So a few years back if you were looking for hex and counter games on the Internet one could not help but trip over a Worthington Publishing title. Be it a review, a question on FB or just a picture, there they were up front and center.The game that was getting most of the love was Hold the Line designed by Matt Burchfield, Grant Wylie, and Mike Wylie in 2008. It is an easy, introductory title depicting some of the major battles of the American War of Independence. Well, I missed the boat back then, though I was extremely curious, and have only recently obtained a copy of the game. After playing six or seven sessions of Hold the Line I feel the game has some real merit especially as a tool for getting newer and or younger players into the hobby.
Components: All the components are high quality and top notch. Counters are really well done and large with some nice art depicting their respective units. As a matter of fact outside of the artwork the only other thing on the counter is a single number. I especially like the British Elite counters which have Grenadiers wearing bearskin hats on them. Though rather uncomfortable looking I always thought those troops did strike the finest pose. The chits have weight, which I find appealing, and are rather easy on the eyes. The full color rulebook is well laid out with plenty of examples of play to get a person to the table in no time at all and, the scenario diagrams, i.e. layouts are so direct and easy you don’t even have to know how to play to set a game up. There are 13 scenarios in the rule book so plenty of replay value there. The green, blank, map board is a fully mounted one piece affair with six folds. I put mine under glass to keep it flat. It is sturdy and functional with the few, and I mean very few, tracks and charts needed to play printed on the edges. Terrain is added by the use of tiles which are placed on the board as per the scenario instructions. Think, Command & Colors or Battle Cry type games only no cards.
Rules: The rules of the basic game are simply that, basic. Players on their turn, roll a single blue, six sided die and add that number to the action points they are allotted for the scenario. So if the British player has two action points per scenario turn and rolls a three he would have five to use that turn to move, fire, perform close combat, or rally troops. Most actions cost a single point, but some such as Close Combat cost two. For anyone who has played Conflict of Heroes this action point allocation and use should be very familiar. Once all actions have been performed the player checks for victory conditions, which usually means having eliminated a certain number of enemy units, and if he/she has met the requirement they win. If not play moves to the opposing player who repeats the steps in order. Combat is much like the games mentioned above. A player declares combat either ranged or close (melee) pays the cost in action points, rolls three, six sided dice and references the combat chart to determine the results. The closer to the enemy a unit is the better chance to hit.
For example; Infantry units can fire at enemies two hexes away but only hit on any sixes rolled. One hex away they hit on a five or six, and if they declare close combat a four, five, or six.
Once hits are determined then they are applied by the target taking a “Step Loss” in morale points (the number printed on the counter) for each hit. Thus an American Militia unit with a morale of 2 would be reduced to 1 if hit. If hit again it would be eliminated and counted towards his enemy’s victory point total.
Certain terrain such as hills or Forest afford a level of protection to the units in them. Using the example above an Infantry unit one hex away wants to fire at an enemy in a forest hex. Normally they would hit on a roll of five or six, but the terrain reduces the chances so they can only hit on a six.
Game Play: My first Scenario played was Harlem Heights with just the basic rules. The turns went very fast as action points were rather sparse for both sides. I found that getting the first volley off is usually a good idea. British advanced in line but were cut down rather quickly. The die rolls for attacking seemed a bit heavy at times and I felt that units once reduced in morale should also reduce the die rolled for attacks. In other words a two step unit should only have two dice to roll instead of the full three. The Americans had a definite advantage in that they simply had to either hold their positions and mow the exposed Brits down or run out and grab a few objective hexes close to their line. I’d say the first game took all of twenty minutes so I set it up again using the optional rules.
I thought they would make play a bit more interesting and they did to a point. I added everything I could, such as Artillery being able to fire an extra hex if on a hill, and having the attacker roll a morale check prior to initiating Close Combat. This basically simulates the troops deciding that caution is the better part of valour and refusing to lock bayonets. If they fail their morale check they still use up the action points but can only conduct fire combat (lesser odds). I like this rule as Militia were not known for their willingness to engage the enemy in hand to hand combat unless cornered. This go around the British were able to pull off a victory though it was close.
In later sessions (Battle of White Plains) I started to feel like something was missing. Yes the game is rather fun, easy, and quick to play, with enough historical flavor to keep my interest, but there was just something nagging at me about the mechanics. As I advanced a British light infantry unit next to some Rebel Militia I found that the lack of facing or flanking rules was the burr in my saddle. 18th century warfare was all about lines and formations and if attacked from the flank or rear it was very difficult to recover from. This was a deal breaker for me and I was going to relegate the game to the introducing newbies to the hobby pile. That is until a friend suggest I try using the Front/Flank facing rules from another Title in the Worthington line called Frederick’s War. So I down loaded those from BGG (FWRules) and am happy to say the game really shines. There are bonuses for attacking from the rear as well as for keeping line formations in order. This small addition changed my perception of Hold the Line greatly because it added a bit of depth by presenting players with more tactical decisions that reflect the nature of warfare during that most troublesome era.
Impressions: Hold the Line is not a simulation but a game, and if one keeps that in mind the experience can be rather rewarding. It’s quick set up time as well as fluid and easy play makes it a perfect tool for introducing new players to the hex and counter hobby. The variable action points per turn presents to the novice a mechanic they will find in many other games in the genre. By not knowing exactly how many points a side will have above the base number for the scenario the game allows for it to be played solitaire with no difficulty at all. Once you add the flanking/facing rules the game really begins to come to life and the subtleties and nuance of position on the battlefield take hold. The large number of scenarios, quality of the production, and ease of set up and play make Hold the Line a fine game and one worth playing over and over again. This one will most assuredly hit my table again.