Counterus Hex

Hex and Counter games reviewed and discussed by an old Grognard.

The Christmas buying season is upon us, a most stressful and anxious time for all, but more so for the war gamer. For we who enjoy whiling away our free time pushing chits about on a map, referencing charts and tables lost in thought, are really not understood. Those who do not enjoy our hobby cannot comprehend the beauty and pleasure derived from sitting at a table figuring out strategy and tactics. Every year, and I mean every year, when I am asked what I would like for Christmas I receive odd, puzzled looks from friends and family as I try to explain that a nice hex and counter game is always welcome. My dear sister narrows her eyes and puts a polite half smirk on her face as she listens to me describe a title on the invasion of Gaul by Caesar, or some obscure battle of a war she has never heard of. I can see the wheels turning behind those eyes, a fleeting moment of interest then, nothing.

It really is difficult for non war gamers to buy gifts for us, especially now that the hobby has grown and there are so many titles and options to sift through. This is why each year I compile a small list of games and or accessories that my well wishing people can chose from if they so desire to bless me with a gift on Christmas morn. I even direct them to where such can be purchased, for they, being ignorant of this rather confusing hobby would have no idea where to look. Generally if it can’t be found on Amazon they are going to be floundering about and frustrated in their search.

Thus I have created my paltry list for this holiday season and have decided to share it here with you all. Note; some of the items are older titles, some new, but all have struck my fancy in one way or another over the past year. They are not in any type of order of preference either.

Conflict of Heroes Eastern Front Solo Expansion: This much anticipated add on to Conflict of Heroes Awakening the Bear by Academy Games allows for better solo play of this really fun and interesting system. As I play 90% of my hex and counter games in solitaire mode this expansion should help me get Awakening the Bear to the table much more often. As anyone who has played any of the CoH titles already knows, some of the fire fights cannot be soloed easily due to loads of hidden information such as cards, actual hidden units and artillery etc.

Celles: A simulation of a portion of the Ardennes offensive commonly referred to as the Battle of the Bulge. As I have no games covering this battle in the closet of awesomeness, I would love to get this one under the tree. I’ve been very impressed with Revolution Games products in the past and I’m sure this one won’t disappoint. Using an alternating random activation mechanic and a strength reduction for units that move (fatigue) Celles looks to be a real nail biter. It has received really good reviews on BGG as well.

Fading Glory: Produced by GMT in 2012 Fading glory is a bundle of four of Victory Point Games Napoleonic 20 series. Utilizing low counter numbers i.e. 20, a player can recreate some of the most interesting battles of the Napoleonic era. This historical period too has largely been ignored by me over the years and my collection has but one title, Avalon Hill’s Waterloo to represent it. Yes I fully understand and appreciate your gasps of horror on this account. Thus my wishing to remedy the situation. Again this series of games is solo friendly which is a huge bonus.

1914 Glory’s End; When Eagles Fight: Another GMT offering that is two games in one. Glory’s End covers the first three months of the war on the Western Front during world war one prior to full scale trench warfare being implemented. Though it does make its appearance about halfway through one of the scenarios. Glory’s End sister title When Eagles Fight covers world war one on the eastern front. Both of these games utilize mechanics and rules that represent the various difficulties that each theater of operations presented commanders of the time. Not having played a WWI title since I soloed Gun’s of August in full campaign mode in 1988, (it took four months) my interest was piqued when Amazon blasted me with this recommendation. I like the look and feel of both titles and from what I can gather they play relatively quickly, unless you are prone to “Decision Lock”.

2mm Radius Deluxe Corner Punch Cutter Rounder: Of course all hex and counter aficionados know what a counter clipper is and what they are used for. But try explaining that to someone who already is under the impression you are cracked? Seriously the looks I get when talking about how it is done and why. I should start filming those conversations. Anyway this counter clipper from Oregon Laminations Company comes highly recommended by a certain video reviewer who I respect quite a bit. If it’s good enough for him then it damned sure is for the likes of me..

Well there you have it, my personal wish list this Christmas, though to be honest, if I receive nought but a loving kiss from my dear wife and a heartfelt “Merry Christmas” or two from friends and family I will be happy enough. 

Avalon Hill Game company’s title Stalingrad is a game I have always found to be well… comfortable. Like a pair of old shoes, or a favorite shirt that simply helps you relax when slipping them on. From set up to tear down of this old game I always find myself engaged, thoughtful, and yes calm. Not an easy feat considering the hectic state of the world these days or the title’s theme. It is for this reason, above many others, that Stalingrad has hit my table time and time again over the last 35 years. Originally released in 1963 Stalingrad is a strategic level game representing the Eastern front during world war II.This title caught quite a bit of flak from the gaming community in its initial stages due to some flaws in the design/rules, and historical inaccuracies. But these issues quickly took a back seat once gamers started to play more and more. There is a deceiving depth to this game which is camouflaged by its simple rules and play.   Actually Stalingrad eventually became the most analyzed war game in existence, (according to Board Game Geek) despite all of the bad press. Components: The components are standard fare for the era, a 22″ x 28″ two piece mounted map board with hex overlay. The art is basic with simple terrain features such as mountains, rivers, swamps and cities. It definitely does not jump out at you as beautiful. However it is sturdy and functional. My board hails from 1963 and is in great shape 53 years after it was made. The counters are small compared to modern games and can be a bit hard on the old eyes to read, let alone handle. I am constantly having to fiddle with stacks after counting attack and defense values due to clumsiness. A minor issue to be sure, more a testament of my not aging as well as the game. Each counter is printed with a NATO symbol representing either Armor, Infantry, Cavalry, or Mechanized Infantry. They also have three numerical values on each of them, these represent 1. Attack factor, 2. Defense factor, 3. Movement factor.  So a Russian (red) infantry unit that has an 7-10-4 on it would have 7 attack, 10 defense and 4 movement.

There is also the famous Avalon Hill Combat Results Table (CRT) a time record chart, and a weather card. On the obverse of the weather table is printed what AH called an Order of Battle Reference. It is basically a listing of all the counters for both armies so a player can check if he/she thinks they may have lost one to the cat.

    Rules: There are two sets of rules for Stalingrad, the original 1963 set and the revised 1974. Most players began to use the latter version once it became available as the changes it offered helped balance the game somewhat. Prior to these changes games tended to favor the Russian player. I am referencing the 1974 rules here.

To win the game the German player must either eliminate all Russian units (not an easy task) or capture and occupy  the three Russian cities Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad simultaneously for two consecutive turns before May, 1943.

The Russian must avoid the German victory conditions or eliminate all German forces on the board.

Set up- The Russian player sets up first by placing any and all of his/her units east of the Axis-Soviet border, (dark black line on the map). The Russians can place units adjacent to the border itself. Beginning players may find this a bit intimidating so I suggest using the basic “set up” of Russian forces which can be found in the Battle Manual. Though not the best defensive plan, it actually was nicknamed “thin crust defense”, this set up will allow the game to get started. 

Next, the German player places all of his/her units west of the border, except the Hungarian and Italian units which don’t come into play until May of 1942. All Finnish units must be placed in Finland. The German player may also place an additional eight combat factors of units in Finland at this point if they want. Axis units cannot be placed adjacent to the border but must start at least one hex away.




The game is played in turns, the Germans move some or all of their units after which he/she consults the time record chart to see if replacements are available if so they are brought in, then all combats that were initiated are resolved. Next the Russian player does the same. Once both sides have completed their move/ replacement/attack sequence the Russian player marks off one month on the time record sheet.

Replacements can move and attack on the same turn they are received. 

To move units a player simply counts off his/her allotted movement factor for the unit they wish to move. Terrain plays a very minor role in movement as there are only three terrain features that adjust it. Units must stop immediately upon entering either a mountain or swamp hex and they cannot move until the next turn. Movement through these hexes is at the rate of one per turn. Railroads offer a ten hex bonus to the movement factor of units. This bonus is decreased to five during the winter months or any turns that there is snow.


Combat resolution in Stalingrad is the same as many of the other classic Avalon Hill games of the era such as Afrika Korps and D-Day by the use of the Combat Results Table. This is achieved by counting up the attacker's total attack strength (first number on the counter) and comparing it to the defenders total defense strength (second number on counter) along with any terrain defense modifiers, and then determining the odds. Once odds are determined the attacker consults the Combat Results Table (CRT) and rolls a single six sided die and applies the outcome. 

Defense modifiers for terrain are simple. Behind rivers, in mountains and major cities all defense factors are doubled. 

Unlike some other titles though, Stalingrad does not have an Automatic Victory condition, i.e. battles fought at 7-1 odds or greater automatically eliminate the defender. This is very important for the Russian player to understand as they can use weaker units to defend various points to slow the advance of the German forces.

Another important and somewhat contentious combat rule is advance after combat. Attacking units can only occupy recently vacated hexes in combat if the defender’s defense factor was doubled during the combat. In other words, if the defender is in a mountain, city, or behind river lines. Many war gamers find this rule very irritating in that it is unrealistic.

Me ? I’m OK with it as I look at Stalingrad as a game and not a simulation.




Beginning in July 1941 on the turn record track The German player begins to receive replacements. These come in at a rate of 4 Combat factors per month for the rest of the game and the must be placed in Warsaw. Replacement units are taken from the eliminated pool and can be accumulated from month to month if the player so desires or if no dead units are available. There is a column on the turn record chart to keep track of accumulated replacements.

The Russian replacement rate is a little more generous as in September of 41′ they begin receiving 4 Defense factors per month for each of the three objective cities they control (Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad). This rate increases to 5 factors per city per month in December, and 6 in May of 42′. These units can be placed in any of the objective cities controlled, in any combination.




What would a Russian land war game be if it did not have the harsh weather factored into it somehow? 

In Stalingrad every December, January, and February, are consider snow months, which means all movement is cut in half including the railroad bonus, and that certain northern lakes and rivers are “frozen” which negates the defensive bonus of rivers and allows movement on frozen lakes.

The months October, November, March and April are unknown weather months and must be rolled for to see what effects will be applied. At the beginning of each of these months the German player rolls a six sided die and applies the effect to that month’s turn. 

Game play: 
So how does this old girl play out? Well pretty good overall. What I like about this game is that on the very first turn hell even during set up a player has to be engaged and thoughtful. A good Russian defense along the border can be quite a puzzle to figure out for the Germans, (I always like to play the aggressor) and I have found myself more than once analyzing the board ad nauseum before placing a single unit. But once I think I have found the weak spot I quickly get my units set up.

Turns go a bit slow at first as both sides are jockeying for position, the Russian shores up defense lines and moves units to hinder a breakthrough, whilst the German tries to get units across the many river lines as quickly as possible so to negate the defensive bonus they provide the enemy. Eventually a breakthrough occurs and the game takes on a more dynamic and violent pace. Armor races across the steppe to capture rail lines and cities. Russians sacrifice unit after unit playing for time, hoping to frustrate and annoy the Germans as much as possible. Once Russian replacements begin to arrive the tide begins to turn, slowly, but the Germans can still take the game. 

What makes this game play so well are the simple rules that anyone can learn very quickly. You are not referencing the rule book constantly for an obscure subset of instructions every other turn which one experiences in more difficult titles. And new players can grasp all of the concepts with little to no difficulty.

That is not to say that Stalingrad is simple, for at every turn the players are forced to make some pretty hard decisions. Do I as the German garner my forces and push up the Smolensk-Moscow line?, or perhaps I slog through the Southern front and go for an end around of the Pripyat marshes? Does the Russian attack Finland first, thus knocking out that minor threat to free up troops, or do they ignore it and stack up on the southern and central fronts? When do they fall back and to where? How much to sacrifice and when? and lastly will they build up replacements and counter attack en-masse or grind on piece meal siphoning off German resources at every turn?


I have gone on long enough, Stalingrad is still one of my favorite titles to while away an afternoon over. It has enough options in the way of strategy to give it plenty of replay value (35 years worth for me) and enough depth that one has to think but not too much. There are many newer games that cover the Eastern Front on the grand strategic level as well as tactical, and they do outshine this old girl. But for me the familiar and comfortable aspects of this title are what makes me dust her off time and time again, usually with a small smile and a whispered "hello my old friend". 

Above all Stalingrad is a game! Not a simulation and if viewed as such from the onset I believe it will not disappoint.

There are games that I find it very difficult to review and write about, not because they are bad in some way, but quite the opposite. A good title inspires me rather to actually play, instead of sitting at a keyboard typing. Staring at the screen, my mind wanders as I reference rules whilst various impressions of game play sneak in like an old miscreant childhood friend whispering “c’mon let’s set it up again”. Next thing I know I’m pushing counters about mumbling to myself, lost in the battle before me.

The Grunwald Swords is such a game. It draws me to the table with its simple yet subtle play style again and again, encouraging me to ignore the little things in life such as food and rest.

This light war game represents the very bloody battle of Tannenburg/Grunwald in 1410 between the Teutonic Order and the king of Poland Wladyslaw and his Lithuanian allies. A battle of which I was somewhat ignorant until now. 

Produced by Hollandspiele, and designed by Tom Russell, the game is a low complexity, quick playing title, that is driven by a simple and direct set of rules named Shields & Swords II. This rule set will be used in future games in the series so once learned a player can easily transition from one title to another with little difficulty.

When I say simple, I mean it.The rule book is no more than four and half pages all told.They are written clearly and orderly which makes referencing them quite easy.Though after the first play or two I found that the rule book lay idle with familiarity. 

The components for this title surprised me with their quality. As Hollandspiele is a new and rather small gaming company producing titles for about $30 US I would have expected them to cut corners and cost in this area.They did not.The laser cut counters are thick and printed well, i.e. no off set. Colors are sharp and the art on the counters clear, though one or two of my Teutons did appear to be a bit blurry.The map consists of two,10.25″ wide x 16.5″ long thick paper stock sheets with defined hex overlays, which will have to be placed under plastic to keep it flat during play. The colors and art on the map itself are pleasing.Terrain plays a very small role in the game itself so many of the features on the map are purely aesthetic. 

The game also comes with a single eight sided die, for combat resolution, the rule book of course, and a second booklet of of notes on the history of the battle. All of this fits inside a rather sturdy box, (I love my boxes) printed with a sort of retro design that appeals to me. Simple sometimes is more elegant.The crown jewel of this package though is the historical write up by the designer Tom Russell. It had me chuckling and smirking throughout as he has a way of making a seemingly grim topic, amusing.The only negative thing I found as to components is that the rules and history write up books are slightly larger than the box itself, thus I have to fish around a bit to get them out without damage. 


The battle is played in a series of alternating turns until the victory conditions are met. Each turn is broken up into three phases:

1. Command Phase, this is where a player issues two commands to any single wing of their army. Wings are easily identified by the color of the counters for example: the Allies have four wings Red Poles, Pink Poles, Yellow infantry, and Orange Lithuanian. Each player has three double sided command chits to chose from.These commands will dictate what the units will do in the next phase.

2. Action Phase, Commands issued are executed in the following order.

  • Fire, ranged attack (no archers in this game so neither side uses this)
  • Horse, heavy and light horse move and attack
  • Withdraw.
  • Shield Wall. (infantry only)
  • Move.
  • Second Move.
  • Combat
  • Second/Pitched combat.
So as an example if the Allied player issues a Horse command and, a Move command to a wing all heavy and light cavalry would move and attack, then once attacks are resolved all units in the wing including the previously ordered cavalry can move again.

Combat resolution, the heart of any war game, is achieved in a rather smart way which is quick and neat in execution. First the attacker determines the Combat Class of the unit that he or she is attacking with. Each unit has a base class A, B, C, etc. printed on it, this class indicates how effective the troops in that formation are. A. being top notch, D. being axe fodder (Tom Russell’s term), this value of the attacking unit dictates which row on the CRT the active player will use, higher the class better the odds of doing damage.There are opportunities to modify the class of the attacking unit up or down one level i.e. from B to A or vice versa. For example; a unit attacking down hill would have his/her units class go up one.

Once Class is determined then you look to see if there are any DRM (Die Roll Modifiers) that can be applied to the combat die. This is done by cross referencing the attacking unit type vs. the defending unit type on the unit modifier matrix printed on the back of the rule book. It actually is easier than it sounds. Heavy Horse, attacking Veteran Infantry receive no DRM either way but, HH attacking Light horse receive a -1 (good). The matrix is clear and simple, leaving no room for error on this account. You can also receive DRMs by attacking with more than one unit on a single target which I suggest doing as often as possible.

After that its a matter of rolling an eight sided die applying DRM if any and looking at the combat results table for the outcome. Effects can be anywhere from no effect, a retreat, a step loss or even unit elimination. Quick, neat, and efficient.

3. Initiative Phase. If a player holds the initiative marker they may “Declare Initiative” at the end of his/her turn. In so doing that player will pass the marker to his/her opponent and then take another complete turn starting with the command phase. Initiative allows the player to follow up a breakthrough assault or to perform a second push. Conversely it also now allows the other player to call initiative next round as they are in control of the marker.

Once all phases are complete the play passes to your opponent and the cycle begins again.

Victory conditions are simple; Teutonic player needs to have 30VP and at least 10 more than the allied player to win. The Poles need to have 35VP or have captured the Teutonic camp. Victory points are awarded for eliminating units thus this battle gets bloody very quickly. Each player checks for Victory conditions at the end of his opponent’s turn before they can declare initiative. If they have achieved victory the game ends.


So by now it should be obvious to the reader that I really enjoy this game. At first I was a bit taken aback by the lack of terrain modifiers in the Shields & Swords II system. Where were all my charts and tables to fumble over? Yet after playing a few matches I realized that the game itself isn’t designed to be a static “defender hold” attacker break the line situation. The sheer amount of cavalry units on both sides forces one to be bold, to press the advantage wherever it can be had and to quite simply, destroy the enemy at every turn.There is a unique mechanic in Grunwald Swords that creates a rather interesting but puzzling situation. After turn four the Allied player can declare initiative and call on his Lithuanian wing to retreat from the battle. These units are not lost as they can come back later in the game awarding victory points when they do. This historically inspired situation puts pressure on both sides.

When do I as the Allied player pull them out? if I wait too long they may be reduced from combat so much that when they do reform later they will have no impact, if too soon the points awarded are almost not worth the effort. As the Teuton do I rush forth to slaughter the Lithuanian before they can run? or do I focus my efforts on the tougher Polish heavy horse to the right? Thereby weakening the overall strength of the allies in a bid to obtain enough VPs early. Do I keep a reserve if so how much? Can my infantry hold the line long enough to keep the Polish Reserve cavalry from taking the camp?

The command phase is fun to work through as figuring out the best combination of orders to suit the situation, though seemingly simple, can be tough. Choose wrong and you can find yourself spread across to board being chewed up piece meal. (yes I had that happen) Choose right, and you can see victory there through the dust. More than once have I been surprised by the subtle depth and difficulty of this phase.

And don’t even get me started on the Initiative Phase with all of it’s options once a player Declares. There is more going on in this little title than meets the eye and I suppose that was/is the point. This one also plays really well solitaire as there is little to no hidden information. Anyone who has soloed a two player war game can easily slip into this title and series.

 So no surprise here, I cannot recommend Grunwald Swords and its game engine Sword and Shields II enough. This one is a keeper.


I bought a copy of Blitzkrieg published by the Avalon Hill Game Company (circa 1965) on EBay a while back simply to add it to my growing collection of board games. Having played but once back in 1977 the purchase was not stimulated by any nostalgic devotion to this old classic. For, by the time my childhood friend Glen and I sat down with a borrowed copy, we had already become veterans of the war gaming genre. We had fought across the deserts of North Africa, smashed the British lines at Waterloo, and pushed Alexander the Great back at the battle of Gaugamela.

Neither one of us had much hope that Blitzkrieg, a fictional representation of warfare between two countries (Great Blue and Big Red), would stir us to greatness once again. In that, we were correct, for the lack of historical backdrop quieted my inspiration and I was forced into a mechanical situation in which I did not feel invested in the outcome. Without the chance to change history, my imagination was dulled, my drive quieted. So I bought this title simply to flesh out my Avalon Hill collection nothing more.

Yet this game does have its merits as evidenced by a dedicated and faithful following.

Blitzkrieg is a two player strategic board game where each side is trying to either; annihilate their opponent’s standing army (my kind of warfare) or to occupy all of their enemy’s cities. It makes use of the basic Avalon Hill hex map board and NATO symbols on the unit counters. This hex and counter layout is the standard for the majority of AH games and once learned a player can easily transition from one AH game to another with very little or no problem. This title can be played at three different levels of difficulty using, the Basic, Optional, or Tournament rules. For beginners, it is best to lay out the basic game first and forgo some of the more complicated rules for another day. Once the mechanics of movement, attack, and position are learned using only armor, infantry, artillery, and paratroops, you can introduce more advanced options like air power and even Nukes.

The counters, representing army divisions, have two primary numbers printed on them below their NATO symbols. These numbers are the unit’s Movement factor (MF) and Combat factor (CF). The Movement factor is the basic number of hexes a unit may be moved over clear terrain in a turn. Certain terrain features cost more to move through (mountains) and some less (roads).
The Combat factor is a unit’s basic fighting strength whether attacking or defending. Modifiers for terrain bonuses may be added to a defending unit’s strength only. Attackers never receive terrain bonuses. For example, city hexes double the CF of all units within the hex when attacked but no bonus is awarded if the units in the city attack from the city.

The meat of this war game just like all of its type is the act of combat and combat is resolved through simple odds calculations and a Combat Results Table (CRT). It actually sounds more complicated than it is. First, you determine your odds by adding up the attacker’s combat strength then comparing it to the defender’s combat strength (including any terrain modifiers). Example Infantry attacker has a CF total of 8 and defender has a total CF of 4, then the odds are 2-1 in favor of attacker. Next a six sided die is rolled and that number is cross referenced against the Combat Results Table which will determine what happens. Obviously the better the odds in a player’s favor the greater chance of winning the battle.

Blitzkrieg basic, is very direct and easy to play. However, it can turn very quickly into what has been deemed a “Sitzkrieg”, in that without some of the optional rules, such as amphibious assaults and landings, players tend to gravitate to the center of the game board. When this happens defensive lines are formed and rather than a “lightning strike” with mechanized forces, the game starts to play like a WWI western front scenario. This does not always happen but when it does you should be bold and flank the enemy.

I decided to set up the base game and was lucky enough to share my session with our friend Mike who expressed a modicum of interest in trying this old classic. Mike had never played any strategic war games before, but after about fifteen minutes of explaining the rules he was all set to go. He quickly mastered, zones of control (the six hexes surrounding a unit that they “control’ in game), use of paratroops to effect by blocking retreating unit’s escape, and most importantly the command of terrain features for defensive and offensive purposes. We had a pretty good time trying to outwit one another with maneuver and feint tactics. I was too late to realize that though, Mike was new to war games, he had definitely grasped the concept. I was hard pressed early on (deservedly so) as I underestimated my opponent’s ability to recognize and capitalize upon my glaring mistakes.

Overall this title is great for introducing new folks to war games in general. The basics are all covered and the tools learned can be carried over to other more complex games. With the varying levels of difficulty and rules I feel one could play Blitzkrieg through all three degrees and come out a well-rounded novice gamer.
Will I play Blitzkrieg again? To be honest, probably not unless someone asks me directly. The lack of historical basis and backdrop undermines my ability to get behind the armies and be passionate. Though Blitzkrieg may play better than some other titles at this level of war gaming, I just don’t “feel” it, if you know what I mean.


There are some fond memories from my rather jumbled childhood that revolve around small pamphlets and staple backed catalogs. Hour upon hour was spent reading and re-reading every bit of text until memorized. Images bright and bold dazzled the eyes and sparked a feeling of desire. For many of you who grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s I’m quite sure you know where I am heading with this. 
However, for you “younger” folks out there this may be a little difficult to understand for it was truly was another age. A dark age compared to these in which we live, yet filled with a magic all of its own. 
Ahem… I digress
The pamphlets which were my bibles of the time were the Avalon Hill Game Company’s  catalogs which were included inside every title they produced. It was usually front and center, the first thing one saw after removing the box lid of an awesome new war game. Of course the catalogs were laid aside, at first, as the game in hand took precedence over everything else. Laid aside yes, but not discarded.

For later in the day or evening, after I was worn to the bone from playing I would lay back on my small bed and read about some of the other games that were out there to buy. I would dream of owning the entire catalog as a massive collection, or I would imagine what it was like to play such interesting looking titles reading the brief descriptions ad nauseaum in an attempt to “see” the game in my mind’s eye.

The pictures of the boxes, with their wonderful artwork, including the lettering enthralled me. Games like Panzer Blitz with its orange and black bookcase box and the striking image of large tanks silhouetted on the cover. Waterloo with Napoleon proudly astride a white horse with a simple background that screamed “this game is fantastic buy me!” And my all time favorite box art Jutland. The iron cross replaced the T in Jutland above a portrait of a WWI battleship firing its guns in darkness. Every night before going to sleep I would look at those little books full of wonder and sigh, for though the desire to buy them all filled my heart to bursting I knew that such could never come to pass. Ten dollars, the going rate per title when I was a boy, was not easy to come by. To give you some perspective ten dollars was equivalent to an entire large brown paper bag filled with groceries. You know the ones we used to cover our school books in.

I did on occasion fill in the provided easy to use order form, carefully marking down the name of the game and it’s cost. I usually would get ten on the list before I realized how foolish I was being. Then again you never know if that benevolent rich uncle you never heard of was thinking of you on his death bed and he left you a fortune with which to buy games. Hey it could happen.
This was how I spent many an hour, letting my imagination run wild and my hunger for more exciting hex and counter adventures consume me. Even now when I come across an old AH catalog that managed to survive the ages, I find myself smiling at the memories of a small boy filled with imagination.


I bought Invasion 1066: the Battle of Hastings a couple years ago on a whim.  Like all war gamers I generally need little help in parting with my money when something different comes across my path, so when a sale was announced at Revolution Games I jumped. I was looking to expand not only my knowledge of a period of history that I had not studied in depth, but also to add a different publisher to the collection.  One minute these thoughts were running through my head and the next I was blinking at the order screen, credit card in hand, and hitting confirm shipment.

Someone needs to stop me from doing that one of these days.

Anyway, Invasion 1066 was designed by Norm Smith and Published by Revolution Games in 2014.
As the title suggests, the game focuses on the battle of Hastings on  October the 14th in the year of our Lord???? that’s right 1066. One of the most pivotal and important battles in England’s long and storied history.

Components: The game comes with a 11×17 map that represents the battlefield and is printed on some pretty durable card stock. You will probably want to place it under a sheet of plastic  to keep it flat during game play. A counter sheet with 140 counters,  a player aid which is on the back of the cover sheet, a player chart with all the various tables for game play on it and a 12 page rule book.  All this comes in a large Zip Lock bag. I very much prefer boxes by the way, but it is what is in the bag that matters. A good game always trumps packaging. Though a nice sturdy box to store everything in is always nice too.

Initial set up

The map is dominated by Senlac Hill and all terrain hexes are clearly defined. A road bisects the map from South East to North West but is only for historical purposes  as it gives no bonus to movement in game, there are a few brooks and swamps/morass areas as well. Outside of those terrain features, everything else is considered level ground. The map also contains some additional printed information on its eastern edge. A box for eliminated units, another for missile units that are “out of Arrows”, a Zone of Control example and a Terrain Key.

The counters are very small but colorful with a picture representing what type of unit it is i.e. Saxon Housecarl ,Norman Cavalry, Archer, etc. And each counter has but a single clearly visible number printed on its face which is the base strength of the unit. As I was weaned on  strategic Avalon Hill war games the small unit counters and  various status markers  were not of consequence until the game was all set up to play. Then due to the congested nature of the board and number of units on the field, I found moving things around, adding disordered and rout markers etc, to be very “fiddly”. I recommend tweezers for oldsters like me or folks with large fingers.

Rules: The rule book is 12 pages in all but 3 of them are Historical notes on the actual battle and Designer notes. These are worth the read as some real good information can be gleaned from them. So all told there are 9 pages of actual rules to go over. The rule book is clear and concise, I rarely had to reference it while playing as the game itself is easily learned with a quick read.

Each player completes fives phases per turn in the following order with the Normans always going first.

1.  Missile Phase- Offensive  (fire with archers at targets in LoS)
2. Movement Phase (Move) Cavalry charges resolved
3. Missile Phase Defensive (Defender can fire missiles at targets in LoS if he/she wishes)
4. Combat (Melee attacks resolved)
5. Reorganization ( i.e. rally disrupted units.)

After  the Normans complete all the steps then the Saxon player does the same, once both players have done this the turn marker advances one on the track and the sequence begins anew.

Automatic victory is achieved if either William (Norman) or Harold (Saxon) leaders are killed. If both die then the game is a draw. If neither “gets an arrow in the eye” then at the end of the last turn Victory points are given to each side for, opposing units eliminated and for controlling certain hexes on the board. Games are anywhere between 10 to 12 turns in all. If the Norman player scores 10 points more than the Saxon then that player wins, otherwise the Saxons are the Victors.

I’m not going to break down all the rules of play as they really are self explanatory but, dig into the rather interesting ones that give this little title some of its depth.

First off, ZoC (zones of control) are extremely narrow compared to most other hex and counter games . As you can see below in the image, units must be facing a vertex of a hex rather than a side. This is because the ZoC of all units only encompass the front two hexes. The remaining four are considered flank and rear. If a unit is attacked from any hex other than the front two the attacker gets a +2 DRM (die roll modifier) This makes it important for players to pay very close attention to which way their troops are facing. It also forces you to think about maintaining good lines to help avoid flanking attacks. Units cannot attack outside of their ZoC.

Missile units i.e. Archers. Missile fire appears twice in the sequence of play both as offensive and defensive actions. A missile unit can only fire once per game turn but the owning player decides in which phase they wish to do so, if at all. When a missile unit fires it can shoot up to two hexes away but, it must have Line of Sight (LoS) to its target and then be flipped over to its “Fired” side so to avoid mistakenly using the same unit twice. Fired units can still move during the movement phase of their turn.

Archers cannot fire over the heads of friendly or opposing units thus LoS is blocked if any are in the Missile units ZoC. To hit you roll a six sided die and consult the Missile table on the Player Chart. On a  5 or 6 a hit occurs against Fyrd (lower strength Saxons) or other archers, all other targets require a 6. If a missile unit hits its target then a Disordered marker is placed on the target which I’ll get to next.  Missile units can only get a disordered result never elimination. Norman Archer units have the added possibility of running out of arrows, which means if they roll either a 1 or 2 on their attack they are removed from the board and placed in the out of arrows box. Saxons never run out of arrows in this game. The Norman archers in the box can only return to play later if the Norman player initiates a Lull in play which is a once per game mechanic.

A Lull turn essentially allows both sides to reorganize and attempt to reposition.

The Saxons have a once per game mechanic as well which is called “Saxon Hand Missiles”;  during one of their defensive missile phases the player can select two enemy units that are in the ZoC of two friendly non archer units and attack using the Saxon Hand Missile row on the table. Two Javelin counters are placed on the firing units to help keep track, they then roll a d6. The enemy unit is “Disrupted” on a roll of a 4, 5, or 6. This rule is deadly and should be used carefully by the Saxon player. Time this right and you just might halt an assault, time it poorly and you have wasted a strong asset.

Combat is straight forward, the attacker compares the strength of the attacking unit to the strength of the defender,  the difference is the differential. The attacker then rolls a die and adds or subtracts the differential to the outcome and consults the close combat table. Of course there are modifiers that can change the differential such as terrain, flank attacks, and Cavalry charges. There are only two possible outcomes to close combat.

1. Disordered: When a unit suffers a Disordered result  a marker is placed on top of it. The strength value of the marker replaces the original strength of the unit until it either reorganizes i.e. rally, or is eliminated. Disordered units may NOT attack, their movement allowance is set at 2 and their strength at 3. Archer units can never be disordered they are eliminated instead.

2. Eliminated: either attacker, defender, or both are removed from the board. The attacking unit MUST advance into the vacated hex. Elimination also triggers a morale check which is one of the most important mechanics in the game.

Morale: as stated above a Morale check must be made when a unit is eliminated the player taking the loss must make a morale check  for each friendly class of unit adjacent to the eliminated unit. Classes break down to Normans, Bretons, Flemish, and Housecarl, and Fyrd. The player rolls a die adds the number of similar units already eliminated including the one just taken out as well any leaders to the roll and consults the Morale Check Table. If the check fails all units of the same friendly class must Rout. This is bad. Routing units must turn and run expending 4 mps in total, if they cannot expend those points they are eliminated instead. This doesn’t trigger another morale check. They also remain routed until a leader can rally them. If routed units exit the board, because they keep running every turn until reorganized they are eliminated and count towards victory points.

The last really interesting rule/mechanic I am going to mention is called “Impetuous Saxons”: When a Norman unit routs there is a chance that any Saxon Fyrd unit that just had the routed unit in their ZoC will break ranks and pursue the fleeing enemy. The Saxon player rolls a die for each such unit including disordered Fyrd that meet the ZoC /Rout criteria. On a roll of 4,5, or 6. the Saxons pursue, their movement allowance is increased to 4 so to keep pace with the routed enemy, and they ignore enemy ZoC rules. Once it has moved as far as it can the Saxon should face his units towards a routed enemy or if that is not possible the nearest enemy unit available. Then they MUST attack with a +1 combat modifier even if such an attack is at unfavorable odds. Once all attacks are resolved the impetuous Saxons become disordered.

There are other fun mechanics and rules but I chose these as they give example of what I find so very interesting about this game. Archers can disorder units, i.e. weaken them, then followed up with close combat attacks units can become eliminated, which in turn can trigger a rout and so too an Impetuous Saxon attack. These all work together with one another in their own way. It is an interesting dynamic that I personally find helps keep the tension of the game heightened, especially in the later turns when the possibility of routing becomes more likely.

Game play can be rather frustrating the first few turns as the Normans probe and the Saxons try to repell.

The Norman Archers can only hit the Saxons on the hill with a die roll of 6. As they have a 33% chance to run out of arrows without effecting the Saxon line, the Norman player finds himself simply hoping for a lucky 6 or two praying to disorder a couple of spots. He/she will then focus all of their attention on the right and left flanks i.e. the Bretons and Flemish units.  This is not easy as the Saxons get a +1 modifier for defending from on top of the hill. The Saxon in turn should simply “Hold the line” and stay up on the hill at all costs.

It really is a bit of a slugfest in the beginning and as there is very little room to maneuver, disordered and eliminated units on both sides become the norm. By turn 4 the field opens up a bit which allows players to be a little more free in their play. It is at about this stage of the game both players are acutely aware of the need to move Disordered units out of the ZoC of the enemy and attempt to rally as many as possible, because losses will begin to pile up otherwise. Then slowly, as units are removed and the chance of a rout increases the tension heightens. The Normans know that they have to get a foothold on the hill to remove the slope defense advantage, and possibly to get their heavy horse up top to grind down the Saxons.

Bad ending for Duke william.

Overall I really like this little game, the lack of any hidden information makes Invasion 1066 very solo friendly. It’s physical size causes me some issues due to how overly crowded the board is at first. Coupled with the small counters and markers keeping a proper facing of units gets a bit messy at times. But what looks like a simple straight forward medieval clash and smash at first, becomes something a bit different as things play out.

The easy to understand rules and the way they all fit well together make the game dynamic and interesting. There are plenty of decisions to be made by both sides throughout the entire match, as well as enough randomness to keep a player on his/her toes.  A match can be hammered out in 90 minutes or so and set up is relatively quick.

This makes it a great title for a lazy Sunday morning over coffee session.

So yes Invasion 1066: The Battle of Hastings is worth giving a look see if you get the chance. I know it hits my table whenever I need a little medieval hex and counter fun.


One of my earliest wargames played

I  always dread when a story or article starts with the phrase “in the beginning”, as it has something of a Biblical tone. As if the story being presented holds as much import as the book of Genesis or is somehow on the same level as an ancient saga from the Viking era. Thus I tend to be turned away by the phrase when used as an introduction, for it makes me feel that the author is something of a Douche, filled with delusions of granduer and self importance.

Hopefully this same feeling does not infect you, for this is MY beginning in the world of Hex and Counter war games, and though it may not be unique, it may just help you understand why I love this genre of table top gaming so much.

Ahem…. In the beginning, before ever I had heard of Avalon Hill or SPI there was a game company called Milton Bradley that produced the American Heritage series of board games for children. I would spend hours with my friends trying to master ship combat in Broadside, armored conflict in Tank Battle and even a bit of flying in a game called Dogfight which was about air warfare in WWI. All of these games had loads of plastic minis, and rule sets that could be pretty much printed on the underside of the box top. I didnt realize it at the time but these simple, fun, little games piqued my interest in various periods of history, and I found myself reading more about Ships, Aircraft and Armor.

However enjoyable those titles were, eventually I began to grow bored with them as they stopped being a challenge. So I simply gave up playing and to the back of a closet they went. Yet the seed was planted. Deep down I wanted more and more for a game that would not only bring history to life but that would also help me understand it better. A title that I could wow my friends with my superior tactical and strategic (I didn’t fully understand the words then) knowledge. I would have to wait a few years before that happened.

The week before Christmas 1977 was an awful one for me. I had been on a proverbial tear of bad behavior that would make today’s generation cringe in fear and run for a safe space. There were violent fist fights in school, a bit of vandalism here and there and of course, compulsory terrorism of the other neighborhood kids. I knew that if I didn’t stop, (or at the very least stop getting caught) that there would be no presents for me on December the 25th. In my family you had to behave to be rewarded, everybody didnt get a prize for simply being alive. Yet for some reason I just couldn’t help myself from constantly doing the wrong thing.

So it was I found myself looking for where my dear mother had hidden the Christmas gifts for our small family, and I did not have to search long. Our house being rather small, hiding spaces were at a minimum. There in the back of a small closet, shadowed by hanging clothes was a large brown paper bag that was so obviously out of place one could not but help know that what I was seeking had been found. And true to form, (at the time), I looked.

Within was what was obviously a game, but one I had never seen nor heard of before named Afrika Korps, and two white, men at arms, books about the British 8th Army and Rommel’s Desert Forces. My heart leapt with curiosity and the subdued desire for a game that brough History to the fore flared up. I almost tore the shrink wrap off the box right there and then, but thought better of it and put everything back as it had been found. (note I did feel some guilt in this act yet that was quickly dispelled as the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be left out at Christmas sank in.)

Unfortunately, that very night the school called the house and informed my mother that I had been in another fight. Some sort of corrective action needed to happen but they would deal with it after the Christmas break blah blah blah. Bastards ratted me out at the worst possible time, and for my mother this was the last straw. There was lots of yelling of which I remember only these words, “I’m taking all your gifts back to the store!”

Busted again, but deep down I knew no matter how much I wanted to have that new awesome looking game in the closet, I really didnt deserve it or, anything else for that matter.

By Christmas morning I had accepted the situation in full, and was actually in a good spirits, for even though I was out of luck, my brother and sister would be excited and happy, and I wouldn’t ruin that for them, not for all the games in the damned world. So I sat, drank hot chocolate, and smiled when they got a fun gift, and commiserated when they got the socks. We laughed and joked and then as we were clearing away the papers my mother called me into the kitchen.

Looking down at me she said in a very calm voice;

You know why I had to return your presents don’t you?”

Yeah Ma, I know, It’s all good. I’ll try harder to stay out of trouble I promise.

OK, well so long as you understand. And if you are willing to make an effort to be good in the future then I suppose you should go into the closet and get your gifts. I didnt have time to wrap them but I’m sure you won’t mind.

My heart simply exploded.

And so at eleven years old I obtained my first ever hex and counter game, Afrika Korps by Avalon Hill, at the hands of my forgiving mother. Every time I look at the rather drab, tan box I always think back on that morning when my mother gave me two of the greatest gifts I have ever recieved, one of which was a game.


Every board game enthusiast has at least one game which they hold dear to their heart. A title which, upon spying the box on their shelf or even an image on the internet conjures up fond memories of sessions or opponents. For me the power and poetry of  these recollections is very important, for they bring grace, and a small measure of happiness to an otherwise mundane and dark world. And though, with age, the faces of friends long since past have begun to fade, the good spirit remains waiting but for a trigger to be released.

And so it is that Afrika Korps by Avalon Hill Game company is the title which allows my Mind’s eye to wander and my face crack with a wee grin. This game above all others that have come since, has had the greatest influence upon my love and passion for our hobby. By today’s standards Afrika Korps is a rather bland old girl. The plain brownish tan box doesn’t scream out at you “Here is Rommel the Desert Fox” like so many more modern versions The cardboard counters in the cold war era blue and pink are somewhat uninspiring.

Beyond that, inside the flat box is a simple introductory war game with depth.

Originally Published in 1964 Afrika Korps, represents the battle for North Africa in World War II from Rommel’s arrival in March of 1941, through October 1942.  It is a strategic game but extremely simple to play and learn. 

My old copy circa 1964

The components are standard fare for early Avalon Hill productions, a mounted map board with hexagon overlay to control movement. The counters (i.e. playing pieces) are cardboard chits in the classic red/pink for axis and blue for allied with NATO symbols to represent Armor and Infantry divisions etc. There is a Time Record sheet which is used to determine reinforcements and replacements, and of course the ever famous Combat Results Table (CRT) printed on some good cardboard stock. Like I said standard fare for its time. You can buy specialized counter replacement units online these days to “spruce” up the appearance and feel of the game but I personally enjoy the nostalgic look of the original pieces.

Allied Order of Appearance set up.

The rules of play are rather simple. Place all units for both Armies in the corresponding Order of Appearance areas on the edge of the map board. These units will come in to play on the specified date printed. Then you lay out the remaining units on the board according to the Situation-March 1941 card. This card tells you what units go where at the very start. Basically set up is predetermined and orderly which makes it easy for beginners.

To win the German player must either destroy all allied combat units or control both fortresses and both home bases simultaneously for two consecutive turns by October 1942 on the Time Record Chart. (note I have never seen a German victory by controlling fortresses.)

The Allied player wins if he eliminates all German combat units, controls both bases/fortresses etc. or denies the German victory by October 1942.

The game is played in turns, with the German player always going first. The active player moves all of the units he wishes to move, then consults the Time Record chart to see if he is due reinforcements, if he is then he may place them immediately along with any supply units he may be entitled to as well. Next all combats are resolved one battle at a time. Then the Allied player completes all of his/her moves, replacements, combats etc. Play alternates back and forth with the Allied player checking off a box on the time record sheet at the end of his/her turn. 

Axis Order of Appearance set up.

Combat is resolved by counting up the attackers total attack strength (first number on the counter) and comparing it to the defenders total defense strength (second number on counter) along with any terrain defense modifiers, and then determining the odds. 

Example Germans attack some British infantry with two armor divisions, German attack strength is 11 British Defense strength is 5. So 5 into 11 goes 2 times thus the odds would be 2-1.

Once odds are determined the attacker consults the Combat Results Table (CRT) and rolls a single six sided die and applies the outcome.  

Movement during a turn consists simply of moving any of the units a player controls using the movement factor (third number on the counter). He/she can use all, none, or some of this factor during their turn. There are terrain limitations which adjust movement such as escarpments which make a unit stop immediately when entering, and roads which give a added ten hex bonus. The Rommel counter also adds a plus 2 movement factor to any units he is stacked with at the beginning of the turn.

Classic AH Combat Results Table (CRT)

The most important rule of all in the game is that of supply. No army can attack unless there is a supply counter within five hexes of the attacking units. A supply unit can support more than one attacking unit at a time but they all must fall within the five hex rule. Supply units are consumed i.e. removed from the board once the attack/attacks are resolved and the player must either bring up more supply to continue next turn or capture his/her opponents supplies in the course of battle. (yes you can steal your enemy’s supplies).

German units in supply as they are within 5 hexes of a supply counter

Every Turn the Allied player receives one supply unit to be placed either at their home base or Tobruk if they control it. The German player on the other hand must roll a die each turn to see if he/she gets supplies that turn. The supply table on the back of the rules pamphlet is referenced and if the German player rolls poorly he/she may find themselves languishing out in the desert unable to attack. This mechanic is supposed to represent the sinking of German supply ships by the British navy.

There are other rules of course such as Isolation which eliminates units when they are cut off, soaking off, a combat technique, and replacements which come into play later in the game, but for now I think you get the gist.

Game play:
Game play is intuitive and solid. The objectives are clearly defined but there is plenty of room for the player to be creative in achieving his/her goals. As a German player you become acutely aware of “time and Space” as your supplies try to catch up with your advancing armies. As the Allies you play for time by delaying actions and holding defensive positions that hinder your opponent. 

Some say that Afrika Korps plays like chess, and though I agree, I think it has a bit more depth, in that the never ending issue of supply, time, and space create a level of tension I never felt in a chess match. 

Right, this has gotten a bit long, so I will leave off general strategies for the game for another day and will have to part with this.

Afrika Korps is a nostalgic title, though out done since its creation by other similar games, still has loads to offer, to both new war gamers and old. It is a wonderful exercise in the concepts of movement, defense, supply, and space without being dusty or boring.  For me, Afrika Korps has always been, and still remains, my all time favorite Avalon Hill title for its duality in simplicity and complexity as well as for the valuable lessons learned from playing it.

Not to mention the fond memories of friends smiling and arguing in an age long since past.


So this week while working on my write up of Invasion 1066: The Battle of Hastings, I needed to do some research on the internet. As so often happens in such cases I became distracted and started looking for other games to add to my collection. Yes, I have a mind like a cat with ADHD. There are so many out there that I found myself spending hour upon hour looking at all the exciting titles and new concepts for Hex and Counter war games.
I finally broke down and threw money at some internet vendors, why? Because I am nothing if not an obsessive compulsive when it comes to these things. In no time at all I had convinced myself that not only were my purchases justified but absolutely necessary, by which I mean, on the same level as food shelter and clothing. It is an illness to be sure.
Yet in so doing, I have created a rather tense situation for myself, for now I must wait with great impatience for the delivery man.
A shipping notice arrives in my email, greedily my feverish mind looks directly for the projected delivery date. Will it be here on time, early, or late? Quickly I calculate transit times in the hopes that the vendor’s shipping department is run by some poor soul who somehow failed basic math. No luck it’s dead on. Twenty minutes later I am back to checking the tracking information, praying there is an update which will tell me my prize is one leg closer to being delivered. Or better yet some divine being who understands my plight, has intervened and somehow magically teleported the package three thousand miles. This happens every twenty minutes, every day, until it arrives.
Between checking on the status I find myself drooling over the anticipated awesomeness that my new game will bring. I envision masterful plays in which my unique genius contrives to change the course of history. I imagine the fresh ink smell of a newly opened game and the snap of the shrink-wrap as I tear at it like a wayward child on Christmas morn.  Oh how I do suffer the pangs of anticipation, and a type of madness overcomes me at such times. (I just checked again no progress)
Oh and when it does finally arrive my insanity does not fade, for most assuredly the package will come during the work week. Thus I will know that the shiny new box of awesomeness is languishing on my porch lonely and sad, needing only my hands to soothe its pain.  All the day long I will think on not much else but getting home as swiftly as possible, so to end the wretchedness.
I am certain that there are others such as I, who suffer this compulsive anxiety, in either greater or lesser degree. Yet this knowledge gives me no comfort, for I am still waiting for another delivery update!

Rome at War III: Queen of the Celts

Originally posted January 13 2014 in the now defunct Booze & Board Games blog and moved here for posterity.

Queen of the Celts is the third installment of Avalanche Press’ tactical war games set in the Roman Period aptly named Rome at War. This version focuses on the invasion and subjugation of Britain by the empire. What caught my attention with this rather small game was two things; 1st the price I paid for it on Ebay, a paltry $6.00 US, and second the tragic tale of Boudicca  Queen of the Iceni tribe, which has long been of interest to me.

So last Sunday, amidst the chaos of a wailing snow storm and cruel flu bug I laid this title out and played my first game. Avalanche Press is notorious for two aspects of their play systems. The first one being the use of the “bucket of dice” combat resolution, which entails throwing a number of dice equal to the combat strength of the units involved then applying all sixes as hits. Initially I thought that this system would be more fun than the old CRT (combat results tables) of Avalon Hill war game legend. However after a few rounds of tossing handfuls of die the novelty faded along with the dim winter daylight out my window.

The second and really painful aspect of this AP game is the rule book. Having perused this sixteen page mess of cross references and special conditions every night for a week prior to actually laying out the pieces, I was still forced to reference the book almost continuously during play. It is not written well and is is no way linear in presentation. I had hoped that by getting the game set up some of the odd rules would make a bit more sense to me. No such luck in that department. I walked away from the table after 3.5 hours feeling like I had not done anything right, the best way to sum up the rules and book is to call it “counter intuitive”. For a game that is supposed to be 1.5 stars (easy) on the difficulty rating one would think the literature would be easier to read.

Another small bother I found, outside of the obtuse rule set up, was that the maps are not mounted but plain glossy paper. I have always been a stickler for having playing surfaces mounted. Paper maps easily tear and have creases along the folds which need to be flattened out or the playing pieces tend to rise with the fold when laid out or stacks of counters fall over unbalanced. I could, lay a piece of plexi-glass over the map itself to solve the issue, but I don’t have one readily available nor am I so inclined to go and purchase any. Paper maps of course are of small consequence if the game itself is dynamic and enthralling….. yeah there is a bit of a no on that part too.

Right Flank of Celts at start up.

As most battles of the time were fought on open flat terrain, the maps have very little in the way of variation. For example: the battle of Medway scenario used a map that had a river running across the northern portion, and a few swamps in the southern corners. the river, was barely an obstacle for the Roman legions, in that to attack them while crossing offered no bonus to the Celts. Thus negating the advantages of river defenses. The swamps were never entered by either army so no use of terrain to advantage, which for me is anathema. The “Ground” and the choice of ground is extremely important in armed conflict. The Generals of the time understood this as well, and I find it difficult to believe that they were unable to thwart a river crossing where the enemy had no bridges or engineers to build them. 

Celtic Counters

On the plus side the counters are really very pretty to look at and help one absorb the “theme” of the game. There are a few different types of units Leaders being the most important, followed by what are called “Long” units representing large formations of infantry i.e. Legions, and smaller “auxiliary” units that consist of archers, light infantry, chariots, and oddly enough, artillery. The mix of different forces made me smile as I thought the use of combined attacks using all the different types would be exciting and fun. Sadly the game didn’t play out that way.

A fundamental concept of this game is what is described as “Command”. Leaders command various units within their sphere (movement allotment) and only units “in Command” can be moved or attack. Of course units can be Out of command by being outside their leaders control or the leader failing a morale check which essentially means he has lost control of his troops. This system is supposed to represent a sort of “fog of war” situation and though it is hard to wrap one’s head around at first actually makes sense. Essentially a player could find him/herself with half their army out of command and immobile, thus creating a tense situation indeed.
Romans crush the right.

In the scenario I played, not once were any troops out of command which made decision making much easier, however, the constant rolling of dice to determine command got a bit old. Also at the end of my game the Celtic right flank was rolled up and pushed back into center group. This created a situation where it became difficult to determine which troops were commanded by which leader, and who could activate and when. Ultimately I made a House rule in which the local commander became subservient to Army commander and gave control to Army Leader. If the counters had easier to read divisional numbers rather than tribe names on them such a situation would have been negated. As it was, once the Celtic Right fell in with Center, I found myself trying to look up the starting troops from the scenario set up booklet to match the names with the leaders. Frustrating to say the least, thus my making the House rule and moving forward.

Half the troops intermingle after being pushed back, command difficult to determine.

I am not going to go over every aspect of this rather difficult experience, as I am sure that most of you can tell by now I do not give this game very high marks. I will say though as I doggedly moved my Celts to the fore to try and thwart the Roman advance a wee thrill of excitement ran through me. I could see the chariots racing off to my left tearing up the light infantry of the enemy while my larger tribes locked horns with the legions on the right. I almost felt the desperation of the Celts as they began to succumb to the disciplined heavy troops of Rome. However, one wee moment in an entire afternoon, makes not for good game play and I felt rather worn out in the end. Perhaps I’ll try this title again someday after I make a reference sheet for the various stages and rules so I can easily memorize them.
As it stands today Rome at War III will remain in my game closet till that time or someone asks to play it. I’ve far too many titles to pick from that make me happy to spend too much time on those that don’t.

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