Monday, September 14, 2009

Return of the Heroes

(No, not the fantasy-exploration game...)

Short post this week, as this is primarily a refinement of thoughts posted earlier.

A couple weeks ago, Mike and I got Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear back to the table. Neither of us had played past the first two scenarios, so we were looking at some of the advanced features for the first time.

The rules and scenarios in Conflict of Heroes are set up for programmed learning. Each of the first five or so scenarios introduces new rules or new unit types. The first two, being the only ones we'd played, introduce the basics plus group actions. That's all well and good, but a bit bland.

The third scenario introduced artillery, indirect fire, hidden units, and hills. (Not unlike ASL Starter Kit #2: Guns!). Our play of this scenario came down to the wire, and I made a tactical error in how I spent my APs in attempting to take the bunker objective on the last turn.

The fourth scenario introduced tanks (again, not unlike ASL Starter Kit #3: Tanks!) and, again, came down to the wire.

When looking at the more involved rules, no real anomalies stood out. All the new rules made sense in the game's framework, and we didn't really have any major questions. Nor was it difficult to get back into the swing of things after months away from the game.

The programmed instruction approach worked well here. Having a couple plays under my belt, I was ready for the increased options presented by the more advanced rules. I think there's only a couple things left for scenario 5, then it's just various takes on the full rules from here.

These two plays solidified my thoughts on the CoH system. It is a very good, light, tactical wargame. It's competing with Memoir '44 and Tide of Iron in this space, and while it doesn't have the plastic figures included in the other two, it's still a quite attractive game while in play. I probably rank it tied with Memoir among those three as it seems to be a slightly deeper game but doesn't have the wealth of options and scenarios available to it yet as Memoir does. Tide would probably be my last choice of the three, in large part because of the physically fiddly nature of the bases. (Using based figures while making figure removal a feature of the rules is a design flaw in my eyes.)

The thing about CoH is that it's only going to be as good as its scenarios. So far, every scenario has been five turns long. I think this is going to be a problem over time, as while you can make amazing variety in tactical situations, the “gotta do X within five turns” nature will get old. It keeps play time down, but it does so in what can be perceived as an artificial manner. The Command and Colors system, to which Memoir belongs, keeps play time down in a more natural fashion. In fact, I can't think of any other scenario-based game that keeps every scenario to the same number of turns. Hopefully the Kursk edition that just came out (or some future edition) will address this.

Regardless of the scenario length question, for me CoH is a gateway game. It's not a destination but part of the journey. The game is fun to play, but that's about all. I see this as a stepping stone to either Panzer Grenadier (if wanting to stay on the simpler side), Combat Commander, or ASL(SK). For whatever reason, I don't see Memoir or Tide of Iron in that same light – could it be that Conflict of Heroes uses counters, while the others don't and therefore I see progressions and advancement being more natural? Not sure. I just know that while I'll be getting each entry in the series as they appear, I see it primarily being used as an introductory game – not the end in itself.


Dug said...

Note that the new Kursk rules will supersede the Bear rules. They are online, although I haven't seen them yet.

Iain Cheyne said...

Interesting post. I didn't realise it was in the same complexity bracket as Memoir '44. With tactical wargames, you need comparisons with other systems and you've done that well here.

Have you played Lock and Load?

Eric said...

@Dug: Mike had the Kursk rules, and I had the latest Bear rules. They weren't far off each other for what we were doing. I honestly don't remember which we used.

@Iain: Memoir is simpler than CoE, but they're close enough that I don't feel bad lumping them together.

I haven't played Lock & Load. That, TCS, and ATS are the three tactical systems where I have no experience. (Though I at least own a TCS game.) Got a recommendation for a L&L entry point?

Iain Cheyne said...

I'm intrigued by both Lock & Load and ATS, as they both look like the right complexity level for me.

As I haven't played L&L, I can't recommend a good starting point.

Jackson said...

I have all of these games.
LnL is a similar level to COH, which IMO, is more complex to play than Mem44. I also don't think of CoH as a Gateway game. It is a rich tactical game, it just uses simpler rules than say Combat Commander. They are both excellent games, I love the random events and chaos of CC, which is in stark contrast to the almost Chess like precision of CoH.
The new rules are a major change in the CoH world, and the main issue with the game to me, is how much more flexible the Germans are due to their lower AP costs.
I can't wait for Kursk which will see the sides more even, and feature the cool tanks.
LnL has an excellent module on Kursk as well (Dark July) w/beautiful mounted map and lovely Tank battles, so it is highly recommended. ATS is much more complex, not at all like these game, sort of a somewhat simpler ASL.

Iain Cheyne said...

@Jackson: Thanks for that. I don't like CC much, as the randomness seems totally arbitary. It may or may not be realistic, but it still annoys me.