Mike and I sat down Wednesday for his choice. A long-anticipated game: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear. I'd seen this demoed at WBC, and was impressed from the limited information I had, while the hype/buzz machine has been working overtime for this title. This is a bit of a red flag for me lately, as I've been underwhelmed by the last two over-hyped games I've played. (Devil's Cauldron and Warriors of God.)
CoH is currently ranked #1 on BGG's wargame rankings, supplanting Devil's Cauldron, Deluxe SPQR, and Case Blue. That's significant in itself. It's also got more rankings than the other three combined. So, it's got popularity going for it as well. (In fact, the only other game in the Wargames top 20 with more rankings is Twilight Struggle.)
It was definitely time to get this on the table. First thing you notice is the production value – it looks like a Eurogame, not a wargame. Large thick tiles (they're tiles, not counters.) hard, mounted maps. Decent, functional artwork. The cards are definitely flimsy (and are bridge-sized, not poker-sized, so they're smaller than your average card sleeve), but that's about the only knock on the production.
The rules are written in the “Programmed Instruction” approach used way back in games like Squad Leader and Up Front. (IIRC, Tide of Iron does as well.) So, each scenario you work through includes more rules. This is great for learning games, but in these days of firehose-style game releases, it makes it difficult to actually work through all the scenarios to fully learn the game. Many other games are fighting for table time. So, whatever you've got as your foundation better be good or there's no point coming back for more.
Given that CoH is relatively short, we worked through the first two scenarios. The first is very basic – five units/side, no special rules. It gives you the feel for the flow of the game, and that's really about it. And “flow” is the right word. This game is highly interactive.
The basic structure is this: Each side gets a number of CAPs (force-wide activation points that reset each turn) and each unit (or group of units) gets seven action points (AP) to spend when activated. When it's your turn you can pass or do any combination of: play cards, activate a unit, opportunity fire, or take a Command Action (spend CAP). You can do as much of that as you like on your turn as long as you don't activate more than one unit (or group of units.) After you're done, your opponent goes, having the same choices. Turn ends when both sides pass consecutively. I believe all the scenarios are five turns. (I haven't verified this, however.)
At the end of a turn, you may score VPs depending on your situation and the turn number, and possibly draw a card. Also, your CAPs are reset to the scenario starting value less any destroyed units. (This reflects deteriorating command as forces are worn down.) Generally, VPs are also scored when opposing units are killed.
When a unit is activated, it spends AP as it goes. Each unit has a cost to fire, and a cost to move. Generally, it's 1 AP to move one hex (this may be modified by terrain) and 3 or 4 AP to fire. You can go over your 7 alloted AP, but you must spend CAP to do so on a 1:1 basis. As this is a resource limited for the turn, you only want to do this when you really need it.
Combat is relatively simple: Each unit has a firepower rating. Add 2d6 to this, and subtract the target's defense rating modified for terrain and/or flank. Tie or beat the defense rating to score a hit – beat the defense rating by four, and the target is destroyed. When a unit that's taken a hit takes another it's destroyed, otherwise it draws a chit from a cup and secretly applies the results. These chits have things like suppression, berserks, or outright kills. It effectively randomizes the target's reaction to getting hit.
Group activations (which I've alluded to) are introduced in the 2nd scenario and allow units in adjacent hexes to be activated simultaneously. This costs 1 CAP to pull off, and the group has 7 AP to spend in total, not 7 AP per unit. However, as long as the units stay adjacent, they can all move or fire for the same cost as acting individually. So, if you're wanting a reserve force, for example, to move forward into the fray, this is an activation-effective way to do so.
Once a unit or group has completed its activation, it's flipped over to its “used” side (marked by a red line through the middle of the tile) and can't be activated again this turn. It can, however, act again with the expenditure of CAP as a Command Action.
The cards add some tweaks to the basic structure. Things like units performing an action for free, getting d6 more AP to spend, etc. Nothing seemed too out of whack, and each scenario defines the exact cards available in the deck.
That essentially covers what you'll see in the first two scenarios. I haven't read any further in the rules to this point to see what else is down the pipe.
I'm really not going to give a session report for this as that wasn't what I was concentrating on when we were playing. I know Mike won the first rather handily, and I squeaked out a win in the second. The latter due to the fact I had a better tactical position going into the final turn. (I played the Germans both times if you want to compare results.)
So, what did I think? My opinions here are very preliminary as the first two scenarios only give you a taste of the full-meal-deal. I'll make the somewhat obvious comparison first: this is a simpler, less “wacky” Combat Commander. The give and take is there, the amount you do when it's your turn is about the same, and the scale's about the same. Primary differences come in that CoH has unit facing, armored units (which I've not played with yet, and am very curious how they pan out), and a turn-based structure vs. CC's time track. There's also the whole control issue. CoH lets you, for the most part, do what you want when you want. While this may not be as realistic, it does remove the sometimes frustrating “fishing for a fire card” aspect of CC, and may make for a more consistently enjoyable game. I'm very curious how this game plays with armor and larger scenarios, and am looking forward to moving through the remaining scenarios in the not-too-distant future.
Another (and probably only other) valid comparison is Panzer Grenadier. PG is a higher scale (each unit is a platoon vs. the squads in CoH) and the PG combat system is morale-based and naturally less bloody as a result. But the back-and-forth fluid nature of play works in that system as well.
It's been hard lately to get games played enough for in-depth analysis. Just too many games fighting for table time. However, after an evening's play, many times you can figure out if you want to study further. Certain games fell short – Duel in the Dark, Warriors of God, and a couple others. Some I'm not sure about – Tide of Iron and Devil's Cauldron. Some just demand more time. Conflict of Heroes joins games such as Storm over Stalingrad and Napoleon's Triumph as games that strike an immediate chord and should remain part of my “heavy rotation” list for a long time to come. I'd been waiting to buy this until I'd played (over-hyped games go on that "play first" list now) but it's jumped onto my "must have list."
Conflict of Heroes falls into that quickly expanding genre of “light wargames.” It's not a complex skirmish game, but it does show a surprising amount of depth. It's not as “wacky” as Combat Commander. It's not as physically fiddly as Tide of Iron. It's more satisfying than Memoir '44. If you're looking for a game like this, give Conflict of Heroes a shot. You won't be disappointed.