Saturday, February 2, 2008

That's a really big box.

After some work and weather delays, Mike and I finally got together late last week to try out Tide of Iron. I ended up with two copies of this for Christmas (due to a miscommunication between my wife and mother-in-law) and apparently almost got a third. It was finally time to try it out.

For those who may not have seen, Tide of Iron is a tactical WWII combat system from Fantasy Flight that features modular mapboards and customizable units. It's got tons of high-quality bits and certainly looks good while in play.

We played the first scenario (“At the Breaking Point”) - a natural place to start. After setup and walking through the rules we dove in. This scenario involves the Germans trying to break thorough the American line in 1944. It's a bit of a counter attack situation as the Germans were strategically on the defensive by this point in the war.

The Americans (me) deploy in the southeast corner of the map mostly behind wire while the Germans are in the opposite corner. Their job is to occupy at least three of the hexes behind the wire before 8 turns are over. The Americans win if they prevent the Germans from winning.

The turn flow is somewhere between alternating unit activation and Igo-Ugo. Each side gets a number of actions (as specified by the scenario) and the sides alternate taking these actions until all units have been activated. (“fatigued” in game terms.) Actions involve activating units or strategy cards. (Each side has access to a couple different decks. This scenario gives the Americans ground support and reinforcements while the Germans have morale and . The game comes with eight or ten different decks.)

After all units have activated, there are two additional phases, one for accumulating (and spending) command points awarded for controlling specific spots on the map, and one for various administrative tasks.

The game continues on for the number of turns outlined in the scenario.

I'm deployed defending what amounts to the corner of a box covering the eastern half of the southern edge of the board. Mike attacks down the western side of the board, then comes across to go after the corner. As we get used to how the game functions, the attacks become better planned and casualties mount. I'm fortunate to have access to reinforcements, and I keep bringing on at least one unit each turn. They're needed as Mike breaches my defensive line on turn 4, but I've got enough reserves to push him back. After five turns, we call it when it's apparent he's not going to be able to fulfill the victory conditions. We'd been playing for over 2.5 hours at that point. I imagine with many fewer rules referrals, play time for this scenario would pull down to 2 hours to completion.

As with any first playing of a game with any depth whatsoever, there are definitely things we both could have done better. However, the consensus is that this scenario is difficult for the Germans to win.


It's really hard to get a true feel for this game after one playing, particularly in an attack/defense situation. I definitely want to play it more with more fluid situations to get a handle for how it deals with variety. However, some thoughts came to the fore by the time we were done.

First, this is a very good game. I don't think it's a “great” game, but it is indeed very good and deserving of the acclaim it's received. The components are well made. The mapboards in particular are incredibly sturdy. (Mike joked he'd seen hotel room walls that were thinner.) Just so you know – when you pick up the box, most of the weight is coming from the mapboards. I had some issues with the fit of the figures in the bases – part of it looked to be casting problems leaving flash on the pegs that are supposed to plug into the bases.

I would definitely play this game if asked. The problem with Tide of Iron is that it's a very good entry in a space that already contains excellent games.

Personally, I think it blows Memoir '44 out of the water. I've always considered M'44 the weakest of the recent games in that series (Battle Cry is probably last on that list) and this is clearly a better game. Now, M'44 plays in half the time, but it really doesn't compare. In fact, I'm considering trading off my M'44 collection at this point. I now have no reason to get it onto the table. If I want that style of game, C&C: Ancients and BattleLore are both better.

Now, if the question is “I've got three hours and I want to play a tactical WWII game, what do I play?” I'm still not sure Tide of Iron is the answer. It's definitely NOT as good a game as Combat Commander, but CC adds a lot of chaos into play, and that might not always be desired. ToI also pales (in my eyes) to the Panzer Grenadier series. Smaller PG scenarios are playable in 3 hours or less, there's a MUCH wider variety of troops available, and gameplay is no more complex. There's also the option for monster scenarios if that's what you're looking for so versatility is a selling point here. Tide of Iron does have the parakeet factor going for it, though, as it looks very good in play. If I was teaching a eurogamer wargames, this would be a good place to start.

So, I'm torn. Tide of Iron is very good, and I'm glad I own a copy. It's the only big-box Fantasy Flight game I've had any interest in whatsoever, and it represents itself well. My problem is just how often it's going to hit the table. I see other games in the same space being better or giving a better experience. If I wasn't a wargamer first, this would be a great introduction to tactical WWII games. Much better than Memoir '44, and if I'm ever asked will recommend ToI first. But, I am a wargamer and while ToI is good, other games in this space are better. (and I'm not even going down the Advanced Squad Leader or ATS roads... not that either of those are typically 3 hours with the exception of the ASL starter kits.)

I guess I'm just going to have to play more games to figure it out. Bummer. I hate it when that happens.

1 comment:

Jackson said...

Very fair review. I had many of the same issues, plus I have all the Lock n Load stuff.
The big advantage of Toi is that is has excellent integration of Tanks and Infantry.
That 1st scenario is a waste of time. Play the scenarios w/tanks and you will see how fun Toi is.
Also, I too love CC Ancients and M44 and BC, go to consimworld, Battle Cry folder and you'll find a variant rules set that we did that really makes the game play more like CC Ancients.
Keep up the good reviews.