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Web Grognard

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on February 24, 2014

“If you don’t know this website, you don’t know the wargaming hobby – period!”

Web Grognard


The internet offers websites for almost any field of interest. There are also so-called “Link pages” for these fields, i.e. pages which collect addresses of all websites dealing with the respective topics. Such key pages are very important because they allow easy access to all sources of information in one location instead of forcing people to search the entire web where relevant information is often hidden in an informational chaos.

The wargaming hobby isn’t an exception to this rule; its key website in the internet where you can find everything related to wargames is called WebGrognard.

Grognard‘ is slang for someone who likes playing wargames, so this site is chock-full of information about The Hobby.

It’s subtitle the site for wargames on the web since 1995″ is an accurate description, because it actually is the number 1 resource website for wargaming – there isn’t any other website offering more information and data about almost any wargame ever published! This incredible project was created by three men: Alan Poulter, Eric Pass and Skip Franklin. The site was then run for almost 20 years by Alan Poulter updated each sunday to add even more information (sent to him via email) to the gigantic data amount already online since 1995. 13th January 2013 the final update was made by Alan and the site now has a new management being run by Mark D’Agosta.

Mark decided to bring the no.1 site for wargaming content into the modern era with a new and fresh design, a new server structure, a new “Search” feature to make it easier to find the games you like. Updates will now be continuous, posting shortly after they are received and approved which is probably the most important new feature. In addition to the existing RSS feed, you may now follow Grognard.com via Twitter or may subscribe for email notification and hopefully a Facebook page will be available in the future. Grognard.com “originals” are planned like the Head-to-Head video series. The idea is to have two or even more experienced wargamers engaging in a popular wargame with discussion, game and strategy analysis and actual game play depending on the focus of the episode. The first episode can be watched here!

If you enter WebGrognard, you will see an alphabetical list which leads to all wargames beginning with the respective letter: A includes A3R, Totaler Krieg can be found under T etc.. This allows comfortable and quick navigation if searching for information about a specific game without the need to scroll through endless stuff you don’t need. Once you found your game, there is another listing of all data available to this game. By clicking on the links you eventually reach your destination.

WebGrognard offers almost anything, for example reviews, articles about strategy, errata, Q&A, FAQ, rule variants, zine indices, links to individual websites about the games, the publisher’s website, computerbased game assistant programs (GAPs), Mailing lists, replays, scenarios etc.. The information isn’t limited to boardgames, but does also include computergames, magazines, game conventions, PbEM aids, datafiles for download, shops, RPGs, card games, miniatures, reports etc..

Grognard Challenge: map image 1

If you don’t find it on Webgrognard, it doesn’t exist!

The site depends on submissions for new material, so if you have an interesting article, strategy tip, player aid, link or file you’d like to share please contribute to make this great site even better!

Entries for the letter “A”. FAQs, Reviews, AARs, add-ons, card listings, rules summaries, tactics from various sources and even in foreign languages, are listed here

© 7/03 by HFC (www.homefrontcenter.de)

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Remembrance Day – The Longest Day

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on June 6, 2013

June, 6th

June 6th, 1944 – D-Day – was the startingpoint for the liberation of Europe

How can you “play war”?

All members of the wargaming community are sometimes facing trouble when explaining their challenging hobby to others – and there are often questions like “how can you “play” war” and “how can someone enjoy such a brutal and nasty event, turning it into something “funny“.”

Especially in Germany, the need of explanation and lack of understanding for the hobby “wargaming” and “historical conflict situation” is significantly higher than in the US or UK, at least for games dealing with WWII or WWI, while other historical eras, for example Napoleonic or Ancients, are at least tolerated, but nevertheless frowned upon.

Of course nobody would be playing these games if there wasn’t any fun in playing them, but such debates often don’t end very satisfying because it’s very difficult to explain “wargames” to folks who are strongly opposed to violence in general and war in particular. The fact that these games are “about war” makes it difficult to explain to ‘outsiders’ what the fun actually is we see in playing them:

That it’s about understanding tactics and strategy, understanding historical decisions, that we use it as a sort of ‘educational tool‘ to get some insights you don’t get by simply reading a book or watching a movie. That we love the chess-like competition and the challenge of tense decison making in an interesting and historical setting. That you can use historical consims to answer “what if” questions (“why didn’t they do this and that historically”, keyword: Operation Sealion) and to understand historical situations better, for example battles for seemingly useless hills or other positions. Last but not least, “those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat ist”.

A counter today was a real soldier then

But of course there’s also some truth in the allegation and we in the HFC think that we should from time to time aknowledge that we are playing something on our maps which was a real battlefield years ago, and that our little counters were indeed real men who did hope to survive, fought bravely and often lost their lifes under terrible conditions. To remember that what is today just calculating maths on the CRT was a real bullet those days. To lose a scenario today is totally different from losing one’s  life in the real thing…

Our maps and counters were real battlefields and real soldiers once

But we also think it’s not necessary to excuse ourselves for loving this hobby – and it is well known that one can get interesting insights into some battles, which is leading to a better understanding of the whole picture. This way wargames can help to provide a better understanding for the real men fighting in those battles – and dying.  If you read in a book that men died while taking a seemingly useless dirty hill somewhere in nowheres land may sound absolutely crazy and like a damned waste of life, but to set up the battle yourself may change your view about it entirely.

Sure, it’s still a hill and war as such is a crazy thing and everybody dying in a war is indeed a tragedy – but the consim you are playing about this specific battle might give you a better idea of how difficult it really was what these soldiers accomplished by taking the hill. And it might also become clear what the reason behind the assault on this hill was and how it affected the ‘bigger picture’. You might understand that it was a keypoint in a supply line and that by taking it other soldiers could be supplied with necessary stuff to stay alive. Or you might see that the whole situation was doomed to failure right from the beginning when generals thought it to be a good idea – giving you the necessary background to judge certain responsibilities of those who were in charge of a certain operation.

If you play a military strategy game about certain battles or operations, you come much nearer to it than by any other means. Wargamers – at least those who play historical conflict simulations – usually don’t just “play games”, but they use a whole bunch of ‘tools’ to understand and evaluate historical situations and learn about certain aspects of military doctrine executed in a historical battle. Reading books, watching documentaries, visiting historical battle sites, discussing with others, playing consims… all this is done in order to understand military thinking  and to learn from history.

Because of this, we consider it a good idea to hold a special day in memory and honor of all those soldiers who fought for the freedom we enjoy today.

It is because of those lads who died for liberating the world from dictatorship that we are allowed to  play these games today – in times of freedom and peace – and that is something we should at least be conscious of once a year.

We have chosen the Longest Day, June 6th, D-Day, as our Remembrance Day, because this brutal battle was the beginning of the end of WWII and therefore seems to be a very good choice for representing all other battles in that war.

On that day, in that battle, all soldiers fought for what they thought to be good reasons to fight for – and in our opinion that’s true for the entire war. The real bad guys those days were the politicians that were in charge and not the average, common soldier who was as abused in this war as he is in any war.

Remembrance Day is a perfect opportunity for visiting historical sites, for example Remagen Bridge

Thus, the Longest Day is held in remembrance of all participants of WWII in particular, but in honor to all soldiers that fought in other wars as well.

We suggest that those involved in THE HOBBY either do not play wargames on this particular day or do so with a heightened awareness of being in a lucky situation today. Maybe you choose to read a book instead, watching a movie about that time or visiting specific warfields, war-museums, taking a look into old family photos portraying those who perhaps lost their life in WWII etc..

If you choose not to play any games on this day (or any other day that you find a better choice for such a personal Remembrance Day) consider it a sacrifice of possible playing time, of having fun, once a year as a symbolic sacrifice to those who didn’t have the opportunity or choice to play it all out on some maps with a few counters, and were forced to take part in the brutal events on June 6th, 1944 that nevertheless finally gave us back – freedom!

So in a certain way this day was indeed the Longest One because the freedom it brought to us still continues today…

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Cat-Proof Wargaming!

Posted by Denny Koch on June 5, 2013

HFC cat Troja and her favorite place in front of our games collection!

HFC cat Troja and her favorite place in front of our games collection!

If you have a feline housemate (no cat would approve of being described as “owned”), and are a dedicated wargamer, you know the problem: counters, blocks, and miniatures are irresistible to them!

So, what can you do if you want to play a game which extends over several weeks, don’t have a dedicated, lockable gaming room and share your house with a cat?

Today, we reveal our secret of cat-proof wargaming to you!


“Wow, this table looks irresistible! Look at all these nice little playthings, it would be great fun to catch them and hide them!”

First of all, when we play a consim which will take several weeks to finish, we set up the map board on top of a large and solid wooden panel (about 5.9 feet x 3.2 feet or 1,80 m x 1 m).

At the end of the day, when we have to store the game until the next gaming session, we take our special hand-made protection lids, cut from strong boxes and (for aesthetic purposes only) decorated with red fabric. These lids are high enough to cover counters, blocks, and even miniatures.

We made two lids, where one is slightly larger than the other, so the size of the entire construction can be adapted to different game sizes.

First, we turn the panel with the mapboard sideways, then we put some solid stuff like cups on empty map spaces – these will support the lids later, when the cat jumps or lays on top of the lid.

Then, the first (smaller) lid is placed on one end of the mapboard. Then the larger lid is placed on the other half, slightly overlapping the first lid.


The two lids, made of strong carboard boxes. Each has one open side.


Then, the first lid is placed on one end of the map. Be sure to support it with some cups or other things, so that the cat will not press it down on the map.


Then, the second lid is placed over the first lid. Since the system is modular, you can adapt it to various map sizes.


Finally, the panel with the protection lid is pushed near the wall where it will remain until the next gaming session.


“Mmh, where have all these tasty blocks gone?!?”


Cat-proof wargaming – HFC tested and approved!

This construction is absolutely cat-proof, the box is strong enough to endure the weight of a heavy cat without giving in and burying the game below.

In addition, there are no attractive counters, dice, or other game pieces visible, which could attract the cat, so over the course of time, the lid becomes just a boring object on the table and is mostly ignored.

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The Operational Art Of War III – a call to arms!

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on December 18, 2012

TOAW 3TOAW is one of those games (or to be even more accurate a game series) that actually defines the hobby wargaming. It’s a legendary PC consim that offers probably the most flexible game engine ever used in any wargame and there are thousands of scenarios made by fans that you can play. Almost every war ever fought on this earth has a scenario to be played in TOAW, it’s a must have for the serious grognard. The latest version of the game is TOAW III with the mega update 3.4. This update polished the game to a great degree and solved many problems, but alas it also caused some new ones. The community is discussing this now for a while and there is a new update in the making 3.5 or so it was said…but the lead designer on this project is somehow MIA and it seems he’s the only person who can tell us something about progress or decline of the next update. There’s no update on the project anymore and he can’t be contacted. Matrix Games, the game publisher is silent on the topic as well and the fans start to get concerned that their beloved TOAW won’t see the new and needed update to iron out the sometimes severe issues of the game. So over at the Matrix Games Forums there’s an announcement for a petition.

Since its release in 1998 The Operational Art of War has been enjoyed by thousands of war-gaming enthusiast who contributed not only to the game’s popularity, but essentially helped to make the product what is is today. Thousands of man hours of scenario research, design, invaluable feedback and more, that’s what the community has been doing ever since. The product is still selling and we, the war-gaming community, think it is only fair on behalf of Matrix Games to support it. A good example about ongoing support can be experienced with WitP AE, so why not with TOAW?

The HFC is gladly supporting this because we think this wonderful game needs any support possible to stay alive – because there is no other game like this on the market, it’s that simple. So, if you feel the same, then click on the link below that takes you to the petition page and support TOAW with your name as a wargamer.

>>>Click here to sign petition: Matrix Games: Keep TOAW III supported!

The discussion about the need for a new TOAW update can be found here.

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New Year’s Gaming

Posted by Denny Koch on January 4, 2011

Happy New Year!

Dear fellow gamers!

Happy New Year – hopefully, a year full of new wargames (and old classics, of course!). Thanks again for keeping faith with the HFC and for your appreciation and great feedback!

Christmas provided us with new games, so we spent the prolonged weekend around New Year with unboxing, glueing, and counter-punching.

A Game of Thrones: Battles of Westeros (FFG)

However, before trying one of our gifts, I had to solve a problem I was occupied with since early December: Andreas’ House Stark armies were still undefeated in the Battle for the Kingsroad in FFG’s A Game of Thrones: Battles of Westeros board game. This Friday, my House Lannister forces challenged House Stark to a return game!


The Battle for the Kingsroad, as seen from the Lannister POV

The game started as bad for House Lannister as the last game had ended. My armies were crushed under Stark’s bowmen, infantry, and cavalry. In the final turn, I didn’t have anything left besides my two leaders Kevan Lannister and Adam Marbrand and one lone 3-step Casterly Rock chevalier unit. My objective was to cross the River Trident and to occupy two strategic hexes which were heavily defended by Stark’s bowmen and Richard Karstarks cavalry. We discussed whether it was possible to fulfill the victory conditions with my poor, lonely units, but decided to play it out.

And, as every experienced A Game of Thrones fan knows, things always turn out differently and with a big surprise you didn’t expect or see coming. This was also true for my game I had thought lost.

My cavalry unit managed to lure Andreas’ infantry over the Trident, so that they couldn’t reach and defend the objectives in time. Kevan Lannister (without any accompanying men) escaped an engagement at the ford and rushed into one objective hex where he stood adjacent to Stark’s archers. Since he was a sole leader, he couldn’t be killed but had to be captured, but the bowmen were incapable of achieving enough hits to capture him.

Kevan Lannister and Adam Marbrand, defending the objectives!

Simultaneously, Adam Marbrand remembered his strength – riding through any terrain, even impassable, even a river, as long as his move ended in a legal hex. And so he galloped into the Trident, followed the river until he reached the objective and occupied the hex – again, adjacent to the bowmen who couldn’t capture him either.

Richard Karstark then attacked Kevan Lannister because it would ensure his victory if he captured at least one of the two leaders, but the attack failed. In the nick of time, House Lannister won the battle (for the first time), by utilizing typical Lannister tricks and strategies 😉

War is Hell: The Hell of Stalingrad

We then tried out Andreas’ Christmas present: The Hell of Stalingrad, a card game by Clash of Arms Games.

This game proved to be an absolute blast, we got the hang of it really quickly, despite the fact that the structure of the rulebook isn’t optimal and you have to do a lot of page turning.

The game certainly requires some table space...

We were immediately thrilled by the innovative and very cool mechanics, the impressing and quite explicit artworks, the historical photos, and the overall look and feel of the game.

In our first game, I played the Germans and Andreas played the Russians. In the game, you have to fight for single historical buildings and locations (for example, the Tractor Works, Red October). It’s the German objective to capture the buildings and reach the Volga and it’s the Russian job to hinder them and to fight for each building. The combat system is extremely bloody and gives a very good impression of the chaotic, bloody, and desolate battle for Stalingrad.

In the evening, we supplemented our game by watching the German 1997 movie “Stalingrad” which depicts the Battle of Stalingrad from the perspective of four German grunts and their Lieutenant. The movie is quite visceral and realistic, showing heavy fightings, tanks and overruns, fanatic Nazi officers, arbitrary executions, desertion attempts, as well as (forbidden) contacts or cease-fires with the Russians in order to retrieve the wounded, catastrophic conditions on the battlefield hospital next to the airfield within the cauldron (where, in real life, my mother’s cousin, 18 years old and from a miner’s family in the Ruhr region, died of a shot in the belly. I still got pictures and the letters to his mother from his superiors and the army chaplain.)

Heavy fighting in the Red October steel works factory

If you are interested in this movie, there is a dubbed version available, but I have read that the dubbing is terrible and completely destroys the atmosphere, so you should  do yourself a favor and watch the German version with English subtitles!

The problem is, even if you know some German, you will have a hard time understanding it  without subtitles because most soldiers speak in various local dialects from Northern German to Prussian to Bavarian or Swabian or are shouting while under heavy artillery fire. In addition, working-class slang of some soldiers in contrast to the educated speech of the officers gives valuable insights into the background of the characters.

More games, more fun!

A game I got for Christmas was the strategic board game “Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead“. This isn’t a wargame and you don’t shoot zombies either, it’s a strategic game where states have to deal with a zombie pandemic by sending the military, doing research to find a cure, or developing other technologies. We didn’t try it out yet, but it looks very promising and certainly is an unusual approach to the zombie topic.

Another zombie game which found its way to us was the dice game “Zombie dice” which can be played within minutes – very quick, very funny. You roll dice with symbols which symbolize close combat against attacking zombies. There are brains, there are shotguns, there is escape. If you need a game which doesn’t need table space and which can be played on the train or on a party by 2-99 players, check it out 🙂

A game you certainly won't find on the HFC website: "Monopoly Junior"... played by Denny with niece and nephew 😉

Last but not least, the brand-new Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations by DVG  reached our HFC test lab after being delayed by German customs. The box is very impressive with cool artworks and even the customs officer was impressed and couldn’t believe that this was a board game (he thought it was a PC game because it looked so modern and stylish). Hornet Leader is a Solitaire Game like its cousin Thunderbolt / Apache Leader, but like TAL, it can also be played with two players cooperatively. Watch out for our review where we will take a special look at the cooperative aspect of the game!

We are also looking forward to the new cooperative The Lord of the Rings LCG by FFG which will (according to unconfirmed rumors) be published February / March 2011.

2011 will be a great and interesting gaming year (as was 2010), so stay tuned and visit us again for more information, reviews, and stuff!

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Review: Toy Soldiers – a diorama coming alive!

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on October 14, 2010

Game: Toy Soldiers

Platform: XBox 360 Arcade
Publisher: Microsoft, 2010
Developer: Signal Studios
Genre: Tower Defense, Strategy
Setting: World War I
Players: 1-2 (offline / online)

Our Rating (1-10):


Graphics: 9
Audio: 10

Overall Rating: 9/10

PRO Awesome presentation (one of the best looking Arcade games ever!), impressive sound effects, cool music, strategically and tactically challenging, WWI-setting with attention to detail, 2 single player campaigns (Allied and German), multiplayer online and local split screen
CONTRA Only 5 multiplayer maps (more are added with DLC)




A WWI diorama

I suppose every wargamer is aware of the existence of a certain subgenre within our hobby which is mainly about portraying battles with little tin or plastic soldiers in so-called dioramas. That’s sort of the adult version of the battles we all did as kids with toy soldiers in our room, where the magic of imagination changed the floor into something completely different… soldiers marching off to war, while we were the commander. I really like to look at dioramas and I love the dedication these guys put into their hobby –  it’s a really time-consuming hobby and quite expensive. You have to buy the figures, paint them, arrange them, create terrain (even explosions!), you need some big table (or better an entire room) to show the beauty of it all and it’s simply not for everyone. Usually a diorama is not intended for actually playing out the battle, it’s more like a picture taken in 3D showing a certain  moment of the battle in question, a detailed study of uniforms and terrain, but not a wargame.  You can play with such figures, of course, in tabletop games – which could be called a “diorama in action”.

Toy Commander on Sega Dreamcast

Back in the good old days of the Sega Dreamcast console, there was a great game called Toy Commander which allowed the player to be a kid again, playing with little soldiers and toy vehicles, cars, tanks, fighter planes, helicopters. There was a complete house at your free disposal where these battles were fought while it was supposed that everything within the game was controlled by a young boy and his imagination. The introduction of the game did a great job in showing  how the imagination of a child can make everything real so there’s the moment when the boy fades away holding the aircraft and there’s only the plane flying around then… check out the intro movie to see what I mean.But this review isn’t about Toy Commander, is it? No, it’s not – but that was the immediate reminiscence I had when I first played Toy Soldiers on the XBox 360.

The game takes place in a room where a table with a World War I diorama stands. You see a battlefield, little soldiers, a toy box and all the stuff a kid needs to fight out great battles. I don’t like Real Time Strategy games very much, they are too confusing for my taste, everything happens at once, you’re constantly looking for your units which are always running around where they should not be, while you are suffering from supply problems and are forced to build and protect a base which is in turn attacked almost immediately by the enemy, while it is expected that you destroy the enemy’s base… very stressful. Strategy-wise I enjoy turn-based games much more. RTS is more about clicking faster than your opponent while turn-based games are more about the strategy,  about thinking and decision-making, at least that is what I think.

The WWI diorama in your room

When I first read something about Toy Soldiers I was quite thrilled because it sounded so much like my old favorite Toy Commander – just in a World War I setting, but then after trying out the multiplayer demo on the Xbox 360, it seemed to be just another RTS style game. So after playing a few matches against Denny, the game disappeared from my radar. Interestingly in the meanwhile I got somehow hooked on a specific sub-genre of RTS games – Tower Defense – after playing Monday Night Combat on XBox Live Arcade which is a mix of Tower Defense and Third Person Shooter (it’s also a mix of these genres with gladiator sports and strategy – a weird mix for sure, but a highly strategic game and entertaining game and I wholeheartedly recommend it!).

Monday Night Combat inspired me to look for other good Tower Defense games  and that was when I came across Toy Soldiers again – which was  coincidentally “Deal of the Week” on XBox Live Arcade then where it dropped from 1200 Microsoft Points down to 800 points, so I decided to get the full game and try it out again in the Single Player.

What is it about?

You always have a good overview over your battlefield

What I got was probably one of the most fun games I ever played – and I speak as a wargamer here! As I previously mentioned, the game is about WWI and you can play through an Allied and a German campaign taking place on some famous battlefields like Langemarck, Verdun, and several other places. The campaign consists of 12 single missions which take place in a diorama standing in the virtual room and the soldiers are made of plastic. But what starts as a game with plastic soldiers actually turns out to be a rather brutal and realistic portrayal of the nasty battles known from WWI. There’s no blood – plastic soldiers don’t bleed – but everything else is done so realistically that you soon forget that you are playing with plastic soldiers in a diorama  – and that’s the beauty of this game!

When you start a mission, the camera will first show part of the room and the diorama and then it zooms into the battlefield, so the player is on the ground, actually within the diorama. When the battle starts with all the little soldiers running over open terrain mowed down by your troops manning their plastic machine guns, you yourself sitting in the sniper tower shooting from afar, soldiers dying and screaming because of chemical weapons and flamethrowers or being squelched by tanks while bombs are falling from the sky and the arty is screaming, shells coming in over your head… you simply forget it’s a virtual diorama and plastic and you get immersed in some really intense war action.

There’s a considerable lack of WWI video games with so many games concentrating on WWII, so Toy Soldiers actually fills a gap and luckily it is a good strategy game as well. When you are a wargamer and you have a 360, then read on why this is the game for you!

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Gaming this weekend: Entering the Space Hulk…

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on October 4, 2010

The game box is rather small, but the contents of a very high quality and with an attractive artwork

Because I had a rather bad cold, Denny and I couldn’t actually meet and play for the  last 2 weeks (except online on XBox Live for extensive Halo Reach sessions…). This weekend was the first time for us to sit down at our gaming table again.

The week before, we had ordered the new Warhammer 40k game by Fantasy Flight Games: Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game which is already out of print as I read recently (surely FFG will re-print  it again rather sooner than later, since it seems to be such a huge success). This weekend’s focus was to learn and play this game. To get into the mood of monster hunting, we also watched Starship Troopers on DVD in the evening, which kinda seemed to match the theme of the game nicely – elite soldiers hunting nasty aliens 🙂

So let me give you just a few thoughts about the game, the review will have to wait until we played a few more games, so stay tuned!

Death Angel is the card based version of the board game Space Hulk (which we haven’t played so far, it’s hard to get for a reasonable price and since we already own Doom – The Boardgame, which seems to be very similiar gameplay-wise, we didn’t have Space Hulk on our radar) but contrary to the latter, Death Angel is a cooperative game. Each player commands one or more teams of Space Marines (depending on the number of players, the game can be played with 1-6 players) which form a military formation that enters a Space Hulk (a term for the remains of an ancient starship or space station) to investigate what’s up in there and to reach and check out a certain location. Players form their formation, they start in a preset location and try to make their way through the Space Hulk, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

a Genestealer swarm

The station is not empty but filled with aggressive aliens called Genestealers and indeed watching the movie Alien gives you a pretty accurate picture of what the Space Marines teams can expect to find in the confined rooms and corridors of the space station.

The game is a bit tricky to learn at first, because the 32-pages-rulebook is often explaining things on several pages, referring to other paragraphs, so you have to flip through the RB  back and forth to get the hang of the mechanics. After the first game, though, you realize that the game is quite easy and not really complicated and you can enjoy the often tough decision-making required to keep your men alive without further referring to the rulebook. If you are curious about the game mechanics, the rulebook can be downloaded here from the official FFG support website (PDF, 1.9 MB).

Setup. The game certainly requires some table space

As you fight spawning swarms of aliens, which tend to come out of the usual ventilation ducts, doors, and dark corners or even sneakily flank you and attack you from behind, you try to make your way to the final location. In this destination location, there’s something you have to do, like activating the launch procedure of a space vessel to get out of there or whatever (usually a task that needs some time to accomplish…) and in the mean time, your number one priority is actually to stay alive.

Each team has 3 Action Cards, but no Action Card can be used twice in a row, so you have to plan ahead

Each player has 3 Action Cards (Support, Move & Activate, Attack) for each of his two-men-teams, and some of the Space Marines have  special abilities as described on the Action Cards – which often come in handy when the formation is in a desperate situation (and there will be many of such situations before you reach your destination…). But be careful – once you used one of the three possible actions, this action can’t be used again in the next game round. So everybody going with guns ablaze when some aliens get in the way isn’t such a good idea because then no one will be able to attack again in the next round – players are required to plan ahead.

The Genestealers spawn in the Event Phase, depending on the location card you are currently in and the terrain cards in play, so the players have to discuss their options and try to support each other  in order to keep the enemy off and to minimize casualties.

Combat is brutally short and simple – the Space Marines hit when they roll a skull on the die (the game uses one  special six-sided die with numbers ranging from 0-5 and 3 skull symbols), killing one alien card of a ‘swarm’ (one or more Genestealer cards in a specific position) – 50% chance of killing one swarm with the attack… Then the Genestealers attack and they will hit when the die is equal to or less than the  number of cards in the attacking swarm – and since the die ranges from 0 to 5, the larger the swarm, the larger the chance of a successful Genestealer attack, and even a lone swarm has a 1/3 chance of success because of the “0” side. Any Space Marine who is successfully attacked is… slain and out of the game immediately! No health bar, no hit points.

A Space Marine card

A swarm can easily move around the formation of Marines or follow the group to a new location, different swarms can merge into a larger swarm or flank a Marine, so it’s quite a task (but essential!) to make sure that such a swarm doesn’t grow too large. A swarm with 5 Genestealer cards will hit – and instantly kill – a Space Marine with every number rolled on the die. Even a swarm with only 3 cards will hit and kill on a 0,1,2 or 3…

Although combat is very brutal (and the game can be short because of this, but doesn’t have to, we played a good deal longer than the 30-60 minutes mentioned on the game box), luckily some Marines have some cool weapons or special abilities which modify the combat in their favour. For example, there’s  the guy with the flamethrower who doesn’t  hit on a skull but uses the actual number rolled to kill a corresponding number of Genestealers, the one with an auto-gun, someone with psychic abilities, or a Marine who is stronger in the defense than in the attack and so on.

If the Event Card has the keyword "Instinct", the current player has to decide alone which Space Marine will be the target of the card effect

Then there’s the Event Card deck which is the “AI” of the game, providing events and spawning and moving aliens. Events most often make the situation worse, but sometimes allow the players a bit of relief in all the tension by giving them more options to get rid of these nasty aliens.

So the formation of battle hardened Space Marines makes their way through the dark corridors of the Space Hulk killing aliens, supporting each other, discussing what to do next, while the players get silent when another brave soldier is ripped apart or they cheer up and laugh when that big swarm actually misses and Brother Claudio gets into berserk mode and kills the entire swarm with his claws.

The game plays very smoothly, has interesting mechanics, requires lots of decision-making  and coordination between players. All players can only win if they are working together and they must make good decisions to achieve that objective. The game provides a good atmosphere, especially if you are a fan of the Warhammer 40k  universe (but knowledge of this universe is not required). If you are able to get a bit “in-character”, it’s a great game experience you can find in that rather small (and inexpensive) box.

Our first impression is very positive and you may wait for our review of the game to learn more – or just go and get it yourself 😉

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Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 10, 2010

One of the best Play-by-email tools is the “Cyberboard” program by Dale Larson.

Cyberboard – what’s that?

Totaler Krieg with Cyberboard

Cyberboard is a program which allows you to play even complex Consims such as Totaler Krieg by email (alas, it only works with Microsoft Windows). If offers a comfortable user interface with lots of functions for manipulating and moving the counters, the automatically recording of moves (which can be played back step by step), an integrated dice roller and much more.

It allows comfortable gaming with one or more opponents by email. All moves and actions of the players are included into a “Game History”, so that the initial game file grows over the time and eventually consists of an entire game which can be watched like a movie and stored in a gaming archive. Additionally, the program includes another tool (“Cyberboard Game Designer”) which allows to create more game modules for playing your own favorite games via Cyberboard. There are also tons of modules to be found on the internet which are used by a large player community all over the world.

Step by Step

he current Cyberboard version is 3.0 – a significant update of the previous versions that has many new features including 16 bit color support and a revamped user interface. Information on the current developments can be found at the Cyberboard-Website (you can also download the program here for free, because Cyberboard is freeware!).

The Cyberboard folder. The program even runs under Windows 7 64bit.

The first Cyberboard version was programmed for Windows 3.1 by Dale Larson in 1994. He wrote it out of a personal need, simply because he needed a useful tool for email playing – which was quite complicated then. He was annoyed by the errors occurring while playing with a real board and the following transcription of the moves into the computer. So he started searching for an alternative.

The initial thought was that playing a board game by email should become more comfortable by simply exchanging automatically recorded moves – instead of complicated descriptions of actions done on a real board, which the opponent must follow on his own real board. Theoretically any board game can be played by Cyberboard, but because of the integrated features it is especially useful for playing counter-based wargames. The program doesn’t include any artificial intelligence, it’s a GAP (Game Assistance Program) – a graphic tool for playing vs. a human opponent. It neither checks if your moves are rules conform nor does it allow solitaire play against the “system”. Larsons idea was to transfer the gaming experience of face-to-face-play to a computer program. And this works great because of the smooth control interface and the game speed by utilizing the recording and playback functions.

Cyberboard game files are called "Gameboxes" (*.gbx). They include force pools, maps, descriptions and more.

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CONTRA: “Don’t be afraid of monsters!”

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 10, 2010

by Andreas Ludwig

a discussion on Alan Emrich’s article “The Fall and Rise of Wargaming”

PRO Alan’s article CONTRA

Well, after reading Alan’s article on the issue “what are the positive and negative factors regarding trends and developments in the wargaming/historical conflict simulation business”, I have to admit that – although I agree on the whole with his opinion -, I see some points in a different way.

First of all, the reason why we decided to reprint his article on our homepage was the simple fact that everything which is discussing this hobby and the ways how it can be brought back again into the consciousness of a wider audience is something worth supporting.

Furthermore the fact that this article was published many years ago without losing its importance today is certainly an indicator that the situation the author addressed at his time hasn’t actually changed much – as we can see nowadays, because wargaming as a hobby is still shrinking and is still what Alan used to call an “esoteric hobby“.

So the question actually is: what went wrong over the decades from those glorious days when wargaming was an intellectual challenge with millions of sold games? Or better: are the reasons mentioned by Alan actually those which caused what he calls the “decline of wargaming”?

The consumer – digging his own grave?

Alan observes two main aspects which – in his opinion – are responsible for the current situation: that wargaming is a hobby for a minority and is getting more and more expensive:

Okay, to the outsider, ASL may look somewhat esoteric...

First he states that the customers demanded a different way to purchase their games. In the early days all wargaming companies made their money through direct postal sales until the players wished to buy their games in their local stores instead. This quickly changed the cost factor because the companies were forced to react to the now longer distribution chains which eventually made the games much more expensive for the customer who was buying this stuff and who was the one financing the entire market.

The second reason is the change in the very nature of wargames, because according to Alan everything started with games with a relatively low complexity level, until these gamers wanted more realism and more detail. Since companies are usually acting in accordance to the customers’ wishes (to get their money), they started to produce more detailed and more complicated wargames and this was driven over the edge – in Alans opinion – so that a newbie, someone who never played such a game, is completely lost when reading an extensive rulebook for the first time.

Based on these two main points he now explains why it is necessary to step back in this process to give wargaming a new chance again.

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