After our Vassal fun last week, it was back to regular gaming, and I won the toss for selection. It wasn't too hard to pick Conflict of Heroes, a game I bought several weeks previously, but hadn't really looked at since. I wasn't even aware of this one until our gaming friend Patrick mentioned it and I started some research, starting with the BGG entry. Pretty quickly I was sold on the game and it was one of the first games I purchased with my store credit from the recent Rainy Day Games auction, in fact I even placed a pre-order for it before the auction had even taken place.
I've been looking for a good squad level game for some time. ASL wasn't it, too detailed, too many rules to remember, and although it has a big following, it just wasn't doing it for me (although it was great to just read through the gorgeous rule book, and drool over the fascinating range of weapons and hardware). Combat Commander wasn't it, too wacky. Although I will play it, too often it's not very satisfying. (I still can't make up my mind whether I want to get the new Pacific version, but, for the moment, I haven't cancelled my P500 pre-order.)
So, over the past few weeks I've been following all the posts on BGG, and, boy, have there been a lot of them! And then some more! (46 pages in fact.) This game is generating a LOT of interest, and it's all positive, with everyone raving about how good it is. Can they all be wrong, or have they just been drinking the Kool-Aid? Time to find out.
Prior to our game, I decided not to do more than just read the rules, in order to keep a level playing field. That way neither one of us had any more experience than the other, although it was hard not to get it onto the table. The rules appear ridiculously simple, and the first major thing of note is that there are no leaders in the game, which comes as something as a shock to those brought up on ASL and CC. Instead, there are Command Action Points (CAPs), which represent the abstraction of command, that can be used to allow units to perform actions, or modify dice rolls. Each player has a CAP allowance, which is received each turn, unused points at the end of the turn being lost.
Players take turns being the active player, being allowed to take multiple actions per activation, and only when the player is done taking actions is their activation over. However, after each action in that activation the non-active player gets a chance to react by taking an action. During an activation only one unit, or group of units, may be activated, where it gets 7 Action Points, with each movement, fire, or rally, etc. being an action, and taking a number of APs to perform. Other possible actions are Opportunity Action, Command Action, and Play an Action card, and the reacting player may choose any of these three actions as a reaction to the active player's action. (The non-player may not choose a unit/group activation as a reaction.) The
Opportunity Action allows a player to use a unit/group to perform and action is response to a previous action. A Command Action allows the player to use CAPs to perform actions with units/groups. This is useful, because after activation or an Opportunity Action, a unit/group is flipped over to show they have been used. Note that CAP can be used on ANY unit, even one that has been flipped! The final action is a Card Action. Each player has a number of cards which allow a variety of actions to be performed, e.g. firing for no AP cost, adding to firepower, etc.
And that takes us, rather conveniently, to combat. Units are divided into 'hard' targets (e.g. armor) and 'soft' (e.g. infantry), marked by the color of their defense strength, blue or red, respectively, as well as frontal and flank defense values. Some units, e.g. armor, also have both types of attack strength (red & blue), and if using the 'wrong' type of attack strength for the intended target the strength is halved. Take the attack strength, apply any modifiers, add 2d6, and compare to the target's defense strength. Equal or greater scores a hit, 4 or more greater scores 2 hits, and 2 hits kills. When a unit is hit, the player draws a damage marker from the bag (for the correct target type) which identifies the impact of the hit, which ranges from pinning (no movement) to varies modifiers to action costs, defense and attack strength, and outright kills. This marker is kept secret and placed under the unit until it rallies and removes it. A hit scored on a unit with a damage marker removes that unit from the game, and each removed unit reduces the CAPs by one point.
As an example, to start their activation, player A could play a card, and in response player B may choose to do nothing. Player A may then choose to activate a unit, placing the AP marker in the 7APs space, moving it one hex for a cost of 1AP. In response to this player B may use CAP to allow a unit to fire on the moving unit as a Command Action, which means the firing unit isn't flipped to its used side. Player A could choose an Opportunity Action, firing with a different unit to the one currently active, which would flip the unit, but save CAP until later. And so it goes on, back and fore, until the active player decides he doesn't want to do anything more that activation. Pretty simple and straight-forward.
So on Wednesday Eric and I sat down, briefly recapped the rules required (it uses a programmed instruction style), and set up scenarios 1. (We used the set-up in the play book, although I note now that there is a correction.) I was the Russians, Eric the Germans, and has the Germans trying to kill units and take control of the victory location. Eric started by advancing strongly, and managed to capture the VP location at one point, but I forced him out and scored lots of casualties for a convincing win.
That took around 45 minutes, so onto scenario 2, which once again saw my defending Russians being attacked by Eric's Germans. This scenario introduces hidden units and group activation (costs 1 CAP to activate a group of units). There are two VP locations, one in the village that the Russians get more VPs for the longer they can hold onto it, the Germans more for capturing it quickly. I placed a couple of units forward, hoping to catch Eric quickly, and it almost worked as Eric activated a group and dashed forward up the road. I allowed them to move past the hidden unit, and then fired on their flank from an adjacent hex (+3 fire modifier). Requiring only a 5 on 2 dice I whiffed one of them, then when he turned to face me (a movement action, spending APs, so allowing me a response) I whiffed on both units requiring a 6. He fired, scoring a hit with one unit, but as I'd used two cards to allow fire for no AP/CAP cost, I used an Opportunity Action to fire again, finally scoring a kill, but Eric got his revenge and also took out my unit. That could have gone so much better for me!
Eric started a drive up my right flank, and I (stupidly) let him, rather than fire on him, eventually revealing my other forward unit when he advanced into my hex. In my reaction I fired in Close Combat (which is just fire, but with different modifiers), scoring a hit, and Eric decided to run away rather than risk losing an LMG unit (they're -2 in CC). The next turn he played a card that flipped one of my units to its used side, and chose the unit protecting the VP location. He then used his activations to gang up on it, as I didn't have any LoS to stop him, managing to capture it in turn 3 for mucho VPs. I did manage to capture it back again in turn 4, but Eric kicked me out again in turn 5, and those VPs were enough for him to take the win.
I think I can honestly say that this is one of the two most exciting and interesting games of the year for me. (The other is Napoleon's Triumph, btw.) The price is high ($75), but the production values are excellent. Great mapboards, luscious large counters, colorful rule book, play book and play aids. (The rule book was mis-collated, but free replacements are offered, and the customer service response (from Uwe, himself) to my request for a replacement was almost instantaneous.)
The game play is some of the most elegant I've seen, and it just flows together. The idea of CAPs work wonderfully, and gives some hard decisions to make, and each CAP spent has to be justified. I found myself spending CAP too quickly, allowing Eric freedom from response at the end of the turn, as well as playing a very poor tactical game in the second scenario, leaving my units without mutual support. The interactive flow of the game makes for some tense decisions and flexibility. This has obviously been some time in the production and must have seen serious play-testing as everything just fits together so well and so cleanly.
There's a time for a long, detailed, intricate game, and there's a time for something lighter, and this fits the bill for the latter category very well. Both scenarios took us no more than a couple of hours, which is a very decent length. Looking forward in the scenarios/rules there is armor, off-board artillery and larger multi-formation scenarios, so there is a lot of depth to go yet. I can hardly wait, as I think I've found that squad level game I was looking for. This is going to see a lot of table time in the future, and I plan to pick up the new installments as they're released. My CC:Pacific pre-order is in the greatest danger it's ever been, and is now hanging on by a thread.