“Zero” and “Corsairs and Hellcats“) as well as several smaller add-ons published in GMT’s C3i magazine.

The first two modules are out of print by now and there are no plans of reprinting them. Instead, GMT announced a new game which will replace the first two modules and serve as a modern update: “Wild Blue Yonder“. This game is still in P500 status and when (and if) it will hit the market is unknown.
Update 2017: The game is available  now!

If you want to get into the classic and very popular “Down in Flames” series, you have to search eBay or other marketplaces for Luftwaffe or 8th Air Force, and you can expect that it will cost you a nice amount of money. The Pacific expansions are still available at a reasonable price, but if you want to “own them all”, it will require some dedication (and money) to become a “Down in Flames” pilot.

But wait… what about the relaunch of “Down in Flames” by game designer Dan Verssen? Why should I bother collecting the “old stuff” when there is a brand-new, revised, modern version available?

In 2008, Dan Verssen published his own new version of “Down in Flames” in his own company, DVG (Dan Verssen Games). The first game was “Aces High“, supplemented in 2010 by “Guns Blazing” and several smaller card expansions. The new version is not compatible with the old GMT Down in Flames series, but was announced as an advanced, revised new game which improves many aspects of the old game while streamlining the Campaign game (which was quite simulative and of moderate complexity in the old games, so the designer felt the need of making the Campaign more accessible to casual gamers).

WWII air combat on your gaming table!

But should you really sell your entire GMT DiF collection and switch to the new, improved version of Down in Flames with modern and stylish graphics, more fighter abilities, more and different action cards, more maneuvering options, more color, more fun?

The answer is: you could – if you are a casual gamer or a gamer who enjoys playing the basic dogfights variants of the original game and who never touched the campaigns because they were too complex for you, or who always thought the wingmen rules were too static (disregarding historical leader and wingmen tactics which were even more static, so that the RAF pilots were actually dubbed “Idiotenreihen” (rows of idiots) by German fighter pilots due to their rigid and static formations). You will get improved graphics and a more dynamic dogfighting system than in the original game and you will certainly enjoy the new look and feel.

But beware – if you are an experienced wargamer who loved the GMT DiF series, and especially the campaigns, you should avoid the new game system! While the dogfights and several basic mechanics benefit from the new rules and action cards (reducing historical accuracy but enhancing gameplay), the Campaign game is simplified beyond recognition and won’t satisfy you if you loved the old Campaigns – on the contrary, we were heavily disappointed by the dumbed-down Campaign rules.

Aces High: the components

Besides this, the original rules (which consist of two 22-pages-rule books in 8th Air Force) are now condensed into one 24-pages rulebook. The campaign rules, formerly filling a rulebook of their own, are now drastically shortened and integrated into the basic rulebook. The shorter rules are not only caused by a reduced complexity, but also by a new wording which is more ambiguous and less extensive than in the old rule books. They certainly aren’t sufficient to please a classic-GMT-DiF-player, so read this review before considering to sell your old games on eBay!

As we stated in the initial warning, this review of “Aces High” gives a general overview over the DVG game, but also serves as a comparison between the old system and the new system from a wargamer’s point of view, because many wargamers are interested in the question whether they should sell their old games and switch to the new system – or whether they should stick to the GMT games.

Hopefully, our review will help them to decide whether they would enjoy the new game (a more casual gamer with a preference for simple dogfights who loves exciting graphics and thinks the old system to be too static and old-fashioned certainly will, so no game-bashing is intended!) or be disappointed.

What is Down in Flames anyway?

“Down in Flames” is a card-based wargame about Air Combat in World War II, WWI and post-war. Players control single fighters (German, British, Polish, Russian, US, Japanese) and conduct dogfights against other fighters. Fighters maneuver against each other, trying to get an advantaged position from which they could shoot down their enemies. The best position is tailing the opponent, but since each player wants to tail the enemy, there’s a lot of maneuvering until one fighter is behind the other and that’s what makes these dogfights a thrilling and fun experience.

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Gaming this weekend: Down in Flames (GMT)

Posted by Denny Koch on October 20, 2010

Module 1: The Rise of the Luftwaffe, unfortunately out of print

This weekend, a classic returned to our gaming table: Down in Flames by GMT Games, a card-based game series depicting World War II air warfare.

Down in Flames consists of 4 modules and several expansions, but we wanted to play the dogfight variant this weekend, not one of the larger campaigns, so we only used the first two modules “Rise of the Luftwaffe” and “Eighth Air Force“.

“Dogfights” are the basic game variant where your leaders and their wingmen fight against the other players’ fighters. The “Campaigns” are the advanced variant, they add special rules, bomber formations, and historical scenarios, for example “Invasion of Poland” or “Battle of Britain” with several sub-missions, like bombing raids on railway stations or supply depots.

This isn’t meant to be a review or anything like that, just some short random impressions and general thoughts that occurred to us while we were (re)playing this game which had spent a long time on the shelf (you know the problem… too many games, too little time… ;)).

Down in Flames – more than a series (actually, two series)

Module 2: Eighth Air Force, adding more fighters, more scenarios and replaces the Luftwaffe rules

“Rise of the Luftwaffe” was the first module of the GMT game series, published in 1993. Ownership of this module is the prerequisite of playing the second module, 8th Air Force. Unfortunately, both modules (Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force) are out of print and GMT Games doesn’t plan to reprint them. The other two modules which depict World War II air combat in the Pacific theater (“Zero” and “Corsairs and Hellcats”) are still available. GMT announced that they are planning a “Down in Flames Deluxe European Theatre Game” named Wild Blue Yonder which will replace Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force, but it is still in P500 status and whether it will ever be published in the foreseeable future is unknown.

At the same time, game designer Dan Verssen re-booted the series and published DiF in his own company, DVG (Dan Verssen Games) with revised expanded rules and new modern artworks. The first module of his new Down in Flames series was “Aces High”, published in 2008. The second module “Guns Blazing” was just released this autumn. His new DiF games are not compatible with the GMT DiF series, however.

So getting into the “classic” GMT version of the game is somewhat more difficult than jumping into the new DVG version because especially “Luftwaffe” is hard to find, at least for a reasonable price. In addition, if you own Luftwaffe and 8th Air Force, there might be some slight rules confusion because the 8th Air Force rules supersede the Luftwaffe rules whereas you have to stick to the Luftwaffe rulebook if you want to play any Luftwaffe campaigns.

We are in the lucky position of possessing several copies of the GMT modules as well as the Dunkirk variant from the C3i magazine (the house zine of GMT), so when we decided to bring back the classic DiF to our gaming table, we could jump into our dogfights immediately. We also decided that it would be an interesting task to compare the classic GMT Down in Flames with the brand-new DVG DiF series and to write some impressions about the differences between both series. Since many gamers are confused by the old series vs. the new series vs. the Wild Yonder P500 module, some information about both series could be helpful. We know about the confusion because we fell into the same trap… so you can expect more about both games in this blog – stay tuned!

Dogfights on the table

There is almost no setup time - you select your fighters and off you go!

So this weekend, we returned to the classic GMT version (we will play the DVG version next weekend). We hadn’t played Down in Flames in years, so we actually had to re-read the rulebook and almost start from scratch (although we quickly remembered why we always liked the dynamics of this fast card-driven wargame!).

Since we did a review reset when we relaunched our HFC website, we took the chance to read the rules with a fresh perspective as a new player would read them. And don’t get me wrong – we really love the game, it’s certainly one of the coolest air combat games ever made and the flight and fight dynamics, the speed, the feel of being a pilot are unmatched. Nevertheless, some random aspects, negative as well as positive ones, shall be mentioned here.

The 8th Air Force rules supersede the Luftwaffe rules, so when you are playing the dogfights variant, you only need the 8th Air Force Basic game rulebook. Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe rulebook has more illustrations as well as card explanations which are missing in the 8th Air Force rulebook, but this becomes more problematic in the campaign game (for example when you want to know what a “spoiled attack symbol” looks like – which is only illustrated in the Luftwaffe rulebook). For dogfights, the 8th Air Force rulebook is sufficient and you can leave the Luftwaffe rules in the box.

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Review: Conquest of the Empire (Classic variant)

Posted by Denny Koch on September 22, 2010

Game: Conquest of the Empire

Publisher: Eagle Games
Published in: 2005
Designers: Larry Harris

Era: Ancients; Roman Civil War
Game Type: board game / area movement / plastic miniatures (2-6 players)
Contents: 3 mounted game boards, 2 marker sheets, 1 rulebook (CoTE classic variant, 11 pages), 1 rulebook CoTE II (17 pages), 1 set of playing cards (only used in the CotE II variant), 8 dice, 396 plastic miniatures, 75 plastic coins

HFC Game-O-Meter: E

Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 9
Rules: 6
Replay Value:

Overall Rating: 8

PRO Fantastic presentation, high heft factor, great multiplayer experience, very thematic…
CONTRA …somewhat static and too long with 2 players, rules wording not always clear


After our extensive playing sessions of Julius Caesar by Columbia Games and watching the first season of HBO’s “Rome”, we were in the mood for another Ancients game dealing with the Roman Empire.

Conquest of the Empire is a true eye-catcher

Since we are currently re-writing our old reviews in our operation  “review reset“, this was the perfect chance to bring one of our other Ancients games back to the gaming table and to play it with a fresh perspective.

We had to choose between Imperium Romanum II, SPQR, and Conquest of the Empire (CotE). CotE is a “light wargame” from the Axis & Allies family, so it was perfectly suited for being played again for a few weekends without the major time investment Imperium Romanum II would have demanded from us. In addition, we already had some extensive (German) reviews for both Conquest variants, which were written some years ago – so we decided to bring Conquest of the Empire back to our gaming table and to review it again.

The Conquest of the Empire box contains two game variants: The “Classic” game variant which is based on the old Conquest of the Empire game  from the MB Gamemaster Series (published 1984), and a new variant called “Conquest of the Empire II” which has not much to do with the original game and which introduces politics, intrigue, and diplomacy. It is next to impossible to play the CotE II variant with 2 players (which isn’t mentioned anywhere on the game box, btw!), so we decided to play and review the classic variant first (before forcing a third player to re-play the CotE II variant with us ;)).

Conquest of the Empire Classic is somewhat similar to Axis & Allies but not so static, allowing more different strategies and more maneuvering. The map depicts the Mediterranean (as it does in Julius Caesar by GC) and the game takes place in the Roman Civil War, but on a somewhat more abstract level than the CG game because each player is just “one Caesar” and his forces, fighting other (unnamed) Caesars.

The game can be played with 2-6 players and utilizes area movement, supported by naval movement,  building streets and capitals for more protection and faster movement. Battles are fought with special combat dice showing specific symbols.

Graphic Presentation

The map. Click to enlarge!

The graphic presentation is fantastic. The mounted map consists of three parts and requires a large table. The artwork is great, the area from the Mediterranean, central Europa, up to Britannia and the East is drawn in a geomorphic fashion showing mountains, hills, and other geographical features that don’t play any role in the game mechanics, though. The game design is very “Roman” and antique with lots of Roman chrome, for example creatures from the Roman mythology in the Mediterranean sea, or illustrations of Roman gods, busts, or statues. The font in which the map text is printed is somewhat playful but fits perfectly to the overall topic.

The game box contains an incredible amount of stuff and is one of the heaviest game boxes in our collection. First, there are six sets of plastic miniatures (color-coded, one set for each player, in one of six plain colors which ask for re-painting), which are divided into leaders, infantry, cavalry, galleys, and catapults. The miniatures are very detailed, you can even discover small details on the soldiers’ uniforms, and you can actually move the arms of the catapults. The legion markers (which are used to mark your captured territories) are printed with Roman legion insignia and even the golden and silver plastic coins (the currency to recruit your troops, build your streets and cities) are designed in a Roman fashion with a portrait of an Emperor.

The dice are plain ugly

There is absolutely nothing to complain about the game presentation; it is certainly one of the best looking games of its kind. If you are into painting plastic miniatures, you will have even more fun with the game because the figures are so detailed (check out the image galleries on boardgamegeek where players posted images of their painted miniatures).

We have only one minor complaint: the dice are amazingly ugly, showing black symbols on orange ground. The symbols are horrible and cannot be told apart from a distance, especially the galley and catapult symbols are very similar (and similarly ugly). Often you can’t recognize the symbols your opponent just rolled, and you even have to take a closer look to tell your own symbols apart. A clearer design would have been really helpful, or at least a different coloring for each symbol.

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Review: Julius Caesar – Caesar, Pompey, and the Roman Civil War 49-45 BC

Posted by Denny Koch on August 19, 2010

Game: Julius Caesar – Caesar, Pompey, and the Roman Civil War 49-45 BC

Publisher: Columbia Games
Published in: 2010
Designers: Justin Thompson & Grant Dalgliesh
Era: Ancients; Roman Civil War 49-45 BC
Contents: 1 rulebook, 63 blocks, sticker sheet, 1 map (33 x 17 inches, printed on cardstock, not mounted), 27 strategy cards, 4 six-sided dice, Columbia Games Flyer
Average Playing Time: 2-3 hours

HFC Game-O-Meter: E

Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8.5
Rules: 8.5
Replay Value:

Overall Rating: 9

PRO Block game with elegant Fog of War and step loss mechanics; Fast gameplay and setup; maps and blocks are very appealing; highly balanced; Pompey and Caesar play very differently and have several strategical options…
CONTRA …map could be somewhat larger; important cities get crowded, some Event Card effects are very strong (you like it or you don’t)


Gaming Table

Julius Caesar is the latest block game by Columbia Games, published in 2010. In contrast to its predecessor, Richard III – The Wars of the Roses, Julius Caesar utilizes a point-to-point movement via the ramified Roman road network. “All roads are leading to Rome” isn’t just a saying here…! 😉

The game map depicts the Mediterranean: Central and Southern Europe from (today’s) Spain to France to the Alps Region up to the Turkey and Israel, and Northern Africa (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco). The strategic level game takes place in the Roman Civil War where Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC and marched towards Rome while Pompey opposed him with his legions. Accordingly, one player plays Caesar and the other Pompey. The objective of the game is to gain control of the most important cities in the Roman Empire.

The game is played in 5 rounds (each representing one year from 49-45 BC)  consisting of 5 turns each. Between each round, there is a winter turn where players check for immediate victory. If neither player wins during a winter turn, the victor is determined at the end of round 5 (year 45 BC).

The game mechanics is a card driven impulse system with some “divine intervention” event cards which can have a strong impact on the game.

All in all, Julius Caesar is a classic Columbia Games block game, its core mechanics are very similar to Richard III, Crusader Rex, or Hammer of the Scots, and you will feel at home almost instantly when you know one of the other games.

The game isn’t very complex and can be completed within 2-3 hours, so it’s a light and fast wargame with almost no setup time – it can be played in one session on an afternoon.

What is a block game?

Only the owner can see the blocks

A block game doesn’t use counters to depict units but wooden colored square blocks. One side of the block is left blank; this is the side which the opponent sees on the board. The block’s owner sees the printed side which contains all information about the unit and the block’s strength.

Since only the owner can see the block, the Fog of War created by a block game is much higher than in a regular wargame using counters. The block is only revealed in battle by tipping it forward. Step losses are taken by rotating the block counter-clockwise. After a battle is finished, players stand their remaining blocks upright again which means the only chance for reconnaissance is to keep in mind which blocks move where after a battle.

Graphic Presentation

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Posted in Historical Games A-Z, Julius Caesar, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Review: Empire of the Sun

Posted by Denny Koch on July 14, 2010

Game: Empire of the Sun

Publisher: GMT Games
Published in: 2005
Designers: Mark Herman, Stephen Newberg
Era: World War II, Pacific War
Game Type: Hex based consim, card-driven
Players: 2
Scale: Strategical level. 1 hex=250 miles, 1 turn=4 month.
Contents: 1 rulebook, 280 9/16“ and 88 5/8“ counter, 2 strategy decks (82 cards for the Japanese player, 83 cards for the Allied Player), map (not mounted, 55×86 cm), 2 Player Aid Cards, one 10-sided die

HFC Game-O-Meter:B

Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8
Rules: 6
Replay Value:

Overall Rating: 8

PRO Interesting combat system, variety due to the card-driven mechanics, strategically challenging, interesting to both sides until the end of the game
CONTRA It’s difficult to get into the game in the first place because of a somewhat confusing rulebook


Empire of the Sun (EotS) is a strategic game of the Pacific War of World War II. It is a complex hex and counter consim with a card-driven mechanic.

The most interesting aspect of PTO games is the approach to the Japanese victory conditions and how to keep the game interesting in the endgame. Pacific games often suffer from the fact that the Japanese historically couldn’t win the war and were heavily outgunned in the late war by the US, strangled by supply problems, and their ships and aircraft fleets almost destroyed.

US invasion in Japan

So there is always the danger that a game dealing with the PTO becomes quite boring for the Japanese player after his first (and last) initial strikes because he cannot react to Allied actions. A good example for this is Fire in the Sky (FitS) where the Japanese player is damned to watching the US “god fleets” take one island after another while the Japanese suffer from heavy oil shortages, unable to react to the US fleet movements. In the end game of  FitS, the game gets even boring for the US player because his attacks are made on such ridiculous odds with utopian dice roll modifiers that he cannot lose a combat even if the Japanese spends his last valuable oil reserves to counter one of his attacks. This doesn’t mean that the US win all FitS games (they don’t, because their victory conditions are very sharply timed), but it’s always the US against the clock and not the US against the Japanese.

Therefore, our main intention for playing Empire of the Sun was to see how this game deals with the Japanese end game issues and the question how a Japanese player can win the game – even if Japan couldn’t win the war historically. The designer’s notes of EotS admit that Japan couldn’t ever have won the war – but the Japanese player nevertheless can win the game by preventing  US victory. And this works!

Empire of the Sun is interesting and intense for both sides, up to the very last turn and last-minute of the game – there is always enough to do for the Japanese to take an active part in the game and throw obstacles in the US path.

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Playing ASL with VASL

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 10, 2010

For the newbie, playing ASL over the internet via the VASL program appears to be quite complex – on first sight – in spite of the geniality and clear arrangement of the program. The main problems encountered are the correct initial program setup and keeping track of a PbEM Game with its multiple log-files.

If your native language is Spanish you can find a translation of this article here.

Below we give a brief survey about the correct initial setup of the program and a short introduction to the international conventions in nomenclature of the single game files. If you are interested in background information on the VASL program please have a look at the official user’s guide on the VASL website. In the following article, the focus lies on the practical application of the tool.

Clicking on the “Download” button launches the Java platform with Java webstart

1. VASL Download

The VASL program for a perfect ASL game by E-Mail or online – live via server – can be found for free at ASL.net. The system requirements are quite moderate; we tested the Java-tool even on an old PI 133 Notebook with 64 MB RAM, but here the performance with multiple boards was going down evidently. But at least a PII (or AMD-K6-2) with 350MHz / 256 MB RAM can be deemed sufficient for larger multiple board scenarios.

Our recommendation: The more RAM the better – 256MB are perfect for VASL, but less is also sufficient.

A basic requirement for installation is a reasonably recent Java version. The platform is herewith of no importance – we play VASL both on Windows (98, XP, Vista, W7) and on Linux (SuSE 9.1). Also playing on Mac OsX is no problem.

Installation and the regular VASL updates were carried out automatically on all platforms via Webstart in the past but now you need to install VASSAL 3.1.20 and then download the VASL.zip (5.9.3) file and unpack it and then extract out the VASL.mod file and place it in your VASSAL module folder, and then load VASL that way. On the ASL.net website is a link Vasl Mods for the installation files of the most recent VASL version (and the necessary Vassal engine version).

Select a directory for the documentation.

Important: The mapboards have to be downloaded as well, because without them playing is impossible. The boards and overlays can be found at the Vasl Map Bazaar where you can download the files you need. Create a board directory of your choice and extract the boards and overlays into it.

Alternatively you can download a Zip file that holds all the boards (version 5, and the HASL maps) and all the latest extensions – not recommended if you have a slow internet connection because the zip file is 293 Mb!

2. Installing and running

After downloading the Vassal engine, open the exe file and the program will guide you through the installation process. After that you can put the downloaded Vasl mod file into a directory where you want to have it, it doesn’t matter where, just make sure you name it correctly so you can easily find it. Anytime you want to play Vasl you have to start Vassal and then open the Vasl Mod (since Vassal is an engine that allows for many games to be played it’s a good idea to create a central Vassal Mods folder where you put all mods (=games) that you want to use).

Important: the latest Vasl version (5.9.3) does not run on the latest VASSAL version  (3.2.4), so if you are only interested in playing ASL then it’s sufficient to download and install Vassal 3.1.20 and when the program tells you that there’s a newer version available just click on “No” . If you also want to play other games we would recommend to download and install version 3.2.4 of Vassal separately.  

Who am I?

Once everything is unpacked and installed, VASL starts automatically for the first time when you open the module in the main Vassal window. First it asks for a user name. Under this name you will appear in the VASL world, either by logging-in on the online-server or when sending your moves to your opponent by email. At this point an explicit warning: Alias and fantasy names are not wanted or popular and actually frowned upon! It is possible to log in as “Terminator2000” or “Easy Company”, but you will often get a rebuke or a discrete hint by other players that you will not find an opponent this way.

When launched for the first time, VASL asks for your name and password

Especially the anglophone ASL-scene (American, British and Australian players) doesn’t like anonymous or disguised people loitering on their servers watching their games (being a spectator is also possible with VASL, but more on this later). Because games with others are often Area rated, it makes no sense to play with a nameless player.

This is why we give you a well-meant advice: Enter your real name, at least your first name, when VASL prompts for a name (if you already are a registered AREA member, enter your name connected to your AREA ID, so other players can check out your rating and your gaming experience). Otherwise you will attract negative attention on your first visit in the VASL world or you will find fewer people helping you or playing an introductory game with you. The HFC also accepts and follows this international convention.

One final hint: This user name is not ultimate. If you recognize that it was not a very good idea to enter any nonsense here, you will be able to change your name later in your preferences any time.

Besides asking for your user name, VASL asks for a password. This is relevant for PbEM and live-game because it guarantees that only the authorized player is able to unconceal his concealed units. The password will never be asked for later, it is only for assignment to one side in a game and for the protection of units.

Last but not least, select a board directory. Now you can set up your first ASL game!


In your next step, you should adjust the preferences. You will find them under “File” – “Edit Preferences”. In the help file you will find explanations for all points listed here, but it’s better to rely on what is common and what makes sense.

First the “Personal Window” opens. Here you can enter some information about your person (preferably in English) e.g where you live, which Consims besides ASL you play, how old you are and other things, such as your hobbies or a link to your personal  or favorite homepage. HFC friends are cordially invited to set a link to our wargaming site 😉

Of greater importance are the “General” preferences. They are recommended to be set as follows:

  • Let opponent unconceal my units: OFF – Of course you usually trust your opponent and it speeds up the PbEM game if you can unconceal your opponent’s units when they lose their concealment by being shot upon. But in general it is not advisable to switch it on because the error ratio is very high or sometimes units are unconcealed by mistake. You should consider this particular case with your game partner. Recommended is to switch it off.
  • Center on Opponents Moves:ON –  If you run your opponent’s log file or if the opponent moves his units anywhere on the board in a live match, VASL automatically centers the view on this spot. Otherwise you run the risk of missing a movement if you have a small monitor or play a larger scenario.
  • Auto Report Moves: ON – This is of utmost importance for a PbEM game. This function guarantees that all actions (moving, concealing, placing of counters, LOS-checking, dice rolling) are recorded in the chat-window (and so in the log file). It is not always sufficient just to move the counters on the board, even though the opponent can see this, too. Often it is just helpful to read who moved where. VASL automatically records the Hex numbers the units moved to and writes down where which counters have been placed. Usually this function is switched on by all players, so you should follow their example.
  • Used combined application window: ON – at least that’s what we prefer. It’s a matter of taste whether you want to have two windows hovering around on your monitor or simply have one combined window at the top of the screen where it doesn’t get in the way.
  • Smooth image scaling: ON – It is possible to modify the zooming of the board (which improves the overview). Switching this preference on has a positive effect on the zooming.
  • Board Directory: This is the place to specify the path where the boards are stored on your computer – if you don’t have any boards or leave this entry empty, playing is impossible.
  • Use Arrow Keys to Scroll: ON or OFF. It’s a matter of individual preference whether to scroll with the arrow keys or just with the mouse. We find it more comfortable to use the mouse.
  • Use CTRL-space to view stack details: OFF – VASL has a comfortable feature: If you move your mouse cursor over a stack, this stack unfolds automatically (of course not the opponent’s concealed stacks). If you switch this option on, this feature doesn’t work and you have to press the CTRL-button each time if you want to see the contents of a stack. Maybe some people like it that way, but it is definitively smoother unfolding the stack by mouse hovering.

The next tab is “LOS“. Here you can choose the colors of your preference for the LOS-check lines. We prefer traffic light colours – green for free LOS, yellow for hindrance LOS and red for blocked LOS, but this is your own choice. Whether you switch on “Retain LOS hindrance counters” is a matter of your individual preference (e.g. if a wreck hinders a LOS, you can fade it in or out). “Snap Thread to grid” orients the LOS-line automatically to the hex grid so that it is not placed anywhere in the free space. “Verbose LOS mode” should be ON, because then during the LOS check it is automatically explained why and where the LOS is blocked, how many hindrances there are or on which level a counter is positioned. Without this LOS mode you just have the pure line without any explanations. Keep in mind that “verbose LOS mode” uses some of your PC resources, so if you are low on RAM on your computer, switching this feature Off can help to improve the performance.

The window “Nationality Color” is free to everyone’s choice; we never modified a nationality color, but maybe somebody has a monitor with a low resolution or cannot recognize the different colors for other reasons (eg color-blindness), so this is the right place where to adjust the units’ colors.

The last tab is for the “Chat Window”. Here you can adjust the color of the text being displayed. Important: The adjustments made here are relevant only for your own window (in which the log-files are displayed); if the opponent sets pink for his opponents’ messages, you cannot prevent that your theatric battle announcements are displayed in pink. ‘Game Messages’ are, for example, the moving reports of the counters. ‘System Messages’ are dice roll results. These should be differentiated by flashy colours from other text messages so you don’t miss them.

With this the basic adjustments are done and you are ready for successful gaming!

3. Play-by-Email with VASL

The core of a VASL PbEM is the creation of a so-called „Log File“. VASL has an outstanding function, enabling the player to “record” his moves, allowing his opponent to replay them step by step. These recordings are the so-called “Log Files”. They journalize the moves (only of the counters, but if the “Auto Report Moves” option is switched to ON, also as text messages) as well as any other action. Furthermore, you can post any comments in the Chat window (recommended!). E.g. you count aloud the movement factors while moving with infantry, declare your shots exactly (who fires at whom with how many factors), who is CX and so on. Additionally you move your counters, roll with the system inherent dice (or use a web-based dice roller, which can be done right from the  VASL interface) and do everything you also do in a face-to-face game… including psychological warfare and propaganda 😉

Game Start – Setup

Setup with drag & drop is quite comfortable

At game start the opponents agree on a scenario and on who is playing which side. The player setting up first creates his Setup File. You take the scenario you want to play and click on “File” – “New game”. You then will be asked for the boards and you state which boards will be used in this scenario. In this window it is also possible to arrange several boards in any desired order, to flip them and to modify terrain according to SSR (e.g. turn wooden houses into stone houses, remove roads, modify terrain etc.). Also boards can be cut off when only certain hexrows are playable (“Crop Boards”). But do avoid this when using a weak PC – we made the experience that cropped boards need more power and slow down a game. This doesn’t have much impact on a modern PC with >=500 MHz, though. Also overlays can be chosen here.

Once all desired boards are loaded and arranged, click on „OK“ and the regular game window opens. Clicking on the “467” Button in the control bar opens the counter-window. Now all counters appearing in the scenario can be chosen and placed on the board. Of course vehicles can be turned by using the context menu (right mouse button). It is also well-tried to mark victory hexes, e.g. with a nationality marker when the Germans have to occupy certain hexes or houses. This improves the overview.

When all units are placed on the board and you finished your setup, save this setup-file with “File” – “Save Game”. Now the program asks for a name, recommended is the player’s side, for example “German_Setup.scen” or “German_Setup.sav”. Using an ending such as .sav or .scen is not really necessary, but it prevents compatibility problems occurring sometimes when opponents use different platforms. At least you cannot do anything wrong with using a “.sav”-ending, it doesn’t hurt. Eventually send this file to your opponent as an E-mail attachment.

Even the most esoteric information and unit counters are included in VASL

The opponent starts his VASL program and clicks on “File” – “Load Game”, where he indicates the location of the received setup-file. The board opens with the already placed German units and you can place your own units onboard (or off-board, if indicated by SSR). If the setup is done, it is recommended to save it again e.g. as “US_Setup.sav”

Hint: It is recommended to create a separate directory for each PbEM game, e.g. in a specific PbEM directory. You can call it something like “Denny vs. Andy” (of course, including your own names here ;), creating a sub-folder there called “Game 1: ASL Sc. 15” and in there a subdirectory for the matching side, where you store the log files immediately when received by E-mail (more about the naming of game files later). Of course, the game file organization on your PC is up to you.

The player beginning with turn 1 clicks on “File” – “Begin  Logfile”. The program now asks for a name for this file. The following naming system has proven useful since good old Squad-Leader-times (of course you can agree with your opponent on any other system, but it’s a good idea to get used to this system because many players use it and it prevents errors and confusion):

Naming the Logfiles

The name of a PbEM log file consists of the following components:

  • Scenario-Number
  • Phasing Side
  • Turn-Number
  • letter

Example: TAC51-GT1b.log


TAC51 is the name of the (ASL) scenario. Alternatives would be: ASL12, T01 etc.
The name of the scenario is separated with a dash from the rest of the name.

GT means “German Turn”. Alternatives are AT (American Turn), ST (Soviet Turn), BT (British Turn), JT (Japanese Turn), FT (French Turn).
Minor Country opponents are abbreviated with two letters (BeT = Belgian Turn, FiT = Finnish Turn, NoT = Norwegian Turn etc.).

The number behind GT means 1st turn.

The letter behind GT1 indicates the current file of the turn. The numbering is consecutive and done by both Players.

In Detail:

Replay a logfile with the “play” button

The German player begins with his first turn (e.g. Rally Phase to Movement Phase). His file is called: TAC51-GT1a.log („1st file of the 1st German turn“). He sends it to his opponent. The opponent opens it and makes his moves (e.g. Defensive fire) in a new log-file called TAC51-GT1b.log. He sends it back. Each file of the 1st German turn receives the next letter in the alphabet. If it happens that a file is send often to and fro because of large amount of movement and defensive fire, the German player answers with GT1c, the opponent with GT1d and so on until the German turn is over.

When the opponent (for example the Belgians in TAC51) begins with his own turn, his file is called BeT1a. He sends it to the German player who makes his defensive fire in BeT1b, sends it back and so on. If the Belgian turn is over, the German player starts with GT2a (b, c, d,…), then the Belgians with BeT2a (b, c, d….).

By using this method it is easy always to recognize the most current file: the highest turn number with the highest letter. Furthermore there will be no chaos and no wrong naming – a common problem when using a system where the phases are used in the filename (e.g. German_RPh-MPh). It often happens that these phases are not actually made in the respective files, because something unexpected happens.

The log file – the unknown creature

After naming the first log file accordingly (e.g. ASL17-GT1a.log), the player starts with his moves. VASL is recording everything that’s going on. Usually the game begins with the Rally Phase or, more exactly, with Wind Change. You write in the chat window: “RPh”. The common ASL-Shortcuts are used in a PbEM game, as all ASL players are familiar with them. Then announce “WC” (Wind change) and roll two dice by pushing the button with the two dice in the control bar (of course the button right to this button with only one die symbol rolls only one die). The first number always represents the Colored Die, the second is the white one. This is important for ROF and all other aspects of ASL where the coloured die is of interest, e.g. for determining the hit location vs. an AFV.

Now you begin your actions in the Rally Phase. You do this simply by announcing it in the chat window (like you would do in a FtF game) and roll the die, e.g. for rally and repair attempts or deployment (by exchanging the counters: delete a counter with the context menu and replace it with a new one from of the 467-window). By the way, this is the same method how casualties are removed.

Rolling dice is logged into your log / chat window

Once your own Rally Phase is finished and it’s apparent that the opponent also has to do something in this phase, save the log file with “File” – “End Logfile” and send it to your opponent as an e-mail attachment. The opponent saves the log file into his game folder, runs his VASL and loads the log file with “File” – “Load Game”. Now the board will become visible and in the control bar a grey arrow (2nd from left) will become dark. This is the “playback button”. With this you move step by step through the opponent’s log file and watch his actions.

And now comes the clou: If you hit the “Begin Logfile” button before clicking the “play-back” button, each action done afterwards – including the opponent’s move play-back, is written into your own log file – this way it is also possible to comment the opponent’s moves just by writing something in the chat window while playing back his respective action. This is especially relevant in the Movement Phase or when firing, for example if your opponent caused your units to undergo a morale check. This can be done immediately after his shot by rolling the dice, then you can continue to play-back the opponent’s move. Usually in the Rally Phase it is not necessary to start a log file before playing back the opponent’s log file, because there is no interaction between the players and their actions. You can just watch the opponent’s Rally Phase and then begin your own Rally Phase with the “start Logfile” button. The advantage of not recording the opponent’s moves again in your own log file is that the opponent is not forced to play-back again his own actions. To re-record every movefile is only recommended when you help a beginner by playing an introductory game with him and if you expect him to make mistakes – in order to correct his actions immediately or to comment upon the used tactics.

By the way, it’s quite common to announce and do your own following Rally Phase actions at the end of your turn, e.g. if you are planning to rally 2 units in the opponent’s following Rally Phase and to make a repair attempt in Hex B1. You just bring forward this Rally Phase in PbEM after finishing your own CCPh, because this has no effects or impact on the opponent’s Rally actions. This speeds up game play because the player coming up in the next turn can make his Rally Phase and doesn’t have to resend the file after this, just to allow you to roll your dice. This way the opponent can begin with the Prep Fire Phase immediately after his Rally phase, speeding up the PbEM-play significantly and making it more efficient.

If both players have ended their Rally Phases, the PFPh of the active player follows. This is recorded, if not yet done, by “Begin Logfile”. Following this, the phasing player declares his targets and which units fire with how many FP factors. Write no novels while doing this; fire declaration is done in a short and pragmatic way.

Let’s assume a 9-2 Leader and a 467-squad with a 2-7 LMG in B13 fire on a 447-squad in B15 (a woods hex). The fire declaration would look like this:

9-2+467+LMG@B13 vs. 447@B15; af:6-1

Explanation: The Leader (9-2), the squad and the LMG are standing in B13, as shown by use of the abbreviation “@”(“at”). “af:” specifies the ultimate attack factors, rolled on the IFT or IIFT (all necessary firetables such as IFT, IIFT or Ordnance to hit tables are integrated into VASL!). Here the final column used is 6 (for the squad with the LMG on the IFT, on the IIFT it would have been 7) and the DRM Modifier is –1 (-2 for the leader, +1 for woods). The DRM is always stated as positive or negative number behind the FP-factors (according to the column on which the attack is resolved when shooting on the IFT). When playing vs. a beginner, you can declare a more detailed af-resolution, for example “6FP, -2Ld, +1woods=-1DRM”. Eventually you should internalize the shortcut writing to ensure that you won’t become confused when playing versus other, more experienced opponents on the VASL-Server or just when watching a game.

This fire declaration can become quite long – 9-2+467+MMG+447+LMG@B13 PBF vs. 2×447@B13; af: 30-2. (or, for Beginners: 2×15 for Point Blank Fire, -2 DRM Leader). Accordingly LR means Long Range, if for example a unit is firing with half fire power because of longe range fire: 447(LR)@B13… don’t worry, it is not as complicated as it looks like and after a short time you will have internalized the system. And of course experienced players may skip such a detailed list because for them it’s clear what’s going on by just following the game. But the more detailed the information, the less the confusion and fewer mistakes will happen.

Hovering with the mouse reveals the contents of a stack

You carry out one fire attack after the other and you do not send back the file to the opponent after each successful attack. If firing on multiple opponents which are not in contact with one another, all these fire attacks are carried out in your PFPh, regardless of the attack results. At the end of the PFPh the log file is closed. If nothing happened and all attacks have been unsuccessful, there is no need to send the file back and you can continue to the MPh immediately. If the result of an attack is a MC or a TC, carry it out for the opponent because it would be nonsense to send him the file back just to let him press the dice button.

If the opponent is in his MPh, he announces the spent MF after each move to a new hex (or location). For example: he moves into a forest and afterwards in an open ground hex. So he moves to the forest hex and writes down in the chat window: 2. (In games with beginners maybe in addition: 2MF left) . Afterwards he moves to the open ground hex and writes down: “1” (1MF left). The opponent can, as in a live game, commit Defensive First Fire at any time he wishes. In order to do this, he calls STOP!, if the opponent has moved to a position where his unit can be shot upon and of course he doesn´t carry on clicking forward in the log file! As soon as the opponent moves further in his log file, the chance for DFF is gone like in a FTF game. Because you – as the defender – start the log file at the beginning of the opponent’s Movement Phase and you don’t watch it in advance (Fair play is the highest imperative!), you do not know where the opponent will move and so you can conserve the feeling and the suspense of a real FTF-game also in a PbEM-game.

You can do LOS Checks with the “LOS” Button…

If you decide to fire on a moving opponent, declare this intention exactly in the moment when the MF were spent. Add the attack factors and roll the dice. If the unit fired at is not harmed, go on clicking further in the log file because the opponent can move on unhampered. If the enemy suffers a Break or Pin result, you can also go on clicking further in the log file but you can ignore what was announced for this unit. Usually you don’t send back a move file just because one unit was harmed by Defensive Fire. This is a question of experience; if the opponent would run with the next unit into Residual FP, you inform your opponent about this in order to allow him to change his mind. If it is apparent that the broken unit was of fundamental importance and the opponent’s strategy or his further proceeding is overthrown, send the file back as a precaution. If in doubt, send it back rather than continue your Defensive First Fire. Otherwise it is common to make more DFF against other moving units in this log file, if these attacks do not influence one another.

When the MPh is done, Defensive Fire Phase commences. If the opponent’s Movement file was played-back to the end and not sent back (because of several DFF incidents), your DFPh can be written in the same log file as your First Fire. As in the Prep Fire Phase, any MC and TC results are rolled by the firing player. At the end of the DFF, the defender closes the log file and sends it back to the attacker. The attacker then makes his advancing fire under the same conditions as in Prep Fire. Afterwards he routs with his units. If necessary, the opponent gets the file  back to make his own rout movements. If it is apparent that the opponent doesn’t have to rout, there is no need to send him the file. The active player can go on directly to the Advance Phase and the CCPh. Dont’ forget to bring forward your own rally phase after finishing your turn and then send this file to your opponent. If Close Combat occurs, the attacks are rolled by the attacker for both sides.

…but you can’t do them unnoticed. Each LOS check is logged.

Now begins the opponent’s turn (for example ASL17-AT1a.log) . He begins a new log file without recording the rest of the turn from an old file, because usually this is not necessary. This is also a question of experience – to see, when it is necessary to record into a log file or when it is sufficient just to watch the opponent’s actions. Starting with the AFPh or even the Rout Phase, there usually is no need to include these actions into your own log file, except when playing with a beginner who probably makes mistakes, for example in routing. The Rally Phase of the previous player was already brought forward, so the active player makes his Rally Phase and continues on to the PFPh – of course after announcing it… and the game begins anew.

Important hint: Please begin a move only with “Begin logfile” “end logfile” and never mix it up with “Save Game”. ‘Save game’ only saves the actual picture of the board with the end position of the counters and is used only for setup files or in rare cases, when it is not important to record the past actions!

4. Online live gaming with VASL

You can create games in the online lobby, invite players, or join other games as a spectator

Besides the possibility to play PbEM via log files, you can also play VASL with other players online in real time. In order to do this, click on the two arrows button (3rd button from the left) to open the server window. Of course you should be online at this moment, otherwise nothing will happen…;)

The server window opens where you can connect to the VASL server by clicking on another two-arrows-button. You will be transported to a kind of lobby in the main chat window, where you can see who is online and which game rooms have been opened. You can either stay in the lobby and chat with the people there, or leave a message at the Blackboard if you search for an opponent.

You also have the option to join one of the games in order to watch it as a spectator. But take care of the Netiquette! If you join an ongoing game, it is vital to greet the players and ask them if you are allowed to watch their game. Usually you may do so. Furthermore, you may never move their counters, although you can see the content of the stacks when you go over them with your mouse. Of course you may ask questions in the chat window, for examples if you don’t understand a certain action – they will answer you. But prattling and talking about other things as well as asking too many questions (folks may be playing a ladder game there and are not doing a tutorial, so try not to interrupt them) should be avoided – you are only a spectator and should behave like this.

You can also open a game room on your own and load an existing game or create a new one. Either a stranger joins the room or you meet there with a friend (perfect to play with an overseas PbEM friend or to end an idle PbEM game). The rules are the same as in an offline game, but it is common to leave the game room while your opponent is doing his setup, especially if he uses concealment. You wait in the lobby until he allows you to re-enter your room. Long considering during play, hesitating and moving the counters to and fro is to be avoided, because it is impolite and inflates the online costs (not everyone is using a flat rate and some are still using dial up connections). A speedy game is desired (of course there will be some understanding if you are a beginner and need more time or make mistakes, but clarify this in advance!).

It is recommended to record a live game for your own use with “Begin Logfile” in order to analyze it later, to reflect about mistakes or just to send it to a friend. Also you can begin a game online and continue it later PbEM or load a PbEM game and finish it online.

5. Further Questions?

The best way to learn ASL via VASL is by playing with an experienced VASL player. You could log in on the server and ask if anybody is interested in playing a small introductory game with a novice. According to experience, the ASL-community is extremely helpful and you will find an offer quickly. Your opponent then usually will explain how to adjust the preferences and how to declare fire and movement. This is really the fastest and best way to learn VASL. Another way is to find a PbEM partner either with the blackboard on the VASL server or on different contact platforms (ASL mailing list, the Consimworld ASL folders, or the Opponents Wanted folder of the Gamesquad forum). Of course two novices can also try playing together by following the hints given in this tutorial, but the easier way is always with an experienced player.

With VASL the ASL universe opens to each player without a face-to-face gaming partner! We wish you a lot of fun and…roll low!

Posted in ASL, Wargaming in general | 18 Comments »

Review: The World at War (Xeno Games)

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 7, 2010

Publisher: Xeno Games
Published in: 1990
Designers: Frank W. Zenau, William Kendrick
Era: World War II
Contents: > 200 plastic playing pieces, a new map, rules, new set up charts

HFC Game-O-Meter: E

Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 2
Rules: 1
Replay Value:
Overall Rating:

PRO Perfect gift to enemies and annoying people; educational value as a deterrent
CONTRA Too expensive, too horrible. Horrible rules, miniatures, map. Scary. Terrifying. Highly explosive.


A World at War is an expansion to the well-known Axis & Allies game. It was published by Xeno Games and its intention is to bring “more depth and strategic options” to the game. It isn’t too successful, though, because it does everything plainly wrong.

Axis & Allies certainly belongs to the most played games of all time and the game eventually developed into a series of games using the same mechanics and the same WWII background. Today you can play Axis & Allies Revised, Pacific, Europe, Battle of the Bulge and many more offshoots:

* Axis & Allies – the Game
* World at War 1st Edition
* World at War 2nd Edition
* World at War 3rd Edition
* World War II – the complete Game
* Axis & Allies Europe
* Axis & Allies Europe 2nd Edition
* World War II – the Expansion
* World War II – the Expansion 2
* World War II – the Expansion 3
* Europe at War
* Russia at War
* Axis & Allies Accessory
* Central Powers
* New World Order
* Axis & Allies East & West
* Middle East Combat
* Dateline: World War II
* War to end all Wars
* Battle of the Falklands
* The great War in Africa
* Axis & Allies Trade
* Europe 1483
* Africa 1483
* Asia 1483
* North American Update
* Max Advanced Rules 1
* Max Advanced Rules 2
* Spanish Civil War
* Axis&Allies Enhanced Realism Rules
* Game Plastic Pieces
* World War II in the West
* Axis&Allies Pacific
* Enemy on the horizon
* Risk 2042
* Operation Barbarossa
* Axis & Allies von Nova-Games
* Eastern Front
* Modern Units for World at War
* More Units your World at War
* Rise of the Red Army
* Battlecards
* Conquest of the Pacific
* World War I
* WW II in the West
* Pacific at War

and much more. Some of the offshoots are really nice and of a very high quality. Some are plainly horrible – and the worst of all is Xeno’s World at War.

Graphic Presentation

TWAW contains a new collection of rules, a new game board, as well as additional armies, markers and chips.

see that ugly light blue? Armies with that colour are doomed to lose...

The colors of the partaking nations of the original A&A are similar but not quite the same which is very disappointing (Germany (grey), Japan (yellow), USA (green), England (beige) and Russia (brown)) plus France (blue) and China (white or light green). It is important to mention that there are mainly new armies (France & China) included and only few of the original nations are supported, i.e. without the pieces of the original Axis & Allies game, TWAW is rather useless. So it’s really an expansion and not a stand-alone game.

The contents’ quality is sub par if you want to use a friendly word. Everyone buying TWAW as an expansion for his A&A game has certain expectations about the map graphics or the plastic figures – because these are of a very high quality in Axis & Allies. It’s certainly not too harsh to say that these expectations will be heavily disappointed when you open the game box! The map – made of paper, simply folded four times and carelessly put into the box – looks ugly and obtrusive. The borders between the countries (which have a comic like color) are far too bold and in too loud a red so the map is really hard to look at. As already mentioned in contrast to A&A, the map isn’t mounted but is a simple print on glossy paper and cannot be compared to the A&A Map’s quality.

Without laminating this map, playing on it is also quite difficult since it’s rather thin and tends to tear. The playing pieces are extraordinarily low in detail and not of a good quality, produced in a sloppy way and again their colors don’t even match the original A&A colors. Besides the fact that it doesn’t look that good, depending on the illumination sometimes it is hard to differentiate the colors of the respective nations which is not really increasing fun.

The material of the reference cards for the countries is not cardboard (as in A&A) but they are made of simple paper and lack any color or improvement.   Although the national markers look-alike, those of A&A are much higher in quality (the symbols are often lopsidedly printed onto the markers in TWAW). Also the stacking chips are different in thickness and color compared to those in A&A.


The map is plain ugly

You will be surprised to hear that the rules are even worse than the presentation of this game… Xeno included a sloppy produced rule”book”, which is intended to be used as an add-on to the original A&A rules. Alas, it is almost impossible to play a game with these rules – inconsistencies, black holes, relevant and basic things not even mentioned etc. leave the player alone in a sheer rules chaos, forcing him to develop house rules in order to make this game playable. Nothing seems to be playtested by Xeno, and the additional rules slow the game down in a very boring manner without enhancing the game quality of the original A&A at all.

Despite these flaws a lot of A&A players swear by especially this extension due to the new political aspects and the slight differences regarding maneuver due to a map with more areas.  The problem of the inappropriate additional rules has been solved by semi-official House Rules within the A&A community. Thus the extension is made playable and allows for an application of some innovative ideas, compared to the limited options you get in the base game. Although it should be mentioned that the A&A series introduces some of these mechanics and units with the later games, so TWAW had some use before the newer A&A games were published, but seems now completely obsolete, at least the version we played.


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Review: Totaler Krieg (DG)

Posted by Denny Koch on May 6, 2010

Game: Totaler Krieg

Publisher: Decision Games
Published in: 1999
Designers: Alan Emrich, Steve “Kos” Kosakowski
Contents: 560 mounted, full color die cut counters; 153 Strategic Option cards; 10 assorted Player Aid sheets; 2 Books (Rules, Examples, Dice of Decision, Scenarios & Notes); 2 two-sided 34″ x 22″ maps; 2 dice d6 & Storage bags
Era: World War II (ETO)

HFC Game-O-Meter: B

Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8
Rules: 9
Playability: 9
Replay Value:10

Overall Rating: 9

PRO Great rules, very interesting card mechanics, smart politics system, entire PTO, what if-scenarios
CONTRA Boring box design

A massive Russian front


“Totaler Krieg!” is a strategic-level consim designed by Alan Emrich. The game is based on the older game Krieg!” (1996) and is an interesting combination of a hex and counter consim with a card-driven mechanic, similar to Empire of the Sun. Politics, air- and naval combat are abstracted in a very elegant fashion. The game is meant to be a ‘panzer pusher’ that means it concentrates on land warfare in the entire European Theatre of War (including North Africa) and therefore it doesn’t have a detailed air and naval sub-game.

Despite the fact that the complexity level is quite high, the game itself is very accessible with a good (‘living’) rulebook. It’s possible to play the Standard Campaign (=the entire World War II), a historical campaign where the Option Cards are played in historical order, and alternative scenarios with communist Germany or czarist Russia. In addition, the game offers scenarios which are ranged from short tournament scenarios to very long and complex scenarios, for example Operation Barbarossa which depicts the war in Russia from 1941-1945.

Graphic Presentation

The game box

Unfortunately, the box design is somewhat boring – in contrast to the well designed map and attractive counter artworks and Option Cards. The card board box is large and functional, printed with some black-and-white-pictures from World War II. I would have preferred a more modern box design, this one looks somewhat retro and distracts from a very modern and very attractive game inside.

The counter artworks are clear and informative


The two large maps are looking great and offer much detail, for example terrain depictions with lots of information (names of rivers, reference locations or small towns). The counters are printed with informative clear symbols and are very well done and the whole concept seems to be well-thought-out by the designers.

The same is true for the other components of the game box, such as the Force Pools and Player Aid Sheets. All important boxes, the turn track and charts are printed on the map, making it possible to play the game without ever making notes on paper or without being forced to remember any past events of the game. This allows a very comfortable and smooth gameplay and the concentration on strategies and the game itself.

Despite the boring box cover design, I really love the graphic presentation of the game.


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