My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Real Sagas

For those playing Saga, you might be interested in reading real sagas, in order to get inspiration, ideas for scenarios or campaigns, or just because you are curious about how they read. I did a search on Amazon for sagas available on the Kindle, for free.

Told by the Northmen: Stories from the Eddas and Sagas: This is probably something more along the lines you were thinking of. Half of the stories are myth and half of them about the heroic actions of men. The second story (of about 20) is about Thor dressing up as a woman and wandering amongst men. Here is a list of the stories:
  • How All Things Began 
  • How All-Father Odin Became Wise 
  • How the Queen of the Sky Gave Gifts to Man 
  • How a Giant Built a Fortress for the Asas 
  • The Magic Mead 
  • How Loki Made a Wager with the Dwarfs 
  • The Apples of Youth 
  • How the Fenris Wolf was Chained 
  • How the Pride of Thor was Brought Low 
  • How Thor's Hammer was Lost and Found 
  • The Giant's Daughters 
  • The Story of Balder the Beautiful 
  • How Hermon Made a Journey to the Underworld 
  • How Loki was Punished at Last 
  • The Story of the Magic Sword 
  • How Sigmund Fought His Last Battle 
  • The Story of the Magic Gold 
  • How Sigurd Slew the Dragon 
  • How Sigurd Won the Hand of Brunhild 
  • How the Curse of the Gold is Fulfilled 
  • The Boyhood of Frithiof the Bold 
  • Frithiof and Ingeborg 
  • Frithiof Braves the Storm 
  • Balder Forgives 
  • How the End of All Things Came About
Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem: Note only is this a translation of a classic epic, it includes discussion, historical information, has a glossary, and a summary of the tale.

The Sagas of Olaf Tryggvason and of Harald The Tyrant (Harald Haardraade): classic Viking saga about famous Vikings. This looks like the first one I will tackle.

The Saga Hoard Volume 1: This is a collection of Icelandic sagas. From the publisher: "The Icelandic Sagas are histories written in prose, describing life and events that took place during the Icelandic Commonweath period, around the 10th and 11th centuries. They are stories of families, adventures, feuding, deal-making, political maneuvers, wars, treasure amassed, great journeys, geneology, tribute given, kings, freemen, history, and myth. They are stories of the Norse and Celtic settlers and their descendants in Iceland during what is sometimes called the Saga Age."

The Story of Burnt Njal from the Icelandic of the Njals Saga: This Icelandic saga may be a little harder to get through, according to reviewers on Amazon. Probably one I will leave for later.

A lot of reading to do! I probably won't get through it all, to be honest, so if anyone reads through any of these, let me know if you found any gaming inspiration.

BattleLore on Vassal

New Reader Welcome

Welcome to new reader David. I hope you enjoy the blog. I welcome and appreciate comments.

BattleLore on Vassal

Despite the number of games that I document here, I tend not to post every battle report. I simply would not have time to do all of that, and to be honest, not all of the games are that interesting. I try to limit it to those that show a point or highlight new rules, especially ones that I am reviewing or developing.

All that said, I still find BattleLore to be one of my favorite games. That is unfortunate, as I have not been able to entice too many people locally to try it, so I end up playing all of my games on Vassal. (In fact, the only time I pull out the board and figures these days is for solo gaming, and that is probably for only half of the solo games of BattleLore that I play.) If I remember correctly, the primary complaint from my main gaming buddy is that there are too many things to track in BattleLore, compared to Memoir '44, Battle Cry!, or Command and Colors: Napoleonics. That is true. Not only are there the Command Cards, but there are Lore Cards and Lore tokens. Added to that there are weapons modifiers to the unit types, which none of the others really have. BattleLore is unique in that regard.

I was reading a thread on BoardGameGeek where one BattleLore player was discussing how he doesn't play with Lore (magic, for those that are not BattleLore players) anymore because it increased the setup time and slowed down the play, turning a 45 minute game into a multi-hour one. I thought that statement was interesting, and probably correct, but this touched upon a discussion that my BattleLore gaming buddy and I had at the end of our last game, which is that sometimes the use of Lore allows a player who is behind to come back and win. Removing Lore, to us, lowers the chance of being able to coming back from bad luck or play. (If it is me it is bad luck; if it is my opponent it is bad play. You know how that goes!)

A recent game of Goblin Chevauchée illustrates that. At the end of my opponent's sixth turn, his Mounted Charge and Fireball left him winning at 3-1, with fewer weakened units than me and in a position to continue to threaten those units until he eliminated them.

Fortunately for me, I was able to play the Forest Frenzy Lore card (which allowed me a free attack against all enemy units in or adjacent to Forest hexes). The Forest Frenzy eliminated one unit and weakened two, allowing Lizard-riding Hobgoblins to run amok and ride both weakened units down. All of the sudden the game was 4-3 in my favor. My opponent's personal morale was shattered and the last of his cavalry was trapped fighting desperately for their lives.

Although he did shoot down my lizard riders (who were definitely Most Valuable Unit for the game), my opponent has lost most of his offensive punch and all of his fight. I administered a coup de grâce with a BattleLore Command card and a Mists of Terror Lore card (which changes his stout Dwarven morale to that of a sniveling Goblin, like what most of my troops have…), giving me four dice each with a 50% of inflicting a hit, and needing only one hit. You can see the roll below (ouch!).

Although my opponent lost, he thought the game was very exciting (if a little demoralizing, as his dice went cold at the end there), and that he still had a chance to pull out a win. And let's face it, 6-4 is a close, bloody game.

I don't fault the gentleman on BoardGameGeek for wanting to play more games of BattleLore with his wife. If removing Lore is the way to do that, however, I agree with another poster and would rather play half as many games where I could find the time to cover the longer setup and game times.

One final note: if you have tried Vassal in the past and thought it too clunky or limited, you should look at it again. It is free and it has hundreds of board, card, dice, and miniatures game modules for you to play, for free. (For those of you surprised by "miniatures" play on Vassal, there are usually 20+ people playing Warmachine/Hordes every evening, along with another 20+ playing Warhammer 40K, and 10+ playing Advanced Squad Leader. Email me if you want to try BattleLore!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kickstarter - Force for Good or Evil?

Just kidding about the "evil" part. More a "Force for Hoovering Money from my Wallet" and "Force for Potentially Incurring the Wrath of the Wife of Doom"!

So, I bought into the Up Front kickstarter – probably way too much. This kickstarter project is a "re-release of the highly acclaimed Up Front! fireteam leader card game system. You and your opponent are each in charge of a squad of men who have a specific objective to achieve. Whether you are charged with eliminating a majority of the enemy or you are trying to move a fireteam up close to the enemy without losing too many casualties there are many strategies to victory. The scenario variety of this system is what makes this game so different with every play and with game play under an hour you can fight multiple scenarios in an evening." (Text from the project introduction.)

I loved Up Front back when it came out and played it a lot. I had all of the issues of The General that had any discussion about it, and I read and re-read all of the analysis of the game. My biggest failing with it was trying to convert it to the tabletop with miniatures, but that is just something I always do, being visually-oriented, with games I really like.

I was about to get on eBay and re-purchase the series and found it very expensive, so I decided to go to BoardGameGeek and see if anyone was selling copies cheaper there, and lo and behold, there was information about Up Front being re-released.

I am pretty sure I ripped myself off. When I read the description for M/SGT level, which is what I initially pledged, you got Americans, Germans, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union – basically the original Up Front game from Avalon Hill and the Banzai and Desert War expansions. I used to have all of those and have "lost" them over the years. But my the time I pledged the project, it had started creating and meeting stretch goals. The more I looked, the more it seemed like I would not get any of those stretch goals as part of my package. Some of those goals are: Norway, FFI, French Army of Africa, French Liberation Army, Vichy France, Canada, Australia, Tito's Partisans, Finland, Greece, Free Greeks, Hungary, Airborne Pack, Romania, Poland, extra tokens, Waffen SS, USMC, Italian Folgore, more tokens, alternate cower cards, Gurkhas, leather-bound rulebook, heavy machine guns, additional AFVs, medics, minesweepers, alternate weapons, Devil's Brigade, mountain action deck, rifle grenades, heavy mortars, and a canvas bag to hold it all.

I didn't look close enough, I guess, because there was a statement that said that if you pledged at PVT level or higher, you would get all of the stretch goals. But, I did not see that, and because the U.S. COMMISARY level was the lowest to specifically mention "copies of all the stretch rewards we reach by campaign end", I upped my pledge to that level. Yes folks, this visually-oriented guy who makes a living finding patterns and paying attention to detail ended up with six copies of everything instead of one because he didn't spot the key phrase right at the beginning!

I guess I will end up on eBay after all, only as a seller. This project is closed, so if you want to purchase a copy of Up Front and did not get in …

Next up is the Small World 2 project. This is to support a new version of Small World for the iPad. I resisted buying both the board game and the iPad version for a long time, but eventually I succumbed to the latter. It was the first iPad game I bought, in fact, and I played a lot of it. I also bought the two in-app purchases which gave you more races and powers, adding to the replayability of it.

Ironically, Days of Wonder has stated that they are going to produce Small World 2, no matter how the kickstarter project turns out. The incentive to pledge is to get the update for "free", but also that if they get enough money they will add more functionality to it that they have been thinking about, but had not planned on investing in all at once. The board game, for example, has a lot more expansions than are available for the iPad, so there is a lot of content that could be added with no real additional game designing required.

When I pledged I looked at it from the viewpoint of how much fun I had derived from the game so far, compared to how much I spent for the apps. I think the current Small World app is incredible value (as is Ticket to Ride, which apparently the board game pays the bills at Days of Wonder), so I pledged at the Halfling level. (You have got to love these names!) I stopped at that level primarily because all of the levels above game you things for the board game, which I do not possess (yet, and am still succeeding in resisting).

The project is ⅓ of the way towards its goal, and is only a few days in, but my understanding of pledges are that there is a spike at the beginning and at the end, so I am not sure this is going to go.

The final kickstarter project I am involved in, and just joined today, is Rivet Wars. As you may know from reading my blog, I like grid-based games and Rivet Wars uses a square grid. Basically it is a alternate World War One board game with miniatures, inspired by (and with elements from) real-time strategy games. The miniatures are caricatures, which if you have seen my Wooden Warriors you know I am partial to, and seem fairly large (about 2" for infantry), so will be interesting to paint.

There are a number of videos, one of which is a 45 minute game walkthrough, which is very instructive on how the game plays. Particularly interesting to grid gamers is how the game handles diagonals.

So, anyone else out there frittering away their money on kickstarter projects?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Hundred Years War Saga

Well, now that I have sucked Don into playing Saga three or four times I decided to set the hook deeper and use his figures for a Saga game. (Just kidding, as I know Don reads this blog on occasion.) Of course, he has been threatening to sell his massive Bretonnian collection, so getting a chance to blow some dust off of the figures and use them helps reinforce why he needs to keep them!

I think the Hundred Years War makes a great period to use Saga with. The chevauchée is nothing if not a series of extended skirmishes strung together into one narrative. The first problem to solve is what to use for the battleboards and faction rules. No problem: someone is working on them on the Saga forum. We downloaded the files and decided to give it a go. Don chose four points of French and I chose four of English.

The English

I chose one point of mounted Knights (hearthguard), one point of dismounted Knights, one point of Longbowmen retainers (warriors), and one point of retinue (warriors with melee weapons). I chose to use each point as the unit, so I had four units. With the Warlord granting two that gave me six Saga dice to start.

The French

Don chose two points of mounted Knights, run as a single unit, and two points of retinue, run as two units. With the Warlord granting two dice that gave Don only five Saga dice to start.

This would be interesting. Although Don had a dice deficit, something I played with in our first two games (and did not like), he had a single fast, powerful unit that would be hard to stop.

The Faction Rules

I don't really have any problems with the faction rules, except for the inclusion of the archers stakes for the English. Although it may seem historical and flavorful on face value, we have to remember that this is a skirmish game, not a battle. Longbowmen running around with stakes all the time does not sound historical or logical. I did not use them anyway.

The Battleboards

I haven't done the math, but just reading over the board the night before I could tell that there might be problems. Granted, some would be a result of us using four point armies rather than the standard six, but three things struck me about both boards:

  1. About half of each board was dedicated to a specific unit type (longbow-armed infantry for the English and mounted troops for the French). If you ran out of useful units in those troop types, half of your board became unusable.
  2. Both boards required rare or uncommon dice for a substantial number of Saga abilities.
  3. Both boards required two dice for a substantial number of Saga abilities.
My guess was that there would be a number of turns in which I would use few Saga abilities, other than the multi-use abilities in the left column. That turned out to be true.

The Game

Although we played on a 4' by 4' board, I have learned from earlier games to concentrate my force. This, in turn, forced Don to contract his front a bit.

After a couple of moves I push my longbows forward in the center (just out of 12" move range from the French Knights, but not out of Full Gallop range, which is 18"). My mounted Knights and retinue await the French on the flank, but still stay close to the longbows.

The French invoke the Full Gallop and Charge! abilities, which lets them move L + S (18") if the move ends in melee and give them buckets of dice. They charge and wipe out five of my longbows. Note that the French have two fatigue due to the Charge! and melee.

On my turn I charge in with my retinue and kill one French Knight, at a loss of three of my men. Note however that the French Knights have four fatigue, and thus are exhausted, because of the No Prisoners ability of the English, which gives the enemy an additional fatigue at the end of melee.

The English Knights, along with my Knights Commander, charges in and utterly wipe out the remaining seven French Knights, but with a loss of one of mine.

With the loss of his Knights, Don throws caution to the wind and his Knights Commander charges my dismounted Knights. He kills two of mine, but I kill his Commander. Game over.

Our initial impressions were that we did not really like the abilities all that much. Part of it was the lack of troops; it is too easy at four points to run out of troops that get benefits on the board. Part of it was not having the troops we would have liked to use. But, I think that the abilities are simply too expensive for what you get. Too many require a rare or uncommon die, or worse, a combination of dice with one often being a rare.

I really want to game this period and these figures again, so I think I will have to come up with my own battleboards. The strange thing was, I expected Don to want to play the English, as they are more oriented towards shooting, which is the reason he chose the Welsh in our previous games.

I think he just loves cavalry more than shooting infantry is all.

Review of Tactical Assault Combat Cards

New Reader Welcome

It has been awhile since I have welcomed new readers to the blog. Welcome to Alfons Cànovas, Stuart Wilson, Beccas, Witteridderludo, A. Hughes, Barks, Ubique Matt, and Scott Mac. If there is anyone I missed it is probably because you are following anonymously and I cannot see your name. (I know there are some because the list of followers showing doesn't match the count. Interesting little Blogger factoid.)

I hope you enjoy the blog. Although I do post gaming battle reports, because of my gaming ADD I have a tendency to look at a lot of rules and therefore I do a number of reviews. Hopefully I can save you some money by not buying crummy rules, or you can point out to me why something I thought wasn't good should actually get a second look. I welcome and appreciate comments.

Rules Review

This article is a review of the game Tactical Assault: Combat Cards by Tactical Assault Games. So, what are Tactical Assault: Combat Cards (TACC)? From their website:
The Tactical Assault: Combat Cards™ are a fun and innovative way to fight combined arms battles on the tabletop battlefield. The Combat Cards are designed to bring all of the detailed elements of land warfare – including the fog of war – to the tabletop in a narrative card-driven format that is easy to play yet full of challenges. To be successful you must be creative in your strategies, flexible in your tactics and attentive to the ever changing battlefield.

The key to the Combat Cards is the way in which they simulate every commander’s struggle with maximizing the use of their available assets in the face of the multitude of hazards, delays and other challenges on the battlefield. The Combat Cards integrate all of this in a fast and easy to use system that challenges players to balance the need for careful planning with a willingness to take risks and seize upon sudden opportunities.

The Combat Cards can be utilized for just about any modern historical period, starting with the 20th century, as well as any science fiction setting. They can be used with any scale of miniatures, any sized battlefield and for any size of battle – ranging from the smallest skirmish action all the way up to massive operational level maneuvers.
If you are familiar with the excellent, old game from Avalon Hill called Up Front, then you have a pretty good idea of what TACC is. Essentially it is a card game where the cards not only determine what you can do (command and control), but if you are successful at it (random chance element is built in.

Before I get started I need to say that I am reluctant to reveal too much information about the game. Essentially, the details on the cards are what you are paying for.  I will try and limit my explanations to what you can actually get yourself from their website, but make the explanations a little more concrete.

You can download a PDF document on the anatomy of a combar card from their website. The sample card is shown on the right. You can also download the complete rules as a PDF for free.

Each card has four sections: Action, Situation, Combat Results, and Random Drift. Each player starts with a hand of six cards and uses them to play Actions and Situations either in their turn or in their opponents. So, the game has a hand management element to it as you decide which card to use for an Action and which to use for a Situation.

When a combat situation needs to be resolved, a card is drawn from the deck (not from the hand) and the Combat Results section is used. Similarly, when something needs to drift, such as artillery attacks, a card is randomly drawn from the player's deck to determine which direction the drift occurs and how far.

The turn sequence is pretty simple:
  1. Player A is Active Player. Player B is Inactive Player.
  2. Active Player plays a card for its Action and Situation, one at a time.
  3. Inactive Player plays a card to interrupt or cancel Active Player's card, or passes.
  4. Repeat 2 and 3 until Active Player passes.
  5. Alternately, Active Player can discard as many cards from his hand.
  6. Active Player refills the hand to six cards.
  7. Active Player plays a card only for its Situation, one at a time.
  8. Inactive Player plays a card to interrupt or cancel Active Player's card, or passes.
  9. Repeat 7 and 8 until Active Player passes.
  10. Player B is Active Player, Player A is Inactive Player.
  11. Repeat steps 2 through 9.
  12. Turn ends.
Note that the hand is not refilled after playing cards for Situation only. If you play cards after the refill, you have fewer cards to react to your opponents Actions and Situations with.


Each player can only play one Action on a unit, per turn. You cannot do anything without a card being played, and during your turn, Actions are the primary means of doing things. Movement, firing, assaulting, digging in, concealment, recovering from combat results, these are all Actions on the cards. Again, a unit cannot do anything without the play of a card, so managing your card hand is important. Also, with a hand of six cards to cover your half of the turn and your opponents, you are not going to be acting with every unit every turn.


A Situation often, but not always, is a reaction played in the opponent's turn, such as the Opportunity Fire indicated in the sample card, but it can also be off-board artillery, air strikes, reconnaissance, and other "events". Some situations are modifiers to a subsequent Action played on the unit the Situation is applied to, so you can get powerful "combination" attacks. As stated previously, however, you must let your opponent have a chance to play an interrupt or cancellation after each card you play, so you cannot necessarily pull of flawless combinations without recourse from your opponent.

Basic Mechanics

The game feels very familiar because, like Saga, it uses measurements like Very Short, Short, Medium, Long, and Very Long. Everything is rated in these measurements, whether it is movement, the distance you can shoot, or the distance of a card effect. The longest measurement, VL, is the length of the shortest board edge, with each measurement below that ½ of the previous value. Thus on a 6' by 4' board, Very Long = 48", Long = 24", Medium = 12", Short = 6", and Very Short = 3". To get a sense of scale, most movement is Short, while Armor shoots Very Long. (Better break out the LOS-blocking terrain!)

Movement is very simple, measuring from center point-to-center point, able to move through friendlies with no problem, and halving movement only while your center point is over terrain that hinders you.

Firing is also simple, again measuring from center point-to-center point. If you are within range and the line of sight is not blocked (both friendly and enemy units block line of sight) you compare the Firepower rating of the firer to the Protection rating of the target. (By the way, all of this information is available to you, for free, in the downloadable rules, so I don't have a problem quoting examples feeling like I am giving away the store.) If Firepower is stronger you get one shift "up", whereas if Protection is stronger you get one shift "down". Cover and being obscured creates shifts ("up" is good for the firer). There are only six modifiers in the basic game and they are listed on page 7 of the rules: Firepower superior; Protection superior; Extreme Range; firing from outside of the front arc of the target (i.e. a flank or rear shot); being obscured or in cover; and being at a lower elevation than the target. These shifts change the combat results, which are indicated by the drawn card from the firer's deck. (By the way, each player has their own combat deck, although they are identical.) The combat results, from lowest to highest, are: No Effect; Fall Back; Shaken; Out of Action; and Eliminated. So one shift "up" from No Effect results in a Fall Back result, while two shifts "down" from Eliminated results in a Shaken result.

Let's us an example. An Anti-Armor unit attacks an Armored unit. The Unit Type & Characteristics Table (page 5 of the rules) indicates that the Anti-Armor unit can fire Long (24" on a 6' x 4' table) with a Firepower rating of Heavy. The Armored unit's Protection rating is Heavy, so Firepower and Protection are equal, resulting in no shifts. No other modifiers apply, so when the card is drawn for a Combat Result, whatever the value is will be the result taken. Very simple.

Close combat requires a special action; you cannot simply move into contact. Once there both sides get to attack and defend. Infantry is rated as Very Heavy in close combat so it is its' primary means of taking out the enemy, as its Firepower rating is only Light.

Unit Types and Characteristics

TACC has a very similar feel to Hordes of the Things (HOTT). Units are typed as either: Aerial; Aerial Defense; Anti-Armor; Armored; Artillery; Behemoth; Bunker; Civilian; Command; Creature; Engineer; Fire Support; Heavy Weapon; Infantry; Infiltrator; Mechanized; Obstacle; Recon; or Swarm. In fact, some of these types have the same names as HOTT; the remainder are just modernized version of the other HOTT types.

There are no "periods" in TACC, just like HOTT. Everything is considered to be relative to one another. For example, armor may keep getting stronger as you move from WW II through Modern to Science Fiction, but it is the game designer's contention that armor's defensive value (Protection rating) stays relatively the same when compared to infantry's ranged power (Firepower rating) and its assault power (Close Combat rating). Put another way, although Armor's Protection rating keeps going higher over time, so does Infantry's Firepower and Close Combat ratings; in the end the relative values stay the same. I think I like that, as a starting point.


Terrain is defined in several ways. Is it linear or a template (area)? Is it covering, obstructing, hindering, impassable, or elevated? If elevated, how high is it? All of these characteristics combine to help you determine how the terrain impacts movement, line of sight, and combat effects. By combining these characteristics you can model any terrain feature.

There are no rules for laying out terrain, or an indication about how dense the terrain should be. There are no guidelines for determining what terrain characteristics to use for any given terrain type. I saw an interesting exchange on one blog article's comment section on how two different players modelled a building. So there is no "one way".

Army Lists, Battlefield Setup, and Deployment

Like HOTT, you build a standard army of 36 points. (The free rules show you the cost of each unit, so you can get an idea.) Unless you are using an expansion (see below) there are no modifiers to these costs. There are no lists. You can buy any number of each unit type you want for your army. It is up to you to translate your scenario or concept into unit types and force compositions.

As indicated above, there are no rules for laying out a battlefield's terrain. Do what feels good. Also, see the comments on Scale below.

Deployment is interesting. The author does not intend you to line up your forces on your baseline and go at it with an opponent who lined up his forces on his baseline. Deployment is by players alternating placement of a single unit on the board – anywhere on the board, as long as it is not closer than Medium distance from an enemy unit. This makes deployment of units even more critical than in Flames of War, I think.

Some units are not placed on the board, artillery and aerial units, for example, while other units are placed on the board, but not during initial deployment. Infiltrators are an example of that; they are deployed by the play of a card (sort of like Lurkers in HOTT) and can be placed almost anywhere on the board.

Expansion Capability

First off, there are a number of expansions already out there for TACC. As there was a New Year's sale, I went ahead and bought them all (of course).

Legendary Battles are scenarios with maps, special rules, and orders of battle. They help you get an idea on how to play other periods like WW II, Vietnam, modern Zombie Apocalypse  and Science Fiction bug hunts, for example. They are very light, but buying one that sounds interesting is probably not a bad idea.

Personality Cards allow you to assign personality traits to commanders, specific units, or an entire side. I found the cards interesting and of average value, but I thought they could have provided more for the price. The rules (which are a free PDF download) are not really well thought out and rather generic. They certainly won't give you a hint of what to expect from your purchase, nor unfortunately will the sample card.

Experience cards allow you to assign experience levels – like Veteran, Trained, and Conscript of Flames of War – to units or sides. The rules are poorly thought out and the point values completely absurd. This should have been a free download, but it looks like the author has caught expansion fever. This one product was the first expansion I looked at and I thought that if all the others were this bad, I had gotten ripped off. Fortunately, this is the bad apple of the bunch.

Technology cards allow you to tweak units by slightly modifying them up or down from the generic versions. Examples – again, without giving away the author's IP freely 1 – are making a unit a little slower than normal, lighter or heavier in Protection than normal, and heavier in Firepower than normal. There are two of these expansion packs, and they could have easily been combined into a single expansion, so that lowers the value of them. That said, getting at least one will help you get the juices flowing on how you can tweak the unit characteristics to model real-world units (for example, a King Tiger tank being a Behemoth, but a Maus being a slow Behemoth).

One final comment about expansions: Tactical Assault is actually two different games. The game reviewed here is Combat Cards, but the other is Fantasy Cards which is the fantasy version of the game. There are expansions for the fantasy game that are presumably not compatible with the modern combat game.

A Few Problems

As is common with a game that likely does not have a large player base or heavy playtesting (an assumption I make with this game based upon the number of Google hits I found on this game, which has been out on the market since 2009), there are a few contradictions in the rules (in the rule book and on the cards), but they are generally minor. The examples found to date through playtesting are:
  1. The rules indicate that you can play cards in step 2 and discard as many cards as you want, but the quick reference sheet and one reference on the internet indicates that it is or. (I have reflected the or in this review and used it in my test game.)
  2. The wording for Reconnaissance is such that you cannot reveal Concealed units, which is clearly the intent of the Situation description.
  3. It is not really clear how counter-battery fire is resolved. (Is it shifted up one or a straight combat results pull?) It looks like counter-battery fire is really effective. The limiter is getting the card and not using it for anything else. Given that you are likely to cycle through the deck at least once in the course of a game you will draw it eventually.
  4. It is not really clear which modifiers apply for attacks against off-board elements (can they be dug in?) or by off-board elements (can they be elevated?).
  5. When a ConfusedShaken, or Out of Action unit is attacked in Close Combat, it appears that the unit can fight back, despite you thinking that it might not be able to.
  6. An Open Fire card only allows you to fire at a target within line of sight. But the definition of line of sight includes being within your 180º front arc, so to fire at someone outside of your front arc you would need two actions – one to move and one to shoot – thus it would take two turns. By then the target could easily move out of line of sight again. The Open Fire card should allow a free, in-place pivot before firing.
Clearly the problems are not insurmountable; just make a decision on how you want to play it or write an email to the author.

Final Thoughts

One thing I have not mentioned is basing schemes, figure scales, or even the scale that the action represents. That is because there is no scale specified. People have used these rules to play skirmish games with one figure equalling one man while others have used a stand to represent a platoon, and others still multiple stands for the unit, representing who knows what. Like HOTT, these rules are very abstract – maybe I should say ambiguous – about what they represent. Only further gaming will reveal what they are good at representing and what they are not.

Tactical Assault:Command Cards Ratings

Using my new method for reviewing rules, here are the ten aspects of the rules I rate.

Drama - do the rules create tension during play?

I did not feel a lot of tension with TACC. It is definitely a thinking game, but because you tend to chain and order card play, I tend to be a bit more sedate. Besides, having a great combination does not mean it won't be blown as each card can be interrupted; it seems fairly easy to spoil a combination.

One of the things that seems more "realistic" is that you end up pumping round after round into a unit in order to get that Eliminated combat result. The Out of Action is not permanent; you never know when a unit will suddenly come back into action. Of course that "realism" gets a bit tedious.

The largest detraction, in terms of drama, is that the combat is so simple and comes down to a single card pull; it is not very exciting. It has its advantages, however.

TACC rates 3 out of 5 in Drama.

Uncertainty - are there enough elements that introduce uncertainty in the game?

TACC has enough random elements in the game. Although there are no dice, the cards play that role adequately, just as they do with the classic Up Front. The problem is that it takes too many cards to get things done. Whereas with 'typical' activation systems, like Command and Colors, when you activate you get to move and shoot or choose whether you want to move or shoot. With TACC you need different cards to move or shoot for any given unit type. This creates a little too much uncertainty.

There were a couple of times where a player could look at a shot and say, "I cannot eliminate that target", so would not take the shot (for example, with an Armored unit engaging a Behemoth frontally). I remember a game called The Complete Brigadier which did not use chance elements for firing or melee and people complained that there were situations where they could calculate in their head the results, and felt that determinism detracted from the game. I am unsure about whether it bothers me or not. Sometimes trying for that 1% shot slows the game down so much that whatever realism it was supposed to represent itself becomes a distraction from the game. I think this is why so many game designers abstract away skirmishing from big battle horse and musket games.

TACC rates 3 out of 5 in Uncertainty.

Engaging - do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?

TACC's game design is centered around managing a single, scarce resource: the combat cards. You only play so many cards per turn and they can only be used for one thing, so unit activities take a while to complete. Further, a unit can generally only be ordered to do one thing (move or shoot) per turn, so the game appears to move in slow motion. Although turns go fast, when a player's turn is chopped up into so many discrete pieces, players tend to lose patience and just do anything in order to do something.

That said, the combo play is the name of the game and planning for a really good move is what the player is shooting for. When you pull it off, it sucks the player back into the narrative of the action.

TACC rates 4 out of 5 in Engaging.

Unobtrusiveness - do the rules get in the way?

If you can say anything about the rules of TACC, it would be unobtrusive. Once you learn the dozen or so "golden rules", which are easily memorized, the rules are pretty much written on the cards played.

TACC rates 5 out of 5 in Unobtrusiveness.

Heads Up - are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?

Unless you are using a lot of unit types or the expansions, TACC requires little reference to sheets. There are few combat modifiers, so they are easily memorized. In many cases, where a target is already Shaken and Out of Action, and an Elimination result is required to effectively get a result, a player can quickly determine that the result is not possible so they do not waste the card firing. To me, that is a pretty Heads Up set of rules.

TACC rates 4 out of 5 in Heads Up.

Appropriately Flavored - do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?

TACC has a lot of similarities to HOTT and De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA). Both of these rules define capabilities generically. DBA further adopts the concept that, as these generic troop types progress through the Biblical, Classical, Dark Ages, and Medieval periods, their offensive power stays relatively the same against the defensive power. In other words, a Blade representing Philistine swordsmen with shields (a Blade unit type) pitted against an Assyrian heavy chariot (a Knight unit type) has the same relative offensive and defensive power as a dismounted Knight (a Blade unit type) has against a mounted Knight (a Knight unit type) during the War of the Roses. So, you can use the same rules and combat results to game Philistines versus Assyrians as you can for the War of the Roses.

The problem, of course, is that each period feels a little generic, and you cannot logically cross period lines. TACC feels the same. The army lists for TACC would not have different unit types over time, just different combinations. Rebels forces might not be allowed Aerials, for example, because they do not possess aircraft.

TACC rates 3 out of 5 in Appropriately Flavored. It feels modern for sure. It is just that once you get into the modern period, there is little to differentiate one game from the next. The Tech expansions certainly help in that regard, however.

Scalable - can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or units used or in the number of players – from the 'standard game'?

When I looked at TACC I started by looking for reviews of the rules. I was surprised that many people were using single figures/models to represent a unit in the game. Given that there is absolutely no scale information in the rules, that makes sense. Distances are functions of board size, not the scale of the game (skirmish, squad, platoon, company, battalion, Division, Corps, Army, etc.) that you are playing.

The game certainly implies that a unit's footprint on the table not be considerable, at least to my mind. There are no rules to discuss some of the problems associated with multi-base units or units with large footprints. Given this, and that the game's concept is one of relative power, it is easy to image the game at lower levels of scale. I played my test games with a unit represented by a single vehicle model, stand of one gun and crew, or stand of infantry figures and representing a platoon of troops. I could just have easily called it a squad and it would have worked as well. Using single infantry figures to represent the units also works well, from others' battle reports.

I think it starts to fall apart as you scale up what the unit represents. When you do that, the firing ranges start to seem ludicrous. Then again, I have never found a set of modern rules where a stand equals a company or higher and the firing ranges weren't way out of scale.

In terms of scaling the game by raising or lowering unit counts, it is simply a matter of adjusting the number of cards the player is allowed in their hand. It is not linear, however, just as it isn't with Memoir '44. Just because you double the number of units you should not necessarily double the hand.

TAC rates 4 out of 5 for Scalable. It has some leeway – single figure skirmishes to platoon-as-unit – but it stops about there. As for the number of figures used, that is irrelevant; what becomes important is the footprint of the unit in relation to movement and firing distances. Finally, scaling the number of units is possible, but needs a lot of testing. I don't think it will scale by more than three times the standard size without something breaking (like the time required to complete a game).

Lacks Fiddly Geometry - do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?

TACC uses simple rules for center-to-center measurements and 180º firing arcs, so it is pretty much "fiddly-free". There is no reason you cannot play these rules on a square or hex grid.

TACC rates 4 out of 5 in Lacks Fiddly Geometry. (Only grid-based games get a 5 from me!)

Tournament Tight™ Rules - are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the leave the player to 'fill in the blanks'?

Lack of battlefield setup rules and a few questions regarding off-board units cut it from a 5 to a 4. Point costs seem untested, especially of the expansion elements, so it cuts the rating from a 4 to a 3. You can see some of the issues I ran into in my test game, above.

TACC rates 3 out of 5 in Tournament Tight Rules.

Solo Suitability - do the rules have elements conducive to solo play?

TACC relies on using cards to represent reacting in your opponents' turn. Knowing when you can get away with a move without drawing a reaction is a fair portion of the game. If you are willing to forego that element of surprise, then you can game the rules solo.

TACC rates 3 out of 5 in Solo Suitability. It is not impossible, but because it has hidden elements that affect game play, you lose some of that richness when playing solo.

1 I am sorry, I could not help myself. I had to get that phrase into print somehow.

Test Game

I played a test game using my Flames of War based WW II figures on a 6' x 4' board. Because the short side of the battlefield is 48", the Very Short measurement is 3", while the Very Long is 48".

The forces I used were:

King Tigers (Behemoth) @ 6 x 2
Sdkfz 7/1 Quad 2cm (Aerial Defense) @ 1 x 3
10.5cm Howitzer Battery (Artillery) @ 1 x 3
Kampfgruppe Pfeifer Commander (Command) @ 1 x 2
Panzergrenadiers (Mechanized) @ 4 x 3
Grenadiers (Infantry) @ 2 x 2
= 36 points

As a note I ended up using a sIG 15cm infantry gun as my artillery unit. In the game such a weapon would probably qualify as a Fire Support unit.

P-51 Mustang (Aerial) @ 1 x 2
Bazooka Teams (Infiltrator) @ 3 x 2
105mm Howitzers (Artillery) @ 3 x 2
Company Commander (Command) @ 1 x 2
Shermans (Armor) @ 1 x 5
M-10s (Anti-Armor) @ 3 x 3
Infantry @ 2 x 3
= 36 points

As you can see, I did not have a P-51 model, and my American artillery looks suspiciously like German 10.5cm howitzers.

The Game

The rules allow you to deploy anywhere, as long as you are not within Medium of an enemy unit. Players alternate deploying units, so it is sort of a cat-and-mouse phase of the game. You really don't know which direction the enemy is coming from until a few units start getting placed.

I decided for a Peiper's Charge-like scenario where the Germans are trying to blitz through towns on their way to the Meuse River and the American rear echelon troops have to stop them. So the Americans largely setup in cover around the town. The Germans decided to attack from two directions, with the goal of breaking through off of the road on the upper right of the board.

(You can click on pictures to make them larger.)

Left FankRight Flank

First blood went to the Americans with a massive artillery attack against the flanking forces, killing the German command unit, pinning the infantry, and forcing the King Tiger to retreat. The Americans were 2-0 (with the goal to reach 18 points).

The King Tiger fired at the M-10 tank destroyer, forcing it to retreat off of the board. This showed me the reason not to setup a unit within 6" of a board edge. If you get a Fall Back result (fairly easy) and leave the board, you count as eliminated. The Germans were then 3-2.

The M-10 (an Anti-Tank unit) fired at the Gepanzerte Panzergrenadier platoon (a Mechanized unit) and destroyed it. The Americans were then 6-3.

Playing a test game before giving the final review was reinforced when one of the American Bazooka-armed tank hunter teams (an Infiltrator unit) assaulted an out-of-action German King Tiger (Behemoth unit). My first inclination was that an out-of-action unit cannot 'swing back' in close combat, but I decided to read the rules carefully. Sure enough, there was no such language; my own bias was creeping in.

Eventually the King Tiger got back into action and swung around the 'rear' of the Bazooka team and assaulted it, destroying the unit. Why drive around it? Because you shift up one level for attacking from outside the front arc, of course!

The King Tiger assaults the Tank Hunter team and destroys it, but is also Shaken in the process. The Germans were then 6-6.

I learned that when dropping artillery, you generally want to drop it Very Short away from where you want the to hit at a point where the closes enemy unit is the one you want to hit. Drifting is in relation to the closest enemy (or friendly) unit to the target point. If the drift is Dead On (a less common result), you will still get the unit in the blast (which has a Very Short radius), but you also get hit the target on a Very Short drift towards the closest enemy unit (a fairly common result). Once you learn this tricks it generally takes the fun and uncertainty out of the game.

I could go on, but this is not intended as a full battle report, but just to show some of the concepts in action. (The Americans eventually won, largely because of their artillery.)

It was an enjoyable game, but very long to complete (in the order of three to four hours); more than many gamers would be willing to put in and certainly more than most of the locals I game with. The problem was that to score points you had to eliminate a unit, not just put it out of action. Eliminating units typically occurred by putting them out of action, then advancing on them out of their front arc in order to get a bonus, then hoping for the result that would eliminate them before they found a card to bring them back out of action. With artillery hitting with Very Heavy firepower anywhere on the board, the Americans had the advantage to knocking out units. The King Tigers had to be assaulted with infantry in order to remove them (I only got one).

All in all, a very different game.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").