News and Updates

Combat Mission Battle for Normandy: Market Garden

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Market GardenBattlefront.com released the latest module for their Combat Mission Battle for Normandy WW2 tactical computer game. Market Garden covers the allied offensive to secure a bridgehead over the Rhein in 1944.

The module covers the entire battle from the run up the highway to Arnhem bridge. The manual is available for download.

Star Trek: Attack Wing — First Look

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Star Trek Attack WingWe picked up WizK!ds’ latest Star Trek: Attack Wing and a couple booster packs and thought we’d relay our impressions. WizKds licensed the same FlightPath game engine used by FFG’s X-Wing game. As a result, the rules are essentially identical but with different terms. This is of course good and bad. If you like X-Wing you will probably like ST:AW. If you didn’t you won’t. Whether or not the similarity is a turn off or not is certainly just a personal preference.

The game does have its differences from X-Wing. Each ship has a captain and add-ons such as weapons and crew. These are themed to Star Trek and give a unique flavor to the game. Those combined with the different ship models do give a bit of a different feel from X-Wing. But where we think Wizkids missed an opportunity is in not making the game feel more different. One easy example would be slowing movement down a tad and utilizing more fire arcs. Currently, the game essentially has the same feel as X-Wing with respect to maneuver and fire. Most weapons fire forward and a few special ones fire all around or aft. To us it seems like some sort of power usage mechanic could have been added to give players the choice of reinforcing shields, powering weapons or increasing speed but this was not really done.

Huge starships should not feel like fighters, right? Of course the problem with this opinion is that in the movies and even many of the TV episodes the ships are often shown flying around like fighters. So whether Star Trek ships should properly feel like fighters or naval ships is up for debate. A few TV and movie moments feed the naval ship impression but it probably really comes more from follow on games like Star Fleet Battles and of course just the size and general operation of the vessels in general. But if you fall into the naval ship camp the game will perhaps disappoint a little.

Ok, how about the miniatures? Well, again, comparing with X-Wing is hard to avoid. Both games utilize the same flying stands. The miniatures themselves are also roughly the same size but the scale is far different. The original Star Trek Enterprise is roughly 289m long and the A-Wing is around 12m long. In game scales both are about the same size. Of course Star Trek ships vary widely in size unlike Star Wars fighters. The Enterprise-D is three times the length of the original Enterprise and the new alternate Enterprise is supposedly even larger than that. Worse the Romulan D’deridex class ship is twice the size of the Enterprise-D. This large variance in size shows up in the game but perhaps not in the best way. Whereas X-Wing has the standard fighter size along with the somewhat larger ships and the new, probably ponderous, huge ships, Star Trek: Attack Wing instead has an almost ridiculously tiny 1.5″ Enterprise (smaller than an A-Wing) and a 3″ Enterprise-D. Of course this scale (somewhere around 1/3000 or so) does allow them to do the even larger ships, such as the Sovereign-class, without really even getting to the size of a Millennium Falcon but for some reason they chose to make the Romulan D’deridex a little smaller than the Enterprise-D. So if they mean to take advantage of the scale they seem to have already missed the opportunity. In addition, to choose a scale that puts one of the most iconic ships at 1.5″ in size seems perhaps unwise. The situation also does not help convey the feeling of fighting battles with large warships either. Perhaps the real tragedy is that one can not help but wonder what might have been if they had done the original Enterprise at 3″ and the larger ships similar in size to X-Wing’s Millennium Falcon. The price point would have been higher but I suspect fans would have been happier. Moreover, players are likely to field smaller fleets than in X-Wing so larger models, and a bit more game detail, would probably be a better choice.

Size aside, the miniatures themselves also suffer a bit in quality compared to the X-Wing miniatures. Physical quality does seem to be at least as good but the paint jobs exhibit no weathering at all, which then gives them more of a toy like appearance. But for those willing to do a little paint work themselves they could look very nice. But we do think they look better in person than they appear in photos and videos so that’s a plus. Even better, some of the models indeed are quite nice such as the Klingon Gr’oth.

Additionally, Star Trek fans have a number of good miniature options that could be used to replace the official miniatures if one wanted larger miniatures. There is the Starline 2500 line for original era and the AMT models for the classic and newer generation of ships. Both of those lines scale together somewhat closely depending on the model. Of course with the AMT 1/2500 scale ships the Enterprise-D is around 10″ long, which may not be ideal to say the least. There are also Hero Clix ST:Tactics models that are identical to the Attack Wing miniatures but pre-painted and based on the Clix bases. So no help with scale there.

If you are a Star Trek fan you might want to give the game a look. The Dice Tower has a nice review of the game with which we agree. If you are a huge X-Wing fan and want something a little different but that you already basically know how to play it could be worth a shot as well. It is really not a bad effort it just seems to fall a bit short of where it could have been and suffers a bit from direct comparison to X-Wing. But use some different models and add a few house rules and it could be a quick fun Star Trek game that is a lot lighter and faster playing than most out there.

Star Trek: Attack Wing Review

Star Trek Attack Wing: Federation/Cardassian Review

Star Trek Attack Wing: Romulan/Klingon Review

Also see our look at Star Trek: Fleet Captains. and look at Star Trek ship miniatures.

[Updated: 27SEP13]

Dropzone Commander — New Starter Box

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DzC Starter SetHawk Wargames made a big splash with the announcement of their newest Dropzone Commander starter set. Unlike their previous starter sets this one is for two players and contains the v1.1 rulebook, maps, card buildings, dice, tape measure, reference cards and plastic miniatures for the Scourge and UCM.

The miniatures look very nice. The detail is not quite as good as the resin miniatures but plastic is far easier to work with and will not have the random quality control issues the resin miniatures occasionally have. Moreover, they’ve made some minor changes to the miniatures such as the UCM Condor Dropship now has a clear canopy and the Bear APC has a one piece top hull so no more seams to fill!

Overall this is quite an amazing set. Considering it is coming from a new and small game publisher is even more surprising. Hopefully the plastic miniatures, as well as new sets, will be available separately in the future.

If you haven’t tried Dropzone Commander yet this is an excellent way to start. If you are a veteran it might be worth it for the miniatures and v1.1 rulebook (if you haven’t bought it yet).

See the Beasts of War unboxing video and the Hawk Newsletter for additional details.

For a nice intro to Dropzone Commander see the Blue Table Painting DzC videos;

Dropzone Commander: Full Game Overview With Its Creator

Dropzone Commander Intro

Shaltari vs United Colonies of Man Dropzone Commander Battle Report

Space Hulk Computer Game — Now Available

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Space HulkSpace Hulk the computer game is now available for PC and Mac on Steam. There is a video interview where you can see a nice overview of the game from the designer.

I have now finished all of the missions in the game. Simply, it is Space Hulk! The game is very close to the original board game. The minor changes are noted below. For many, especially veteran players, this is a good thing. But it can present a mild hurdle to new players. The game has a good introduction but one will still need to spend a bit of time reading the rules to fully understand what is going on — and some of the current bugs can cause new players even more confusion. Mission variety seems very good but there are only 12 missions in the campaign plus the training missions. The AI also seems quite good. It is not amazing but puts up a reasonable fight. Three levels of difficulty help players match their skills with the AI.

Changes from the Board Game: As noted by the designers,

“We have made a video game out of the board game, and not made a 1:1 translation. There are certain rules and mechanics that we changed to make it play as a video game.

These include:

  •  Flamer uses a template and does not target a section only (since those do not exist in a video game)
  •  As long as a unit has action points left, you can return to it and do actions on it
  •  We automated move+fire against visible enemies for Storm Bolters. Terminators will shoot while moving if they have an enemy in line of sight. Targeting doors is a manual process using the “Set move and fire target” button. Manual process is also required for limited ammo weapons like the assault cannon.
  •  You can move multiple units at the same time
  •  Space Marine timer is optional
  •  Reworked and automated the command point usage in the enemy turn. Jammed weapons will automatically unjam if there are command points left. Interrupting enemy turn is not possible
  •  Librarians charge their force axe automatically if they would otherwise lose a close combat fight
  •  Guard mode and parry rolls are automated”

I wanted to comment on one complaint that some are making regarding the changes. Some are claiming that the ability to intermix unit commands fundamentally changes the game. I disagree with this sentiment. While this change is certainly a departure from the literal rules of the board game it is a very natural change. In fact, I was on the second mission before I even realized I was mixing the actions of units because it is such a natural thing to do. Doing this in the board game would be tricky as one would have to track the remaining APs for everyone. This change is of course a departure from the board game but one can argue it makes it better and provides for more tactical choices. The change does perhaps make it a little easier for the Marine player because you can now see the outcomes of actions and decide on actions that in the board game you could not. But overall it still retains the spirit and fundamental play of the board game even if it is not a strict implementation of it. Moreover, this change does not force you to play that way. If you want to play with the board game rules of having to perform all APs on a particular Marine before moving to another then you can. So you have the best of both worlds.

The counter argument to the above is that the AI moves the Genestealers with the same intermixing of APs. True but I just can’t see how this really matters. Either a Genestealer is being fired at when it moves or it is not. If it is not under fire then all units are going to be able to move as they wish anyway. If it is under fire then either it is killed or not and the unit behind revealed. The one situation where this matters is when a group of Genestealers is advancing and being fired on by Overwatch. In the board game it would be one Genestealer at a time moving. So say you had three squares of movement under Overwatch. Each Genestealer would have to brave the full three squares of fire. In the computer game one Genestealer could move up behind another and thus get cover for the portion of that movement where the lead Genestealer survived. This can make it slightly harder on the Marine player but considering the AI could generally use a tad bit of help this seems like a good thing. Yes it is a departure from the board game and if you are concerned over whether the game is a literal translation of the board game then this is indeed a difference, but also one that simply does not matter to the spirit and play of the game. Lastly, in my last two missions I watched for this action specifically and did not see the AI employee the tactic even once. It sent the Genestealers at me one at a time. So if the AI does use this ability it is certainly not frequent.

Of course when playing against a human opponent the above changes make a larger impact. But considering both sides gain an advantage I, again, don’t think it fundamentally changes the game. Whether it changes the balance of some missions will only be known after dozens if not hundreds of plays. Again, both sides could agree to use all APs for each unit to emulate the board game so players still have a choice.

One could argue the flamer rule change is significant as well but we played with essentially the same change as a house rule to the board game for decades because the tile-based flame rule simply never made any sense to us. In fact, over the years we have made all sorts of house rules and balance changes as we’ve played. Does this mean we were not playing Space Hulk? It just seems like an argument without purpose. It is still Space Hulk. Enjoy!

Bugs: Version 1.03 is now available. I finished the entire game with the only bad bug being the Mission 6 bug fixed in 1.01.

  • Even in 1.02 there are still problems with the Manual. Some omissions and typos and many of the images are not visible.

Minor Complaints: The character animation is quite good but the Marines move very ponderously. Realistic and fitting perhaps but after a few minutes you’ll wish they’d just hurry up. Surprisingly, while I was very annoyed by this slow pace at first after a few missions it became a non-issue because you learn to give an order and move on to another Marine while the prior one is moving. Between that and just thinking of tactics the Marine pacing stopped mattering. But I do think there should be an option to speed the Marines up. I can understand how it will really bother some players. Panning the screen with the mouse is too slow but you can right-click and drag it around quickly. Keyboard commands work just fine. It can be a bit difficult to see doors in the 3D view and you have to sometimes pan/zoom around or jump to the strategic map to see what is going on. Door location and status is very important in Space Hulk so this is a concern. Animations can sometimes be off with shooting going off on a tangent yet still killing the target. It would also be nice to maybe be able to play as the Genestealers against the AI although the AI may not be able to pose a good enough challenge as the Marine player. Lastly, the inability to customize the look of your forces or pick other Chapters is disappointing, but I suspect this will come as an add-on later for sure.

A larger issue is the lack of a true campaign where you follow units through various missions and see them increase in abilities. This could hurt larger acceptance among some gamers. Ultimately Space Hulk is about sacrificing some units to achieve the mission so such a campaign system would need to be designed well and/or have unique missions. Of course XCOM showed you can have a good campaign even where units die a lot.

Graphics and Sound: I almost hate to comment on these because they really come down to personal preference. Space Hulk does not have the latest cutting edge graphics and effects. It is more than good enough for me but only you can judge that for yourself. There is a fair amount of clipping. I am enjoying the 3D view more as I play. Some of the levels are quite nice with walkways that go over seemingly bottomless pits and equipment that hums and glows. I’ve found myself just zooming around sometimes looking at things from different points of view just because it looks cool. Considering this is not a first person shooter it all seems more than adequate. Animations are ok with some better than others. If you are expecting amazing flawless animations you will be disappointed. Certainly some of the zoomed-in ‘action’ shots show some oddities. Sound, when it isn’t being buggy, is good but not great. There is nice ambient noise. The various sound effects are ok but not amazing. Overall I’d say graphics and sound are good and more than sufficient for a turn based game.

Conclusion: Overall if you liked the board game you will probably like the computer game. If you liked XCOM you should give the game a try. It is a bit slower paced and somewhat less varied than XCOM but it is still an interesting and tactically challenging game with good atmosphere. The ability to play over the Internet and hotseat (not to mention against the computer) should keep re-playability high. But Space Hulk has always been a good occasional pick-up game not something you play constantly over the long term and the computer version does not really change that. I look forward to seeing how they expand the game in the future.

For a somewhat more negative look at the game see Wot I Think: Space Hulk from Rock, Paper, Shotgun but this was written before the 1.01 patch. I think the current issues are minor annoyances at worst (unless you are suffering from a technical issue).

Tips:

  • Right-click and drag the map to move it around quickly.
  • You can stack orders, you don’t have to wait for one unit to finish before going to the next.
  • Don’t forget to check your Command Points at the start of your turn to see if you want to re-roll.
  • Clicking the square behind a Marine backs him up. Clicking more than one square causes him to turn around and walk to the spot.
  • Use the strategic Map (M key) to easily check for door location/status.
  • Don’t forget to check you have given orders to ALL your units before ending your turn; it is easy to forget a few Marines.
  • Consider saving a Command Point or two so units on Overwatch can clear a jam.

Space Hulk Corridor

[Updated: 23AUG13]

Flames of War Pacific!

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Rising SunWell it looks like Battlefront has finally pulled the trigger on the Pacific theater. Their July release schedule now shows,

In Shops 20 July
FW304 Rising Sun
JBX01 Hohei Chutai (Infantry Company)
JBX02 Type 89 Chi-Ro Platoon (x5)
JP706 Nikuhaku Teams

In Shops 27 July
JBX03 Type 95 Ha-Go Platoon (x5)
JP702 Hohei Platoon
JP704 Hohei Machine-gun Platoon

Rising Sun is obviously the army book. Type 89/95 are tanks and Nikuhaku is artillery. Looks like they will be extending their invasion and D-Day efforts further than we thought although considering it appears this release focuses on early war we’ll have to see.

The gents over at WWPD knew about this a few weeks ago.

So when will we see Marines?

For both the Pacific and Vietnam we hoped Battlefront would produce co-operative rules with the game engine running the non-Allied side. We’ll keep up some hope maybe as an island invasion supplement or something?

[Updated: 22JUL13]

Deadzone — Now on Kickstarter

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deadzone_largeMantic Games has a new Kickstarter. This time it is for a sci-fi miniature skirmish game with a twist. The game passed its funding goal in just over 30 minutes and blew past $300,000 in funding with 3o days still to go. Designed by Jake Thornton, Deadzone, set in the Warpath universe, is a unique blend of board and miniature game. It is played on a 3″ grid for movement but with 3D terrain. In fact part of the Kickstarter is a whole new line of injection molded plastic terrain pieces that can be used to make custom buildings over which to fight.

The alpha rules are available and they look quite good (Kickstarter supporters now have the full rules PDF and it is very well done). There is also a FAQ. The game is I-Go-U-Go but with special action cards and a nice overwatch mechanic to break up the flow. Movement is simply by 3″ squares but where you move within the square matters. Line of site is also a basic if you can see it you can shoot it. We suspect there is more depth hiding behind the simplicity. How you move your troops and to where in the square will have an effect. How you choose to react and what cards you choose to play and when you play them will matter. Even the game length itself is set by the first player to go through their deck so length will be variable from game to game. All of these simple mechanics should combine to create a tactically challenging game.

EnforcersIn addition to the great plastic terrain, a very nice rubber gaming mat has funded along with a number of new models. While the game is set in the Warpath universe and uses its existing races, all of the sculpts are new for Deadzone. So far they seem to range from good to outstanding. Our favorites are the Enforcers and the Plague.

If you like sci-fi skirmish games at all give Deadzone a look. Also check out Jake’s blog for more information. The Meeples & Miniatures podcast has a nice interview with the designer in Episode 108.

Tablescapes now has a dedicated Deadzone terrain tile set with 1.5″/3″ squares.

The Deadzone Kickstarter closed at $1,216,482. Backers can look forward to a ton of good stuff.

[Updated: 7DEC13]

Heroes of Normandie — On Kickstarter

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Heroes of NormandieHeroes of Normandie is a tactical World War Two boardgame now on Kickstarter. It passed its funding goal within just a few days of launch and now only has eight days left. It has also been running through its stretch goals with just a few more to go. The game was designed by a Devil Pig Games, a couple of French designers, and looks very good.  Devil Pig Games has been very good about posting game play videos and responding to backer requests and queries.

The game is certainly designed to be more Hollywood than history but the draft rules look very interesting and the overall visual design is top notch. Keeping with the Hollywood theme Devil Pigs have incorporated a lot of classic movie/tv archetypes into the game. While perhaps not the most accurate game it looks like a lot of fun to play.

While the game is designed as a pure board wargame the scale (both play and physical size) fits perfectly with 15mm miniatures. So players who wish to do so could easily convert the game for miniature play as well.

The Meeples & Miniatures Podcast – Episode 107 has an interview with Devil Pig Games and they discuss Heroes of Normandie.

We look forward to this one. If you have any interest in WW2 check out Heroes of Normandie.

Update: Heroes of Normandie successfully concluded with over £150,000 in funding. It met all of its stretch goals and supporters will be receiving a ton of cardboard soon. If you missed it look for the game in stores in late 2013 or early 2014.

[Updated: 7MAY13]

Tablescapes by Secret Weapon Miniatures

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TablescapesSecret Weapon Miniatures launched a new Kickstarter campaign that has already funded in just its second day. It is for a new product called Tablescapes. Tablescapes is a line of 12 inch plastic terrain tiles that can be locked together to form semi-custom tabletop gaming terrain. Depending on the success of the Kickstarter we will see three or more tile theme sets produced with much more likely to come in the future. Secret Weapon Miniatures is being very receptive to customer suggestions and is doing its best to be accommodating.

We think this basic concept may very well be the future of miniature tabletop terrain. We initially got very excited about the Games Workshop Realm of Battle Gameboards but they seem to have dropped the ball since its initial release and, except for some very expensive Forgworld pieces, have failed to follow up on the initial design.

The basic issue of course is that gamers really do not need general plain terrain and hills out of such a product. Those basics can be useful but what gamers really need are unique 3D terrain features that are difficult to integrate into a standard terrain cloth based table layout. Thus things like trenches, sunken roads, broken ground, rivers and raised roads as well as more specific pieces like urban streets and sci-fi installation layouts are where these sorts of products really shine. Secret Weapon Miniatures is also augmenting the tiles with new resin terrain pieces as well.

Some have questioned the decision to produce 12 inch tiles but we think this was a smart move. The smaller tiles give far greater variety and flexibility to layouts and anyone who wishes to have a larger tile can simply glue together the 12 inch tiles in whatever configuration they wish. Thus one can quickly make 2′ x 2′ tiles, 1′ x 2′, 2’x3′ or whatever. The 12 inch tiles are also cheaper to produce and thus should allow for more options in the future.

We think Tablescapes has a bright future ahead.

Flames of War Vietnam — Tour of Duty

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FoW VietnamThe latest issue of Wargames Illustrated (issue 304) has an ad for Battlefront’s upcoming Flames of War Vietnam expansion Tour Of Duty. It is a regular printed army book like all of the other FoW books that makes Vietnam a ‘real’ range for FoW and not just a magazine add-on as it has been until now. “Tour Of Duty, Armoured, Airborne, and Infantry combat in Vietnam, 1965-1971, is a comprehensive 132 page book.” This is what John-Paul was talking about in the WWPD interview.

Also listed is the new model range where we see things like the T-54, T-34/85M, BTR-50PK, ZSU-57-2 and PT-76 as well as the Centurion Mark 5, M41A3 Walker Bulldog and, most exciting of all, the OH-6 Loach plastic kit.

For those scratching their heads over the T-54 and stuff, yes the engagements with these were very rare but did happen towards the end of the war in 1971 such as Operation Lam Son 719 and others. The Battle of An Lộc is the most famous tank engagement where T-54s and PT-76s made a showing. The Battle of Ben Het is also famous for M-48s versus PT-76s (see a nice video of Ben Het). No doubt gamers will fight more tank battles than ever occurred in the war but it is still nice to see these as options to break up the infantry battles.

Now if only we could get Battlefront to produce a set of cooperative rules for FoW Vietnam (and the Pacific!) so one player doesn’t get stuck with the PAVN all the time….

Of course we might as well start the wild speculation about a Flames of COLD War expansion as a possibility! The 1970s was probably the most interesting (and balanced) period of the Cold War era and Battlefront would only need to produce a dozen or so minis to allow for some classic European Cold War battlefield goodness. Who doesn’t want to see M-60s vs T-64s with Cobras and Hinds flying overhead?!

So crank those rotors and get ready for a new theater of battle for Flames of War!

Top Picks — 2013 Update

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Well it was almost two years to the day since we had updated our Top Picks list. Well wait no more! No games got dropped off the list but we included a few more titles and even added a new iPad games section.

If you haven’t tried the games on this list you really should. It is easy to get distracted with all the new shiny that comes out and forget that there are games that rise above to become truly great games.

Update: Oops, we left off Unity of Command. We fixed that.

[Updated: 26JAN13]