Rebellious #GameNight with #1775Rebellion (@Academy_Games)

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Courtesy Academy Games

The RockyMountainNavy family weekend game night this week featured another new acquisition, 1775 – Rebellion (Academy Games, 2013). 1775 – Rebellion is the first game of the Birth of America series. The publisher, Uwe Eickert, personally recommended it to me for helping teach the RMN Boys about the American Revolution. When I purchased the game, I also picked up the book Teaching the American Revolution Through Play that uses the game as part of lesson plans.

1775 – Rebellion is a light, strategic wargame. Like many Academy Games products, the game is a mix of “traditional” wargame mechanics with a strong Eurogames influence. Using simple gameplay, wooden cubes, cards and custom dice this area-control game recreates the American War of Independence. The RMN Boys really enjoyed the game. The random drawing of turn order keeps the tension going even when it is not a players turn and the hand management of Movement or Event Cards allows a wide variety of strategies to be attempted.

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The Rebellion takes shape

Our game played out very close to historical. The Rebellion was strong in the New England colonies, but the British swept down from Canada and threatened to roll down the coast. Rebellion resistance stiffened (thanks to French intervention) and the British were stopped. Changing strategy, the British used large Loyalist forces in a Southern Strategy to attempt to roll-up the coast from the other direction. However, the wily American Militia along the colonial frontier used many Indian allies to successfully contest complete control of colonies. By the time the Treaty of Paris arrived, the British were behind on colonies and lost the war.

During play, there were two events that highlighted how thematic the game is. At one point during the evening, the youngest RMN Boy (playing the American Militia faction) complained that it was difficult coordinating – or always agreeing – with his brother playing the Continental Army. I pointed out to him that historically Regular and Militia officers often quarreled and sometimes misunderstood each other. They even sometimes worked against each other too! The youngest RMN Boy thought about that a moment, and sheepishly looking at his brother said, “Oh, I guess this game is real.” At another time during the game, the youngest RMN Boy (again) grumbled that is was “unfair” that the British Regulars and Loyalists had more Warship Movement cards than the Americans did.  I pointed out to him the British had the Royal Navy, whereas the Militia had boats (like those used by Washington to cross the Delaware) or relied upon the less numerous French fleet. Realizing that the cards were not just there to make his life difficult, I could see the realization in his eyes as he started understanding the maneuver advantage naval superiority gave the British in the war.

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Courtesy Academy Games

Such is the teaching power of 1775 – Rebellion. Before we played I looked through the Teaching booklet and consciously tried to mix in a few learning points. The book lays out a five-lesson plan that uses the game for two of the lessons. I appreciate that each lesson has readings and writing assignments that focus the discussion and learning objective. I will be using this book in a more formal fashion later this winter, maybe during a break week to have fun/education. The lessons are aimed squarely at the middle school student; making the youngest RMN Boy a prime candidate.

The truth to the matter is that I don’t have to rely on the book; the game teaches by itself. From the custom battle result dice that often have units flee or retreat as much as (if not more than) they destroy a unit, to the Event Cards that invoke historic events (you should have seen the boy’s faces when I played Benedict Arnold in a major battle and turned their last Continental Army unit and ensured my battle win) the game just feels right. I am not saying this is a replacement for Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT, 2016) which is still my favorite strategic game of the AWI, but 1775 – Rebellion is a perfect “lighter” game that oozes so much theme with very little rules overhead.

The RMN Boys have really taken to the Birth of America series and want both 1754 – Conquest: The French and Indian War as well as 1812 – The Invasion of Canada. Mrs. RMN saw the boys engagement with the game (and the long conversations the boys and I had after the game and on Sunday talking about the history of America in the the late 18th and early 19th centuries) that she has “approved” a future purchase. I can’t blame her; 1775 – Rebellion has spurred their desire to learn more about American history. There is no better praise of a game than to say, “it makes one want to learn more.”

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A Cold Night in Hell #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear

I am Prisoner 46001628. Until last night I was a Major in the Red Army. I was leading a small ad-hoc unit that was trying to stop they German juggernaut. I failed. For that I will pay the penalty the State has imposed.

The Generals say they gave me enough force. I was given two platoons of infantry with mortars and five tanks, including a lumbering T-35, a new T-34b, and even a ZiS-30 tank hunter. Our mission was to recover a valuable cache of documents that had been left behind in a command post that another unit had failed to destroy properly. The command post was in an entrenched position near a village. The documents were considered so valuable that we were ordered to attack in a cold winter night. But the orders were also confusing for was told to preserve as many units as possible.

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The German force with Secure Mission and Night Condition Card

From the start the mission was difficult. We had been told the Germans were not around, but upon our arrival we found a small armored detachment already occupying the command post.

 

Using the Firefight Generator the scenario was set. As the Soviet player, a series of entrenchments was placed around the Control Point, but before units could occupy the trenches the German players took it. Whoever removed the Control Point (the documents)  also immediately gained 5 VP. In an effort to salvage the situation, the Soviets played Rear Guard which awards 2 VP for every unit that escapes after Round 3 of the five-round firefight.

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The Soviet force with Freezing Cold Condition Card and Rear Guard VP Bonus

My units advanced slowly in the dark, led by the slow T-35. Visibility was greatly reduced, but we soon figured out the Germans had the documents and were escaping. My units took defensive positions as we tried to determine the German disposition and searched for a weak point. Very quickly, we took fire on our right flank and we quickly lost a T-26. In the center of our force, the Germans charged the ZiS-30 and destroyed it.

The German players started out very aggressive, closing the range and immediately targeting the dangerous ZiS-30 tank hunter. The Soviet defenses on the right and center collapsed under the constant attacks.

At this point I was in a knife-fight with the Germans. After losing the T-26 and ZiS-30, we quickly also lost a submachine gun squad, a BT-7 tank, and even the T-35. Seeing my position hopeless and rapidly dissolving, I ordered a retreat. Two squads of soldiers valiantly defended the escaping force and gave their lives so that at least some of us may live.

I make no apologies; the Germans brought superior firepower to bear on my forces that lacked proper anti-tank weaponry.

I gladly give my life for the Motherland.

The German players pushed their force forward very aggressively and were not afraid to engage in Close Combat using tanks against infantry squads. The Night Condition and the inability to conduct indirect fire meant the two Soviet mortar squads were unable to fire against German troops, and the Soviet tanks proved to have too slow a rate of fire in the armored engagements. Conflict of Heroes uses Action Points and Command Action Points to allow a unit to move or fire. Each unit gets 7 AP when activated. The Soviet tanks too from 5 to 6 AP to shoot, whereas the Germans took only 2 or 3 AP – meaning the Germans had double (even triple) the shot opportunities. In the end, the Germans not only were able to exit the documents (5 VP) but destroyed seven other squads/tanks for a total of 12 Victory Points. The Soviets were able to exit four units for a measly 8 VP.

This scenario shows the narrative power of the Firefight Generator. Built randomly, both sides built their force, altered the weather and visibility, and modified victory conditions.  The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are getting much more familiar with the CoH system and event his involved battle was completed in a fast-paced and tense 2 hours.


The following handwritten note was found scrawled on the bottom of Prisoner 46001628’s letter:

Unexcusable! This coward could not even kill one German squad! He took a force that should have been sufficient to at least kill one German squad or tank and did NOTHING with it! SHOOT HIM NOW!

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After the Surrender – Courtesy historylearningsite.co.uk

#WargameWednesday – #ConflictofHeroesAwakeningtheBear #FirefightGenerator Night

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Courtesy Academy Games

The RMN Saturday Gaming Adventures (SaGA) continued this past weekend with Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games, 2012). This time, we also pulled out the Firefight Generator to help us create the firefight. The Firefight Generator uses two decks of cards (one for the German player, the other for the Soviet) to build the firefight/scenario. Each card has a top section with either a Victory Point condition or Special Event (rules) and a bottom section with units. Depending on the scenario desired, players draw a variable number of cards and alternate playing the cards until the combatants are selected, special rules introduced, and additional victory conditions defined.

For our game, we played the three-player variant with the RMN Boys acting as the two German players and myself as the lone Soviet commander. Each side was dealt eight cards. It quickly became obvious that the Germans wanted to “go heavy” as they selected many armored units. As the Soviet player, my initial unit selection was a bit more “combined arms” meaning I ended up with several infantry and supporting mortar units that, in the long run, were of little value in the armored battle that was coming. I did however, take a modified victory condition which awarded extra VP for destroying a German vehicle or crewed unit.

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BT-7-1 in operations, carrying soldiers – Credits: Wikimedia Commons

The game itself was five rounds long. The Soviets had a control point near their (east) edge that they quickly surrounded in a defensive array using a trio of BT-7 tanks. During the firefight generation, the RMN Boys had taken an option to add a second mapboard to the firefight and chose to enter on that board (the “west board”) away from the Soviet control point (the German second commander could have entered anywhere along the “north” edge of the east or west board – but chose to stay nearer his brother-unit and enter on the west board).

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A rear view of a ZiS-30 and its crew operating it. – Courtesy tanks-encyclopedia.com

The slugfest that followed illustrates the awesome simulation power of the Conflict of Heroes system. Both sides were relatively evenly matched, with Command Action Points (CAP) roughly equal (Soviet 12, German 10). However, the superior tactical training of the Germans quickly shined through. There was no better example than in the tank-vs-tank fight. The Soviet BT-7 needs 5 Action Points (AP) to fire and given the standard 7 AP per unit activation means a tank gets one shot unless CAP is used. The Soviet tank destroyer I had, the ZiS-30, was more likely to get a hit but takes 6 AP to fire! The net impact of the high AP needed to fire meant that each tank could, at best, get ONE HIT in a round, therefore in turn meaning to get a KILL requires multiple hits over multiple rounds (all while hoping the German player does not successfully rally the hit unit, and therefore resetting the hit count).  On the other hand, the German Panzer III and IV take only 2 or 3 AP to fire, meaning an “average” unit will get at least two, possibly three fire opportunities per activation. In terms of hit chances, both sides had under-gunned tanks for the opponent they were facing, but with numerous more opportunities to fire (often before the Soviets could rally and remove a hit) it was only a matter of time before the Germans wore down the Soviet behemoths.

The RMN Boys did themselves proud. Given the trio of BT-7 surrounding the control point, they (correctly) focused on destroying the major threat (the ZiS-30 tank destroyer) using, interestingly, a mortar team to suppress the ZiS and later a PzIII to destroy it.  They also used the mortar team (employing indirect fire) to destroy the Soviet’s lone anti-tank gun. At that point the Germans used their forces’ superior maneuverability to go around the flank of the BT-7 defenders and get to the control point “through the backdoor.”  At the end of the fifth round, the Germans were ahead on units destroyed (seven Soviet versus three German) but given the Soviet player had occupied the Control Point four of five rounds it looked close (German advantage 8-7 VP). However, with the modified VP card played during the firefight setup, the Soviet player got four extra VP to give them a 11-8 VP win.

As the Soviet commander, I am lucky the German second commander did not enter the north edge of the east board as I had little defense in depth there and may not have had time to get the BT-7s in place to defend the control point. If the Germans had occupied the control point just one extra round the VP would have been 10-9…assuming I did not lose any other units!

Does all that sound too gamey? In play it doesn’t feel that way, as the modified VP conditions drive tactics and the special rules throw wrenches into the best-laid plans. The Action Point mechanic of Conflict of Heroes also brilliantly captures so many factors (such as training, discipline, leadership) without cumbersome extra rules. The RMN Boys are neophytes at tactical armored combat although they have lots of Memoir ’44 experience which gives them a good foundation to build upon. The Conflict of Heroes system is easy to learn but a tough teacher. I will certainly have to step up my game in future battles as they both learn more and get more aggressive.

#WargameWednesday – Not Conflicted Anymore about #ConflictofHeroes

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Earlier this year I got Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal 1942 – The Pacific (Academy Games, 2016). I wrote out my First Impressions where I was impressed with the game mechanics but unsure about how the game came together.

In early August I was fortunate to attend CONNECTIONS 17 and met the designer of Conflict of Heroes, Uwe ('Oova') Eickert. In the evening "game labs," I actually sat down with Uwe and he walked me and others through the Conflict of Heroes system using Awakening the Bear (2nd Edition).

I'm absolutely sold – on several levels.

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From the GAMEPLAY perspective the Active/Spent Units, Action Points/Command Action Points, and Command/Bonus/Action Card mechanics make for quick play. In the rules I can see the influence of Nicholas Warcholak, in charge of Editing and Game Development for Academy Games. The Academy Games website lays out the Warcholak Guide to keep game rules streamlined:

  1. Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2.
  2. Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3.
  3. Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.

Conflict of Heroes implements the Warcholak Guide in spades! The rules, in combination with the graphical presentation, means the game can be taught almost without referencing the rule book.

From a HISTORICAL SIMULATION level of play, Uwe opened my eyes to the deep amount of historical detail baked into the game. For instance, the number of Action Points necessary for a unit to shoot is often a reflection of leadership and command & control. Unlike other games which use many 'rules by exception' to implement the intended effect, Conflict of Heroes "bakes" the rules into a few key factors. For example, when a unit is activated it gets 7 Action Points (AP). Both German and Russian infantry use 1 AP to move, but it takes a Russian infantry unit 4 AP to fire whereas a typical German infantry unit only needs 3 AP to shoot. Thus, A Russian unit will only be able to fire once per activation unless they call upon Command Action Points (CAP – representing higher HQ and prior planning). A German infantry unit can fire twice without calling upon CAPs. This subtle one-factor difference brings out so much of the command & control issues facing the combatants without needlessly complex rules.

fullsizeoutput_242This past weekend, the RockyMountainNavy Boys (even the oldest) play Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 (2nd Edition). We played Firefight 2 with four commanders (two per side). IT WAS A BLAST. The rules were easy for me to teach (and the boys to learn) so we got into PLAY right away. All the RMN Boys are now Conflict of Heroes fans (dare I say the youngest is a FANatic?).

I have also purchased the Firefight Generatorand the Solo Expansion. I saw Uwe demo the Solo Expansion with its 'Athena AI' at CONNECTIONS 17 and I have to say I am VERY INTERESTED.

The Eastern Front Solo Expansion is the highly anticipated rule set that has been in development for over 3 years! A player will be able to play Awakening the Bear against a highly reactive game AI. This AI is based on the most modern Emergent Behavior and Agent Based Logic programming systems. AI units are not individually programmed like in past solo games. Instead, each situation is evaluated and the best course of action using available AI resources and unit assets is implemented. This is a radical and groundbreaking implementation of advanced computer programming by Academy Games for their Conflict of Heroes series. Players will be surprised by the AI strategy and actions that emerge as a result of the player's own battle tactics. This may force even veteran players to hone and adapt their own playing styles in order to overcome the AI. (From the Academy Games website)

Honestly, I found many solo game engines quite cumbersome; or very formulamatic (see Tokyo Express from Victory Games, 1988). The Athena AI, implemented using cards in the Conflict of Heroes system, looks to create a "living opponent" again without a burdensome rules overhead.

Though not recognized as one of the true "Grognard" wargame companies, Academy Games is truly on the cutting edge of game design. There are several other companies trying to do the same, but it remains to be seen if the wargame hobby as whole can keep up with the likes of Academy Games.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MORE MORE MORE!

 

#4thofJulyWeekend #Wargame – Liberty of Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016)

It seemed fitting that on this Fourth of July weekend I pull out my absolutely favorite game on the American Revolution, Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection. This is Volume V of the COIN-series from GMT Games. I choose the short duration scenario, The  Southern Campaign, using the Optional Sprint Scenario rules.

As I have stated before, LoD is not really a wargame. Each faction must simultaneously cooperate with their allies and fight their enemies while trying to win. Thus, although the Patriots and French are allied, they both have independent victory conditions.

The Southern Campaign covers from 1778 to 1780, although in the Sprint Scenario only the first two years are played.

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Midway thru 1778

Unlike my previous games where I was really just learning the rules, this game I was able to actually try a bit more strategy. I still messed up the rules in a few places, but it didn’t prevent me from having a great time!

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Philadelphia Before the Attack (End of 1778)

Play was not perfect by any measure. The Patriots played a more northern strategy while the Royalists tried to turn the south. As 1779 neared an end, Washington and Rochambeau both took on Clinton in New York City.

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Winter Quarters Ends 1779 – Indecisive in New York City

Alas, the Patriots and French blew their timing, and at the end of 1779 and the Sprint Scenario, Clinton held in New York City. Meanwhile, Tories had been busy in the South. The final score was a Royalist Victory.

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End of The Southern Campaign – Sprint Scenario

The gameplay mechanics of LoD are actually quite simple and I think I have pretty much got them down. The much harder part is taking those “simple” mechanics and executing a “complex” strategy. Unlike many games which get played a few times then collect dust until that far-off next scenario, Liberty or Death will definitely land on the table more often.

 

Reawakening X-Wing (Star Wars: X-Wing Minis – Force Awakens Core Set)

“Outnumbered and outgunned, a cunning star fighter pilot leads his enemies into a minefield. Will it be enough to turn the tide of battle, or will superior numbers prevail?” From Mission F1: Ambush, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game – The Force Awakens Core Set, Mission Guide

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Initial Setup
Mission F1 pits a Resistance T-70 X-Wing flown by Blue Squadron Novice (24 pts) against a pair of TIE/FO fighters (Epsilon Sqdn Pilot – 15 pts/Zeta Sqdn Pilot – 16 pts). The squadron point build imbalance is offset by the presence of three mine tokens in the battle space controlled by the Resistance player.

 

 

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Sweeping In
Swinging to the left, he tried to draw the TIEs across the minefield but they didn’t take the bait, instead sweeping to their left while keeping out of the lethal radius of the mines. Reversing hard into a tight turn, he raced through the minefield to get into position. His first shot was lucky and hit the trailing TIE which accelerated to get out of range while the second one turned to attack.

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Death of Epsilon
Ignoring a TIE that executed a Segnor’s Loop almost in front of him, he blasted one TIE away. Dangerously, he cut in front of the other TIE, just avoiding blasts of lethal energy. Boosting away, he extended the range as the other TIE followed. Dashing around the asteroid field, the TIE came just close enough to a mine to detonate it. His sensors told him the shields on the TIE were down. “That’s one chink in the armor,” he thought.

 

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Stressed Out and Still Too Close
As he continued around an asteroid, the TIE tried to cut the corner. Unfortunately, it came a bit too close to another mine and set it off. Sensors said it was damaged!

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Splash Two!
Stressing his T-70, he reversed hard into the TIE. He quickly lined up his shot. With a sharp intake of breath he watched his energy bolts hit the TIE. He exhaled slowly as it exploded. He muttered to himself, “The Force was with me.”

 

It has been a long time since I played X-Wing. I had picked up Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game – The Force Awakens Core Set a while back and it has sat on my shelf – unopened – for several months. The RockyMountainNavy boys seem to have passed their initial fascination with X-Wing and in many ways it was replaced with Wings of Glory.  I pulled it out for a somewhat rare weeknight gaming session.

Having not played in a while I didn’t use many optional rules. The fighters were all stock with no modifications. Relearning gameplay was quick (X-Wing is not complicated). Although the gameplay is not complex, there were more than a few “tactical errors” committed since the ships were new to us and their capabilities and limitations unexplored. Most significantly, near the end the Zeta TIE could have used their Action to Barrel Roll away from the mine and stay out of the lethal radius instead of looking ahead to  the T-70 threat and placing an Evade token to try to avoid any hits.

Playing X-Wing reminded me that this is one of the games in my collection that I classify as a “Manual Videogame.” The concept of Squadron Builds, Modifications, and Actions (special abilities) all are common with video games. That is not to say I dislike X-Wing; rather, I see it for what it is. The RockyMountainNavy boys, especially Little I, love the Manual Videogame-style of gaming. Pulling out X-Wing reminded us all that this is a lite, fun game that is highly thematic and “pulls you into” the story. It deserves to be on the table more.

#WargameWednesday – MBT (2nd Ed) Scenario 1 Playthru

pic1444385_mdJim Day’s Panzer by Yaquinto Publishing was my first ever wargame, coming as a Christmas gift in 1979. I liked the game so much that I picked up the rest of the series, ’88’ and Armor as soon as they were published. These games are touchstones of my young gaming life; they were how I cut my teeth in the wargaming hobby.

Last year I ordered GMT’s MBT (2nd Edition). I have heard great things about the Panzer and MBT system over the years, but had drifted away over the decades. I am glad I came back to Jim Day’s tactical armored combat games!

pic2958247_mdI played Scenario 1 – First Clash Pt 1 using the Basic Game Rules with the addition of Advanced Game Rule 6.2 Advanced Game Command Phase and 7.43 Command Span. I actually started play with just the Basic Rules, but quickly discovered the Soviets were running amok. I reset the game and introduced the advanced command rules to bring some sanity back to the situation.

The battle went in ebbs and flows, with the Soviets initially gaining the upper hand. The Soviets entered from the left side of the board which is generally more open than the other edge. One platoon in the center of the battlefield caught a US platoon in the open and decimated it. After that the Americans were more cautious in the advance seeking cover where available. The Soviets rapidly seized the center bridge crossing and were advancing for cover when it was ambushed from their flank by a US platoon that had gotten relatively close using cover. On the bottom edge, two Soviet platoons took on an advancing US platoon protected by overwatch fire. In a real bloodbath, the US lost a platoon but destroyed both Soviet platoons in return. 

I was really glad I reset the game and used the advanced command rules. The Soviets have a single Company HQ tank that has to orchestrate their entire battle. This forced the Soviets to concentrate on the center and one flank. The Americans have two Company HQ  tanks so they were able to split their force and remain effective. About mid-battle, the Soviet commander attempted to displace forward because his advancing platoons were actually exceeding his Command Span causing a lose of control. A US M-60 in Overwatch was able to get a lucky shot and destroy him. This crippled the Soviets as they were now severely limited in command actions. As a result, the Americans were able to roll up the Soviet’s flank  and eventually eject them totally.

At first, I was worried that the extensive use of chits for marking spotting, command, and various other admin was going to crowd the map too much. I was very pleased that my fears are unfounded. The game flows very naturally and the chits do not get in the way. Very important to me, the game play and results feel realistic and not forced or contrived.

I previously told myself that the MBT core game was going to be sufficient to scratch the itch of my modern armor combat and I don’t need any expansions. I told myself that I have the old Panzer series for WWII armored combat and I don’t need the new one. Unfortunately for me (but fortunate for Jim Day and GMT) one day’s play of MBT has totally changed my mind.

Now where’s my wallet?


All images courtesy BoardGame Geek.